Monday, July 4, 2011

9. Freud

[The following is part of Peta Mayer's 10 Things to Expect From a Brookner Novel.]
Is it common for writers to be questioned about their suitability for therapy? For some reason, Brookner seems to constantly field this enquiry. When asked whether her novels were ‘a sort of self-therapy’, Brookner replied, ‘Well, if it were therapy I wish it had worked.’ She has also said that psychoanalysis wasn’t within her scope; ‘One doesn’t know how intelligent the interrogator would be.’ And when asked about the status of ‘lifestyle’ psychology, she maintains, ‘Very lucrative professions. Fallacious.’ While the novelist deftly dispatches with the coarser attempts to contextualise her life and work through reductive psychological models, she does, however, engage Freudian narratives in her fiction, her criticism and in personal commentary.

For a start, the unconscious is of enormous importance to Brookner in the writing process (complementing the significance of the emotional response). She calls her books ‘accidents of the unconscious.’ ‘I certainly haven’t modelled them on anybody or anything,’ she said. Especially reinforced in terms of its role in artistic production, the unconscious accrues an historical mystique not unlike that of Freud himself. Representing an increasing turn to Freud in her later fiction, Brookner’s most recent novel, Strangers (2009), opens with a late quote from Freud in London, 1938: ‘For all its glory England is a land for rich and healthy people. Also they should not be too old.’ Here Brookner chooses a sentiment which uncharacteristically takes Freud, the dying refugee, challenging national stereotypes rather than reinforcing sexual ones.
Secondly, as in Freud, the family has a fundamental and ongoing impact on character and identity in Brookner’s novels. This is quite crucial in Brookner insofar as the childless and unmarried are frequently seen in mainstream culture to exist outside a familial environment. ‘For a writer who is unmarried and has no children and whose heroines have no children, Anita Brookner pays unusual attention to children,’ said one mystified critic. Yet children are not the sole perquisite of heterosexual families and indeed the figure of the child is an important literary device regardless of his/her current social and historical function. Children, for instance, can symbolise creativity, rebellion or freedom. Brookner’s novels reassert these social and literary rights in a way which complements the significance of familial actors in Freud. A Family Romance (1993) (Dolly in the US), Brookner’s thirteenth novel, takes its title from Freud’s expression for the child’s fantasy that his/her birth parents are not his/her actual but adoptive parents. In the novel, Jane Manning, a feminist academic and children’s book author, acknowledges her parents stable and loving relationship but evinces a fascination with her more charismatic and unpredictable aunt, Dolly. These swerves of affect in family lines are of interest to Brookner and Freud alike. However, because they don’t follow a conventional developmental narrative, they frequently fail to register as important narratives per se. 

In Freud, the child’s early years are a time of sexual discovery, a period when anything can happen. Desire is ‘polymorphously perverse’ and precognisant of gendered and sexual identities. Those narratives which don’t follow conventional developmental form create characters who are not, by definition, ‘straight.’ ‘I think all his conclusions are correct, frankly. One does look to one’s parents; one does look to infantile sexuality,’ Brookner said of Freud in 2006. Expect, then, to find Brookner’s characters a little bent.

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