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Spitz, E.H. (1988). The Artistic Image and the Inward Gaze: Toward a Merging of Perspectives. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):111-128.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):111-128

The Artistic Image and the Inward Gaze: Toward a Merging of Perspectives

Ellen Handler Spitz, Ph.D.

The artist is the one who arrests the spectacle in which most men take part without really seeing it and who makes it visible….

—M. Merleau-Ponty, 1948

There are moments, even in a wordy culture like ours, when images start from no preformed program to become primary texts. Treated as illustrations of what is already scripted, they withhold their secrets.

—L. Steinberg, 1984a

How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! its very memory gives a shape to fear.

—Dante, Inferno

Inspired in part by attempts of Merleau-Ponty (1948) to grapple with the way in which art reveals truth, in this article I shall follow and extend John Ciardi's (1954) translation of Dante's lines by suggesting that works of art, through their images, give shape to inner experience. Furthermore, I shall claim that visual images, including the hallucinatory (in the present context, those called up by a literary text), serve, by combining maximum intensity with economy and latent ambiguity, a powerful and unique organizing function for psychoanalytic work.


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