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Markman, H. (2006). Listening to Music, Listening to Patients: Aesthetic Experience in Analytic Practice. Fort Da, 12(2):18-29.

(2006). Fort Da, 12(2):18-29

Listening to Music, Listening to Patients: Aesthetic Experience in Analytic Practice

Henry Markman, M.D.

What is an aesthetic experience and what frame of mind allows us to enter it? By investigating aesthetic experiences involved in listening to music, I hope to develop parallel ideas about aesthetic states while listening to patients. I will explore how the particular form of dialogue offered in psychoanalysis offers aesthetic experiences which may be therapeutic.

An aesthetic attitude is a prelude to an aesthetic experience. Bion's suggestion to eschew memory and put aside desire to understand prepares the mind to perceive in a fresh way — akin to an aesthetic attitude — and is associated with anxiety and a sense of dissonance. We become aware of a vibration not contained in the habitual narrative or a web of meanings by patient and analyst, and we let that sense develop. This state of mind is associated with openness to what arrives — perhaps confusion or disorientation — and a relationship to understanding that is not forced. Dewey (1932/1987) describes this phase of the aesthetic as “undergoing” because it is receptive and involves surrender.

I am not using the term “aesthetic” to indicate notions of what is beautiful or to define what is an aesthetic object. Instead, I want to focus on the subjective qualities found in aesthetic experiences. Following Dewey (1932/1987), I would like to extend an understanding of the aesthetic to aspects of life beyond artistic appreciation — in this case, doing analytic work. I am using the word “experience” in a specific way, again drawing on Dewey's ideas. Dewey writes that “having an experience” means going through something that has unity and moves toward a conclusion. He goes on to say that “‘taking in’” in any vital experience is something more than placing something on the top of consciousness over what was previously known. It involves reconstruction which may be painful” (p. 41).

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