Between Couch and Piano: Psychoanalysis, Music, Art, and Neuroscience

By Stein, Alexander | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, April 2006 | Go to article overview
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Between Couch and Piano: Psychoanalysis, Music, Art, and Neuroscience


Stein, Alexander, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Between couch and piano: Psychoanalysis, music, art, and neuroscience by Gilbert J. Rose Hove: Brunner-Routledge. 2004. 189 p. Reviewed by Alexander Stein, 80, 5th Ave, Suite 901, New York, NY 10011, USA - psykhe@att.net

Writings about the arts from a psychoanalytic perspective have appeared since the inception of psychoanalysis itself. With many of Freud's early writings, and through the weekly discussions held between 1901 and 1906 of the so-called Wednesday Society-forerunner to the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society-a door opened out of the consulting room and into the artist's studio. Countless psychoanalysts, as well as many non-clinicians schooled in psychoanalytic theory, followed, proposing that psychoanalytic conceptualizations of mental life could uniquely and profitably illuminate the artist and his creative productions. Although Freud pointedly eschewed music in favour of exploring the visual and literary arts, another of the Wednesday Society's founding members was musicologist Max Graf (known also as the father of the boy in Freud's Little Hans case). In Graf's essay on Wagner and the Flying Dutchman (1911) we have the first distinctly psychoanalytic inquiry into music and musical creativity.

Despite that auspicious beginning, relatively few psychoanalytic studies of music (and even fewer of significant merit or sophistication) were produced in the following half-century as compared to works focused on other forms of artistic expression (Sterba, 1965; Noy, 1966, 1967). Kris's (1952) groundbreaking work signalled the emergence of more sophisticated applications of Freudian ideas in the realms of art and creativity. The second half of the 20th century marked a continued shifting away from the historically dominant 'regressive id' model and its affiliated trend of correlating pathology and creativity. Reflective of the favoured theoretic modality of the times, writings from the mid-1950s and beyond moved toward ego-psychologically oriented formulations-conflict-free, adaptive, and less neurotically or psychotically influential factors-about the effects of music on the listener or the psychic organization of the composer. A change in the climate of psychoanalytic theorizing coupled with works about music authored by writers equally knowledgeable about music and psychoanalysis gave rise to a new generation of analysts in which emphasis could be placed on the music itself, not only the mind of the composer or listener. This allowed the extra-psychological data of the music-with its unique and specific forms of notation, form, grammar and syntactical structure-to be understood (or at least addressed) both on its own terms, and as aurally representational of mental functioning.

Still, music has remained less represented in the psychoanalytic literature than any other art (save perhaps for dance). As to this, Nass assesses that

...one of the basic reasons why so little work has been done in music and psychoanalysis and why most of the work that has been done has not followed the basic methodology of a modern ego-psychology approach [is that] [s]tyle and formalistic issues have not been stressed, and most of the work has focused on issues of content. (1989, p. 165)

Rose entered this fractious dialogue in 1963 with a consideration of the role of the body ego in creative imagination and artistic production. He has never looked back; his output since is a veritable compendium of writings demonstrating a robust curiosity about the psychosomatic origins of art and creativity.

This book represents a summary to date of Rose's 40-year exploration of creativity, while also extending and clarifying his trilogy on psychoanalysis and nonverbal aesthetic form (Rose, 1980, 1996a, 1996b). It affords a prime opportunity then to trace the reworkings, thoughtful recapitulations, and evolutionary advances in Rose's theorizing about the form, content, and psychodynamic nature of aesthetics and the creative process, with more specific emphasis here on music than in his previous books.

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