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Selected M.E. Grenander Materials:

The fourfold way: Determinism, moral responsibility, and Aristotelean causation.
published in:
Metamedicine, Vol. 3, 375-396. (1982).

Science, Scientism, and Literary Theory.
published in:
Annals of Scholarship, 2 (No. 3), 65-84. (1981).

Benito Cereno and legal oppression: A Szaszian perspective.
published in:
Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 2. No. 4, pp. 137 - 342. (1978).

"Of Graver Import Than History: Psychiatry in Fiction"
published in:
Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2: 29-44.

BOOK REVIEW - Pull Down Thy Vanity: Psychiatry And Its Discontents
published in:
Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 3. (1985).

Book Reviews: Thomas Szasz, Sex by Prescription
published in:
Journal For The Humanities & Technology, 3 (1981), 39-42.

M.E. Grenander letter regarding Szasz Web Site

[Reprinted here by permission of the author. From _Annals of Scholarship_, 2 (No. 3, 1981), 65-84. Copyright 1980 by Annals of Scholarship, Inc.]

Science, Scientism, and Literary Theory



(Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of English, The University at Albany, State University of New York)

"All things imaginable are but nouns." Jonathan Swift, _Gulliver's Travels_, III, 5.

"PURE LOGICAL THINKING," Einstein remarked in his 1933 Herbert Spencer lecture, "cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it." But the ways in which people experience and consequently see the empirical world depend on how their culture is structuralized. All western societies derive their most fundamental structural pattern, the principles and methodology of the natural sciences, from the hinge of time opening on the modern era, the seventeenth century. Its ideological legacy, the formal cause for today's _Weltanschauung_, is symbolized by the coincidence that the year in which Galileo died--1642--was also the year in which Sir Isaac Newton was born. Beginning with the late Renaissance and Bacon's famous dictum that "knowledge is power," discoveries in natural philosophy--or what we now call "science"--were implemented by technological advances that led to the relief of man's estate. It seemed that the millenium, if not at hand, was at least a practicable goal. More science and more technology, more widely applied, would eventually enable us all to live happily in well-ordered societies, rationally planned according to scientific principles.

It was an enticing vision. Scientists, instead of being punished for their heretical views, as even Galileo had been, were hailed as new messiahs who would lead us to the promised land of comfort and contentment. Other professional seekers after knowledge, dazzled by society's love affair with science, tried to re-define their own fields of study in order to march under the adored banner of physics and chemistry.(1) New disciplines that developedQprimarily those that dealt with the nature of man, either alone or in society-were grouped under the rubric of the social and behavioral "sciences." Some older disciplines which had traditionally been allied with the humanities developed schizoid personalities from which they still suffer, with history being the classic example. It is not unknown for a university to have two history departments: one in the social sciences, one in the humanities. And even where individual historians are grouped in a single department, they may be allied with differing traditions, those who regard themselves as scientists rather than humanists having coined a new name for their discipline: "cliometrics."

Medicine did not escape this trend. In the nineteenth century, aided by the efforts of Claude Bernard, most notably in his _Introduction a l'etude de la medicine experimentale_, the "art" of medicine became the "science" of medicine. And although psychology resisted -- or was refused -- an alliance with medicine, it nevertheless considered itself a science, and is included with the social and behavioral sciences in university organization. Psychiatry, of course, has always been a branch of medicine. For a brief period, when Sigmund Freud was promulgating his theories, the possibility of lay psychoanalysts was taken very seriously, although Freud himself was a neurologist with a degree in medicine. Today, however, it is rare indeed to find an analyst whose training has not been preceded by a psychiatric residency, which in turn rests on a foundation of medical school.

Where has all this left the humanities? For one thing, they lose their power when they fail to preserve the homogeneity of their culture by interpreting it--and our age is a scientific one. Consequently they _must_, if they are not to retreat to a self-destructive solipsism, come to some terms with science. But the attempt of many humanists has often taken the unfortunate turn of warping their subject matters into forms that could be dealt with by the quantifiable data and abstract propositions of the natural sciences. Such efforts have not, by and large, advanced the study of the arts, however; they have frequently resulted in rather bizarre manifestations of mechanical formulae--many of which could be run off on the computer--for creating musical compositions, paintings and other artifacts, and poetic works. One is often reminded, on being exposed to these productions, of Jonathan Swift's flying island of Laputa and Grand Academy of Lagado, on Balnibarbi, in Book Three of _Gulliver's Travels_. Indeed, as Patricia Warrick asks, "If creativity is a special delight of man, why program machines to do it?" And Jacques Ellul has concluded that contemporary art's only function is "ludic"; it is now no more than a game that makes a toy of technology.(2)

The telescoping of art with science is made explicit when such strange hybrids are referred to as "experimental." But why should a work of art be an experiment? The scientist's goal when he sets up an experiment is to create a model that can be duplicated by other scientists in order to establish whether or not a principle has universal applicability. But this is not at all the goal of the artist; he aims not to create something other artists can replicate, but to bring into existence a unique object. He may -- indeed, he probably will -- proceed through a process of trial-and-error; but the scientist means something quite different by "the experimental method."

Consequently a little historical exploration of experimental art is in order. Although we have recently been informed that "in serious writing, naturalistic fiction is as dead as rhymed verse"(3) (a proposition whose dubious premise may come as a surprise to admirers of Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, and James Merrill), the whole concept of experimental art had its genesis in naturalism's greatest theorist: Emile Zola. Zola, however, reified something specific. Writing in the nineteenth century, he idolized science fully as much as any of today's artists. But he seems to have understood it better and to have realized more fully what an imitation of its methodology entailed for the _litterateur_. Very much a child of his time, he believed that naturalism would drive all human intelligence, including that manifested in the novel and the drama, into the path of science, which he took for granted had proved certain hypotheses about heredity and environment. It then became the duty of the experimental novelist to point out in man and in society the mechanism of these phenomena.

Zola's guide was the transformation of medicine from an art into a science: experimental medicine was to physiology as the experimental novel was to the passionate and intellectual life. Just as the physicians of his era strove to imitate physics and chemistry, so the novelists should strive to imitate medicine. All followed the same route, from chemistry to physiology to anthropology to sociology, with the experimental novel as the goal. The novelist acquired his facts through observation; he then placed his characters in a series of circumstances which would reveal how the general consequences of determinism operated in particular cases, thus giving us, _quod erat demonstrandum_, scientific knowledge of man in both his individual and social relations. Zola attributed the fact that the experimental novel was still far from the certainties of chemistry or even physiology to the obscurity and complexity of its subject matter, confident nonetheless of the scientific rigor of his methodology.(4) Stephen Crane, the American naturalist, implemented at least the first part of Zola's theories in two _New York Press_ sketches in April, 1894: "An Experiment in Misery" and "An Experiment in Luxury." In both, the writer tried to find out through observation how it felt to belong to a social class either much below or much above his own. In the first "experiment," he dressed in rags and spent a night and a morning in the company of homeless and penniless wretches; in the second, he spent an afternoon and evening in the home of a millionaire and his family.

Critics now are as fond as Zola was of discovering parallels between art and science, on the hidden premise that only on such a basis is art worthy of serious attention. But there is nothing new about the concept of art as "experimental," on the model of the natural sciences, in either Europe or the United States. The notion has been around for almost a hundred years. However, like an old rubber band, it has become so stretched as to have no defining power at all. Today "experimental art" means at most nothing more than the up-to-date; it may not mean even that, however. Although we are often told that it is avant-garde writing that resembles experimental science, Zola's contemporary epigones, while continuing his slavish adulation of science, frequently describe any art they approve of, from any period, of whatever kind, as "experimental." Thus, one observer, although deciding that "only those forays that courageously court the unknown ... finally deserve the honorific epithet," nevertheless concedes that broadly speaking, "all imaginative writing could be considered 'experimental.'" (5) Another critic who takes American fiction as his province tells us that "in a sense [it is] all . . . experimental"-- from Hawthorne to Barthelme.(6)

This reductionism, not only in literature but in the fine arts, the humanities generally, and the social studies, including economics, has led to what is called _scientism_, or the misapplication of principles and methodologies of the natural sciences to areas of inquiry where they are epistemologically inappropriate. Scientism, which has been attacked by both scientists and humanists, has had particularly unfortunate consequences in two disciplines: one, the study of human nature, whether presented under the rubric of _psychology, psychiatry, or psychoanalysis_; the other, literary theory. Since the second depends, in large part, on the first, I shall begin with an examination of some of the consequences of taking for granted the "scientific" aspect of psychiatry (a short-hand term I shall use to include also its siblings, psychology and psychoanalysis, since of the three it has been most successful in getting itself labeled as "science").

Psychiatry had not been subjected to rigorous humanistic analysis until well past the mid-point of the twentieth century. Two figures then emerged who have been pioneers in this endeavor, one in France, one in the United States: Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz. Seminal works by each appeared in 1961: Foucault's _Histoire de la folie_ and Szasz's _The Myth of Mental Illness_. For reasons which it would take me too far afield to explore here, Foucault's work has received greater attention than Szasz's from humanists, not only in Europe but in the United States. But Szasz's concern with the mythic structure of psychiatry has been more pervasive and more sustained than Foucault's, and he has been characterized as a "social philosopher . . . two generations ahead of his time."(7). Moreover, a recent extended interview in _Le Monde_.(8) is perhaps a sign of his growing recognition on the European continent, where translations of his books, in a variety of languages, have long been available. I shall therefore concentrate on his work, examining its implications for literary theory. He has by now written hundreds of articles and seventeen books, including _The Myth of Mental Illness_, keystone of his conceptual arch, and _The Myth of Psychotherapy_ (1978). And in casting a retrospective glance over his career, he wrote that he has tried to "demystify and demythologize what both mental patients and psychiatrists say and do."

Szasz's emphasis on the role of mythology in psychiatry leads to an examination of the nature and social function of myths. According to one interpretation, they have an objective, almost ontological, validity, thus becoming a norm for all other knowledge. This hypostatizing of myths underlay the literary theory of Northrop Frye and his followers, as well as the anthropological researches of Claude Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss refers to "the science of myths," looking forward to the day when anthropologists will be able to construct a computer program that will reveal the "entire techno-economic, social, and religious structures" of the Australian tribes. And his most famous book is sub-titled "Introduction to a Science of Mythology." The following passage typifies his views:

Myth . . . should be placed in the gamut of linguistic expressions at the end opposite to that of poetry, in spite of all the claims which have been made to prove the contrary.... The mythical value of the myth is preserved even through the worst translation. Whatever our ignorance of the language and the culture of the people where it originated, a myth is still felt as a myth by any reader anywhere in the world. Its substance does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells. Myth is language, functioning on an especially high level where meaning succeeds practically at "taking off" from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on rolling.(9)

A common popular attitude, however, often encountered in the mass media, is quite opposed to that of Frye and Levi-Strauss. It holds that myths can be self-consciously designed to promote whatever worthy purpose one has in mind. A good example of such a view, quoted from a general circulation magazine, speaks of developing

new myths ... by which people will want to live.... [They] can be woven in prose and poetry, drama and music, meetings and events of all sorts. We are learning to recognize and develop the skills of myth makers, who work with both their left and right brains. [Note the bow to science here, which was to be recognized in the 1981 Nobel award to Roger Sperry.] . . . The mythmaker must provide an image or a dream which can be accepted: One must not try to force new images down the throats of those who do not want them.(10)

Although this casual assumption that myths can be created almost at will is far from the authoritative weight assigned them by Levi-Strauss, these otherwise dissimilar positions do have two things in common. First, both are examples of scientism. Levi-Strauss believes that he is working in--perhpas inventing--a "science" of mythology which can eventually be programmed on a computer. And the author of the second passage believes that he is linking the creation of myths to the latest developments in brain physiology. Moreover, both views reduce myths to nothing but linguistic structures, or patterns of language.

But myths are far more complicated than either of these two attitudes suggests. Joseph Campbell's penetrating study indicates that mythology has four essential functions. It elicits and supports a sense of awe before the mystery of being; it gives us an image of our world; it supports the current social order, integrating the individual with his group; and it guides him toward realizing his own potentialities.(11) I would add, however, that these four functions lose their power when their underlying mythology is recognized and described as such. Consequently, although Campbell's work is presented in the framework of religious studies, potent mythologies for the last three centuries, for the reasons that I adumbrated earlier, have been presented in the framework of science. Moreover--and here I present some ideas of my own-- there is a fundamental distinction between two kinds of myths: hollow myths and loaded myths.

A "hollow" myth is one that has lost, as the slow centuries wheel past, its original literal import, retaining only its shell. We derive hollow myths from cultures distant from our own, either anthropologically or through the lapse of time. Myths transplanted from such remote origins die: Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden; king Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table; North American Indian legends; the gods and heroes of the Norse Eddas; the legendary Doctor Faustus; the witches of seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts; and the vampires of Slavic Eastern Europe.

But good myths, when they die, go to heaven, and periodically their restless spirits revisit the earth, often calling on poets and musicians who imbue their ghostly shells with a fantasy life, as Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Goethe, Richard Wagner, Arthur Miller, and many others have done. Hollow myths which have been refilled, however, are always symbolic, and symbols can mean different things to different people. Are we to follow George Bernard Shaw--and apparently Patrice Chereau--in interpreting Wagner's _Der Ring der Nibelungen_ as a study of nineteenth-century industrialism? The novel interpretations of the young French director who mounted a new production of Wagner's cycle of music dramas at Bayreuth a few years ago antagonized large segments of his audience, including many critics, who were irate because they cherished their own familiar meanings in Wagner's operas.

Since most of us, when we think about mythology, probably have in mind hollow myths, the reason for this extended analysis is to emphasize that another kind of myth exists. It can be called the loaded myth, for it is anything but hollow and anything but metaphorical. It cannot be treated symbolically because everyone accepts it unthinkingly as literally true: part of the value system by which we live. Loaded myths are very much alive; they are not spirits roaming the earth looking for a meaning. They are only incidentally the stuff of which art is made, for they constitute the warp and woof of a society's entire fabricQits laws, its government, its education, its mores, even its religion and its ethical system. Nobody wonders how to interpret a loaded, living myth; its import is self-evident. As Northrop Frye recently pointed out, a mythology is "a structure of concern or social coherence." Thus, its truth is less important than "the social necessity of accepting it. In practice, this means that" those who fail to accept it should at least refrain from saying so.(12) As a consequence, only someone with enormous courage dares to question the genesis, significance, and consequences of a living myth and to grapple with the difficult answers.

The reason it is so dangerous to tackle a living myth is that its validity is tied up with the professional livelihood of large numbers of influential people. Loaded myths, as both Campbell and Frye have pointed out, serve a social function. It is, however, often the sinister one of furnishing scapegoats on whom the rest of us can load the onerous burden of our sins, driving these sacrificial beasts forth into the wilderness. But this itself is a hollow, empty myth, since for centuries "scapegoats" have not been animals at all, but human beings whom we want to punish for our own problems by exiling them to a metaphorical wilderness. In order to do that, we must strip them of all their rights and privileges as people like us. They must be confirmed as somehow "different"-- like George III's German mercenaries during the American Revolution--so that we can excuse ourselves for treating them as less than human.

Every society authenticates its scapegoats through the activities of a professional class richly rewarded with enormous power and influence. The myths it employs, since they are believed in implicitly, are as loaded as any gun. When someone who has the power to use them aims at a human target and pulls the trigger, the person hit is destroyed as surely as if he had been shot. Two operas dramatize this lethal process. Stanislaw Moniuszko's _Paria_ (less well-known outside Poland than it deserves to be) illustrates how the belief in a loaded myth like pariahdom destroyed not only Idamor but also, with grim irony, the relationship between Neala and her Brahmin father. A more famous example with the scapegoat theme is _Il Trovatore_. Verdi's opera shows the loaded myth of witchcraft operating powerfully to destroy both the poor gypsy who was burned alive and her persecutor's family.

These works show the kind of myth that Thomas Szasz has been attacking. He argues that "mental illness," like the caste system and witchcraft, is a myth developed and supported by a professional class in order to justify society's persecution of the weak and powerless. Just as pariahs and witches were created by the priestly class in cultures that valued religion, so mental illness is created by the psychiatric class in a secular culture that values science. The hypocrisy of this persecution is indicated by its disguise as benevolence. The inquisitor who tortured his victim to death claimed that he was saving her soul. The psychiatrist who tortures his victim in a living death claims that he is saving her mental health.(13) In both cases, the myth is cloaked in the unquestioned values of its culture. How, in seventeenth-century Salem, could one doubt the validity of religion? How, in the twentieth century, can one doubt the values of science?

But in neither instance does the myth have anything to do with the mantle under which it masquerades. Witchcraft was a perversion of religion; pinning psychiatric labels on those we want to degrade, a perversion of science. Szasz maintains that the myth of mental illness, in welfare bureaucracies no less than in totalitarian states, is used to control behavior perceived not only as dangerous but even as merely aberrant or eccentric. More fundamentally, redefining evil as mental illness has not caused its disappearance but has merely altered its mythology, replacing the clergy as its controlling profession with psychiatrists. For Szasz, the mythology of mental illness is, in the terminology of Francis Bacon, today's most potent Idol of the Market-Place. "Mental illness" is a metaphor--or, as Bacon would say, a phantom or false appearanceQthat has become mistaken for reality and that supports the false "science" of psychiatry. It is a myth that has developed historically along with the steady growth of psychiatry in order to lend medical respectability and an aura of objectivity to the work that psychiatrists do.

Although Szasz readily admits that the brain can suffer impairment, the "mind," he believes, since it is incorporeal, cannot have a disease as an organ of the body can. Nevertheless, problems in living or difficulties of communication do indeed exist, as Szasz concedes, analyzing them according to advanced principles of semiotics. But treating them by physiological tinkering is analogous to calling for the television repairman when we do not like the programs relayed to our home screens. Consequently psychiatry, although it presents itself as a science and follows a medical model, is really _scientism_. As such, it misuses scientific methods in situations where they are not applicable. In order to strip away its mask, revealing its true features, Szasz discriminates between being sick--an abnormal physiological condition--and _being a patient_--a status. Although the two are often confused, they are not the same, and they need not even coincide. An ailing person may refuse to play the patient's role, choosing to deny his illness and to suffer in stoic silence. Conversely, an erring delinquent or a social dissident who is not physiologically ill may be forced to play the role of "mental patient."

By blurring the distinction between being sick and being a patient, the mental health ideology, Szasz believes, furnishes an excuse for controlling deviants, troublemakers, or simply burdensome individuals. A society that does not want to confront its moral, social, and political problems can evade them by creating scapegoats, characterizing those whose behavior is a nuisance as "mentally ill" and locking them up. Since loaded myths are valuable tools of authority, the state's legal machinery grinds more easily when professional myth-makers are cogs in its wheels. Thus, psychiatrists today play the same vital role that clergymen played centuries ago in the inquisition of witches.

Like mental illness, psychotherapy is, in Szasz's view, a myth. The etymology of the word reveals how ridiculous the concept is when we take it literally. _Therapy_ for the _psyche_? _Curing the soul_? Shakespeare knew better than this, at the very beginning of the seventeenth century, when western civilization was turning away from a religious culture toward a scientific one. Watching wicked Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep, tortured by an anguish of remorse, the doctor who has been called to the castle says: "This disease is beyond my practice.... More needs she the divine than the physician." Later, Macbeth himself--who knows very well what his wife has been up to--asks the doctor about his queen in an early illustration of the desire to transform questions of good and evil into questions of health and disease: "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd, / Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, / Raze out the written troubles of the brain, / And with some sweet oblivious antidote / Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart?"

The doctor, however, unlike his psychiatric successors, recognizes that what ails his patient has nothing to do with disease and cannot be cured by pills. He answers, "Therein the patient / Must minister to himself." Lady Macbeth is not sick; she is a murderess. Her husband is trying, unsuccessfully, to do what today we do with only too much ease. Thieves, muggers, rapists, and murderers--particularly when it would be awkward or inconvenient to investigate their crimes publicly in a court trial--are treated as if they were "sick" rather than immoral. Szasz wants us to confront questions of good and evil, not to sweep them under the rug by invoking the myth of mental illness. He wants psychiatrists to act like Lady Macbeth's doctor. Shakespeare's physician did not know what his patient had done, but he was acute enough to recognize that she suffered not from disease, but from the gnawing of conscience for some terrible deed. In the last analysis, she herself would have to face the consequences of her own acts. And finally, when she did so, she chose to commit suicide. But even that decision, according to the psychiatric mythology of our modern western societies, is a "mental illness."

What does all this have to do with literary theory? A great deal. Writing in a recent special issue of the _Bulletin_ of the Association of Departments of English in the United States, J. Hillis Miller, Professor of English at Yale University, described what he foresaw as some necessary changes in the organization of college and university English curricula. According to Miller, we should be paying "more attention to the problems of interpreting nonfictional prose (philosophical and critical texts) along with plays, novels, and poems."(14). This is a much- needed clarion call from a widely-respected academic figure in my own discipline which I heartily endorse. Nevertheless, some of the nonfictional prose we should be studying stretches rather further from the conventional boundaries of English literature than John Locke and William Empson, the figures Miller suggests. In particular, teachers not only of English but also of the other humane disciplines should be paying far more attention than we have been to modern theories of cognition. It seems unlikely, however, that we would get very far in understanding them if we used methods, as Miller recommends, similar to the ones involved in reading Shelley and Dickens. A more fruitful approach is the analysis of ideas, which rests on different assumptions from those underlying the analysis of figurative language-- which is what Miller has in mind--although it would of course include that.

Miller represents a school of literary criticism called "deconstruction." He describes it in a puzzling essay as interpretation that moves back and forth in a border zone between nihilism and metaphysics; they are inherent in each other but cannot be comprehended logically. The mind therefore attempts "to reach clarity in a region where clarity is not possible." I believe this is a fair precis of his position, whose scientism is revealed when he justifies it by an analogy with modern astrophysics: those cosmologies that posit a finite but unbounded universe.(15) Miller discusses deconstruction somewhat less cabalistically, however, in the first article of his that I cited. There he calls it "an attempt to interpret as exactly as possible the oscillations in meaning produced by the irreducibly figurative nature of language." This description would make it an unexceptionable, although limited, approach to literary criticism, and one might wonder why it is such a highly controversial methodology. But later in his essay he goes into more detail as to what he means: We "deconstruct" both a character in a novel and its narrator when we say that both affirm their existence by asserting that they are merely fictions. This affirmation through doubt "has a certain function within the psychic economy" of our society: it "short-circuits a doubt that, left free to act in the real social world, might destroy both self and community." Recognizing that the novel is "only" a fiction manages (precariously) to keep us from sliding into the abyss of recognizing that we ourselves don't exist.(16)

But I must confess that this seems to me a pointless advantage. Like Doctor Johnson, I am unable to think of anyone among my friends and acquaintances who has the slightest doubt that either he or the world he lives in exists. Moreover, the notion that fiction has a special authority because it refrains from presenting itself as truth is hardly a new one. Sir Philip Sidney, writing almost exactly four centuries ago, pointed out that. "poetrie" (by which he meant _belles lettres_) was unique among disciplines in this respect. Thus, "of all Writers under the sunne, the Poet is the least lier," more honest than the astronomer, the mathematician, the historianQand especially the physician, whose lies presented as truths send people to their deaths. Since the poet, unlike these others, affirms nothing, he never conjures his readers to believe that what he writes is true. Therefore, while the reader who looks for truth in history goes away "full fraught with falsehood," in "Poesie, looking for fiction," he finds a narrative he can use as the "imaginative groundplot of a profitable invention."(17)

Further, when Miller says that the novel, as he conceives of it, is not a "mimetic copy" that accurately mirrors the "real social world," he is attacking a straw man: a theory of mimesis not advanced by any serious thinker from Aristotle to Auerbach. Basically, in criticizing literature according to Miller's method, we are limited to a study of its rhetorical tropes and the way language is used. This reductive approach finds its rationale in linguistic developments which are held to be scientific, and is therefore believed to have the same validity as discoveries in the natural sciences. It consequently comes as no surprise that three contributors to a recent London newspaper symposium on this school of criticism have all stressed its appeal to such an analogy: it is "apparently more scientific" than a study of human values; it "makes for itself spurious claims to a 'scientific' generality"; it responds to the "hunger for a literary science."(18) In short, contemporary literary theory, like contemporary psychiatry, adjusts its rhythm to the drum-beat of scientism.

I have chosen to quote Professor Miller at such length because he writes clearly and succinctly--which is not the case with all of his colleagues who share his assumptions and biases. The movement generally credits a Frenchman, Jacques Derrida, with being its godfather, and indeed contemporary literary theory, whatever its limitations, is international in scope, calling not only on Derrida but on Edmund Husserl, Roman Ingarden, Jacques Lacan, Paul Ricoeur, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roland Barthes, Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and especially--Kant. Ultimately, however, it traces its ancestry back to -Plato. And its adherents are not always so well-mannered as Hillis Miller. Too often, they snicker with ill- concealed condescension at theorists naive enough to believe that the function of criticism is to interpret literature. It is not my purpose, however; to dive into the boiling eddies of contemporary critical controversy. I wish rather to shift the discussion to quite other grounds, using different presuppositions and framing the argument in different terms.

The tradition which contemporary critical theorists seem to take for granted begins with Plato, who is, however, mentioned only occasionally; and it finds its avatars in Kant and Sigmund Freud. It is a synthetic mode whose direction is toward integration. The synthetic thinker uses dialectic, both two-term and three- term; examples; and symbols, all of which rest on analogies. Words are used poetically and multivocally, with many meanings. (It is this particular aspect of the synthetic mode that has been seized upon by modern critics of the structuralist, poststructuralist, and deconstructionist schools.) "Proofs" are dialectic, frequently include myths, are qualitative rather than quantitative, and are authenticated by their relevance and appropriateness to the subject. What may appear as a chaotic lack of organization in a synthetic writer is, in fact, simply a consequence of his organizing his material in this mode. And his thinking is always in the direction of blurring distinctions, moving toward an all-encompassing whole, with a single explanation for the most various and discrete kinds of phenomena. The great modern thinker in this tradition is, of course, Claude Levi-Strauss, whose theories have been seminal for much contemporary literary theory.

But another great tradition in western thought has Aristotle as its archetype. Consequently, as Bacon pointed out long ago in the _Novum Orgonum_, we have two quite different types of intellectual organization: in addition to the synthetic, we have also the analytic, whose direction is toward differentiation. The analytic thinker uses logic, syllogisms, and enthymemes. His argument proceeds by making distinctions, and he uses words univocally and precisely. Proofs are syllogistic, and his work is easily outlined according to a logical structure. One reason Szasz has been almost totally ignored by the dominant contemporary literary theorists--who operate in the Platonic, synthetic mode--is that he is an example _par excellence_ of the analytic thinker.

Some recognition nevertheless exists among critics using the synthetic approach that literary theory leans heavily on psychology. The various schools built around the work of Freud and his psychoanalytic successors are obvious examples. One of the most interesting twists given to this criticism suggests reading his _Interpretation of Dreams_ from the point of view of _Oedipus the King_, instead of vice versa. In other words, the critic finds in Freud

an act of transference, in which [his] quest for meanings and origins repeats in uncanny ways the Oedipal quest he seeks to interpret.... Psychoanalysis is not a way of solving literary problems, since to every claim that psychoanalysis can master literature one can reply that literature, with its manipulation of irony, can comprehend and master psychoanalysis.(19)
Nevertheless, this approach turns out, upon examination, not really to "master" psychoanalysis, since it unquestioningly accepts the doctrine of transference, a key dogma in Freudian theory. Moreover, the whole interpretation rests _only_ on a study of linguistic devices and tropes, rhetorical structures, and "textuality" -- the modern buzz-word for language.

But in addition to Freudianism, critics should have some knowledge of other psychological theories. At the very least, they need to be aware of two propositions at opposite ends of the psychological spectrum. According to one, metaphysical behaviorism, minds do not exist at all.(20) Admittedly this thesis is not shared even by many behaviorists; nevertheless, it must be taken account of by _any_ critic, particularly if he is in the Kantian tradition, whose work rests on cognitive processes. At the other extreme are those technologists who apply electrodes to the scalp in order to explore, without the mediation of language, how a subject reacts emotionally.(21) It would be supererogatory to emphasize what this discovery portends for any literary theory based solely on an analysis of rhetorical tropes and figures of speech. The first of these positions seems to me silly; the second, terrifying. Yet they do underline how important it is for literary critics to go beyond Freudian theory, much of which has been discredited. Thus there are fewer allusions than one would expect to cognitive psychologists, like Piaget, Bruner, and George Kelly,(22) who believe that knowledge is not a copy of reality, but a dynamic intellectual and emotional construct developed in stages for dealing with the complexities of experience.

But I do not suggest simply taking over intact passages from the psychology textbooks. Rather, following Miller's suggestion, we should be reading particular kinds of psychiatric and psychological books with the same attention that we devote to a study of plays, novels, and poems. If we do so, we quickly learn that Szasz's contribution to literary theory operates at a far more fundamental level than the other positions I have cited. What psychiatry's gradual elimination of the concepts of good and evil had done to criticism was to eliminate the very possibility of an ethical component from literature. As the late Bernard Weinberg wrote more than a decade ago, "While it is possible and proper to talk about ethics without introducing aesthetics, it is impossible and improper to talk about aesthetics without examining certain ethical matters."(23)

Yet this is precisely what contemporary literary theorists are doing. Humanists have now reached the stage of scientism earlier preempted by psychologists and sociologists. By focusing their attention only on patterns derived from the "science" of linguistics, they too are claiming that their work has achieved the exciting status of science. They have found support for this position in the scientistic posturings of psychiatry. If good and evil have been defined out of existence, if human wickedness is "really" simply an expression of mental illness which can be "cured" by the administration of massive doses of psychotropic drugs, then what happens to tragedy, with its emphasis on a good protagonist who makes a fatal mistake in the moral world? Indeed, what happens to any serious literature which rests on ethical distinctions? The answer has been a simple one. Contemporary critical theory has been re- defined so that it has taken on a life of its own, with little necessary connection to literature. Critical scholars, in their own way, have been smitten by the same hubris that affected those masters of the human soul whose tyranny Szasz has been de-mythologizing. Just as psychiatrists have come increasingly to see the whole world as in some sense "mentally ill" and so in need of their control,(24) so contemporary literary theorists are seeing the whole world as having no valid external reality; it exists only through their interpretation of the linguistic patterns they impose upon it.

These men and women are not ignorant; many of them are very learned indeed, although their learning tends to run in that narrow Kantian channel whose idealist current is that we can know the world only through our perceptions of it. But this tradition, as I have indicated, goes back to Plato. Edward Young (1683-1765), writing in a Christian Neoplatonist context, advanced even before Kant the idea that the perceiving mind imposes order on the world. In an article explicitly extending Ronald S. Crane's theories of literary history, Daniel W. Odell outlines Young's argument.(25) And it is, of course, the well- grounded position of such phenomenologists as Husserl, supported by Frye and Peter Gould. Frye, attacking the outmoded hydraulic metaphors of Freudian psychology, points out that "practically all the reality we wake up facing is a human construct left over from yesterday," some of which is rubbish that "needs to be cleared away."(26) Gould writes:

The interpretation of a written text . . . depends upon the set of values that each person brings to it. Differences in opinion about meaning are not settled by critical experiment (as in the physical sciences), but are discussed in order to gain the assent of others and to enlarge the body of shared and agreed-upon understanding.... The multidimensional geometries of the human sciencesQgeometries representing religious, economic, legal, political and other structures that constrain our daily livesQare not simply unalterable conditions. They may allow or forbid, but they also change as we learn about them, reflect upon them and ask how they might be altered in light of certain moral and ethical values.(27)

Unfortunately, such valid insights as these have been subverted by the deconstructionists and their ilk to mean that the world exists only through our perceptions of it. When to this dogma is added the second one that our perceptions are only linguistic patterns (a fallacy easily exposed by anyone who attends to the messages of a well- loved pet), it is a short step to the assumption, operative today in much literary theory, that since critics are specialists in the interpretation of rhetorical structures, the soi-disant leaders in intellectual inquiry are literary theorists. Somewhere along the line, literature itself has fallen through the cracks; the notion that the critic's task is to interpret literature is greeted with amused chuckles, and solipsistic triviality is couched in grandiloquent language, so that students of literary theory today must be prepared to cope with a highly specialized, jargon-ridden vocabulary.

But the ultimate result is sad. When humanistic thinkers are content to discuss esoteric theories at endless length in a small circle closed to the public, they have failed to fulfill their most important function: giving a sense of homogeneity to the culture in which they live and which supports their activities. Thus, it was not humanists who questioned whether or not a grave miscarriage of justice had been done in declaring Ezra Pound insane and depriving him not only of his day in court but of his dignity as an autonomous and responsible human being. For many years Szasz was almost alone in pointing out this fact, although the academy is belatedly catching up with him.(28) The self-centered withdrawal of our leading critical theorists, not only from the real world but even from literature, is exemplified dramatically by Anton Chekhov's _Ward Six_. The reader will recall that in this novella a physician, Andrei Yefimych, greatly enjoys long philosophical discussions with an articulate and well-informed patient who rails against being locked up in the insane ward. Dr. Ragin quite agrees with the patient that mere chance dictates one of them should be free, the other an inmate. Although Andrei Yefimych has the power to do something about the situation, he chooses not to. The dialogues are more fun, and his patient's suffering never seems quite real to him.

Until finally he himself is cast in the patient's role. As he is being beaten to death by the ward attendant whom he had formerly supervised, through his mind suddenly flashes "the dreadful, unbearable thought that [his former patients! . . . must have experienced this same pain day in and day out for years. How could it have happened that in the course of more than twenty years he had not known, had refused to know this?"

Every page of twentieth century history drips with the blood of human suffering. But our professional humanists, their vision clouded by dark glasses of their own devising, have refused to read the book of bitter knowledge. As long as they ignore the lessons posed by human wickedness and the solutions offered by human dignity, their theories will make serious literature impossible. The courageous and profound Thomas Szasz has been pointing the way to a recognition of good and evil, basing his contributions to psychiatric philosophy not on the advances of physics, but on respect for man as a moral agent. It is time for those of us who profess awe at the splendor of human achievements to recognize the implications of his work for our own disciplines.

_The Institute for Humanistic Studies State University of New York at Albany_

This paper is adapted from one read at an interdisciplinary conference, "Culture and Cognition," held at the University of Warsaw, Poland, 11-15 November, 1980. The original version, "Science, Scientism, and the Ways of Knowing: Psychiatric Philosophy and Literary Criticism," will be published, _deo volente_, in Polish in _Przeglad Humanistyczny_.

  1. This apergu is, of course, not unique with me. For example, much the same point has been made by Richard S. Westfall in "The Career of Isaac Newton: A Scientific Life in the Seventeenth Century," _The American Scholar_, 50 (Summer, 1981), 353: "Once theology was queen of all the sciences. We have redefined what the word science means, and every other intellectual discipline now measures itself against the enterprise that carries the word in its new meaning as its name.... Natural science has been the most successful and significant endeavor of the modern world, reshaping first the intellectual structure of the West, then the economic System, and finally society itself."

  2. Patricia S. Warrick, _The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction_ (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1980), p. 21. Ellul's discussion is in "Remarks on Technology and Art," Social Research, 46 (Winter, 1979), 805-33. For a somewhat different perspective on the phenomenon he describes, see lohan Huizinga, _Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture_ (1938; New York: Harper and Row, 1970).

  3. Richard Kostelanetz, " 'Avant-Garde,'" _National Forum_, 60 (Fall, 1980),18.

  4. Emile Zola, _The Experimental Novel and Other Essays_ tr. Belle M. Sherman (New York, 1893).

  5. Kostelanetz, pp. 17-18.

  6. Jerome Klinkowitz, _The Practice of Fiction in America: Writers from Hawthorne to the Present_ (Ames: lowa State University Press, 1980).

  7. By Bruce Ennis, then a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, quoted in Maggie Scarf, "Normality Is A Square Circle Or a Four-Sided Triangle," _The New York Times Magazine_, 3 October, 1971, p. 45.

  8. Alexandra Szombati, "Le combat de Thomas Szasz contre les 'tortures psychiatriques,'" _Le Monde Dimanche_, 11 October, 1981, p. xii.

  9. The quotations from Claude Levi-Strauss are taken, in order, from these books: _The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology_, 1, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper and Bros., 1975), p. 3; _The Savage Mind_ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 89; and _Structural Anthropology_, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundefest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963), p. 210.

  10. Robert Theabald, "The Communications Era From the Year 2000," _National Forum_, 60 (Summer, 1980), 20.

  11. Joseph Campbell, _The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology_ (New York: Penguin. Books), pp. 519-21.

  12. Northrop Frye, "The Bridge of Language," _Science_, 212 (10 April, 1981), 129.

  13. The pronouns in these two sentences are intentional. Women have been the primary scapegoats of male mythmakers in both witchcraft and psychiatry.

  14. J. Hillis Miller, "The Function of Rhetorical Study at the Present Time," _The State of the Discipline_, 1970s-1980s, ADE Bulletin, No. 62 (September-November, 1979), pp. 17-18.

  15. See his "The Critic as Host," in _Deconstruction and Criticism_, Harold Bloom et al (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), pp. 217-53.

  16. Miller, "The Function of Rhetorical Study at the Present Time," p. 13. The same idea is presented by Geoffrey H. Hartman, a colleague of Miller's who cultivates the same vineyard. Rephrasing Harold Bloom, he writes that fictions are a "strange, wonderful, seductive reality." However, through deconstruction (what Hartman calls, more simply, "intense readings"), we perceive them to be actually "fabrications that make us aware, by a kind of contagion, of the artificial or magical force of all constructions, including those of science." Thus the "nightmare of being deceived" is "roused in broad daylight." Three comments can be made about this passage. First, the yoking together of contraries in two successive sentences (fiction is first "reality" and then "fabrications") is a typical Platonizing device. Second, the value of deconstructive readings rests on a dubious assumption: that readers, without it, think fiction is reality. And third, the conclusion that, once we recognize fiction to be fictive, we will regard everything else as fictive, too, will probably not be accepted by anyone except a thoroughgoing Platonist who moves further and further in the progression toward immigration until he believes the whole world to be an essential Unity, or One-ness (or Over-Soul; it is no accident that the deconstructionists frequently. cite Ralph Waldo Emerson), whose reality is a spiritual one existing only in the mind of the perceiver. See Geoffrey H. Hartman, _Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today_ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), pp. 52-53.

  17. Sir Philip Sidney, An Apologie for Poetrie, ed. Edward Arber (London, 1858); reprinted in James Henry Smith and Edd Winfield Parks, eds., _The Great Critics_, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1951), p. 216. ,'

  18. C.J.E. Ball, Roger Scruton, and Malcolm Bradbury; "Modern literary theory: its place in teaching," _TLS: The [London] Times Literary Supplement_, No. 4,062 (6 February, 1981), pp. 135- 37.

  19. Jonathan Culler, "Rethinking the Graduate Curriculum," _State of the Discipline_, p.25

  20. Edward Erwin, _Behavior Therapy: Scientific, Philosophical, and Moral Foundations_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1979), p. 51.

  21. "Psychiatry Newsletter," _Psychiatry Digest_, September, 1975, p. I 1; cited in Jonathan Robitscher, _The Powers of Psychiatry_ (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), p. 227. See also Marcia Kamien, .`Evoked Potential Testing: An Expanding Diagnostic Tool," SUNY Research '82: Chronica, 2 (March-April, 1982), 6-9.

  22. For an updating of Kelly's theories, see James C. Mancuso and Jack R. Adams-Webber, eds., _The Construing Person_ (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982).

  23. Bernard Weinberg, "Moral Universe and Dramatic Effect," _Papers in Dramatic Theory and Criticism_, presented at University of lowa, April 6-7, 1967, ed. David M. Knauf (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1969), p. 2.

  24. For a scholarly documentation of these tendencies, see Robitscher, _The Powers of Psychiatry_.

  25. Daniel W. Odell, "The Argument of Young's Conjectures on Original Composition," _Studies in Philology_, 78 (Late Winter, 1981), 87-106.

  26. Frye, "The Bridge of Language," p. 131.

  27. Peter Gould, "So Human A Science," _The Sciences_, 21 (May/June, 1981), 7-8.

  28. See Szasz's review of Julien Cornell, _The Trial of Ezra Pound_ (New York: The John Day Company, 1966), in _Rutgers Law Review_, 21 (Winter, 1967), 367-74. Compare it with Ben D. Kimpel and T.C. Duncan Eaves, "More on Pound's Prison Experience," _American Literature_, 53 (November, 1981), 469-76. Their essay concludes that nothing in the "War Crimes Office documents shows hostility towards Pound, and none of these documents suggests that Pound was 'insane' in the usual sense of that word."

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