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Richard L. W.

Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06C

Holland, Norman N. "Reading and Identity: a Psychoanalytic Revolution." Academy
Forum [of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis] 23 (1979): 7-9.
Theorists of literature, Holland argues, used to think that a given story or poem
evoked some "correct" or at least widely shared response (). However, Holland came
to realise as a result of his sojourn at SUNY, Buffalo's Center for the Psychological
Study of the Arts, that there is a much subtler and a more complex process at work.
Each person who reads a story, poem, or even a single word construes it differently.
These differences evidently stem from personality ().
Drawing in particular on the model of identity advanced by Heinz Lichtenstein,
This, Holland contends, is the
latest of the four characterologies that psychoanalysis has evolved. First
there are diagnostic categories like hysteric, manic, or schizophrenic.
Second, Freud and his followers added the libidinal types: anal, phallic,
oral, genital, and urethral. Although these terms could bring larger
segments of someone's behavior together in a significant way, they
pointed toward childhood; necessarily they infantalized adult
achievements. A third, ego-psychological, notion of character was
Fenichel's: "the ego's habitual mode of bringing into harmony" the
demands of the external world and the internal world of personal drives
and needs. ()
Holland contends that Lichtenstein sees the individual as embodying a dialectic of
sameness and difference. We detect the sameness by seeing what persists within the
constant change of our lives. We detect the difference by seeing what has changed
against the background of sameness (). The easiest way to comprehend that dialectic
of sameness and difference is as a
theme and variations-like a musical theme and variations. Think of the
sameness as a theme, an "identity theme." Think of the difference as
variations on that identity theme. I can arrive at an identity theme by
sensing the recurring patterns in someone's life, just as I would arrive at
the theme of a piece of music. I would express it, not in terms from
elsewhere (either diagnostic words like "hysteric" or structural words like
"ego"), but in words as descriptive as possible of that person's behavior.
Like I. A. Richards before him, Holland undertook an empirical study of how various
readers interpreted William Faulkners A Rose for Emily and came to the conclusion,
one influenced by Lichtenstein, that we actively transact literature so as to re-create
our identities (). Referring to the response of one reader named Sandra, Holland
argues that
I see Sandra bringing to this sentence both the general expectations I
think she has toward any other (that it will nurture or protect) and also
specific expectations toward Faulkner or the South or short stories. She
also brings to bear on the text what I regard as her characteristic pattern
of defensive and adaptive strategies ("defenses," for short) so as to
shape the text until, to the degree she needs that certainty, it is a setting
in which she can gratify her wishes and defeat her fears about closeness
and distance: "a great little touch." Sandra also endows the text with
what I take to be her characteristic fantasies, that is, her habitual wishes
for some strong person who will balance closeness, nuture, and strength,
here, "the voice in the story" which undercuts the bigot. Finally, as a
social, moral, and intellectual being, she gives the text a coherence and
significance that confirm her whole transaction of the clause. She reads it

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06C

These four terms, defense, expectation, fantasy, and transformation
(DEFT, for short) connect to more than clinical experience. One can
understand expectation as putting the literary work in the sequence of a
person's wishes in time, while transformation endows the work with a
meaning beyond time. Similarly, I learn of defenses as they shape what
the individual lets in from outside, while fantasies are what I see the
individual putting out from herself into the outside world. Thus these
four terms let me place a person's DEFTing at the intersection of the axes
of human experience, between time and timelessness, between inner and
outer reality. ()
This could be applied to any text which the reader is reading (such as a newspaper) or,
indeed, real humans whose character she is attempting to understand and to judge.
Holland stresses the subjective character of all perception and, thus, knowledge:
Freud seemed to believe in "immaculate perception." He assumed that
eyes and ears faithfully transmit the real world into the mind, where later
these originally sound percepts may be distorted by unconscious or
neurotic needs. Few, if any, twentieth century students of perception
would agree. Hundreds of their experiments have shown that perception
is a constructive act. The very cells of our eyes and ears have already
begun to shape the transmission of the outside world to our minds,
separating out voices from noise or an approaching object from an
approaching aperture. In some complex acts of perception, such as
recognizing particular objects, relative positions or distances, contrasts,
and so on, the role of the perceiver becomes even clearer and stronger.
Psychologists who study sensing, knowing, or remembering have long
recognized the importance of the person who senses, knows, or
remembers. They have asked for a "top-level theory of motivation" to
take that whole person into account. That is, a person's needs,
motivation, and character shape even small details of perception,
cognition, and memory.
Lichtensteins theory of identity, Holland believes, provides this top-level theory:
we can conceptualize sensing, knowing, or remembering - indeed, the
whole human mind . . . as a hierarchy of feedback networks, each set to
a reference level from the loop above it. At the lowest level, the outer
world triggers signals from the cells of retina or cochlea which, if they are
big enough by the reference standards set from above, stimulate
movements of eyeball or ear canal to vary and test those signals. Higher
loops will deal with intensities, sensations, configurations, objects,
positioning, tracking, sequencing, changing sequences, and will look more
like DEFTings. ()
The highest reference level, Holland argues, will be set by the identity loop: we
transact the world through all these particular transactions so as to re-create our
individual identities ().
Integrating psychoanalysis with experimental psychology and psycholinguistics,
Holland sees the identity theory of Lichtenstein as
moving psychoanalysis definitively into a third phase. At first, Freud
explained things by the polarity: conscious versus unconscious. Then,
after Freud's 1923 revision of his early work, ego psychology explained
things by the polarity: ego as against non ego. Now, we believe,
psychoanalysis has grown to fill a still larger conceptual frame: self and
other - as in the work of Lacan, Kohut, Fairbairn, Guntrip, Winnicott,
Milner, or in the identity theory of Lichtenstein as applied and developed
by the so-called Buffalo school. ()

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06C

Holland is of the view that identity theory enriches psychoanalytic theories of

motivation: Freud began with a two-level theory. The pleasure
principle (really, the avoidance of unpleasure) was the
dominant human motive except as it became modified by
the reality principle (we learned to delay gratification so as
to achieve a net increase in pleasure). Later he provided a
third, deeper level, "beyond" the pleasure principle, a death
instinct or perhaps a drive toward a constant or zero level
of excitation, an idea questioned by many psychoanalysts.
Lichtenstein suggests replacing it with an identity principle:
the organism's most basic motivation is to maintain its
identity. Indeed, we will even die to be true to what we
hold fundamental to our being. So deep and strong is
identity, it defines what the pleasure and the reality of the
other principles are. ()
From this point of view, ego, id, superego, reality, and the compulsion to repeat all
exist as functions of identity (). Hence,
instead of structures, they can be better understood as questions about a
total transaction by a self with an identity. One can ask, What in this
transaction looks like an integrating, synthesizing activity? What looks
like an incorporated parental voice? These questions will lead to a picture
of the whole person acting, rather than five agencies. ()
This is why in teaching development through the familiar oral, anal, phallic, etc.,
stages (), Holland contends that
active child with a developing identity marches through an epigenetic
landscape of questions posed by his own biology, his parents, and the
social and environmental structures they embody. In effect, we can read
the development of any given individual as the particular answers he
chooses (because they re create his identity) to questions that his
particular body or family poses or that he shares with other children who
have his biology and culture. And, of course, the answers he arrives at
become part of the identity he brings to the questions he gets thereafter.
Thinking of the oedipal stage as society, the parents, and biology all demanding that
the child situate itself in a world divided into male and female persons and parental and
filial generations () will elicit differing responses. Different parents and societies will
favor different answers: a
patriarchal family or culture might treat the male-female distinction as
those who have and those who lack. A more enlightened group might
see not a lack but a difference, perhaps irrelevant to roles within or
outside the family. Whatever the biases, the individual child must
achieve an answer that will continue the growth of an identity through
the physical and social questions posed by a particular landscape.
Development becomes a dialogue (or, as in perceptual theory, a
feedback) between identity on the one hand and, on the other, biology
and culture. ()
Holland and co. at Buffalo use what has come to be called the Delphi (know thyself)
seminar () to help students discover how they each bring a personal style (identity)
to reading, writing, learning, and teaching. Students and faculty read imaginative or
even theoretical texts and pre-circulate to one another written free associations (). In
the Delphi seminar, everyone comes face to face with the ultimate implication of
identity theory ():
If any reading of a story or another person or psychological theory is a
function (among other things) of the reader's identity, then my reading of
your identity must be a function of my own. Identity, then, is not a

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06C

conclusion but a relationship: the potential, transitional, in between space

in which I perceive someone as a theme and variations. ()
In identity theory, all selves and objects constitute one another. The hard and fast
line between subjective and objective blurs and dissolves (). In place of simple
dualism (), we acknowledge the ways in which self and other mutually constitute each
other ().
Holland concludes by turning his attention to the question of whether
psychoanalysis is a science per se:
Traditionally psychologists have tried to understand new human events
by impersonal if-then generalizations about countable categories. Few
large-scale generalizations have resulted, however. If we define a
science as yielding understanding, psychology as we have known it so
far, has not been scientific. Identity theory suggests a more promising
method: one should bring not generalizations but questions to the new
event, questions to be asked by a scientist acknowledging and actively
using his involvement with what he is studying. ()
This is how he understands not only his own attempt to understand the reading process
but also the method shared by all psychoanalytic psychologists.