Analysis Interminable in the Other Wordsworth[Record]

  • Joel Faflak

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  • Joel Faflak
    University of Western Ontario

Wordsworth said of The Prelude that it was "a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk so much about himself": "I had nothing to do but describe what I had felt and thought" and "therefore could not easily be bewildered." Freud repeats this self-initiated self- exploration a century later. Apparently favouring self-observation over contemplation, and thus choosing psychoanalysis over philosophy, Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams, argues that the "success of psychoanalysis depends upon [the analysand] noticing and telling everything that passes through his mind." While contemplation "rejects some of the ideas which [the subject] has perceived, and cuts short others, so that he does not follow the trains of thought which they would open," self-observation is like the "tolerance . . . of poetic production" and does not limit the work of the unconscious. However, Freud assigns cognitive value to the 'tolerance' of self-observation only insofar as it assists in demystifying the psyche. Ultimately for Freud, only contemplation can produce the interpretive coherence demanded by analysis. The correct interpretation is all as Freud, like Kant, closes off the contemplativeness of the beautiful ego to the threat of the self's endless sublime confrontation with itself as a subject on trial/in process. Ironically, Freud thus turns free association back into a controlled or contained associationism that evokes in Wordsworth's own time empiricism's disciplining of the psyche, the imposition of a type of scientism upon a process that is otherwise inscrutable and interminable. The transference between analyst and patient generated during self-observation, however, eventually suggested to Freud that a therapeutic cure—the termination of analysis as the overcoming of the unconscious through interpretation and demystification—was unattainable. Psychoanalysis was interminable because the psyche's unreasonable and dark associationism did not lend itself to the reasoned terminability of philosophical contemplation. In terms of his desire for philosophical closure, one might say that Freud is a card-carrying Wordsworthian. Even in Wordsworth's own poem of personal psychoanalysis, he prefers the contemplative "steadiest mood of reason" (5.1) to the chaos of self-observation. The latter confronts him with the trauma of a shapeless psyche that "Hath no beginning" (2.267) and with an endless transference between his conscious self and an imagination that proliferates in often obscure and uncontrollable ways, what Wordsworth calls "that interminable building reared / By observation of affinities / In objects where no brotherhood exists / To common minds" (2.402- 405). As Wordsworth asks, "Who knows the individual hour in which / His habits first were sown even as a seed? / Who that shall point as with a wand, and say, / 'This portion of the river of my mind / Came from yon fountain'?" (2.211-215). In answer to these questions, Wordsworth never stops talking; but at some point he does stop free-associating. Ultimately comfortable as the analyst of his own mind, he is seldom comfortable as analysand. Ironically, of course, The Prelude was to have pursued the growth of Wordsworth's mind as "a theme / Single and of determined bounds" (1.668-669), and as a way of postponing The Recluse's "ampler and more varied argument" (671), in which he might be "discomfited and lost" (672). As what Wordsworth calls in the Preface to The Excursion a "preparatory poem," then, The Prelude was to be an analysis terminable, an extended but finite curriculum vitae for a greater "work that should endure" (13.278). The Prelude was to avoid what seems to be for Wordsworth the greater complexity of philosophical contemplation for the rather less complicated process of autobiographical observation, "[conducting] the history of the Author's mind to the point when he was …