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Rosen, I.C. (2009). Life and Art: Bettelheim: Living and Dying. By David James Fisher. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008, ix + 181 pp., $57.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(6):1515-1520.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(6):1515-1520

Life and Art: Bettelheim: Living and Dying. By David James Fisher. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008, ix + 181 pp., $57.00.

Review by:
Irwin C. Rosen

The East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., designed by I. M. Pei, provides a unique esthetic experience in viewing art. The museumgoer proceeds, up or down, along a spiral ramp encircling a massive Alexander Calder mobile, several stories tall, that is suspended from the ceiling. At well-spaced intervals, art-laden alcoves invite the visitor to browse, to visually ingest, to absorb the paintings there.

David James Fisher's engrossing memoir, Bettelheim: Living and Dying, is, in its design and structure, an “alcove” book. Embedded in an emotional attachment with Bruno Bettelheim, who was then dying, Fisher graciously escorts us into the intimate personal spaces of their mutual involvement, generating (as Fisher unapologetically admits) insights and understandings that could arise only from the transference-countertransference ambience developing between them.

Their situation was not without the complexity that inheres in many deeply affective human interactions. When he began visiting Bettelheim in July 1988, Fisher was in the process of terminating his training analysis with Rudolf Ekstein, Bettelheim's acknowledged “best friend in Los Angeles.” The conversations between Bettelheim and Fisher, often about death and dying, were synchronous in time and congruent in feeling with the mourning felt by Fisher over the ending of his analysis with Ekstein.

Fisher continued visiting Bettelheim for about a year following the termination of his analysis, during which time Bettelheim became more open and forthright about the thoughts of suicide he was having, though he besought Fisher not to reveal this information to Ekstein. With admirable discretion, commingled with the triumphant sense of being privy to knowledge denied his former analyst, Fisher was able to find an appropriate therapist to treat the increasingly depressed Bettelheim.


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