Die Vergessene Kunst: Der Orpheusmythos Und Die Psychoanalyse der Musik [Forgotten Art: The Orpheus Myth and the Psychoanalysis of Music]

By Dantlgraber, Josef | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Die Vergessene Kunst: Der Orpheusmythos Und Die Psychoanalyse der Musik [Forgotten Art: The Orpheus Myth and the Psychoanalysis of Music]


Dantlgraber, Josef, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Die vergessene Kunst: Der Orpheusmythos und die Psychoanalyse der Musik [Forgotten art: The Orpheus myth and the psychoanalysis of music] by Sebastian Leikert Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag. 2005. 175 p. Reviewed by Josef Dantlgraber,1 7 Neckargasse, D-72070 Tübingen, Germany - Josef.Dantlgraber@web.de

This book is to my knowledge the first monograph concerning the relationship between psychoanalysis and music; it sets out to define the essential nature of music using psychoanalytic concepts. The book consists of essays written by the author in the last few years, some of which have been published in renowned journals. There is nevertheless a unity to it because the texts both build on and complement each other so as to enable us to reconstruct the way in which Leikert's thoughts on this subject have developed. The book also reads as a complete work in its own right because Leikert manages to create a superordinate referential framework through references in the texts. From this emerges its clear structure: in the first part, 'Foundations', he develops a psychoanalytic model for understanding music. These theoretical statements are illustrated with examples in the second part, 'Studies', as Leikert analyses various works from the history of music. The third, concluding, part, 'The music of language', is devoted to the implications of Leikert's perspective, on the one hand, for a broadened understanding of the transference-countertransference relationship in the analytic situation and, on the other, for understanding literary works.

As already indicated in the subtitle, the Orpheus myth structures Leikert's theoretical reflections; for Leikert, this myth lies at the heart of his quest for a place in psychoanalysis for a definition of music. In his overview of previous works on the Orpheus myth, he provides an easily comprehensible summary of the main characteristics of psychoanalytic interpretations. He distinguishes four steps in the working-through process: the starting point, firstly, is

...a murderous conflict with the primary object (oral conflict) or a premature loss of the primary object, which, secondly, cannot be progressively mastered. This leads, thirdly, to a regression to an earlier, fusional state in which, fourthly, this state is sublimated in a move towards creativity and placed at the disposal of culture. (p. 49)

The invention of music as the outcome of this creative act provides 'a place for the earliest forms of experience alongside genetically later forms of representation of psychic contents' (p. 49).

Leikert then presents his own viewpoint and interprets Orpheus's returning glance at Eurydice as the consequence of an insufficiently good relationship with the primary object, which prevented the introjection of a good object. Aggressive impulses overcome libidinal ones, and there thus follows an upsurge of oral rage at the inaccessibility of the object. Orpheus escapes this hopeless situation by regressing to a fusion with the purely harmonious mother of the early intrauterine and post-natal bond with her. According to Maiello (1995), sound and music exist before the experience of separation. This fusion occurs on the path of the acoustic channel: when Orpheus sings, he identifies with his mother Calliope (with the beautiful voice) and enters a state of early unity with her.

Leikert is particularly concerned with the question of how music can enable us to relive this earliest form of experience. He certainly sees the similarity of music to language, but he emphasizes the importance of the difference between them. Music 'does not relate to objects that are seen (object representations) but to experienced bodily tensions ... language constructs its meaning through signs and representations, whereas music symbolizes subjectively experienced states of tension by means of imitation' (p. 54). The foetus's hearing-hearing is known to be fully developed from the fourth month of pregnancy and is thus the first fully developed sensory organ-registers the mother's voice. …

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Die Vergessene Kunst: Der Orpheusmythos Und Die Psychoanalyse der Musik [Forgotten Art: The Orpheus Myth and the Psychoanalysis of Music]
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