Harold Rosenberg, writer, here considers two recent books which attempt to explain him to himself: The Writer and the Psychoanalyst, by Edmund Bergler (Doubleday, 265 pp., $3.50), and The Psychoanalyst and the Artist, by Daniel E. Schneider ¢Farrar, Straus, 206 pp., $4.00). (Mr. Rosenberg refuses to accept the explanation.)
Spouting liquid fire at anyone who may dare disagree with them, two psychoanalytic doctors have gone over the top with books just published into an area of the human spirit which their master had declared a scientific No Man’s Land. “Psychoanalysis must lay down its arms before the problem of the artist,” Freud had concluded. He didn’t really mean it, explain our savants, interpreting other Freudian quotations. Besides, Freud believed in scientific progress, and time has been passing. In the early days psychoanalysis had captured alive very few writers, Dr. Bergler in his The Writer and Psychoanalysis points out—he himself has “couched” thirty-six; and from this roundup derived enough data to dissolve all mysteries regarding what was to Freud “unanalyzable genius.” For his part, Dr. Schneider, in his The Psychoanalyst and the Artist, putting in no claim that he is surpassing Freud on the basis of “clinical” experience, bounds past the front lines with a résumé of Freud’s remarks on art, augmented with speculations of his own; on the other hand, he seems more interested in art and literature than Dr. Bergler.
To go beyond Freud in this field, our doctors would, you might imagine, need to be endowed with greater knowledge, a more precise theory, a deeper imagination, a superior experience of art and of artistic creation—above all, perhaps, to be better writers, thus proving their qualification for an introspective study of the phenomenon of composition. The magic of Bergler’s Thirty-Six and Schneider’s O[edipus]-Complex-Plus dispenses with these requirements. It will reveal not only what was hidden from Freud but from Poe, Goethe, Dickens, Delacroix, Picasso, Kafka. “It is vain,” says Dr. Bergler, “to question the creative person himself about inspiration.” It isn’t that Goethe et al didn’t want to know or that they were so dumb. They suffered the historical handicap of lacking the “arms” of psychoanalysis by which they could have found out what was happening to them when they composed.
This, then, is strictly a question of scientific progress. Our doctors do not rest on an “I have found” or “I think”; with them it is always “psychoanalysis finds” or “psychoanalysis proves” (though this does not cramp Bergler’s bragging or Schneider’s omniscience). If these authors talked only for themselves one could discuss their books in terms of the brutality of Dr. Bergler’s approach, the fantastic vulgarity of his style and thought, his indifference to self-contradiction, his abnormal repetitiveness (a compulsion neurosis?), which includes quoting a half-page paragraph from Freud on page 235, then quoting it again to the same effect on page 257. One could caution the reader that here is a physician who slyly suggests that he solves his patients’ literary problems and who concludes his book with a “commercial” assuring us that “the chances for ‘unblocking’ a blocked writer [Bergler’s specialty] are highly favorable . . . are, in fact, nearly 100 per cent.” The fee per hour is not stated, but we assume that the following is a money-back-if-not-satisfied guarantee: “We can make the blocked writer write—we cannot make him a genius [a rotten thing to be, anyway, from Bergler’s point of view]. We can, however, definitely make him a better writer by giving his Ego power to wrest more from his cruel Super-Ego.”
There is a certain astringency in Bergler’s barbarism from which it is possible to derive a perverted pleasure. Schneider, who goes in for “fine writing”—he is actually the author of a novel (why under the pseudonym of “Taylor”?)—has a style so muffled in platitudes that one cannot even enjoy his absurdities. His judgments are always in harmony with a heart that is in the right place: you never saw a more respectable person nosing around these aromatic areas. He hates “formalists” and “abstractionists.” He thinks art ought to be healthy, social, universal, etc. The experience of Oedipus, to the Greeks the ultimate tragedy, is for him a contribution to democracy and progress (page 41), a verification of the Ten Commandments (page 40), and a warning about the atom bomb (page 29). For him Kafka’s Metamorphosis “expresses only his condemnation of himself for his hatred of rival children and his inability to love.” Therefore Metamorphosis “becomes a monstrosity in a jar on the shelves of literary museums” (what are “jars” doing in literary “museums”?). But that other account of the death of a salesman, by Arthur Miller, that is an “enduring play,” endlessly significant, no doubt because, as Dr. Schneider exclaims in italics: “It is visualized psychoanalytic interpretation woven into reality” (this I can believe).
If this were just literary criticism one would know how to deal with it. But who wants to risk the diagnosis that he is “apoplectic at the psychoanalytic approach” because of his “guilt at having the source of aesthetic enjoyment revealed to him”? Since these truly incredible books are “science” the critic had better behave himself. When the truth itself is addressing you it is rash to carp about bad writing, muggy formulas, shrieky little Daily Mirror-style editorials against the narcissism and homosexuality of vanguard art movements.
The trouble is that here “science” has not even gotten together with itself on what it is talking about, nor on the method by which to approach it. Both Dr. Bergler and Dr. Schneider presumably are explaining the same thing, artistic creation, using a common jargon and the same sort of flights into sex-analysis. But while for Dr. Schneider creation is to be studied as a phenomenon of genius, for Dr. Bergler the process displays its laws in any kind of writer, even in a writer who doesn’t write. “It is immaterial, for psychological evaluation, whether he is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ writer . . . everyone who feels impelled to write . . . is, by the terms of the definition, psychologically a writer.” (Though Bergler contradicts himself in order to mug Samuel Johnson with the concept of the creative writer: “Johnson himself was not a creative writer, as is well known.”) Bergler is psychologizing a profession, Schneider a selection of unique individuals. In sum, our scientists have failed to agree on their subject or their data.
Bergler’s approach to what Freud called “the pleasure of the artist in creation” consists in studying “blocked” writers, that is, people who are not creating and who certainly did not come to him with pleasure. The creator is simply the opposite of the man who has “dried up”—he is a self-milking, self-nourishing “mother-child shop” (a typical example of Berglerian eloquence). Hence literature springs from the “oral level of the unconscious.” Writing is merely feeding oneself words instead of milk, as proved by all the references in poetry to the flowing of inspiration. “The ‘fluid’ phrase denotes directly the identification of the ‘flowing’ of talent with the lactitional precursor.” Supplying his own milk, the writer is able to pretend to get along without his mother who once refused it to him, and thus to disguise his unconscious masochistic wish to be refused.
Is this a theory or a crudely extended metaphor (Bergler’s whole thesis could be put down on one page) taken literally? It is unnecessary to decide, since in either case its central feature, “the artist’s fear of un-productivity,” is derived from data (the blocked thirty-six) that have no relation to the topic under discussion (the psychology of creation). In following the amazing procedure of describing the writer in terms of the man who can’t write, Bergler obliges us to estimate his book as a piece of advertising copy promising to make the latter into the former. From this point of view, his bullying, his argot, his bouts with literary critics, begin to make sense.
Bergler doesn’t guarantee to produce genius. The writer who wants to be a genius, or have his genius “saved,” had better go see Dr. Schneider, who begins with the Oedipus complex, sine qua non of genius, and for whom van Gogh “stands as an arch example of the tortured neurotic whose life and genius might have been saved by psychoanalysis.” But before he telephones for an appointment let him ponder this last warning from Dr. Bergler: “. . . if the analyst is not acquainted with the [oral-masochistic] theory and technique [i.e., is not Bergler or a Berglerian], he will treat the patient as an oedipal-hysterical case.” Should this happen the writer may get unblocked anyway; frightened by the penetrating intellect of the analyst, the blocked writer will unconsciously hoax him and write like mad (no pun intended) in order to conceal his symptoms. But it won’t last. Soon he’ll be blocked again. Or something worse may happen. “The patient plays a diabolical joke on the innocent in the easy chair [careful, doctor] and becomes at once creatively sterile.” (Some joke!) Anyway, you can see how important it is to decide whether the creative unconscious is oral or oedipal.
Though Dr. Schneider does us the honor of discussing Sophocles and Picasso instead of sublimated milk, he doesn’t help us much. It is not that castration-anxiety is less inviting than playing the cow. Unless we are to be guided by our preferences in fluids, we need to know by what method and upon what foundation the limits of psychoanalysis set by Freud with regard to inspiration are to be exceeded. What has Dr. Schneider added to the method of psychoanalysis which, according to its founder, was only able “to take the inter-relations between the impressions of the artist’s life, his chance experiences and his works, and from them to construct his constitution and the impulses at work in it—that is to say, that part of him which he shared with other men”? The answer is, Dr. Schneider has added Dr. Schneider—his metaphysics, tastes, political opinions, prejudices, fancies. For instance: “The beautiful is the result of a particular kind of transformation of the true; to beauty, truth imparts power and immutability, into truth, beauty diffuses the pleasures of pain and the pain of pleasure,” and so on. It is this kind of terminology that permits Dr. Schneider, despite Freud, to deal with “the total nature of the artistic gift.”
The Freudian kernel of Drs. Bergler and Schneider consists in their taking “the interrelations between the impressions” and “the chance experiences” and constructing a character—but as they damn please. Disagreeing on almost everything else, Drs. Bergler and Schneider have one point in common, that all artists, past and present, are but amateur psychoanalysts endowed with “writing technique”; that is, practitioners of an allied but inferior trade. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky were bringing out in an impure and primitive way what our doctors present consciously and systematically. The writer, to be sure, is a “self-analyst.” But “there are grave narcissistic dangers in any kind of ‘self-analysis’—grave pitfalls of illusion and delusion into which even the greatest artist, the most intuitive ‘self-interpreting’ man can slip” (Schneider). Understand that beyond analyzing himself in this slippery way no writer has ever had anything to say. “The writer is not objective, he is the infantile person having unconsciously only one aim in mind—to furnish his inner alibi” (Bergler). It follows that the content of all art and literature is now to be found, corrected, in psychoanalysis. “The artist, throughout human history,” says Dr. Schneider, “has been loved and revered by the less articulate, less analytic man. For centuries mankind had no other analyst.” Lucky fellow, you may now shift your love and reverence where it belongs.
“The artist has a lesson to learn from the psychoanalyst”—on this our Drs. Kronkheit also agree. Can it be that he needs to be told by Dr. Schneider that “painting is visual; literature is verbal”? Or is the following summary of Dr. Bergler’s science indispensable to him: “He [the writer] must, first of all, have a specific solution of his conflicts—oral, voyeuristic, the different mechanisms of appeasement of inner guilt—and besides this he must believe inherently in human dignity.” (That human dignity business is a surprise, isn’t it? Well, it has to do with infantile megalomania and Dr. Bergler ordinarily instills it as part of his treatment.)
The danger in all this horseplay is that under the cover of psychology an artistic norm is set up which corresponds exactly to the most vulgar official views. Dr. Bergler, who boasts that “I see no reason to take off my shoes when visiting the literary mecca,” and Dr. Schneider, to whom Kafka’s work is a “monstrosity,” can be readily imagined testifying as scientists that such and such an artist is not an artist at all, or is a crippled one, that his work simply expresses oral-this or anxiety-that, and that consequently it would be just as well if instead of being allowed to continue with his work he were sent off somewhere to be cured. In a sense these books are just such a testimony regarding the control of all future art, for had the analyst been present in the past he could have corrected van Gogh and Delacroix and gotten better and more work out of them. On the other hand, the writer who, like Arthur Miller, has accepted the guidance of psychoanalysis, is giving the people the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Of course, this psychological norm has nothing whatsoever to do with art. Why do our doctors want more van Gogh or Kafka? (“Franz Kafka is an example of an ‘interesting’ distorted writer whose output was only a fragment of what he might have achieved”—Schneider.) Because they have applied to art a concept of “success,” and cannot comprehend that the so-called fragmentary work of the “neurotic” genius is precisely a qualitative whole that constitutes his particular unique creation and which modifies all subsequent artistic norms.
In that its scheme of symbolic readings has brought to the details of works of art the quiver of unexpected meanings related to the lusts, fantasies, terrors of human beings, psychoanalysis has contributed much to art appreciation. When Dr. Schneider evokes from Chagall’s flying lovers or rampant poultry their classical Freudian references, or when he is struck by the absence of a principle of development in Picasso’s shifts in style, psychoanalysis has led him to legitimate intuitions. Of course, neither Chagall nor Picasso has been ignorant of the power of childhood imagery. An outgrowth of the symbolist movement in literature, psychoanalysis has long ago entered into the consciousness of our epoch. All the more difficult to deal psychoanalytically with what springs spontaneously into a work of art from what is called the unconscious.
It is naive to imagine that in enlarging human experience psychoanalysis has all but bagged those invisibles that assemble together in the act of creation. With or without psychoanalysis, one who tried to explain the style of a single original sentence, even if he had written it himself, could not spend less than his whole lifetime becoming aware of that unique way of experiencing and composing. Yet even those who see at a glance that such books as Bergler’s and Schneider’s have no bearing on the problem of inspiration may continue to sustain illusions concerning psychoanalysis. Isn’t it a question of the limitations of these authors? Isn’t psychoanalysis itself capable of progressing until it has gotten to the bottom of all behavior, including the act of origination?
There seems no evidence that progress takes place within the so-called sciences of humanity, any more than it does in religions. The grand insights of their innovators tend to remain their greatest truths. And since anything less than the greatest truth with regard to man is a falsehood, the insights of the masters are also the last truths. Reality supports what Freud said, as it does what Marx said, in a much larger measure than it does the corrected systems of their followers. Here, too, is a problem of creation.
Nothing could be a greater obstacle to the understanding of the creative act than the notion that a method exists by which it can be finally described by others than those who have engaged in it. To convince the artist that there is someone else who knows better than he what is taking place within him as he is moved in his work is to undermine his confidence and induce an abnegation of his responsibility toward a research to which he alone can contribute. Freud’s statement concerning the limits of analysis should be placed above the junk heap of all psychoanalytic marionettes of the artist: “It [psychoanalysis] can do nothing towards elucidating the nature of the artistic gift, nor can it explain the means by which the artist works—artistic technique.”