David Adams' series of ERBzine articles
Chattering from the Shoulder with Nkima
are featured at: ERBzine 0396
Ron Prindle's series of ERBzine articles:
ERB On the Road to Salvation, etc.
start at ERBzine 1328
by David A. Adams
Psychological readings of literary texts can be a legitimate form of literary criticism. However, R.E. Prindleís readings of Edgar Rice Burroughs in his recent series of articles are beset with a number of serious flaws.
1. Prindle attempts to build a psychological profile of ERB by close readings of some his so called Non-Series works alone. These works may at first glance be those to most readily reveal Burroughsí mind because they are outside the more well-known fantasy writings. However, it is erroneous to conclude that Burroughs "wrote his mind," so to speak, exclusively in these real world works such as the Mucker novels and Marcia of the Doorstep. a more accurate reading comes from looking at all of ERBís works. Indeed, more of Burroughs is revealed in the Barsoom and Tarzan Series than in his few minor works.
2. Prindleís use of psychological terms is often so confusing that he is difficult to follow. By his own admission he has based his readings upon a personal set of terms that seem at times to come from a combination of both Freud and Jung. Basically, as I understand him, he seems to revise Freud and confuse the general usage of Jung. At times I can follow his arguments, yet his strange combinations can dissolve his line of thought into what I read as meaningless jargon.
3. Prindleís main thesis centers around a childhood trauma concerning a bully named John. He claims that this event drives "the basic plot of ERBís novels." It is certainly a bold assertion and one that is interesting to follow. However, a single trauma theory is most likely too limiting when considering a lifetime of writing.
4. Prindle writes that "Each (of ERBís) book(s) is variation after variation on this single (Bully John) theme. He also finds this "fixation" not to be "formulaic." If it is indeed not, then what is it? Here Prindle seems to want his cake and to eat it too.
5. I see ERBís writing as a revelation of his conscious and unconscious mind -- as is the writing of everyone. However, ERB was not a "psychological" novelist in the strict sense. That is, ERB did not feature deep psychological conflicts and their resolutions in his novels. His heroes and heroines stand in a rather black and white universe with a fundamental opposition of good and evil.
Burroughs did not know that his writing was revelatory of his own unconscious mind. Prindle writes that ERB "was able to enter an amnesiac state" while writing (due to an early blow to his head and attending trauma). Rather than having to deal with this untenable paradox, I would rather say that his writing was revelatory of his unconscious mind although he was unaware of this fact.
6. Prindle begins his series of articles with a reading of ERBís early comic fantasy, Minidoka, but skips to The Outlaw of Torn, and The Mucker as though the intervening works were unimportant in the continuation of ERBís psychological development as a writer. This, to me, is the major flaw in his thesis. ERBís major works are treated as unexplained gaps rather than essential points of understanding this psychological profile.
7. Prindle IS interesting, and his readings are valuable once they have been cleaned-up, so to speak, of his confusing personal jargon.
8. Prindle uses Christian terms such as "salvation," "exorcised," and Ďredemption" mixed in with psychological terms, which also make his arguments confusing.
9. Prindleís assertions that the Ego is an anatomical fact needs much more explanation. It seems completely erroneous to me.
10. Prindle sees the psychological trauma with the John the Bully as stronger than the totally "reassuring image" of his father. He sees this trauma as singularly opposing a well-developed childís Ego rather than reinforcing a previous neurosis. It may, however, be possible that the Bully John and his father are psychologically joined (which would be a more typical Freudian reading). He talks about an opposing clown and a hero figure in this dual relationship which needs much more explanation. (I find these examples to totally incomprehensible.)
11. In part Ib, Prindle writes that in Outlaw of Torn ERB has freed his subconscious and integrated his personality, yet is still "conflicted" by his Animus and Anima. This is not a definition of an integrated personality, rather it is its opposite!
12. Prindle claims that the Bully John was not only in "the dominant position" of his Animus (Ego) but also the "substance of his Anima." This is unlikely unless ERB was a homosexual, for which there is no evidence. ERB had a problem integrating his Anima (the feminine side of his personality). This is indeed a theme in all of his writing -- a life-long struggle which he never resolved. However, his psychological profile was probably typical of American males at the time.
13. Prindle claims that ERBís Anima figures are always Anglo. This is often true of his heroines, his positive anima figures. Yet his negative anima figures are dark with dark hair and psychologically dark personalities: La of Opar for example.
14. There is much about the Mucker that Prindle struggles with that could be answered by a reading of Jack Londonís Martin Eden, the book ERB was "rewriting."
15. Prindle ignores the great anima figures of Dejah Thoris and Jane, leaping from Mucker I to Mucker II as though these novels explain everything about ERBís anima. This view is completely untenable by any standards of psychological or literary criticism.
16. Prindle calls aspects of the anima (various women in his writing) as a "dual personality" in the writer. These characters may reflect unconscious aspects, even conflicts, but are hardly a split in his personality.
17. Prindle sees ERBís writing as the "working out of his psychosis." He may have been neurotic, but ERB certainly was not psychotic.
18. Prindle writes that ERB "is a psychologist of note although without the systematization of Freud." Rather I would say, ERBís works reveal an interesting psychology which can be explained and interpreted using various methods. Prindle also, quite amazingly, says that "method and system are all that Freud has to offer" and "for the rest he is blowing smoke." Well, Freudís method and system provided psychoanalysis a structure to work with and prepared the foundation of ground-breaking investigations into the human mind. "Blowing smoke?" Perhaps if one looks at Freudís insistence on childhood sexual trauma as being the basis of all neurosis. Yet, this single trauma theory is very close to Prindleís own on the Bully John. The emasculation ERB undergoes in Prindleís theory is a variation on the Oedipus complex of Freud.
19. Prindleís rather esoteric "vision of mind" link with ERB himself is at least suspect as a reason for the corretness of his reading. He leaves a lot to be explained about this "hypnoid state," which he only mentions in passing.
20. The female in male clothing in Oakdale Affair probably owes as much to an historical comic opera device as it does to hidden psychological motives. It was common in vaudeville comic routines as well. However, his treatment of this image is consistent with his thesis. My main objection is still the great positive anima figures (female characters) ERB developed early in his writing career. Prindle says that ERB did not even make an attempt at integrating his anima between 1917 and 1924, whereas this was a constant theme of his writing.
I must say that I find Prindleís readings to be fascinating and even quite valuable in stretches. There is a lot of thought and effort in his writing, although I have trouble following his confusing, odd use of psychological terms. I look forward to reading more and commend him for taking the time to investigate ERBís writing. I felt compelled to comment at length (although not exhaustively) on these first three pieces because I found enough in them to be interesting. This is certainly not a personal attack on Prindle, but only commentary upon some of what I see as loose threads in his arguments
by R. E. Prindle
Although the two are not a series. 'Hobo' was written a couple years ago before Barrett published his letter concerning the true location of Burroughs being bashed on the head. 'Train' was written about six months ago after determining that the assault actually took place in Toronto. The full text of the letters as published by Hillman will change my position somewhat also.
You've raised so many points I don't know where to plunge in first. You object that my psychological terminology was confusing because you associate salvation, redemption and exorcise with Christianity. Let me say that what I consider myself to be doing is studying the history of human consciousness, so that I don't necessarily compartmentalize times and places. Christianity evolved at a certain point in the history of consciousness where it remained central for many centuries. We have now moved into a scientific consciousness but the thought processes remain pretty much the same. So, psychological terms like exorcise are still valid although the context has shifted a little.
First, let's ask what Depth psychology hopes to do. Eliminate fixations, which is to say in earlier psychological terms exorcise the demons that have possessed the patient for quite literally possession is what has occurred.
Possession or in modern terms 'psychosis' has been the eternal problem of psychology. One has demons in one's head or in other words one suffers from a psychosis. One has psychotic behavior. Not necessarily criminal but psychotic.
As it seems that one is possessed by demons, for a couple thousand years Freud's predecessors used an auger to bore a hole in the skull to let the demons out. Unsightly and unefficacious.
Lest one laugh at the procedure bear in mind that enlightened moderns as late as the sixties pushed a wire up the conduits over the eyes to perform a pre-frontal lobotomy. They severed the frontal lobe from the brain. So, that's progress for you.
In Medieval times a psychosis was known as 'possession' just like in the good old days. They tried to exorcise the demons by the will of God. If you've seen 'The Devils of Loudon' you've seen how men interpret the will of God.
I think you'll agree that Freud's methods are a definite improvement. Thus when John the Bully interjected his persona on ERB's Animus he took 'possession' as a 'demon.' The use of Depth psychology 'exorcises' that 'demon' by bringing the 'psychosis' or 'possession' into the light of the patient's understanding where it is dissipated losing the ability to control the behavior of the person.
The problem has always been the same; the methods of treatment have changed a little over the millennia.
Thus the psychological terms 'possession,' 'exorcise' and 'psychosis.'' I use the terms 'psychosis and 'psychotic behavior' in the sense that one cannot consciously control one's behavior but act from compulsion. That was ERB's case. He was not psychologically a free agent.
I should make the physical basis of the anima and Animus clear. If one adheres to Jung and Freud's words then what they both noticed was that there seemed to be a female presence in the male. This is true, a physical fact which affect the male's psychology. Jung, who hadn't the physiology we do now, picked up the female presence as the Anima in the male, giving an Animus to the female. This is half right in either case. Actually the male and female have one of each. Left hemisphere of the brain for the Animus; right hemisphere for the Anima. As I'll show this creates an interesting physiological problem.
In all my reading, no one seems to pay much attention to the manner in which the human corpus is constructed.
At some previous time, as the ancients, or some of them, understood there was an organism which contained all four sexual chromosomes: XXXy, The y made these organisms all male in character because the y chromosome determines maleness. When sex evolved the chromosomes were divided so that the female received an XX and the male an Xy, hence la difference.
In sex an egg and a sperm join to form a zygote or new organism. As the female is XX she can only contribute an X to the new organism. The female X contributes the left side of the body. Thus one has the feminine aspect of the male which is his X chromosome.
The sperm can be either an X or y, hence the male determines the sex of the child.
The ovum having no motion is passive; the sperm having the power of motion is active. In order to have motion one must have consciousness thus it should be no surprise that the right spermatic side of the body is stronger and more active than the left ovate side.
Now, we're all familiar with the double helix of DNA. The ovum and the sperm literally contribute dissimilar halves of the body to the new organism. That's why we have two of everything except the central organs which are joined and seamed. This is from head to gonads.
Dominant and recessive genes make sure that the halves meld into a homogeneous looking individual but the two sides are often only approximate matches. In my own case the left side of my face is slightly different from the right.
Now, the brain has two lobes while the spinal cord is seamed. There are right and left dorsal and ventral horns. The gonads are connected to the spinal cords and thence to the brain so all three parts function as one unit.
All right. However the nerves cross over at the brain stem so that the left side of the body is represented by the right lobe of the brain while right side of the body is represented by the left side of the brain.
Thus, and this is interesting, the spermatic right side of the body directs the activity of the ovate brain lobe while the weaker and more passive ovate left side controls the spermatic lobe of the brain. Interesting, what? What effect does that have on the organism?
Now, the left side, right spinal cord and right gonad form the Animus while the right lobe, left spinal cord and left gonad form the Anima. This is the same in both men and women but women have XX lacking the y.
I maintain that the Animus and Anima re anchored or terminated in the gonads while being free as they cross over at the brain stem into the cerebral cortex.
The Animus represents the Ego or 'person.' As the active partner it dominates the Anima unless reconciled to it.
Both are naked at birth but are clothed by aspects of the personas of those the infant and child come into contact with. Thus, originally the child's Anima is clothed by his mother, The Animus takes on the likeness of the father. This can and usually does change as the person comes into contact with other people later in life.
A fixation, or possession, occurs when the Animus is presented with a Challenge for which it lacks an adequate Response. The system 'crashes' as it were, with the fixation encysted in the subconscious somewhat like a virus in a computer. The intity no longer functions as it should.
Thus John the Bully gave ERB his central childhood fixation which made Burroughs behavior compusive according to a program of cowardice. John suggested to ERB in his terrorized or hypnoid state of mind. In fact John 'hypnotized' ERB and gave him a post-hypnotic suggestion that he was a coward. ERB's subsequent life fighting to overcome this suggestion. Thus one has the fearless John Carter and Tarzan.
R. E. Prindle
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