African American and Psychoanalytic Lenses

The entire time I was reading about African American criticism, I was wondering how Tyson was going to apply this lens to Great Gatsby, and I was pleasantly surprised that reading with the perspective that the story laks African American characters and culture is using this lens in and of itself. Normally, I would have approached this text and dismissed an African American lens… am I the only one who was naïve and thinking this way? I found this chapter very insightful and it will come in useful this coming summer when I take ENG 529, which will focus on African American literature.

Further, it is good to know that all the psychology classes I took as an undergraduate are finally good for something!! I find it particularly interesting that most high school students don’t take a psychology course until at least freshman year of college, so much like Structuralist critical theory, I am also worried about using a psychoanalytic lens in my classroom. Many of the concepts related to this theory would really do require sufficient background information from the field of psychology, which I know make this theory much more coherent for me, such as descriptions of Freud and all his theories. Does anyone else feel the same? I am left wondering how difficult it would be to use this lens in a classroom setting, despite the fact that I really do like it and find it useful. I suppose some aspects of it could be used rather easily, such as the study of sibling rivalries, inferiority, defense mechanisms, and family dynamics, but what about the id, the ego and the superego? Or the meaning of sexuality? Perhaps some aspects of this lens could be left out, but considering how important this theory is, does omitting information do it justice?! However, after reviewing the questions on page 38, there are some questions that I think could be used with students it they are phrased in a very straightforward fashion with no vague or unknown terms.

 -Mandy

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2 responses to “African American and Psychoanalytic Lenses

  1. allison

    Mandy, I’m glad you brought up these two lenses. They are very effective ones and important for high school students to be exposed to.

    I also found the Gatsby criticism intriguing. I thought it was a particularly good to note the lack of African American culture in a novel that takes place during the jazz age. When you think about it in this light, it is extremely shocking that African Americans could be omitted.

    As far as psychoanalysis goes, I think this can be one of the most insightful lenses to use on a text. I took an undergraduate class that applied psychoanalytic criticism to texts, with a particular emphasis on the theme of love in literature. I learned that using a psychoanalytic lens can give the reader a deeper understanding of characters in a story. This lens also makes you appreciate the intricacies of human behavior that play out in a well-constructed text.

    Tyson does a nice job of laying out the key concepts. I especially found the summary of defense mechanisms a good reference tool, because it seems that a reader can see these at work in many works of literature. These defense mechanisms surely come up in adolescent literature and would also be applicable to high school student’s own lives. Exposure to these human behaviors should come at the high school level.

  2. sunyprof

    I agree with both of you women. I agree that the complexity of much of Freudian psychology may be daunting for high school aged teens, but a friend’s son who is taking Psych as a senior in a local high school is discussing the id, ego and superego this week actually.

    These are topics routine, for example, in Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) high school classes locally.

    Why wouldn’t such interesting content be developed to engage all students in developing their critical literacy (ies)?? Instead, are theoretical approaches considered appropriate for only “elite” classes? The distinctions we make about who gets to learn what in schools, and especially in English classes, simply reinforce inequity. ALL students need to have access to seconday Discourses of power. KES

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