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  • Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery
  • Brandy Ryan (bio)
Joel Faflak . Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery. SUNY Press. 2007. 333. US$85.00

Joel Faflak locates the quest for 'the truth of one's identity' in Romanticism's psychoanalytic tendencies, which surface in the struggle to 'locate the subject in the world' despite the subject's 'trauma of not knowing or being able to comprehend this position.' Faflek takes us back to the origin of the "psycho-analytical" as it appears in an 1805 notebook entry of Coleridge's; its inception, then, lies in the melding of dual interiorities: faith and perception. Drawing on the poetry and prose of Wordsworth, Coleridge, De Quincey, and Keats, Faflak elucidates a 'psychological history of psychoanalysis'; he identifies criticism as essentially psychoanalytic, always engaged with the trauma and loss of what is past. Faflak examines, in turn, philosophy and poetry as precursors and proponents of psychoanalysis in its particular (masculine) Romantic embodiments.

In clear and eloquent phrasing, Faflak considers 'how Romanticism constitutes itself as a scene of psychoanalysis' in order to 'deal with the trauma of Romanticism's search for itself.' This search turns out to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, predominately masculine. Absent in his consideration of a poetry anxious about articulating a psyche that resists articulation is the presence of women: women poets, women philosophers, women characters who exist somewhat outside the masculine paradigm of philosophy, poetry, and psychoanalysis that forms the foundation of Faflak's study. Romantic Psychoanalysis never claims to offer a comprehensive exploration of this history, and at numerous points in his study, Faflak is attentive to the intricacies of gender dynamics within the psychoanalytic scene. It is remarkable, however, that in a book that lingers over mesmerism, there is no mention of Charlotte Smith, Felicia Hemans, Letitia Landon, or Elizabeth Barrett, nor any of the scores of women writers and thinkers who were drawn to self-exploration and interiority as part of the material and discursive landscape of the early nineteenth century. Their poetic and philosophical encounters with identity and loss constitute equally valuable iterations of Romanticism's search for itself. [End Page 351]

Faflak explores the mysteries of the poetry, prose, and philosophy intrinsic to the process of inventing psychoanalysis in the Romantic period; he theorizes poetry as the site where Romanticism becomes aware of its always already psychoanalytic tendencies. The first chapter deftly clears the philosophical forest in order to demarcate the path and the process of this project: those moments in which the Romantics, contending with their own distinct and diverse searches for the self, theorize and imitate comprehension as part of the trauma of understanding from which they cannot ever fully extricate themselves. Conscientious of the philosophic history upon which Romantic poetry, and thus this founding/ finding of Romantic psychoanalysis, draws, Faflak delineates the theoretical iterations of philosophers as diverse as Žižek, Locke, Nietzsche, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Coleridge, and, of course, Freud. Readers who do not come to his text with the requisite mastery of the massive philosophical tradition of psychoanalysis will be able to follow the twists and turns of this path because of Faflak's generous framing.

The subsequent four chapters analyze this 'poetry of the psyche,' founded in the canonical poetics of this strain of Romantic literature. The chapter on De Quincey offers a particularly refreshing consideration of how fragmentary prose counterpoints the frequently narrative and lyric poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats; De Quincey (and his texts) is a character writ large, subject primarily to his own sense of self. As we 'uncover [De Quincey's] conflicted relationship to the psychoanalysis he helps to invent,' Faflak notes, we are obliged to move beyond 'mere understanding'; De Quincey's prose 'demands from the reader no less than to follow [him] into the unconscious.' That this is a less perilous task is thanks to Faflak's nuanced readings of De Quincey's literal and phantastical self-explorations in/as his iteration of Romantic psychoanalysis.

The book's final chapter on Keats attempts to summarize the previous incarnations of this struggle with self and subjectivity through the bold exploration within poetry as a psychoanalytic entity in its own right...


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