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Olinick, S.L. (1989). Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art: By Gilbert J. Rose, M.D., New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1987. 239 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 58:135-137.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:135-137

Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art: By Gilbert J. Rose, M.D., New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1987. 239 pp.

Review by:
Stanley L. Olinick, M.D.

Nietzsche has said that we need art so that we will not be made mad by Truth. T. S. Eliot made the controversial assertion that the more perfect the artist, the more separate are suffering man and his creating mind. Heine said that in creating his poetry, he healed himself. And Ansel Adams stated that all art is a vision penetrating the illusions of reality and that photography is one form of this vision and revelation.

We may take these statements as representing reliable thinking on some aspects of the subject of what art is and how it serves us, but we must still ask how the expression and appreciation of whatever it is that we are pleased to call "art" comes about. What are its psychologically operative functions, whence does it arise, and—the ultimate metaphysical question—why does it arise?

In his interesting and far-ranging book, Rose takes as his thesis "the ideas of trauma and mastery as tracing a suitable cross-section to explore clinical and creative process… [A]mong the chief effects of trauma, the phenomena of psychic splitting stand out; and at the heart of mastery lies the matter of reintegration" (p. ix). He draws analogies, comparisons, and contrasts between the splitting and reintegration in psychopathology, psychoanalytic treatment, and creativity. At his best, he does this authoritatively, in a clearly written expository style. But he has cast a wide net for his readership: he writes for a lay audience as well as for a professional one, and herein lies a weakness of the book. There are long stretches that, for the well-informed psychoanalyst, serve no useful purpose; interspersed are stimulating conjunctions of ideas, observations, and formulations from a variety of artistic spheres, as well as form clinical work.

Despite Freud's unique creative contributions to the psychology of art, at least of sculpture and of literature, his emphasis on the scientific, rational side of his own nature at the expense of the intuitive, irrational, and artistic, led to a relative neglect of a fuller exploration of the arts. There are many forms of splitting, as a glance at the index of this book will confirm. Rose's thesis is certainly borne out in his exposition, in a descriptively metaphorical explanation of seemingly disparate phenomena.

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