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Gamwell, L. (1996). Collecting: An Unruly Passion, Psychological Perspectives. By Werner Muensterberger. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994, 295 pp., $24.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:312-315.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:312-315

Collecting: An Unruly Passion, Psychological Perspectives. By Werner Muensterberger. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994, 295 pp., $24.95.

Review by:
Lynn Gamwell

Guided by D. W. Winnicott's theory of object relations, New York psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger locates the psychological basis of collecting in the child's use of a transitional object to relieve anxiety caused by separation from its mother.

Child obsesrvation shows us that the infant may look to alternative solutions for dealing with the anticipation of vulnerability, of aloneness and anxiety, and often will be looking for a tangible object like a comforter, a cushiony doll, or the proverbial security blanket to provide solace which is not, or rather was not, forthcoming. Thus, the collector, not unlike the religious believer, assigns power and value to these objects because their presence and possession seem to have a modifying—usually pleasure-giving—function in the owner's mental state [p. 9].

According to Muensterberger, the more painful the childhood separation and related trauma, the more unruly the adult passions to collect anxiety-relieving objects. The author, who has edited a volume on “psychoanalytic anthropology(1970), also claims that his explanation of collecting is applicable universally to all cultures throughout history. “Irrespective of individual idiosyncrasies of collectors, and no matter what or how they collect, one issue is paramount: the objects in their possession are all ultimate, often unconscious assurances against despair and loneliness” (p. 48).


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