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This article is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

Scholarship Terminable and Interminable: Some Thoughts on the Place of Literary Criticism in a Life of Finite Duration Raymond Tallis

IN A FAMOUS LATE ESSAY (Psychoanalysis, Terminable and Interminable, 1937) Freud conceded that his brand of psychotherapy might never lead to cure. Although the goal of treatment may be approached as the analyst descends through the 'psychological strata', it remains elusive: penis envy in females and castration anxiety in males are a bedrock beneath which the analyst cannot penetrate. This essay has not caused the embarrassment it should in the profession, perhaps because it has been thought that psycho-analysis is like education: a process of enrichment and illumination, of personal growth, and of adjustment to a world that offers only finite responses to one's infinite wishes. Thus characterized, psychoanalysis hardly seems to be something one would wish to be terminable.

The interminability of analysis is good news for psychoanalysts with mortgages to tend but not such good news for patients concerned about life off the couch and their own mortgages. The cynical - and who more than psycho-analysts have taught us to be cynical? - might suggest that Freud's essay has revealed the final truth behind psycho-analysis: that it serves the needs of therapists more than patients. I shall not pursue this, as my purpose is only to point up an analogy with the current state of affairs in literary criticism. For it seems that critics - whose prime function one might suppose to be to mediate between readers and works of literature in such a way as to enrich and deepen the reader's experience - are ...


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