The Therapies of Literature

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This book, The Therapies of Literature, is a tour de force of some of the finest works of World Literature. This book condenses much of the author’s fifty years of study and university teaching in the Humanities and Literature. As Professor Wiseman points out, literature is one of the most honest of human expressions; it does not hide behind theories or try to squeeze the world of human experience into a few psychological and/or philosophical concepts. This book takes on central questions awareness-seeking humans ask: are we fulfilling our life contract? Are we living the life we are meant to live?

The Therapies of Literature helps readers face these questions by challenging and confronting the dilemma of being human. While many psychotherapies may be limiting in understanding these questions, The Therapies of Literature reaches out to readers in all of their amazing diversity, depth and richness. This is an exciting and demanding book to read. Professor Wiseman’s writing is poetic in style and requires us to slow-down our habituated reading pace, sometimes causing us to re-read, pause and read again. The author’s wisdom, and that of the many artists he gives a voice to, continues to push our process of becoming more of who we are. These voices give us solace and peace and they take it away. Be prepared to look into your own mirror. Be prepared to be touched, comforted, puzzled and disturbed. Be prepared to find not simplistic pathways but your own. After years of the original manuscript hiding away in the author’s library, Elders Academy Press was proud to publish this book in 2003.

From the Foreword by Rollo May:

“I have long advocated more books on this subject. Amidst the dryness of theory and the increasing bickering about proper approaches in the world of psychotherapy, the presentation of human problems and human health in great literature stands out as a rich tapestry with the steadiness and clarity of vision we so sorely need in these times.

Richard Wiseman’s task here was not an easy one. He has not taken the usual texts nor found the usual answers to late Twentieth Century problems. The deceptiveness of our motivations is certainly here, the constant complaint every therapist hears: this is the way I want my life to be, why do I always miss that goal and fall into the same difficulties? But the evocation of conscious versus unconscious drives does not pretend any longer to be the most useful approach. Difficulties and pain are integrated differently, the layering of experience takes precedence over avoidance, life’s joys are wherever you find them.

The author’s own work in psychotherapy — a rich Jungian and existential background — has combined with many years of university level teaching about great literature to make him cabable of the structure of this book and its rather startling conclusion. I mean, finally, the presentation of a completely new way of conceptualizing human life, its ‘meaning’ and purpose, which will ultimately have to stand behind all psychotherapists’ efforts to be helpful to their fellow humans. To single out just one example: the concept of ‘Care’ and caring used to be a high moral directive — it was something for you to attain, something you have. In radically changed Heideggerian thought, ‘Care’ is something you are. As always, the artists and poets point the way. As this book reveals, the world of the Twenty-First Century, of changing cares and responsibilities, was steadily appearing in works by authors as diverse as James Joyce and Heidegger, or Virginia Woolf and Rilke and Mann. They show us our duty in a fresh psychological perspective, that is, in a fully human sense.”

— Rollo May, 1994

The Therapies of Literature are richer and deeper, more moving, more human than anything we have yet called psychology. Using names of schools of psychology, Jungian, Bio-energetic, Existential, merely gives a frame to the possible discussions, a place to start. How many fictions are about human loneliness, human courage – the aspects of our lives of major concern to all therapists. How many ways can we as readers know more about all the others, the unseen companions of our frantic or bored hours, know their fortitude, even in those ultimate moments: a child is born, a beloved person dies. What else does literature have but this – the many guises of one life.