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7AAEM734 The British Psychoanalytic Tradition

Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Dr Neil Vickers
Assessment: 1 x 4000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: One two hour seminar, weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module description:

The main aim of this course is to introduce students to the riches of the British psychoanalytic tradition. Although it is primarily intended for graduate students of literature, the critical resources it explores may be of interest to historians, philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, critical theorists, social scientists and medical humanists. Beginning with the founding of the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1919, the course will consider the early reception of psychoanalysis in Britain, before considering some of its peculiarities. Perhaps the most striking feature of adult psychoanalysis in Britain is that it is an adapted form of child psychoanalysis. Everywhere else, childhood figures as a crucial biographical stage but analysis seeks to recruit the adult mind. In Britain, the chief object of psychoanalytic interest is the child-in-the-adult. This emphasis is testimony to the deep impact of Melanie Klein's work. Klein arrived in London in 1926 and immediately became a central figure in the British Psychoanalytic Society. Her assumptions about the infantile basis of adult mental life were taken over even by psychoanalysts who later parted company from Klein such as Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. It eventually coloured the working assumptions of Klein's most distinguished opponent in the British Society, Anna Freud. Another great distinguishing feature is that it is alone in Europe in being a continuous tradition. Everywhere else in Europe, psychoanalysis had to be re-founded after the Second World War. Lastly, we must take stock of the fact that British psychoanalysis is and always has been a female profession, dominated by women. This has a strong bearing on the disagreements with the French tradition, notably with Lacan.

The course will pay particular attention to what psychoanalytic theorists have to say about art in all its manifestations. Freud was ambivalent about art. At his least imaginative say, in 'Creative Writers and Daydreaming' (1908) he equated it with wish-fulfilment and neurosis. But in his writings on specific literary works he could also see it as serving a truth-seeking purpose. We will begin by looking at Klein's concept of unconscious phantasy and its implications for aesthetic experience, before going on to consider her ideas concerning the links between sanity and depression. The course will then consider a variety of relevant topics such as Winnicott's idea of 'potential space', Marion Milner's work on nature of artistic vitality, the expansion of Kleinian paradigm through the concept of 'projective identification,' the nature of schizophrenia and its links with symbol-formation, Bowlby's attachment theory, W.R. Bion's expansion of object relations metapsychology in his writings of the 1960s and Donald Meltzer's ideas about the aesthetic nature of all psychological experience. The course will conclude with survey of post-Bionian developments.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of the module, students will have have gained the following intellectual and practical skills:

  • To gain thorough knowledge and understanding of the distinguishing features of the British psychoanalytic tradition.
  • To gain a better understanding of the major concepts associated with that tradition and how these might be applied to literary texts.
  • To come to an informed understanding of the ways in which psychoanalytic arguments have been made.
  • To reach a better understanding of the place of childhood mental functioning in relation to psychoanalytic argument


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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