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Spitz, E.H. (1998). Necessary Illusion: Art as Witness. By Gilbert J. Rose, M.D. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc., 1996. 148 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 67(3):525-528.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(3):525-528

Necessary Illusion: Art as Witness. By Gilbert J. Rose, M.D. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc., 1996. 148 pp.

Review by:
Ellen Handler Spitz

Gilbert Rose can be no stranger to readers within the psychoanalytic world who have had an abiding interest in the overlapping spheres of psychoanalysis and art (he has been a contributor for over thirty years). In this small book, he begins by reviewing and summarizing his earlier work and then goes on to add a dimension that is of particular interest to this reviewer. I should like to focus my comments on the notion of art as witness, which Rose introduces in a series of delightful anecdotes at the beginning of this book and to which he returns in his efforts to theorize a psychoanalytic take on aesthetic response. The idea of “witnessing” as well as that of rhythm as a structuring feature of works of art are not unrelated notions. The first is quite challenging, although, as I will argue, incomplete in the way Rose has formulated it in these pages, and the second is an interesting reworking of ideas he had developed previously in The Power of Form (1980) and Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art (1987).

Rose claims here that “the completed work of art may be used as an ambient context for creating an illusion of a witnessing presence to one's own emotions” (p. 114). This seems at first blush a curious reversal of the usual way of thinking about art, namely, that it is we, the spectators, who are witnesses to the artist's project, the work of art. Rose's point, however, if I understand him correctly, is that in experiencing works of art with depth and emotional resonance, we may feel affirmed in our sense of self (hence, witnessed by them) and at the same time opened (by their witnessing) to new ways of experiencing our selves. Rose would not, however, want to go as far with this general notion as Roland Barthes who claims, “The text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me.

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