Psychoanalysis Literary Theory

Literature is not only what we read and admire, literature contains in itself a complex and interconnected base, which should be studied to consider the literature better. Literary theories have been developed and analyzed many times and by different scholars, but there is no one universal scope of knowledge about literary theory and its development, based on the development of literature. Coming out of this it is possible to conclude that literature theories are aimed to explain the development of literature in general. Terry Eagleton is considered to be one of the most influential scholars in the world of literary theory, whose works are full of political and the social meaning of the literature as the theoretical notion.

Terry Eagleton is the leading British literary theorist and sociologist, who is considered to be the most influential person in the literary British world. Literary Theory: An Introduction is one of his best-known works, which analysis the literature from the XIX century, and based on this literature so my theories were represented in his book. Focusing our attention first on the Post-Structuralism, and his justifications, it is impossible to avoid mentioning about post-structuralism interpretation of the literary theory by Terry Eagleton is the division of meaning out of the signified notion (Eagleton, 2008, p. 111). Terry Eagleton wanted to say that all the definitions are interconnected between themselves and to define one issue is impossible without defining the other.

To be more specific, it is crucial to consider briefly the Saussure’s theory and structuralism and then slowly shift to post-structuralism. Saussure considered the literary language as the meaning of differences. His main idea is that “the differential nature of meaning is to say that meaning is always the result of a division or articulation of signs” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 110). The examples which are provided are as follows, considering the word “cat” we mean “cat”, as it is not “cap” or “bat”. Structuralism divides the “sign from referent”, and to show the difference, post-structuralism “defines the signifier from the signified” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 111). In other words, it is impossible to consider the notion, to define it without considering the meanings of the words, which are included in the description of the first word, and so on, what leads the meaning searching into the circular or uninterrupted process.

The signified is the meaning of signifier, which may be found in the dictionary, and all found will still be signifiers, whose signifieds can be again found in the dictionary and so on. The theory takes up the circular meaning, because looking for signified, the person will still find signifiers, and will never find the final signified, which is not signifier in itself. In other words, “since the meaning of a sign is a matter of what the sign is not, its meaning is always in some sense absent from it” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 111). The structure takes up the form of some chain, which is constructed out of some facts. These facts some individual meanings, such as “cat” is not considered different from “cap” or “bat”, but as a creature, which has some other significant features, which also can be discussed (Eagleton, 2008, p. 111).

There is the other side of post-structuralism, which is considered as the use of deconstruction work to ensure “an institutional closure which serves the dominant political and economic interest of American society” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 128). Terry Eagleton focuses its attention on the literary theories as always political and social, and it also has a political purpose. Moreover, literature is always unstable, as well as the political and social system of the society. Furthermore, Terry Eagleton dwells upon the new political presence in the literature, women movement, “a dimension which informed and interrogated every facet of personal, social and political life” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 130).

Turning his attention to Foucault, Eagleton places political contradiction of the literature theory at the level of Foucault’s style. Having proved his political insertions in the literature theories, Eagleton tried to show that post-structuralism was right to criticize the traditional Left politics of the time, when the book was written, because of its failure. The situation took place in the 1960s – 1970s, when old political directions were shifted to the new one, and the common Left became mesmerized and indecisive (Eagleton, 2008, p. 128).

Focusing on the psychoanalysis of the literature, Terry Eagleton refers mostly to Freud, where he claims that psychoanalysis can lead to a very reductive understanding of literature. To answer this question, it is crucial to answering the question of why people read literature. People read literature as they get the pleasure out of it. According to Freudian theory, the literature is read as “fundamental motivation of all human behavior is the avoidance of pain and the gaining of the pleasure” (Eagleton, 2008, p. 166). So, gathering the Freudian theory of the reasons for reading literature with the question in mind why psychoanalysis may reduce the understanding of literature, it may be concluded that reading literature people understand it through their personal perception of the world, through their personal feelings and emotions. Starting the reading of the literature from the psychoanalysis, people will try to reach the core meaning of the literature through other people’s perception, and literature will lose its main meaning and purpose – to entertain and to please (Eagleton, 2008, p. 166).

Turning to feminism, Eagleton shifted from attempts to criticize literature theories from cultural and textual production. His attention was paid to the politicized criticism, concerning post-structuralism, psychoanalysis and feminism, without connecting it with political function. Moreover, the theoretical issues were substituted by the practical issues, using satiric and polemic tools. The relations to the literature were overviewed from the point of view of feminism in the cases what it was impossible to shift from interpersonal understanding (Eagleton, 2008, p. 105).

So, the theoretical considerations of the literature and its development were one of the main considerations of Terry Eagleton in his works. Being the leading critics in the field of theoretical literature, Terry Eagleton provided some theories, which are still discussed and evaluated. Phenomenology, hermeneutics, reception theory, structuralism and semiotics, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis in the literature were developed and analyzed by Terry Eagleton from different points of view. Political issues, feminism, and Freudian aspects are considered the core influential factors on Terry Eagleton’s views. The science develops and the views of all scholars either change or just shift from one issue to the other and it may be easily followed on the example of Terry Eagleton’s book Literary Theory: An Introduction, where the development of the author’s idea is represented.


Eagleton, T. (2008). Literary Theory: An Introduction. U of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

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