Faculty Bookshelf: Sarah Winter

Books by Sarah Winter

book cover
The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens (Fordham University Press, 2011)

What are the sources of the commonly held presumption that reading literature should make people more just, humane, and sophisticated? Rendering literary history responsive to the cultural histories of reading, publishing, and education, The Pleasures of Memory illuminates the ways that Dickens’s serial fiction shaped not only the popular practice of reading for pleasure and instruction associated with the growth of periodical publication in the nineteenth century but also the school subject we now know as English. Examining the full scope of Dickens’s literary production, Winter shows how his serial fiction instigated specific reading practices by reworking the conventions of religious didactic tracts from which most Victorians learned to read. Incorporating an influential associationist psychology of learning and reading founded on the cumulative functioning of memory, Dickens’s serial novels consistently lead readers to reflect on their reading as a form of shared experience, thus channeling their personal memories of Dickens’s unforgettable scenes and characters into a public reception reaching across social classes. Dickens’s celebrity authorship, Winter argues, represented both a successful marketing program for popular fiction and a cultural politics addressed to a politically unaffiliated, social-activist Victorian readership. As late-nineteenth-century educational reforms in Britain and the United States consolidated Dickens’s heterogeneous constituency of readers into the mass populations served by national and state school systems, however, Dickens’s beloved novels came to embody the socially inclusive and humanizing goals of democratic education.

Freud and the Institution of Psychoanalytic Knowledge (Stanford University Press, 1999)

How did psychoanalytic knowledge attain a dual status both as common sense about the “inner life” among the educated and as seemingly indispensable psychological expertise during the first half of the twentieth century? Combining approaches from literary studies and historical sociology, this book provides a groundbreaking cultural history of the strategies Freud employed in his writings and career to orchestrate public recognition of psychoanalyis and to shape its institutional identity.

Winter argues that a central element of Freud’s institutionalization project was his theoretical appropriation of Greek tragedy. He derived cultural authority and legitimacy for psychoanalysis by adopting the generic conventions and “universal” relevance of Sophoclean tragedy, as well as the prestige of classical education, in his elaboration of the Oedipus complex. As the author shows, Lacanian psychoanalysis has followed Freud’s lead in purveying an ahistorical reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus plays to authorize its reimagining of the Oedipal subject.

The cultural salience of psychoanalytic knowledge also emerged in the contexts of the social prominence of professionalism and the academic consolidation of the social science disciplines at the turn of the century. Through a detailed examination of Freud’s writings on culture, psychoanalytic technique, and the history of the psychoanalytic movement, the book delineates his attempts to establish psychoanalysis both as a profession and as an epistemologically essential master discipline by competing directly with research in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and academic psychology.

In the current controversy over Freud’s legacy, the author offers a critical assessment of the institutional opportunities and constraints that have conditioned the cultural fate of psychoanalytic knowledge in the twentieth century.