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Frosh, S. (1989). Melting into air: Psychoanalysis and social experience. Free Associations, 1Q(16):7-30.

(1989). Free Associations, 1Q(16):7-30

Melting into air: Psychoanalysis and social experience

Stephen Frosh

At the end of Woody Allen's film Manhattan, the central character, Isaac, is lying on his couch sketching out an idea for a short story. He asks himself: Why is life worth living? His answer is a potpourri of minor cultural symbols: Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the second movement of the Jupiter symphony, ‘Potatohead Blues’, Swedish movies, Sentimental Education, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Cézanne. His thoughts stop, however, with a more personal image: the face of his recently rejected teenage girlfriend. He runs across town to find her again, catching her just as she is leaving to spend six months in England. He asks her not to go, saying she will get mixed up with too many new people and become somebody completely different. She says: Not everybody gets corrupted. Look, you have to have a little faith in people.

Towards the beginning of Marshall Berman's book on modernity, All that is Solid Melts into Air (1982), there is a similar list, this time presented to demonstrate ‘the brilliance and depth of living modernism — living in the work of Grass, Garcia Marquez, Fuentes, Cunningham, Nevelson, di Suvero, Kenzo Tange, Fassbinder, Herzog, Sembene, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Richard Foreman, Twyla Tharp, Maxine Hong Kingston’ (p. 24). This list, like the entire book, is infused with a celebratory energy that marks deeply felt personal enthusiasm. In the preface, however, Berman has already let us know something more about himself. Shortly after the book was finished, he explains, his five-year-old son died.

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