How can we use psychoanalysis to explore issues of fear and anxiety in literary texts?
Psychoanalysis teaches that there is a vast portion of unknowable material in every individual psyche. The presence of this ‘unconscious mind’ – a concept commonly accredited to Freud – constructs human beings as creatures of divided subjectivity. In Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘William Wilson’ (1839) and Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’ (1910), the narrators are confronted with ‘doubles’ of themselves which can be interpreted as manifestations of conflicting aspects of the psyche. Both authors narrate the conflict between unconscious id and conscious ego, suggesting an anxiety surrounding the paradoxical instinct to both assimilate and reject the mind’s ‘threatening’ aspects. It is this conflict which Freud situates as the centre of human subjectivity; this paper argues that the fear and anxiety which arises from this conflict is also at the ‘heart of our being’. Framed by a reading of Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), I begin my discussion by exploring how Poe and Conrad seem to anticipate many Freudian ideas regarding fear and anxiety in relation to space and spaces. Following this, I engage more fully with the psychoanalytic idea of the double and, briefly, the less-frequently traversed ground of what might be called ‘sartorial psychoanalysis’. Finally, my paper moves ‘beyond the uncanny’ to more post-Freudian discussions, arguing that both discussed short stories ultimately regulate or reject the double which threatens the boundaries of the narrators’ individual subjectivity, in attempts to gain psychical mastery over the fears and anxieties represented by their doubles.