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Macmillan, M. Swales, P.J. (2003). Observations from the Refuse-Heap: Freud, Michelangelo's Moses, and Psychoanalysis. Am. Imago, 60(1):41-104.

(2003). American Imago, 60(1):41-104

Observations from the Refuse-Heap: Freud, Michelangelo's Moses, and Psychoanalysis

Malcolm Macmillan and Peter J. Swales

Sigmund Freud's 1914 essay on Michelangelo's statue of Moses is unique in having been the only one of his works whose authorship he sought to conceal—that is, until 1924, when he consented to have it included in volume ten of his Gesammelte Schriften.1 Although the essay bears no relation to psychoanalytic theory as such—lacking reference to such central concepts as the unconscious, repression, or compromise formation—Freud characterized the method of inquiry that he employed therein as one that has “in point of fact a certain resemblance to the methodology of psychoanalysis” (1914, 211n1), and a number of authors have since insisted on this resemblance even to the point of proclaiming the essay to be paradigmatic of Freudian interpretive methods.

Freud's avowed purpose was to discover Michelangelo's intention in creating the statue: What was the mental constellation or emotional attitude that the artist had aimed to awaken in the viewer? Answering that question required finding the meaning and content of Michelangelo's representation, that is, interpreting it (1914, 212).

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