Reading Riddles

Rhetorics of Obscurity from Romanticism to Freud

By (author) Brian Tucker

Hardback - £69.00

Publication date:

16 December 2010

Length of book:

200 pages


Bucknell University Press

ISBN-13: 9781611480283

Reading Riddles: Rhetorics of Obscurity from Romanticism to Freud explores how the riddle becomes a figure for reading and writing in early German Romanticism and how this model then enables Sigmund Freud's approach to the psyche. It traces a migration of ideas from literature to psychoanalysis and argues that the relationship between them must be situated at the methodological level. Through readings of texts by August Wilhelm, Friedrich Schlegel, G.W.F. Hegel, and Ludwig Tieck Reading Riddles documents how the Romantics expand the field of poetic signification to include obscure, distorted signs and how they applied this rhetoric of obscurity to the self. The book argues that this model of self and signification plays a central role in the formulation of Freud's psychoanalytic theory. If the self is a riddle, as many in the nineteenth century claim, Freud takes the figure seriously and interprets the mind according to all the structures and techniques of that textual genre.
In this cogent contribution to scholarship, Tucker argues for a connection between Romanticism and psychoanalysis 'at the level of formal and methodological principles, in a shared notion of how poetic language operates.' The author observes that in German Romanticism the riddle—understood as a 'figure for the processes of writing and reading'—emerges as a key figure for a modern poetics that 'privileges obscurity, difficulty, and interrupted communication.' He develops this idea in discussions of comprehensibility/incomprehensibility and the function of criticism between August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Hegel's conception of the symbol, and the deployment of riddle structures in Ludwig Tieck's 'Blond Eckbert' and William Lowell. Tucker then takes up Freud's work on jokes and dream work to show that the riddle provides a model for Freud's interpretative practices; he offers a plausible path of intellectual transmission of this model from the Romantics. Freud, then, becomes his own Oedipal figure: a man who strives to solve the riddle of the human psyche. Tucker's focus on the riddle is a new and productive approach to the material; it merits attention. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty.