Between The Toy and The Theater: Reading Aesthetics in 'Beyond The Pleasure Principle'

Andrea Gyenge


Of Freud’s forays into aesthetics, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) is not the first text that comes to a critic’s mind. Despite its notable status in the Freudian oeuvre—one that is as much a result of Lacan’s treatment as it is of the text’s famous difficulty—Beyond the Pleasure Principle is rarely invoked as a text that exemplifies Freud’s most important contributions to aesthetics. One perhaps thinks instead of The Interpretation of Dreams, which Georges Didi-Huberman clamorously declares to have “smashed the box of representation” (2005, p. 44) or Freud’s essay on the uncanny and its masterful reading of Hoffmann’s “The Sand-Man,” which would be suitable, if it were not for Freud’s dispiriting announcement there that aesthetics is not a native branch of psychoanalytic investigation. “It is only rarely,” writes Freud, “that a psychoanalyst feels impelled to investigate the subject of aesthetics even when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty, but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He works in other planes of mental life and has little to do with those subdued emotional activities which, inhibited in their aims and dependent upon a multitude of concurrent factors, usually furnish the material for the study of aesthetics”


psychoanalysis, aesthetics

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