Literature and psyche

Literature can tell a reliable story about the historical and social world and the environment in which we live, but even in relation to the historical, the social, and the environmental, its traditional workplace is the (human) psyche. In literature, beginning with the earliest texts, we find a striving for the higher, the transcendent. Psychology and psychoanalysis began the scientific exploration of the human psyche more than a century ago, and at the end of the 20th century, literary science, through psychonarratology, began to explore the perception of literary characters as real persons.

On the other hand, we have known since Plato that literature influences its readers. For some it makes for inspiration, for others comfort, and for others entertainment. Teachers have found, and research confirms this, that children who read more do better academically, and cognitive research even shows that readers of literature are more empathetic and more able to understand other people’s thoughts, intentions, and feelings.

Literature and the psyche therefore come into contact on many levels – at the level of literary figures, genres, literary style, but also at the level of readers, emotions, empathic experience, and thinking. Last but not least, many scholars recognise the great social contribution of literature precisely because of its insight into the human psyche.

So what is the contemporary understanding of the psyche in literature, how have writers in the past understood the psyche and how is this reflected in their literary texts, what is the relationship between literature and emotions, what kind of psychological content and in what way does children’s literature portray, why can we feel pain when reading literature, and can reading literature be beneficial for our mental health? – these are just some of the many questions we will be discussing at this year’s, the 21st, International Comparative Literature Colloquium of the International Literary Festival Vilenica.