Montaigne, Dostoyevsky, Zweig… Is writing psychoanalysis?

Montaigne, Dostoyevsky, Zweig... Is writing psychoanalysis?

Probing the inner life and the hidden face of consciousness to know oneself better, to learn to (better) live and die: an approach at the heart of many literary works. Montaigne could have inaugurated it as early as the XVIe century in its Trialstaking himself for the material of his book, as a precursor to the writing of the self. “He is no longer alone, he becomes double. And he discovers that this fun is endless, that his self is constantly evolving. […] He becomes the psychologist of himself.affirms, without fear of anachronism, Stefan Zweig, author of a biography.

And, in doing so, he marks the passage to individuality and subjectivity in literature. In the classical age, Madame de La Fayette took a further step by devoting the psychological novel with her Princess of Cleves (1678), before Rousseau invented the modern autobiography in his confessions (1765). By writing as one pours out on a couch? Almost… Everything is being put in place so that the links become irresistibly closer between literature and psychology.

on the other side of the mirror

While the individual and the ego, with their feelings and dreams of grandeur, imposed themselves among the romantics in the wake of Chateaubriand, Stendhal marked a pause and defined the novel. “like a mirror that one walks along a path”he explains to the publication of the Red and Black in 1830. He thus introduced realism, invested by Balzac, Flaubert, Maupassant… and announced the naturalism of Zola proposing a deterministic construction of the characters sent back to a certain interior emptiness. But, again, it will be a question of quickly passing to the other side of this ” mirror “ to dive into interiority and make it visible.

To be or not to be a psychologist author becomes a literary issue for the critic and novelist Paul Bourget, author ofContemporary Psychology Essays (1883), who criticizes the realists and especially the naturalists for remaining on the surface of things. Bad trial, according to Maupassant, defending Flaubert as an author revealing the psychology of the characters “by deeds”without unnecessary “explanatory essays”. Beyond the controversy, it becomes difficult to escape the prism of psychology, as the philosopher and historian Hippolyte Taine had already suggested: “My principle is that a writer is a psychologist. » Of others or of himself…

Already, some had not hesitated to draw their inspiration from the disturbing depths of their psyche, like Gérard de Nerval at the borders of madness, especially in the collection The Daughters of Fire (1854) published during his internment at the clinic of Dr. Blanche, who encouraged him to write to purge his passions. Or Fedor Dostoyevsky in The Idiot (1868) attributing to Prince Mychkine his own epileptic fits.

“If he gives a mystical interpretation more than a psychological one, his description of the loss of body and speech, before the recovery of language, makes him a precursor of neuroscience”according to analyst, critic and novelist Julia Kristeva, author of the recent essay Dostoyevsky in the Face of Death, or the Haunted Sex of Language (Fayard, 2021).

She also sees in the writer a herald of psychoanalysis, in particular in The Basement Notebooks (1864), which open on these lines…

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