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Creative writing and daydreaming analysis

Anil Pinto

This blog is an experiment in using blogs in higher education. Most of the experiments done here are the first of their kind at least in India. I wish this trend catches on. The Blog is dedicated to Anup Dhar and Lawrence Liang whose work has influenced many like me . . . .

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creative Writers and Daydreaming by Sigmund Freud

In ‘Creative Writers and Daydreaming’, Freud’s basic question is where does the creative writer draw his material from? And, how do they evoke emotions in us through their writing? To understand this, he tries to find an activity that comes close to that of creative writing. He finds this in child’s play as even a child creates a world of his own. The child links his imagination to tangible objects in the world.

When we grow up, this ‘play’ has to stop and so we have to give up pleasure. This, according to Freud is very hard to do once we have experienced pleasure. Therefore, as a substitute to playing, we indulge in fantasizing or daydreaming. Unlike the child however, the adult is ashamed of his fantasies and hides them from everyone.

To explain this further, Freud puts down few important characteristics of fantasizing. The source of fantasies is unsatisfied wishes, which are fulfilled by means of these fantasies. There are two kinds of fantasies, (1) ambiguous wishes that “elevate the subject’s personality”, and (2) erotic fantasies. For men, ambitious wishes are predominant while for women, it is erotic ones. He goes on to say that daydreams, just like dreams at night, function as wish fulfilment. The difference is that the repressed wishes expressed in night dreams are desires that we are ashamed of and so, conceal them from even ourselves.

Freud now connects this act to daydreaming with the creative process. He calls the creative writer, “dreamer in broad daylight”. He focuses his discussion on authors of popular novels and romances rather than classics. He says that one common feature of all these works in the central character or hero. The hero’s journey becomes the journey of the ego of the writers as well as readers. From here, he goes on to suggest, that a piece of creative writing (like daydreams), is a substitute for child’s play.

Next, Freud talks of those writers who get their material from folk tales and myths. In such cases, too, the author expresses himself in the choice of material and in the subtle changes he introduces. Even if he does not change the myth, these myths themselves might reflection of the collective fantasies of entire nations.

Finally, he attempts to answer the second question, which is how the creative writers evoke emotions in us. He says that a daydreamer conceals his fantasies from others because he is ashamed of them. Even if he did, others would be repelled by them. So, he wonders why is it that we experience so much pleasure from the creative writer’s presentation of his fantasies. He says that we can only make a guess about how this actually happens. He proposes two techniques. Firstly, he softens and disguises the character, and secondly, he couches the text with literary and aesthetic qualities.

Creative writing and daydreaming analysis

Lecture Notes: Freud, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming” [1907]

  1. Background
    1. In Interpretation of Dreams Freud writes about the presence of “involuntary ideas” in dreams and refers to remarks by the German poet Friedrich Schiller as a way of explaining how we can gain access to these “involuntary ideas” by relaxing our rational control over the imagination. (See handout; to view the handout, click here .)
      —Theory of poetic inspiration as access to spontaneous ideas; inspiration does not have its sources outside the artist (from the “Muses”), but rather originates in the unconscious mind. “Ex-spiration” rather than “in-spiration”?
      —Freud, following Schiller, proposes that artistic or literary creativity occurs when reason ceases to police the imagination and our productive fantasy is given free reign. Note the parallel to the therapeutic practice of psychoanalysis, which similarly tries to suspend critical oversight of the conscious mind (“free association”).
      —Literary creativity is implicitly identified with the work of the unconscious, with an imaginative capacity free from the constraints of rationality, of the demands of the ego. Rationality or reason are applied by the creative artist only in a secondary stage, to organize the ideas produced by the imagination. (This is similar to what Freud called “secondary revision” as an element of the dream-work.)
      —All human beings are “artists” when in the state of “fantasy,” “dreaming”; when they abandon themselves to the spontaneous generation of ideas. Similar to the “automatic writing” of the Surrealists. Rationality and creativity stand in inverse proportion.
      —Freud approaches from a psychoanalytic perspective the traditional theme of artists as insane; creativity seen in proximity to madness. Why? Because it implies the suspension of rational order, of the power of segregation and distinction; deliberative oversight and reasoned judgment are suspended.
    2. ” Pleasure principle” versus “reality principle” : Freud distinguishes 2 principles of mental functioning (see the 1911 essay “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning,” Freud Reader 301-06).
      1) The “primary process,” also called the “pleasure principle,” seeks continual enjoyment and gratification. Seeks to maximize pleasure, as the highest human value. It is principally egoistic. But it constantly is at odds with society, the world, norms, moral laws, etc., in its incessant drive for gratification. “Primary” process implies not simply that this process is fundamental, but also that it is temporally primary, or primordial.
      2) The “secondary process” or “reality principle” forms as a psychic representative of the resistance on the part of the world to pleasure-seeking. It should not be confused with reality as such; rather, it is the psychic representative of real resistance: an “introjection” or internalization of the resistance afforded by the outside world. It appeals to rationality and common sense, and often invokes the principle of delayed gratification. Postponed pleasure as maximized pleasure. But reality principle often forces us to take pleasure in small things, rather than being “big spenders.” We follow the path of least resistance and try to budget our gratifications of pleasure demands.
      3) In our instinctual lives we are all “managers” of our own pleasure. We seek not only pleasurable circumstances, but also try to avoiddispleasure. In the “economics” of the psyche, pleasure is the sole valid currency. We “save” up (or postpone) gratification of some desires in order to “spend” them later. We choose experiences that bring small amounts of guaranteed pleasure (“money market savings”) over those that promise a greater quantity of pleasure (“stock market investments”), but are attached to a greater threat of displeasure, etc. Our psychic life is concerned with balancing the accounts of pleasure and our instincts. Constant state of conflict between pleasure and reality principles, our spontaneous desires and the necessary concessions to reality, social authority, good judgment, responsibility, morality, etc. We make concessions to the reality principle, make “compromises” and “deflect” our pleasure-seeking. Note the parallel to the “distortions” effected by the dream-work on unconscious wishes.
    3. Fantasy (imagination) as escape from this conflict, as a “neutral zone” or “free space” that is free of reality testing. Spontaneous urges toward gaining pleasure are deflected or diverted by the realization of the hindrances imposed by reality. For a diagram of this relationship, click here.
      —Freud believes that the persistent conflict between the pleasure and reality principles causes humans to create a space free of this tension in which pleasurable wishes are not subject to reality-testing (hence free of censorship): this is the realm of the fantasy, or of pure imagination. This domain includes, for Freud, child’s play, dreams, day-dreaming, fictions of all sorts, and especially literary (or artistic) creativity. See Freud Reader 303.
      “Splitting off” of Realm of Fantasy from Reality-Testing:
      See “Formulations on Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (1911); Freud Reader 303:
      “With the introduction of the reality principle one species of thought-activity was split off; it was kept free from reality-testing and remained subordinated to the pleasure principle alone. This activity is phantasying, which begins already in child’s play, and later, continued as day-dreaming, abandons dependence on real objects.” Fantasy allows for an undisturbed experience of pleasure.
    1. ” Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming” (1907)

    Other analogues of fantasy in psychic life:

    D) Freud’s answer to the second question, the reasons for the effect of literature.

    We take no pleasure in hearing the fantasies of real people, so why do the fantasies of creative writers give us such inordinate pleasure?