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On the Road to Lost Fathers: Jack Kerouac in a Lacanian Perspective

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Tomasz Sawczuk

The book is the first monograph which examines the correspondences between the oeuvre of Jack Kerouac and the thought of Jacques Lacan, the two apparently incompatible worlds which prove to be complementary when taking a closer look. The study demonstrates a number of points. Firstly, with Jacques Lacan as a silent partner, it helps to better understand why psychoanalysis won Kerouac’s enmity in the mid-1950s. It also delves into Lacan’s reflections on spontaneous free-association to prove their convergence with Beats’ literary tactics. In its final part, by employing Lacanian theory, the book offers an extensive insight into Kerouac’s oeuvre to excavate the problematic status of the father figure, a crucial matter not yet given a rigorous critical attention.

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3 Literary Studies and American Literature: Lacanian Perspectives

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3.1 Literature with Lacan

The usefulness and validity of the psychoanalytic thought for the sake of literary analysis has been perhaps the most discussed and divisive issue in the history of literary theory. Nevertheless, it would not be an exaggeration to call psychoanalysis the most influential theoretical underpinning literary criticism has had up to the present day. Recent examples would include the 2014 Cambridge Introduction to Literature and Psychoanalysis and A Concise Companion to Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Culture published in the same year. Over a hundred years, if still perplexed over the matter of applicability of psychoanalytic theories to its field, literary criticism seems to have solved the problem at least partially. In the course of time, some ways of applying psychoanalysis to literary studies have been questioned, mainly due to their incompatibleness, implausibility and far-fetched conclusions drawn thereof. Such have been the cases of Marie Bonaparte and of Charles Mauron, whose model of psychobiography, that is psychoanalyzing the writer through his literary work, has been verified as simplistic and anachronistic. Having given up a questionable extrapolation of literary characters onto the person of the author, literary studies needed and welcomed language-oriented bodies of psychoanalytic thought, theories of Jacques Lacan being undoubtedly among the most seminal and influential ones. As observed by Elizabeth Wright,

[w];hereas the deliverances of classical psychoanalysis were used towards providing interpretations of actual texts, the effect of Lacan’s work has been to revitalize literary theory. With the help of...

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