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Alfonso, C.A. Eckardt, M.H. (2005). Epilogue: Creativity and Polysemy—On the Limits of Pathography, Psychobiography and Art Criticism. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 33(1):235-237.

(2005). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 33(1):235-237

Epilogue: Creativity and Polysemy—On the Limits of Pathography, Psychobiography and Art Criticism

César A. Alfonso and Marianne Horney Eckardt

Empathy, a concept so central in our everyday psychotherapeutic practice, was extensively used in the field of Aesthetics in the 19th century as an attempt to define the emotional experience of contemplating a work of art. The extrapolation of “Einfuehlung” from Aesthetics to Psychoanalysis (Pigman, 1995; Vischer, 1873) opened the doors to an interdisciplinary exchange that has undoubtedly enriched both fields. Just as art historians and critics have offered stimulating insights that either propelled or facilitated the creative process of artists, psychoanalysts have helped millions of persons experience personal and creative freedom. Over 100 years of cross-fertilization between Psychoanalysis and the Arts has also resulted in wild reductionism (Spitz, 1993), categorical dismissivness, overidealization, and projective identification. We would like to introduce or borrow the concept of polysemy from Linguistics in an attempt to curtail reductionism and emphasize how much we can learn from the arts, just as artists have appreciated Freud's royal road to the unconscious.

Polysemy can be defined as the intrinsic plurality of meaning that words or communications have which are independent of conventionally accepted definitions. Metaphors exemplify polysemy, taking multiplicity of meaning to the extreme of infinite possibilities. Polysemy, in psychoanalysis, would stand against radical determinism. Our daily communications are not as clear as we often assume they are, and we must explore layers of meaningfulness in order to adequately comprehend what is being communicated. Cruse (2000), in describing the linguistic conundrums of polysemy, refers to the importance of the contextual sensitivity of meaningfulness. To the artist, polysemy resonates true and speaks for the transcendental and autonomous nature of the product of his or her creative effort. As psychonalysts we must accept that meaningfulness is fluid and infinite. We must also recognize that works of art do acquire autonomous meaningfulness separate from the life and experience of the artist.

In studying art appreciation we learn to see a work of art from many perspectives.

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