A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature: Reading the Reader, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature

Reading the Reader, 1st Edition

By Merav Roth


328 pages

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Paperback: 9781138391314
pub: 2019-09-06
Available for pre-order
Hardback: 9781138391307
pub: 2019-09-06
Available for pre-order

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What are the unconscious processes involved in reading literature? How does literature influence our psychological development and existential challenges? A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature offers a unique glimpse into the unconscious psychic processes and development involved in reading. The author listens to the "free associations" of various literary characters, in numerous scenarios where the characters are themselves reading literature, thus revealing the mysterious ways in which reading literature helps us and contributes to our development.

The book offers an introduction both to classic literature (Poe, Proust, Sartre, Semprun, Pessoa, Agnon, and more) and to the major psychoanalytic concepts that can be used in reading it – all described and widely explained before being used as tools for interpreting the literary illustrations. The book thus offers a rich lexical psychoanalytic source, alongside its main aim in analysing the reader’s psychological mechanisms and development. Psychoanalytic interpretation of those literary readers opens three main avenues to the reader’s experience: 1) The transference relations toward the literary characters 2) the literary work as means to transcend beyond the reader’s self-identity and existential boundaries and 3) mobilization of internal dialectic tensions towards new integration and psychic equilibrium. An Epilogue concludes by emphasising the transformational power embedded in reading literature.

The fascinating dialogue between literature and psychoanalysis illuminates hitherto concealed aspects of each discipline and contributes to new insights in both fields. A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature will be of great interest not only to psychoanalytic-psychotherapists and literature scholars, but also to a wider readership beyond these areas of study.


Merav Roth’s book makes an important and unique contribution to the burgeoning study of reciprocal relations between literature and psychoanalysis. It will enrich true readers and writers alike with better understanding of the deep psychic processes involved in reading. As an author with a wealth of experience in both writing and teaching literature, as well as someone for whom - thanks to my late wife, the psychoanalyst Rivka Yehoshua - psychoanalysis was ‘family’, I was astonished to discover through this book novel and intriguing ideas of which I was previously unaware. At a time when writing workshops are flourishing and people write more than they read, Merav Roth’s book is particularly important in challenging both readers and writers to delve ever more deeply into the hidden layers of the process of writing and reading."-A.B. Yehoshua, writer and Professor of Literature, Haifa University, Israel

"This book represents the confluence and mutual enrichment of two centrally important explorations of the human mind: literature and psychoanalysis. Its originality and uniqueness lie in the fascinating way in which they are brought together as equal partners in this dialogue. While well-versed in the breadth and depth of psychoanalytic thought, both classical and contemporary, it is not a psychoanalytic attempt to explain literature. Rather, using a range of literary works, it takes the reader-within-literature as the subject who articulates that which psychoanalysis reads in our minds. Thus, it brilliantly and simultaneously re-creates the immediacy of the experience of reading and the experience of being read and understood in terms of psyche and mind. For this enrichment it is warmly recommended for all readers, both literary and psychoanalytic."-Shmuel Erlich, Sigmund Freud Professor of Psychoanalysis (Emeritus), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Past-President, Israel Psychoanalytic Society

Table of Contents

Preface Introduction: Reading the Reader Part I: Transference relations of the literary reader Introduction to Part I 1: The Distancing Paradox 2: The Bestowal of meaning 3: Seven Types of identification 4: Resistance to Reading 5: The Idealization of the Author 6: Mutual Witnessing 7: Reparation of the Ethical Position Part II: Reading Literature as a Means of Transcendence Introduction to Part II 8: Transcendence beyond self-identity 9: Transcendence beyond the Boundaries of Human Vulnerability and Mortality Part III: From psychic equilibrium to psychic change: The Dialectic forces of literature Introduction to Part III 10: The Dialectic Between the Present and the Absent 11: The Dialectic between the familiar and the uncanny 12: The Dialectic Between The Symbolic Order and Disorder 13: The dialectic between ‘continuous-doing’ and ‘emergent-being’ 13.a First illustration: Aharon Appelfeld’s The man who never stopped sleeping 13.b Second illustration: SØren Kierkegaard’s book Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric 13.c. Third illustration: Otto Dov Kulka’s book Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death 14: Epilogue-The Transformative power of reading literature

About the Author

Merav Roth, Ph.D. is a Training Analyst and cultural researcher. She is former Chair of the Postgraduate Klein Studies program and of the Doctoral unit for the Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Ph.D. and currently Chair of the Psychotherapy Program at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Israel. She co-Edited Melanie Klein: Essential Writings Volume II with J. Durban (2013).

About the Series

Art, Creativity, and Psychoanalysis Book Series

The Art, Creativity, and Psychoanalysis book series seeks to highlight original, cutting edge studies of the relationship between psychoanalysis and the world of art and the psychology of artists, with subject matter including the psychobiography of artists, the creative process, the psychology of aesthetic experience, as well as the aesthetic, creative and artistic aspects of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Art, Creativity, and Psychoanalysis promotes a vision of psychoanalysis as a creative art, the clinical effectiveness of which can be enhanced when we better understand and utilize the artistic and creative processes at its core.

The series welcomes proposals from psychoanalytic therapists from all professional groups and theoretical models, as well as artists, art historians and art critics informed by a psychoanalytic perspective.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Semiotics & Theory
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health