This was the fourth written assignment. I was delighted to receive full marks for it. I didn’t receive a lot of feed back apart from short statements such as ‘smooth interesting piece of work 🙂 well done’ and ‘The essay well-constructed and easy to read’.
Art as a “palliative measure” – Freud and Woolf
I intend to discuss Freud’s and Woolf’s view of art as a palliative measure that is a means of relieving the pain of modern existence. Freud’s view is contained in his paper (ref1) whereas Woolf’s can been seen in her self-professed autobiographical novel (ref2).
Freud wrote “Life, as we find it, it too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointment, and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures”. (ref1 page22). He then went on to describe three such measures; ”deflections…to make light of our misery…..substitutive satisfaction to diminish it and intoxicating substances to make us insenitive to it”. He descried ‘substitutive measures’ as including all forms of illusion (ref1 Page27) particularly art. “At the head of these satisfactions through fantasy stands the enjoyment of works of art.” He saw art as being a socially admired shared fantasy to diminish the pains of our existence..
In Woolf’s novel there are three artists Woolf, Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael through which we can have an insight into Woolf’s views on art. I say Woolf because in the second book “Time Passes” the narrative is not from any character but a stream of consciousness from the narrator, from Woolf. They are all escaping from some sadness in their lives.
Carmichael is escaping from the beginning “He said nothing. He took opium. The children said he had stained his beard yellow with it. Perhaps. What was obvious to her was that the poor man was unhappy, came to them every year as an escape; “(ch8)
The character Lily is said to represent Woolf and her sister Vanessa who was a painter. Lily isn’t married, she has no children and she’s struggling as an artist. At that time she would have been very aware of the extent to which the world ‘raged against’ her, which was one of the reasons Freud felt that we required theses palliative measures (ref1 page24). Lily uses her art as compensation in order to be accepted in the world. She is even secretive of how much her art means to her as demonstrated by her insincere declaration to Mr Bankes that she would always go on painting because it interested her (page78). Lily rejects marriage as she feels that also is not ‘time proof’,” …things had worked loose after the first year or so – the marriage had turned out rather badly” (ref2 page173). Lily has all she needs in her art “ they’re happy like that I’m happy like this”.
Mr Tansley whispers into Lily’s ear that “Women can’t paint, Women can’t write” (ref2 page 78). This very cleverly put together novel was Woolf’s proof that women can indeed write. Lily by the end of the book proves that women can paint. Lily has the urge to express her art on canvas as Woolf expresses hers on paper. Woolf’s need to express herself through art compensated the loss of her parents. In “Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis” Elizabeth Abel quoted Woolf as saying “I used to think of him (father) and mother daily; but writing Lighthouse laid them in my mind …..I believe this to be true-that I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; and writing of them was a necessary act.”
Freud’s ‘pleasure principle’, that is the avoidance of pain and procurement of pleasure, saw art as escape. On appreciation of literature Freud wrote “..the aesthetic pleasure we gain from the works of imaginative writers is one of the same type as this ‘forepleasure’, and that the true enjoyment of literature proceeds from the release of tension in our minds……putting us into a position in which we can enjoy our own day-dreams without reproach or shame.” (The relation of the Poet Day-Dreaming 1908). The second part of Woolf’s novel “Time Passes” is a description of the war years. Woolf depicts how the material world is unreliable. The Ramsey house is unoccupied “Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say, “This is he’ or ‘This is she’” (page126) This demonstrates the total absence of human consciousness during that period. But in times of difficulty we turn to the arts “ [Here Mr. Carmichael, who was reading Virgil, blew out his candle. It was midnight.]” (page127) He was reading poetry in during this very trying time, a poet turning to poet in order to forget his own identity and the turbulence of war for a moment.
In the last part of the book we see the two artists’ success, art conquering adversity. Carmichael worked through the war years to bring out a book of poetry which was successful and Lily finally finished the painting that she had started at the beginning of the book.
In conclusion Freud told us that art was a palliative measure to escape from the pains of life. Woolf demonstrates through her characters and her writing that she found art to be an escape that is more durable than the material world.
- Civilization and Its Discontents [Freud 1929]
- To the Lighthouse [Woolf 1927]
- Modern and Post Modern – Virginia Woolf (louisecharente.wordpress.com)
- Modern and Post Modern – Freud (louisecharente.wordpress.com)
- To the Lighthouse (shelflove.wordpress.com)