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Parfitt, A. (2002). A Dying Art. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(2):257-266.
(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(2):257-266
A Dying Art
Anthony Parfitt, B.A
In a well-known interview, Ingmar Bergman remarked:
Afterwards in manufacturing the artistic product, one does one's utmost—often quite helplessly—to find out what it is one really meant. This purposeless game which is so serious, but which at the same time is so chancy and indifferent and pointless, is something one becomes more and more conscious of, I think, as the years go by… in all circumstances die dream, die vision, the idea, the intuition comes first. Afterwards, as an artist, I've a need to give as conscious and powerful a form as possible to what has been born intuitively. This is a drive inside myself, and I can do nothing about it. But even this drive is part of the game. (Bjorkman, Manns, & Sima,1970, pp. 106-107, 109.)
In Bergman's film Wild Strawberries1 the old man Isak Borg tries to give a dispassionate description of himself. Almost as an afterthought, he hints at parts of his personality from which he tends to hide: “I detest emotional outbursts, women's tears and the crying of children” (p. 170). He suspects his trust in his truthfulness is complacent, and might disguise dishonesty. He claims he has tried to avoid disparagement and distortion in his attitudes to others. He knows he has sealed himself off from people, keeping his distance from antagonisms he finds intolerable. When he wakes, he wants to forget his dreams.
The events he recalls, in the film, increasingly reveal the extent to which he has concealed thoughts and feelings, like those of a vulnerable child whose needs seem unbearable. He keeps his neediness sequestered, saving himself from hearing anything evoking distressing cries, like those of mothers or babies.
Commentators have commonly claimed that Isak achieves some sort of reconciliation with himself, as the film ends. The assumption behind this view seems to be that he is relieved to become more truthful, with others and with himself.2 This essay suggests that such a conclusion is unjustified. Isak may reach a state in which he feels free of his lingering urge to cling to illusion, because he may feel close enough to death to begin to let go.
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