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Fingesten, P. (1973). The Symbol and its Silent Voices. Am. Imago, 30(4):413-415.

(1973). American Imago, 30(4):413-415

Review of Current Books

The Symbol and its Silent Voices

Review by:
Peter Fingesten, M.F.A.

In his latest book, Martin Grotjahn brings great intellectual culture to bear upon the symbols he analyzes. The ten chapters are not connected and do not represent a systematic treatment of the subject but reflect a wide selection of his interests. One of the key remarks of the book is “To listen to the silent voices of the symbol is a difficult undertaking. The more one tries to make the symbol clear in writing, the farther one moves away from it. The more one listens, the less one understands. The closer you look, the less you see it.” (p. vi.) His approach is descriptive or diagnostic without that creative interplay between symbol and analyst which we call cybernetic. Nevertheless, he offers many valid insights and felicitous rephrasing of classic Freudian concepts.

Grotjahn rightly critizes television for perverting the symbol to a slogan. According to the author, television has failed to become a new form of art experience; instead it is a kind of collective dream. Its failure lies in that it may tease unconscious conflicts and play with them but will not lead to a solution. The artist's task is to find new symbols for old problems of existence, while television presents us with old symbols and no problems. Watching it is a passive, voyeuristic and regressive experience.

The author then treats the symbolic and psychoanalytic aspects, of racial prejudice, particularly in regard to the black American. He clarifies the symbol of blackness as the instinctual, passionate, phallic aspects of ourselves.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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