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Sass, L.A. (1998). Psychoanalysis, Romanticism, And The Nature Of Aesthetic Consciousness, with Reflections on Modernism and Postmodernism. Psychoanal. Rev., 85(5):717-746.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Review, 85(5):717-746

Psychoanalysis, Romanticism, And The Nature Of Aesthetic Consciousness, with Reflections on Modernism and Postmodernism

Louis A. Sass, Ph.D.

“To learn from Freud, you have to be critical.” (Wittgenstein, 1967, p. 41)

Psychoanalytic writers about artistic experience and expression have nearly always emphasized the central role of developmentally primitive modes of experience. In their view the creative core of aesthetic creation and perception involves regression to forms of consciousness having one or more of several key qualities: ready access to emotional, instinctual, and sensorially concrete modes of experience; a heightened sense of fusion between both self and world and signifier and signified; and freedom from the rationality, conventional rules, and intellectual categories of everyday or scientific modes of awareness. Supposedly, the artist's creativity and, by analogy, the spectator's appreciation require a renewal of vision that hearkens back to the vitality, spontaneity, and sense of union with the world that is characteristic of early childhood. In his book on creativity, Arthur Koestler (1967) offers a succinct statement of this standard view. He describes:

…the temporary relinquishing of conscious controls [that] liberates the mind from certain constraints which are necessary to maintain the disciplined routines of thoughts but may become an impediment to the creative leap; at the same time other types of ideation on more primitive levels of mental organization are brought into activity. The first part of this sentence indicates an act of abdication, the second an act of promotion. (p.

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