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Esman, A.H. (1997). Museums Of The Mind. Magritte's Labyrinth And Other Essays In The Arts. By Ellen Handler Spitz. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1994. 190 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 66:355-357.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 66:355-357

Museums Of The Mind. Magritte's Labyrinth And Other Essays In The Arts. By Ellen Handler Spitz. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1994. 190 pp.

Review by:
Aaron H. Esman

In her first book, Art and Psyche, Ellen Handler Spitz set forth a lucid and well-reasoned program for the application of psychoanalytic principles to the study of the products of culture—in particular, works of art in a broad spectrum of media and styles. The present volume, her third, is less sharply focused, but brings to bear her gifts as art historian, aesthetician, and psychoanalyst on a wide range of topics from the work of René Magritte to contemporary comic strips; it includes, as well, matters of interest to her that are, strictly speaking, marginally relevant to psychoanalysis.

A substantial element binding together the book's disparate content is a tribute to her mentor, the late Martha Wolfenstein, whose studies of child development, children's humor, and, most importantly, Magritte, clearly served as a base of inspiration for Spitz's explorations. Thus, the first half of the book is devoted to a survey of Magritte's work, taking off from Wolfenstein's thesis that the determining factor in the artist's imagery was his reported childhood memory of observing the seminude body of his suicidal mother, dragged from the river with her nightgown drawn up over her face. Although Spitz demonstrates that this “memory” represented a “narrative” rather than a “historical” truth, she adheres to her mentor's view (and that of other psychoanalytic commentators) that the incident constituted, nonetheless, the nuclear trauma that, in one form or another, shaped Magritte's life and work and was, in one disguise or another, figured in the content of the bulk of his art.

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