04 August 2007

Freud & Lewis as Mythopoeists

Here's the working introduction for a paper I'm working on. What do you think? Any ideas?

C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), though born a generation apart, are often seen as ideological virtual opponents, representatives of antithetical worldviews. Lewis even fictionalized Freud as a monster in The Pilgrim’s Regress (45-65) and put a parody of his theories in the mouth of a villain in “The Queen of Drum” (157). Yet Freud and Lewis, as authors, are in some ways surprisingly similar. Both possessed talents for translating complex, technical terms and concepts from psychology, theology, or philosophy into clear, lucid prose. Both privileged reason and employed incremental logic to substantiate their claims. Both debated with imaginary interlocutors in their writings, sometimes talking themselves into rhetorical corners. And both were brilliant mythopoeists.
Freud and Lewis created mythologies as vehicles for the communication of their particular ideas of “truth.” Sometimes the myth-making urge is repressed, as it were, in their texts: masquerading as historical or scientific fact. Sometimes their texts enact myth-making by inverting that binary and disguising truth/fact as fiction. In both cases, these two writers are at their literary best when making up stories. Mythology, precisely because of its generic position, allows space for the engaging, compelling, persuasive play of imaginative forces such as allegory, metaphor, and ambiguity—powerful forces ostensibly banned from cold prose. Yet these very devices often counter-intuitively invade Freud’s and Lewis’s “non-fiction” works as moments of beautiful indeterminacy that temporarily enrich but ultimately undermine the text’s official program.
In the end, however, it is the trajectory of their respective mythopoetic projects that alienates Freud and Lewis. Freud creates an imaginative brief history of the human race, supported by putative scholarship, to convince his reader that religion is an illusion on a par with obsessive neuroses, driven by a life-long desire to fulfill deep-seated wishes for mother-love or father-protection. Lewis creates narratives tied to fantastical, extraterrestrial, and pre-Christian settings in order to surprise his reader, through spatial displacement and narrative freshness, with the vitality of God’s existence and humankind’s relationship to Him. That relationship is predicated upon and perhaps even constituted by the very longing Freud dismisses as wishful thinking and Lewis inverts it into “thoughtful wishing” (Narrative Poems 4).


Rosie Perera said...

Sounds good. I'm afraid I've never read any Freud (though he's on my list to read), so I can't comment on how accurate your assessment is.

Steve Hayes said...

Back in the 1950s a distinguished missiologist and mission historian, Bengt Sundkler, accused certain Christian groups of being unbiblical, and of having departed from the historic Christian faith. But instead of demonstrating the truth of his propositions from history or the Bible, he speculated about what Freud would have made of their teaching. Back then Freud had a huge old on Christians.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks, Steve. I'd like to hear more; what were Bengt Sundkler's speculations? How did he think Freud would have responded? And in what ways did Freud have a hold on Christians? I'd love the details....