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Tuttman, S. (1990). Psychoanalytic Contributions of Susan K. Deri. Psychoanal. Rev., 77(4):469-474.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Review, 77(4):469-474

Psychoanalytic Contributions of Susan K. Deri

Saul Tuttman, M.D., Ph.D.

Susan Deri was very impressed with a legend from the Talmud, which she found in Werner Wolff's The Expression of Personality (1943). In the chapter where he discusses difficulties in judging personality from physiognomy — that is, the relationship between genotype and phenotype — Wolff presents the following story:

The king of Arabistan, who had heard of the miracles of Moses, wanted a portrait of Moses, and for this purpose sent his best painter to him. When the King got the painting, he gathered together his physiognomists and asked them to tell him the character of this man and to explain to him the source of Moses' magic power. “Your majesty,” answered the sages “this portrait shows a man who has all the vices existing in the world; he is brutal, proud, greedy, and ambitious.”

“That must be wrong,” shouted the King. “This cannot be the character of that man who performed the greatest miracles in the world; either the painter made a false portrait or the physiognomists are worthless men.”

There began a violent dispute between the painter and the sages. Finally the King decided to seek his information from Moses himself, and he set off to visit him. When the King stood before Moses, he became convinced that the painter had made a faultless portrait. He told Moses of the dispute and added: “Now I am convinced that there is no such thing as a science of physiognomy.”

“There is such a science,” answered Moses. “Both the painter and the sages are right. I was marked by nature with all the vices the physiognomists spoke of. But I struggled with all these evil forces until I suppressed them in myself, and all forces opposite to them became my second nature. This battle gave me my power.”

This story comes to mind when I remember Susan Deri because within it are so many of the elements that characterized her style and her work.

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