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Coles, P. (1992). Ellen Handler Spitz, Image & Insight, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, 273 pages, hb, $40.50. Free Associations, 3(3):463-465.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(3):463-465

Ellen Handler Spitz, Image & Insight, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, 273 pages, hb, $40.50

Review by:
Prophecy Coles

Ellen Handler Spitz is a lecturer in aesthetics at Cornell University Medical School, and Image & Insight is a collection of twelve lectures and essays that she wrote between 1980 and 1989. She is concerned with different types of created images. She considers the painted image as it appears in the trecento and quattrocentro in Italy, and in the graffiti in the New York subway, as well as the paintings of a schizophrenic child. She looks at literary images and analyses Poe's ‘Purloined Letter’, The French Lieutenant's Woman and Sophocles' Theban tragedies. She reinterprets the mythical images of Demeter and Persephone, and Dionysus, and finally thinks about some sculpted images from African art and muses on the images that were created for her when she listened to George Crumb's ‘The Ancient Voices of Children’.

She brings psychoanalytic ideas to bear upon these images. Is there something that psychoanalysis can learn from gazing outward at them? Is there something that the inward gaze of psychoanalysis can bring to a more finely tuned understanding of these outward images? How do we gain insight? Gazing inward or outward? Are the outward images a refinding of images that are within, as Freud suggested (1901, 1905, 1920)? Or does that idea not allow enough room for historical, economic and cultural differences and changes? These are some of the questions that Ellen Spitz delicately and provocatively poses.

The central image which stands as the metaphor of this book is blind Tiresias. But, as she points out, there is a difficulty in this image. You cannot be concerned with the inner world and the outer world at the same time. To know yourself within is necessarily to be blind to what is outside. Tiresias stands as the embodied figure of this paradoxical concept.

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