From the outset of his psychoanalytic project, Freud was aware of having been preceded by literature. The poets and philosophers, he would often say, had shown the unconscious at work long before he made it an object of scientific curiosity. And in many ways literature was and is more intimate with the unconscious than psychoanalysis, closer to its obscure, ambiguous modes of thinking and expression than any theoretical system could hope to be.
With Oedipus and Narcissus, Freud places myth and literature at the centre of his conceptual edifice, while literary figures such as Hoffmann, Dostoevsky and Goethe remain perpetual interlocutors throughout his corpus. And literature and art have repaid the compliment, whether by explicitly mobilising the unconscious for artistic practice (surrealism) or by tacitly insinuating the motifs and mechanisms of a Freudian psychology into the representation of human motives and behaviour (modernist and realist fiction alike).
Literature and psychoanalysis continue to play and struggle with their debts to one another, to maintain a lively and uneasy dialogue based on their deep affinities and equally deep rivalries. The stakes of this dialogue are concentrated in this probing and frequently fascinating exchange between the celebrated South African novelist