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Narcissism and the Literary Libido

Rhetoric, Text, and Subjectivity

Marshall W. Alcorn Jr.

Publication Year: 1997

What is it that makes language powerful? This book uses the psychoanalytic concepts of narcissism and libidinal investment to explain how rhetoric compels us and how it can effect change.

The works of Joseph Conrad, James Baldwin, Michael Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Arthur Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Ben Jonson, George Orwell, and others are the basis of this thoughtful exploration of the relationship between language and subject. Bringing together ideas from Freudian, post- Freudian, Lacanian, and post-structuralist schools, Alcorn investigates the power of the text that underlies the reader response approach to literature in a strikingly new way. He shows how the production of literary texts begins and ends with narcissistic self-love, and also shows how the reader's interest in these texts is directed by libidinal investment.
Psychoanalysts, psychologists, and lovers of literature will enjoy Alcorn's diverse and far-reaching insights into classic and contemporary writers and thinkers.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xiv

As New York University Press inaugurates a new series of books on literature and psychoanalysis, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect briefly upon the history of psychoanalytic literary criticism. For a century now it has struggled to define its relationship to its two contentious progenitors and come of age. After glancing at its origins, we may be in ...

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pp. xv-xviii

No argument is ever fully finished, and this book is no exception. There is still more to be said, more support to give to claims, more examples needed for clarity . Yet this book has evolved with the help of many friends: It has gained strength and maturity over more than a few years as it has benefited from revisions, reconsiderations, and turns of argu-...

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ONE. Political Ties and Libidinal Ruptures: Narcissism as the Origin and End of Textual Production

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pp. 1-28

This book is about change—changes in people, changes in value, changes in thinking, changes in perception, changes in attention, and changes in the intensity of attention . This subtle continuum between changes in people and changes in the intensity of attention is part of the complexity of change . Because reader and teachers direct (and to some extent ...

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TWO. Self-Structure as a Rhetorical Device: Modern Ethos and the Divisiveness of the Self

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pp. 29-62

Contemporary scholarship in English has begun to show an increasingly sophisticated attentiveness to the forces of politics and persuasion. It is not simply that Marxists like Terry Eagleton pronounce literary theory dead and rhetoric alive; many traditional scholars, people deeply committed to politically disinterested New Critical views of art, have begun ...

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THREE. Projection and the Resistance of the Signifier: A Reader-Response Theory of Textual Presence

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pp. 63-102

Reader-response theory can be useful for explaining the mechanisms of textual rhetoric. But the present theoretical positions that define reader response generally undermine the rhetorical complexity of interactions between the text and the subject. Because reader response is most often represented in either emphatically psychoanalytic terms or in emphati-...

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FOUR. Character, Plot, and Imagery: Mechanisms That Shift Narcissistic Investments

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pp. 103-157

Professional critics normally imagine reading as a complex conscious attentiveness that moves toward interpretive understanding. Wolfgang Iser emphasizes that reading requires problem-solving tasks and complex syntheses of perception and recognition. Norman Holland emphasizes that the matter of reading is not so much conscious as unconscious: ...

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FIVE. The Narcissism of Creation and Interpretation: Agon at the Heart of Darkness

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pp. 158-189

Every author strives to create a work of substance. We might modify this truism to suggest that authors strive to perfect and augment their own substance by means of the work they create.1 In a letter of 1899, close to the time he was working on Heart of Darkness, Conrad complains of a fear that his work lacks substance. As he makes this com-...

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SIX. Language and the Substance of the Self: A Lacanian Perspective

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pp. 190-216

This book has offered an extended discussion of relations between language and the subject. I have suggested that language can have a powerful effect on self-functions because the subject is, in part, a linguistic entity. For the most part, the theoretical underpinnings of my discussion have been eclectic. In emphasizing the self-divisive structure of the subject, I ...

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SEVEN. Conclusion: What Do We Do with Rhetorical Criticism?

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pp. 217-228

This book has employed psychoanalytic theory to explain the complex experiential effects, the conflictual rhetoric, of literary texts. But if rhetoric is really the central term, the umbrella word, then rhetorical criticism must both encompass and go beyond traditional psychoanalytic concerns. Good rhetoric, like effective psychoanalysis, is a response to ...


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pp. 229-238


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pp. 239-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780814707517
E-ISBN-10: 0814707513
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814706657
Print-ISBN-10: 0814706657

Publication Year: 1997