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Is There a Freudian Type in Poetry?


The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 18)

Is There a Freudian Type in Poetry?

Poetry, like every product of the human mind, is naturally dependent on a man’s general psychological attitude.

If a writer is sick, psychically sick, it is highly probable that whatever he produces will bear the stamp of his sickness.

This is true with reservations, of course; for there actually are cases where the creative genius so far transcends the sickness of the creator that only a few traces of human imperfection are to be seen in the work.

But these are exceptions; the general rule is that a neurotic poet will make neurotic poems.

The more neurotic a poem is, the less it is a creative work of art and the more it is a symptom.

It is therefore very easy to point out infantile symptoms in such cases and to view the product in the light of a particular theory; indeed, it is sometimes possible to explain a work of art in the same way as one can explain a nervous illness in terms of Freud’s theory or Adler’s.

But when it comes to great poetry the pathological explanation, the attempt to apply Freudian or Adlerian theory, is in effect a ridiculous belittlement of the work of art.

The explanation not only contributes nothing to an understanding of the poetry, but, on the contrary, deflects our gaze from that deeper vision which the poet offers.

The Freudian and the Adlerian theory alike formulate nothing but the human-all-too-human aspects of the commonplace neurosis.

So when one applies this point of view to great poetry, one is dragging it down to the level of dull ordinariness, when actually it towers above it like a high mountain.

It is quite obvious that all human beings have father and mother complexes, and it therefore means nothing if we discern traces of a father or mother complex in a great work of art; just as little as would the discovery that Goethe had a liver and two kidneys like any other mortal.

If the meaning of a poetic work can be exhausted through the application of a theory of neurosis, then it was nothing but a pathological product in the first place, to which I would never concede the dignity of a work of art.

Today, it is true, our taste has become so uncertain that often we no longer know whether a thing is art or a disease.

I am convinced, however, that if a work of art can be explained in exactly the same way as the clinical history of a neurosis, either it is not a work of art, or the explainer has completely misunderstood its meaning.

I am quite convinced that a great deal of modern art, painting as well as poetry, is simply neurotic and that it can, consequently, be reduced like an hysterical symptom to the basic, elementary facts of neurotic psychology.

But so far as this is possible, it ceases to be art, because great art is man’s creation of something superhuman in defiance of all the ordinary, miserable conditions of his birth and childhood.

To apply to this the psychology of neurosis is little short of grotesque. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 765-766