2015 January

Ticho Memorial Lecture (1)

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Ticho Memorial Lecture

Mimesis of Inner Lives in Western Literature: How We Got Our Ideas About Inner Life.

N. Szajnberg, MD

Slide 1

This paper’s idea first rose with Saul Bellow in 1970.  He promised, in our seminar on Joyce’s Ulysses, that the only book of literary criticism I would ever have to read is Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature.  Several decades later, to design a course for the Hebrew University, I used this grand text as a loom with which I wove the literary and aesthetics threads of our psychoanalytic fabric: concepts of person, parent-child relatedness, intimacy, development, journey as soul-cure, with a guide for this treacherous journey.  Just as Freud turned to an Antique Greek myth to understand a Victorian state of mind; just as Ticho articulated the contributions of German thinking to Freud’s ideas; or, Makari uncovered three nineteenth Century strands that Freud wove together into a new view of the psyche; just as Bettelheim explored linguistic contributions to Freud’s concepts of psyche and eros (Freud and Man’s Sou), so, I will cull selections of Western literature# to examine how and when certain concepts developed, then were consolidated into how we think about inner life.  

My method is familiar; I extend what Freud did with the Oedipus story: this myth endures because it captures something fundamentally human through time, particularly in his era.  We find such tales compelling precisely because they pronounce something powerfully magnetic, yet often consciously unacceptable in our imaginations and lives. I touch on a few today and suggest that we have assembled aspects of them into what we consider deeply human.

Why Auerbach’s book?  Its subtitle could be, “The Representation of Inner Reality …..”  For, we learn little about the physical representations of external reality in the Bible or the Christ story.  Yes, some narratives tell us about the lay of the land or the sea: Ulysses’ passage through Scylla and Charybdis; Aenius’ haunting the underworld; Dante’s journey through Hell.  The beauty, the aesthetic elegance of Dante’s descriptions of the levels of hell can be heard as 1) concrete accounts of real Hell, or 2) imagined Hell, or 3) the spiralling levels of our inner life.  But, for Auerbach, the true reality — the more interesting reality  — even the reason to evoke landscape, is to grasp matters of the soul and heart.  Some literatures are landscape rich (Ulysses, Sheherezade); others are almost barren (Bible, New Testament): both types tell us something about how the writer viewed the world, and hence the characters’ inner worlds.  And, Auerbach’s book unveils the development of concepts of inner life in Western literature, opening our thinking about the core of our psychoanalytic investigations: ideas of the unconscious, sexuality, inner conflicts and conflicts both with those whom we treasure and with civilization.

We will discover how over time we have evolved concepts such as bounded personhood and character, how life becomes inner, relatedness and types of intimacy, and life values through Western thought.  The ancient stories — Bible, Homer, Renaissance writings, Shakespeare — are not buried, inert.   Rather, their archeology remains alive, even enliven us. Though buried, they resonate with something within.#  Our developmental model is Freud’s, Piaget’s, Stern’s: layers of development intercalate, particularly as we undergo the tidal ebb and flow of regression and progression during our day … or during the drama.   Earlier layers are not simply replaced, but may influence later layers.  Like the moon, these dramas bend our emotional tides.  As we learn about the evolution of ways of understanding humankind and Weltanschauungen, we learn how they continue to dwell in our minds even as psychoanalysis informs us more fully about why we think and feel.#

In our forty five minutes together, I hope to ignite, catalyze thinking.  To present a definitive study of Western literature’s concepts of inner reality in this time would take Mel Brooks, like his History of the World Part I.  I can’t speak so rapidly, nor am I so entertaining.  I condense my one-year long course at the Hebrew University into a series of amuse bouches, thought appetizers to entice you to feast on Western aesthetics.

Let us suspend our psychoanalytic jargon to permit ourselves to learn the wisdom from ancient texts about our inner lives.  We do this in the spirit of Harold Bloom’s Where Shall Wisdom be Found (2004, Penguin). While deathly ill, Bloom sought Wisdom literature. Disappointed in the experts in wisdom, the Philosophers, “lovers of wisdom,” and feeling time-pressed, he re-turned to beloved literature. Why turn to literature for wisdom?  Great literature has beauty both in form, and content: great writers charm, seduce, even provoke us into thinking more deeply about living our lives.  Rather than exhort — like religions or philosophies — aesthetics engage.

Given our time, I select some of Auerbach’s texts — you will see me leap centuries in single bounds.  I skip across eras like a dragon fly, alighting briefly, touching on water lilies whose faces rise to the pond’s surface, yet rooted, they reveal something of what lies below.  Listen to each brief excerpt and what we can cull about inner realities from these texts.#


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作者:内森 赛恩伯格



为了纪念米开朗基罗·梅里西·德·卡拉瓦乔去世400,罗马迎来了他主要生平作品的历史性展览。然而,精神分析界却少有对这位巨匠的研究,除了关于他对于人类复杂矛盾情感的完整呈现。此前,精神分析对艺术先锋的研究有所贡献,如弗洛伊德对达芬奇(1910)和米开朗基罗的大卫雕像的研究,Blatt(1994)对乔托教堂的观察,或者Spitz-Handler关于Margritte的戏剧和外部现实的关系。我们可以从卡拉瓦乔的作品中学到什么, 这位16世纪末的艺术家又能如何告诉我们,在精神分析下的心灵概念的发展?

他那些革新性的贡献,如呈现情感的视觉表达,尤其是负面情绪的表达,包括一些复杂的情绪;以及他坦率的,甚至带有批判色彩的自我呈现。那就是,他可以勾画出那些强烈情感的时刻,他的勾画比早先的艺术家包含更多复杂性和模糊性。我们可以理解为他预示了弗洛伊德对于亲密关系中复杂情感的发现(1923)。在此,我们可以使用精神分析的概念,外加保罗·艾克曼解读情绪表达的方法(尤其是面部表情,还有手势和象征的表达)来研究他的作品。我们也可以讨论卡拉瓦乔的作品是如何成为一个再现个人和社会两难情景的范例:在这个范例中,疫病对他早年生活和居住社区产生的影响,即使他的作品未像埃里克森所假设的有创造力的个体(Erikson, 1994; Schutze, 2009)那样解决了个人或社会的危机。在此要注意的是,我们建立了一种协调的方法,在艺术史和心灵科学之间进行探索:通过考察先于精神分析的艺术(视觉艺术,文学和音乐),我们可以从艺术史上了解某些心灵的概念是何时发展出来的。依照次序,我们可以通过近代精神分析是研究心灵的方式来理解早些时期人内心世界的呈现形式。在本文中,我们集中于第一种方法:卡拉瓦乔在15世纪末期罗马的作品中展现给我们的情绪和亲密的表现形式,在今时今日依然会感动我们。

弗洛伊德创立了从精神分析的方式探索美学,在他的作品中写到我们如何更好地以精神分析的方式理解艺术和其他形式的作品。他同样深化了我们关于艺术的理解,即“(艺术)…不仅仅是一种美的理论,也是一种情感的特质的理论” (Freud, 1919, p. 218)。卡拉瓦乔将我们推向一种更紧张,复杂,而又有时暧昧的情感特质。

Spitz Handler(1989)归纳了三种精神分析的方法来研究美学,这三种方法都开始于弗洛伊德:疾病史,精神分析式的文本分析,艺术对受众影响的精神分析式理解。Szajnberg (1992, 1996, 2010)增加了一种变化的形式:跟随着弗洛伊德关于文学巨匠对内部世界的描述的评论,这些评论中弗洛伊德可以对其系统分析,Szajnberg描述了先于精神分析的艺术作品是如何预言了精神分析对于潜意识的概念,在不同层面上工作和成对关系的中心等概念。随后,Szajnberg (2010,2012)假设,西方文化中人的概念是在过去2千年内建构的,这是根据Auerbach (1954) 或 Bergner和Luckmann (1996)的见解提出的。我们了解,在我们的概念中关键的时期我们把人看做是什么,是在发展中的变化(向后和向前)的。这是埃里克森关于创造性的个体是如何解决危机的观点的延伸,正如埃里克森对于马丁·路德,甘地和弗洛伊德(Erikson, 1994)的表述。Ogden最近的关于卡夫卡和博尔赫斯的细微研究,也给Spitz Handler的三种方法增加了一些变化:利用我们所知的关于艺术家的生平和作品,了解这两者中的一方是如何启迪了另一方。

Blatt(1984)关于乔托的研究为我们对卡拉瓦乔的研究奠定了一种概念。乔托的38副14世纪教堂壁画,开创了文艺复兴式的无限的表达(他使用天蓝色而不是中世纪的金色来描绘天空),三维视角的绘画,以及引向自然主义和人文主义的探索(对应于中世纪的普遍作画方式)。Blatt回顾了西方美术史上视觉表达的发展阶段,从前古典派的单向,非对称发展到古典的双向,但缺乏整体空间呈现的阶段,再到中世纪更具体的,静态的,和程式化的肖像画(如拜占庭艺术),然后到文艺复兴时期三维的革新,以及与人文主义和自然主义的联系。这种人文主义和自然主义拉近了神性和人性的距离(Eliade,1959)。Burkhardt(Blatt, 1984)提到文艺复兴是对古希腊的人性中的自我信任和人的尊严概念的重新提倡。卡拉瓦乔更进一步地推动了文艺复兴的艺术:通过将人性中的世俗/贬低的一部分纳入画中,也通过将透视图压平,矛盾性地让我们聚焦于主体的内部世界,深化作品中的情感呈现,激发观看者的情感反应。



艺术史研究者为这位艺术家如何建构其作品提供了背景框架。巴拉斯写过关于艺术中的情感表达:在古希腊时期,以及在文艺复兴时期重复出现的“面部表达符号系统”是艺术家得以形成他们作品的重要基础(Barasch,1991, P16)。此外,手势也是卡拉瓦乔系统使用,与面部表情相联系的重要元素。“手势表达的情境,是由做手势的人物和受其影响的周围人物形象,以及其表达的潜力所共同构成的。它是用来感动和说服观众的(Barasch,1991, P18)。”在这里,巴拉斯用到了“感动”一词,他指的是情感上的触动,就像达芬奇所强调的,“在分析一副绘画作品时,最重要的部分,是人物的动作与心理状态相符,这些心理状态包括如欲望,轻蔑,愤怒,怜悯或其他。”我们注意到达芬奇在这里用到的“动作”一词,特指我们在心理分析中所说的情感。以此为依据,让我们转向卡拉瓦乔是如何尝试来感动他的观众。


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作者:内森 赛恩伯格




但是僵尸是最低级的不死族:他们没有自己的意愿,大部分情况下像机器人一样(他列举了他们机械的行为,僵硬的关节,面无表情的行走),对于咬人的行为没有情感。吸血鬼是更高级的存在。他们对自己的行为有自己的意愿,他们饮血来维持生存,但同时(矛盾的是)他们会给他们的牺牲者“礼物”,即不死。同样,吸血鬼对于杀死人类也不会后悔。狼人是不死族的最高形式,他们在一个月大部分时候都保持人的形态,只有在满月的时候变身成狼,失去控制并攻击人类。在第二天,这些狼人会对自己的行为感到强烈的懊悔,这也许是一种“延迟反应”的形式(La Planche和Pontillis,)。此外,他们只用通过记忆,或看到自己身上的血迹和破碎的衣服来“了解”自己做了什么。预计到他们会做什么,他们会在整个月中受到痛苦的煎熬。这就是,狼人会同时感受到对过去的懊悔和对未来的焦虑。





在第一年治疗的末尾,他梦到一个在公园里死亡的女人,湿漉漉的叶子盖在她的身上。他听到一些词,“Esse, Esse”,他回到家后,发现那个死掉的女人躺在浴缸里。然后他醒来,他觉得这个梦很安静而又极度恐怖,他想知道该怎么忘掉它。他想把这个梦留在我的治疗室里,并把它放在那。“Esse, Esse ”,在德语里指的是“吃,吃”,也在他的吸血鬼/狼人游戏里出现,与这个游戏的口腔攻击和食人特质保持一致,但却是相反的:在这个梦中,有个声音告诉他去吃一具尸体。这个梦捕捉这个男孩早些年构建的心理结构中灰暗的部分。

治疗中一个关键点发生在治疗进行的第18个月中。他回想起来,自己的母亲在他7岁生日时尝试掐他的脖子,当时他的父母正处在短暂的分离中。(这个细节被这个孩子的母亲确认了,后来也得到了父亲的确认,因为男孩在从母亲那里逃出来后给他的父亲打了电话。当他的哥哥听到这些时,他的反应很冷淡,“喔,她也对我这么干过。”)在讨论了这个的几周后,他进一步解释了他的游戏,他还提到了“印第安纳 琼斯”系列电影,D描述了电影中的一个场景,在一场飞车追逐的戏中,印第安纳和一个金发巨乳的女郎一起坐在后排,开车的是一个男孩,非常努力地试图甩开后面的追车,而印第安纳似乎没看到这个男孩有多在乎他,因为他把头埋在金发女郎的胸前(因为解药掉到她的胸中间了)。他的游戏和工作变得越来越象征和符号化,就如有次他让分析师站在中间不动,自己围着分析师展示他见过的康康大腿舞,他告诉分析师她们站得如此得近却不会碰到对方,也不会互相微笑。


我们谈到了在他的梦中他可以找到人和他一起逃跑,而且他还能够帮助朋友逃跑。(在这个梦中,他的朋友在爬墙时遇到困难,但他还是梦到他们一起平安到达了墙那边)。我们也谈到了有一对双胞胎女孩当女友是多棒的事情。他可以接受我的解释,即过去时可怕和危险的,他能预见到自己在未来和朋友一起会更安全,还有可能交上女朋友。我们了解“下降”到未来,是一种在治疗中退行的形式,为了有更好的未来(Kris, 1956)。


我们分两个部分讨论这个案例。首先是在治疗之前,这个男孩建构了一个精致的关于不死族的幻想世界(也把自己想象成不死族),这个幻想帮助他保持了精神上的平衡,但是也隔绝了他作为正常人类的感觉,使他“不得不”对某些人做一些会让他后悔的事,有时候他也不会对自己的行为后悔(Winnicott, 1974; Giovacchini, 2000)。其次,我们会思考关于这个男孩的不死族发展模型是如何反应了当前美国流行文化的兴趣,甚至为什么会那么关注不死族。



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作者:内森 赛恩伯格


在吸血鬼成为美国流行文化的时候,关于不死族的研究从1915年起到现在都不停地出现在精神分析的文献中。精神分析师们不仅花了大量篇幅讨论了吸食血液的吸血鬼,还有咬人的狼人和僵尸。PEP列举了439条关于不死族的文献(99条关于僵尸,288条关于吸血鬼,52条关于狼人)。在此,我们仅列举其中的一部分,如临床案例相关的(Kayton, 1972; Szajnberg, 1993; Olesker, 1999),与民族志,媒体及文学相关的(Roheim, 1953; Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1984),以及吸血作为母乳喂养的一种幻想的(Almond, 2007, 2010)。在通俗文化中,我们可以确认不死族对活人的需求:他们无法离开“人类”而生存。作为通俗文化的一部分,他们“经常出现在畅销的榜单和影视作品中”(Isherwood, New York Times, 2001)。

尚未有精神分析的文献考察这三种不死族种类之间,以及他们同人类的关系。这篇文章受益于一个少年关于不死族的游戏和幻想,以及他对于僵尸,吸血鬼和狼人在不死族发展系统中的相互关联,还有他们与活人的不同联系的理解。这篇案例报告描述了这个少年在治疗之前,是如何建构了一种关于不死族的内在心理模型来维持精神上的平衡,但这也妨碍了他感觉到自己是“活着的”。这个男孩关于不死族的洞见,反映了不死族在美国流行文化中,甚至在更久远的欧洲文化中的影响。在此我借用马克 吐温的关于天气的话来说:“当很多人在谈论不死族时,却没有人对此做些什么。”这个男孩可以在他的内心世界里进行与不死族相关的工作,通过精神分析。






开始时,D会把炸弹球扔向分析师/狼人去杀死他,并坚持让分析师实施报复,扔炸弹球到D/吸血鬼身上去杀死他。D会瞄准分析师的头和脸,如果两人中有一个成功炸死了另一个,D会说明因为我们是不死族,我们会复生并重新开始战斗。游戏升级后,D增加了分析师的动物玩具。这些新增的动物玩具是分析师的狼人娃娃;D自己拿了一个娃娃,把她的衣服都脱掉,当成自己的吸血鬼娃娃。现在,我们的目标是要杀死对方的娃娃。关于他的娃娃,他解释到只是披着人皮面具,看起来像是人类。他会高举他的娃娃,引诱分析师去攻击她。如果分析师瞄准得不好,D会很生气,会炸死分析师和他的娃娃,并坚持分析师要瞄的更准。在这个游戏的过程的大部分时候,D都面无表情,扳着脸,就像带着一张面具一样。然后,游戏又升级,D或者D的吸血鬼娃娃会绑架分析师的狼人娃娃之一,并把她高举起来。D命令分析师去炸自己的孩子,否则的话D会慢慢地痛苦地掐着狼人娃娃,让其窒息或受折磨。如果分析师犹豫不绝或恳求D放过自己的孩子,D和他的吸血鬼娃娃就会挤压分析师的娃娃,他会流露出一种冷漠的快乐,或者干笑着捻着自己想象中的胡子,就像Snidely Whiplash一样。



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作者:内森 赛恩伯格



精神分析师们对身份的发展感兴趣,身份可以给与人内在的安全和合理的自我确认,工作,爱和游戏的能力。我们在此想要传递的是,父母都有潜力有健康的情感生活,并培育他们孩子的情感生活。 埃里克森将一代代的人形容成交错的齿轮:父母的齿轮带动孩子的,也会被孩子们所带动,祖父母的齿轮也会被他们的孙子女们带动。当我们的孩子过得好时,这是因为我们的努力,我们也会为他们的成功而有所收获。 就像美国谚语所说的一样,“上帝是在细节之中。”如何养育孩子的细节,有哪些问题应该避免。本书也许会提供一些指导。




其次,我是个美国人,这个身份的历史只有2个半世纪。我并不是一生下来就是个美国人,而是一个移民,一种双重适应:作为一个男孩我希望成为一个牛仔和印第安人,似乎没有出现身份冲突的问题。我们是从战后的欧洲作为难民进入美国,受到这个自由之邦的吸引, 那里唱着Emma Lazarus所写的 “送给我,你受穷受累的人们,你那拥挤着渴望呼吸自由的大众,所有遗弃在你海滩上的悲惨众生…” 。大洋彼岸的难民可以在美国的土壤中成材发光。我感觉美国人,这种身份是受哺于欧洲的文明启蒙,17世纪的哲学家提倡的人而非神是人类的中心:人的创造——音乐,艺术,哲学,经验科学——可以来自人的心灵,就像美丽的爱神从海沫中诞生,从宙斯的头脑中诞生,就像Botticelli所描绘的那样。做一个美国人意味着从外部权力带来的自由,受到个体对国家和政府的责任感的平衡。

最后,我是个精神分析师,这个职业的历史只有1个世纪,是一个探索和治疗内部生活的科学领域,寻找那些个人内心深处黑暗和隐藏的东西,阐明这些东西来启迪人的心灵。17世纪的政治哲学家写到外部自由;而精神分析师促进内部自由。我们提倡自我认识,这是与情感融合的,它促进了自主性 。我们会培育爱,工作和游戏的能力。承担责任,而不是感到负担。 可以被他人依赖,也可以依赖他人,而不会去促使他们。我们也提倡将生命中的迷思(那些一直萦绕着的故事事件)转化为生活历史的能力,这些故事会成为我们生活中的一部分,但却不会像鬼魂一样一直在记忆中徘徊。


这本书是关于从婴儿期到成年早期的发展。它横跨了埃里克森描述的八个发展阶段中的七个:从婴儿早期(信任对不信任),婴儿后期(自主性对羞耻和怀疑),儿童早期(自发性对内疚),儿童期(勤勉对自卑),青春期(自我同一性对角色混乱),成年早期(亲密对孤立)成年期 (繁衍对停滞)。 我们研究了76个婴儿,从出生起就跟踪研究直到他们30岁。我们会考察他们不同生活路径的源头是什么,以及是什么对他们的影响最为深远。父母和家庭的是最为重要的。大部分获得好的早期照顾的人发展较好;而大部分早期照顾有问题的孩子在后面的发展会不够好。但是有20%人的发展会同早期照顾后产生的预期不一样:一些人生活不尽如人意;一些人比预期更好。在本书中,我们会描述那些会影响生活路径的因素。跟随Bowlby之外, 创伤——这些严重威胁到生活的失去父母或导致失去父母的经历——深刻地影响了个体在30岁时的发展。除了父母的死亡之外,因父母离异,严重的酒精或药物依赖也会导致丧失。对孩子来说,有可能会“失去”依然在生的父母。在孩子的发展中前面积累的成果并非都会失去:我们会发现那些经历过两种以上创伤的儿童在30岁后的生活会受到较为严重的影响。这也就是说,为了你的孩子,如果你离婚了,请努力活着,切避免酒精药物依赖。


我开始接触作为读者的你们。中国有五千年的文化,有丰富的文学,各个流派的哲学家引导着人们的生活,像儒家,道家和佛家。有时候,这些思想者之间会存在差异,就像某些17世纪的政治哲学家那样。Paul Roazen, 我们时代的学者, 写到柏拉图以来的政治哲学家对于人是什么,人如何发展做出了假设。但是Roazen教导我们,从弗洛伊德以来,我们不仅要思考人是什么,或者发展的过程是怎样。我们需要更多地了解我们的内部生活。 因此他做出了理性的假设,我们可以建构出培育内部生活和人类幸福的哲学。


非常感谢童俊女士为出版所做的努力,以及本书的翻译们,武怡堃博士,陈昉和韩丹。我也感谢Arlene 和Arnie Richards夫妇邀请我来武汉讲课,以及Wallerstein基金会对我从2005年以来研究的支持。



Caravaggio (4)

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Caravaggio (1)

Caravaggio (2)

Caravaggio (3)

Four hundred years after Caravaggio’s short career and early death, psychoanalysis can place him in a pantheon of artists who — from a psychoanalytic perspective — advanced the representation of complex emotions. While constrained by his patrons’ wishes and subject matter, Caravaggio built on his great predecessors’ achievements, particularly his namesake, Michelangelo, and also went beyond them, such as Titian. Caravaggio transgressed contemporary rules/norms to expand the exhibition of a fuller range of emotion and the interplay of emotions of those in intense moments of human experience. He openly portrayed what psychoanalysts consider the fuller range of inner reality, including our ambivalences, thereby revealing our inner lives on the surface of canvas.

We can frame this discussion in terms of Handler Spitz’s (1989) overview of the relationship of psychoanalysis to aesthetics, elaborated by Blatt’s (1984) and Barasch’s (1991) focus on continuities and changes in visual representation of humankind over the ages.

Spitz gives three broad categorical approaches for the relationship between psychoanalysis and aesthetics: 1) pathography (using psychoanalysis and the aesthetic works to understand the author); 2) psychoanalytic readings of the text (such as Freud’s “reading” of the three caskets), and 3) grasping the audience’s reactions to a work (Freud’s study of jokes (1919)). If we consider Erikson’s studies of Luther, Gandhi and Freud as deep elaborations of pathography – involving not only the individual’s psyche, but also the society’s dilemmas – then this work falls in part into that category: how an artist’s work addresses not only his/her views and challenges, but also those of the era. Specifically, while this paper is not a pathobiography — given the paucity of information of Caravaggio’s life — we can speculate that Caravaggio dealt with the personal experiences of the Black Plague death of his father and sibling when he was three to four, as well as the deaths of many others of the time (and his dislocations from town to town to avoid the Plague) by portraying death and decay from his earliest work onwards: decay and death appear even in a still life – nature morte – of a fruit basket.17 His gruesome portrayals of decapitations might also be related to the developmental age of the painter at his father’s death, that is at the early Oedipal, suggesting (from the very little we know of his early life) his sense of the price paid for an Oedipal wish fulfilled.

We know so little about his early life, that we are left to speculate. But, we do know that the Black Plague painted a swath of death in Northern Italy in Caravaggio’s youth, killing some one-third of the population (Schutze, 2009). We can suggest that Caravaggio’s portrayals of decay and death as a part of life would resonate with concerns of his community and could explain in part, his popularity and the power of his work in his era (Schutze, 2009). He also was employed by the Church and its orders, yet was aware of the level of hypocrisy and obscene wealth and sexual practices of the Church, the same attitudes and actions that moved the devout Dante to write the Inferno three hundred years earlier. Caravaggio was an artistic picador to such Churchly bullish antics. That is, following Erikson (1994), we can understand Caravaggio’s subject matter as his way of addressing both deeply personal childhood (and adult) experiences that also resonate with his era and community.

But, let us turn to the central feature of this paper: a sixteenth century artist’s representation of complex emotions among intense relationships. Blatt enlarges this effort – applying psychoanalytic thinking to aesthetics and aesthetic development to understand our contemporary view of inner life — when he demonstrates that there are significant advances, turning points, in visual representations in art. Further, he suggests that these advances are consistent with Piaget’s ideas about cognitive development, even as Blatt cautions that we not “primitize” the work of earlier art. This moves us closer to understanding what steps, what efforts were needed to develop concepts of person, of relatedness in order that Freud could develop the discipline of psychoanalysis. Makari (2008) elegantly shows the scientific concepts of the nineteenth century (about sexuality, psychopathology, normal psychology) that Freud learned and was able to re-weave into a new discipline. Here, following Blatt or Szajnberg (2010), for instance, we suggest that one can use psychoanalytic understandings of inner life in order to chart how we developed these concepts, studying the aesthetic works – literary, visual, sculptural and possibly musical – over greater spans of time.

In this sense we can begin to observe how artists have advanced an documented our views of the inner life of mankind over the centuries, preparing the infrastructure of a road — an intellectual via Appia from Rome to Vienna (not only to Brindisi) — to psychoanalysis. Caravaggio brought the profane closer to the sacred, not only as Eliade has described (1959), but also as Freud did by elevating the mundane, the debased (parapraxes, dreams, symptoms) to self-enlightenment.

We too can explore further humankind’s development of awareness of self by using psychoanalysis. Blatt argues that Giotto’s new techniques — new ways of seeing and representing the world — represented a movement forward psychologically, both cognitively (in the Piagetian sense of reversibility, reciprocity, conservation being connected with the sense of infinity) and emotionally (in the sense of naturalism and humanism).18 That is, we can read the history of art (visual, plastic, literary) as a way of reading our progress (and regress) in Western humankind’s concepts of the inner world. In this paper, we focus on the representation of emotions – expressed in face, body, gesture and among the participants in intense moments.

We suggest that Caravaggio’s bold representation of both negative and positive feelings, including ambivalence and moments of ambiguity about feelings demands the viewer to approach, to feel moments of identity or uncertainty, to think harder as we look at these works: the Angel’s passive, calm face, yet pressing arm; David’s somber look; the absence of wrath, nor disgust, nor victory in Judith’s moment of killing the evil Holofernes; Caravaggio’s self-portraits in Medusa and the final Goliath; the impending rot in a basket of ripe fruit.

Auerbach’s argument in his now-classic Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature includes his view that literary ways of representation develop over time, with occasional leaps of achievement: the New Testament’s elevation of the mundane to the sublime; Dante’s self-portrayal voyaging through Hell in order to reach Paradise; Shakespeare’s (overly) self-reflective prince (Auerbach, 1954). When we read Auerbach closely, he defines mimesis not as “imitation” of reality (the usual translation of Aristotle’s term): rather this is in large part, re-presentation of reality (external, internal) in such a manner that the reader/listener is moved to feel as if this could be happening or has happened. We “know” that these stories may not be fact, real, (the Akeda; Ulysses slaying of the Cyclops; Aenius’ amorous “sojourn” with Dido; Grimm’s or Sheherezade’s fairy tales): but they feel deeply human, they move us (Bernstein, 1974). That is, with psychoanalytic thought, we can begin to grasp why certain pieces (literary or visual) move us so much. In Caravaggio’s case, he tackles the imbrications of eros and thanatos, of ambivalence, of decay and death with life.

On the other hand, we can also use our psychoanalytic understanding of what appears to be universal in inner life — such as, the existence of the Unconscious, the extent to which we are influenced by our Unconscious, the presence of ambivalence in close relationships, the enduring nature of working models of attachment – to look back on the evolution of Western art to discern the turning points in our development of concept of self, person and relatedness. For example, the genre of “autobiography” was begun by Rousseau’s provocatively titled Confessions in the late 18th Century (Szajnberg, 1987). The elements of what we consider autobiographical first appear in this work: that early childhood influences whom we become in adulthood; that we can reflect upon our lives and that we can construct narratives of our lives, particularly with a listener (or reader in Rousseau’s case) available.19 In this sense, a foundation stone for psychoanalysis was laid by Rousseau: the value of narrating one’s life to both understand and explain and the value of reviewing one’s early life. Psychoanalysis can be considered an oral/aural extension of autobiographical genre (Szajnberg, 1987).

We have the opportunity then to look at various forms of art to see how we have developed our psychoanalytic concepts over time. In a sense, Freud is a great systematizer and more significantly, developed a technique to access inner life. We can learn from great artists (visual, plastic, literary) how we came to become who we now as twenty first century psychoanalysts are – how we developed –learning what may be universal, but also what may be cultural variations of our concepts of humankind. Dyson (2007), in a book review and essay, outlined how cultural differences between the French and Anglo-Germanic schools of physical and mathematical sciences refracted into different paths of methodology and discovery. With time, discussion and critical thinking, such differences are resolved by the larger scientific community. Paul (2010), a psychoanalyst and anthropologist, points out that as an anthropologist, he expects differences in psychoanalytic “thought” (what is optimal inner life; what is intimacy; what are the goals of treatment; what are the methods) among different cultures. He cites the more evident differences between the individual-centric Western perspectives versus the more family and group-centric Eastern cultures. By such careful study, across time, across cultures, we can begin to get clarity of how we have constructed our views of inner life, what we share as “human,” and what differentiates us from each other.

In this study of a late sixteenth century Italian master, we see Caravaggio‘s perspective on the universality of emotions and psychoanalytic understandings of ambivalence and intimacy.20 We learn that as Caravaggio exposes the darker and more intensely ambivalent aspects of our inner lives, this aesthetically enhances our view of humankind.

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Caravaggio (3)

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In general, Caravaggio imbricates the profane with the sacred, just as he creates a duet between light and dark. With light and dark, he technically uses the extremes of visual world to amplify, intensify the portrayal of reality, to enhance reality so that it feels real.14 By employing the extremes of the visual, he also enhances the shades and colors between these extremes. So too for the sacred and profane. Previous artists separated the profane from the sacred representations, or made almost didactic use of the sacred to distinguish it from the profane: for instance, in the passion of Christ, artists made it clear who was evil, those who lashed him, or speared his side. Even the master, Michelangelo in his Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement, the artist makes it clear who – beneath Christ’s feet – is going to or in Hell, and who are the beatified en route to Heaven. No room for ambiguity.15 Caravaggio in contrast adds ambiguity, shades of judgment about the profane and sacred. First, he brings the profane into sacred representations, such as the portraits of contemporary laborers in their worship of Mary. Second, as mentioned above, he portrays the “sacred” acts of Judith or David with greater subtleness. Third he plays with portrayals of sacred characters, such as the almost teasing, lounging, perhaps louche, St. John, his satisfied smile almost a twin to Caravaggio’s Baccus. Caravaggio’s introduction of ambiguity – via light/dark; via sacred /profane – leads to a greater appreciation of the fullness and complexity of emotional life, the “shades” between darkness and light.

Further, Caravaggio’s elevation of the mundane or profane into the aesthetic or sacred is similar to early Christianity’s elevation of the worldly to the divine as captured in Matthew’s “one (sparrow) shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” In this sense, Caravaggio challenges the Church of his time, engorged with wealth and corruption, to live up to its early dedication to the downtrodden.

For Caravaggio, when people are together, they are together intensely and often with murderousness enacted or in the air. Murder’s presence is clear in portraits such as Judith and Holofernes, David and Goliath, even Abraham and Isaac. Caravaggio’s portrayals of Christ show either violence (flagellation, thorn-crowning) or implicit violence in the passion, albeit with Christ appearing indifferent, neutral, possibly saddened or resigned in some cases. While his Christs do not differ in this sense from other artists, Caravaggio pushes the degree to which death and decay are present and to which when people become close, murder or death enters. In psychoanalytic terms, Caravaggio recognizes and portrays the presence of ambivalence and ambiguity between people, particularly when emotions run high. Freud’s (1923) recognition of ambivalence in our intense, intimate relationships is one of his major contributions. Caravaggio, perhaps among others, identifies this visually some three hundred years earlier.

Caravaggio’s “graphical autobiographical” notes about himself also are not new: previous artists would insert themselves, for instance as an observer in a crowd. In one of Michelangelo’s last sculptures, a Pieta for his tombstone, he puts his face into that of ancient Nicodemus, poised above both Christ and Mary, supporting the fallen son.16 But Caravaggio takes us and himself much further into the intense moment. We see only Medusa’s severed head – no Perseus present — snakes writhing in death throes, but it is Caravaggio’s visage, eyes and mouth wide-open, showing more fear than anger glaring at us. Or, in Judas’ kiss, soft embrace and betrayal of Christ, others are charged with emotion – a Roman soldier rushing to grab the revolutionary, a citizen turned away from Christ in shock, others crowded about, while at the right edge, arm aloft with light upon the scene, is the artist, mouth and eyes alert with interest, perhaps a touch of surprise. Caravaggio crowds us towards the central scene; he is a parenthesis to the moment. Finally, his near- death portrayal of David and Goliath is another stark portrayal of himself. We can compare this to Bernini’s David sculpture: victorious, muscular and fiercely, angrily expressive — a look of fiero –he swipes his blade through. But, Caravaggio, now in his early 40’s, running from justice for years, portrays something more complex. Yes, his face is in the severed skull of Goliath. Even in death, Caravaggio/Goliath’s upper face shows “corrugator action, which Darwin called the muscle of difficulty — seen also in pain, anger, fear, and sadness. His lower face is mouth agape.


But, we can treat the picture like a dream in which the artist (or the dreamer) can parcel himself into several characters, as Freud (1900) and Erikson (1954) taught us. Then, to the degree that this David is Caravaggio’s David, the young shepherd’s face shows no fiero, no anger, no joy: he looks, head tilted, slightly downward to his left, towards the dangling head held by his almost soft grasp. He shows remarkable calm, but with a tone of sadness or remorse or pity in the brows of the victor’s face. That is, Caravaggio in his penultimate work both somberly metes out justice (David) and is met with justice (Goliath).



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Here are several of the notable themes and innovative techniques6 that Caravaggio used to pull the viewer into the frame and to portray emotions in complex manners.

1. His subject matter (given – and despite — the Church’s dictates) pushes the edge of more honest human portrayal, including the prevalence of decay and death: David and Goliath, Judith and Holofernes, Abraham and Isaac, Medusa, St. John the Baptist on multiple occasions, an ailing Baccus with a fixed smile and multiple portrayals of Christ, often with varying facial features. Often, one character plays against another. Even in single portraits, such as his representations of St. John (in some cases, louchely smiling), the figure plays against the observer (including the Church’s elders, we might speculate).

2. Complexity of emotions in the presence of others. In Caravaggio’s hands, the characters portrayed perform like members of a small chamber orchestra: each one’s emotions playing responsively in harmony or disharmony with others’: the emotions evoked by the picture are amplified by the play of emotions among the performers. In Judith and Holoferenes, Caravaggio captures the moment when the Jewish widow severs the marauding General’s head, after seducing him. The physically imposing Holoferenes has mouth agape as if howling, his eyes roll upwards showing shock, perhaps disbelief, even as his left hand grabs the bed linen and the other strains mightily – forearm muscles and triceps bulging, blood vessels distended — to push himself away from this deathbed, or his death. Yet, Judith’s expression is almost passive, her eyebrows knitted in effort. In contrast to Holofernes’ bulging muscles, her left hand softly grasps a tuft of Holofernes’ hair as her right, with unmuscled forearm, completes amputating the head with a scimitar, Holofernes’ blood gushing out towards the viewer’s lap. Her elderly handmaid rushes in with a bag to grab the soon-to-be liberated head, her face fixed in fury, possibly touched with contempt. The triangular interplay of the three characters’ emotions amplifies and humanizes the scene’s power.


3. In the Akeda, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac prevented by an Angel, the aged, bald, yet powerful, determined Abraham is poised with left hand pressing Isaac’s face downward, the father’s thumb imprinting the lad’s cheek, distorting the boy’s face. Abraham’s knife-grasping right hand is poised, neckward bound, yet painted as if it were already slicing the boy’s arm. Abraham’s face is turned away from the boy, looking back at the Angel; the father’s brow is wrinkled, his eyebrows knit with a look of determination or anger, or both.7 Isaac’s mouth is asymmetrically open as if shouting, eyes wide-open, his face shows pain anticipated or beginning. The Angel’s face shows no emotion, looking past Abraham in the direction of the ram. Look more closely: a peculiar ambiguity shows between the Angel’s two hands: his right finger points (softly) past Abraham’s chest towards the ram, but his right grabs Abraham’s knife-wielding wrist so firmly that the ancient man’s wrist is wrinkled from pressure. But, the direction of Abraham’s wrinkled skin appears as if the Angel is forcing the father’s arm downward, forcing the knife to its first victim. That is, if we believe that this expert technician, Caravaggio, painted with intent, with precision, then the Angel “shows” ambivalence between his two hands: one directs Abraham’s gaze outward, the other presses the father’s arm towards the son’s neck. In case the observer were uncertain about the Angel’s pressing right arm’s intent, the artist displays bulging forearm extensors and triceps in extension (rather than showing the biceps and flexors, if he were pulling Abraham’s knife away). In an unusual touch for Caravaggio, in the upper right corner – above Isaac and the ram’s head – is a glimpse of landscape.8 But, the remainder of the background is darkly shaded, forcing the scene into our faces.

The sacrifice of Isaac's by Caravaggio.jpg

4. Death and Decay amidst life are central themes threading through Caravaggio’s life work, beginning with his earliest still life (the French, nature morte, a more fitting term) of a fruit basket. While death had been visually portrayed in religious art — notably the passion of Christ or martyrdoms, or of assorted saints – Caravaggio begins to humanize (even secularize) the study of decay and death. His lush nature morte of a woven basket with fruit at closer study reveals overripe fruit: some verge on decay, a spotted apple possibly worm eaten. Caravaggio carries this overripe fruit basket into later works, particularly his portrayal of Christ’s appearance at the home of Emmaus after rising from the dead. Here, the same basket is perched almost precariously over the front edge of the table, towards the viewer almost protruding out of the picture, vulnerable to a fall.9 In this Emmaus (he painted another), a powerful moment is captured: the disciples recognize Christ as he — face impassive – raises his hand to bless the bread. One disciple’s face is clear: shock and surprise; the other, back to us, tensely grasps his chair arms as he is caught mid-leap from his seat, elbow revealing torn fabric. That is, Caravaggio uses not only face to reveal emotion, but also body tension and “movement.”

5. Caravaggio sculpts the peaks and crevasses of darkness and light to focus our attention. First, Caravaggio often uses dark, muted tones – browns and blacks – in the background, pushing the figures into the viewer’s face. They crowd into our attention. Caravaggio plays with light and shadow to focus us on a scene. Early in his work, light comes off-screen from the left, usually upper left, without obvious source. X-ray study shows in one case that Caravaggio painted over the sources of light (a window, a moon). One notable exception is his portrayal of Judas’ kiss and betrayal of Christ. Here the weak light source comes from the right – a dim lamp held aloft by a familiar observer looking in quiet wonder: the painter Caravaggio, a Zelig-like touch. Later, Caravaggio brings light as if it were streaming over the viewer’s left shoulder, alighting on the canvas. Now we see, we feel a dual effect: the dark background pushes the figures towards us; the light shining from behind and above us nudges us towards the painting. He is an in-your-face painter.11

6. Caravaggio portrays an intense humanity, a range of emotions in which each character in the drama plays reciprocally against the other, like some small chamber orchestra. Reading and appreciating the feelings of one person — facial, gestural, emblematic (Ekman, 2008) – is best done by studying these in the others of the small drama. None stands alone.

7. There is plasticity from picture to picture of some characters. Within two years, Caravaggio paints two episodes with Christ, showing completely different facial features. It is as if he were humanizing Christ, unlike previous more iconic, standardized portrayals of how a Christ should look. This carries humanization further. In the second Dinner at Emmaus, a beardless, chubby-cheeked Christ appears (three days after being dead) blessing the bread.

8. He uses torso and gesture to insert, insist on dynamism in the moment captured. That is, he recognized that emotion (whose root comes from “motion”) is captured not only in the face, but also in gesture and “movement”. The challenge for the painter, whose creations are static, is how to represent a sense of movement to the viewer. One example is his use of opposing shoulder to opposite hip, baring the midsection, torquing the torso. This is a technique that Michelangelo used, particularly in the Sistine Chapel’s Sybils, and which Michelangelo in turn used from the then recently unearthed Belvedere torso (now in the Vatican).12 Viewers subjectively “feel” this, identify with the “movement.”13


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Caravaggio: 400 years later, a Psychoanalytic Portrait of Emotional Expression of Ambivalence and Ambiguity.1

Rome celebrated the 400th anniversary of Michelangelo Marisi da Caravaggio’s death with an historical exhibition of his brief life-time’s work. Yet, psychoanalysis has not studied this master’s work extensively, despite his compelling portrayal of a full range of human affects, including ambivalence. Psychoanalysis has made contributions to studies of artistic pioneers such as da Vinci and his childhood bird dream (Freud, 1910), Michelangelo Buonarroti’s David (Freud, 1914), Blatt’s (1994) masterly observations of Giotto’s chapel and the use of blue sky as psychologically innovative, or Spitz-Handler’s (1994) study of Magritte’s play with external reality. What can we learn about Caravaggio’s work — including innovative contributions such as visual representation of expressed emotions, particularly negative emotions, including ambivalence and remarkably candid, even critical, self-representations — and how can this late sixteenth century artist teach us about the development of concept of mind underlying psychoanalysis?


Rome celebrated the 400th anniversary of Michelangelo Marisi da Caravaggio’s death with an historical exhibition of his brief life-time’s work. Yet, psychoanalysis has not studied this master’s work extensively, despite his compelling portrayal of a full range of human affects, including ambivalence. Psychoanalysis has made contributions to studies of artistic pioneers such as da Vinci and his childhood bird dream (Freud, 1910), Michelangelo Buonarroti’s David (Freud, 1914), Blatt’s (1994) masterly observations of Giotto’s chapel and the use of blue sky as psychologically innovative, or Spitz-Handler’s (1994) study of Magritte’s play with external reality. What can we learn about Caravaggio’s work and how can this late sixteenth century artist teach us about the development of concept of mind underlying psychoanalysis?

Carravagio made innovative contributions to visual representation of expressed emotions, particularly negative emotions, including ambivalence and remarkably candid, even critical, self-representations. That is, he portrays intensely emotional moments with greater complexity and ambiguity than many predecessors. We suggest that he foresees Freud’s discovery of our complex emotions in intimate relations (1923).2 Here, we will study his work, using psychoanalytic concepts, complemented by Ekman’s approach to reading expression of emotion – particularly facial expression, but also gestural and emblematic. We also discuss how Caravaggio’s work is an example of re-presenting personal and societal dilmmas — in this case, the Black Plague’s effect on Caravaggio’s childhood and community — even if his work does not resolve personal and societal

crises as Erikson suggests of creative individuals (Erikson, 1994; Schutze, 2009). Note that we foster a synergistic approach between art’s history and the science of the mind: we can learn historically about how and when certain concepts of mind developed by looking at pre-psychoanlytic aesthetics (such visual art, literature, music). In turn, we can understand earlier representations of inner reality via what psychoanalysis has learned of the mind over the past century. For this paper, we concentrate on the first approach: what does Caravaggio show us about representations of emotions and intimacies as he represents them in Rome’s fin-de-siecle 1500’s, representations that still move us?

Freud set us on this psychoanalytic exploration of aesthetics when he wrote how we can better understand art and other disciplines via psychoanalysis. He also deepens our understanding of aesthetics as “…not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling” (Freud, 1919, p. 218). Caravaggio presses us towards more intense, complex, at times ambiguous qualities of feeling.

Spitz Handler (1989) outlines three psychoanalytic approaches to aesthetic studies all initiated by Freud: pathography, psychoanalytic textual interpretations, and psychoanalytic understand of art’s effects on the audience. Szajnberg (1992, 1996, 2010) adds a further variation: following Freud’s remark about literary masters describing aspects of inner life that Freud could systemize (and of course treat), Szajnberg describes how pre-psychoanalytic aesthetic works anticipated psychoanalytic knowledge of the Unconscious, the notion of working in layers and the centrality of the dyadic relationship. Further, Szajnberg (2010, 2012) suggests – following both Auerbach (1954) or Bergner and Luckmann (1996) — that our Western culture’s concept of person has been constructed over two millennia. We learn about developmental shifts (backwards and forwards) in our concepts of what we consider “human” at pivotal points in time. This is an extension of Erik Erikson’s idea of how creative individual resolve crises, as he demonstrated with Martin Luther, Gandhi, and Freud (Erikson, 1994). Ogden’s recent subtle studies of Kafka and Borges (2010), adds a new variation to Spitz Handler’s three models: using what we know of the artist’s life and work so that one enlightens the other.

Blatt’s (1984) study of Giotto sets a conceptual stage for our exploration of Caravaggio. Giotto’s thirty-eight Giotto fourteenth century chapel frescos initiated a Renaissance representation of infinity3 (using celestial blue rather than medieval gold for the sky), perspective/three-dimensional portrayals, and steps towards naturalism and humanism (versus Medieval other-worldly art). Blatt reviews stages of visual representation in Western Art, beginning with preclassical monadic, diagrammatic, developing into Classical dyadic without comprehensive spatial representation, to Medieval more concrete, static and stylized human portrayals (such as the Byzantine), to the Renaissance innovations of three-dimensionality, and associated humanism and naturalism. The latter diminishes the distance between the sacred and profane (Eliade, 1959). Burkhardt (Blatt, 1984) refers to the Renaissance as a recrudescence of Greek concepts of self-confidence in humanity and the dignity of man. Caravaggio pushes Renaissance art further: both by including the mundane/debased as part of the “dignity” of man and by flattening perspective, paradoxically focusing us on the subjects’ interior lives, deepening the picture’s emotional representation and evoking emotionality in the viewer.

This paper looks at how Caravaggio leaps forward in the visual representations of complex emotions, including those negative, teasing and ambivalent, as well as the reciprocal interplay of emotions among those portrayed. Caravaggio paints intriguing, compelling dialogues among the emotions of those drawn together; one set of emotions plays against another, like the point/counterpoint of Bach’s music. A century following his namesake Michelangelo Buonarroti, Caravaggio pushes the boundaries expressed in the Sistine Chapel, even as he “quotes” visually from the master’s early Pieta.4 Some of Caravaggio’s work commissioned by the Holy Orders were considered so controversial, they were refused. In others, Caravaggio subversively slips past the Church’s eye or tweaks its nose with subtle gestures, such as sneaking two penitent drudge workers with pied noir into a portrayal of the Virgin, that is, inserting contemporary “lowly” characters into Church art.


We would like to have childhood background on this “avant guarde” artist, but little is known. The first-born child, his father and a sibling died of Plague when Caravaggio was three; his mother died when he was eighteen, then he moved to Rome, where artists could thrive under the Church’s commissions. Previously, he was apprenticed to Peterzano, a proud student of Titian. We can see Titian echoes in some of Caravaggio’s subjects, such as the crowning of Christ, even as Caravaggio presents this with greater intensity.5 Caravaggio dies in exile at forty-one, several years after killing an opponent in a tennis match in Rome. Escaping from prison, he remains on the lam, protected by patrons. We will return to one of his last pieces: David holds Goliath’s severed, blood- dripping head with Caravaggio’s face in Goliath’s skull; David appears somber, as he looks aside over the severed head; Goliath/Caravaggio, mouth agape, brows still knitted, appears as if puzzled. David’s cross-shaped sword rests loosely at his side, or in an earlier version, against the back of his own neck.

However, art historians offer background foundations upon which this artist built his work. Barasch writes on emotional expression in art: in ancient Greece and reappearing in the Renaissance, “a system of expressive facial signs…formed an important matrix within which painters…shaped their work” (Barasch, 1991, p. 16) And, referring additionally to gesture – an important component that Carvaggio used synergistically with facial expression – the “gestural situation.. (is composed of) the gesticulating figure…granting neighboring figures..potential for expression.. a tool for moving and convincing the audience” (Barasch, 1991, p. 18). When Barasch uses the word “moving” here, he includes being moved emotionally, as Leonardo da Vinci insisted was necessary (da Vinici, 2004): “the most important things.. in the analysis of a painting are the movements appropriate to states of mind.. such as desire, contempt, anger, pity and the like.” We note that the “movements” that da Vinci refers to specifically are what we psychoanalysts would call emotions. With that, let us turn to how Caravaggio tried to move his audiences.

1 I thank Bruno Bettelheim for introducing me to art and psychoanalysis, Sidney Blatt for discussing and critiquing this paper, the Wallerstein Research Fellowship which has supported me since 2005 and my daughter Lily for accompanying me to Italy. I am grateful to Paul Ekman’s reading of the emotions in these paintings and for his dear friendship. 

2 Of course, Freud said that he did not “discover” complexity of emotions, but he developed a technique to understand and heal their disruptive effects.

3 Playing with infinity could be fatal for the next three hundred years: in 1600, Bruno was burned at the stake by the Venice Inquisition, in part for his inquiry into infinity; Copernicus delayed publication of his work for a half-century until 1543, nearing his death (Blatt 1984).


Baked in Hebrew

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The Ulpan was so famous, I expected more physically imposing structures, some international style of Mies, or perhaps Le Courbusier, form following function, as our mental forms would follow the function of our new language, new Semitic thoughts, biblical, spare, yet clear, unwasted breath, nomadic laconicism.  Biblical brevity we learn, but such knowledge is transmitted in tin sheds, concrete bunkers with corrugated roofs, in the Mediterranean summer. Our brains have Hebrew baked into them.

Situated at the Southern tip of Netanyah, the town itself is sun-worn with streets named yearningly after the Riviera — Nice, Aixe, Provence — by French-tongued North African Jewish transplants, refugees who continue to long after La Patrie.

The school, on grounds of a half-star hotel, more a youth hostel, often sans youth, is too far to walk from downtown on baking summer days; too long to wait for the bus, a heat-beaten mini-van, still run by North African schedule, in a time warped by Camus’ sun, slowly, belatedly (in American time). The driver, should he be rushed, makes an upward gesture with his hand, fingers pursed and tips pulsating at each other as if to say, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

From the town square, pass the beach and as the road ends, veer left onto a rutted, gravel-embedded, runkled path that bounces you to the gate, a pseudo-security, a guard in the darkened shed, acting as if he had smoked his nargilah at the last break. The gate is motorized, electrified, slides open slowly, creakily and only partially, on rusted rails.

I arrive dragging one beige Hartmann carry on. Its otherwise sturdy wheels are knocked off their tracks by the path across the campus; directed to a dorm room I am to share with a slightly outsized midget from Baltimore. The Baltimoron is a professional Jew, someone my father would have labeled in Yiddish, “a kille grabbler,” a grabber of community funds (and a play on the word “kille,” which would make him also a “hernia grabber.”) He arrives later; takes over the room with two oversized valises, two carry-ons, assorted bulging plastic sacks. He spreads himself about as if acquiring square meters would compensate for his challenged height. He explains brusquely: radio must play at all times; when he leaves I must leave it on, he should not return to a silent room (as if he were terrified to be alone with himself); night time radio is necessary to lull him to sleep; remains on to keep him asleep. I buy earphones for him; he refuses — uncomfortable to sleep with. He is meticulously groomed, a mustache clipped within millimeters of the line between lip and frenulum, hair parsed, shellacked into place by various pomades, gels, waxes that are aligned like tin soldiers along the bathroom shelf. He tops this “do” with a black knit kippah, adhered in place by the hair glues. Much deodorant beneath each armpit; they are frosted white. The mornings leave dust clouds trails from his Gold Bond powder scooped plentifully around his balls, his soles, between toes; needs Gold Bond’s stimulating mentholated zing. Clothes are aligned by type, color, dancing shirt-to-shirt, pant-to-pant. He buys bargain tchatchkes, gifts, from Arab souks by the gross to bring back to Baltimore. These spill over to my sliver of closet, onto the floor. Bury my one pair of shoes. I last two days, then beg for private quarter.
I am exiled to an unused dorm unoccupied for several days until a teen group from Australia arrive, four to a room, a lively and loud collective. In early morning, they pray fervently, shaking the bleached gravely outside landing, facing East. The Ulpan, its tin, and concrete sheds, lies west of the Green Hotel The hotel of informality. One late evening, I come upon Tzakhi, the desk manager, changing his pants into shorts behind the counter, even as he attentively answers my questions. To close out the Shabbat, I ask to buy candle and wine to take to the Beach, say prayers with friends after sunset. “Buy? Buy!” he responds offended as he pulls on one leg of the shorts, then straightens himself like a gondolier. “Here. From the kitchen; just bring back.”
The Ulpan has its unique breed of cockroach, Djukim the size of fat, robust mice, but faster, tailless, silent. They prefer rooms of young women, especially those closest to the only computer terminal. Late night internet users are jarred by episodic shrieks, “Djukim! Djukim!!” as if extolling the Beatles, followed by women bursting through their doors, calling for aid. Men armed with brooms assemble, smack floors loudly, even as the we know that the lights have sent the Djukim to safer quarters.
I am placed in level Gimel Plus, pronounced “ploos.” I don’t feel very “ploos.” The class, perhaps 25, is half new olim, — adults from Caucasus, teens from Chile, Peru, Argentina, one doe-eyed boy from
Persia, sent alone, snuck out by his family. (He later, while biking, is hit by a car, is brain-dead.) One quarter are tourists from England, French; the rest of us, Americans, “Amerrikanim.” We have two teachers, alternating daily, each of whom alone could have powered the secret Dimona reactor: no need for nuclear with these two. Yonat locks the door at 800 promptly each morning. Late? See you tomorrow. (Actually, you can slink in after the first break, if you are up to weathering Yonat’s glare the rest of the day.) I inhale the learning, like Akiva the forty year old farmer who lapsup the dust written by the angel, dust that reveals all knowledge to Akiva, until erased by the Angel.
By week two, we are asked to solo, some ten minutes, in front of class, a tale, not read, spoken. I do something, now forgotten, perhaps the story of the cabbie who recites his daughter’s brain-plumbing ailment, their victory over death.
Then Pascal, Nee Pinchas. A Frenchie, delightful, of thin habitus, sharp featured, yet from somewhere a Hapsburg lip; a small kippah decorated with dentate figures clipped to his close-cropped but thick black hair, and his trim beard reveal his religiousness. Originally from Paris, he now lives with his family in London. France now too alien, too populated by rowdy Moslem teen gangs for this Jew. In France, teen thugs from Arabi gang-up on a little Jewish girl daring to wear her Magen David out; they force it down her throat, chase her home. He is here with his 11 year old daughter; wife and son are staying with relatives nearby. He carries a small pocket French Hebrew computer into which he types unknown words, surreptitiously, as the teacher frowns on dictionaries. His tale, his sport: mountain climbing, in Hebrew, he describes the almost onomatopoeic, “l’tapes,” scaling peaks. He lists five major peaks that have fallen to his tread. The last, Mt. Blanc, scaled with pickax, boots and … well, tefillin.Yes, tefillin at the summit. Only he and one guide, he details the cold final assent. They begin before dawn; rising sun reveals the narrow, one-person path with terrifying sheers on each side. At the summit, his guide, eyeing a gathering storm, whips out the camera for the token shot. But Pascal, even as blistering winds strip away his words, mimes: “Wait!”  He whips out his tefillin and demonstrates to class, most of us unfamiliar with the morning ritual. He shrugs off the left parka, pulls up the thermal sleeve to bare skin to the howling mountain winds; places one box on his biceps facing his heart, another around his crown, “as frontlet between his eyes,” Torah commands. The leather straps must be wound on bare arm, biceps to the hand, about the knuckles, just so, to trace “Shadai” over the fist. He proceeds rapidly: seven windings to the hand, some boondoggling around the fingers to proclaim God. poises arm in the air, he freezes for photo. Then off with the tefillin even as they start the truly frozen descent.Delighted, we applaud. He, approaching God on Europe’s highest peak, reaches just a bit closer to Him. The Shema commands that one teach God in our home, and on our roads; on this high road, Pascal/Pinchas reaches both a personal and Jewish “best.”