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Bollas, C. (1978). The Aesthetic Moment and the Search for Transformation. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:385-394.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:385-394

The Aesthetic Moment and the Search for Transformation

Christopher Bollas, Ph.D.

For Masud Khan

The aesthetic experience occurs as moment. Eliseo Viva describes it as “rapt, intransitive attention” (quoted in Krieger, 1976p. 11). Murray Krieger (1976) writes: “What would characterize the experience as aesthetic rather than either cognitive or moral would be its self sufficiency, its capacity to trap us within itself, to keep us from moving beyond it to further knowledge or to practical efforts” (p. 11). A spell which holds self and other in symmetry and solitude, time crystalizes into space, providing a rendezvous of self and other (text, composition, painting) that actualizes deep rapport between subject and object. The aesthetic moment constitutes this deep rapport between subject and object, and provides the person with a generative illusion of fitting with an object, evoking an existential memory. Existential, as opposed to cognitive, memory is conveyed not through visual or abstract thinking, but through the affects of being. Such moments feel familiar, uncanny, sacred, reverential, and outside cognitive coherence. They are registered through an experience of being, rather than mind, because the epistemology of the aesthetic moment is prior to representational cognition, and speaks that part of us where the experience of rapport


Readers of Marion Milner's work (1957) will notice how my work is derivative of her own. I would like to acknowledge this indebtedness and to express my gratitude to her for her patient and creative supervision of my clinical work.

1 I am primarily concerned with moment as an occasion when time becomes a space for the subject. We are stopped, held, in reverie, to be released, eventually back into time proper. I believe such moments may occur within the reading of a text, or a poem, or during the experience of hearing an entire reading of a text or a symphony.

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