>Yet one I don't often hear mentioned. Does anyone out there
>on the list teach it these days? Anyone have any opinions of
>it? I see that Richard Marsh, on his website, calls it "a
>psychoanalytical approach". I'm not sure I understand that. >
--- In some avatars, a psychoanalytical approach is a powerful comparative tool in folk traditions. The approach sometimes gets a bad name by too closely associating it with the worst of Freud. And I think we can bash Freud a little too much despite his personal problems and the problems of men of his times. Taken more generously, Freud broke some ground, and some contemporary scholars have improved the method and continue to make it useful. But I too am not sure how the approach was taken in the book in question. I append a summary of the psychoanalytical approach below, on which I was given occasion to survey a few years ago. I say a bit about Freud then rapidly jump over the others (such as Jung) to get the (recently) late and great Dundes, who continued and honed the approach all his life. As well, John Hill who is an Anglo-Saxonist, devoted a whole chapter to the psycho-approach of Grendel and his Mother in Beowulf in The Cultural World of Beowulf. (Hill is a solid scholar and I recommend his work in general a good direction to take medieval studies; he uses anthropological approaches mostly, and is NOT to be considered a specialist psychoanalytical scholar). Below, my direct concern was mythology and mythography, but just replace those terms with 'folklore and traditional literature' and they still apply OK. -- Wade
"Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), discussed in chapter 2, developed an interest in myth that continues to influence some contemporary anthropologists. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud declares that myths contain psychological projections cast into the world beyond the individual human mind. In other words, ideas and impulses that we vaguely understand or do not acknowledge nevertheless arise in our daily lives, become a part of our traditions, and influence the stories we tell, including mythology. This idea followed from Freud's belief that some of our dreams are "typical" -- that is, most people seem to have experienced similar kinds of dreams, and the shared dream-types of humanity arise from our shared humanity. This idea is a powerful one because it provides a universal method to approach the myths of all societies. We live in many different ways on this planet, yet we all have gone through similar experiences, says Freud, such as being born, having parents of two sexes, and developing through infancy, from a state of no knowledge or goal beyond that of basic biological impulses, to a gradual awakening to the world (social and physical) beyond these impulses. Therefore Freud saw good reason to extend the study of dreaming (we might call this a tradition of dreaming) to themes in myths, some of which seem to share the themes of dreaming and reflect processes of the unconscious mind, especially those processes related to the child's development. ...
"Alan Dundes is one of the contemporary folklorists who has used a Freudian approach to culture. He is a proponent of multi-methodological approaches to folklore study, having witnessed too many mono-cultural, mono-methodological studies of traditions that ignore the complexities behind any traditional text. He critiques functionalism that ignores studies of the history of a piece of folklore -- where it came from and how it developed -- and uses his psychological approach to develop a cross-cultural comparison that fills in some of the gaps in the functionalist method. In contrast to Boas and Malinowski (discussed next), Dundes saw that folklore data can contradict as well as reflect reality, making problematic any theory of functionalism that insists that folklore must reflect social systems directly. Dundes does not apply a Freudian way of thinking without some modifications. While Dundes admits the possibility of finding universal psychological symbolism in a folktale or myth, he does not take 'possibility' to mean that we will always find such universals. Through empirical observation we might find that some myth symbols appear in nearly every society, whereas other symbols are restricted to certain traditions or certain regions. Not all symbols in a myth need reflect unconscious ideas but rather conscious ones (as Freud himself insisted: sometimes in a dream a cigar is just a cigar [not a phallic symbol]). Dundes and others' post-Freudian studies keep Freudian approaches alive but do not over-apply them to the exclusion of other useful ways of study.
"Dundes' article, "Earth-Diver: Creation of the Mythopeic Male," is a classic work representative of his psychoanalytical approach to folklore. He first outlines some problems with viewing of myths as representations of either the ancient past of a society or purely its present social system. Myths preserve much information from the past history of a society, but they also can change slowly over the years (as does the broader category of folklore), thereby adjusting to the local culture by modifying ancient and wide-spread folklore patterns. Yet, we cannot automatically take a myth and use it as an example of a culture's current 'personality' because basic mythic and folkloric patterns and tale-types exist in a variety of times and geographical locations. We can analyze how a myth differs from similar myths in other societies -- the differences between two similar myths will highlight how each society has adapted a basic tale-type to its own needs. We can also analyze many myths from many societies to see how they show some of the same patterns. This case is where a Freudian method is most powerful. Freud believed in the existence of "typical dreams" -- those that occur throughout humanity. He reasoned that myths were an expression of the same tendencies; that is, some dream patterns that occurred in many individuals would become projected into our myths. Such a process, Dundes suggests, would explain why similar tale-types can be found around the world. And this is Dundes' goal in his "Earth-Diver" analysis: to suggests how a Freudian approach can help us seek potential universal themes in folklore and myth." --(Tarzia, "Myth and Folklore," in Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus, Scupin, ed. 2000, Prentice-Hall).