Russian Fairy Tales (RUSS 047/LITR 047R) -- Spring 2008 -- Swarthmore College

Lecture notes for February 6, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

Please hand in the original fairy tales – if you don’t mind my putting them on Blackboard, send yours to me as an e-mail attachment.

Any questions about Russian icons? Why would we want to learn to read an icon (besides the fact that it’s cool!): not all that many old images survived, and icons were typically treasured and preserved. Even though most icons are not folk images – with some exceptions in certain regions distant from the cultural centers – they LOOK like folk images compared to the Western, academic style images that start to appear in the 17th and 18th centuries. (The presumption we keep seeing that folk is also old, and vice versa.) Why would the accepted style of icons shift to a more western style in the 17th and 18th centuries? – Muscovy becomes the Russian Empire, acquires territory in Ukraine, invites Italian architects to design the Kremlin cathedrals, fashion changes, and finally: the icons often hung over smoky candles, would get dark, and the egg tempera paint would also change colors over many years, dim into less exciting colors: so the old ones didn’t look amazing any more. The assumption that old icons were in folk style, and the exxcitement of the discovery of some of old icons that had been stored or forgotten, meant that some icon-like images show up in late 19th century, early 20th century images supposed to evoke folkness – "icon hills" in theater decorations, Palekh style (black background, bright paint, and lacquer) in both icons and fairytale illustrations.

If you’re very interested in icons, there’s an icon making course taught at Villanova (taught by a Catholic priest, but I haven’t heard any complaints from Orthodox professors who’ve seen the results) -- see this interesting link about the work of Reverend Canulli.

Today’s topic: Psychoanalytic approaches to fairy tales. The ones we'll concentrate on are Freudian (represented for us by Bruno Bettelheim), Jungian (Maria von Franz), and “Self Theory” (Sidney Cashdan). How many of you have taken a psych class? Are any of these people read there now?

Why would you WANT to take a psychoanalytic approach to fairy tales? – possible answers: fairy tales are seen as collective and unconscious, just like the human unconscious or the collective unconscious. Since the style of the tales precludes certain kinds of narrative interpretation or pleasure, modern readers might ask: what is their coherence? The Folk is seen as a sort of childhood group, and tales are for kids – so looking in them for clues to human development, passage from childhood to adulthood? (And Propp and others assuming that the magic tales are survivals of rituals for rites of passage.) Or the lack of self-consciousness in the tales makes them readable sort of like dreams? “Analysis” is aimed at finding what isn’t visible on the surface, what’s concealed or not conscious in the tale. And – fairy tales are so naive, there’s a ton of material there to address. A psychoanalytic approach is a way to make sense of the tales (wanting them to “make sense” is one modern response to the tales).

Freudian analysis: analysis, again, aims to find what is hidden or obscured, to bring it to the surface or combine its elements into a meaningful and shapely whole. Freud (1856-1939) is NOT in good odor with contemporary psychology, esp. because of his treatment of sex – superseded by lots of more recent developments – but his own method largely depends on literary methods (he read Greek myths in a way similar to how later scholars used his tools to read fairy tales). Freud’s still influential in other fields, has contributed (as a set of basics, OR as something to object to and move away from!) to later theories of all kinds in various fields.

“While Freud's psychoanalytic method had a profound influence on psychotherapeutic practice, it is his theories of the mind--and particularly his conceptualization of the unconscious--that have arguably been his most important and influential contributions to contemporary thought. Freud conceived of the mind in spatial terms, viewing the unconscious as the area to which our socially unacceptable desires and fantasies are relegated, and well as the area from which jokes, slips of the tongue, dream imagery, and much of our creative ideas flow. Freud elaborated a schematic of the mind that corresponded with his view of personality development. The id consisted of the primary drives and impulses, such as oral and sexual desire and the aggressive instincts. The superego was the internalization of familial and social rules, particularly the prohibitions against primitive desires and instincts. And the ego was essentially the socialized self, capable of defenses, sublimation, rational thought, and creativity. While these theories have been elaborated and debated within psychoanalytic circles, the rudimentary concepts are familiar to most people in western cultures, and have been largely, if crudely, incorporated into contemporary thinking about the mind and the personality.” (from St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. St. James Press, 2000, consulted on line.)

Bruno Bettelheim: 1903-1990. 1938 doctorate from the University of Vienna; imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of Austria. Emigrated to the US in 1939; in 1943 published a very influential essay on the psychology of concentration camp prisoners. Taught at University of Chicago, 1944-1973, and directed the influential Orthogenic School for children with behavioral problems, based in Chicago, with special emphasis on autistic children (he explained autism as the result of insufficient environmental stimulation during the first years of life, which hampered the development of language and motor skills (you can imagine how popular this idea is now with parents of autistic children). The Uses of Enchantment first published in 1976. BB’s been critiqued and attacked since his death, in particular for psychologically and physically abusing children living in the group home he ran, but he is still widely used in the study and analysis of fairy tales. The Uses of Enchantment has a lot of illuminating things to say.

Jungian psychology: Carl Gustav Jung (Swiss, 1875-1961) – founder of modern depth psychology. Spent some time working with Freud but they parted ways rather painfully; shared assumption that the point of human life is to discover how we work, what we’re about, who we really are, and that a prolonged analysis is the way to get to that. Research “on psychological typology (extro- and introversion, thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition as psychic functions) and expressed the idea that it is the "personal equation" which, often unconsciously but in accordance with one's own typology, influences the approach of an individual toward the outer and inner world.”

“Next to his typology, Jung's main contribution was his discovery that man's fantasy life, like the instincts, has a certain structure. There must be imperceptible energetic centers in the unconscious which regulate instinctual behavior and spontaneous imagination. Thus emerge the dominants of the collective unconscious, or the archetypes. Spontaneous dreams exist which show an astonishing resemblance to ancient mythological or fairy-tale motifs that are usually unknown to the dreamer. To Jung this meant that archetypal manifestations belong to man in all ages; they are the expression of man's basic psychic nature. Modern civilized man has built a rational superstructure and repressed his dependence on his archetypal nature--hence the feeling of self-estrangement, which is the cause of many neurotic sufferings.” There are MANY Jungian therapists working today, if you're interested just google and explore.

Maria Luise von Franz: German, 1915-1998; PhD from U of Zürich in classical languages; worked as a Jungian analyst from 1948 to her death; co-founded and taught at the C. G. Jung Institute, in Zürich. She authored lots of books. Two points to Jungian work with fairy tales: first, to amplify the symbolism of dreams when someone is in analysis: if they dream of a frog, see what a frog signifies in a fairy tale (product of collective unconscious, and a formative vehicle of a national or ethnic group’s collective unconscious on children as they’re raised, so something we’re all likely to “contain” on the deep level that will show up in our dreams)). Second, aims to understand the symbolic richness and teaching value of fairy tales, and to locate the elements Jung found in human psyche there too: shadow; anima or animus; etc.

Possible critiques: for a Jungian analyst everything means or leads to everything, the chain of associations can lead you awfully far astray, or else keep coming back to a same big issue.

“Self theory” is represented here by Sheldon Cashdan and his book The Witch Must Die – he has also written (starting in the 1960s) on the psychological motivations of college students for shoplifting!, and a book on object relations therapy; also on adolescent creativity, and children’s psychology. (read from my page of notes…)


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Friday, February 8, 2008.