Review of Metaphor: A Psychoanalytic View. By Robert Rogers. Pp. xi+ 148. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1979. £7.00.
Notes and Queries, Vol. 28, No. 3, June 1981, p. 288
The author is Professor of English at the State University of New York, but his greater love is psychoanalysis. He adopts from Freud the distinction between 'primary process' and 'secondary process'. In 'mentation', secondary processes involve the everyday facts, objects and circumstances of conscious life. Primary process mentation is the way the operation of the mind appears to us in dreams, hallucinations, drug states, extreme emotions, bodily deprivations, religious ecstasy. Primary process thinking is non‑logical. It moves not straight forward, but by hop, skip and jump. It can combine opposites, distort or collapse temporal or spatial relationships, disregard reality, make itself omnipotent. In ordinary life it is submerged, and subjected to the reality principle. But it can evade such control in puns, witticisms, flights of imagination, and poetry. The author holds that primary process mentation speaks directly from individual to individual, below the level of logic, and especially through the medium of 'metaphor'. By this he means no more than imagery. Professor Rogers illustrates this text‑book thesis with snippets from many authors: folklore, Carroll, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Keats, Herbert, Donne, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot, Jonson, Spenser, Blake, Plath, Stein. He does not give the impression of having the slightest appreciation of the poetic values of the pieces he chooses. To each of his examples he reacts with a short or long passage of primary process mentation, frequently referring back to Freudian symbolic equivalences. For Freud the primary process was dominated by primary bodily functions related to mouth, anus and genitals. And Professor Rogers shows that, however euphonious, allusive or mindenlarging the poetry may be, it need only have its surface skinned off to reveal again the invariate and invariable primary process triad. Q.E.D.
The metapsychology of Sigmund Freud was developed at the turn of the last century, and at the time it was a liberation of the mind from taboos and from many outworn fixed ideas. After the invasion of Austria it was carried to the U.S.A. by many Austrian psychotherapists. There it flourished exceedingly for a long reign, but for a long time now has produced less and less in the way of new thinking. In Europe it has remained hardly more than an esoteric language for the conduct of a specialized technique of psychotherapy. As a heuristic hypothesis it has become sterile, and now has a negligible influence on any contemporary school of normal, abnormal or applied psychology. It is hardly thinkable that it has any useful contribution to make to literary hermeneutics. The reviewer could find no glimmering of one.