What are the unconscious processes involved in reading literature? How does literature influence our psychological development and existential challenges? A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature offers a unique glimpse into the unconscious psychic processes and development involved in reading. The author listens to the 'free associations' of various literary characters, in numerous scenarios where the characters are themselves reading literature, thus revealing the mysterious ways in which reading literature helps us and contributes to our development.

The book offers an introduction both to classic literature (Poe, Proust, Sartre, Semprún, Pessoa, Agnon and more) and to the major psychoanalytic concepts that can be used in reading it – all described and widely explained before being used as tools for interpreting the literary illustrations. The book thus offers a rich lexical psychoanalytic source, alongside its main aim in analysing the reader’s psychological mechanisms and development. Psychoanalytic interpretation of those literary readers opens three main avenues to the reader’s experience:

  • the transference relations toward the literary characters;
  • the literary work as means to transcend beyond the reader’s self-identity and existential boundaries; and
  • mobilization of internal dialectic tensions towards new integration and psychic equilibrium.

An Epilogue concludes by emphasising the transformational power embedded in reading literature.

The fascinating dialogue between literature and psychoanalysis illuminates hitherto concealed aspects of each discipline and contributes to new insights in both fields. A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Reading Literature will be of great interest not only to psychoanalytic-psychotherapists and literature scholars, but also to a wider readership beyond these areas of study.

chapter |22 pages


Reading the reader

part I|10 pages

Transference relations of the literary reader

chapter 1|7 pages

The distancing paradox

chapter 2|15 pages

The bestowal of meaning

chapter 3|25 pages

Seven types of identification

chapter 4|11 pages

Resistance to reading

chapter 5|13 pages

The idealization of the author

chapter 6|4 pages

Mutual witnessing

chapter 7|7 pages

Reparation of the ethical position

part II|6 pages

Reading literature as a means of transcendence

chapter 8|34 pages

Transcendence beyond self-identity

part III|1 pages

From psychic equilibrium to psychic change

chapter 13a|9 pages

First illustration

Aharon Appelfeld’s book The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping

chapter 13b|11 pages

Second illustration

Søren Kierkegaard’s book Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric

chapter 13c|17 pages

Third illustration

Otto Dov Kulka’s book Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

chapter 14|14 pages


The transformative power of reading literature