Sean Kelleher Prof. Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield
Narrative and Interpretation EN133
Nietzsche, Freud, and Lacan: Painting the Psychoanalytic Portrait of
Gustav von Aschenbach
Psychoanalytic criticism, since its original entrance into psychology, social science, and literary society via the works of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Carl Jung offers an intriguing analysis and understanding of many characters that history has come to respect for their layered personalities and deeply questioning motives. Gustav von Aschenbach, the main protagonist in Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice, is ripe for psychoanalysis. Mann even admitted in a 1925 interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa that Death in Venice itself “originated under the direct influence of Freud. Without Freud I would never have thought of treating this erotic motif,” he recalled, “or at least I would have treated it differently” (Dierks 1990, 284). Freud’s belief in the “id” (or, the set of uncoordinated, instinctual trends of the psyche), the “ego” (the more organized, realistic part of the psyche), and the “superego” (the socially-constructed, appropriate conscience) formed the first foundation for psychoanalysis in early 20th century psychology and, thus, in literary criticism. Freud asserted that people’s behavior is primarily affected by their unconscious: “The notion that human beings are motivated, even driven, by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they are unaware” (Lin 21-22). The tragic story of Gustav von Aschenbach, therefore, cannot be understood completely without a deeper digging into the mentality of the artist and a questioning as to why he collapses both morally and psychologically by the final chapter of the novella.
Jacques Lacan took Freud’s work one step further in the late 20th century and argued that the human subject becomes an “other” through unconscious repression that begins with the “mirror stage”, or the moment when an...