Joy and the Objects of Psychoanalysis

Literature, Belief, and Neurosis

By Volney P. Gay

Subjects: Psychological Approaches To Literature
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791451007, 257 pages, August 2001
Hardcover : 9780791450994, 257 pages, September 2001

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Table of contents



1. Neurotic Suffering as the Absence of Joy

2. Medicine and Psychoanalysis: Models of Psychological Disease

3. Pathogenic Beliefs, Personal and Public Specimens

4. Pathogenic Beliefs, Perfectionism, and the Production of Pyschopathology

5. Affects: Darwinian, Cultural, and Blitzkrieg

6. The Objects of Psychoanalysis


Shows how literature can aid psychoanalysts in the understanding of psychological conflicts.


For more than a hundred years, psychoanalysts have applied their theories of neurosis to objects of culture, including literature. In this book, psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and scholar of religion Volney P. Gay reverses field and uses literature to reevaluate psychoanalysis. Arguing that neurosis occurs when we cannot recollect joy, Gay focuses upon the nature of joy as articulated in drama and literature. It is the absence of joy, he suggests, that evokes in children a lifelong quest for repair and restitution, usually through the stories they tell themselves. Therefore, Gay argues, literary accounts of joy are essential to contemporary psychoanalysts because they illuminate the nature of an "object" that, when absent, produces the form of human suffering that Freud named "neurosis. " Throughout the book, case studies are juxtaposed with analyses of works by Plato, Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Wharton, and others in order to explore the notion that the objects of psychoanalysis (and similar psychotherapies) are structured like narratives rather than organisms or other natural objects.

Volney P. Gay is Professor of Religion, Professor of Psychiatry, and Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University, and a Training and Supervising Analyst at the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute. His previous book, Freud on Sublimation: Reconsiderations, published by SUNY Press, won the Heinz Hartmann Award from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.


"A remarkable rendering of psychoanalysis in contemporary thought and literature, offering a compelling theory of human development. Through its attention to literary works both famous and obscure, as well as to evolutionary theory and the emergence of religious beliefs, Joy and the Objects of Psychoanalysis will make compelling reading for psychoanalysts, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, literary critics, and all who desire to expand their understanding of the human condition. " — Gilbert Herdt, San Francisco State University

"An outstanding work. The reader comes away sensing that a real analyst (and a very good one) is writing this book. This is an analyst-author who can help the patient regain his or her sense of joy, the remedy for neurosis. But the book also goes beyond technical discussions about neurosis, interpretation, and change and discusses the literary imagination, politics, and religion. Hence, both sides—the therapeutic and the cultural-interpretive—are covered in this book in unique ways. " — Don S. Browning, University of Chicago