Shrinking Texts: The Danger Of Hermeneutics Under Freudian Auspices -- By: Michael E. Bauman
JETS 31:3 (September 1988) p. 293
Shrinking Texts: The Danger Of Hermeneutics
Under Freudian Auspices
“‘Tis you that say it, not I.”
John Milton (quoting Electra), An Apology Against a Pamphlet
“What could ever be written at all so carefully that it could never be twisted by an angry opponent into some sinister meaning?”
Erasmus (to Jacob Hoogstraten, the Inquisitor)
A good friend, a man who also mentored my dissertation on John Milton, once chided me for dismissing out of hand a book of Milton criticism written from a Freudian point of view. This book, as it happens, was written by the mentor of his own dissertation on Milton. “You must not,” my friend said, “reject a book without even having read it.”
That of course is perfectly reasonable advice. I accept it enthusiastically and with conviction—as a general principle. The rule, however, has exceptions. By their very nature, some books do not deserve this courtesy. Books that advocate a fiat earth, for example, fall into such a category. So also do books of Freudian criticism. The burden of this essay is to explain why I believe as I do.
Simply put, I reject Freudian criticism because I reject the Freudian conjectures upon which it is based. These conjectures tell us, for example, that dreams “mean” and that they mean symbolically. Kings and queens, Freudians say, represent fathers and mothers. Journeys represent death. Small animals represent brothers and sisters. Landscapes, gardens, fruit and blossoms represent either the female body or select parts of it. Furthermore, when these images appear in art (verbal or representational) the same exegetical and iconological deductions can be made concerning them.
But every schoolboy knows how easy it is to foist sexual overtones onto almost every sentence one hears in normal conversation, innocent though these sentences may be. If we put our minds to it, we can translate countless words and notions into sexual innuendo. When a young wit exercises his ingenuity in this way and is brash enough (or disrespectful enough) to voice such banal indiscretions publicly, he usually succeeds only in embarrassing those around him and discrediting himself. We who hear him know that his perverse projections are merely that: projections. They have no real bearing on the initial speaker’s sentence, character, or motivations. We hear such indiscreet interjections and dismiss them (if our standards of morality and of
*Michael Bauman is associate professor of theology and culture at Hillsdale College in Michigan. 293
JETS 31:3 (September 1988) p. 294
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