Novel Relations: Bion and George Eliot

Prof. Alicia Christoff will discuss her book Novel Relations: Victorian Fiction and British Psychoanalysis (Princeton UP, 2019), focusing on her chapter that reads W. R. Bion in conversation with George Eliot’s 1861 novel The Mill on the FlossNovel Relations engages twentieth-century post-Freudian British psychoanalysis in an unprecedented way: as literary theory. Placing the writing of figures like D. W. Winnicott, W. R. Bion, Michael and Enid Balint, Joan Riviere, Paula Heimann, and Betty Joseph in conversation with canonical Victorian fiction, Alicia Christoff reveals just how much object relations can teach us about how and why we read. These thinkers illustrate the ever-shifting impact our relations with others have on the psyche, and help us see how literary figures—characters, narrators, authors, and other readers—shape and structure us too. For Christoff, novels are charged relational fields. Closely reading novels by George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, Christoff shows that traditional understandings of Victorian fiction change when we fully recognize the object relations of reading. It is not by chance that British psychoanalysis illuminates underappreciated aspects of Victorian fiction so vibrantly: Victorian novels shaped modern psychoanalytic theories of psyche and relationality—including the eclipsing of empire and race in the construction of subject. Relational reading opens up both Victorian fiction and psychoanalysis to wider political and postcolonial dimensions, while prompting a closer engagement with work in such areas as critical race theory and gender and sexuality studies. The first book to examine at length the connections between British psychoanalysis and Victorian fiction, Novel Relations describes the impact of literary form on readers and on twentieth- and twenty-first-century theories of the subject.

Alicia Christoff, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Amherst College. She lives in Pittsfield, MA, where she is part of The Mastheads public humanities project. Her academic publications include her monograph Novel Relations: Victorian Fiction and British Psychoanalysis (Princeton UP, 2019), which was recently awarded the 2020 Courage to Dream Prize from the American Psychoanalytic Association, and articles in journals like PMLA, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Victorian Studies, and others. She has also published essays, reviews, and poems in Guernica, the LA Review of Books, Public Books, The Common, The Yale Review, and Peach Mag.

Wendy Katz, Ph.D. is a training and supervising analyst at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and serves as an associate editor for The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. She has written on various topics including psychoanalytic process, perverse transference, and truth in contemporary psychoanalytic thought.

Learning objectives:
1) To (re-)immerse lecture participants in the theory of W. R. Bion, and introduce some cultural contexts (esp. the history of the British Empire) for his work.
2) To demonstrate and suggest rigorous and sophisticated methods of analyzing psychoanalysis and literature in conversation with one another.
3) To argue for the value of engaging new work in critical theory on race and social justice in psychoanalytic circles.


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