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Life and Art

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In this volume an inquiry into the nature of the creative process is attempted by paying close attention to the lives of various artists, poets, novelists and playwrights, and selected works of each in order to demonstrate an essential relationship between the two, and that it is most difficult to delineate the nuances of the creative act by treating them as separate entitites. Emphasis is placed upon the effect of early trauma, such as object loss and various forms of deprivation, as a powerful unconscious motivating factor and upon the dream and transitional object as facilitators of the creative effort.

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CHAPTER ONE

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But if I was to report my own dreams, it inevitably followed that I should have to reveal to the public gaze more of the intimacies of my mental life than I liked, or than is normally necessary for any writer who is a man of science and not a poet.

(Freud, 1900, p. 177)

To further our understanding of the intrapsychic elements of the creative process, the life and works of John Keats will be studied with emphasis being placed upon the phenomena of dreaming and mourning in the light of clinical research findings on REM dreaming and children's responses to object loss. Pederson-Krag (1951a) stresses that in choosing the career of a poet Keats was trying to master primarily oedipal conflicts and in another paper (1951b) she traced the connection between a manifest dream of Keats and the composition of a particular sonnet. Barron (1963) regards “Endymion” as a “quest for beauty” and an effort to substantiate the aesthetic qualities of the dream as a means of securing relief from depressive symptomatology.

 

CHAPTER TWO

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Joseph Conrad has been a figure of great interest within the field of psychobiography and the study of the creative process. Joseph (1963) has explored Conrad's struggle with issues of ego identity in his various works. Deutsch (1965) emphasized the problem of depression in Lord Jim while Sterba (1965) applied Greena-cre's concept of the “collective alternates” to demonstrate oedipal concerns in Heart of Darkness. Meyer (1967) focused extensively on many different aspects of Conrad's experience, most notably that of the loss of his parents during early childhood and its effect upon his later development and literary career. Armstrong (1971) stressed the importance of “the conflict of command” (p. 487) in Conrad's relationship to male authority figures, a prominent theme in his fiction. This chapter will cover Conrad's decision to become a writer and the vicissitudes of his subsequent artistic development.

Conrad was born Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857 in a Russian-occupied section of Poland. His parents, Apollo and Evelina, had married the previous year against her parent'swishes after a long and stormy courtship, and he was to be their only child. His father was a writer and translator as well as a political activist, who was arrested and imprisoned in 1861 for ten months because of his opposition to the Russian regime before being banished together with his family to Eastern Russia in May 1862. While en route to their place of exile, Conrad, who was then four, contracted pneumonia and nearly died but was nursed back to health by his mother, who was beginning to have symptoms of tuberculosis, which eventually led to her death on April 18, 1865. Her loss had a profound effect on her husband who was never able to mourn her, to the extent that he would mark the anniversary of her death by fasting and staring the entire day at her portrait. (Volkan, 1972) Released from exile in December 1867 after developing tuberculosis himself, he and his son moved about Poland frequently before settling in Cracow where Apollo died on May 23 1869.

 

CHAPTER THREE

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The plasm of the dream is the pain of separation.

Henry Miller (1963)

The life and work of Eugene O'Neill are unusually rich sources of material about the relationship between biographical data and the creative act and product. In this chapter an attempt will be made to demonstrate how certain intrapsychic conflicts of predominantly pre-oedipal origin affected O'Neill's career as a dramatist, with the emphasis being on a comparison of his early plays with several of his later, better-known ones such as More Stately Mansions, The Iceman Cometh, and Long Day's Journey into Night. The role of the dream and dreaming in the creative process will be further examined.

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill was born in New York City on October 16, 1888 in a hotel, Barrett House, on the corner of Broadway and 43rd Street. He was the third and last child of James and Ella O'Neill, his father being one of the leading American actors of that time.His parents’ relationship was a complicated one and it is clear that, before his birth, his mother was seriously depressed. Raised under genteel circumstances and convent-educated, as a young girl she was absorbed in music and expected to become a nun. She met James O'Neill when she was 14–15 while he was playing in a repertory theatre in Cleveland in 1871–72, having been introduced to him backstage by her father who was an acquaintance of his. She was infatuated with him immediately though they had little contact until 1876 when she went to study music in New York where he was pursuing his acting career. She was still mourning her father, who had died in 1874, and her affection for O'Neill, who was 11 years older, was overdetermined by her failure to have worked through this loss. Married to O'Neill in 1877, she spent much time touring with him and was often left alone for long hours in hotel rooms in strange cities. Many of her friends tended to look down upon her as marriage to an actor in those days carried a social stigma. Their first child, James O'Neill Jr., was born September 28th 1878, and their second, Edmund, in the fall of 1883.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

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A sense of the truth of poetry, of its supreme place in literature, had awakened itself in me. At the risk of ruining all worldly prospects I dabbled in it … was forced out of it … It came back upon me … All was of the nature of being led by a mood, without foresight, or regard to whither it led.

Thomas Hardy (Hardy, E., 1954, p. 260) (emphasis added)

Thomas Hardy holds a unique position in English letters, having been accorded serious recognition both for his poetry and prose. His literary career is unusual in that he be gan as a poet in 1865 at the age of 25, switched to novels and short stories, and in his mid-fifties after the publication of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, two of his most-acclaimed works, returned to writing poetry exclusively until his death in 1928. Though best known as a novelist, Hardy saw himself as a poet. In this chapter, an at tempt will be made to appreciate dynamic and genetic factors motivating Hardy to become a creative artist and to understand why he renounced fiction for poetry so late in life.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

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The life and writings of Vladimir Nabokov offer a means of elucidating and refining the subtle relationship between the separation-individuation phase of development and later creative endeavour as well as an opportunity to re-examine the general concept of sublimation.

Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 12th 1899, the oldest of five children. His early care was provided by a wet nurse and then a nanny. In his autobiography, Speak Memory (1970), he portrays a rich and happy childhood, although he was frequently ill, at which times his mother was extremely overprotective and bought him a gift each day until he was well again (“My numerous childhood illnesses brought my mother and me still closer together.” p. 36), a behaviour over determined by her first child, a son, having been stillborn; five of her seven siblings dying in infancy; and losing both parents within 3 months in 1901.

The family retained “a bewildering sequence of English nurses and governesses” during Nabokov's childhood and, when he was 10 1/2 months, his brother Sergey was born. The two had little to do with one another as they were growing up and, in his autobiography, Vladimir admits that it was “inordinately hard” for him tosay anything about Sergey. He does disclose that “I was the coddled one; he, the witness of coddling” but later notes that the feeding and care his own son received was “incomparably more artistic and scrupulous than anything old nurses could have dreamed up when we were babes.” The Nabokov children had their own separate floor of the family residence and only saw their parents for a limited time each day. In Speak Memory, Nabokov devotes an entire chapter (Chapter Five) to one of his governesses, a Frenchwoman named “Mademoiselle,” with scarcely any reference to his parents.

 

CHAPTER SIX

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In his best-known work, 1984, George Orwell presented a stark version of life in a society dominated by totalitarian extremes and, in so doing, introduced terms such as “Big Brother”, “Newspeak” and “Doublethink” that have become a part of modern-day vocabulary. To account for Orwell's bleak perspective, literary critics have suggested that the novel is based upon the experiences of its author at an English public school he attended from age 8–13 where he faced persistent hardship and humiliation. Shengold (1985) has used 1984, which he considers a “veritable primer on soul murder,” (p. 29) as an example of the long-range consequences of child abuse—the perpetuation of sado-masochistic conflicts favouring identification with the aggressor as an adaptive mode, excessive denial and the reinforcement of obsessional defences to control anal sadistic impulses, while Trunnell (1985) has emphasized ego autonomy in his interpretation of the book. This chapter will explore the significance of themes such as the omnipotence of thought and the failure to mourn in 1984 and Orwell's life, and their impact upon certain constituents of the creative process.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

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The truth is, that which I imagine to myself I find beautiful, but not that which I accomplish. If I were useful to some other end, I would undertake it heartily. I write only because I cannot stop.

(Kleist, 1982, p. 166)

This chapter will examine the life and work of the German writer Heinrich von Kleist from a psychoanalytic perspective and is intended as a contribution to the understanding of the interrelationship of early trauma, disorders of memory, borderline phenomena, liebestod and the creative process.

Kleist was born October 18, 1777 in Frankfurt am Oder, the middle of 5 children of his father's second marriage. Little is known of his childhood, which he acknowledged later was “joyless”, other than he had two younger siblings, Leopold and Juliane, born April 7, 1780 and September 25, 1784. He was tutored at home along with a cousin, Carl Otto von Pannwitz; was a stutterer; had “musical hallucinations” at an early age; played the clarinet and flute and could reproduce instantaneously any melody he heard. When he was 10, he lost his father, who was commander of the local military garrison, on June 18, 1788 and, shortly thereafter, wassent to Berlin to live with and be educated by a Protestant clergyman, Samuel Catel. Being from a family of distinguished officers that included 18 generals, in 1792, at 15, Kleist enlisted in the army and next year on February 3 his mother died. He fought against the French revolutionary forces in the Rhineland from 1793–95, was promoted to lieutenant in 1797 and resigned his commission in 1799 to enrol at the University of Frankfurt.1

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

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Although I suppose the desire to be a writer has been buried in me for a long time … I never dared admit to myself that I might seriously proclaim my intentions until I was about twenty-six.

Thomas Wolfe (1935a) (emphasis added)

In April 1904, when Thomas Wolfe was three years old, his mother, Julia, took him and five of her other six older children with her by train from their home in Asheville, North Carolina to St. Louis where she operated a boarding house during the World's Fair, the move having been prompted by her wanting to live apart from her husband and be financially independent. This venture ended tragically in November of that year, when Grover Wolfe, age 12 and a twin, contracted typhoid fever and died. His death had an enormous impact on the whole family, especially on young Tom and his mother.

In his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, which is largely autobiographical as is almost all his fiction, Wolfe presents the aboveincident in great detail, changing the family name to Gant and calling himself Eugene and his mother, Eliza:

 

CHAPTER NINE

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In Peter Shaffer's play Equus, Alan Strang, a 17 year old, has been found guilty of wilfully blinding six horses with a spike when he is unable, because of his impotence, to have intercourse with Jill Mason, who is in her early twenties, after being seduced by her in a stable where she is a caretaker for these same animals. The crime is puzzling to the authorities as Alan had always been unusually fond of horses. Therefore, after his conviction, he is referred by a female magistrate, Heather Salomon, to a mental hospital for treatment by one of the staff psychiatrists, Martin Dysart, who is also her personal friend. As the play unfolds, it becomes more and more obvious that Dysart and Alan are “twins in disguise”, Shaffer being a twin whose brother Anthony is also a dramatist. (Glenn, 1974c)

During the therapy, which is rather stormy, Alan develops strenuous resistances and Dysart, considerable countertransference problems, not least of which is his envy of what he construes as his patient's remarkable capacity for passion and happiness. In pronouncing him “cured”, Dysart regrets that he may have forced Alan to renounce this singular quality and to accept in its place a kind of normality that is even more crippling than his illness.Throughout Equus, Dysart is in the throes of a professional identity crisis and is having much doubt about his clinical judgment and therapeutic effectiveness, an important determinant being the fear of loss of control over primitive sadistic impulses, which he tries to cope with compulsively. On the evening after first meeting Alan, he has a dream wherein he is a high priest in Ancient Greece who sacrifices children by removing their hearts to insure a bountiful harvest as well as victory in any military exploits, one that is complemented by a recurrent nightmare of Alan's in which he screams the word “Ek”—the first syllable of “equus”. A nurse, who has awakened him during one such episode, reports that “he clung to me like he was going to break my arm.”

 

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