Thursday, December 16, 2010

What is psychological criticism? Assess I. A. Richard's place and contribution as a psychological critic?

The psychological school of criticism aspires to make criticism more scientific by an increased application of psychological knowledge to its problems. And this school is itself divided into two groups, one of which would 'explain' works of art from complete knowledge of the psychology of the artist, while the other finds more attractive psychological investigation of the processes of appreciation. The psychological critic tries to explore the hidden motives or unconscious urges behind a work of art. For him a poem or picture is a "substitute gratification"; that a work of art enshrines the unfulfilled desires and repressed instincts of the writer, and that it is a sort of dream fulfilment.



The psychological criticism of literature began with the publication of'Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. Miss Maud Bodkin has made the best use of psychoanalysis in literary criticism in her book Archetypal Pattern in Poetry. Further studies have been made by Conrad Aiken (Scepticisms : Notes on Contemporary Poetry), Robert Greaves {On English Poetry (1922), The Meaning of Dreams, (1924( and Poetic Unreason (1925), Herbert Read, Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Van Wyck Brooks and Kenneth Burke.
The critic through whose mediation psychology was to make the greatest impact upon literary criticism was I. A. Richards. His principal critical works have given a new dimension to modern criticism. Of the five major books on criticism written by I. A. Richards, the first three mentioned are entirely his and the remaining two written in collaboration with the persons mentioned against each : Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Practical Criticism (1929), Coleridge on Imagination, The Foundation of Aesthetics (1921) with C. K. Ogden and James Wood) and The Meaning of Meaning (with Ogden in 1923). His other significant works are Science and Poetry, Mennius of the Mind, the Philosophy of Rhetoric and Speculative Instruments.
The psychological approach to literature is comparatively of recent origin. It started with Freud in 1900 and gathered momentum by the additional influence of Adler's concept of'inferiority complex', and of .lung's theory of'collective unconscious.' In 1910, Dr. Ernest Jones tried to give a psycho-analytic interpretation of Hamlet's character and published his study in The American Journal of Psychology under the title, 'The Oedipus Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery'. This article was later developed into a book Hamlet and Oedipus (1949), and this remains a classic example of the psychological approach of literary criticism. Other eminent psychological critics are Conrad Aiken, Robert Graves, Herbert Read, Edmund Wilson, Van Wych Brooks, I. A. Richards, Lionel Trilling, Kenneth Bruke and others.
Freud suggested that 'artistic gift is a compensatory function of neurosis'. He suggested that a work of art enshrines the unfulfilled desires and repressed instincts of the writer and therefore it was a sort of dream-fulfilment. This gave rise to the theory of 'art substitute gratification.'
The psycho-analytic critic, therefore, devoted himself to the buried drama of an artist's life. He began to explore the hidden motives and the unconscious urges behind a work of art. He regarded human personality as vital and dynamic phenomenon in which the Self became a kind of battlefield where different instincts and impulses were always raging war against conventions and regulations. The psychological approach of criticism, thus, aims at 'the search for realities of the self behind social masks.' It breaks the personality of the writer and tries to penetrate straight into the inner motives and impulses.
The application of psychology to literature, says I. A. Richards, 'provides a more precise language with which to discuss the creative process'. Secondly as Edmund Wilson has pointed out, a psychological study of the lives of authors can help a great deal in understanding their art. Thirdly, as F. L. Lucas has observed, psychology can be used to explain fictitious characters in literature.
I. A. Richards should be regarded as the most important psychological critic who has studied poetry methodically. According to him, there are conflicting instincts and desires, or appetencies as he calls them, in the human mind. Man is often torn between conflicting pulls from different directions and consequently he suffers from mental uneasiness. The main function of art is to enable human mind to organize itself more quickly and completely than it could do otherwise. In short, art is a means whereby we can gain emotional balance, mental equilibrium, peace and rest. What is true of the individual is also true of society. A society in which arts are freely cultivated, exhibits better mental and emotional tranquility than the societies in which arts are not valued. Reading or witnessing a tragedy gives the harmonisation of warring impulses and accounts for the pleasure. So tragic pleasure—calm of mind, all passion spent—does not result from the purgation of any impulse or impulses; it results from a harmonisation of opposite impulses. In this way I. A. Richards uses his knowledge of psychology to resolve the age-old controversy regarding the sources of tragic-pleasure and the nature of tragic catharsis. His theory of poetry regarding poetry as communication and assigning a very important role to words is also based on psychology.
To conclude Richards finds little of value in the course of criticism that has followed so far. 'A few conjectures, a supply of admonitions, many acute isolated observations, some brilliant guesses, much oratory and applied poetry, inexhaustible confusion, a sufficiency of dogma, no small stock of prejudices, whimsies and crotchets, a perfusion of mysticism, a little genuine speculation, sundry stray inspirations, pregnant hints and random apercurs : of such as these is extant critical theory composed.' (Principles of Literary Criticism, p. 6). The central question, 'What kind of activity is and what is its value,' is left almost untouched. In the absence of psychological information, now available to the critic, it could not, perhaps, be otherwise. For there is hardly any inquiry concerning art in which psychology does not enter—from the moment it is in the making to its impact on the reader and society. Psychology therefore is 'the indispensable instrument for this inquiry.'

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