Scholarship Terminable and Interminable: Some Thoughts on the Place of Literary Criticism in a Life of Finite Duration

  • Raymond Tallis


In a famous late essay1 Freud conceded that his brand of psychotherapy might never lead to cure. Although the goal of treatment may be approached as the analyst descends through the ‘psychological strata’, it remains elusive: penis envy in females and castration anxiety in males are a bedrock beneath which the analyst cannot penetrate. This essay has not caused the embarrassment it should in the profession, perhaps because it has been thought that psychoanalysis is like education: a process of enrichment and illumination, of personal growth, a progressive, but always incomplete, adjustment to a world that offers only finite responses to one’s infinite wishes. Thus characterised, psychoanalysis hardly seems to be something one would wish to be terminable.


Literary Criticism Literary Theory Creative Artist Literary Text Great Writer 
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  1. 2.
    A point made persuasively in Richard Webster’s brilliant Why Freud was Wrong: Sex, Sin and Psychoanalysis (London: Collins, 1995).Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey Hartman, The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    W. J. T. Mitchell, London Review of Books, 9 (12), 25 June 1987, 15–18. The conviction that one belongs to an essentially critical, rather than a creative, age is a long-standing one: Shakespeare’s contemporaries believed that they had little to add to the great classics; Pope’s that the way to achievement was to emulate the writers of the Augustan age. Not all writers have welcomed this. Emerson for example: Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should we not have a poetry and philosophy of insight, and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?… There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.Google Scholar
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    Michael Boyd, The Reflexive Novel: Fiction as Critique (Toronto: Lewisburg Bucknell University Press, 1983), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    George Steiner, Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say? (London: Faber, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Nicholas Tredell, Gerald Hammond, Raymond Tallis, ‘George Steiner’s Real Presences: Three Perspectives’, PN Review, 1989, 71: 20–6.Google Scholar
  7. Hilary Putnam, Representation and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books, 1988).Google Scholar
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    Malcolm Bowie, Freud, Proust and Lacan: Theory as Fiction (Cambridge University Press). Michael Bell, F. R. Leavis (London: Routledge, 1988).Google Scholar
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    Martin Seymour-Smith, Guide to Modern World Literature (London: Hodder, 1975).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raymond Tallis
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK
  2. 2.Salford Royal Hospitals TrustUK

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