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Spitz, E.H. (1989). Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art: By Gilbert J. Rose. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1987, 239 pp., $27.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 37:839-841.

(1989). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 37:839-841

Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art: By Gilbert J. Rose. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1987, 239 pp., $27.50.

Review by:
Ellen Handler Spitz, Ph.D.

Pondering Gilbert J. Rose's evocative book, I gaze through frosty window panes at thickly swirling snowflakes that slowly blanket the world, and Dostoevsky's Russia seems close enough to touch. The experience accords well with the first comment I would like to make about this book—a word of appreciation to its author for the genuine pleasure he affords his reader in conjuring up so vividly the scenes of which he writes—including, among others, those drawn from the oeuvre of the great Russian novelist as well as from his own clinical practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. His power of reanimation, his raconteurship, is a genuine gift and contributes in no small way to the quality of the book under review. In instances where authors are endowed with it, such a gift enhances the pages both of literary and art criticism and of clinical case histories. Indeed, though it is rarely stated in quite these terms, a flair for breathing new life into stories is probably an asset (albeit with accompanying dangers) in clinical work as well, since the experience of empathic listening is often conveyed by means of a heightened capacity to reflect back one's understanding in striking imagery.

Having begun here, however, it is necessary to say that the book under review is not principally one of literary criticism, nor is it chiefly concerned with Dostoevsky. Rather, its stated agenda is considerably more global in scope. The author himself describes it as an effort to build upon his earlier work, The Power of Form, by considering the general relations both between art and psychopathology and between creative or esthetic experience and the process of psychoanalytic treatment. To undertake this ambitious task, he has selected "trauma" and "mastery" as organizing notions that, in his view, cut across the domains he seeks to compare and contrast. Such an agenda implies a theoretical text.

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