A Psychobiographical Study On The Writings Of Doris Lessing

Professor of English Department of English, (Jnanabharathi) Bangalore University Today, we are in the digital era, where we find, connectivity around the globe within a fraction of seconds. Space technology has engulfed mankind and terrific competition seen in the launching of rockets and missiles to space. Political and ideological turmoil is the order of the day, where man is caught in between the intricate hub of inventions and discoveries. Despite, such tremendous growth in modern times, still we find the posterity, disturbed and entangled in a web of social relationships, personality, and social convulsions.

However, a wide range in the anxiety of fear, persecution and the fragmentation of self, experiences peculiar to the era lies evidently from the writings of Mathew Arnold to Paul de Man.

The significant part of such experiences gets foregrounded in a systematic branch of knowledge, known as psychoanalysis, strongly advocated by Sigmund Freud in the later part of the nineteenth century. Freud, in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis says, the motive of human society is in the last resort an economic one.

Every human being has to undergo pleasure principle and reality principle, the repression. The statement of Freud states that the principle of reality and the pleasure which lies within the human mind undergoes, repression. This excessive uncontrolled repression, which makes individuals fall sick, is widely known as neurosis. Finally, one such way to cope with desire is through a sublimation process, directed towards a socially valued end. Freud contributed three levels of personality that lies deep in the human mind.

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The foremost is the ego, the consciousness, lying at the surface level followed by super-ego, which is the human conscience and the ultimate is the Id which is the Unconscious which lies deep in the human mind in the form of repressed desires, unresolved conflicts, traumatic past, and inarticulate fears. They express themselves in the form of art, dreams, jokes, puns, and slips of the tongue. Freud describes the three states of mind topographically in the form of huge ice-bergs in an ocean. The visible part to the naked eye is the Conscious, which is a blog of activities and consciousness. The subconsciousness, also conceived as preconscious, lies at the center, wherein, we find it in the form of memories. However, the most important of all is, the Freudian Theory of Unconscious which constitutes unadmitted and inexpressible desires, unresolved conflicts, traumatic pasts and inarticulate fears that constitute it.

Finally, this state of unconsciousness is undesirable, as it lies in the state of a taboo or forbidden. However, The Freudian theory of Unconscious received a major kickback, by the French psychoanalyst, Jean Jacques Lacan who suggested, a return to Freud in a new version and insights from linguistics. Hence, to decipher the theory of Unconsciousness propounded by Lacan requires scholarly thinking. One can find the highly dense writing and his influence on post-structuralist thought. According to Lacan, the child’s notion and sense of the self emerges in its reference to an Other. Before, the emergence of the self, the child lives in the realm of the imaginary. Here, there is no distinction between me and the Other. Here, there is no center (me). Lacan argues that the child’s notion and sense of the self emerges in its reference to an Other. Before the emergence of the self, the child lives in the realm of the imaginary here, and there is no distinction between I and Other. There is no center (me).

In the pre-Oedipal stage, the child has a symbiotic relationship with the mother and hardly distinguish between the mother’s body and itself. The mirror stage is the origin of a fundamental alienation in the child’s sense of the self. Subsequently, the child gets uncoordinated and unintegrated as he sets explored in a mirror image, like an ideal self, well-coordinated and unified. Perhaps, this is a misperception, an illusion according to Lacan. The child, identifies itself imaginatively with images and objects. Finally, the illusion of a unified self-hood is thus built up. In terms of language, the child is unaffected by the difference in the imaginary, it is the pre-linguistic and the pre-oedipal stage. What he sees in the mirror is himself the signifier (child) and the signified (mirror image) are not separated. In the imaginary, the self and the objects in the world are interchangeable.

This is the metaphoric stage where one object can be easily replaced by another. However, Lacan identifies the Jacobsonian metaphor with Freudian condensation where one may substitute one sign/object for the other. Finally, Metonymy is displacement because it is relational and shifts from one object to another. The researcher wishes to draw her inference on the observations made by her. The belief of the child is what Lacan terms the desire of the mother which suggests two things. The child imagines itself to be the desire of the mother, the child satisfies the mother’s desire. The desire of the mother is also the child’s desire for the mother. She is the first object of desire because she was instrumental in satisfying its first lacks and needs. Both these desires, therefore, keep the child in the imaginary state. One can find a symbiotic relationship between the child and the mother. Perhaps, it is important to state that, with the mirror stage, the child enters the language system.

However, the figure of the Father, prohibitions, and laws also enters the child’s world. The father is, in Lacanian terms, the law. Social taboos are instilled in the child in the prohibition of incest. Finally, the child discovers that it is separate from the mother, and is a part of a whole network of family and society in which it is expected and preordained to play a specific part. It discovers the challenge of taking that identity is based on its difference from others. The child has to repress his desire for the mother, and the desire is now consigned to the unconscious. This new order is Symbolic. In its entry into the symbolic, the child is made aware of the sexual difference, the recognition of the phallus and the gender roles. This awareness accomplishes the child’s socialization. The child has thus finally, discovered that it cannot have direct access to the body of the mother.

Psychoanalysis appropriates to explore the organizational context of the unconscious to analyze, interpret the text and subject. When psychoanalysis was influenced by the structural and post-structural discourses, it reconceptualized the notion of ‘self,’ a philosophical concept; as a structure and a content of language to term it as ‘Subjectivity.’ The radical form of psychoanalysis always ends up creating the same subject which it pretends to have already discovered. This thesis analyses the study of Lessing’s autobiographies with a view to tracing the structure and construction of Lessing’s subjectivity through the Lacanian theory of the unconscious. Therefore, a detailed study of Lessing’s autobiographies is done to understand the subjectivity and desire of the protagonist, her reader can posit herself at a critical distance with regard to the narratives of her contemporary culture. The methodology adopted here is psychobiography, which in turn, analyses a detailed psychoanalytical study of the writer’s psyche, subjectivity (identity) with reference to language.

This paper investigates Lacanian theory of unconscious in her autobiographies and helps in to develop a refined model of Lessing’s subjectivity. Subjectivity is concerned with the study of psychoanalytical theory in general and analyzing the two voluminous autobiographies namely Under My Skin & Walking in the Shade to define her subjectivity not only from the psychoanalytical point of view but also from the cultural point of view. The reason is quite obvious of the fact that psychoanalysis is not a self-contained, privileged system of knowledge, capable of unlocking the cultural secret. It has to align with culture to perform efficiently as a system of knowledge. Therefore, psychoanalysis is not considered as a baffling metanarrative, is treated as a product of historical determinants and a result of the critical inquiry.

Psychoanalysis is not utilized for the detection and identification of the pathological symptoms but treated a system of systems structuring the subjectivity within the cultural context. With the above perceptions in mind, an examination of subjectivity in Lessing’s autobiographies aims in bringing out a structure of the subjective shape of Lessing as an individual writer who aligned herself to the western culture. The theories of Jean Jacques Lacan which have caught the imagination of psychoanalysts and cultural theorists, emphasize more on the role of language, in the formulation of conscious subjectivity. Therefore, a careful analysis of deconstructing the structure of subjectivity is done along with the reconstruction of cultural subjectivity in the autobiographies of Lessing.


  1. Primary Sources: 1)Lessing, Doris, Under My Skin, Harper Collins Publishers,
  2. Lessing, Doris, Walking in the Shade, Harper Collins publishers,1998 Secondary Sources: 1) Anderson, Linda. Autobiography. The New Critical Idiom,2007.
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A Psychobiographical Study On The Writings Of Doris Lessing. (2022, Apr 30). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-psychobiographical-study-on-the-writings-of-doris-lessing/

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