| Of interest to Sandman fans...
||[Jul. 30th, 2003|12:54 pm]
This was my final-year dissertation for my major. The course title was "Literature and Psychoanalysis", and in that rubric, I managed to find an excuse to write an academic paper on Sandman, which of course necessitated several rereads. Yeah, I'm a geek...|
Incidentally, are there any sites that host academic work on the Sandman series? I might submit this, if there are.
From Hoffmann to Gaiman: Sandmen and Psychoanalysis
In this dissertation, I intend to compare two works of literature (a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and a graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman) featuring varying versions of the mythological character The Sandman and interpretations of them according to different psychoanalytical theories. I will begin with a brief overview of Hoffmann's and Gaiman’s respective works. I will then continue with a more detailed analysis of the Freudian interpretation of Hoffmann’s story, followed by an examination of the fantasy genre as a whole as linked to psychoanalysis. Next I will offer a psychoanalytical interpretation of Gaiman’s Sandman, based on the theories of Torok and Rand, as expressed in their essay “The Sandman looks at “The Uncanny”. I will then sum up the arguments I have used throughout the dissertation, with specific reference both to Freudian and anti-Freudian theories of psychoanalysis. Finally, I will express my conclusion about Freud’s validity or lack of it as applied to life in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. Using Gaiman’s Sandman as an example or a source, I will endeavour to show how other forms of psychoanalysis may be better suited to modern living.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short horror story, called simply “The Sandman”, concerns a young student named Nathaniel, whose life is inextricably bound up with a nightmare figure from his childhood, who he refers to as the Sandman (hence the story’s title). He identifies this figure with an associate of his late father’s, an advocate called Coppelius, who often came to visit at night, upon which Nathaniel’s mother would send him and his sisters to bed, saying “Now, children, to bed, to bed! The Sandman is coming” . This Coppelius is connected in some way with Nathaniel’s father’s death, since he was present in the house the night the man died in an explosion, after which Coppelius disappeared. The main body of the story takes place in the city where Nathaniel is at university, named in the text only as G (or rather, the action takes place there, since the story is first told in letters between Nathaniel and his sweetheart Clara, and then narrated by an unnamed friend of his). In that city, Nathaniel encounters a barometer vendor calling himself Coppola, who Nathaniel believes to be Coppelius, and on whom he vows to take revenge for his father’s death. He also believes that “Coppelius [is] in reality an evil force” and a “repulsive demon” who is responsible for all the misfortunes of his life. Later in the narrative, it is revealed that Nathaniel’s professor, Spalanzani, is associated with Coppola, and together they have built a female automaton named Olympia, who Spalanzani regards as a daughter. Nathaniel falls in love with her, believing her to be human, before eventually discovering her true nature, when he finds Spalanzani and Coppola/Coppelius arguing over her, and her eyes are torn out. This sight drives him mad, and although he seems to recover for a time, his madness later returns and he tries to kill Clara by throwing her from a tower. Her brother Lothario saves her from this, but Nathaniel sees Coppelius in the crowd at the foot of the tower, and promptly jumps to his death, upon which Coppelius disappears. The story, however, is very skilfully written so it is unclear whether Coppelius really is a demon, or whether the whole thing is a figment of Nathaniel’s crazed imagination, which would mean he had been unbalanced all along, possibly as a result of his father’s death.
Gaiman’s take on the myth is also called “The Sandman”, although the collection is divided into ten volumes entitled Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, Dream Country, Season of Mists, A Game of You, Fables and Reflections, Brief Lives, Worlds’ End, The Kindly Ones, and The Wake. The series as a whole is named after its central character, Morpheus, Prince of Dreams, who is not as directly malevolent a character as Hoffmann’s Sandman, but has certain distinct flaws, among them extreme vindictiveness against anyone who has wronged him. Morpheus is one of the Endless, seven beings who are more powerful than gods, and will exist until the end of the universe: Destiny, Death, Dream (Morpheus), Destruction, the twins Desire and Despair, and Delirium, who was once Delight. Dream’s function, as his name implies, is to oversee and regulate the dreams of all living beings, as well as inspiring writers and artists to acts of creation (which could also be viewed as dreaming, in a way). However, Gaiman takes care to show that the Endless are not infallible, and can change over time, although it happens very slowly. The entirety of The Sandman is effectively one long story arc, although it constantly jumps about in time, showing Morpheus’ character development. He begins as a stiff, unbending character, who will not “consider violating even his professional protocol by speaking to Hades on [his son] Orpheus’s behalf – or, for that matter, his personal protocol by hugging or otherwise comforting his son [after Orpheus’s wife dies]” . Three thousand years later, however, following his own seventy-two year imprisonment, he is prepared to break one of the most important rules binding his kind, by shedding family blood and killing Orpheus (at his request), thereby forfeiting his own life. On his death, he is replaced by another aspect of Dream, who is dressed all in white as opposed to Morpheus’s habitual black, and who was once human, and seems an altogether warmer and kinder being than his predecessor – as Hy Bender puts it, “Morpheus sheds his life to make way for a potentially wiser and more humane replacement; a better and brighter Dream” . However, although Morpheus is the central and title character, the series itself is not about him. What it is really about is “peering beneath the surface of things, and recognizing the importance of dream, myth and the transcendent in our lives [, and] stories – where they come from and how they shape us” . It also has several lessons to impart about human nature and the best way to live our lives.
Freud on Hoffmann
Freud’s interpretation of Hoffmann’s Sandman relies heavily on the “injury to eye” theme that recurs throughout the story. Freud, indeed, considered this to be the main theme of the story, in the form of “the ‘Sand-Man’ who tears out children’s eyes” . This theme can be seen principally in Nathaniel’s account of his childhood: first in his nurse’s tale about the “wicked man who comes after children when they won’t go to bed and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes, so that they jump out of their heads all bloody” . It recurs a little later in his nightmarish encounter with the advocate Coppelius, who threatens to put red-hot embers in his eyes, and to burn them in the brazier. This, as Freud says, shows “the persisting influence of his nurse’s story” and strengthens the child’s identification of Coppelius with the Sandman. However, the theme also appears to a lesser extent (and not in a way that threatens Nathaniel personally) in that part of the story set in Nathaniel’s adulthood, for example when he believes that Coppola is offering to sell him eyes, rather than telescopes, and when Spalanzani throws Olympia’s bleeding (and apparently flesh-and-blood, unlike the rest of her) eyes “at Nathaniel’s breast, saying that Coppola had stolen them from the student” . It can be inferred from this that Coppola/Coppelius has torn out the eyes before carrying off the automaton, which would fit in with the injury-to-eye motif. It is never made clear who previously owned the eyes given to Olympia, since Nathaniel makes no mention of his dead father’s eyes having been missing from the corpse, and indeed makes a point of saying that, at the funeral, his father’s “features had again grown mild and gentle, as they had been in life” (my italics). However, no one else close to him has died, so exactly what Spalanzani means by “purloined from you” is uncertain. It seems clear, however, that Coppelius has acquired the eyes by dubious means, and possibly by violence, and therefore someone else, who is never identified, has suffered “injury to the eye” at his hands.
Freud believed that “the fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes” , as so powerfully expressed in Hoffmann’s story, is intimately connected with the ‘castration complex’, pointing out that the “self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration – the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis” . While he acknowledges the possibility (or rather, the opposing argument, as put forward by Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok, and discussed later in this dissertation) that such a fear is nothing more or less than a perfectly natural dread of blindness, he argues that such a view “does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies” . He also lays out two clear reasons why The Sandman is not suited to “support [the] argument that anxiety about the eyes has nothing to do with the castration complex” .
The first is that “the anxiety about eyes [is brought by Hoffmann into] intimate connection with the father’s death” - i.e. the man who threatened to put out the child Nathaniel’s eyes, who he associates with the nightmare Sandman of his nurse’s story, is in some way responsible for the death of Nathaniel’s father, and so the two events have become linked in Nathaniel’s mind. The second reason is that “the Sand-Man always [appears] as a disturber of love” – in Nathaniel’s poem, Coppelius appears at his wedding to Clara, and, with a mere touch, causes her eyes to “[spring] out like blood-red sparks, singeing and burning, on to Nathaniel’s breast” . The memory of Coppelius and his lasting influence causes Nathaniel to quarrel with Clara, and almost leads him to duel to the death with her brother (and his close friend) Lothario. He falls desperately in love with Coppola and Spalanzani’s creation, Olympia, forgetting all about Clara and his family at home, only to see Coppola destroy her (again, by tearing out her eyes) and carry her off just when Nathaniel intended to propose to her. Finally, when it seems that nothing will keep him from being fully reconciled with Clara, the sight of Coppelius on the street sends him back into his former madness, and drives him to suicide.
Freud believed that these events “seem arbitrary and meaningless so long as we deny all connection between fears about the eye and castration; but they become intelligible as soon as we replace the Sand-Man by the dreaded father at whose hands castration is expected” . He characterizes Nathaniel’s father and Coppelius as “the two opposites into which the father-imago is split by his ambivalence” ; the ‘bad’ father – Coppelius – “threatens to blind him – that is, to castrate him – the other, the ‘good’ father, intercedes for his sight” . Freud then goes on to argue that the “part of the complex which is most strongly repressed, the death-wish against the ‘bad’ father, finds expression in the death of the ‘good’ father, and Coppelius is made answerable for it” . According to Freud, this pair of opposite images recurs later, in Spalanzani (who is a kind of father-figure to Nathaniel, being his professor, and is also referred to within the story as Olympia’s father) and the mechanician Coppola, who “is recognized as identical with Coppelius the lawyer” . They are also both Olympia’s father in a way, since they are both responsible for her creation. Again, the ‘bad’ father (Coppola/Coppelius) symbolically “castrates” Olympia by removing her eyes and returning her to the state of a lifeless automaton, while the ‘good’ father (Spalanzani) becomes the target of the death-wish in Coppola’s absence, since it is he who Nathaniel, in his madness, attempts to kill.
If one accepts this theory as correct, it seems that the death of Nathaniel’s father in his childhood is the stem and cause of all the events of the story. Indeed, this is clearly true whether or not one subscribes to the theory, since the death of Nathaniel's father is either his first encounter with the nightmarish Sand-Man, or the cause and first onset of the madness that will eventually claim his life. The first possibility suggests that Coppelius is indeed a demon, in which case the piece is supernatural in nature, rather than a psychological horror story. However, this is more or less irrelevant to Freud's interpretation, since (whatever the reason) Nathaniel is undoubtedly mad, and his insanity is a direct result of his father's death, which Coppelius may have caused. Therefore, Coppola/Coppelius is directly and entirely responsible for the story's events.
There are several elements of Hoffmann's story that may be described as "uncanny", among them the automaton Olympia. However, her mere existence is not central to the story: indeed, "the author himself treats the episode of Olympia with a faint touch of satire and uses it to poke fun at the young man's idealization of his mistress" . Also, Olympia's creation does not contribute to Nathaniel's madness or to his death, although her destruction (which entails the removal of her eyes) does. Therefore, "the idea of being robbed of one's eyes" is more relevant to the theories at hand. The story, as previously discussed, is written with skill and care in order to create an uncertainty in the reader's mind as to "whether [Hoffmann] is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation" .
Freud's theory of the castration complex has as much to do with the psychology of the reader, as with that of Nathaniel, or of any of the characters. His interest lies principally not in explaining Nathaniel's madness, but in seeking the underlying cause of the "impression of uncanniness" that permeates the story. The conclusion of the piece, at least in Freud's opinion, seemingly leaves no doubt that Coppola and Coppelius are indeed one and the same, and therefore that the monstrous figure of Nathaniel's childhood is real. Therefore, as Freud points out,
"we know now that we are not supposed to be looking on at the products of a madman's imagination, behind which we, with the superiority of rational minds, are able to detect the sober truth; and yet this knowledge does not lessen the impression of uncanniness in the least degree. The theory of intellectual uncertainty is thus incapable of explaining that impression."
So, in that case, what does explain the aforementioned impression of uncanniness? According to Freud's interpretation, it is the castration complex in the subconscious minds of those reading the story. While accepting that one might say that "it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread" , having nothing to do with any other fears, Freud then asserts that "the threat of being castrated in especial excites a peculiarly violent and obscure emotion, and that this emotion is what first gives the idea of losing other organs its intense colouring" . Therefore, according to Freudian theory, the castration complex is what lies at the root of both Nathaniel's madness, and the "impression of uncanniness" experienced by readers of The Sandman. If one follows this theory, it is not the threat of blindness that throws the child Nathaniel into such terror during his first encounter with Coppelius, but the threat of (symbolic or real) castration at the advocate's hands. This theme recurs in the parts of the story dealing with Nathaniel's adulthood, since the "injury to eye" motif appears again and again, and always induces a fresh fit of insanity in the young man with each incidence.
It is also significant that Nathaniel is constantly haunted by the memory of his father's death. As previously discussed in this dissertation, Nathaniel holds Coppelius responsible for killing his father, and thus the man's death has become connected in Nathaniel's mind with Coppelius' other attempted acts of violence - the most significant of which is the threat to remove Nathaniel's eyes, and thus implicitly threatening castration. Thus the reader can infer that the character suffers from a dread of castration that governs his actions throughout the story. However, Freudian theory does not stop there. Instead, Freud posits that the character of Nathaniel is not the only one who has a castration complex - that those readers who are most susceptible to the feeling of uncanniness created by the story also do. He then goes on to argue that one can "refer the uncanny effect of the Sand-Man to the anxiety belonging to the castration complex of childhood" . Therefore, the "impression of uncanniness" previously discussed is traceable in most or all cases to some "factor from childhood" .
This impression need not relate to a childhood fear at all, however. In the other possibility Freud suggests (following Jentsch), the idea often found in children that their toys and dolls may come to life (treated as a desirable and enjoyable event by the child) might also produce uncanny feelings in the adult faced with a representation in fiction of such a thing. The source of these feelings "would not, therefore, be an infantile fear in this case , but rather an infantile wish or even merely an infantile belief" . When viewed in this manner, the final conclusion of the theory becomes clear. If all impressions of uncanniness, and all neuroses, stem back in some way to childhood, then the dread of injury to the eye as interpreted by Freud is no different. According to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, therefore, the reason why the "injury to eye" motif in Hoffmann and elsewhere is such a horrible prospect is because all those who find it particularly uncanny suffer from an innate castration complex, which has become transferred into the fear of damage to other organs.
Fantasy and Psychoanalysis
The genre of fantasy has often been linked to psychoanalysis, since many of the leading psychoanalytic theorists have used works of fantasy in developing and supporting their theories. In this section, I will discuss possible reasons why this should be so, before continuing with a broader discussion of the relationship between fantasy and psychoanalysis. First, a definition of the genre itself is necessary, since Freud, among others, regarded all forms of art and creation as a kind of "fantasy". However, for the purposes of this dissertation, I intend to use "fantasy" only to refer to the very specific literary genre, related to science fiction, which is set in, or features characters who come from, a world in some way unlike our own. This may be because it is in a different time, or a different dimension, or has no relation to our world at all (for example, when the story is set on another planet, with no recognisably human characters). This would include Hoffmann's Sandman if one supposes that Coppola/Coppelius is in some way inhuman (and because the creation of the human-seeming automaton Olympia would not be possible in reality), and automatically includes Gaiman's Sandman, many of whose characters inhabit planes above and beyond the physical world.
The nature of the fantasy genre has considerably "altered in character over the years in accordance with what exactly constitutes 'reality'" . For example, beginning in the nineteenth century, "those fantasies produced within a capitalist economy express some of the debilitating psychological effects of inhabiting a materialistic culture. They are peculiarly violent and horrific" . Conversely, there is now a burgeoning subgenre of fantasy that is "rooted in ancient myth, mysticism, folklore, fairy tale and romance" , such as ancient Celtic mythology, or the Arthurian cycle which is employed by many prominent modern fantasy authors. This may be taken as an expression of writers' and readers' need to escape the effects of industrialization, into a more natural, and perhaps more innocent, world.
There are several reasons why fantasy literature has been used by various authorities as an ideal basis for forming and supporting psychoanalytical theories. Among these is the fact that the genre "deals so blatantly and repeatedly with unconscious material that it seems rather absurd to try to understand its significance without some reference to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic readings of texts" . Fantasy as a genre, as such critics as Juliet Mitchell and Rosemary Jackson have argued, is all about the unconscious drives and desires of the author. Works of fantasy "frequently show in graphic forms a tension between the 'laws of human society' and the resistance of the unconscious mind to those laws" , despite Juliet Mitchell's assertion that "the unconscious mind is the way in which we acquire these laws" . Therefore, psychoanalysts can use works of fantasy as a tool to navigate between the part of the unconscious mind that creates "the laws of human society" and the part that resists them (Jung's ego and id).
However, there is naturally no one model of psychoanalysis that can be applied equally appropriately to every work of fantasy ever written. It is not even possible to apply a single theoretical model to every example of any one subgenre. Instead, "there is only a range of different works which have similar structural characteristics and which seem to be generated by similar unconscious desires. Through their particular manifestations of desire, they can be associated together" by genre or subgenre. However, despite these differences, as has been said many times and by many people, there is no truly original concept in literature. The "possibilities available to each particular text are determined, in many ways, by the texts who have preceded it and whose characteristic features it repeats and repudiates" . The author of any given text can only use the "constitutive elements" at his or her command, which will certainly have been used by other authors before. What originality there is in the work comes from "inverting elements of this world, re-combining its constitutive features in new relations to produce something strange, unfamiliar and apparently 'new', absolutely 'other' and different" .
Therefore, all fantasy can be broken down into its "constitutive features", which repeat in different combinations throughout the entire genre of fantasy. A psychoanalyst can take these elements and interpret them in order to formulate or support theories on human consciousness, by "considering these features as the narrative effects of basic psychic impulses" . In this way, fantasy proves itself an ideal tool for psychoanalysis. This is especially true in light of the fact that fantasy settings are often used by the authors of such novels and stories in order to "reshape the world in which we live" . Such a phenomenon can be clearly seen, for example, in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and his The Hobbit, in which a perfect pastoral world exists in the form of the Shire, and is presented as ideal, in marked contrast to the post-war industrial world in which the author lived, and for which he expressed extreme dislike on more than one occasion. Tolkien himself once said that "creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it" - meaning, the way the world is in reality does not necessarily have to be the way it is in fiction, and especially in fantasy.
Thus, the reasons why the genre of fantasy is so tied to psychoanalysis, and has frequently been used to create or to bolster psychoanalytic theories, seem clear. Works of fantasy are, almost without exception, depictions of the way the world is not, and often of the way the piece's author or creator would like the world to be, if it were his or her ideal. In such examples, a case could be made for fantasy reflecting the conscious or unconscious desires of the creator, or of the audience who enjoy the work he or she has produced. On the other hand, fantasy occasionally evokes images of true horror, rather than more pleasant visions, and yet many people still enjoy reading or looking at such images. In these instances, it is clear that people often need to have their nightmares laid down on paper, canvas or film, or that they enjoy being frightened, or perhaps that such images make the real world seem more pleasant in contrast. Either way, works of fantasy obviously fulfil some desire in their audience, and are also a way for the creators to fulfil their own desires with their images, whether or not they are consciously aware of having such desires.
The relationship between psychoanalysis and fantasy, however, is not quite so clear-cut. It is true that psychoanalytical interpretations (of the schools of both Freud and Jung, as well as some following the other major theorists in this field) have been carried out on many celebrated works of fantasy. However, the connection is not so one-sided as that might lead a reader to believe, as I will discuss later in this section of the dissertation. Freud's theories on the uncanny, as discussed at length earlier in this essay, are the most relevant to the study of psychoanalysis and the fantasy genre, since fantasy often contains elements that can be described as "uncanny". Indeed, the word "uncanny" itself crops up time and time again in nineteenth-century fantasy literature, used in atmospheric passages in novels by such luminaries as Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker "both to describe and to create unease" . Freud's definition of "uncanny" is "the effect of projecting unconscious desires or fears into the environment and on to other people" . In fantasy, this can often be seen when a character discovers a new and strange part of their previously ordinary-seeming world.
To fully understand exactly what Freud means by the uncanny, it is necessary to grasp both levels of the meaning of the original German word, das Unheimlich. Rosemary Jackson provides a concise explanation of the two different meanings:
Das Heimlich, the un-negated version, is ambivalent. On the first level of meaning, it signifies that which is homely, familiar, friendly, cheerful, comfortable, intimate. It gives a sense of being 'at home' in the world, and its negation therefore summons up the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, strange, alien. It produces a feeling of estrangement, of being not 'at home' in the world. […] A second level of meaning begins to explain the uncanny's disturbing powers. Das Heimlich also means that which is concealed from others: all that is hidden, secreted, obscured. Its negation, das Unheimlich, then functions to dis-cover, reveal, expose areas normally kept out of sight.
Therefore, the full meaning of Freud's "uncanny" is entirely dependent on this dual meaning of the German word Unheimlich, since the experience of the uncanny "uncovers what is hidden and, by doing so, effects a disturbing transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar" . This can be seen, for example, in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, where the young hero, Will Stanton, discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is part of an immortal race called the Old Ones, who exist in the world with special powers to hold back the forces of darkness. Upon coming into his powers, he finds that his beloved pet rabbits and dogs are afraid of him, and that people he has known all his life are more than he imagined. This is a perfect example of the familiar suddenly becoming unfamiliar, as a direct result of the uncovering of his previously hidden powers, and thus a textbook instance of Freud's uncanny. Similar events occur in several other famous works of fantasy literature, such as C. S. Lewis' Narnia series, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. The latter novel is set in the London we know, but told from the perspective of a young businessman, Richard Mayhew, who accidentally "slips" out of the normal world to join the Undersiders, who live in the city's abandoned places and the majority of whom are invisible to ordinary people).
According to Freudian theory, feelings of the uncanny are a result and an expression of "drives which have to be repressed for the sake of cultural continuity. Freud regards anything uncanny, or anything provoking dread, as being subject to cultural taboo" . In a mild form, this can be seen in Richard Mayhew's ultimate rejection of "normality", even when given a unique chance to regain it, in favour of life with the dispossessed Undersiders - he cannot have both, and must make a choice. However, this does not cover the taboos Freud regarded as the strongest prohibitions in our society: "incest (a desire for the mother) and death (a desire to touch or make contact with corpses)" . Many gothic and horror fantasy stories (perhaps the most famous being Bram Stoker's Dracula and Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher) feature the theme of "violating these taboos by telling of incest, necrophilia, ghosts, vampires, the un-dead" . In these cases, the works of fantasy in question "make up for a society's prohibitions by allowing vicarious fulfilment" - since one cannot carry out the acts described therein in reality, one must be satisfied with reading or writing about them.
In conclusion, then, the relationship between fantasy and psychoanalysis is twofold. On the one hand, many of the psychoanalytical theories espoused by Jung, and especially by Freud, have their roots in studies of fantasy literature such as Hoffmann's The Sandman and Jensen's Gradiva. Even Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, from which Freud's Oedipal theory takes its name, could be considered fantasy since it deals with a man whose life veers into the "uncanny" when he is cursed by the gods (fantasy beings). However, this is not the most important facet of the relationship. Even now, many years after the deaths of the leading theorists, psychoanalytical interpretations are still regularly carried out on popular works of fantasy, with varying degrees of credibility. The Lord of the Rings, for example, has been subject to both Freudian and Jungian interpretations on more than one occasion. The major theories have even been applied, often believably, to the work of late 20th- and early 21st-century fantasy authors, although it can be assumed that the majority of these authors did not intend to write Freudian or Jungian fantasy, and so a case can be made for a lasting and credible relationship between psychoanalytic theory and the genre of fantasy.
Neil Gaiman's Sandman
In this chapter, I will develop my discussion of possible alternatives to Freudian theory, specifically the arguments advanced by Maria Torok and Nicholas Rand, with reference to The Sandman, the graphic novel series written by Neil Gaiman. I will also attempt an interpretation of certain recurring themes and images in The Sandman, before discussing which theories of psychoanalysis might be best suited to The Sandman. I also intend to discuss what Gaiman's work has to say about human nature and thus, in what ways it might help to inform new theories of psychoanalysis stemming from the end of the twentieth century.
Torok's and Rand's main concerns with Freudian theory centre on the "injury to eye" motif that appears so frequently in the various incarnations of the Sandman. As discussed in earlier chapters of this dissertation, Freud believed that the fear of injury to the eye was merely a representation of the fear of castration. Torok and Rand, however, view it as symbolising a "thwarted attempt to see, to inquire, to discover" , and that any feeling of uncanniness resulting from this arises not from the castration complex, but "because the hero was never able to obtain the vital knowledge others withheld from him" .
The theme of injury to the eyes occurs repeatedly in Gaiman's Sandman, usually in connection with the nightmare character known as The Corinthian, although sometimes involving ravens. This occurs, most notably, in the volume of The Sandman titled The Kindly Ones, when "ravens chat with Matthew [also a raven] as they peck out a dead Gilbert's eyes" . Just one page later, there is "a close-up of two empty sockets in Loki's face after the Corinthian has, off camera [i.e. taking place between panels of the graphic novel], plucked out and devoured the old god's eyes" . The Corinthian also plucks out and eats the eyes of a dead woman named Ruby DeLonge in order to find out who is responsible for her death, while the first incarnation of this particular nightmare has a propensity for taking the eyes of young boys.
It is easy to see how the "injury to eye" in many of these instances could be interpreted as representing castration, especially in the case of the first Corinthian's young victims (who are all male), and of the punishment of Loki, which could be viewed as castration simply because it is a punishment, and such physical maiming would be eminently suitable for Loki's crimes. However, they have as much, if not more, to do with blindness as they do with castration. The Corinthian's victims never know why they have been chosen to be killed, or what their killer really is. Ruby DeLonge, who has been hired as a driver by Dream and Delirium at the behest of a god, never learns who or what her employers are, or the nature of the errand for which she was needed. Gilbert (an inhabitant of Dream's realm) is killed, seemingly at random, by the Furies who have come to punish Morpheus/Dream for killing his son, and he never knows the reason for his death, which is followed by the ravens coming to consume his eyes. Finally, the loss of Loki's eyes could also be attributed to his previous metaphorical blindness: he abducts a human baby boy and burns away his humanity in a magical fire, leading the boy's mother to seek revenge against Morpheus and thereby directly causing the Dream King's death. However, he does all this at the command of a principal who is never named, and there is a slight implication that Loki himself may not know who this person is. He certainly never knows why he is asked to do what he does, and so it can be argued that he never truly knows why he ultimately loses his eyes, and therefore this punishment is the result of his own blindness and ignorance.
Therefore, it seems most likely that the "injury to eye" motif as Gaiman uses it represents the victims' inability to recognise that they are dealing with supernatural beings or, in the case of Loki, who is himself a supernatural being, to gain insight into why he is asked to abduct the human boy Daniel, and do everything else he does. Whether it is as a direct or indirect result, therefore, the victims lose their eyes (and in most cases, their lives) because of this inability. While it is possible to interpret the injuries to eyes inflicted by the Corinthian and by the ravens as a metaphor for castration, as discussed above, it thus seems more credible to read it as a symbol of the victims' inability to "see", even before they are killed or physically blinded and their eyes are taken.
There is one element of Freud's theory of the uncanny that seems to apply perfectly to Gaiman's Sandman: the idea of repetition-compulsion, as tied in with the death drive. There are certain events which occur repeatedly throughout the series, and which, in one way or another, point to the series' climactic end, with the death of the original Dream. The first such pattern "centers around young black women burning" , which starts with the death and condemnation to hell of Dream's lover, Nada. If one takes Dream to be the hero, it seems clear that this pattern is an indication to Dream that he has wronged Nada, and must take steps to right that wrong; following the death in a fire of Ruby DeLonge, Dream himself realises this. It could be argued that it is this very realisation that he has been wrong, and worse, has been unjust, that finally breaks Dream and therefore indirectly leads to his death and the other events that end the series.
The second such recurring event is subtler, but nevertheless points to the way things will end. This pattern is "that of rulers giving up their kingdoms" , and Dream is personally involved with every event that makes up the pattern. He witnesses the abandonment by his brother Destruction and Lucifer Morningstar of their respective realms. He provides Augustus Caesar with advice on the only way to plot the destruction of the Roman kingdom/empire without incurring the wrath of his gods. He agrees to accept the kingdom offered to him as a gift by the caliph of Baghdad in order to ensure that it will live forever. Finally, "the series ends with the Sandman handing off his kingdom to a kinder, gentler Dream" , though it means giving up his life at the same time. It is unclear whether witnessing and having a hand in any of these events actually affects Dream in any way significant to this discussion. However, it is incontrovertibly true that he witnesses the abandonment of Hell by Lucifer, and the expulsion of the damned and the demons, a very short time before his own "resignation", which in this case means death.
However, although this part of the story would seem to agree with Freudian theory, since the repetition always leads to death in one way or another, there are many other elements (including, indeed, the whole theme and subject of the story itself) that are basically resistant to certain of the theories advanced by Freud. The most important of these is Freud's conviction that religious belief, and thus the ancient myths, which were all part of various religions once, was an illusion, something that humanity needed to rise above in order to be whole. This view of myth, however, is too reductionist to fully explain the messages of The Sandman as written by Gaiman. One of the messages of The Sandman is a flat contradiction of this idea, and makes it clear that Gaiman feels that people still need their gods, and belief is an extremely important part of human life - as Frank McConnell puts it, "humankind can no more live without gods than you can kill yourself by holding your breath" . Humanity needs its myths, and always will - they are "an attempt to come to terms with the world we find around us" , and with the things that lie within us: "our minds, our souls, our spirits" . The modern myth Neil Gaiman has created with The Sandman is no different.
Gaiman's concept of the Dreaming, the home of Morpheus and of many of the series' other recurring characters, is similar to Jung's collective unconscious, in that all gods and myths are born there (they can then leave the Dreaming, but cannot survive without worship). However, in a departure from most if not all accepted psychoanalytic theory, in Sandman, dreams are both real and supremely important. As opposed to the psychoanalytical view that dreams are shaped by the external stimuli of the dreamer's waking environment, in the world Gaiman has created, dreams have the power to shape and change that world, if one believes in them. The Endless themselves, as Dream points out, only exist because the living "know, deep in their hearts, that we exist" . His brother Destruction also says, "The Endless are merely patterns. The Endless are ideas. The Endless are wave functions. The Endless are repeating motifs" . This implies very strongly that even the Endless are nothing more than dreams or elements of consciousness, although they are the most powerful beings in the universe, and thus testifies to the power of dreams to rule the world. This is one of the lessons Gaiman's Sandman has to teach us, one of the underlying meanings of the modern myth he has created. Another major theme of the story is that in an age with no hero quests, the way to be a true hero is to care for others. Thus we can all be heroes and give our lives meaning at the same time, by means of love and caring. Gaiman also makes the point that all things must pass (and death is not something to be feared, but rather defines life and gives it meaning), but that it is human nature to pretend that it will not happen, and it is this pretence that makes life bearable. The last of the story's semi-major themes is that hope will always survive. Thus, Morpheus may die, and all things may come to an end, but there is always hope, which is often borne out by change: as one Dream dies, another, better and brighter, and more humane, is born as a replacement.
However, the theme that I believe to be the most important one of the entire story, the one idea that explains all the events of The Sandman, is that of free will. While it is true that the character Destiny owns a book that contains everything everyone in the universe will ever do, Gaiman makes it clear that the choice to take any possible action still falls to us. This freedom even extends to what will happen to every individual in the afterlife: as Lucifer says, "And then they die, and they come here (having transgressed against what they believed to be right) and expect us to fulfill their desire for pain and retribution. I don't make them come here" . Nobody is forced to do anything, and if anyone ends up in Hell, it is because, on some level, they choose to. Thus, Destruction can choose to abandon his realm, and while Lucifer may have chosen to rebel against his Creator in the first place, nothing forces him to stay in Hell any longer than he wants to. It is true that in many cases, the choices made by the characters bring responsibility, such as the choice of the Endless to stay in their realms and perform their duties, or Lucifer's choice to rebel, which causes him to be named the Prince of Hell. The price of our complete freedom is the obligation to take responsibility for our own lives. However, it is equally true that the characters in question still have complete free will, and the choices they have made can almost always be undone. That is the key lesson to be learned from Gaiman's Sandman - we always have the freedom to change our lives, even if that means walking away from them, if we want to badly enough and if we have the courage. The truth is as simple as that.
In conclusion, therefore, it is clear that Freudian theory is not fully suited to interpret modern incarnations of the Sandman in literature. Indeed, Torok and Rand argue persuasively that even Hoffmann's Sandman is not quite the ideal source and support of the "castration complex" theory that its originator believed the story to be. Torok and Rand refute Freud's suggestion that the story is so perfectly suited to illustrate his views that "I would not recommend any opponent of the psycho-analytic view to select this particular story of the Sand-Man with which to support his argument that anxiety about the eyes has nothing to do with the castration complex" .
As discussed above, Torok and Rand accept that the theme of eyes, and injury to the eyes, plays a major role in The Sandman, but they do not believe that this theme has anything to do with the penis, and so assert that the story is not the "literary affirmation [Freud sought] of his idea of the uncanny as based on the infantile castration complex" . Indeed, they "go so far as to say that Freud's analysis does not deal with Hoffmann's tale" . As they point out, there are inconsistencies contained within Freud's theory, which render it flawed, and risk turning the whole discussion of the story into just another kind of fiction. For example, in the most marked inconsistency of Freud's analysis, he refers to the doll Olympia, at various points, as both "the second object of [Nathaniel's] love" and, only a page later, as "a materialization of Nathaniel's feminine attitude towards his father in his infancy" . To quote Torok and Rand, "Olympia must be either the representation of Nathaniel's dissociated narcissistic complex or his object of love. In other words, either Olympia is a personified expression of Nathaniel's own feminine attitude toward his castrating father in childhood or else she is the young man's external object of adult love on the same level as Clara" . Clearly, she cannot be both, and this inconsistency weakens Freud's theory to a considerable extent.
It is still nevertheless possible to read Hoffmann's Sandman according to the Freudian interpretation, with the "injury to eye" theme representing the castration complex. However, I am more convinced by Torok and Rand's assertion that Nathaniel's hallucinations concerning injury to his eyes and the eyes of others mean simply that things have been concealed from him all his life (his father's murky activities with Coppelius, which led to the man's death), and either he does not wish to see, or he is aware that people have tried to keep him from seeing. His madness is the result of this secret that casts doubt on his father's goodness and which he can never fathom out. So, if Freudian theory is not appropriate for use as a tool to interpret the message of The Sandman for modern readers, in both Hoffmann and Gaiman's versions, which is the best method of psychoanalysis for use on this material? To answer this question, it is necessary to look once again at Gaiman's version of the story.
The concept of the Dreaming as used by Gaiman, in which every inhabitant of the Dreaming is part of it, including the ruler, Morpheus, has much in common with Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. Aspects of The Sandman can also be recognised, in some form, in Joseph Campbell's psychoanalytical theories of myth, especially of the hero myth. However, Gaiman uses this myth in his work only to reverse it. As opposed to Campbell's hero myth, where an ordinary man goes on a journey or a quest, and ends it by becoming a hero, a king or a god, Gaiman takes a character (Morpheus) who is already more powerful than any god, and sends him on a series of small journeys. The cumulative effect of these is to make him more human, both in the sense of his own personal development, and because he then dies and is replaced as the embodiment of Dream by a human baby. Ultimately, Gaiman has created a modern myth in The Sandman; a myth that helps to move the reader through the stages of life, and tells us, through Morpheus, how to live a human lifetime. His myth cycle also stresses the eternal human need for faith (in whatever "gods" one chooses to believe), hope and love, as well as attempting to teach the lesson that our lives are governed by our own choices, since we are all free to choose the course of our own lives.
In conclusion, then, the existing forms of psychoanalysis most suited to modern living, based on a study of Gaiman and Hoffmann's versions of The Sandman, would appear to be a mixture of elements taken from Jung and an adapted version of Campbell's theories of mythology, perhaps combined with Freud's theories on repetition-compulsion and the death drive. However, since many psychoanalytical theories were directly based by their creators on ancient myths, it would surely be possible to develop a new theory of psychoanalysis based on the modern myth Gaiman has created - and what better theory, for the late twentieth century, than one based on a myth that arose from that time period? In the end, such a new kind of psychoanalytical theory based on the messages and lessons contained in Gaiman's work might well be the best and most suitable possible for modern living.
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