Psychoanalysis and the Portrayal of Desire in Twentieth Century Fiction

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This book explores the concept of desire through psychoanalytic theory, namely in the work of Freud and Lacan, in Feminist theory and in contemporary critical theory and literature. Wide ranging in its pursuits, the book examines what Gorton terms ‘critical scenes of desire’ in literary and artistic examples in order to argue that desire, as a concept, allows for moments of production and transformation. Unlike theorisations that situate desire as ‘lack’, Gorton argues that desire can be reconceived as progressive and multiple. She also suggests that there is a desire on the part of the reader or critic which creates a second ‘scene of desire’ in which the reader tries to ‘solve’ the enigma of the text. In other words, there is a tendency on the part of the critic and reader to want to fill in the gaps that desire creates in the narrative. This book does not seek to be comprehensive in its theorisation of the concept of desire, nor does it attempt to offer a history of the concept within cultural theory. Instead, it examines the way we read for desire and argues that the concept of desire can be found in these readings as progressive and transformative.


“... Dr. Gorton’s carefully crafted sentences and measured judgments push through the brambles of psychoanalytical terminology and the thorny questions of essentialism without denying the difficulties, or foregoing the task to seek out still uncharted territory. In reconsidering the paradoxes and contradictions of the concept of desire in modern thought, she calls on her readers to keep the discussion open-ended, aware that desire is the sustaining force behind a consumerist society, as well as a potentially powerful source of energy for social change. All readers will benefit from this model of engagement and reflection, whether or not they agree with Dr. Gorton’s suggestion that desire may be productively and progressively indeterminate. In any case, Dr. Gorton allows us to see the promising possibilities of creative and on-going discussions between critical theories such as psychoanalysis and feminism in the years to come.” – (from the Preface) Professor Patricia O’Neill, Hamilton College

“This timely study considers feminism’s fraught relationship with psychoanalysis in the twentieth-century, concentrating in particular on feminism’s confrontation with psychoanalytic theories of desire ... Dr. Gorton does not offer her readers another, more ‘feminist-friendly,’ model of desire, but rather convincingly argues that we as feminists need to change our mode of engagement. The way forward, she insists, is not by ‘curing’ traditional psychoanalysis of its ‘patriarchal ills’ but rather by keeping feminist theory open to new ways of reading and writing desire.” – Professor Esther Wohlgemut, University of Prince Edward Island

“Dr. Gorton avoids worshipful acceptance of any theory or position and instead pursues both the value and the limits of her sources in a wider context of cultural study. That alone is a major contribution to the feminist study of desire in literature. In addition, her study moves in the direction that scholarship in humanities must move today: toward a theorized study of cultural function.” –Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth, Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh

Table of Contents

Preface by Patricia O’Neill
1. Lack and Feminism
2. H.D. and Freud
3. Lacan and the Papin Sisters
4. Duras and Desire
5. Deleuze, Guattari and Feminism

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