Psychoanalysis, Science, and Art: Aesthetics in the Making of a Psychoanalyst1

By Frayze-Pereira, João A. | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Psychoanalysis, Science, and Art: Aesthetics in the Making of a Psychoanalyst1


Frayze-Pereira, João A., International Journal of Psychoanalysis


This paper critically examines the relationship of psychoanalysis to science and art. Its point of departure is Michael Rustin's theorizing. Specifically, in considering the possibility of a psychoanalyst's having an aesthetic orientation, the author analyses: 1) the difficulty of there being any connection between psychoanalysis and science because science's necessarily presupposed subject-object dichotomy is incompatible with transference, which, beginning with Freud, is basic to psychoanalysis; 2) the complex relationship between psychoanalysis and aesthetics using Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophical perspective as well as Luigi Pareyson's theory of aesthetics; 3) the Kantian foundations of the psychoanalytic notion of art as the 'containing form of subjective experience'; 4) intersubjectivity, without which clinical practice would not be possible, especially considering matters of identity, difference, the body, and of sensory experience such as 'expressive form'; 5) the relationship of psychoanalysis and art, keeping in mind their possible convergence and divergence as well as some psychoanalysts' conceptual commitment to classicism and the need for contact with art in a psychoanalyst's mind set.

Keywords: philosophy of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic background, aesthetics, art

Michael Rustin's book The good society and the inner world (1991) is provocative. It appeals to psychoanalysis in discussing political and ideological matters such as socialism, racism, and social justice. Rustin examines the scientific status of that psychoanalysis associated with ethics, while at the same time he theorizes on the relationship of Kleinian and post-Kleinian psychoanalysis to aesthetics. Rustin examines so many matters that arise from the relationship of psychoanalysis to politics and culture that his book provides a good pretext for discussion of psychoanalytic foundations. Given the fundamental dimensions of psychoanalytic training, i.e. beyond specifically theoretical and technical considerations as well as ideological commitments of the theories (which are, of course, most important), there are scientific, philosophical, and cultural issues brought to bear in Rustin's analysis of the melding by contemporary psychoanalysts of their field with art and science. In this article I examine this melding critically. I scrutinize the philosophical grounding necessary for a psychoanalyst's aesthetic footing. But before proceeding to the analysis, which I attempt to base rigorously on specific authors' texts, some observations are necessary.

Let it be known from the beginning that in this article I do not intend to examine the relationship between psychoanalysis and aesthetics within the framework of using psychoanalysis to understand art, which practitioners have done since Freud's time-partially because important work has been done in this area in accordance with the Kleinian tradition, from the work of Hanna Segal (1952) to that of Peter Fuller (1980). In addition to that perspective, Winnicott (1971) and Meltzer and Williams (1988), each in their own way, have addressed the meaning of the aesthetic aspects in infants' lives vis-à-vis their emotional development. Rustin, when he considers authors of this ilk and, in particular, some of Bion's ideas, relates aesthetics to cognitive processes, beginning with their early manifestations in mental life. He asserts that

...the main contribution of the later Kleinian tradition to the understanding of art lies in its attention to how symbolic forms contain and find order and harmony in sensations and experiences, not with the particular set of unconscious objects of symbolism previously emphasized in psychoanalytic literature and art criticism. (1991, pp. 3-4).

Linking that way of thinking to Kantian philosophy, Rustin goes on to assert that 'the aesthetic is a primary and essential aspect of human experience' (p. 4). I completely agree with this idea, but I believe that its foundation in Kantian thought does not adequately justify the commitment of psychoanalysis to the aesthetic dimension of human experience. …

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