Norman N. Holland

November 2011

Brief Vita

    Norman N. Holland is widely recognized for applying psychology to the study of literature. In 2008 he retired after serving twenty-five years as Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar and Professor of English at the University of Florida. Before that, he taught at M.I.T., Stanford, the University of Paris, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. The Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century has called him "the foremost psychoanalytic literary critic in America."

    Holland has published fifteen books and over two hundred articles in popular and professional magazines in America and all over the world. He has “generated” computer programs and programmed instruction, and he appeared as the regular movie critic on WGBH-TV in Boston for two years. He has held Guggenheim and A.C.L.S. fellowships. He has lectured all over the world, not only in such familiar places as London, Paris, Rome, or Berlin, but in Sapporo, Benares, and even Katmandu. Writings of his have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Magyar, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Turkic. He founded and, until recently, co-edited the online journal PsyArt. He also founded and now moderates PSYART, an online forum for psychological discussion of the arts with over 600 subscribers from 45 countries.

    Best known for his many books of criticism, Holland's first two books were purely literary, on Restoration comedy and Shakespeare. At that point, he trained as a non-medical candidate at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. His next book, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare (1966), began his long exploration of psychoanalytic psychology and its application to literature. The next two books, The Dynamics of Literary Response (1968) and Poems in Persons (1973), have proved central in establishing the relation between one’s personality and one’s experience of literature; both have been reprinted several times since their first publication. 5 Readers Reading in 1975 studied in depth the free associative responses of five readers to three familiar short stories. It showed how even trained readers constructed their readings according to their personal identities. Laughing (1982) extended this theory to jokes and people's senses of humor.

    In The I (1985), Holland meshed psychoanalysis with cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, the philosophy of science, and cybernetics. The I offers a generalized model of human nature that one can easily and widely use in the humanities and social sciences. In 1989, he applied this combination of psychoanalysis, cognitive science, and recent studies of the brain to literary criticism in a book called The Brain of Robert Frost, one of the very first books to apply the new knowledge of the brain to literature.

    In 1990, he published an authoritative handbook, Holland's Guide to Psychoanalytic Psychology and Literature-and-Psychology. Then, in The Critical I (1992) he used the model of The I to critique contemporary literary theory.

    Holland has also written a novel, Death in a Delphi Seminar (1995). It is as much a novel of ideas as a mystery story, because the murder takes place in an English Department, in a seminar studying psychoanalytic criticism and readers’ responses. To solve it, the reader has to read and analyze a number of student papers. Holland describes this as his revenge for having done fifty years of the same.

    His 2006 book was Meeting Movies, a series of personal essays combining his responses as a spectator to several classic films with traditional analyses of the films, showing the relation between the two. Since Meeting Movies, he has co-authored, with long-time collaborator Murray Schwartz, Know Thyself: Delphi Seminars, describing a widely applicable method of teaching using students’ insights into their own personalities.

    He most recently published (in 2009) his fifteenth book, Literature and the Brain, applying contemporary neuroscience to such questions about literature as, Why do we feel real emotions toward fictional events and people? How do we make literature mean? What creates creativity?

    Currently, he is building “A Sharper Focus,” a web site of essays on notable films: It now has essays on forty-five films.

    You will find a full bibliography and other information at

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