15 July 2023
Psychoanalysis: the Unconscious as Seen Through the Visual Arts and Literature
Don’t miss out: students who register early can take advantage of the early bird discount on the program fee!
Psychoanalysis is a scientific approach to the human psyche and a method in psychotherapy that was developed in the late 19th century in the multi-culturally vibrant city of Vienna by the Austrian-Jewish medical scientist and practitioner Sigmund Freud. It builds on Freud’s basic discovery that there is a dimension to human subjectivity that is unconscious and often counteracting the individual’s discretionary, rational self-control.
Freud found the first traces of this unconscious agency in dreams, daydreams, parapraxes (forgetting, misspelling, mislaying or loosing) or in jokes – and in the repeated irrational and self-harming behavior of his patients.
Following Freud, psychoanalysts would claim that any action, artifact or event has this unconscious dimension to it and that it can and should be analyzed as a symptomatic compromise between hidden motives and conscious intentions.
Today, as a result of further developments and through the integration of new empirical findings, the original ideas of Freud live on in the practical and theoretical work of psychoanalysts all over the world, especially in western countries.
Psychoanalysis has turned into an important discipline of psychology and psychiatry and a validated form of psychotherapy paid for by many medical and social insurances worldwide and particularly in German speaking countries. It is part of a number of curricula in medical studies/psychiatry and psychology/psychotherapy as much as in the humanities, e.g. in the cultural sciences, modern language studies, art studies and art history, film studies and gender studies.
This seminar introduces students to psychoanalysis, the visual arts and literature in a first step through the study of the basic concepts and ideas of Freud and on to later developments and schools in the field, especially (but not limited to) the French Lacanian tradition.
For many branches of psychoanalysis, the arts play a special role. This is because art – apart from science and in contradistinction to religion – can be seen as a major cultural technique for self-knowledge and self-enlightenment. More than a mere representation of an outer or inner reality, it serves as a tool for the discovery of unconscious feeling and thought.
Consequently, the seminar approaches psychoanalytic concepts via the analysis and interpretation of works of art, particularly visual artworks (film, painting, sculpture). Hence concepts which in theory may seem abstract become clear, concrete and intuitively graspable once they are pinpointed in e.g. contemporary film or literary texts.
As we go along, we will also highlight the current limits of the psychoanalytic approach by looking at various critiques of psychoanalysis: is it a non-falsifiable (K. Popper) and self-confirming ersatz world view? Do psychoanalysts over-emphasize sexuality at the expense of other factors that drive subjectivity? And we look at some arguments Freud or his followers actually got wrong.
By attending the seminar, participants get a state-of-the-art introduction to classical Freudian and contemporary psychoanalysis through the lens of the arts.
They will be able to detect, analyze and interpret unconscious structures in visual arts and literature and will be able to transfer the psychoanalytic approach to their respective field of study or work. As tapping the unconscious dimension of human reality indeed is crucial to any human reality, participants acquire insights and tools for true innovation in their profession.
Dr. Wolfram Bergande
First year of bachelor’s degree or higher (preferably but not necessarily in a humanities or
social sciences discipline or in law or economic studies).
EUR 1850: course fee
EUR 300: program fee