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James W. Hamilton
First published in 2012 by
Karnac Books Ltd
118 Finchley Road, London NW3 5HT

Copyright 2012 to James W. Hamilton.

The right of James W. Hamilton to be identified as the author of this work has
been asserted in accordance with 77 and 78 of the Copyright Design and
Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in

a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A C.I.P. for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 78049 014 4

Edited, designed and produced by The Studio Publishing Services Ltd

Printed in Great Britain




Mark Rothko 1

Joseph Cornell 25

Piet Mondrian 41

Pablo Picasso 71

Clement Greenberg 83


Edward Weston 105

Ingmar Bergman 125

Franois Truffaut 135

Quentin Tarantino 167

Florian von Donnersmarck 187


I would like to express appreciation for their support, encouragement,

and contributions to this book to Dore Ashton, Don Bassett, James
Brennan, James Breslin, Ramsay Breslin, Jean Brown, Dr. JoAnn
Fineman, Dr. Mark Fried, Charles Furr, Morgan Gafford, Scot Gassen,
Woody Gwyn, Dr. Fedor Hagenauer, Kathleen Hamilton, Dr. Ted
Jacobs, Monica Jost, Milton Kemnitz, Dr. Joseph Kepecs, Dr. Eugene
Kinder, Dr. Robert Liebert, Ben Madow, Franco Magnani, Beaumont
Newhall, Dr. Milton Rosenbaum, Magda Salvesen, Richard Sober,
Joseph Solman, Dr. Milton Viederman, Dr. Laurie Wilson, and
Michael Wright.


James W. Hamilton is a board-certified psychiatrist living in Santa Fe,

New Mexico. He has extensive publications in the professional litera-
ture on various clinical and theoretical issues. He is also the author of
Life and Art: The Creative Synthesis in Literature, published by Karnac in


This book is a sequel to Life and Art: The Creative Synthesis in Literature
(Karnac, 2009) and pursues the same line of inquiry in trying to under-
stand unconscious factors involved in the creative process associated
with painting, filmmaking, and photography by studying the lives
and works of particular artists, each one having a unique personal
style. One chapter deals with subjective aspects of aesthetic judgment
in art criticism.
Early psychic traumaobject loss and various forms of affectual
deprivation along with, in many present instances, primal scene expo-
sureremains a crucial motivating factor in such activities where the
dream and transitional object continue to make important contribu-
tions to the final product and the achievement of symbolic restitution
as well as greater mastery of internal conflicts.
I hope that this material will encourage further questions and
hypotheses about the nature of these complex phenomena.



Mark Rothko

I paint large pictures because I want to create a state of inti-

macy. A large picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you
into it
(Rothko, 1958, p. 87)

ark Rothko, who was a member of the abstract expressionist

M school of painters that thrived in New York after the Second

World War, devised his signature style of stacked chromatic
rectangles or multiforms, as they were sometimes called, in his mid-
forties, after experimenting, like Mondrian, for many years with other
techniques and modes of representation since first beginning to paint
seriously at the age of twenty-two. Born Marcus Rothkowitz in
Dvinsk, Russia on September 25, 1903, the youngest of four siblings,
his childhood was extremely trying. As an infant, he was subjected to
prolonged swaddling, which was to have lasting consequences for him
(Breslin, 1993, p. 278). He was fragile, sensitive, sickly and not
expected to survive because of a severe calcium deficiency requiring
him to scavenge plaster from walls until the age of four, when the
problem was finally diagnosed and his diet was supplemented with a


quart of milk each day. He had an enormous appetite and could never
get enough to eat as a child, which he dwelt on bitterly for the rest of
his life. He experienced anti-Semitic persecution, often had rocks
thrown at him on his way to and from school, and wore a knapsack as
a protective shield. Czarist pogroms carried out by Cossacks were a
constant threat, although it is doubtful he and his family were ever the
victims of one.
His father, Jacob, was strict, quiet, philanthropic, idealistic and
a political anarchist while his mother, Kate, was energetic, forceful
and practical (Breslin, 1993, p. 28). Her youngest son, who was her
favorite, saw her as determined and controlling.
When he was seven, his father, a pharmacist, emigrated to Port-
land, Oregon, to be followed by his two brothers in late 1912 and then
his mother, sister, and himself in August 1913. The trip was quite ardu-
ous and Rothko forever resented having to leave Dvinsk, which he
remembered for its landscapes and glorious sunsets. When he got to
Portland, his father was having symptoms of carcinoma of the colon
and died at the age of fifty-five in the family home on March 27, 1914,
which, for Mark, was a terrible experience, as he later told his
personal physician, Albert Grokest. Jacobs death left his wife and chil-
dren impoverished, with Mark having to work until late at night sell-
ing newspapers on street corners, where he was beaten up routinely by
peers competing for the same location. He did well in school and was
regarded as a prodigy, having taught himself the piano and mandolin
so effectively he could play almost anything by ear.
After finishing high school in three years with an outstanding
scholastic record, he went to Yale on scholarship, but dropped out in
1923 at the end of his sophomore year, discouraged by the anti-Semi-
tism he encountered there, especially towards Eastern European Jews.
He attended the Art Students League in New York briefly, and
returned to Portland, where he acted with a local repertory company
until early 1925 when, having decided to be a painter, he enrolled at
the New School of Design in New York and spent another six months
at the League, where he studied with Max Weber. Upon completion
of these courses, he supported himself mainly by teaching, and
painted in his spare time.
Through the 1930s, his work, stimulated by Czanne, Matisse,
Weber, and Milton Avery, who was a mentor of Rothkos, was mostly
of human figures and landscapes. He had his first one-man show in

the fall of 1933 at a New York gallery. In 1942, inspired by Dali, de

Chirico, Miro, and Max Ernst, he switched to a Surrealist format,
utilizing themes of Ancient Greek literature, especially the Agamem-
non trilogy of Aeschylus. This period lasted until the emergence, in
the late 1940s, of his rectangular paintings, which he pursued with
many variations up to February 1970, when he killed himself rather
The death of a parent prior to the end of adolescence makes
adequate mourning a most difficult, if not almost impossible, goal to
reach and leads to a hypercathexis of the internal object representation,
predisposing the individual to depressive symptomatology, as was the
case with Rothko (Wolfenstein, 1966). He was prone to severe recur-
rent depressions, had a very pessimistic outlook on life generally,
seldom smiling or laughing, with a sardonic sense of humor, and was
often quite solemn. His first wife was aware that he had a tremendous
emotional capacity for despair (Breslin, 1993, p. 94). To one friend he
was probably the loneliest man I ever met. I never met anybody who
was that lonesome, really desperately lonely (ibid., p. 63), whereas
another concluded, there was a great vacuum at the center of his
being (ibid., p. 267). A college student who had lived with the
Rothkos perceived there was something between him and you. It
wasnt a wall. It was sort of a mist. It wasnt dreamy. It was contem-
plative (ibid., p. 322). His sister-in-law, Lillian Sachar, surmised that
he was thinking all the time; things were going on in his head, he
wasnt looking for any horseplay, ever (Breslin interview, undated).
Because he was so unpredictably combative and susceptible to
outbursts of intense rage, Rothko was described by Robert Mother-
well as a volcano, a primitive Ivan the Terrible (ibid., p. 322), while
he referred to himself as serenity about to explode (ibid., p. 356).
He could be bitter and argue about things when he disagreed with
you, Joseph Solman, a member, along with Rothko, of a group of
painters in New York in the mid to late 1930s known as The Ten,
cautioned. There was no room for easy latitude; hed get kind of grim
about the argument (Breslin interview, January 15, 1986). From
extensive contact with Rothko, another artist, Jon Schueler, who was
one of the second generation of abstract expressionists, understood
that he
had a cutting manner and would suddenly or sneakily turn his
contempt on anyone at hand . . . Rothko was a vicious man and liked

to probe for anothers weak point and then strikesometimes with a

stiletto, sometimes with a broadsword. I often liked Rothko for his
humor, but always, at a point when I was most trusting, I would
discover that the humor was at the expense of my own dignity.
(Schueler, 1999, pp. 193, 231)

Rothko was a voracious eater, at times gluttonous, often grossly

overweight, smoked incessantly, and slept poorly. He also drank at
least a fifth of alcohol daily for his last twenty years, averaging one
drink per hour while awake. When youre feeling bad, the thing to
do is eat, he advocated. Otherwise, youre going to feel terrible
(Breslin, 1993, p. 362). His internist, Albert Grokest, believed

his greatest source of consolation were calories and alcohol. I think he

found them more consoling than people. He would eat without discre-
tion . . . I dont think he trusted anybody. And it went back I think also
to his mother and father, starting with them. He had zero trust in his
parents and that led to his extended, protracted distrust in the outside
world. It went right back to his home . . . So I asked him Well, who
did you trust as a youngster? He said nobody . . . What impressed me
about Mark Rothko and his distrust was his referral to his fathers
departure from wherever it was. That bothered him a great deal and
he would make references to it without giving it specifics except that
he was very much upset by it and he really wouldnt elaborate on it.
(Breslin interview, January 24, 1986)

Rothko loved to talk and was a continual raconteur, using his

formidable conversational skills to hold people in thrall and close to
him for long stretches, which was one means of dealing with his
terrible fear of abandonment (Seldes, 1979, p. 89). His daughter was
impressed that He used to enjoy being the center of things (Breslin
interview, February 25, 1986). He was quite hypochondriacal, worried
constantly about his health, particularly bodily intactness and the
possibility of contracting cancer, was terrified of physicians, consult-
ing them only when in crisis and then most reluctant to be touched or
to have blood drawn. A natural sufferer, he over-identified with
anyone who was ill, to the extent that he couldnt be around sick
people because he would begin to attach the illness to himself
(Breslin, 1993, p. 347). He was also claustrophobic, very uncomfort-
able in elevators, and would not travel by plane, a sequela of having
been bundled in his first year.

His character structure was primarily obsessional, with total

control of people and events as well as persistent underlying doubt
about his own worth and the reliability of others being major
concerns, such that an artist colleague, William Scharf, noted: Hed
be looking for your approbation and he would be testing you at the
same time, testing your loyalty to him and your sensitivity to his
work. He needed affirmationand re-affirmation1 (Ashton, 1983,
p. 124; Breslin, 1993, p. 471).
To comprehend Rothkos dilemma in coping with his fathers
death, it is important to consider that he attained an abbreviated Oedi-
pal victory when his father went to America alone in 1910, that when
it came time for him to leave Dvinsk with his mother and sister, he
might have felt much animosity towards his father for forcing him to
give up this arrangement, and, during the long and sometimes hazar-
dous journey to Oregon, wished frequently that something untoward
would happen to Jacob Rothkowitz or that he would die.2 Finding his
father terminally ill in Portland would be bound to generate immense
guilt, given the above circumstances, which accounts for his being
compelled to go to synagogue every day for a year after his father
died, on his own initiative and without other members of his family,
which was unusual behavior as, during his last year in Russia, he had
adamantly refused to attend any religious ceremonies whatever
(Breslin, 1993, p. 27). Rothkos problem was not unlike that of Freuds
when he lost his next-youngest sibling, Julius, at a much earlier age,
and had to come to terms with residuals of the omnipotence of
thought for the rest of his life (Hamilton, 1976). This matter will be
taken up later in conjunction with Rothkos approach to painting.
His capability for adapting to the loss of his father was further
compromised by the ordeal of immigration, where it is necessary to
mourn ones former country in order to make a satisfactory transition
to the new cultural setting, burdening him with a virtually insur-
mountable dual task (Akhtar, 1995; Garza-Guerrero, 1974). When
asked by his dealer during the 1960s what he would like to have done
for him more than anything else, Rothko requested a one-man show
in Dvinsk, which never materialized (Breslin, 1993, p. 438).
Among his paintings of the 1930s is a sequence of New York
subway stations, depicting people in cramped, almost claustrophobic,
spaces, separated from one another by the steel support posts. A
commentary on the impersonal nature of urban life, one piece, Subway

Scene, which was a turning point for him, had a special significance
in that Rothko kept it in his studio for many years, always using it as
an example, whenever asked for one, of his first work. A striking
feature here is a faceless man and woman descending an eerily lit
staircase into what could be a total void. One of Rothkos earliest
memories was of a mass grave that the Cossacks had made a group of
Jews dig before slaughtering and burying them in it. Although uncer-
tain whether or not the incident had actually taken place during his
childhood, he was tormented by this image and positive that in some
profound way it was locked into his painting (ibid., p. 326).
Many of Rothkos canvases during the 1940s were derived from
the Oedipus motif, best exemplified by Antigone and The Omen of the
Eagle. The latter has four horizontal layers, the first showing four asex-
ual human heads, remote but possibly kissing, positioned above a pair
of breast-like objects hovering over a split rib cage that could also be
the heads of two eagles with feathery bodies. The third level is made
up of enigmatic pendular shapes and spaces, while the fourth is of
gnarled human feet (ibid., pp. 165166). Adopted from the Agamem-
non trilogy, for Rothko,

The picture deals not with the particular anecdote, but rather with the
Spirit of Myth, which is generic to all myths at all times. It involves a
pantheism in which man, bird, beast and treethe Known as well as
the Knowablemerge into a single tragic idea. (ibid., p. 166, my

He further elaborated:

If our titles recall the known myths of antiquity, we have used them
again because they are the eternal symbols upon which we must fall
back to express basic psychological ideas. They are the symbols of
mans primitive fears and motivations, no matter in which land or
what time, changing only in detail but never in substance. (Clear-
water, 1984, pp. 2324)

The title of the painting relates to a prediction, which relies on the

harbinger of two eagles ravaging a pregnant hare, made by a sooth-
sayer that the Greek army would prevail in its campaign against Troy
to avenge the kidnapping of Helen if Agamemnon would sacrifice
his daughter Iphigenia beforehand. He does so, only to be killed in

retaliation by his wife, Clytemnestra, after the war. Rothko, being dis-
tressed about the prospects of the Second World War, had portrayed
the eagle, the national insignia of both Germany and the United
States, in this fragmented, hybrid manner as a symbol of the poten-
tiality for carnage which we know so well to-day, and alluded to this
and other similar works as his trunk murders (Breslin, 1993,
pp. 166167).
In 1940, he changed his name to Rothko, discarding the portion
meaning son of in Hebrew, as he was entering his Surrealistic
phase, during which he also did many renderings of the crucifixion of
Christ as well as numerous pietas of the dead Christ being held by the
Virgin Mary. One example of this genre, an untitled painting of
19411942, is comprised of Jesus and several martyrs whose bodies
have been crudely mutilated and the severed parts, including their
penises, are redistributed randomly and somewhat grotesquely in
discrete rectangular compartments (Chave, 1989, pp. 14748).
Rothko believed that the only serious thing is death; nothing else
is to be taken seriously, that his art signified a clear preoccupation
with deathintimations of mortality, and that Tragic art, romantic
art deals with the fact a man is born to die . . . (Ashton, 1979, p. 187;
Breslin, 1993, p. 28). Whenever he visited relatives in Cleveland, he
frequently rode around on streetcars and was particularly fascinated
with the route that went past all the funeral homes. He felt that Cleve-
land was a city fascinated with death (Breslin, 1993, p. 266). He
regretted that he had never had a childhood, while his expressionistic
paintings were an attempt to recapture the freshness and [navet] of
childish vision. It is in fact a nostalgia for the innocence of childhood
(ibid., p. 117), while he maintained that my own work has a unity
like nothing (I do not mind saying even if I appear immodest) the
world has ever seen (ibid., p. 330).
When his mother died due to a cerebral thrombosis in October
1948, Rothko became severely depressed (the blackest depression I
have ever known), claiming later that he stopped painting for a year
and wrote an autobiographical novel, of which no remnant of any
kind exists. Despite his denial, he did continue to paint and, in 1949,
began the multiform work on which his reputation largely rests,
greatly increasing the size of his canvas. To paint a small picture,
he intimated, is to place yourself outside your experience, to look
upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass.

However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It is not something
you command (Kingsley, 1992, p. 42).
There are signs of undoing, symbolic restitution, and attempted
mastery in these paintings, Rothko stressing: My art is not abstract;
it lives and breathes (Breslin, 1993, p. 276). Regina Bogat observed:
He often talked about breathing paint on canvas; he would like it to
be just like a breath of air with no brush stroke (Breslin interview,
February 5, 1986). The tragic notion of the image, he recounted, is
always present in my mind when I paint and I know when it is
achieved, but I couldnt point it outshow where it is illustrated.
There are no skull and bones (Breslin, 1993, p. 395), his intent being
to do portraits of states of the soul (ibid., p. 282). Any criticism
consigned him to premature entombment, and when Elaine de
Kooning labelled Rothko an action painter, he answered: I reject
that aspect of the article which classifies my work as action painting.
An artist herself, the author must know that to classify is to embalm
(Rothko, 1958). He compared the frames of these canvases to coffins
and the rectangular shapes to graves, while to one art critic the latter
were open sarcophagi . . . [which] moodily dare, and thus invite the
spectator to enter their orifices (Chave, 1989, p. 162; Sandler, 1987,
p. 18). One must wonder about a connection between Rothkos early
memory of the mass grave where Jews killed by the Cossacks were
interred, his having witnessed his fathers burial at the age of ten, and
the recurrence of such death-related imagery as the above in his later
work.3 Albert Grokest contends that Rothko

was painting graves, at least for me thats what they were. And I soon
began realizing that some of them were communal graves. And that
when I saw that chapel of his [in Houston], it was more of the same.
As though he were painting one great big grave. (Breslin interview,
January 24, 1986)

With indistinct and shifting borders, elements of fusion are

also inherent in these paintings, which were maternal to Rothko
and which he hoped might act as a presence so when you turned
your back to the painting, you would feel that presence the way you
feel the sun on your back (Breslin, 1993, p. 275). Having chosen to
be an artist because I wanted to raise painting to the level of
poignancy of music and poetry (ibid., p. 42), poignant being one

of his most cherished words, Rothko would sit for hours and days
in his studio contemplating a particular work in progress while listen-
ing to music, often Mozart,4 and sometimes meditating, before
picking up a brush, adhering to this practice until I recognize myself
in a work, then I realize its completed (ibid., p. 267). Stanley Kunitz

My deepest and most enduring image of Mark is his painting. I think

thats where his secret self not only came alive but transcended itself . . .
There was something going on behind that facade, deeper, truer more
tragic than anything that appeared on the surface. I think in some
respects Marks art was a reflection of his desire to escape from his
body, from his self and I think he succeeded. I think thats why he so
loved playing Mozart. To him, that was complete transcendent sound.
And he loved to saturate himself with it while he was painting. (Breslin
interview, February 7, 1986, my emphasis)

When it came to the mechanics of painting, he was something of

a Bavarian clockmakervery careful and slow and precise. All his
movements were like thought-out beforehand. He seemed to know
exactly where he was at (Edwards & Pomeroy, 1971, p. 111). As
Rothko explained: This kind of design may look simple but it usually
takes me many hours to get the proportions and colors just right.
Everything has to lock together (Fischer, 1970, p. 21, my emphasis).
The most interesting painting, he avowed, is one that expresses
more of what one thinks than of what one sees (Breslin, 1993, p. 261).
In his younger years, Rothko composed a poem entitled Walls of
Mind: Out of the Past, a segment of which reads

And I feel myself bound to the past

By invisible chains.
A woman comes crouching beside me
A primitive mother,
And I feel the fierce darkness within her,
And all the primitive fears
Rustling and slipping about me
Powers of darkness.
She brings with her the feel of the cave,
And danger ever at hand.
The feel of the cavethe cave. (ibid., p. 44)

Many of Rothkos studios were large austere spaces, sparsely

furnished, cold and poorly illuminated, both artificially and naturally,
especially the last one, where he draped a parachute over a skylight
to reduce the light from without, thus blurring his multiform
canvases, some of which were done in predominantly dark hues,
making it even more difficult to distinguish surface demarcations, as
if there was only a single configuration. He did not like to be watched
while painting and instructed a young assistant: Im a very secretive
person, and whatever you see here in the studio, its private (Breslin,
1994, p. 19).
At the outset of his rectangular work, Rothko was deeply moved
by The Red Studio of Matisse, which was completed in October 1911.
He devoted hours and hours to studying it at the Museum of Mod-
ern Art after it arrived there in 1949, intrigued by Matisses remark-
able compression of time and space in what was perhaps the flattest
easel painting done anywhere up to that time. It is Matisses boldest
attack to date on traditional three-dimensional illusionism (Elder-
field, 1978, p. 88). When you looked at that painting you became that
color, you became totally saturated with it, Rothko decreed (Breslin,
1993, p. 293). As Ashton (1983, p. 113) has written about The Red
Studio: If he [Matisse] worked with thinly layered paint in impecca-
bly modulated reds, it was to achieve the dreamed-of unity that could
be found in the light of the mind. In 1960, Rothko reminisced with
his second wife,

. . . you remember when I used to pass my days at the Museum of

Modern Art looking at Matisses Red Studio? You asked: why always
that and only that picture. You thought I was wasting my time. But
this house you owe to Matisses Red Studio. And from those months and
that looking every day all of my painting was born. (Ashton, 1979, p. 187,
my emphasis)

After Matisses death in 1954, Rothko did a painting in his honor enti-
tled Homage to Henri Matisse.
In his multiform work, Rothko perfected a technique of dyeing
(or staining, as it later came to be called) with his paint which enabled
him to saturate the threads of his canvas with his medium so that
pigment and canvas become one (Waldman, 1978, p. 61). He also
added eggs to his secret paint formula to get the right texture, his
mother having done so in her bread recipe, and ground the pigments

in a mortar and pestle, the same method his father had used in prepar-
ing the ingredients for prescriptions at his pharmacy in Dvinsk (Bres-
lin, 1993, p. 316).
Shortly after his mother died, Rothko went on a summer fishing
expedition off Long Island, when the small craft he was in started to
sink due to a leak. His three companions elected to swim to shore, but
he held on to the boat until it went under, divulging later that he was
completely immobilized because he was thinking of his mother,
implying a wish to be reunited or merge with her, through possibly
drowning in the sea, not unlike Keats, whose epitaph, Here lies one
whose name was writ in water, was an indication of a similar long-
ing that evolved from the loss of his mother when he was fourteen
(Breslin, 1993, p. 266; Hamilton, 2009). Robert Motherwell recalled
that The death of his mother is the only personal thing he (Rothko)
talked to me about at length (Breslin, 1993, p. 265). In March 1950,
Rothko travelled around Europe where he looked at hundreds of
madonnas but all I saw was the symbol, never the concrete expression
of motherhood (ibid., 1993, p. 285).
While Rothko was persuaded that suffering is necessary to
become a productive artist, his first wife, Edith, attested: Painting
was sort of a tormented act for him. He was tortured when he painted,
the expressions on his face, he seemed to go through agony. The
amount of primitive regression and intrapsychic turmoil with which
he struggled in his later work is conveyed in an unpublished letter of
May 11, 1948, to a friend, the artist Clifford Still, when his mother was

I am beginning to hate the life of a painter. One begins by sparring

with his insides with one leg still in the normal world. Then you are
caught up in a frenzy that brings you to the edge of madness, as far as
you can go without ever coming back. The return is a series of dazed
weeks during which you are only half alive. That is a history of my
year since Ive seen you. I am beginning to feel that one must break
this cycle somewhere. For the rest you spend your strength resisting
the suction of the shopkeeping mentalities for whom, ostensibly, one
goes through this hell.

Here, Rothko reveals the anguish of merging partially with a dead

or soon-to-be-dead introject and the fear of losing complete control and
either becoming psychotic or dying himself, a predicament he would

like to escape from but cannot, because of the magnitude of his guilt
and relentless need to make amends symbolically through his art, not
unlike Joseph Conrad (Breslin, 1993, p. 658, n. 21; Hamilton, 1975). To
minimize such anxieties, Rothko formed a secret sharer type of rela-
tionship with Adolph Gottlieb, also a member of the abstract expres-
sionist group, as they were each starting to do less representational
work in the 1940s, much as Picasso and Braque had done during their
Cubist collaboration that redefined the parameters of external reality so
dramatically (Kingsley, 1992, p. 55; Meyer, 1972). Rothko and Gottlieb
had a joint letter in the New York Times in 1943 defending their philos-
ophy of painting, which had been assailed by the papers art critic.
While in college, Rothko wrote an essay, The house of the dead,
in The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, an underground publication he
helped to found, whose slogan was: THE BEGINNING OF DOUBT IS
There was a young man. He loved life and sang his love. But his songs
found no sympathetic ear. For he lived among those who had lost
their hearts in the whirlpool of material strife, and among those whose
vision, ignorance and prejudice had blinded. But his spirit was too
pure and searching to be blighted by his surroundings and he fled.
The spires of a great university enticed him, and he went toward them
I have lived in the House of the Dead. What, though their limbs did
sway and their heads did nod? Their hearts were dead; they saw not
Truth nor heard its music. Here I shall find a new life . . . Here, by
constant intercourse with ever growing minds that too had beheld the
Truth, mine shall receive new strength and new vitality.

However, he is soon disappointed, feeling alone in his quest.

And he shuddered for he saw eyes that were lifeless, souls that were
sick and minds that were dead. He thought: Again I am in the House
of the Dead. . . . He applied himself vigorously. Most of all he loved
to pry into the minds of men whose genius had wrenched lifes mean-
ing from its womb of secrecy. Even there he grew uneasy, and he said
to him who guided his learning:
We have read of the passions which move men; of ardent passionate
youth, of love, of hate, of ambition . . . Yet you dwell on that which
matters least, on mere tasks of memory: who had a nose like a poop,
or who had a beard like a spade!

His preceptor replies:

. . . How can corpses inspire us to give? What can we expect in

return? You are in the House of the Dead! The dead want no feeding,
they want embalming to give them the semblance of life.

The student then meets another scholar who proclaims:

Mediocrity contaminates all it touches. Those who lead in the path-

ways of knowledge find that they guide the deceased and the dying
and soon the task of dragging the corpses will be theirs . . . They, too,
must join the dead for there are none who would save them. Thus has
the house of life, vigor and strength become the House of the Dead. I
have withdrawn because I cannot walk among ghosts . . .

The two remained silent. Many ghosts passed along the way speaking
in the tongue of the dead. Suddenly the young man asked.

Do you believe in the Resurrection of the dead?

Many have departed, but who has returned?

There was silence once more. Then the young man spoke again:

As I passed those minds which had succumbed I thought that I could

hear them breathe. The wretchedness in my heart turned into pity,
and I tread more lightly as if I feared lest the sound should awaken
them. Ah! If they only were asleep. Perhaps they areat least some
of them . . .

And if they are?

Then, let us seek the living, let us gather them under our banner; for
though resurrection belongs to the Gods, the living can awaken the

There is a thematic bridge between the 1948 letter and the above
satire, consisting of differing degrees of incomplete mourning in that
the young man in the latter is expecting, through his participation in
the academic setting, to magically gain access to great truths by study-
ing important thinkers from the past, only to be disillusioned by the
mediocrity he discovers in the process, which he tries to alleviate by
assuming the dead can be revived. Such frustration might have
prompted Rothko to leave university after his second year and
become a painter, in order to make reparation through his art for the

loss of his father, with the attendant risk of psychosis or death, as

mentioned in the letter, depending on the depth of regression occur-
ring at any stage of the procedure.
In 1958, when he was the same age as his father was when he died,
Rothko obtained a commission from the Four Seasons restaurant in
New York to do several large murals for one of its dining rooms and

I accepted this assignment as a challenge, with strictly malicious inten-

tions. I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son
of a bitch who eats in that room . . . After I had been at work for some
time I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by
Michelangelos walls in the staircase room of the Medicean Library in
Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling Im afterhe makes the
viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and
windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads
forever against the wall. (Fischer, 1970, p. 16)

He also let Robert Motherwell know: What I like about the commis-
sion is that it has steamed up enough anger in me to imbue the pictures
with unbearable bite, I hope (Breslin, 1993, pp. 376377, my emphasis).
However, when the project was well under way, he became infu-
riated one day about how expensive the fare was at this establishment,
announced that Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those
kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine, and terminated
the agreement abruptly, convinced that he had somehow been
betrayed. Stanley Kunitz had never seen him so angry about any-
thing. He could talk about nothing else for weeks (ibid., p. 406). Such
irrational behavior can be appreciated as a complex reaction to his
fathers death and the deprivations it imposed upon him and the other
members of his family, especially food shortages. The juxtaposition of
wall and eating might also have reminded Rothko of his having had
to forage for plaster in his first four years to get enough calcium in his
Thus, Rothko is confronted with oral sadistic issues secondary to
his having been fixated in the first stage of mourning where the lost
object, after being incorporated, persists as a frozen introject, com-
pletely obscuring any semblance of self-representation (Giovacchini,
1967). His wish that the clientele at the Four Seasons seated around

his murals would feel themselves caught forever in a sealed-off space

might be an expression of his being so inextricably enmeshed with
such pernicious internal objects.
Interestingly, while he was working on the murals, he delivered a
public lecture, his last, on Kierkegaards Fear and Trembling, which is
a discourse on Abraham and Isaac, both being migrs like Rothko
and his father, and the question of human sacrifice. In Rothkos inter-
pretation of the story, Abraham was an artist.

I found that he [Kirkegaard] was writing almost exclusively about that

artist who is beyond all others. And as I read him more and more I got
so involved with his ideas that I identified completely with the artist
he was writing about. I was that artist. (Breslin, 1993, p. 392)

When his income from sales increased considerably during the mid-
1950s, Rothko had difficulty with his success and talked of the next
generation of New York artists as being out to murder him and his
peers, warning Alfred Jensen: If older artists associate with the
younger ones, they will get a dagger in the back sooner or later.
When such individuals compliment his work they are really assault-
ing me. Beneath their praise I feel their envy and jealousy . . . It fright-
ens me to accept their praise (ibid., p. 361). He also made it clear that
he would have no qualms about killing any younger artists who
threatened his reputation, a variant of Freuds concept of the primal
horde (Freud, 19121913).
According to the art critic, Katherine Kuh, a good friend and confi-
dant of Rothkos:

I have never known anyone as worried about his reputation or as

aware of each nuance of New Yorks fluctuating art scene as Rothko,
who felt he was in total competition with every artist who had ever
lived or was still living . . . He resented it when museums showed
younger artists prominently, carrying on as if each appearance of a
new painter on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art was a dagger
plunged directly into his back . . . he often refused to participate in
group exhibitions where a work of his might be sandwiched between
antipathetic neighbors. One of the first things Rothko ever said to me
was how his canvases suffered immeasurably when they were seen on
a wall next to ordinary paintings. By ordinary, he meant work by
other people. (Kuh, 2006, pp. 145146)

After the Metropolitan Museums 1969 exhibition New York

Painting and Sculpture: 19401970 opened, Rothko called Kuh to
protest that younger artists were given more space and more
thoughtful representation (ibid., p. 156).
In 1962, Rothkos brother Albert, eight years his senior, was diag-
nosed with carcinoma of the colon, his fathers fatal illness, and given
a very poor prognosis. Undaunted, Mark took on the responsibility
for Alberts care, brought him to New York, got him into Sloan
Kettering, where he had radical surgery, and sold paintings to pay
Alberts medical expenses. Concomitantly, he was acutely depressed,
his general health deteriorated, and he contracted a staphylococcal
skin infection that was the worst one his physician had ever seen, rais-
ing the etiological question of over-identification with his critically ill
brother. In a letter of late 1962, Mark informed a friend . . . overall
hangs the shadow of my brother (Breslin, 1993, pp. 424425). Even-
tually, after two more operations, Alberts treatment proved to be
successful and he outlived Mark.5
In December 1962, Rothkos second wife, Mell, became pregnant
with their second child, a son Christopher, who was thirteen years
younger than his sister, Kate, she having been conceived soon after
the death of Rothkos mother in 1948 and named for her grandmother.
The age difference between Kate and Christopher was exactly the
same as that between Rothko and his only sister, Sonia, a coincidence
that Rothko would frequently remind others about. Thus, he sought,
both in his work and by fathering children, to make restitution for real
and potential losses of close relatives.
In his paintings of the 1930s and 1940s, Rothko dealt with issues
emanating from the death of his father, introducing classical Oedipal
material in the latter with a reasonably clear representation of, and
delineation between, the different components. However, after his
mother died, the emphasis shifted to the earliest phases of psycho-
sexual development and his need to fuse with the good mother, the
manifest content of this work, which he also characterized as
faades, being completely objectless, such that if he saw something
in one of his paintings that resembled an object, he would change the
shape (Sandler, 1987, p. 47).6 As Rothko once affirmed:

I quarrel with surrealist and abstract art only as one quarrels with his
father and mother, recognizing the inevitability and function of my

roots, but insistent upon my dissension. I, being both they, and an

integral completely independent of them.

The surrealist uncovered the glossary of the myth and has established
a congruity between the phantasmagoria of the unconscious and the
objects of everyday life. This congruity constitutes the exhilarated
tragic experience which for me is the only source book for art. But I
love both the object and the dream far too much to have them effer-
vesced into the insubstantiality of memory and hallucination. The
abstract artist has given material existence to many unseen worlds and
tempi . . . For art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means
of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.
Rather be prodigal than niggardly, I would sooner confer anthropo-
morphic attributes upon a stone, than dehumanize the slightest possi-
bility of consciousness. (Rothko, 1945)

Rothko was most sensitive to viewers responses to his art. When

a crowd of people look at a painting, I think of blasphemy, he said
(Breslin 1993, p. 290). I believe that a painting can only communicate
directly to a rare individual who happens to be in tune with it and the
artist . . . I have one ambition for all my pictures, that their intensity
be felt unequivocally and immediately (ibid., p. 357). With each
work, he tried to produce a painted image that might transfer his
thought directly into the viewer, with no intervening impediments to
their communion, which addresses one aspect of the omnipotence
of thought in the early motherinfant relationship (Kingsley, 1992,
pp. 3334). Im interested, he disclosed

only in expressing basic human emotionstragedy, ecstacy, doom,

and so onand the fact that lots of people break down and cry when
confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic
human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are
having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.
(Breslin, 1993, pp. 309, 325)

His consummate viewer was an admiring young woman, an ideal-

ized maternal figure whose warmth and understanding would reas-
sure and inspire him (ibid., p. 310).
He exercised absolute control over the positioning of his work in
an exhibit; one of his assistants had never seen anyone agonize quite
as much over the placement of a painting (ibid., p. 382). I also hang

the largest pictures so that they must be first encountered at close

quarters, so that the first experience is to be within the picture,
Rothko asserted. This may well give the key to the observer of the
ideal relationship between himself and the rest of the pictures
(Compton, 1987, p. 59). This quality of engulfment was captured
precisely by the painter Andrew Forge: When I first saw Rothkos
work I felt I had fallen into a dream . . . like opening a door into an
internal realm (Ashton, 1983, pp. 167, 191). Stanley Kunitz deduced
that Rothko

had a feeling that he could disembody the paintings so they would

float free from the canvas and occupy the mind of the perceiver. I truly
feel this was part of his aesthetic. Thats why he was so concerned
about light. (Breslin interview, February 7, 1986)

One psychoanalytically orientated clinician has written of his initial

exposure to Rothkos later work:

The paintings may be seen to provide what Winnicott (1960) called a

holding environment or what Bion (1962) called a containing func-
tion. Certainly at that moment I felt held and contained. (At the time,
lacking any kind of psychological understanding, I thought of my
experience as of going back to the womb, to sit there in that dimly lit
room, swaddled in Rothkos reds, maroons, and blacks.) (Gordon,
1996, p. 114)

After coming by chance across another of Rothkos multiform can-

vases several years later, Number 1, White on Red (1962), this same
person discerned something quite different:

I sat on some steps looking at this painting but found I could not do
so for long without being drawn into it, without being lured into the
swirling mists therein. The painting touched some anxiety deep within
me and I was literally afraid that I could look at it no longer . . . What
one experiences in the continued presence of a painting by Rothko is
not a continuation of holding or containment, but something alto-
gether more frightening, a breakdown of these, a feeling perhaps that
the centre cannot hold. Rothkos paintings are works of instability,
frighteningly so . . . To stand in front of a Rothko and to open oneself
to it, is to stand in the presence of the inherent instability and incom-
pletion, the ever present possibility of disintegration, fragmentation

and dissolution, that is part of the human condition. (ibid., pp. 114
115, 117118, my emphasis)

What is being referred to in this instance is the fear of loss of ego

boundaries and of being obliterated, the ratio between the dimensions
of Rothkos rectangular work, which was generally hung close to the
floor, and an adult viewer approximating those between a small child
and its parents (Breslin, 1993, p. 280).
James Breslin, Rothkos biographer, had his first exposure to his
subjects work at the 19781979 Guggenheim retrospective. Two years
previously, Breslins mother and thirty-two-year-old brother had
died, and his first marriage was about to end. He had also lost his
father in 1953 when he was seventeen and in his last year of high
school. The show made a powerful impression upon him.

I have no memories of looking at Rothkos figurative paintings of the

1930s or his surrealist work of the 1940s. What I do remember is being
transfixed, swept up really, by the eloquent simplicity of the paintings
that Rothko began to do in 1949. Empty and luminous, they seemed
ebullient, ecstatic, a visionary alternative to the entanglements of my
daily life. Yet their emptiness sometimes seemed a void, an annihilat-
ing vacancy that came from some profound sense of loss. Both
Rothkos elation and his despair were moods I was particularly ready
to experience in January of 1979. (ibid., p. 554)

In selling a painting, Rothko was highly selective about his buyers,

wanting them to react emotionally to it in his studio and often refus-
ing to permit a purchase if this did not happen. It was extraordinarily
difficult for him to part with his canvasses, which to him were like
children with whom he had an umbilical attachment (Kingsley,
1992, p. 54; Breslin, 1993, p. 305) In Rothkos opinion,

A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the

eyes of the observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky
and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be
permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the
impotent who would extend their affliction universally. (Breslin, 1993,
p. 233)

At his death, Rothko had 800 of his works in his possession.


Rothko was contemptuous of art collectors. As rule I do not like

these people because they are driven by their urge to collect other
mens work, a silly trend in a human being, he apprised Alfred
Jensen. I personally do not love objects or any possessions; therefore
collectors usually bore me. They are seldom interesting human
By his last year, Rothko was suffering from gout, hypertension,
advanced coronary artery disease, impending cirrhosis, arthritis,
chronic emphysema, sexual impotence, and an inoperable aortic
aneurysm. He was on the tranquilizers Sinequan and Valium, but
would not comply with the recommended dose schedule, taking
either none at all or a handful on any day and drinking steadily. His
internist and the psychopharmacologist who had prescribed these
medications disagreed vehemently about a proper treatment plan and
had ceased communicating altogether by late 1969, the former argu-
ing that their patient was being overmedicated and that the Sinequan
was causing a troublesome cardiac arrhythmia. In the early morning
of February 25, 1970, after ingesting large amounts of Sinequan and
chloral hydrate, Rothko slashed both antecubital fossae with a razor,
while alone in his studio, lacerating the right brachial artery, and
rapidly exsanguinated.
His death was unexpected in so far as he appeared to be function-
ing well at the time, despite his physical ailments, and had been work-
ing regularly. However, on the day he died, he was scheduled to have
a confrontation with his accountantbusiness advisor, Bernard Reis,
an intimidating father figure whom he was reluctant to displease
because of his dependence upon him, over what paintings he was
willing to make available to his dealer, Frank Lloyd, the owner of
Marlborough Galleries, and was quite apprehensive about the out-
come as Reis was a partner of Lloyds, the two being convicted later
of conspiring to defraud Rothko and his heirs.
In his final week, Rothko was rereading Kierkegaards Fear and
Trembling with its focus on the AbrahamIsaac sagaa well-worn
copy was on his bedside table. He had also talked by phone with a
cousin, Max Gordon, about their having been newspaper vendors as
young boys in Portland, Rothko complaining vigorously about his
plight during those years.
In February 1970, his son Christopher was nearing the same age,
seven, as Rothko had been when his father left Russia for America

and, with Rothko being uneasy about the boys next birthday, as he
told one of his physicians, there is the strong possibility that his
suicide, which took place a month before the anniversary of his
fathers death, was a repetition of this early trauma, with Rothko
abandoning his son as his father had done to him (Seldes, 1979,
p. 110).7 In addition, Jacob Rothkowitz being a pharmacist by trade,
an overdose of medication constitutes another tie to him through the
symbolic reincorporation of a lost object.
Rothko had been deeply-troubled as a parent. My father did
not spend that much time at home with us discussing things, his
daughter declared. He really put in a six and a half day week and
didnt spend that much time at home . . . I think he was concerned
about me and my brother but I dont think he really enjoyed children
or even young adults (Breslin interview, February 25, 1986). As
Christopher got closer to latency, Rothko distanced himself from him,
arranging for a family friend to take him on outings around New
There is one more item that warrants consideration as a contribu-
tor to Rothkos suicide, and that is his aortic aneurysm. The art histo-
rian and critic, Dore Ashton, who knew him well, noticed: It scared
the hell out of him and he was upset about having to live as a less than
perfect specimen . . . He was mortally frightened by it (Breslin inter-
view, February 25, 1986). His daughter confirmed that he had a daily
fear of what was going to happen, while a psychoanalyst friend, who
had urged him to seek psychotherapeutic help without success,

He was terribly sad. He was depressed. He had had the aneurysm

which was a terrible blow to his self-esteem. He was living on the
brinkon the threat of imminent destruction by this dreadful disease
. . . He expressed just his own feeling of despair, these terrible intima-
tions of mortalityplus one fact: his mothers death weighed heavily
on him. He spoke of her. He mentioned it almost as ifand this is an
analytic speculationas if he anticipated some kind of fusion, return,
in his own dying. (Breslin, 1993, pp. 490, 531532)

With Rothkos pronounced intolerance for being in a passive, help-

less position, it is plausible that he was seeking to control the situation
by cutting a major peripheral vessel rather than waiting for the
aneurysm to rupture. Ironically, his last canvases were done in reds.

In summary, this chapter has concentrated on the effect of immi-

gration and object loss upon the life of Mark Rothko and the different
phases of his work, where he attempted, through specific changes in
style, to master these overwhelming traumata by making concerted
gestures of symbolic reparation. Initially, his paintings were repre-
sentational, but gradually became more and more abstract until, after
the death of his mother in 1948, they were completely objectless, in
keeping with a yearning to regress and fuse with the early internal-
ized, nurturant version of her. His attitudes towards viewers and
buyers were affected by the inordinate necessity for him to be in
control and dominate at all times so as to avoid separation and aban-
donment. His almost ritualistic suicide was vastly overdetermined by
matters of health, complex anniversary phenomena, and a long-stand-
ing professional affiliation that had gotten to be too contentious for
him, reawakening a fear that he might kill or be killed, the essence of
the AbrahamIsaac legend by which he was so captivated.

1. Stanley Kunitz, the poet and a friend of Rothkos, observed:

One characteristic of a lot of Rothkos behavior has to do with

control. He liked control. Controlling the lighting, controlling the
sale and one sense I got is that he did not like to let his work go out
into the world. He wanted to control not only the hanging of his
paintings, he wanted to control the whole ambiance. (Breslin inter-
view, February 7, 1986)

2. In his Yale class yearbook, where personal accomplishments were cited,

Rothkos entry consisted of the date and place of his birth, the familys
relocation to Portland in 1913, his fathers profession, the time he died,
and his mothers maiden name.
When Rothko married for the first time, he chose a wife nine years
younger than himself, the same age disparity as existed between his
3. For an account of the impact upon Joseph Conrad of participating at age
eleven in his fathers funeral rites, see Hamilton (1975).
4. Rothkos favorite piece of music, Mozarts Magic Flute, deals with patri-
cide. In January 1957, he acknowledged: Everything I do now is differ-
ent, as if I were writing the Magic Fluteone day Sarastro, one day

Pamina, one day Queen of the Night. Like a Rothko painting of that
time, this opera is, beneath the superficial beauty of its score, basically a
tragic work (Kingsley, 1992, p. 43).
The only artists who really mattered to Rothko were Shakespeare and
Mozart and he wanted to be the Mozart of painting (Breslin interview
with Albert Grokest, January 24, 1986).
5. Previously, when a close friend (Herbert Ferber) had extensive surgery,
Rothko advised Robert Motherwell that he (Ferber) had many appre-
hensions about the operation, and the recovery had just enough compli-
cations, minor to be true, to have reaffirmed in him a respect for human
foreboding and tragic intuition which are so precious to the artist.
6. Chave (1989) has demonstrated that in certain of Rothkos more abstract
paintings of the mid-to-late 1940s, when he was moving away from sur-
realism, one can recognize human outlines suggestive of pietas and
madonnas with child, thereby, establishing a progression from the more
to the less representational, culminating in the multiform iconography
(pp. 149; 161171).
7. For similarly intricate anniversary reactions, see Breslin (1994) and the
chapter on Weston.

Joseph Cornell

Like Cornell, placing infinity in a box

(Maso, 1993, p. 147)

oseph Cornell, known best for his meticulously constructed and

J exotic assemblages, is regarded as one of the foremost and unique

American artists of his time. His life was dominated by his work,
which he pursued quietly, always striving for perfection and purity.
Born in Nyack, New York on December 24, 1903, he was the sixth
in his family line to bear the name Joseph and the oldest of four chil-
dren, having two sisters and a brother, one, two, and seven years
younger, respectively. He was allegedly his mother Helens favorite,
though she was capricious with her affection and he felt he could
never do enough to justify the love she gave him. Described as
hypersensitive and moody, he was a prolific reader during his
childhood with a strong leaning towards the Brothers Grimm and
Hans Christian Andersen, and tended to remain at home rather than
engage with peers, complaining frequently of stomach aches to gain
his mothers attention. One of his most cherished, precious memo-
ries was of his mother nursing him while he was in bed with an


upper respiratory infection which made him acutely aware of

mother-presence and mother-care (Solomon, 1997, p. 13).
Once in school, he was an excellent student, but often absent
during the first three years. His brother Robert, born June 6, 1910, had
severe cerebral palsy and never walked, but was not mentally
retarded. Joseph, at his mothers insistence, assumed a major share of
the responsibility for Roberts care, convinced by his mother that his
own needs were subordinate to those of Robert.
As a boy, Joseph was captivated by magic, especially after watch-
ing Houdini perform in person, which became a vivid and treasured
recollection because of Houdinis ability to extricate himself miracu-
lously from seemingly impossible circumstances and make elephants
disappear. Joseph also enjoyed penny arcades, which offered a wide
range of visual phenomena otherwise inaccessible to him.
Cornells father was a gregarious, charming person who was a
fabric designer for a wool manufacturer, and commuted daily to his
job in Manhattan, often coming home in the evening with small gifts
such as candy, magazines, and sheet music for his children. He was
also a skilled woodworker and specialized in making furniture and
model boats. From time to time, he would vanish suddenly and might
have been a binge drinker. In 1912, he developed pernicious anemia,
which made him extremely irrascible, withdrawn, and unavailable to
his children. As his illness progressed and he became more and more
debilitated, his wife would have him admitted to a hospice in Man-
hattan until a remission allowed him to return home for limited visits.
He died, at age forty-two, on April 30, 1917 and his death had a pro-
found effect on his elder son, who became even more introverted.
Four months after his fathers death, he tried to entertain the family
by staging a magic show called The Professional Burglar, consisting
of a Relic Museum, Candy and Shadow Plays and featuring a
Houdini-like stunt with a metal safe that contained a chained loaf of
In September 1917, he was sent to Phillips Andover Academy in
Massachusetts for four years, at the behest of his fathers former
employer, who paid a portion of the costs and thought that the expe-
rience would improve his social skills as well as facilitate the mourn-
ing of his father. Instead, he kept mainly to himself during his stay
there, made no close friends, was chronically anxious, and had
repeated nightmares as well as gastric problems. His scholastic record

was poor and he did not participate in athletics other than intramural
track. Still in awe of Houdini, he once wrote an essay on him for an
English class. He also worked in the library and as a waiter in the
dining room to earn money.
Following Andover, from which he did not graduate due to lack
of credits in his senior year, he took a sales position with Whitmans,
a wholesale textile company near Madison Avenue and 24th Street in
New York, close to where his father had worked. He lived with his
mother and siblings in a modest rented home in Bayside, Long Island,
where she had moved the family after her husband died intestate, sell-
ing their large residence in Nyack that was staffed by servants to meet
living expenses and pay off his sizable debts. Cornell loathed his job,
was uncomfortable around, and had difficulty making eye contact
with, customers, and referred to his assigned district, which he
covered each day on foot, as the nightmare alley of lower
Broadway. Being in New York six days each week afforded him the
opportunity to become well acquainted with the city, particularly
Times Square and the numerous second-hand book stores along lower
4th Avenue, where he passed many hours browsing. He started
acquiring and systematically storing mementos such as musical scores
and records, photographs, theater ticket stubs, books, and prints
which he would later include in his art, the ratio of those accumulated
to ones used being 1000 to 1. An art critic and friend, Parker Tyler,
declared him the Benvenuto Cellini of flotsam and jetsam. Cornell
went to the movies often, attracted by the profound and suggestive
power of the silent film to evoke an ideal world of beauty, to release
unsuspected floods of music from the gaze of a human countenance
in its prison of silver light (Solomon, 1997, p. 42, my emphasis).
Much of Cornells spare time while at home was spent tending to
Robert and listening to classical music with him. In 1926, soon after
the death of his maternal grandmother, of whom he was very fond, he
joined the Christian Science church, hoping that this religion might be
able to somehow cure his brother, and each night read passages from
the Bible and Mary Baker Eddys writings to Robert.
In 1931, he was laid off at Whitmans because of the Depression
and, with no formal training in the field but swayed by Surrealism, he
made his first collages from pictures cut out of a book by Max Ernst,
La Femme 100 Tetes, doing so late at night after Robert and his mother
were in bed. These pieces comprised his first show at the Julian Levy

gallery in December 1932.1 In 1934, he was hired as a textile designer

by a firm in the garment district, resigning in 1940 to do freelance
commercial work for magazines such as Vogue, which he pursued
through the late 1950s, giving him more time for his art and his trips
to New York to gather source materials that he treated as sacred
objects. He completed his first shadow box, which became his signa-
ture format, in 1936. It was untitled then, but is now listed as Soap
Bubble Set. His enchantment with penny arcade-type machines contin-
ued, and one became the model for his Medici Slot Machine, finished
in 1942, his most productive year.
Although inordinately shy, Cornell made friends with ranking
artists such as Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Rothko, and Robert
Motherwell, who respected what he was trying to do and encouraged
him. In an undated letter, Rothko wrote to him: I wish I could
approach your genius for expressing to people how you think about
them and what they do. But I do want to tell you that I think of you
and the uncanny magic of the things you make (Solomon, 1997,
p. 198). He had a habit of calling friends late in the evening and
conducting 45 hour monologues. He seemed to be most comfortable
and animated when around small children and always got along well
with them. He was chronically depressed, seldom smiled or laughed,
and had recurrent migraines. A friend, the painter Hedda Sterne,
considered Cornell

a Victorian old maid, a spinster stuck in an attic. He lived in a half-

dream, which he carried around with him. He was weighed down by
his dreams and visions, and you could see that his life wasnt easy. I
always had the feeling that if I shook him, he would pulverize into
dust, like old paper. (ibid., p. 134)

Cornell had definite compulsive traits and was unduly concerned

with matters of cleanliness, frugality, and perfection, which were
decided assets as far as his persistent searching for articles suitable for
his art and his painstaking efforts to organize them in configurations
that met his high standards.
He was absorbed with nostalgia, which is conveyed in excerpts
from his diaries (1993).

July 15, 1946: Smell of gasoline brings back days of childhood fathers
boat. (p. 130)

May 21, 1949: one morning dusting and playing Raquel Meller records
with a subsequent evocation of remarkable vividness of the original
experience connected with seeing her 1925 etc. The above is a familiar
experience attempting to capture certain moments of a real kind of
happiness but only seeming to come out in the most factual kind of
recounting. Still it is better than letting go altogether and sometimes
something can be done about it, or should be done, at least. (p. 156,
my emphasis)

July 2, 1949: this morning not much happened except going through
childhood pix and discovering afresh some details that bring back the
most delicious of earliest memories . . . (p. 157)

Feb. 16, 55: old buildings, especially one below 34th. St. evoking
distantly some far off dream of buildings possibly actual visit with
Grandma Cornellvery vague and distant yet one never completely
erased from the subconscious or conscious memory . . . (p. 189)

May 29, 1956: on the verge of that magical feeling about many things
of the pastand healthy sensenot too nostalgicthe changing scene
of Third Ave . . . (p. 207)

Oct. 3, 1956: still, again, yesterday had its points the quiet flooding
back of memory from Bayside days with a certain overtone (recession
of things remembered for a more abstract feeling yet not disappointed
or nostalgic). (p. 218)

July 22. 57: I think Ill look in on the jays, starlings, sparrows, et al.
and greet a new box wherein shines a sun that is also a rose des vents,
Book of Hours, and a beachcomber on the lost dreams of childhood.
(p. 229)

10/19/58: too disturbed yesterday to note dream of which a couple of

details lingered . . . was with Charles Henri Ford in this and other
parton water sailinggoing past old house in Nyackalso some-
where along way place where I lived (though unfamiliar) and think-
ing of Robert and not being able to stop by and greet. (p. 246)

3/23/63: sense of past in a wonderful way in incident or twoCorona

housesfacades catching light childhood or something but once came
so strong again strange & fresh again as of the present. Something
about ride on El taken hundreds and hundreds times 40 years. a sense
of destiny or some quiet wonderful kind of perspectiveas though
the freshness of vision of 40 years were working1000 even
(pp. 301302)

10/24/67: mystical sense of the pastempathy from antiques

nostalgia for old books, period documents, prints, photographs, etc.
(p. 387)
Dec. 24, 67 [his birthday]: Dream leafing through a magazine like a
photo annualplus finding reproduced a picture of (Broadway)
Nyack house surprise impact strong and continued shot on next page
(variation, forgotten) this picture not metamorphosed like other
dreaming about Nyack house exactly literal BUT the variant shot
decidedly so . . . (p. 389)
6/15/68: 1st. break-through of a warm, transformed dream image of
the sanctuary that once it wasway, way back through the years
even to Berenice Tower 1942, now gone, as to physical site Times
Square Sanctuary the hole in the wall 2nd hand book shop close
crowding generally teemingcame to be an institution . . . (p. 399)

Cornell also had an affinity for the songs of Jacques Brel, which are
highly nostalgic.
In the psychoanalytic literature, nostalgia has been construed as a
wish to return to an idealized past, often realized in a reunion with
nature, is associated with an inability to mourn and can be a
strong defense against fear of death (Kleiner, 1970). Merger with the
pre-Oedipal mother due to unresolved orality is a crucial dynamic fac-
tor in nostalgia, which is often mistaken for homesickness because of
the way it is defined in dictionaries (Fenichel, 1945). Nostalgia is also
an ambivalently felt, affectivecognitive experience, notable for the
relative absence of a conscious representation of objects that might
involve an original displacement of the affectivecognitive memory
from the object to an idealized place and serves both as a screen
memory and a screen affect. It may be hard to distinguish normal
from pathological nostalgia (Werman, 1977). While almost everyone is
prone to occasional nostalgic episodes, the intensity of such yearnings
is determined by the magnitude of prior loss, being far more pro-
nounced as a residual of death, divorce, and immigration.
The writings of Marcel Proust and Thomas Wolfe are cited as
prime literary examples of nostalgia, where denial of the passage of
time is a means of avoiding death. Both authors experienced substan-
tial early trauma. Proust was displaced at the age of two by his only
sibling, Robert, whose birth became the focal point of his neurosis
due to the enormous attendant rage he felt towards his mother that

was defended against through massive somatization, which led to

severe, intractable asthma and, eventually, chronic invalidism in a
desperate struggle to insure sole possession of her. In Remembrance
of Things Past, a favorite of Cornells and perhaps the quintessential
nostalgic novel, Proust is represented by the character Marcel, who
perceives that a bout of asthma will assure his mothers unconditional
love, but that he can never have both health and affection simul-
taneously. At one point, he travels with his mother to Venice and
discovers by accident a hidden section of the city that makes him
think he is virtually in the midst of a scene from the Arabian Nights.
However, when he tries to go back to this area another day, he can-
not find it and laments that the only true paradise is always the
paradise we have lost. While eating in a restaurant, Marcel visualizes
a blue breast, a seashore setting, and the blue light of Venice, blue
being Prousts preferred color, as it was Cornells. Marcel is enthralled
with Albertine, who is linked with the sea and steadily thwarts him
until reciprocating his feelings for her just before she is killed instantly
when thrown from a horse. Her death affirms for him the relation-
ship between love and the finiteness of human existence and causes
him to imagine a python devouring a lion. He then recognizes that
the women he has been enamored of are merely phantoms (Miller,
Wolfe was breast fed for 312 years and, shortly after he was
weaned, lost a much beloved older brother named Grover, whom he
never mourned adequately. His oral needs were prodigious and his
appetite gargantuan. In 1935, two years before he died, he made a
special trip to St. Louis to visit the home where Grover had died
suddenly during the Worlds Fair of 1904 to belatedly deal with his
death, which he described in a novella The Lost Boy. His long novels
such as Look Homeward Angel, Of Time and the River, and You Cant Go
Home Again are filled with nostalgic imagery (Hamilton, 2009).
On the day their father died, Cornell and his brother and sisters
were awakened early by their mother, who told them he was being
taken back to New York that they would never see him again, and to
stand at the living room window while he was being placed in an
ambulance on a stretcher. This they did without ever having a chance
to say good-bye to him. The funeral service was held in the home with
an open casket and the children were escorted in one at a time to view
his body.

In his diaries, Cornell makes countless references to looking at

people, birds, animals, flowers, the sky and clouds through windows,
both in dreams and while awake, often from the kitchen, which was
his observatory, where he maintained the panes in pristine condi-
tion so he could see as clearly as possible through them. He also liked
to sit in restaurants near a window for long periods, nibbling on food,
reading, and observing passers-by on the sidewalk outside. Since
there was really no necessity to include the above qualification in his
recapitulation of these situations for narrative purposes, it raises the
question of whether this was a sequela of the manner in which he last
glimpsed his father alive. In other words, was this behavior an
attempt to magically undo the loss of his father and halt time by re-
enacting symbolically an essential part of that distressful event? If so,
it would fit with his custom of making regular trips around New
York, his wanderlust or metropomania, to amass different items
having nostalgic connotations, which he carefully preserved in small
boxes covered with glass that he built entirely himself, aging the exte-
rior, painted surfaces by first baking them in an oven. About the
composition of the pieces, Cornell was inspired by Eugene Atgets
photographs of store windows in Paris and stressed the final distill-
ing where the subject is almost transcended or briefly caught sight of
in a window (Cornell, 1993, p. 148). He routinely would go back into
his boxes after they were supposedly finished to make further modi-
fications and would loan boxes to individuals for sanctuary so that
he could later reclaim or recuperate them. He also collected fabric
remnants, another possible bond with his father.
Having long been intrigued by birds, creatures that come and go
on a daily basis and migrate seasonally, just as his father travelled to
New York each day for work and took vacations alone in the South,
Cornell, in 1949, began an aviary series which had twenty-six variants
and included boxes with just a few feathers left behind by its former
occupant as well as owls, a symbol of death. Being a keen student of
astronomy since his days at Andover and subscribing to journals on
the subject, he went on to do another series on the constellations, a
consequence also of the loss of his father. When in New York, Cornell
liked to sit in the rotunda at Grand Central where, besides the
pleasure he got from studying the people coming and going from
trains, there was elation at looking up at the celestial blue heavens
and golden constellations on the ceilingthought of the Milky Way

star dust and scattering of bread crumbs in the morning for the birds
at home (Cornell, 1993, p. 155).
In his diaries and letters, Cornell describes the relevance of the
dream to the creative act.

October, 8, 1956 (to Tilly Losch): And I havent had time to tell you of
the ethereal dream I had of you this springjust a brief scene bathed
in an early morning light & a sister dreamtho without youof a
beflowered cyclist riding thru the skywondrous visions both &
which by the time you return I hope to have elaborated. (p. 219)
12/2627/59: lone image of cyclist in the sky lingering from the dream
of 2 days before Xmas rode in from left a sense now as if a high wire
act only detail clear enough. . . gratitude for the vividness of the
imageits great beauty amidst so difficult a timetrying to work
creativelysense of stalemateheavy going resistance. . . (excep-
tionally beautiful working outunfoldment of Juan Gris orange and
blue). (pp. 263264)
4/6/61: outside breathless sense of early dawnno image at all
retained from dreamsbut sense of sublime gift in endlessly varied
experiencerenewal but ever different seemingly adorableauda-
ciously close to full blown mystique of summer Garden Centersense
of wonder afresh in the recalling of yesterdaycellar working 2
sisters. (p. 280)
May 28, 1961: n.d. dream in nightchildhood obsession to find
Brooks housethen a trench dug across our front yard & mysterious
business at sideAunt Mary etc.morbid but the fact of occur-
rencechildhood obsession interestinghalf way awoke groggy
and then gradually to the fries stand & pick-up orchid in magazine
collage same day midst tension a certain calm & joy in the working out
of the bird & orchid collageso unexpected & right a quiet working
yet a precious one. (p. 281)
1/31/62: Nude modelsneighborhood girl on bus miserably recur-
rent stale dreams before awakening relief finally breaking thru at 7
phenomenon of dream statesjust 2 weeks ago today must have been
the so-called Atelier dream with its unexpected development from
fragment destined for limbo into elaboration then spontaneous
unfoldment of real life experience humble though it waseventuating
in Atelier copy. (p. 286)
Undated 1964: dream confusion . . . going into parlorLiszt music
playing try to keep going at oncecity to cellar into parlor as basic

structureplunging into another world cellar (Shirley and Ondine

still on work table) sense of humidity sun to cool parlourmid-
summer collage Hotel de lEtoile . . . The recreative force of the
dream images & illuminated detail (although tenebroso & sinister)
seems very important a strong sense of having witnessed these areas
illuminated (also just as much a dream) in the same way as Gerard de
Nerval but without his classical sense of form. (pp. 310311)

Many of his boxes were given the same names as the dreams from
which they emanated.
An assistant of Cornells in 1965 noted: He took three-hour naps
around the clock and got up and worked right from the dream state
(Solomon, 1997, p. 309). To one of his admirers, the actor Tony Curtis:

His boxes were like dreams and you had no idea where they came
from. A stamp, a photograph, a rubber band, a butterfly, marbles that
had perhaps outlasted the lives of the children they were made for
. . . all these different objects were somehow tied together and interre-
lated to one another like a mosaic . . . (ibid., p. 282)

A quotation from Freud that was very meaningful to Cornell was:

The dream work . . . does not think, calculate or judge in any way at
all; it restricts itself to giving things a new form (Freud, 1900a,
p. 418). Cornells own dreams, some of them recurrent, were rich,
intricate and predominantly in color. As he once remarked: dreams
ever different ever varied endless voyages endless realms ever strange
ever wonderful (Cornell, 1993, p. 385). To him, the Medici Slot
Machine was an object that might be encountered in a penny arcade
in a dream, while downtown Flushing in the early morning was a
dream place (Solomon, 1997, p. 139). Cornell shared his dreams with
Dr. Samuel Lerman, who was Roberts physician.

He would discuss them in a guarded way. He would describe things

from dreams about himself and young women. They all involved
nakedness. He was troubled by his dreams; they upset him. He would
talk about them in a troubled way, never looking at you. There was no
eye contact during the confessions. (ibid., p. 254)

Since Cornell was displaced twice within a year by his sisters,

beginning when he was fourteen months old, it is reasonable to infer

that his care was less than optimal during that time and that his
mothers nurturant capacities were severely strained from having to
look after three small children so close in age. Cornells life-long diet
consisted almost totally of soft, sweet, starchy carbohydrates, and he
once consumed a dozen or so Danish pastries consecutively. He kept
close track of what he ate, for example, on one day in 1946 he had a
caramel pudding, donuts, cocoa, white bread, peanut butter, peach
jam, a chocolate bar, chocolate eclairs, six buns, a peach pie, an iced
cake and a prune twist. On February 8, 1947, he dreamed of vaults
with all kinds of whipped cream pastries. Rich day . . . layer cake
cherry Danishcalm feeling (Cornell, 1993, p. 140). His mother kept
a luxury shelf for him in the refrigerator that was stocked with heavy
cream and other delectables. As noted, he suffered from undiagnosed
stomach disorders. His omnivorous reading has prominent oral deriv-
atives (Strachey, 1930). Some of the books he was most impressed by,
judging from the notes he made about them, were Melvilles Pierre; de
Nervals Aurelia; Alain-Forniers Le Grand Meaulnes; Marianne Moores
Nevertheless; Stendhals The Red and the Black; Garcia Lorcas Poet in
New York; Susan Sontags Against Interpretation; Marsden Hartleys
Adventures in the Arts; Romain Rollands Essays on Music; Maurice
Bowras Heritage of Symbolism; William Barretts Irrational Man; Karl
Menningers Man Against Himself; the essays of Francis Bacon; and
Arthur Koestlers Invisible Writings.
If the dream provides the infant with substitute oral gratification
between feedings during the first year to sustain sleep, the dream
screen being a representation of the breast, might this mechanism
have been utilized excessively by the young Joseph as an adaptive
modality to make up for affectual deprivation such that with the
advent of symbolic thinking around age two he then became overly
invested in fantasy at the expense of ongoing interpersonal relation-
ships, culminating in a schizoid character structure (Gifford, 1960;
Lewin, 1946; Whitman, 1963)? If so, it would help to account for the
role of the dream in Cornells creative dynamics: that is, through the
dream he achieves an attenuated regressive fusion with the breast,
which he attempts to prolong upon waking through hypnopompic
reverie as a preliminary to the secondary elaboration and externaliza-
tion of the manifest component of the dream to fashion a work of art
that may also be a transitional object, a concept that I had proposed in
an earlier study of Keats, who lost both parents prior to adolescence

(Hamilton, 2009). Cornell was also much taken with de Nervals

notion of dream overflowing into life.
A specific example of the relationship between dreaming and
creativity appears in Conrad Aikens (1965) short story The Orange
Moth, in which the central character, Cooke

dreamed that an orange colored moth flew heavily in through the

window, and settled with wide-velvet wings on the opened page of
the blank book. The orange wings covered the two pages completely.
He sprang up, shut the book, and the beautiful thing was caught.
When he opened the book he found that the pages were soft orange-
moth wings; and incredibly fine, indecipherable, in purple, a poem of
extraordinary beauty was written there. (p. 569)

Aiken had this dream himself, and his dreams were a vital creative
resource for him. Both of his parents died suddenly when he was
eleven and much of his writing was an attempt to master this trauma,
especially his autobiographical novel, Ushant (Aiken, 1952).
In addition, through the creative process, Cornell was able to
memorialize the important people and places in his life and to coun-
teract sadness after they died or were destroyed, as were the Central
Park carousel and the Third Avenue El, as well as to make restitution
for his brothers infirmities. In the opinion of his biographer, Deborah
Solomon (1997):

Robert might be viewed as the key person in Josephs creative life as

well as his domestic one . . . Cornells earliest creationspill boxes
and glass bellstogether conspire to suggest something sickly, airless,
and confined: the life of an invalid. (p. 62)

Not surprisingly, Cornell had a recurrent obsession to make objects

move, and alluded to the contents of a box as having been brought
to life. To a friend in 1941, he revealed: As I progress with the
objects, I am learning more and more how to get them foolproof from
casualties over what I hope will be a long life for most of them. To
another, he proclaimed: All I want is to perform white magic. On
July 16, 1963, he dreamt:

great sense of everything whitebut more than just physical

ambiancea sense of illuminationwhitish on which ground the cats

spread aroundStaffordshire variety with the exception of a huge

alabaster casket in the midstthere was a cover (as of a coffin sans
morbidity)the whole covered with all-over pattern of runic inci-
sions. (Cornell, 1993, p. 303)

The empty coffin might denote a denial of the death of his father.
Cornell also made short, experimental films, coincident with his
fabrication of shadow boxes in 1936. These works, twelve altogether,
were done in collaboration with established photographers such as
Rudy Burckhardt and were well-received critically, although only
seen by a small audience.
Time and its vicissitudes were perplexing issues for Cornell as
reminders of his mortality, which he tried to manage by seldom, and
only reluctantly, dating or signing his work; letting his personal mail
accumulate sometimes for weeks at a stretch; being slow to answer
letters, in one instance waiting five years; postponing transcribing
notations made on bits of paper into his diaries for several years;
ignoring calendars and procrastinating over deadlines. Each day he
felt was an eterniday, and on his birthday in 1967, he reflected on
that sense of eternity vs. time time passing so fast or rather no sense
of itdoubtless from the illusion of time-drag + its morbid aspects
freedom from it above (ibid., p. 389). Watch faces, clock springs and
sand, often in hourglasses, pervade his boxes, a number of which
done in the mid-1960s were titled Time Transfixed. Cornell had
considerable difficulty parting with his pieces, which he equated with
dying, and the prospect of a sale would make him quite irritable. To
protect himself against such contingencies, he often made more than
one of a particular box or collage.
A powerful appeal of Christian Science for him was its belief in
everlasting life. When his brother Robert died in 1965, Cornell wrote
to a friend: Our common confidence in the truths of Christian Sci-
ence, I am certain is bearing fruit in a magnificent way. There is no
real sense of separation (Ashton, 1974, p. 56). He was fearful of death,
the ultimate separation, and refused to sign his will in 1971, the year
before he died, presuming this might extend his life.
Cornells relationships with women were complex. He lived with
his brother and mother until 1963, when she went to be with a daugh-
ter on Long Island. She was always disparaging of him and never
really appreciated his art, expecting him to be financially successful in

a more traditional occupation. He tended to over-idealize certain

other women and was seriously infatuated with famous movie
actresses, ballerinas, and writers, such as Greta Garbo, Jeanne Eagels,
Fay Wray, Eleonora Duse, Hedy Lamarr, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn
Monroe, Clair Bloom, Patty Duke, Carmen Miranda, Fanny Cerrito,
Anna Pavlova, Tamara Toumanova, Zizi Jeanmaire, and Susan
Sontag, sending them worshipful fan letters, learning as much as he
could about their personal lives, and dedicating works to them.
Cornell was fascinated by early adolescent girls, which he referred
to as teeners, some of whom he went out of his way to initiate a rela-
tionship with by inviting them to lunch and giving them money and
gifts. Such an interest would be compatible with an arrest and fixation
in his psychosexual maturation following the death of his father when
he was thirteen. He often dreamt of himself and young women
together in the nude, which aroused much shame in him. It is unlikely
he ever had intercourse, the prospect of which was terrifying to him,
not least because of a fear that it would detract from his artistic talent
(Solomon, 1997, pp. 294, 356). He was most probably impotent,
although he mentions nocturnal emissions in his diaries and, from the
quantity of Playboy magazines he had stored in his basement, he may
have used material from them as erotic stimuli.
Cornell was unusually handicapped in working through the death
of his father, which took place when he was in early adolescence and
wound up incorporating and hypercathecting the lost object and,
thus, frozen in the first stage of mourning, further compounded
within the year by his being enrolled in a private boarding school,
where he functioned marginally, and having to give up the family
home in a small town and relocate to Queens (Giovacchini, 1967;
Wolfenstein, 1966).2 A cryptic diary entry of April 30, 1966, the
anniversary of his fathers death, read: why such a sadnessremote-
nessactually spoken to + waited (twice)and the adorable first-
remembered timewhite silk blouse + necklace chain while his
practice of scrutinizing crowds of people in public places in New York
could have evolved from an unconscious fantasy of retrieving his
father in the here-and-now (Cornell, 1993, p. 339; Wolfenstein, 1966).
The above dynamic constellation forced him to bind rage somati-
cally and predisposed him to attacks of migraine. He wrote of emerg-
ing from spell of tension, frustration, black resentment etc.,
breaking up tension of resentment and starting off week beautifully,

and sluggish-piercing however contradictory this recurrence of

head pressure (skull more than eye or neck) physical or mental
recriminations surging re contracts, sensitivity to point of madness
underlying resentment (Cornell, 1993, p. 385). This resentment could
have been stirred as well by his having to contribute so much to
Roberts day-to-day welfare and to sacrifice his own time for play and
recreation during childhood, which he might have tried to compen-
sate for through his creative activities as an adult.
Cornell was also unable to mourn his mother when she died on
October 17, 1966, expressing surprise at the absence of deep grief,
as was the case after his brothers death a year earlier (Solomon, 1997,
p. 327). While attending her funeral in Nyack, his mind was on the
house where he had grown up there, particularly the kitchen, which
he pictured precisely, dwelling on the stone floors and the butter
churn, thereby invoking nostalgic feelings about physical settings to
avoid accepting the inevitability of death (Kleiner, 1970). He thought
and dreamt of his mother continuously in the ensuing weeks, often as
joined with Robert in heaven. (I live for a revival. (Solomon, 1997,
p. 328).) The next year he had the following dreams.

8/21/67: Nyack
some journey with Mother row of newly painted frame houses (off
white into pale yellow) original lines but banal so much alive (say
19001914 or so very plain) one section demolished (recalled from
Nyack last trip upper Main Street) . . . with Mother in a theatre large
circular sweep of balcony audience of only children. (Cornell, 1993,
p. 377)
9/9/67: Halfway dream
looking through a greatly elongated telescope & the effect of talking
with a Christian Science practitionersense of dark rugged interior &
exquisite image of clarity at the end sky or level of distant horizon
. . . I try to persuade Mother to look through the telescopeequivalent
to getting her to yield to the healing truths of Christian Science. She is
reluctantthere is a sense of confusion. (ibid., p. 380)

Cornell also wrote letters to his mother and his brother after they
died, as if they were in some way accessible to such communication.
In a letter to his mother on Thanksgiving Day, 1966, he attached a
quotation from Goethe as a postscript.

Death, you know, is something so strange that despite all experience

we do not think it possible in connection with any being dear to us, &
when it happens it is always something unbelievable & unexpected. It
is a kind of impossibility that suddenly becomes a reality . . . (ibid.,
p. 347)

In summary, the life of Joseph Cornell has been reviewed to

demonstrate the influence of early object loss and the failure to grieve
and mourn upon his art, where he sought repetitively to attain
mastery of these core conflicts while relying concurrently on nostalgia
to minimize the significance of time and death. The dream was a criti-
cal element of his creative mode, permitting him to symbolically
merge with the breast and then transpose the manifest content into a
discrete work.

1. Cornell scheduled all his shows in December because it included his
2. Among Cornells favorite authors and artists were Gerard de Nerval,
Thomas de Quincey, Rene Magritte, and Jan Vermeer, who each lost a
parent during childhood.

Piet Mondrian

In the new art the laws of harmony . . . no longer realize them-

selves in the manner of nature: they act more independently
than they manifest themselves visually in nature. Finally, in the
New Plastic, they are manifested entirely in the manner of art
(Mondrian, 1917, p. 41)

he pathogenicity of childhood primal scene observation has

T been an issue of some controversy in psychoanalytic thinking.

Greenacre (1973) believed that the witnessing of parental inter-
course and its equivalents, the birth of a sibling or a miscarriage, in
the first years can interfere with subsequent drive development, evok-
ing primitive denial along with isolation of affect, rationalization, and
displacement to bolster repression as a life-long method of dealing
with such early trauma. This defensive constellation contributes to a
defective sense of reality and, in certain instances, to the formation of
an illusory wall, which reduces external stimuli and the chances for
loss of control of libidinal and aggressive impulses.
In support of these concepts, Greenacre cited the life and work of
the painter Piet Mondrian, her own analytic cases, and that of the


Wolf-Man. Because Mondrians ultimate aesthetic goal, which he

conveyed in numerous essays, was to keep emotion entirely out of his
art in order to achieve a pure form of abstraction with just primary
colors confined to rectangular shapes devoid of familiar objects of any
kind, he led a rather solitary, ascetic life devoted exclusively to his
painting and writing, had no close personal relationships, and was
unusually sensitive to movement and noise, Greenacre concluded that
he had been exposed to the primal scene many times, being the second
of five children, and that this was an important determinant of the
above traits and attitudes.
Writing about Mondrian from the vantage point of a psychoana-
lytically informed historian, Gay (1976) noted his habits, his philoso-
phy, and his art convincingly reinforce one another; they suggest an
overriding fear, the fear of what he called primitive instinct , which
was defended against by obsessive mechanisms and sublimated in his
paintings (pp. 213214).
Unlike Greenacre, Esman (1973) does not accept the ubiquity of the
primal scene as a specific determinant of psychic illness. One is
moved to wonder, he declared,

whether we are here confronted by one of those situations in which a

theory, by explaining everything, succeeds in explaining nothing.
Certainly, we would seem to be dealing with reductionism of a high
order, in which the genetic fallacy appears to reign supreme. (p. 65)

Ascribing this over-emphasis mainly to the indiscriminate

endorsement of Freuds views on the matter, Esman found clinical
corroboration for Freuds position to be unpersuasive, proposing
instead that The sadistic conception of the primal scene, supposed
to be inevitable, appears to be largely, if not entirely, determined by
other elements in the parents behaviorin particular, by the amount
of overt violent aggression they exhibit (p. 76),
Esman (1994a,b) also rejects Greenacres and Gays assessments of

The case of Piet Mondrian exemplifies the pitfalls of injudicious patho-

graphic reference. On the basis of the formal characteristics of Mon-
drians mature style, Greenacre (1973) ventured to construct a picture
of a rigid, isolated, compulsive character, sternly defended against
nature and human movement, forcing his drives into geometric

subliminative channels because of early primal scene traumatization.

Apart from the impossibility of verification of this pathogenic hypoth-
esis, her depiction of Mondrians character was, to be charitable, wide
of the mark, based on a biased selection of biographic data, and on
almost total neglect of the evolution of his style, its chronology, the
influences that shaped it, and the tradition that lay behind it; that is,
of the entire body of art historical information that provides the essen-
tial background for any speculations about an artists psychology. She
was, that is, engaged in the sort of psychoanalytic imperialism that
drives scholars in other disciplines to distraction, the sort of wild
analysis that, in the clinical situation, she would surely have abjured.
(Esman, 1994a, pp. 13334, my emphasis)

Both of these studies, limited as they are, offer some reductive hints
about possible sources of Mondrians powerful reductive abstraction.
Neither, however, goes far enough to account for what made
Mondrian different from other obsessional types or what made his
responses to the presumed early trauma take on their unique form
one which, moreover, speaks eloquently to many with other character
structures and developmental experiences. Further, neither accounts
for the specific turn of Mondrians stylistic development at the partic-
ular time and place of its occurrence. Mondrian was an established,
clearly talented, if only moderately successful, figurative painter in his
mid-forties before he came to his geometric, Neoplastic style in the
years 1916 to 1917. (Esman, 1994b, p. 328, my emphasis)

Applied psychoanalysis has been adversely compared with the

clinical setting, where a patients associative responses are available to
either uphold or nullify an interpretation. While granting that bio-
graphical construction derived through psychoanalytic study of artis-
tic form and content can never reach the completeness of construction
and reconstruction of actual psychoanalysis because it lacks the con-
stant interplay with what is being enacted in the transference,
Oremland (1989) cautions that incompleteness should not be equated
with lack of validity (pp. 67).
Gedo (1989) and Lubin (1967) have made similar statements, with
Gedo emphasizing it is perhaps only a matter of secondary im-
portance whether the data base to be evaluated psychoanalytically
consists of the associations of a patient versus that gathered by
a psychoanalytically sophisticated observer doing applied work
(p. 137). For Lubin,

The principle that data must be tested in the analytic situation is

worthy of application whenever possible. But it can be a dubious
blessing if held too tenaciously. Analytic material following an inter-
pretation often corroborates it or bolsters it with additional evidence.
How often, though, does it render absolute proof? On the other hand,
evidence available from sources outside the analytic situation occa-
sionally fits together so neatly that the conclusion is as solid as that
arising during the course of free associations. (pp. 170171)

This chapter will examine the merits of Greenacres, Gays, and

Esmans contentions as to whether or not the primal scene played an
essential part in Mondrians life and what, if any, particular effects
such experience and his compulsivity might have had on his art.
Piet Mondrian was born in Amersfoort, Holland on March 7, 1872
and had a sister, two years older, and three brothers, two, four, and
eight years younger. In April 1880, the family moved to Winterswijk
in eastern Holland. His father, Pieter, a school teacher and amateur
artist after whom he was named, was a fanatical Calvinist and an
authoritarian, domineering parent, sententious and forbidding,
someone who imposed his stern will on everyone and was frankly
disagreeable (Seuphor, 1956, p. 133). Little is known about his
mother, Johanna, other than that she was a quiet, gentle person of
whom Piet was fond. She

was frequently ill, and at such times his eldest sister, Johanna
Christina, took over the running of the household. She was barely
eight years old . . . Instead of helping, however, their father would
voluntarily take extra teaching, and often travelled in the service of the
church. (Deicher, 1995, p. 7)

Mondrians uncle, Frits, was a painter and belonged to the Dutch

Impressionist group, whose subject matter and composition resem-
bled that of the Barbizon artists.
Mondrian began to draw skillfully at age fourteen and went on to
paint and teach drawing at the primary school level. From 18921894,
he studied at the Rijksakademie, an art institute in Amsterdam, after
which he painted in various places in Holland until 1911, when he left
for Paris to continue his work. He returned to his native land in 1914
to be with his father, who was quite sick, and remained there because
of the First World War. He headed back back to Paris in 1919, where

he lived until 1938, when the likelihood of the outbreak of the Second
World War necessitated his emigration to London, and then to New
York in 1940, where he died of pneumonia on February 1, 1944.
Mondrians first canvases were representational and comprised of
landscapes, houses, churches, windmills, haystacks, flowers, the sea,
but hardly any people. In 1912, inspired by Cubism, he tried to des-
troy the distinction between figure and ground, between matter and
nonmatter, feeling that Cubism hadnt gone far enough in divorc-
ing form and content and wanting his paintings to contain nothing
specific, nothing human, as he pointed out in a 1914 letter, which cul-
minated in 1920 in the Neo-Plastic style that became his inimitable
signature for the rest of his life (Golding, 1995, p. 61).
Mondrian could very easily have been subjected to the primal
scene, the more so since his three brothers were all delivered at home,
which was the custom in those days (Haitsma, 1994, personal com-
munication). These births occurred at critical periods in his psycho-
sexual development (i.e., when he was two, five, and in early latency),
making it more problematic for him as he attempted to cope with
being displaced by each new male sibling (Greenacre, 1973), while the
last, that of his brother Carel, was complicated by its having been in
June 1880, three months after the family had relocated to Winterswijk.
Because the Mondrian residence in Amersfoort was next to a canal
and often flooded, the family used the attic as a refuge during such
crises. This practice was so routine in Holland that there is a word for
it in Dutch, bedstee, which means sleeping in a confined, open area
on the top floor (Adrichem, personal communication; Van Den Berg,
In later life, Mondrian liked to dance, but did so very stiffly and
awkwardly and seriously, with women who were usually wives or
mistresses of fellow artists, never looking at his partner or speaking to
her while they were on the floor together. He also enjoyed doing and
watching the Charleston and was impressed that

danced nervously, as it is by the Europeans, it often appears hysteri-

cal. But with the Negroes, a Josephine Baker, for instance, it is an
innate, brilliantly controlled style . . . The dancers are always so far
from each other and have to work so strenuously, there is no time for
amorous thought . . . Continuous action holds passion in check . . . The
dancers with made-up faces move and come to rest. No room for
particular emotion. (Mondrian, 1993, pp. 217, 222)

These activities would enable Mondrian to try to gain some mas-

tery of the primal scene experience, where a young child observing
parental intercourse often cannot distinguish between the two human
figures and sort out precisely who is who, or might interpret what is
going on as either a fight or a sadistic attack by the father upon the
mother. This distorted perception can produce marked difficulty in
differentiating sexual from aggressive impulses, such that the indi-
vidual must defend zealously against any display of affect. By delib-
erately refraining from any verbal or sensuous physical contact
between himself and the woman with whom he is dancing, who
belongs to another man, and holding himself so tautly within a time-
limited context, Mondrian is experimenting in counterphobic fashion
with the feared and potentially dangerous sexual encounter but suffi-
ciently in command so that nothing untoward will ensue such as loss
of impulse control or castration.1 The same would apply to the
Charleston, whose frenetic movement more closely simulates that of
the primal scene but which for Mondrian, especially as a spectator, is
less threatening because of his conviction that it will not arouse sexual
wishes in either performer. When the Dutch government was
contemplating banning the Charleston on grounds of immorality, he
vowed he would never visit Holland again if that were done.
Mondrian signed his paintings with remarkably diverse calligra-
phy, alternating the actual family name Mondriaan and Mon-
drian, which he adopted in 1911 at the age of thirty-nine, plus or
minus a P. or Piet. Often he would print only his initials with or
without periods, changing the size of the letters and the interval
between them from canvas to canvas unpredictably, sometimes super-
imposing the two on one another. This most unorthodox method,
quite unlike any other well-known artist, with its differing dimensions
and disposition could be another vehicle for mastering primal scene
Mondrian had an almost maniacal fear of injuring his eyes and
would squeeze them tightly at the slightest danger and/or put his
hands over them (Seuphor, 1956). This degree of acute anxiety or even
panic can be understood as a primal scene sequela with concerns
about retaliation, a consequence of having been privy to such unduly
charged and forbidden visual excitation.2 Mondrian also dreaded
electrical storms, would shake noticeably whenever he heard thun-
der, and had a phobia of spiders, all of which have associations to

primal scene traumatization (Gaddini, 1992, p. 72; Van Den Berg,

1993, p. 115)
Freud (1918b) reports that one of the Wolf-Mans complaints when
he entered analysis was an inability to perceive the external world
except through a veil, the aftermath of primal scene trauma during his
second year. Greenacre (1973) regarded this symptom, which permits
things to be seen and yet not seen, as a less opaque version of the illu-
sory wall, which gives total protection from visual over-stimulation.
In a study of primal scene derivatives in the life and work of the artist
Mark Gertler, demonstrating the impact of the primal scene on his life
and work, Simon (1977) mentions that he would utilize the word
veil metaphorically for the same defensive purposes: for example,
in a letter to a friend, he indicated:

I am passing through terrible changes. I dont know what awaits me

the other side, but I am not frightened. But in the meantime I am
suffering muchmore than you can imagine. Veil after veil I keep
tearing off my eyes, and the disclosures are more and more terrible.
What I see is ghastly, almost too much to bear. (Gertler, 1965, p. 141)

Mondrian also used veil repeatedly in a similar manner.

Natural harmony is only the most outward manifestation of pure equi-

librated relationship, which is not expressed in the visible (nature),
because in nature both pure female and pure male are manifested only
in a very veiled way. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 68)
In general, natural appearance veils the expression of relationship. If
one wants to express relationships determinately, then a more exact
plastic of relationships is necessary. Ordinary vision cannot perceive
the relationships of position determinately in this landscape. (ibid., p. 84)
Pure abstract art reveals principles that until now have remained
veiled and concealed by the diversity of forms. (ibid., p. 224)
Plastic art discloses what science has discovered: that time and subjec-
tive vision veil the true reality. (ibid., p. 341. There are forty-six other
references to veil in this volume.)3

In Mondrians early paintings of rural life, there is an abundance

of trees, which often have a veil-like quality obscuring other objects
such as houses and windows. On the back of a gouache done in 1898,
he inscribed a poem.

And the twigs of the young tree

till they joined those already in rest
hanging down from the big trees
in the grey sky
and underneath lay the silent green plain
And high rose the church over the village.
(Van Den Berg, 1993, p. 128)

After attending an exhibition of early Cubist paintings by Picasso

and Braque at the Moderne Kunstring in Amsterdam in 1911, Mon-
drian moved to Paris and did similar work himself, much of it with
trees that disappear almost completely in the whole (James, 1993,
p. 14).4 Convinced that only the Cubists had discovered the right
path, he proceeded under the guidance of higher intuition and
unconsciously began to deviate from the natural aspects of reality
(my emphasis).
As Mondrian conceived of Neo-Plasticism, the basic form was the

Since the male principle is the vertical line, a man shall recognize this
element in the ascending trees of a forest; he sees his complement in
the horizontal line of the sea. The woman, with the horizontal line as
characteristic element, recognizes herself in the recumbent lines of the
sea and sees herself complemented in the vertical lines of the forest.
(Mondrian, 1993, p. 18)

Curved and diagonal lines are unacceptable and must be eliminated.

In art, just as in pure conscious contemplation, we must convert the

curved to straightness. (ibid., 1993, p. 91)

. . . it is therefore most important for fashion to create an appearance

expressing man-nature in equivalence . . . to oppose the undulating
lines and soft forms of the body with tautened lines and unified planes so
as to create more equilibrated relationships. (ibid., p. 226, my empha-

More and more I excluded from my painting all curved lines, until
finally my compositions consisted only of vertical and horizontal lines,
which formed crosses, each one separate and detached from the other.
(ibid., p. 339)

Through Neo-Plasticism, Mondrian sought an art of pure rela-

tions, having renounced Cubism because it

did not accept the logical consequences of its own discoveries; it was
not developing abstraction towards its ultimate goal, the expression of
pure reality. I felt that this reality can only be established through the
purely plastic. In its essential expression, the purely plastic is uncondi-
tioned by subjective feeling and conception. It took me a long time to
discover that particularities of form and natural color evoke subjective
states of feeling, which obscure pure reality. The appearance of natural
forms changes but reality remains constant. To create pure reality
plastically, it is necessary to reduce natural forms to the constant
elements of form and natural color to primary color. The aim is not to
create other particular forms and colors with all their limitations, but
to work toward abolishing them in the interest of a larger unity. (ibid.,
pp. 338339)

By restricting his palette to primary colors, Mondrian hoped to

achieve the serene emotion of the universal. In natural forms and
color, he wrote:

the expressions of male and female are confused as one: this merging of
opposites gives birth to the visual tragic. In the New Plastic, male and
female appear free of each other, that is, the elements are determinedly
opposed; their conjoining in the duality of position in the universal
plastic means and in composition is not an actual merging. Even the
deepened rhythm of the New Plastic is not a confluence of natural
rhythm. In life as in art, the merging of the relatively outward female
and the relatively outward male gives rise to the tragic . . . Pure plas-
tic vision makes us recognize that the inward (the male element) can
never find pure plastic expression when veiled by the female, as it is in
the natural appearance of things. (ibid., pp. 6869)

Mondrian was disconcerted by any semblance of motion in his

work, asserting that human movement is a hindrance to me (ibid.,
p. 13) and In natures aspect beauty is often unintelligible to men; in
life motion or action covers or disturbs it (ibid., p. 359). About his
early career, he disclosed: Even at this time, I disliked particular
movement, such as people in action. I enjoyed painting flowers, not
bouquets, but a single flower at a time, in order that I might better
express its plastic structure (ibid., p. 338).6 Whenever he went to cafs

in Paris, Mondrian would seat himself so that he could not see pedes-
trians walking by the windows. He also preferred to leave people out
of his paintings (Gay, 1976, p. 207). When one does not describe or
depict anything human, he remarked, then through complete nega-
tion of the self a work of art emerges that is a monument of Beauty
. . . This I feel certain, is an art form of the future (ibid., p. 15). Mon-
drian could never draw the human figure properly (Van Den Berg,
1993, pp. 11820). In a 1907 nude sketch of a woman, her body has an
androgynous quality, the lower half being out of proportion, with the
legs appearing more masculine while the eyes are vague and the
external genitalia almost hidden by poorly delineated hands and
excessive shadowing.
Collectively, the above characteristics of Mondrians later paint-
ings have primal scene defensive connotations in that each rectangu-
lar space is completely separate from all others and sharply outlined,
invariably by a black line, removing any obscurity or ambiguity as to
what is what. Curved lines, which are associated with the body or
the corporeal and, hence, the primal scene configurations, are avoi-
ded, as are people and movement, while vertical lines are construed
as masculine and horizontal ones as feminine, which, because they are
perpendicular to each other, do not join at their midpoints like a man
and woman having intercoursein the NeoPlastic there is not an
actual merging of male and female constituents (Roth & Blatt, 1974).7
Only primary pigments are used for the sake of purity and are never
mixed or fused to manufacture ambiguous new colors.8 In other
words, the construction of a work adhering to these precepts has
certain analogies to the intrapsychic formation of a screen memory to
disguise and protect against a prior traumatic event (Freud, 1899a).
These objectless paintings also have many layers that obfuscate
underlying images like a veil.
From extensive clinical experience, Edelheit (1974) discerned an
analogy between the primal scene and crucifixion fantasies based
upon an unconscious dual identification with the beleaguered mother
of the former and the suffering of Christ on the cross. Since the tree in
the Wolf-Mans childhood dream is a Christmas tree, and trees and
crosses are interchangeable symbols in Christian mythology (Reik,
1957), Lubin (1967) deduced that this particular dream represents
both the primal scene and the crucifixion. The Wolf-Man identified
strongly with Christ, and a most treasured possession was a baptismal

cross that he wore around his neck until he was twenty. He became a
serious artist in later life and the majority of his paintings were natural
settings featuring trees emanating from the above dream (Brunswick,
1928). Lubin (1967) feels that: The Wolfmans landscape painting
channeled fear-laden fantasies into artistic activity, esthetic reactions,
and love of beauty. It kept the impulses behind these fantasies under
control and at a safe distance, and it alleviated depression (pp. 161
As noted, Mondrians first paintings were landscapes, often with
many trees, which were also among the most common objects of his
Cubist period, getting more and more diffuse in his so-called Plus-
Minus phase, where

In painting a tree I progressively abstracted the curves: you can under-

stand that very little tree remained . . . More and more I excluded
from my paintings all curved lines, until my compositions consisted
only of vertical and horizontal lines, which formed crosses, each one
detached and separate from the other. (Mondrian, 1993, pp. 77, 339)9

The above progression of images consists of The Gray Tree, 1911;

Flowering Apple Tree, 1912; and Composition 10 in Black and
White, 1915.
In an essay Natural reality and Abstract reality (19191920), Y.,
a layman, and Z., an Abstract-Real Painter, who is the conveyor of
Mondrians ideas, discuss art.

Z. If you follow nature, you can only eliminate the tragic from your
art in very small measure. While naturalistic painting does make us
feel that harmony transcends the tragic, it does not express equilibrated
relationships exclusively. Natural appearance, form, natural color,
natural rhythm, and even in most cases natural relationships, all
express the tragic.

Y. When I compare this landscape with the previous one, where these
scattered clusters of trees were not to be seen, I feel that the capricious
natural form cannot produce in us the profound repose to which we
inwardly aspire.
Z. True. In these trees you can clearly see that the tensing of contour
and the reduction to the plane did not bring the profound repose you
spoke about to direct plastic representation. You were right in seeing it

as far more plastically apparent in the earlier treeless landscape.

(Mondrian, 1993, p. 88)

Thus, trees, with their inherent ties to both maleness and the
primal scene, were important transformative symbols in the evolution
from Mondrians representational phase through Cubism to Neo-
Plasticism. By finally ridding his work of anything reminiscent of
adult sexuality, he might have been unconsciously carrying out the
wish to annihilate one or both parents in the primal scene.10 In his last
interview in 1943, he began by affirming:

The first aim in a painting should be universal expression. What is

needed in a picture to realize this is an equivalent of vertical and hori-
zontal expressions. This I feel I did not accomplish in such early works
as my 1941 Tree paintings,

and finished with I think the destructive element is too much

neglected in art (ibid., pp. 356357).
Esman (1994b) objected to Greenacres and Gays clinical judgment
that Mondrian was a rigid, obsessional man, averse to human
contact, and particularly averse to nature whose

art stands, they suggest, as a plastic representation of his compulsive

character structure . . . Second, the association that has been drawn
between Mondrians mature Neoplastic geometric style and his
presumed obsessional character is a facile but an unconvincing one.
Mondrian was 40 years old before he began experimenting with
abstraction, and 45 before he broke with representation entirely. It
would be impossible viewing only his early landscape and figure
paintings to arrive at such a correlation; recall that by 1917 Mondrian
was already a mature, experienced painter older than Van Gogh was
at the time of his death. Did he suddenly become an obsessional char-
acter at age 45? (pp. 333334, my emphasis)

In fact, Mondrian had many compulsive traits, such as a preoccu-

pation with cleanliness, neatness, precision, and orderliness. He ate
fastidiously, dressed impeccably, usually wearing a dark suit, shirt,
and tie while painting, was very particular about how his works were
framed and hung, and would not let anything be moved in his com-
bined apartmentstudio for fear of disturbing the equilibrium of the
total decor which he sought (Van Doesburg, 1971, p. 71). Not having

a phone, Mondrian expected anyone who wanted to come and see

him to notify him well in advance by letter anytime they planned to
visit, and did not welcome people dropping by unannounced (Van
Den Berg, 1993, p.115). Extremely frugal, he got by on $5.00 a month
while he was in Paris (Motherwell, 1992, p. 240). A most private and
secretive man, he never told anyone of his early years and once
dismissed an interviewer for inquiring about personal matters. Also
while in Paris, he continually changed his baker and grocer, in order
to remain a stranger in the places where he shopped (Van Den Berg,
1993, p. 115). He had much difficulty with intimacy, spoke of himself
often in the third person, and thrived on solitude:

To be alone is (for the great) the opportunity to penetrate and know

the self, the true man, the god-man and, in the highest case, god. In
this way one becomes greater, one becomes conscious, one becomes,
finally, God. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 19)

A fellow artist, Naum Gabo, once said Mondrian was not a man with
whom you could have personal relationships, while Holtzman
thought his life was his work . . . All his social relationships centered
around his painting and writing (Harrison, 1966, p. 292; Holtzman,
1993, p. 2).
Mondrian lived simply and austerely, painted six days a week,
had barely any possessions, and, to discourage visitors from staying
too long, no comfortable chairs or sofas in his livingwork spaces,
where the walls were whitewashed first and then decorated with
color panels that duplicated his Neo-Plastic paintings. Since I cant
paint directly on the wall I have merely placed painting cards on it,
he elaborated in November 1919.

But I have come to see clearly that it is indeed possible for the New
Plastic to appear in a room in this way. Of course, I had to paint the
furniture as well. I dont mind the effort, since it has a good effect on
my work. Ive now completed something with which I am more satis-
fied than anything before. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 83)

Shortly after my arrival [in Paris] I visited Mondrian, Arthur

Lehning recounted.

My first impression wasId never seen anything like this with a

painterthe incredible order that surrounded him. You had no idea that

you were in the presence of a painter. No pots of paint or brushes,

nothing like that. A bank directors desk couldnt have been better
organized . . . You really entered a NeoPlastic space, just like his paintings,
with a fantastic sense of order. Theres always been a lot of ironic talk
about that. His gramophone had to stand just so and not any other
way. It was painted red, but that was part of the whole, and of the
whole man as well, who was always extremely reserved and excep-
tionally well-dressed. Youd have thought you were dealing with a
civil servant rather than a painter. (Boekraad, 1995, my emphasis)

In renovating his quarters to conform with his philosophy of art,

Mondrian was able to minimize the chances of being impinged upon
by objects that might bring back memories of the primal scene.
His perfectionism was such that he often worked on individual
Neo-Plastic canvases for several years, sometimes as much as six or
seven, before he was satisfied with them. About his career, he once
explained: I will stop, when I have told what I am forced to tell
(Wijsenbeek, 1971, p. 34, my emphasis). He remained single and
claimed he never married for want of money. However, he talked
incessantly about women, especially during his Paris days, was infat-
uated with Mae West and Ginger Rogers, the latter in her capacity as
Fred Astaires dance partner, and had pin-up photographs of them
and other attractive female actresses on his studio wall, which sug-
gests an active libidinal interest on his part so long as it was confined
to fantasy (Van Doesburg, 1971, pp. 7071).
There is much intellectualization in his voluminous writings,
which are quite convoluted and considered extremely difficult to
fathom (Blotkamp, 1994, p. 9). Gay (1976, p. 208) feels that Mondrian
can never resist elevating psychological traits into metaphysical
questionsin itself an instructive form of denial. His thinking is also
highly dichotomous, with much attention paid to such topics as good
vs. evil, male vs. female, straight vs. curved, pure vs. impure, chaos vs.
order, and equilibrium vs. disequilibrium.
Mondrians affect was severely inhibited. About an early painting,
he commented:

I later found too much human emotion in this work and painted a blue
flower differently. The latter remained stiffly staring; it already
suggested more of the immutable. But the colors, although now pure,
still expressed too much individual feeling. I then entered into a

period of sober colors, gray and yellow, and tried to make my lines
more definite. Gradually I came to use vertical and horizontal lines
almost exclusively. (ibid., p. 16)
Abstract art is . . . opposed to the raw primitive animal nature of man,
but it is one with true human nature. (ibid., p. 293)

Aesthetics were an integral part of Mondrians philosophy.

If beauty is subjectivized truth, then art would be destroyed if its

subjectivity were completely destroyed. Likewise, the idea of plastic
expression would be destroyed, for plastic expression implicitly
assumes subjectivization (and therefore beauty) . . . Thus we see that
rational thought is in accord with the actual goal of the new painting
whether rational thought recognizes it or not. Both seek beauty not for
the beautiful feelings it may arouse, but for beauty as truth, that is, as
plastic manifestations of pure aesthetic relationships. (ibid., p. 51)

When asked in Natural Beauty and Abstract Reality, by X, A

Naturalistic Painter, Why do you discard all forms? Z replied:

Because otherwise objects as such would have remained in the paint-

ingand then the plastic expression would not be exclusively plastic.
When the object dominates, it always limits the emotion of beauty
. . . That is why the object had to be discarded from the plastic. (ibid., p. 100)

The absence of objects facilitates the enhancement of the beautiful,

which, for Mondrian, has an ascetic appeal precluding the conscious
awareness of any affect, or what is referred to as primitive instinct,
that might be too distressful for him.
It is obvious that Mondrian did not turn into an obsessional char-
acter in his mid-forties. A crucial question, however, is whether there
was an intensification of his long-standing obsessional defenses in
19161917 and, if so, what might have been responsible for such
change. He had gone from Paris to Holland on July 25th, 1914 because
of his fathers illness, and when the First World War began with the
German invasion of Belgium on August 14, it was impossible for him
to return to France before the armistice. Here, one must be curious if
the widespread devastation and slaughter being wrought in his
adopted country, France, might not have stirred up repressed primal
scene memories (a military battle between nations being uncon-
sciously linked to a sexual battle between parents with Mondrian a

helpless onlooker to both events), or possibly primitive world-

destruction fantasies, which prompted the formulation and imple-
mentation of Neo-Plastic principles and techniques to attain mastery
of these conflicts by pursuing an art whose stringent aesthetic rules
(all quite syntonic with the core compulsive ego defenses of undoing,
displacement, reaction formation, and isolation) prevented the intru-
sion of disruptive primary process ideation. As Mondrian subse-
quently acknowledged: In general, all particularities of the past are
as oppressive as darkness. The past has a tyrannic influence which is
difficult to escape. The worst is that there is always something of the
past within us (ibid., p. 325). Memory of ones own life good or bad,
always memory spoils present life. One regrets the good or is bothered by
the evil (ibid., p. 368, my emphasis).
In 1919, Mondrian contrived a dialogue between Z., An Abstract-
Real Painter, who served as a vehicle for Mondrians ideas, and X.,
A Naturalistic Painter, which includes this exchange.

Z. Abstract representations can move us deeply. An example I recol-

lect was a film showing a large part of the world in map form. Upon
this, the invading German forces suddenly appeared as small cubes.
Likewise a counterforce appeared, the Allies, also as small cubes. In this
way the worldwide cataclysm was actually expressed in all its vastness,
rather than in parts or details as a naturalistic portrayal would have
shown it.
X. I agree that world events can usefully be represented in this way,
but in general a naturalistic portrayal affects us more strongly.
Z. Pure plastic vision sees everything as a world event. But admittedly a
naturalistic portrayal does have a stronger effect on our natural feel-
X. And speaking of films, I remember one that depicted a crab strug-
gling with a squid. [A vivid primal scene image.] Here too, one saw
the clash of two forces seeking to destroy one another, but it was more
Z. There is no argument here. How we are moved and what moves us
most deeply depends on ourselves. I simply wanted to point out that
we can be moved by abstract representation. My example did not
actually demonstrate abstract plastic, since we already knew about the
event. The plastic expression, which consisted largely of movement
and collision, was not free of the previously known idea of combat: it

nevertheless shows quite clearly that it is possible to express some-

thing by abstract means. (ibid., p. 98)

In The New Plastic in Painting, written in the middle of the First

World War, Mondrian reasoned:

If we fail to see in to-days awful turmoil a storm that will bring our
outer life into harmony with our inner life, whose rebirth began quietly
long ago; if we fail to perceive concrete reality as the opposite of that
which is not concretely manifestedthen ours is not an abstract-real
age. But if we can see the consciously abstract spirit at work behind all
concrete phenomena, then our age is indeed abstract-real. Modern life
is no longer natural but abstract-real . . . Although the man of truly
modern culture lives within concrete reality, his mind transforms this
reality into abstractions, and he extends his real life into the abstractso that
he once again realizes this abstraction. The artist also does this, and thus
he creates abstract-real art . . . So long as the old spirit is the dominat-
ing influence, nations must continue to destroy each otherthere
must be conflict and suffering: only pure manifestation of the elements
(in equilibrated relationship) can reduce the tragic in life and in art.
Outward life must evolve into abstract-real life if it is to achieve unity.
(ibid., pp. 43, 57)

In 1917, Mondrian apprised his patron, H. P. Bremmer:

This year I have worked hard, and done much searching. A great deal
of the old was due for a change. I was searching for a purer represen-
tation, which is why I wasnt satisified with anything . . . The large
black and white one has been totally reworked, which I now regret; it
would have been better to leave it as it was, and make a new one. But
when one is searching, one does not know in advance how to go about
it. (Blotkamp, 1994, p. 91)

On completing the first truly Neo-Plastic picture, Composition

A, in 1920, Mondrian exulted to a friend: I have now made a paint-
ing that pleases me more than all my previous work . . . It has been a
long quest (Bois, Joosten, Rudenstine, & Janssen, 1994, p. 193).
In 1932, Mondrian, who was a staunch pacifist, wrote:

Even in Holland, the great war was a time of sombreness and distress.
International contacts and human feelingespecially in the artistmade it
inevitable that the depression and anguish of war would spread even where

there was no fighting. Nevertheless, in Holland there could still be a

concern with purely spiritual problems. Thus art continued and
evolved: it could do so, it is important to note, only by continuing in
the same direction as before the wartoward pure abstraction . . .
Visiting Holland a fortnight before the war broke out, I remained there
to its end, continuing my research toward an art free of naturalistic
appearances. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 182, my emphasis)

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Mondrian worried about

the possibility of another war in Europe, to the extent that in the
spring of 1935, he had a serious crisis that completely incapacitated
him and about which an artist friend recorded: He is no longer able
to do anything; he just lies in a chair, and everything makes him go
all emotional. Im afraid hes getting very close to the end (Blotkamp,
1994, p. 224). When the Germans seized the Sudetanland in 1938, he
fled Paris for London, and after the fall of Paris in July 1940, he expe-
rienced a work paralysis (ibid., p. 226).11 At that time, he lamented,
much as he had in 1917:

In these dark days, concentration on the evil of oppression in its

deeper sense is difficult but necessary. Amid a terrible reality it is diffi-
cult to think of our future. Pessimism comes over us: seeing actual
events, confidence in lifes progress weakens. Where to find, in spite
of all, a true optimism about humanitys future? Plastic art, in its
culture, can enlighten the future of mankind. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 321, my

Van Den Berg (1993) feels that depersonalization, which is among the
residuals of primal scene traumatization due to a concomitant split in
self-representation (Myers, 1973, 1979) and can occur when brittle
compulsive defenses falter (Grinberg, 1966), was one of Mondrians
After settling in New York in September 1940, Mondrians tech-
nique became less controlled and led to sych memorable works as
Victory Boogie-Woogie and Broadway Boogie-Woogie, although
he spent two years doing the latter. This variation might have been
due in part to the increased sense of safety and security he felt being
so far away from the war zone in Europe.
While he was leaning towards Neo-Plasticism in 19161917, Mon-
drian collaborated with another Dutch artist, Theo van Doesburg. The

two functioned as secret sharers, furnishing one another with indis-

pensible support and encouragement during this innovative and chal-
lenging period, much as Picasso and Braque had done when they
founded Cubism several years before (Esman, 1994b, p. 332; Meyer,
1972). In May 1917, Mondrian confided in Van Doesburg: I have in
mind your pure attitude with regard to the new plastic and your accu-
rate insight into it; also, you see the new appearing in precisely the same
way I do. (Mondrian, 1993, p. 28, my emphasis). Later, Mondrian
wrote of

the joy of meeting Van Doesburg. Filled with vitality and zeal for the
already international movement known as abstract, and sincerely
appreciative of my work, Van Doesburg asked me to collaborate on a
periodical he was planning to publish, named De Stijl. I was happy to
publish the ideas on art that I was formulating; I saw the potentiality
of contact with efforts consistent with my own. (Mondrian, 1993,
p. 182)

However, when Van Doesburg added diagonal lines to his work

in 19231924, Mondrian ended the relationship abruptly, advising
him in a letter: After your arbitrary correction of Neo-Plasticism, any
collaboration, of no matter what kind, has become impossible for me
(Seuphor, 1956, p. 149).12 As long as he and Van Doesburg were on
good terms, each was uncommonly solicitous of the others health and
well-being because, as Van Doesburgs wife recalled, Mondrian was
unusually pre-occupied with this subject, which is compatible with
the persistence of unresolved guilt in conjunction with hostile wishes
and fears of something disastrous happening to him or his friend,
exacerbated by the death in 1921 of his harsh and demanding father,
with whom he carried on imaginary conversations while painting. It
is plausible that Van Doesburgs deviation from their previously
agreed upon standards seemed to Mondrian like a betrayal not unlike
that of being exposed to primal scene activity, especially with the
formers use of the proscribed oblique lines (Arlow, 1980). If
Mondrian felt the same rage towards his colleague as he did with his
parents originally, he would have had to break with Van Doesburg
lest he lose control of such latent destructive affect.
When he saw the Disney version of Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs with his brother, Carel, in Paris in 1938, Mondrian was

captivated by Sleepy, and for about a year afterwards sent Carel, to

whom he assigned the part of Sneezy, Disney postcards of characters
from the movie, signing each one Sleepy.
In the film, Snow White wanders into the forest to escape from her
malicious stepmother where she is befriended by some benevolent
wild animals before inadvertently coming across the dwarfs home
while they are away working in their diamond mine. After cleaning
the downstairs scrupulously with the assistance of the animals, she
goes upstairs to their communal bedroom and falls asleep on a bed,
covering herself completely with a sheet. When the dwarfs return that
night and notice a light on inside the house, they jump to the conclu-
sion that there is a monster in the bedroom and send a reluctant
Dopey up to check (my emphasis). As he is peering anxiously into the
room, Snow White begins to thrash around under the covers, repli-
cating the primal scene. It takes the dwarfs a while to get organized
and go back to the bedroom together, by which time Snow White is
up and about.
Once the dwarfs have had a chance to become acquainted with
her, they go off to work next day, leaving her and the animals behind
in the house. Later, she is approached by her stepmother, in the guise
of an old hag, who hopes to entice her into eating a poisoned apple.
The animals, sensing the threat to Snow White, rush to the mine to
alert the dwarfs about what is happening by making frantic, though
unintelligible, sounds. Napping off to one side in a mine cart, Sleepy
suddenly awakens and announces what the stepmother is up to with
Snow White, whereupon they all scurry back to the house to try to
save her.
Interestingly, there are seven dwarfs, who all occupy one
bedroom, as did the seven Mondrians whenever their house in
Amersfoort was flooded. While Sleepy seems to be almost narcolep-
tic, there is a watchful quality to his drowsiness, not unlike that of a
child caught up in the primal scene, and it is he who, by quite magi-
cally foreseeing the danger to Snow White, mobilizes her rescue.
Throughout the film, there is much stress upon neatness and clean-
liness, with Snow White not only meticulously tidying up the dwarfs
house each day, but making them scrub themselves thoroughly after
work to get rid of all bodily dirt.
When Mondrian moved to London in 1938, several well-known
British artists, whom he called the dwarfs, helped him to find an

apartment where, he told his brother, Carel: The landlord has had
the room cleaned by Snow White, and the squirrel has whitewashed
the walls with his tail . . . The evil witch war has departed, at least
for the time being, hasnt she? (Blotkamp, 1994, p. 224). While in Eng-
land, he often listened to his recording of the Snow White film score.
By immersing himself in this popular fairy tale, he could distance
himself temporarily from the ravages of war.
Gaddini (1992) designated a primal scene process lasting from
six months to the end of the third year, which matches roughly Mah-
lers separationindividuation phase and is tempered by the vicissi-
tudes of the object relationship at any given time. At six months,
primal scene exposure interferes with the childs imitative identity
with the mother and incites primitive aggressive affects which have
no possibility of discharge other than in fantasy, thereby fostering a
sense of internal danger, which

gives rise to fresh anxiety, whose components of loss and abandon-

ment, and those of disintegration (from the flowing back of aggressive
cathexes into the psychosomatic area) can certainly not be distin-
guished by the child. It is these economic foundations which lend
force and substance to the well-known mechanisms of defense
connected with the fantasies of psycho-oral mental activity (introjec-
tions, projections, re-introjections and combinations of these), as well
as mechanisms that belong to the sphere of psychosensory activity. In
this last group, the mechanism of compensation assumes particular
importance in the primal scene process. This consists in the massive
opposition of libidinal cathexes to the prevailing aggressive cathexes
which, having no possibility of effective discharge to the outside,
threaten to disrupt the inner stability of the self. (ibid., pp. 7273)

Gaddini goes on to say that if there is a pregnancy during this

stage, it is perceived as actual evidence of seemingly irreversible
bodily change in the mother, which is usually completely repres-
sed, as are

subsequent pregnancies of the mother, even when they occurred at

ages usually more accessible to memoryfor instance, during latency
. . . In our clinical work with adult patients, we often find a close asso-
ciation between still detectable components of the primal scene and
that particular birth of a brother or sister which took place in the first
years of life. (pp. 7475)

In these later reconstructions, Gaddini discovered that

the experiences of the birth of the younger brother or sister are related
to a condensate of what has been experienced throughout the primal-
scene process. This is probably why the primal scene appears to us clinically
as a single event which arouses doubts about its actual reality. The doubt is
legitimate, but only to the extent that it is a matter not of a single event but
of a construction, and not of a single real event but of a condensate of diverse
experience extending over a prolonged period. (p. 75, my emphasis)

According to Gaddini, the transitional object

represents the first successful active defense achieved, with develop-

mental significance, by the infantile ego against the anxiety of loss of
the self of the imitative identity caused by the primal scene process
. . . Characteristically, as against the fear-inducing and unrecognizable
changes of the mother of the primal scene, the transitional object must
be always the same and always to hand if the anxiety is not to break out
again. (p. 77)

The above theoretical framework is helpful in understanding the

plight of Mondrian with respect to the effect of excessive primal scene
instigation of aggression in the inner homeostasis of the young infant
and child aggravated by the birth of siblings. It also raises the ques-
tion of whether the actual canvas and painting might have been like a
transitional object for Mondrian in his effort to manage these conflicts.
The following are different modes of trying to master primal scene
trauma through the creative process.
As an adjunct to ongoing psychoanalytic treatment, Stern (1952,
1953) had neurotic patients do free paintings without any goal-
directed intention. What he learned was

The patients associations to the pictures lead, in almost all cases, first,
to the memory of the recent experience which occasioned the painting;
second, to an abundance of childhood memories, mainly with traumatic
content, which in the unconscious have become connected with the
residues of the day. These childhood memories are screen memories for
typical earlier traumatic events, especially of the oral and oedipal phases.
Striking is the preponderant role of the oedipal triadprimal scene,
infantile masturbation, and pavor nocturnus.

It is significant that the production represents a magic reparation of trau-

matic experiences. This magic reparation takes the lines either of repeti-
tion of the trauma, or its denial through reversal or overcompensation.
It is performed symbolically either upon the image of the traumatic
situation or upon the image of the traumatized, impaired body. The
painting may, therefore, be the representation of the traumatic situa-
tion or of the impaired body image (repetition of the trauma), or a
denial of either one (reparation of the trauma). The specific form of the
reparation in a particular case corresponds to individual defense
mechanisms (oral, anal, phallic, sadistic, masochistic, etc.). (Stern,
1952, pp. 6768)
It seems that the unconscious fantasies which repeat the trauma find
their expression in daydreams, play, and action only if the revived
trauma is altered in the sense of reparative mastery. (Stern, 1953,
p. 213)
Works of art seem to be a result of and a symbol for the symbiosis of
libidinal gratification and reparative mastery, the latter being repre-
sented by the form aspect. Form, through introducing rule and propor-
tion, symbolizes constancy and perpetual existence. (Stern, 1953,
p. 216, my emphasis)

Adams (1993) has written about primal scene iconography in the

works of Titian, Rembrandt, Brancusi, Czanne, Duchamp, Leonardo,
Mantegna, Picasso, and Henry Moore.
Myers (1973) has described how a young film maker, who slept in
his parents bedroom until he was twelve, handled primal scene
trauma by converting the old, terrifying realities into newer, more
comprehensible and controllable cinematic unrealities.
For Arlow (1980), it is

a matter of utmost importance to go beyond the surface exploration of

the primal scene as trauma and to study the nature of the antecedent
unconscious fantasies, the fantastic way in which the experience itself
was transformed, and the conflicts and anxieties aroused by the expe-
rience, rather than to try to assess the impact of the primal scene in
isolation. (p. 523)

These issues include the deep narcissistic mortification of the

child, which results in a conviction that one is unloved and unlov-
able along with oedipal defeat because of the exclusion and

betrayal that is experienced as well as the idea of anatomical inferi-

ority, leading to a persistent sense of unattractiveness and a tendency
to disparage ones own body. Such reactions induce wishes to
wreak vengeance on one or both of the betraying parents. Thus, the
primal scene serves as an organizing concept that integrates a whole set
of unconscious fantasies, which in turn serve as the dynamic base for subse-
quent symptom formation, character structure, and even sublimation (p.
525, my emphasis). As an example of these phenomena, Arlow uses
the film Blow-Up, in which a prominent fashion photographer named
Thomas, who participates either directly or as a bystander in a
number of primal scene re-enactments, unknowingly takes a picture
in a public park of a homicide in progress, where the victim and an
armed assailant are partially hidden by dense shrubbery. Thomass
recurrent doubts about whether or not this event is authentic typifies
the dilemma of the child traumatized by the primal scenethe
search for a memory which cannot be recovered, of which only frag-
ments and hints remain, pieces disconnected and out of context,
blown up out of all proportion, and rendered meaningless and unreal
by their very enormity (p. 538).
Like Arlow, Knafo and Feiner (1996) feel that it would be a mis-
take to understand the primal scene exclusively in terms of the childs
witnessing parental sex but

believe the concept needs to be broadened to include the childs

fantasies and internal working models of the parents relationship
with each other as well as to the child. This way of conceiving of the
primal scene recognizes its universality. Despite this, there exists a
unique quality to each persons primal scene configuration that renders it
clinically useful . . . The configuration of primal scene fantasies is there-
fore not static but dynamic and allows for shifts in identifications and
self and object relations in accordance with real experiences, narcissis-
tic vulnerabilities, unconscious wishes, cognitive capacities, and
defensive requirements. (pp. 550, 564, my emphasis)

In a comprehensive exploration of psychopathology in ancient

Greece, Simon (1978) postulates that

the core unconscious meaning of madness in the Platonic dialogues is

the wild, confused, and combative scene of parental intercourse as per-
ceived by the child . . . The wildness of the primal scene is associated

with lack of restraint of impulse and appetite, and the frightening

yet fascinating aspect of the scene is associated with blindness and
ignorance. (p. 174)
I believe that an important unconscious aspect of Platos design for his
ideal state is the wish to protect the elite and the guardians from
primal scene trauma and its consequences. (p. 176)

Simon maintains that the allegory of the cave

can also be understood as a primal scene fantasy: children in the dark-

ness of the bedroom, seeing the shadows and hearing the echoes of
parental intercourse. The prisoners are fixed, they cannot even turn
their heads away (corresponding to the immobility and staring of the
child experiencing the primal scene). They see a shadow play, a
puppet show. They see shadows of animals, objects, and people. These
prisoners (who are we ourselves) can be freed and released from
aphrosune, folly and madness. Ignorance and madness are thus states
of misapprehension of things that go on in shadow and darkness.
(p. 178)

Bonaparte (1945) has given an account of her exposure to the

primal scene as a young girl and her struggle to master the trauma
during latency by composing short stories. In her psychobiography of
Poe (1933), she elaborated on the role of the primal scene in his life
and writings, especially his mystery stories, while Pederson-Krag
(1949) did the same for this particular genre as a whole. Arlow (1978)
has pointed out the etiological implications of primal scene remnants
in the novels of Yukio Mishima, as has Anthi (1982) with the myster-
ies of the Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose, Greenacre (1955) with
the writings of Lewis Carroll, and Bradley (1967) with Samuel Butlers
Rosen (1953) presented in detail the analysis of a highly gifted
young mathematician whose theoretical work was a sublimation of
primal scene conflicts facilitated by

(1) the selective use of perception in the service of drive and defense
in scoptophilic fantasies (2) the narcissistic withdrawal from the real
darkness and light surrounding the functional relationships of
parental objects and their investment in the neutral symbols and rela-
tionships of mathematical invention. (p. 135)

In his criticism of Greenacre and Gay, Esman (1994a,b) did not take
into consideration certain historical facts relevant to primal scene
trauma, such as
1. The entire Mondrian family sleeping in a single attic space of
their home in Amersfoort to be safe from floods.
2. Mondrians three younger brothers having been born at home,
which allows for the very real possibility of him seeing the deliv-
eries, particularly the last two, or hearing his mother scream
because of pain.
3. His interest in dancing as a way of mastering primal scene
conflict and his assumption that the mechanics of the Charleston
discouraged amorous thought.
4. His widespread use of the term veil in his many essays, his
inordinate fear of his eyes being accidentally damaged, and his
emphasis upon them in self-portraits.
5. His spider phobias and terror of thunder and lightning.
6. His Neo-Plastic philosophy, with its relentless quest for purity,
the centrality of the rectangle in his paintings, the genderization
of vertical and horizontal lines, and the utilization of only
primary colors and their rigorous compartmentalization.
7. The effect of the First and Second World Wars on Mondrian,
especially the former.
8. His numerous, long-standing obsessional traits and behaviours.
9. His antipathy to motion, especially in his work.
10. The Neo-Plastic interiors of the places where he lived and
11. His reaction to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, particularly his
identification with Sleepy, who was so instrumental in protecting
Snow White from her stepmother.
12. Examples from film, literature, painting, and philosophy where
the primal scene was a crucial determinant.
By making allowance for these contingent matters, the weight of
the clinical evidence strongly favors Gays and Greenacres positions
about the influence of the primal scene and compulsive adaptation on
Mondrians life and his paintings from 19161917 on. For the primal
scene to have had so decisive an effect on Mondrian, sufficient to
bring about the improvisation of Neo-Plasticism as a defensive
maneuver in mid-life, the exposure would have had to have been

repetitive over a number of years and the trauma, therefore, a cumu-

lative one (Myers, 1979). Other factors bound to have influenced
Mondrians vulnerability to the primal scene would be the level of his
ego organization at the time of the incidents, along with family atti-
tudes towards sexuality, especially those of his father, who was such
a strict religious zealot, and how that would compromise superego
development, generating a disproportionate sense of guilt and shame
in young Piet.
This attempt to understand Mondrians artistic creativity by
concentrating on intrapsychic conflict and unconscious motivation is
not a unicausal explanation for such a subtle and complex process,
which is always vastly over-determined. Innate or inherited talents
and capacities (Mondrians father and a paternal uncle were artists),
disparate perceptual cognitive abilities, such as handeye co-ordina-
tion, visual acuity, and depth awareness13, as well as discrete aesthetic
sensitivities and a proficiency with symbolic interplay, would also
have been important contributors to Mondrians art.

1. There is a correlation between rigid body posture on the analytic couch
and primal scene experiences (Waldhorn & Fine, 1974, p. 14).
2. In Mondrians self-portraits, the eyes are exaggerated. Among his earlier
paintings, there are a few of women, each with very large eyes. In one
called Evolution (19101911), three naked women, all rather asensual,
are shown lying down side by side, the first and third with eyes closed,
the middle with hers wide open. In another, Passion Flower
(19031904), a woman wearing a nightgown is also on her back with eyes
3. In the novel, I Am Zoe Handke (Larsen, 1992), there is a graphic descrip-
tion of the main character, an adolescent girl, accidentally catching her
parents having intercourse, which is profoundly disturbing to her. She
has recurrent bouts of hysterical blindness and deafness accompanied by
depersonalization, while continually struggling to grasp the true nature
of silence (Myers, 1979). Veil, which is an uncommon word, appears
in the text frequently, for example, the distant veil of time (p. 90); the
unseen veil between them (p. 173); the far greater and disorienting
strangeness, as if they had been transported through a veil in time
(p. 188); as if through the veils of a silvery and gentle summer (p. 213).

4. Mondrian told a friend he decided to leave Holland because

he didnt feel at ease anymore in our country, and longed to get

away from it all, he felt a need to wait quietly for things to come
out from within himself without the old environment, without old
ties, in an environment where nobody interfered with others.
(Harthoorn, 1980)

5. Mondrian danced only in the horizontal or vertical planes, never in a

circle. Despite his great love of music, he was irritated that the turntable
of his phonograph had to be round to accommodate the shape of the
6. In the Wolf-Mans classic primal scene dream, the wolves sitting in the
tree outside his bedroom window, which denote aspects of both parents,
are completely immobilized. Simon (1977) felt that Mark Gertlers paint-
ings of still life such as ornamental china objects were over-determined
by primal scene trauma.
7. According to one art historian: For Mondrian the only constant relation
in painting was the right angle, which assures repose (Sweeney, 1945).
8. After 1917, Mondrian developed a repugnance for green, one of the
dominant colors in nature, the focus of so many of his early paintings.
9. The windmill, its arms, at rest, forming a cross, was one of Mondrians
favored landscape subjects (Mondrian, 1993, p. 99).
10. While a passenger on a train in England in 1938, Mondrian was made
anxious by telephone poles protruding into the horizon along the route
(Harrison, 1966, p. 287).
11. In 19021903, Mondrian was a member of a radical political group, but
was so frightened after a strike of railroad workers in Amsterdam became
violent and led to bloodshed that he renounced his political ties and left
the city for a rural setting in Brabant, where he remained for several years
(Deicher, 1995, p. 15).
12. On August 22, 1922, Mondrian notified J. J. P. Oud, an architect,

because of your changed attitude towards my ideas, you yourself

have broken the bond which arose through the apparent or tempo-
rary similarity of opinion and with it the friendship, for pure
(deep) friendship does not exist in itself as a separate thing. If you
can overlook everything, my relationship with Does as collaborator
with the same goal etc., then I dont know if youre being as honest
on your side as you imagine . . . Dont write about it any more, time
will show how much of a friend you have been to me. (Boekraad,

13. A study of artists and non-artists conducted by a group of American and

British cognitive neuropsychologists and neurophysiologists, using the
most current biomedical technology to track and quantify patterns of
hand and eye movement and cerebral blood flow, demonstrated that the
artist does, indeed, see things differently. Whereas the non-artist utilizes
only the visual cortex while drawing a human face, the artist relies on the
frontal lobes, literally thinking the portrait (Riding, 1999).

Pablo Picasso

Someday there will be undoubtedly a scienceit may be

called the science of manwhich will seek to learn more about
man in general through the study of the creative man. I often
think about such a science, and I want to leave to posterity a
documentation that will be as complete as possible. Thats why
I put a date on everything I do . . .
(Picasso, in Brassai, 1966, p. 100)

he life and work of Pablo Picasso, arguably the most renowned

T artist of the twentieth century, provide an abundance of mater-

ial for appreciating the role of the unconscious in the creative
Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Malaga, Spain and,
because he was so lethargic and slow to breathe at birth, was given up
as dead until a relative blew cigar smoke in his nose, to which he
reacted vigorously. He was named after a paternal uncle, a priest, who
had died in 1878, causing his parents marriage to be postponed for
two years and raising a question as to whether he were not partially
a replacement child. His father, Don Jose Ruiz, was an artist whose
brother Pablo had been his patron.


When he was three, his sister, Lola, was born on December 28, 1884
in the midst of a major earthquake, which struck Malaga during the
night of December 25, forcing the Ruiz family to flee their house, and
continued through the 29th, killing 600 people and causing wide-
spread destruction.
From an early age, Pablo exhibited unusual artistic talent. His sen-
sual acuity and his memory for perceptual details were remarkable and
he was able to draw long before he could talk. His first pictures were
spirals intended to be sugar cakes and he taught himself to walk by
pushing a tin of biscuits chosen specifically because of its contents.
During his childhood, he was so overprotected and catered to that
upon starting school he manifested such severe separation anxiety that
he had to be sent to a special private academy, which he would only
attend on the condition he could take with him each day a caged pigeon
that had been a model for his father, who specialized in painting
birds. Pablo would then spend his time in the classroom completely
engrossed in his drawings, ignoring totally what was going on around
him. In his first school year, his sister Conchita was born, further
taxing his adaptive capacities and tolerance for being away from home.
When he was ten, his family moved from Malaga on the southern
coast of Spain to Corunna on the northeast Atlantic shore when the
museum in Malaga, where his father was a conservator and had his
studio, was closed. This was a difficult transition, especially since
there was a marked climatic difference between the two cities, Malaga
being Mediterranean, Corunna cold and damp with much rain, wind,
and fog.
In 1895, just before the Picassos relocated to Barcelona, Conchita,
aged eight, died of diphtheria. Pablo blamed himself for her death,
and fifty years later still dwelt guiltily upon the incident, which he
claimed was in 1891, being so afraid of his children as infants suffo-
cating, either he or their mother, at his insistence, would check them
as often as six times a night to be sure they were breathing properly,
which makes sense in view of the degree of obstruction of air entry in
terminal diphtheria and the death wishes Picasso would have had
towards Conchita. The watched sleeper motif is evident in a num-
ber of his drawings and paintings, particularly during the 1930s and
1940s, when his children were young, while from 18971899 a criti-
cally ill girl was the predominant image in his work (Gedo, 1980,
p. 60, 1983, p. 412).

According to Richardson (1991), as Conchita was dying, Picasso

vowed to God that he would never paint or draw again if Conchitas

life was spared. Conchitas death left Picasso with a permanent terror
of illness, especially in women. Its always womens fault if theyre
ill he used to say, as if to ward off the guilt to which the vow had left
him susceptible. It may also have prompted his eventual identification
with a minotaur, the legendary monster to whom young girls had to
be sacrificed. (pp. 4950)

At sixteen, Picasso went to Madrid to pursue studies in art, but

was so homesick that within six months, after contracting scarlet
fever, he rejoined his family in Barcelona. When he went to Paris at
nineteen, he lived in large family-like enclaves of Spanish migrants
and made numerous trips home. It was at this time he dropped his
fathers name, Ruiz, and took that of his mother, Picasso, the two ss
possibly offering him some magical reassurance regarding separation
(Crespelle, 1969).
Conflict over separation was constant in Picassos entire life.
Getting up in the morning was always very difficult for him. Upon
awakening around noon, he would be gloomy, irritable, distracted
with somatic complaints, and refuse to move out of bed until his wife
or the woman he was living with and his secretary made elaborate
supportive gestures and handed him the days mail. After rising and
eating breakfast, he usually met with various friends and admirers
who congregated at his house at that time and then would paint from
around 2 p.m. until the early hours of the next day, his mood getting
progressively more cheerful as he immersed himself in his work, this
wakesleep pattern possibly a residual of the Malaga earthquake,
which took place after midnight. He dreaded the prospect of aging
and dying, found it impossible to throw anything away and, over the
years, developed a number of superstitious strategies to ward off
disease and death. He was markedly hypochondriacal and, from 1920,
suffered from a recurrent duodenal ulcer. As he grew older, he was
careful to choose much younger women as his companions in the
hope that this would perpetuate his youth, and was easily upset by
the possibility of anyone he had known outliving him. Given to much
secrecy, he was forever testing and retesting friendships and took
much delight whenever any of his women quarreled over him (Gilot
& Lake, 1964).

Picasso was totally dedicated to, and absorbed by, his work,
driving himself and everyone else around him relentlessly while
ignoring the usual routines of day to day living in achieving such a
prolific output. According to Wight (1943): The genius does not
succumb to the pressure of the unconscious because he is able to exter-
nalize it. Undoubtedly, the amount of canavas Picasso has covered is
the purchase price of his psychic stability (p. 209).
From February 1901 until February 1968, Picasso was confronted
with a series of losses of important persons in his life, beginning with
Carlos Casagemas and ending with Jaime Sabartes, each one having a
profound impact upon him and his art. He had been uniquely sensi-
tized to loss because of the coincidence of the Malaga earthquake and
his sister Lolas birth, this unfortunate combination of circumstances
occurring in the separationindividuation phase. Picasso might well
have witnessed Lolas delivery in the home, stirring apprehension
about the welfare of his mother pre- and post-partum, plus the threat
of annihilation of himself, his parents, and the surrounding environ-
ment because of the natural disaster. This cumulative distress made a
lasting impression on him, reinforcing the equation of thought and
deed, the core of infantile omnipotence, and inducing a traumatic neu-
rosis because of the overwhelming suddenness, intensity, and dura-
tion of the earthquake and its effect upon his evolving ego defenses.
It is quite plausible that he might have wished Lola would die, feel-
ings that could have been conflated with the death and destruction of
the earthquake and his grandiosely assuming he was responsible for
it, which will be discussed in greater detail later.
Casagemas had been severely depressed and threatening suicide
over the end of a love affair with a woman, and Picasso had been try-
ing to keep an eye on him. He shot himself in the head at a caf near
where Picasso had been living in Paris on February 17, 1901, and
Picasso did not go to the funeral in Barcelona as he was then in Mad-
rid, nor did he see the body, but brooded over what had happened.
He did a number of paintings and drawings of Casagemas in his
coffin, emphasizing the head wound, which led to his Blue period,
featuring mothers clasping infants to their breasts, as well as La Vie,
the original version of which contained a young man and woman
standing side by side, both naked. The man has the facial features of
Picasso, which were later changed to those of Casagemas, revealing
Picassos over-identification with his dead friend. The painting took

nine months to complete, making it symbolically a form of rebirth

(Gedo, 1983, pp. 374376). Because he was so apprehensive about
being alone, especially in his studio, Sabartes, who had come to Paris
from Spain to console Picasso after Casagemas died, was always
with him.
In 1904, when a neighbor, whom Picasso did not know, commited
suicide, he made a couple of drawings of the victim hanging from the
top of a building, adding a self-portrait of himself in one, and did not
show these pieces to anyone for fifty years.
In conceiving Cubism in 1909, Picasso and Georges Braque func-
tioned as secret sharers to alleviate mutual anxieties aroused by the
breaking up of external reality into semi-abstract configurations that
challenged the accepted format for painting in the first decade of the
twentieth century far beyond what the Impressionists had done
(Meyer, 1972). As Braque recounted fifty years later: It was a little
like being roped together on a mountain . . . We worked very hard, the
two of us . . . (Gedo, 1980, p. 85).
Despite the presence of Braque, whom he saw each day during this
period, Picasso worried that he might have contracted some fatal
disease, and required frequent medical evaluations to allay doubts
about his health. Cubism, for Picasso, can be linked with a need to
surmount the fears of dissolution of self and the world around, stem-
ming from the Malaga earthquake of 1884.
When Braque joined the army in 1914, Picasso was unable to do
Cubist work alone and moved on to more representational paintings,
many of them portraits. With Braque having sustained a serious head
wound during the war from which he never fully recovered, he was
not available for further conjoint projects with Picasso.
On December 14, 1915, his mistress, Eva Gouel, died from tuber-
culosis, after which Picassos output decreased noticeably until he was
able to shift from Cubism to the more naturalistic style of his Ingres
period. Evas illness, involving the respiratory system and asphyxia-
tion, in all likelihood would have rekindled memories of his sister
Conchitas death from diphtheria.
When Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet with whom Picasso had
established a psychic twinship, became a victim of influenza in the fall
of 1918, he quickly did a portrait of himself, capturing his facial
expression when he was told this sad news, which was the last one of
its kind that he exhibited for nearly twenty years.

Ambroise Vollard, his art dealer in Paris, of whom he had done an

exquisite pencil portrait in 1915, was killed on July 23, 1939 in an auto-
mobile accident, one month before the invasion of France. Picasso
developed a temporary work paralysis, and then, in January 1940,
completed seventy-one pencil drawings followed by roughly a paint-
ing a day until August 12, 1944, the liberation of Paris, where he was
then living.
When an old friend, the sculptor Julio Gonzalez, died on March 27,
1942, Picasso told another friend: Im the one who killed him, since,
on the day of his death, he had forgotten to include Gonzalez in a
regular morning ritual where he would recite the names of all the
significant people in his life. Subsequently, he did several drawings
and paintings relevant to Gonzalezs death.
The death of Max Jacob in a German concentration camp in 1945
was a contributing factor to The Charnel House, a large, grisly compo-
sition of emaciated bodies piled on top of one another in such a
setting, while Jaime Sabartes demise on February 13, 1968 was the
stimulus for 347 etchings done between March 16 and October 5, 1968,
focusing on Barcelona, where Picasso and Sabartes first met in 1895
shortly after Conchita died. Sabartes was one of Picassos closest
friends, and for many years was his secretary.
As a child, Picasso had a serious learning block, best exemplified
by his failure at age ten to solve a math problem in order to qualify
for secondary school. After the test, he went home and painted a
pigeon, using various numbers to outline it in his mind. The inability
to think abstractly might have been due to the fact that such activity
in the absence of the nurturing person, be it mother or father, pro-
duced unbearable anxiety because of the thought being the same as
the deed and the fear of loss of control of hostile impulses, compelling
him to cling to the literal representation of the numbers rather than
allow himself to freely manipulate them symbolically in the interests
of the task at hand. Once safely in his own house with his parents
nearby, he could externalize the numbers in the shape of the bird, the
creative act becoming a confirmation through displacement about the
intactness of the primary object and his capacity for repair and resti-
Taking it a step further, when Picasso did Cubist portraits after
Braques enlistment, such as the one of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler,
he required the subject to be present, contrary to his usual procedure

for this type of work, where the end result was far less chaotic, it
being necessary for him to be able to realize that the actual person was
still intact as he was transforming their image so radically. In other
words, it is as if he were attempting to both demolish the object (the
wish) in attenuated fashion and simultaneously restore it in a suffi-
ciently recognizable configuration (undoing) to gain mastery of the
implications and repercussions of hostile thought, essentially a vari-
ant of sublimation. There is an unmistakable parallel between these
Cubist works and the devastation of buildings and other physical
structures in the aftermath of an earthquake. Picasso was not comfort-
able with abstraction, especially the pure form, always needing to
have at least a semblance of an object in his art, which is understand-
able given his extreme vulnerability to loss. As he once asserted:
There is always a subject; its a joke to suppress the subject, its
impossible. Its as if you said: Do as if I werent there. Try it
(Parmelin, 1965, p. 127).
These same phenomena played a vital part in his reaction to the
bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in April 1937,
inspiring one of his best-known paintings, a symbolic interpretation
of the event in which, among its many figures, is a horse, a bull, and
a woman with bared breasts holding a dead infant. In a preliminary
draft of the work, Picasso included a horse giving birth to Pegasus,
which was omitted from the finished canvas. Clearly, this atrocity had
reawakened internal discord originating with the birth of Lola super-
imposed on the ravages of the Malaga catastrophethe dead baby
perhaps an enactment of Picassos wanting to be rid of Lola (Gedo,
1983, p. 412). About Guernica, Gedo (1980) noted: The visual evidence
suggests that Picasso witnessed his sisters delivery; the bloody new-
born baby may well have seemed dead to her terrified brother; just
as the baby appears dead in the initial sketch of it for Guernica
(p. 181).
In ancient mythology, horses and bulls were routinely sacrificed to
Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the brother of Zeus, to insure
against such calamities. Picassos father took him regularly to bull-
fights from the age of three onwards, where he would have seen
horses gored by bulls before the latter were ultimately killed, and
these two animals were prominent in Picassos art from the time he
started using oils at age 89. While painting Guernica, his then wife,
Dora Maar, was always by his side.

Being so preoccupied with and terrified of death, the completion

of a given work afforded Picasso only temporary relief, obliging him
to repeat the process almost immediately. As he observed:

Unfinished, a picture remains alive, dangerous. A finished work is a

dead work, killed . . . To finish it means to be through with it, to kill
it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow: the most unfortunate one
for the painter as well as the picture. (Haesaerts, 1961, p. 7; Sabartes,
1946, p. 146, my emphasis)

This drivenness is conveyed in the following statements made by


Where do I get this power of creating and forming? I dont know. I

have only one thought: work. I paint just as I breathe. When I work, I
relax; not doing anything or entertaining visitors makes me tired. Its
still often 3:00 a.m. when I switch off my light . . . Theres never a
moment when you can say, Ive worked well and to-morrow is
Sunday. As soon as you stop, its because youve started again. You
can put a picture aside and say you wont touch it again. But you can
never write THE END . . . Freedom one must be very careful with that.
In painting as in everything else. Whatever you do, you find yourself
once more in chains. Freedom not to do one thing requires that you do
another, imperatively. And there you have it, chains. (Beyeler, 1968,
p. 124; Parmelin, 1965, pp. 6768, 170, my emphasis)

Another crucial unconscious determinant of Picassos creativity

was unresolved oral strivings. He had a lifelong infatuation with the
infant at the breast, which emerged repeatedly in his art he was
fond of quoting a proverb that one look at a female monkeys face
would tell how much milk she was good for. Of his work and meth-
ods, Picasso (1935) has said:

It would be very interesting to record photographically, not the stages

of a painting, but its metamorphoses. One would see perhaps by what
course a mind finds its way towards the crystalization of its dreams. But
what is really very curious is to see that the picture does not change
basically, that the initial vision remains almost intact in spite of its
appearances . . . A picture is not thought out and determined before-
hand, rather while it is being made it follows the mobility of thought . . . At
the beginning of each picture there is someone who works with me. Toward

the end I have the impression of having worked without a collaborator . . .

How would you have a spectator live my picture as I have lived it? A
picture comes to me from far off, who knows how far, I devised it, I
saw it, I made it, and yet next day I myself dont see what I have done.
How can one penetrate my dreams, my instincts, my desires, my
thoughts, which have taken a long time to elaborate themselves and bring
themselves to the light, above all see in them what I brought about,
perhaps, against my will? (p. 56, my emphasis)

While working on a portrait of one of his mistresses, he declared:

I like nature, but I want her proportions to be supple and free, not
fixed. When I was a child, I often had a dream that used to frighten
me greatly. I dreamed that my legs and arms grew to enormous size
and then shrank back just as much in the other direction. And all
around me, in my dreams, I saw other people going through the same
transformations, getting huge or very tiny. I felt terribly anguished
every time I dreamed about that. (Gilot & Lake, 1964, p. 115)

There is a direct connection between the manifest content of this

dream and his paintings of the early 1920s, showing women with
oversized limbs and small heads as well as giant-like infants, while
the latent content might correlate with another observation of

The painter passes through states of fullness and emptying. That is

the whole secret of art. I take a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau.
There I get an indigestion of greenness, I must empty this sensation into a
picture. Green dominates in it. The painter paints as if in urgent need
to discharge himself of his sensations and his visions. (Ghiselin, 1935, p. 59,
my emphasis)

Here, the outside world is visually incorporated and then projected on

to the canvas.
About the motivation of the artist, Picasso commented:

I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in

connection with modern painting. In my opinion, to search means
nothing in painting. To find, is the thing . . . When I paint my object is
to show what I have found and not what I am looking for. (Picasso,
1923, p. 164, my emphasis)

Given the extent of Picassos struggle with separation anxiety, the

above remarks indicate that in his dreams and fantasies he sought a
regressive fusion with the breast and that, through his work, he was
able to externalize the manifest content in the creative process and to
surround himself with his paintings in his studio, being very reluctant
to part with them.1
Picasso also wrote poetry and plays from 19351959 on a daily
basis, and in the following example of free writing he describes certain
aspects of the early motherinfant relationship, the lack of syntactical
boundaries being the equivalent of merger.

Listen in your childhood to the hour that white in the blue memory
borders white in her very blue eyes and pieces of indigo of sky of
silver the white glances run cobalt through the white paper that the
blue ink tears away blueish its ultamarine sinks so that white enjoys
blue rest agitated in the dark green wall green that writes its pleasure
pale green rain that swims yellow green in the pale forgetfulness at the
edge of its green foot the sand earths song sand of the earth sand
earth afternoon and earth.

The poems, almost entirely unpunctuated, include many refer-

ences to the breast and teeth, interspersed with primitive oral sadistic
incorporative imagery (Picasso, 2004).

. . . and the tooth thats biting her has laid her flat (p. 23)
. . . I will rock the lambkin in my arms and offer him my breast to
gorge on (p. 34)
. . . courage bites the corner of the table cloth with rage (p. 39)
. . . as the blood dances trickling from a faucet in her breast (p. 47)
. . . which clawing the naked breast of the sky makes it pour into the
arenas throat the milk which thirsty on its knees the body thrown
back head touching feet demands (p. 76)
. . . and the biting teeth clenched tight (p. 78)
. . . the rubber that not even its rage chews anymore in the hatred mill
(p. 80)
. . . kneeling on chickpeas milks the moons lying teat (p. 101)
. . . that wounds her and bleeds her on the dish of lentils tank with
wheels of womens teats running in circles around the edge of the
tablecloth spread for lunch on the table (p. 105)

. . . biting with rage the eye of the expiring bull (p. 109)
. . . biting the rainbows neck the bra of the tempest caught in a snare
now whistles between the combs teeth and twists in her hands the
mirror asleep on her breast abandoned to its fate (p. 114)
. . . the mistress of the house photographed with exposed breasts
(p. 159)
. . . with breasts frozen with horse sherbets (p. 197)
. . . biting the breast of the sun (p. 223)
. . . with teeth of steel (p. 227)
. . . a sword plunged in the middle of the breast (p. 229)
. . . it gnaws the tongue hanging from its eye while swallowing the
drooling flames dancing inside the vase full of milk (p. 244)
. . . he takes the ice cold breast (p. 251)

The above excerpts reflect concerns with oral deprivation and

immense cannibalistic rage towards the breast, which is depicted in
Abstraction: Background with Blue Sky done by Picasso in 1930,
where a curvilinear humanoid form with teeth-like attachments
hovers over a breast-shaped object. The awful thing is that one is
ones own Promethean eagle, he acknowledged, both the one who
devours and the one whos devoured (Parmelin, 1966, p. 140).
One of Picassos plays, Desire Caught By the Tail, a satirical farce,
deals with the theme of cold, hunger, and affection, with the action
centered upon feasting and the search for love, culminating always in
disappointment. While writing poetry, one of the characters exclaims:
When you think it over, nothing is as good as a mutton stew! Visual
images are outweighed by appeals to the sense of taste and smell and
the play ends with everyone being asphyxiated by the fumes of fried
potatoes. About the relationship between writing and painting,
Picasso expounded:

Poetrybut everything you find in these poems one can also find in
my paintings. So many painters today have forgotten poetry in their
paintingsand its the most important thing: poetry. (Ashton, 1972,
p. 128)
Poems? There are stacks of poems sleeping here. When I began to
write them I wanted to prepare myself a palette of words, as if I were

dealing with colors. All these words were weighed, filtered and
appraised. I dont put much stock in spontaneous expressions of the
unconscious and it would be stupid to think that one can provoke
them at will. (Parrot, 1948, p. 8)
If I were born Chinese, I would not be a painter but a writer. Id write
my pictures. (Roy, 1956, p. 112)

Death influenced Picassos life from its very earliest moments, in

that he might have died had he not been fortuitously resuscitated,
only to be given the name of a dead uncle. The young Pablo was
bound to be told at some point about these matters, which was apt to
complicate his being able to cope with the ramifications of Lolas
birth, the Malaga earthquake, and Conchitas death, predisposing him
to overreact with inordinate guilt, compounded by the synchronicity
of the first two events, the earthquake introducing the element of a
traumatic neurosis with its fragmentation of ego function enhancing
symptom chronicity far more than would the advent of a sibling
alone. A much greater premium was, thereby, placed upon magical
thinking etiologically, engendering proportionately more concomitant
guilt associated with intentionality. Picasso refused to make a will,
convinced that if he did so, he would die the next day and would not
allow anyone to refer to death in his presence.
While he demonstrated a precocious drawing skill, an inherited
trait, it was soon utilized as a vehicle for managing issues of loss and
separation in a concrete manner, and persisted as such for the rest of
his life in other modes of visual representation as well, leading to one
of the most exceptional and productive careers in modern art.

1. Willem de Kooning relied on a single central image in much of his work
(the de Kooning woman), which is now considered one of the foremost
in modern abstract art. As he disclosed: I cant get away from the
woman. Wherever I look, I find her. I thought I saw her coming to life in
that painting so I decided to find out . . . I am no woman hater . . . I feel
free by being unfree (Davis, 1972).

Clement Greenberg

Nothing can be experienced esthetically without a value judg-

ment, nothing can be experienced esthetically except through a
value judgment
(Greenberg, 2000, p. 59)

lement Greenberg, one of the foremost and formidable art

C critics of his time, enthusiastically endorsed the abstract

expressionist movement in New York during the 1950s and
1960s. He was, thus, in large measure responsible for the acclaim it
received, making him an appropriate subject for the study of uncon-
scious determinants of formal aesthetic appreciation.
Greenberg was born in the Bronx on January 16, 1909 and had
brothers, Sol and Martin, and a step-sister, Natalie, who were four,
nine, and nineteen years younger than he. His parents, Joseph and
Dora, had emigrated to the United States from Poland and his father
was a successful businessman. As a young boy, Clem tended to be a
loner, kept himself apart from the rest of the family, and was prone to
violent outbursts. When he was 45, he beat a goose to death, recall-
ing later: I took an ax and went after him . . . Geese can attack small


children, you know. But I dont think thats why I went after him. It
was cruel (Rubenfeld, 1997, p. 31). Around that time he also started
to obsessively sketch human torsos. In his late seventies, he rated
himself an artistic prodigy, able to draw photographically.
His brother Martin was wary of Clem. When I was a teenager, Sol
and Clem and I would sometimes play ball or touch football . . . and
sometimes Clem would become enraged. When Sol got mad at me, I
knew he wouldnt hurt me a lot, but I didnt know about Clem (ibid.,
p. 32). Clem set guidelines for his brothers on how to dress, relate to
girls and conduct themselves in social situations. Although he was
indulged when it came to food and clothing, his parents regarded
Clem as a disappointment, but without telling him what their crite-
ria were. As he noted: I didnt know for sure what they wanted, but
I didnt want to be what I thought they wanted (ibid., p. 37).
At first, Clem respected his father, but, as he grew older, he was
more and more antagonistic towards Joseph, declaring: Ive been in
rebellion all of my life. Rebellion against him. In his last years, he had
repetitive nightmares in which he pounded the mattress, bellowing
at the father who refused to accept him (ibid., p. 36). Especially trou-
bling was the fact that Joseph rarely recognized Clems accomplish-
ments. According to his daughter, Sarah:

When we went to see my fathers father, it was very cold and distant.
I remember my father would call him Pa and Id always be sur-
prised to be reminded that my father had a Pa. There was never
anything between them. He lived only eight blocks from us, but I
think we only went to see him two or three times. I dont remember
seeing my father experience any grief when his father died. (ibid.,
p. 284)

With his mothers death in 1925 from septicemia, secondary to

having punctured herself accidentally with a contaminated sewing
needle, Clem did not grieve either, but appropriated her wedding ring
and wore it for a long time afterwards. He also stopped taking draw-
ing lessons at the Art Students League in Manhattan that he had
begun the year before with his mothers backing. Doras sister Lily
held Joseph accountable for his wifes demise because of his aloofness
towards her, which increased Clems hostility towards his father, with
whom he was never reconciled and whose funeral in 1977 he did not

In 1926, Clem enrolled at Syracuse University and, after being cap-

tivated during his freshman year by Keats Ode to a Nightingale
(which opens My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My
sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk and closes Was it a vision,
or a waking dream? / Fled is the music:Do I wake or sleep?),
elected to major in English literature and became a dedicated reader.
While an undergraduate, he was very shy and made few friends. To
augment his self-esteem, he lied about having played on his high
school baseball team and all his life maintained he was a member of
the Syracuse swim team, which was also untrue. He graduated with
honors in 1930 and returned to live in the family apartment in New
York where his daily routine for the next two years consisted of sleep-
ing late, studying German, Italian, French, and Latin, and going to
movies and museums. He enjoyed looking at art and had a keen eye
and acute visual memory, which allowed him to make subtle, confi-
dent judgments about the work he saw. He got along poorly with his
father, whose Yiddish accent he resented, and was extremely dis-
paraging of his brothers, which Martin interpreted as awful and
constant condemnation, telling them how they should behave and
ignoring them if they did not fulfill his requirements. He was also
highly critical of himself. He drew regularly, read prolifically, and
wrote some short stories and a play.
In 1933, his father arranged for Clem to run a wholesale drygoods
business which required much travelling, as a result of which he met
and, within three weeks, married Edwina Ewing, a young divorce, in
San Francisco. She was soon pregnant and delivered a son, Daniel,
after which Clem returned to New York to live with his father, who
supported him while he continued to write. He and his wife saw little
of one another until they divorced in 1936. In September 1935, he had
a poem in the New Masses that was strikingly similar to one by another
poet that appeared in The New Republic in 1933. He denied any plagi-
ary, but did concede the possibility of cryptamnesia. Two of his short
stories were published in the March 1935 and June 1936 editions of
In late 1937, he took a job with the U.S. Customs Service in Lower
Manhattan and moved from his fathers place to his own apartment.
He began painting and planned to make that his livelihood but then
decided to be a poet until an essay of his, Avant-Garde and Kitsch,
was published in the 1939 fall issue of Partisan Review. It was well

received within the group of New York intellectuals, such as William

Barrett, Philip Rahv, Mary McCarthy, and Dwight Macdonald, who
founded and were regular contributors to the magazine, and led to
Greenberg being appointed one of its editors in December 1940.1 In
1941, he first saw some of Jackson Pollocks paintings at a New York
gallery and was much impressed by them. In March 1942, he accepted
a position as art critic of the Nation and became entangled in a turbu-
lent relationship with Jean Connolly, the wife of the British writer,
Cyril Connolly.
Greenberg was in the U.S. Army Air Force from February 1943
until that September, when he was medically discharged after a break-
up with Ms. Connolly left him devastated, as he wrote to a friend.

I fell into a state of the deepest depression which lasted for an awful
13 days and then one morning I broke down, disobeyed orders, and
shook all over. I was given a five day furlough and when I came back
was sent to the hospital where they kept me a week and returned me
to duty with the recommendation that I be transferred somewhere my
qualifications could be used properly . . . Maldjustment was the
verdict . . . I hate the neatly packaged terms of psychiatry: malad-
justment doesnt quite take care of my case. Id say that there were
certain demands I make on my life which the Army cant satisfy . . . All in
all I was offered no inducement to go on living. (ibid., p. 72)

Returning to New York and the Nation, he was dismissive of Mon-

drians New York Boogie Woogie when it was shown at the Museum of
Modern Art, designating it as something less than a masterpiece,
but had to modify his remarks in the next issue when he realized that
he had confused certain colors in the painting. In 1944, he proclaimed
that a small group of artists such as Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and
William Baziotes were the future of American painting. Irving
Howe portrayed Greenberg during this period as a hard man with a
strong mind . . . not exactly deficient in aggression, while Hilton
Kramer surmised he was clearly willing and probably even eager,
certainly had no fear of, taking a position that most other people
would want to resist, that went contrary to whatever was the accepted
view of the time (ibid., pp. 8081). He got into many physical fights,
often when he was unable to express himself during strenuous argu-
ments, and earned a reputation as a rough and ready brawler. He
attributed his belligerence to being a scared kid while in college,

until one day I woke up and discovered I could hit people, and then
I wasnt scared anymore (ibid., p. 83). A long-time friend affirmed
that fighting against feeling helpless was always a big part of Clem.
He was attracted to the New York Yankees because of their high-
powered offense and to well-bred WASP women (ibid., p. 95).
In 1946, he helped to create Commentary and was an associate
editor under Elliott Cohen, with whom he often clashed but who
allowed him to more or less run the magazine with his brother Martin,
who was managing editor. In this setting, he was able to duplicate
significant aspects of his nuclear family. By one account:

Whenever they would have those editorial meetings, Clem never

participated in them . . . He just would sit apart from the others, scowl-
ing and acting superior. He didnt want to have anything to do with
their nonsense. And he made them all feel bad. He was their senior
intellectual but he just wouldnt participate in the magazine with the
others. He stayed on but he disapproved and never let anyone forget
it. He put a different value on what he thought than on what others
thought. (ibid., p. 205)

In 1957, he was fired from Commentary after Norman Podhoretz

succeeded Eliot Cohen as editor-in-chief.
In 19471948, Greenberg began to extol abstract expressionism,
which then had few supporters, and berated the Museum of Modern
Art for not exhibiting such work. He enjoyed ranking artists and did
so with total conviction, predicting in 1949 that Pollock would be the
greatest American painter of the twentieth century, which, though
alienating many people in the art world, including fellow critics, who
were offended by such categorical pronouncements, gave Pollock an
enormous boost, with Life carrying a feature story on him in its
August 8 edition. As the sculptor, Philip Pavia, observed: When
Greenberg is on a favorite, everyone else goes down the drain. The
painter, Paul Brach, contended: Jacksons promotion was our demo-
tion. The myth of the great artist somehow diminished the rest of us.
He was the sun and we were the black hole (ibid., p. 139). James
Wolfe, another sculptor, stated: If you spent time with Clem, you
knew who was moving up or down. Hes ahead by a nose; uh-oh,
hes having a bad day, hes dropping back. Oops! It was that kind of
comparison all the time (ibid., p. 290).

Greenberg was inspired by the writing of Immanuel Kant, chose

words carefully, and made extensive revisions in his essays before
publication. He believed that feeling is all when it came to the
assessment of abstract art and compared this with the intuitive
response one might have to poetry. He was also indebted to T. S. Eliot
and his approach to criticism.

As frivolous as he [Eliot] can be in political and social questions, he is

a kind of moral hero when it comes to literature, and for this more
than anything else I know about him I pay him a homage that is more
personal than calling him great . . . I admire his taste. Its not his atti-
tude though, its his reactions . . . but he knew better than to try and
explain them . . . I agreed with Eliots value judgments, with Eliots
taste, often, often, often. (ibid., pp. 133, 138)

In his seventies, Greenberg dreamt he was at a party and spotted

Eliot across the room surrounded by a large crowd of men before
noticing that I was looking at myself (ibid., p. 134).
In 1950, he began a five-year relationship with Helen Franken-
thaler, who was twenty years younger. According to a friend:

With Helen, Clem was a father figure. He was a professor. He was a

Pygmalion, showing her about life . . . Clem was a remarkably
presumptuous man. Hed tell you who to marry, how to cook your
breakfast, and how to raise your children. He did that not with me but
with Helen. He even wanted to conduct her attitude toward sex. (ibid.,
p. 152)

When she left him, he became severely depressed and entered psycho-
therapy for six years with a psychiatrist who was also Jackson
Pollocks therapist.
In contrast to his posture towards the original abstract expression-
ists, other than Franz Kline, Greenberg was not receptive to the
second generation, such as Grace Hartigan, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers,
and Jon Schueler, which irritated this group. When Pollock aban-
doned abstraction and returned to the figure in 1951, Greenberg was
brutal about these paintingsforced, pumped, dressed upsuch
that Pollocks wife, the artist Lee Krassner, held him liable for her hus-
bands subsequent spree drinking and death in an August 1956 auto-
mobile accident, the news of which he responded to self-referentially:

That goddamn Pollock, hes always fucked me up (ibid., p. 202). In

Pollocks last five years, Greenberg would visit him in his studio and
instruct him on how he should paint. Greenberg also tried to persuade
Philip Pearlstein to renounce the figurative for the abstract and was
disdainful of Ad Reinhardt for not following his dictates about the
sort of painting he ought to do (Sandler, 2003, pp. 70, 144, 158).
It was obvious to many artists of the time that Greenbergs esti-
mates of their efforts were conditioned by whether or not the works
corroborated his theories about art. He was straightforward and
always right up-front in his appraisals, which made him a lot of
permanent enemies. He would also choose paintings for an artists
show and compile the brochure, as he did for Hans Hoffman in 1955.
For such services, he was accustomed to being given as a gift, a work
by the artist concerned. If someone wrote negatively about an artist
that Greenberg approved of he could be very malicious towards that
individual and seldom forgave those who crossed him. He and
Harold Rosenberg, who championed Willem de Kooning and whose
stature as a critic in the New York art world matched Greenbergs,
were bitter rivals and assailed each other fiercely in their writings for
several years in what was referred to as the intellectual equivalent of
a shoot-out at the OK Corral (ibid., p. 236). As one curator pointed

We were all very conscious of it. It made life interesting . . . I didnt

know anyone in any circle in the late fifties/early sixties who didnt
regard this as the primary topic of entertainment . . . Its what people
talked about. Together Greenberg and Rosenberg constituted a real
polarity in the art world, the likes of which havent been seen since
then. (ibid., p. 238)

While Greenberg had praised de Koonings first show at the Egan

gallery in New York in April 1948, in 1971 he wrote:

I havent met an artist yet who admired de Kooning in the 1950s who
came to anything in his art and there are some prominent artists
around now who admired de Kooning . . . And you know Ingres was
like the Pied Piper of Hamelin: He sent two generations of academic
paintersthree generationsto their doom in France, just as de
Kooning led a generation lost to New York to their doom . . . If de
Koonings art has found a readier acceptance than most other forms of

abstract expressionism, it is because his need to include the past as

well as forestall the future reassures most of us. (Greenberg, 1999,
p. 128; Stevens & Swan, 2004, p. 391)

That Rosenberg had any adherents at all, Greenberg, who thrived on

such controversy, decreed was because the blind actually prefer
being led by the blind (Rubenfeld, 1997, p. 237). Rosenberg, by and
large, liked and was liked by most of the artists he knew, and was not
disruptive or divisive as was Greenberg.
By the mid-1960s, Greenbergs authority was such that one dealer,
Andre Emmerich, professed: Clems comments were taken like the
word from on high, graven in stone. Clem was construed to have
artistic infallibility. I know. I was the beneficiary as were the artists I
showed (ibid., p. 244). Al Held, whose work Greenberg did not care
for, indicated:

Many times I felt he was out to kill menot me personally because I

dont think he thought much about mebut his presence and his
influence made life for an abstract painter like me extremely difficult
. . . His dogmatism . . . left no room for anything but his kind of
narrow vision. And make no mistake, Clem had influence. Clem
controlled the dialogue. (ibid., p. 243)

During this period, Greenberg was the focal point for an informal
network of gallery owners in this country and abroad, sometimes
referred to by his detractors as his secret army, which enabled him
to arrange shows in a relatively brief time frame for unknown artists
that he deemed promising. He also forged alliances with the editors
of major journals such as Art International and Artforum, so that from
19591966 most covers of the former were devoted to artists whom he
backed, while Artforum, in the mid-1960s, was a publication dedi-
cated to the propagation of Greenbergs ideas. Art News, on the other
hand, and its editor, Tom Hess, deferred to Harold Rosenberg. It was
alleged by those opposed to Greenberg that his goal was nothing less
than control over the levers of tastemaking power throughout the
Western world. He also gave advice freely to his artists about how to
price and best display their work and tried to manage their lives when
it came to health, marital problems, and the handling of dealers and

An art historian, who was a friend, felt: Clem was interested in

discipleship. He liked to have young people around who looked up to
him. He liked to speak in aphorisms and guide the people he trusted
(ibid., p. 24). His intrusiveness was welcomed by some. For one artist:
Clem was like a father to me. He was my best friend, while another
recounted: Its a lonely business being an artist. Clem kept you
company . . . lively, intelligent, exhilarating company. Clem was like
the sun. We all felt the heat (ibid., p. 258). The sculptor, Robert Caro,
was grateful for Greenbergs support.

He clarified things for me, and thanks to him I began to learn to trust
my feelings in art . . . Greenberg is terrific in the studio. He is very
direct and he cuts through to the meaning . . . insofar as whether the
art is true and felt, or whether the artist is performing or using his art
dishonestly. (ibid., p. 219)

However, those artists out of favor with Greenberg were very envious
and would allude to the in-group as Greenbergers or the kosher
nostra who had made intentional Faustian compacts with him to
enhance their prospects.
Vincent Longo, a painter, emphasized:

You did not become a member of that group just because you were a
nice guy. To be part of it you had to buy into the aesthetic principles
. . . They wanted the good young artists to be formalists, so as to
demonstrate the truth of Clems assertions and the correctness of their
direction, which at that time was under attack from the minimalists
and pop artists. And you had to buy into the lifestyle . . . I started to
get the feeling the artists did Clems dirty work for him. If Clem disap-
proved of what somebody was doing, the group cut that person down.
TheyNoland and Olitski mostlybad mouthed Isaac Witkin, Tony
Smith, Paul Feeley, Pat Adams. They were the king of the heap and
they wanted to keep it that way. (ibid., p. 288)

Clem could be outrageous and make brutal pronouncements, and he

knew just what he was doing, said Pat Adams.

He let me know that I didnt know anything about anything, in so

many words. In my case it had to do with being a woman [and a
mother]. There was this clear sense that you couldnt be creating if you
were procreating And there was an enjoyment there [in his power] . . .

He told me once that if he pulled support from somebody what the

consequences would be on their careers. (ibid., p. 288, my emphasis)

To the art critic, Michael Fried: Clems a true sadist. And yes, of
course, he knows what hes doing. Barbara Rose specified: Clem
. . . was always involved in seeing if he could either absorb a person
and turn them into his creature or destroy them. Ken Moffett

Clem spoke true about his feelings. He would tell you the way he
really felt even if it hurt. He enjoyed it . . . It had the effect of shaking
you up and sometimes thats necessary, but that didnt detract from
his sadistic glee. (ibid., p. 296)

Mary McCarthy, with whom Greenberg had an affair, claimed he was

very sadistic, while another lover, Phyllis Fleiss, revealed that he
was always terrorizing me . . . He had a sadistic streak a mile wide
(Marquis, 2006, pp. 83, 85).
Greenberg demanded total subservience from his followers, one of
whom stressed:

Everyone around Clem learned to be very careful. If you did some-

thing that displeased him, if you misspokemade a grammatical
error or said something stupidhe would be on you for the rest of the
night . . . hed say wonderful things, and because you want the one,
you take the other.

For another art historian, who had a falling out with him: Clem was
. . . a person who structured things in such a way that it was very diffi-
cult, if not impossible, to be a friend and not agree with what he
thought and felt. The curator, Henry Geldzahler, concluded: Clem
did not object if you liked artists he did not. What he could not accept
was your not liking artists he did (Rubenfeld, 1997, pp. 292293). He
also received commissions from his artists sales.
When he was eighty-two and was asked which critics had a good
eye, he answered, Only the people who go along with me (Solo-
mon, 1991).
While an undergraduate at Syracuse, Greenberg formed a friend-
ship with a classmate, Harold Lazarus. They corresponded regularly
from 1928 to 1943, Lazarus serving as a secret sharer (Meyer, 1972).

All of Greenbergs more than 400 letters have been preserved and
provide essential data about his inner life as he was struggling to find
a suitable vocation (Greenberg, 2000). He perceives an affinity with
Lazarus (June 18, 1928). You know that Ive just decided that you are
the only person who I can bear speaking with for more than an hour
at a stretch. Thats my subtle way of saying that I miss you. We must
be soul-mated after all (March 23, 1933). Nobody else in the world,
unless it was a girl or two, ever made me feel that I was living in
company: that there were other travellers on earth (July 24, 1934).
And Harold, I thank God I have you. Honest, Ill tell you. Youre
Jesus almost.
He comments on female breasts (June 25, 1929). In the evening I
see the vermilion breasts of two and twenty sun-tan powdered
stenographers shaking up and down to the rhythm of the subway
train (July 3, 1929). . . . he took the whole gang of us for a ride up to
Interstate Park where we ate lunch and squeezed the breasts of all the
girls . . . To-morrow is the Fourth of July and Im going to shoot off
some fire-crackers at Far Rockaway. And maybe squeeze some more
breasts (Oct. 22, 1940). She [Jean Connolly] has a deep voice,
suspects herself of homosexual tendencies & has practically no
breasts. On June 25, 1929, he introduces a curious dream.

I sat on a very real fence smoking. I remember this as if it happened

to me a moment ago. Then an enormous gray female wolf with long,
long jaws, white, white teeth and two fuzzy, fuzzy cubs glided in my
apprehension from an alley of poplar trees. The she-wolf made a
deliberate, ominous leisurely swerve in my direction. Her teeth were
on my head, they shut out everything, nothing remained but teeth and
long, long jaws. Then I yelled muh! and woke up to dawn and the
realization that I had had a very beautiful dream and that it was better
than either Poe, Beaudelaire and Goya couldve done.

It was so damn real, I didnt imagine a single bit of it; it happened

genuinely in my soul, and was so absurd that it must mean something
tremendous. Ive been thinking about it all day. The wolf, being female,
could represent my suppressed voluptuosity, the cubs, my propagen-
itive conscience, while the white, white teeth are symbols of the illog-
ical amount of money you spend on girls in order to be able to kiss
themtho it isnt that way with mebut then were not always as
crass as we like to think we are. (ibid., p. 13, my emphasis)

He conveys a need to be treated specially.

(January 5, 1942). I hate Jeannies friends, but still love her. In the
month or so since you were here Ive been at work whipping her into
shape, which I hope holds. The point is to convince her Im boss. I do
that by walking out on her every time Im annoyed; and then shes
forced to come around or telephone in contrition. It sounds awful, I
know, but its best for both concerned. Her queens are to be treated
lightlyfor her own sake as well as minebut Im to be taken as the
most important thing of all. (ibid., my emphasis)

The first of Greenbergs short stories in Esquire (1935) was Mutiny

in Jalisco for which he devised the pseudonym Robert Herman
Torres. Listed as semi-fiction, the lead-in caption is: A machete
was ready for the martinet who thought Villas men were machine
gun fodder. The action takes place during the Mexican revolution.
Twenty rebels led by an American, Colonel McGowan, seek cover in
a gully to avoid fire from a single enemy machine gun after three of
the men have been killed. To ingratiate himself with Pancho Villa,
McGowan orders the remainder to charge the machine gun on the
count of three and when one, Felipe, protests, he vows to shoot any-
one who disobeys. Another rebel, Herman, hits McGowan from
behind with his gun butt and knocks him out. McGowan regains con-
sciousness and threatens to have everyone courtmartialed and put
to death. When the soldiers operating the machine gun dismantle it
and retreat, Felipe reminds McGowan: Something happened after
all, didnt it, Colonel? We didnt have to go out and get ourselves
killed, did we? I told you something would happen, Colonel. Thats
the way these wars are. McGowan flattens him with a blow to the
McGowan embarks on a long march that ends when the group
meets a Villa cavalry unit. He asks each of his men to draw from a
deck of playing cards, the five with the highest ones being taken away
by a Captain Torres to be shot. The other fourteen insist to McGowan
that he ought to kill everyone rather than just an unlucky few before
he pulls out his revolver, is struck by Felipe in the neck with a
machete and left for dead as the rest escape on foot into the nearby
mountains. By the time a safe refuge is found, Felipe, who stayed
behind to pick up his machete and was last seen hovering over the
body of McGowan before decapitating it, is missing and no one knows

where he is. After several days of trekking, the thirteen survivors

reach Guadalajara and disband.
Many years later, the narrator runs into Captain Torres by chance,
who informs him that Felipe was killed by hostile gunfire after retriev-
ing the head of McGowan, which had slipped from his grasp and
tumbled to the base of the mountain he was scrambling up to join his
The other Esquire story, The Brothers Jiminez (1936), is also set
in Mexico during the revolutionary war, while the pseudonym is now
R. H. Torres and the caption reads: In Mexico, and all over this
world, men still discover new reasons for killing each other. It is
about a rebel force that has captured a Federal army officer, Major
Ramon Maria Jiminez, who purports to be the brother of a rebel
general named Marcial Jiminez, hoping that this affiliation will save
his life. However, Ramon is executed by a firing squad after Marcial
denies they are kin. Marcial is assassinated that night at the request of
his commanding officer, the Chief, who felt that he had lied about
Ramon as there was an unmistakable facial similarity between them,
which meant that Marcial was no longer reliable.
In these stories, of which Greenberg was ashamed and written as
he was about to become a parent, the dynamic focus is on oral depri-
vation and sibling rivalry. In Mutiny in Jalisco, It was hot, we were
thirsty and there was no water left, while bullets bit the dirt (my
emphasis). A Captain Torres, who has the same surname as the
author, which is an alias for Greenberg, is responsible for the discipli-
nary shooting of five of the rebels. McGowan is a martinet, thereby
invoking Greenbergs youngest brother, while the sun is mentioned
frequently, the Spanish word for it being sol, the name of the
middle Greenberg brother.
In The Brothers Jiminez, narrated by a Clemente, the denial of
a fraternal tie leads to the deaths of two officers. The sun, that old
lady, is again omnipresent and is cursed for generating intolerable
heat and thirst. One of the rebel soldiers, Hernandez, demands a
bottle of beer from a waitress in a bar and downs half of it at one
swallow. Clemente admits: I found out I was hungry . . . Without
being asked they gave me a handful of tortillas, and I sat down in the
doorway and ate them.a re-enactment of the relationship between
mother and infant where nurture is provided before any signal from
the latter.

As his company is decamping, Clemente laments:

I felt as though I were being left behind, and lonelier than ever. I heard
the mare stamp and went over to her and let her snuffle my hand. Her
muzzle felt warm, and I pressed myself against her warm, cozy side
until my shivering left. Then I felt better, and I lit a cigarette and think-
ing about other things, played with her mane and whispered into her
ear . . . I felt awfully lonely. I patted and patted the mares smooth
neck and scratched her behind the ears and ran my hand lovingly
along her barrel. I pulled her head up and kissed her on her flabby
lips. They tasted like beer . . . The wind blew cold and I felt awfully
lonely and all I wanted to do was go back and kiss my mare again.
(pp. 138, 140)

In this passage Clemente tries to relieve his distress by frantically

embracing his female horse and smoking. The final sentence reads:
. . . I got up and went to look for my mare, speculating on the many
reasons men had found lately for killing each other. In his letters to
Harold Lazarus, Greenberg complained often of being isolated and
lonely, sometimes sufficient enough for him to entertain suicide.
Before his son, Daniel, was born on February 1, 1935, Greenberg
predicted: The baby will weigh 712 lbs. at birth and for 5 years look
like Marty. In a letter to Lazarus dated February 19, 1935, he wrote:

My story [Mutiny in Jalisco] came out in Esquire with a drawing

of me. The story is absurd, the drawing is absurd, the biographical
note is gratuitously fun, and everything is absurd . . . I forget most of the
time that Im a father. At first it was awfully bad. But now I love my son
and am dying to see him. (ibid., my emphasis)

(Mar. 8, 1935). Ive finished another Villa story [The Brothers

Jiminez] now for which I had the plot 2 years ago. The plot of the
other one I got from a newspaper about a mutiny in France during the
war. The rest was all my own. Especially the cards, machete, head etc.
I received a picture of Danielthats his name nowa few days ago .
. . Eats a lot and always hungry . . . Very fair skin, I feel that my Pa is a
closer relation than he is, although he is half me, and Im only half of
Pa whos somebody else, whereas the half of me thats Daniel is
myself. (ibid., my emphasis)
(May 19, 1935). Esquire took the second story for $75. No note of
acceptance. Just a check. Im especially glad this time, because it
means that hunting song will be published, imbedded in the story. I

sent $50 to Toady [his wife], and she sent me back her first letter in
two weeks. Theres nothing like money. Shes still peeved because I
havent announced Danny. (ibid., my emphasis)

The arrival of his son, which Greenberg was reluctant to make

known, reawakened oral dependent longings and envy in him that
were partially sublimated in the writing of the short stories.
Greenbergs sensitivity to poetry, which he wrote all his life, was
an asset in his evaluation of abstract art where he was able to trans-
late what he had learned about listening for poetic as opposed to
explicit meaning in pure poetry to the sensorial experience provided
by abstract or pure painting (Rubenfeld, 1997, p. 132).
The relationship of form and content was of utmost concern to
him. Relying on Eliots and Kants hypotheses about the primacy of
affect in the evaluation of art, he elaborated: Art happens . . . [It is] a
matter of self evidence and feeling, and of the inferences of feeling,
rather than of intellection or information, and the reality of art is
disclosed only in experience, not in reflection upon experience (ibid.,
p. 129). In other words, feeling is all (ibid., p. 132). Aesthetic judg-
ments cannot be proved or demonstrated, he expounded,

their supporting evidence can be pointed to, but can never compel our
assent the way the evidence for logical or empirical propositions can.
Yet in choosing the kind of evidence [facts] to point to in order to
support his judgments, the literary or art critic isat least ideally
just as much under the obligation to be relevant [to his evidence, his
experience] as the scientist is . . . Scientific method is of no application
in the forming of aesthetic judgment, but it can guide in the elimina-
tion of all that is extraneous to it. (ibid., pp. 130, 304)

Esthetic experience, Greenberg advised,

involves tension and the relief or resolution of tension . . . is value

judgment, is constituted by value judgment. I wrote also that an
esthetic value judgment can be thought of only as a result that swal-
lows its cause or causes; or as an answer that swallows its question or
questions. (Greenberg, 1999, pp. 32, 72, my emphasis)

Well, so how do you tell the difference between good and bad art. I
came up with the word taste and taste cannot be defined or analyzed
or described either (ibid., p. 95). You get it, you intuit quality. But

you cant analyze it (ibid., p. 99). Esthetic evaluating has to do with

liking more and less, and with not liking more and less, while the
objectivity of taste is probatively demonstrated in and through the
presence of consensus over time (Greenberg, 1999, p. 199; Rubenfeld,
1997, p. 137). At a conference on Modernism and Modernity in 1981,
Greenberg propounded: I cant prove that Raphael is better than
Norman Rockwell, the way I can prove that two plus two equals four
to anyone who is sane. If I choose to think that Rockwell is better than
Raphael, you cant show me otherwise. Such flagrant subjectivity
renders ludicrous the idea that anyone could ascertain unequivocally
that Jackson Pollock was a finer artist than Willem de Kooning and
vice versa.
As to the genetic roots and evolution of a sense of aesthetics, Roger
Fry, the English artist and critic, wrote in 1924:
One thing I think we may clearly say, namely, that there is a pleasure
in the recognition of order, of inevitability in relations, and that the
more complex the relations of which we are able to recognize the
inevitable interdependence and correspondence, the greater is the
pleasure; this of course will come very near to the pleasure derived
from the contemplation of intellectual constructions united by logical
inevitability. What the source of that satisfaction is would clearly be a
problem for psychology.
But in art there is, I think, an affective quality which lies outside that.
It is not a mere recognition of order and inter-relation; every part, as
well as the whole, becomes suffused with an emotional tone. Now,
from our definition of this pure beauty, the emotional tone is not due
to any recognizable reminiscence or suggestion of the emotional expe-
riences of life; but I sometimes wonder if it nevertheless does not get its force
from arousing some very deep, very vague, and immensely generalized remi-
niscences. It looks as though art had got access to the substratum of all
the emotional colours of life, to something which underlies all the
particular and specialized emotions of actual life. It seems to derive an
emotional energy from the very conditions of our existence by its reve-
lation of an emotional significance in time and space. Or it may be that
art really calls up, as it were, the residual traces left on the spirit by the differ-
ent emotions of life, without however recalling the actual experiences, so that
we get an echo of the emotion without the limitation and particular direction
which it had in experience. (pp. 1920, my emphasis)

Along the same lines, Mark Rothko around 1940 postulated:


Our definition of beauty, then, is a certain type of emotional exaltation

which is the result of stimulation by certain qualities common to all
good works of art. To apply this definition to our notions of all plas-
ticity in a painting must be the potentiality for the evocation of a sense
of beauty.

We have a variety of explanations for the origin and the nature of this
abstraction. Psychologists say that beauty evokes a feeling of pleasure.
This pleasure is closely associated with our infantile desire for secu-
rity. Those forms or shapes which we associate with the satisfaction of
this desire for security will forever give us that sense of complete satis-
faction. In so far as the childs original notions of security are connected with
the form of his mother, the curves and tactile planes in the human body are
the origin of this satisfaction. The artist draws on these areas of security
when he depicts the human body. The love for these human shapes is
then transferred to similar shapes in the world at large. (Rothko, 2004,
p. 63, my emphasis)

Here, Fry and Rothko are discoursing on elements of mother

infant interaction as the anlage of a susceptibility to beauty and the
sublime, which are virtually inaccessible to secondary process con-
scious memory, since these unique exchanges precede the emergence
of verbal communication and symbolization.
Defining aesthetic experience as a deep emotional and cognitive
response to a work of art, Lipscomb (1997) writes:

When a person responds to a work of art, several things tend to occur.

First and foremost, he or she enters a realm of experience that is
descriptively transitional with respect to a number of dialectics and
closely related to Winnicotts (1951) concept of transitional areas of
experience as well as to Roses (1980) notion of transitional process . . .
(p. 142)

The viewer of a work of art has the opportunity to surrender to

whatever internal experience may result from interacting through
the work of art with the artists imagination. This allows the viewer
to enter a realm situated between fantasy and reality. Reality testing
is preserved, but suspended, so that illusory qualities of the art can
be enjoyed to the fullest in what Milner (1957) calls the creative
interplay between dream and external reality without the inter-
ference of nagging reminders from more rational quarters of the

The viewer can then experience being transported to the world of the
artists imagination, in which all things are possible and realitys ordi-
nary constraints do not obtain . . . (p. 143)

Thus an art works inescapable connection with the past together with
its countervailing thrust toward the future create a dynamic tension
which can then be felt by the viewer of the work, who visits a moment
in the artists time in which past and future collided . . . Such a
loosening of the usual notions about time allows for a fluid sense
within the viewers mind of where he or she is in time and facili-
tates the reexperiencing of certain aspects of earlier developmental
phases in such a way as to intensify the aesthetic experience . . .
(pp. 143144)

The blurring of selfother boundaries that is integral to aesthetic ex-

perience also offers a soothing illusion of connectedness . . . (p. 147)

Functioning as a transitional object, a work of art offers the viewer

the space that both unites [with] and separates (Bergman, 1978)
from earlier phases of development in which fusion can coexist with
separateness, fantasy can share the stage with reality, and in fact all
opposites can stand side by side, and all things are magically possible.
(p. 151)

With taste having such predominant oral connotations, is there

anything in Greenbergs background that might account for his
prevailing interest in this subject? While nothing is known about his
initial relationship with his motherwhether he was breast or bottle
fed and for how long, the amount of accompanying tactile contact, the
affectual resonance and bonding between them, and the degree of
comcomitant gratification for eachthere are sequelae of that phase
indicative of much unalleviated internal strife. He received exclusive,
privileged treatment, such as malted milks made by his mother and
presented to him each morning in bed, along with other specialized
fare. Whether or not this practice was a compensatory gesture for
having been weaned or superseded by his two brothers, it did confer
on him a definite sense of being exceptional and entitled.
In his letters to Harold Lazarus, he describes in mid-1929 the
breasts of many women shaking up and down to the rhythm of
the subway train and going to public parks to pinch female breasts.
In a concurrent dream an enormous gray female wolf with long, long
jaws, white, white teeth and two fuzzy, fuzzy cubs bites him on

the head after which he shouts muh. He interprets her teeth as

symbols of the illogical amount of money you spend on girls in order
to be able to kiss them, overlooking the inherent oral sadism in the
dream and the primitive fears of devouring and being devoured. On
July 7, 1947, he wrote: Ill have to tear this problem [what comprises
his ideal woman] apart with my teeth. He is chagrined that Jean
Connolly has practically no breasts and that he is to be taken as the
most important thing of all by her. Greenberg was always most
congenial and excellent company when invited for dinner, so long as
the food was appealing.
A month after the birth of his son on February 1, 1935, his associ-
ations shift from the two Esquire stories and the cards, machete, head
etc. in one of them, which were his innovations, to getting a photo-
graph of Daniel, who was in California with his mother and Eats a
lot and is always hungry. In leaving his wife and son so quickly, it
seems reasonable to suggest that Greenberg was apprehensive about
his ambivalence towards Danny and what he might do to him, a resid-
ual of having killed the goose after his brother Sols birth, rationaliz-
ing the deed because these birds were known to harm children. On
January 11, 1936, he hoped to have enough money to travel to Cali-
fornia to see Danny and play with the little bastard.
Shengold (1994) has formulated the concept of malignant envy that
materializes during childhood following sibling displacement. Such
animosity has a terrible intensity and a truly murderous (and canni-
balistic) quality stemming from the delusional assumption that
what the envied other has or is has been robbed from the self.
Hence, There must be no others!
The film director Ingmar Bergman has described such dissonance
in his own life.

When I was four, my sister was born and the situation changed radi-
cally. A fat monstrous creature had suddenly acquired the main role.
I was banished from my mothers bed and my father beamed over this
bawling bundle. The demon of jealousy fastened its claws into my
heart. I raged, wept, crapped on the floor and messed myself. My
elder brother and I, usually mortal enemies, made peace and planned
various ways of killing this repulsive wretch. For some reason, my
brother considered I should do the deed. I was flattered and we
looked for a suitable moment.

I thought I was alone in the apartment one quiet sunny afternoon and
crept into my parents bedroom, where the creature was asleep in her
pink basket. I pulled up a chair, climbed on to it and stood looking at
the swollen face and dribbling mouth. My brother had given me
perfectly clear instructions, but I had misunderstood. Instead of
squeezing my sisters throat. I tried to press her chest in. She woke at
once with a penetrating scream. I pressed my hand against her mouth
and her watery blue eyes squinted and stared. I took a step forward
to get a better grip, lost my footing and fell to the floor.

I recall the deed itself was associated with acute pleasure that rapidly
turned into terror. (Bergman, 2007, pp. 23)

In selecting Pollock and, after he died, Jules Olitski to be the

premier abstract expressionists, Greenberg is, in effect, recreating the
position of maternal favorite. With both he and Pollock being persis-
tent womanizers, pugnacious, and uncomfortable about being prema-
turely bald, Greenberg easily over-identified with the artist as he had
with T. S. Eliot, encapsulated in the dream on p. 88.
It was always exceedingly difficult for Greenberg to cope with
separation, loss, and being alone, needing to have people around him
whenever possible. He wore his mothers wedding ring as a linking
object for an indeterminate period after her death (Volkan, 1972). He
also suffered protracted suicidal depressions following the termina-
tion of his relationships with Jean Connolly and Helen Frankenthaler,
going on a week-long binge when the former died in 1950.
Being without a good-enough internalized object predisposes to
loneliness and the necessity for an external figure to be a soothing
agent, as in Mutiny In Jalisco, where Clemente resorts to his mare
for this purpose.
Vengeance, which was an intrinsic trait of Greenbergs, is, accord-
ing to Socarides (1966),

a defense mechanism whose function is to conceal the deepest trau-

mata of childhood . . . In reconstructions from adult analyses
vengeance was seen to originate in the survival of retaliation wishes
of the infant towards the mother for deprivations during the oral
period later reinforced by deprivations during the preoedipal and
oedipal periods . . . Severely damaged in the capacity to love, the
vengeful person reacts to lifes losses and disappointments as if they
were representatives of the depriving breast and mother. (pp. 357, 361)

Excessive oral sadism can also stimulate the precocious develop-

ment of an unduly harsh, rigid superego with a tendency to judge and
control others, as was the case for Greenberg with his brothers and
different artists. Being overly forceful in this manner either avoids or
minimizes the threat of being judged and found wanting. This constel-
lation might have been instrumental in Greenberg becoming an art
critic rather than an independent artist In this regard, he considered
his mother

a fanatic for the truth. She overdid it . . . The main thing was to be on
the level. You werent to tell lies. Not because it was wrong but
because you would get caught out. It was imprudent. The emphasis
was on being truthful in the sense of having no pretensions . . . In the
name of being truthful our ambitions were slapped down. If we
wanted to be writers or something like that, then we put ourselves at
the risk of being phonies . . . She used truth aggressively too. Shed say
this is true about you and then get angry at you for it. (Rubenfeld,
1997, p. 36)

Being the recipient of such stringent and even malevolent scrutiny

would encourage the utilization of identification with the aggressor
and rigorous discrimination towards others and their creations.
Visual incorporation is an integral part of the early nurturing rela-
tionship with the mother and another dynamic factor governing
Greenbergs choice of profession. He was said to have a voracious
appetite for art and an incisive eye and memory for work that caught
his attention.
For most of his adulthood, Greenberg overate, chain-smoked
Camels, and drank exorbitantly to the point of alcoholism. In his
middle years, he used marijuana and hash regularly and experi-
mented with cocaine and heroin in pursuit of what he conceived of as
nirvana. He had numerous limited affairs with women, including
several undergraduates at a college where he taught. He also became
much more sadistic in his dealings with artists and was generally
contentious without having any misgivings about such behavior.
In conclusion, the standards by which Clement Greenberg judged
works of art were heavily influenced by unresolved intrapsychic
conflict, primarily insatiable oral strivings and separation anxiety, the
frustration of which fostered relentless sibling competition and recur-
rent vindictive behavior.

1. Greenberg confided to a friend at the time: Dwight MacDonald tells me
that no article in the P.R. ever stirred up so much comment as mine and
received such universal praise, etc. The only dissent was from Meyer
Schapiro who says in addition that I borrowed some of his ideas
(Greenberg, 2000, p. 212).

Edward Weston

To see the Thing Itself is essential: the quintessence revealed

direct without the fog of impression,the casual noting of a
superficial phase, or transitory mood. This then: to photograph
a rock, have it look like a rock, but be more than a rock
(Weston, 1961b, p. 154)

dward Weston, one of Americas foremost photographers, was

E swayed by unconscious elements in his choice of a professional

career whose vicissitudes prompted many such statements as
the above about his vocation and its goals.
Though the psychoanalytic literature on photography, which cele-
brated its 150th anniversary in 1990, is limited, the contributions have
been significant ones. Fox (1957) has described the analysis of a
photographer who

made use of his camera to gratify voyeuristic and exhibitionistic

impulses with relative impunity as well as to achieve active visual
focus on the external world. Photography had become a regressive
substitute for vision, and his camera served as a mechanism for the


control of visual intake and for the establishment of psychic distance.

The erotization of vision was the result of his relationship with a
seductive but cold mother who provided little affection while having
him pose regularly as a nude model for her paintings and also
sunbathe with her, such that photography had for him implications of
both devouring and stealing. (p. 93)

Based on a variety of sources (a personal interest in photography,

an awareness of the lives of different photographers, the treatment of
patients for whom photography was important, and exchanges with
other professionals who were serious photographers), Colson (1979)
maintains that the understanding of photography and its popularity,
in large measure, is to be found in its exercise of certain ego capacities
and the extension of those capacities beyond their usual limits, espe-
cially with respect to (1) time change and mourning, where It allows
a partial identification with the lost person through a reinvestment of
the fantasies and affects associated with the visual image; (2) look-
ing, reality definition, and discovery due to the fact that The photo-
graph interrupts the passage of time by means of a fixed visual image,
thereby aiding definition and clearer focus on the nuances and para-
meters of reality; (3) conscious, preconscious, and unconscious
processes because it is closely related to an array of unconscious
wishes, corresponding inhibitions and to the egos efforts to overcome
those inhibitions. In essence the photo comes to represent a symbolic
restitution of lost memories (pp. 273, 280, 281).
Fromm (1989) discussed the transitional qualities of photography
in a comprehensive clinical case study of a young man who became a
photographer at fifteen, soon after he lost his mother following an
incapacitating illness of eleven years duration, to try to halt time and
dwell in the past in order to undo separation from her.
Edward Weston was born on March 24, 1886 in Highland Park,
Illinois, the second and last child of Edward H. Weston, a physician,
and Alice J. B. Weston. His only sibling, a sister May, was nine years
older than he. Little is known of his early years other than the fact that
his mother died at home of pneumonia after a two-week illness on
January 25, 1892, when he was five. With her death, the responsibility
for young Edward was assumed by his sister, as well as his Aunt
Emma. Later, his father wrote in a family scrapbook: . . . she (May)
was, for years, more a mother than a sister. A mother could not have
cared for a child more faithfully or successfully than she did; and they

grew up with a double love, that of mother and son, and sister and
brother (Maddow, 1978, p. 31). His father soon remarried and
Edward took an intense dislike to his stepmother, who brought along
a son of her own from a previous marriage, whom she consistently
favored over her stepson.
As a child, Weston was rather frail and bashful, had a bad
temper and seldom laughed, the latter a life-long trait he shared with
his father. He was an indifferent student, tended to be a loner, but was
active in athletics during high school, where he boxed and was a first-
rate sprinter. In the summer of 1902, while vacationing on a farm in
Michigan, he received a camera as a gift from his father, possibly at
the sons request, and several months later bought a larger model with
his own money, accumulated by stringent economizing. He devoted
almost all his spare time to taking pictures, dropped out of high
school and got a job at a department store in Chicago for three years,
continuing with the photography in his off-hours. In May 1906, he
visited his sister in Tropico, California, a suburb of Los Angeles that
is now Glendale, where she was living with her husband and four
children. At her invitation, he moved to Tropico and decided to
become a photographer, going back to Chicago for a year in 1908 to
study at the Illinois College of Photography, after which he took up
permanent residence in California. On January 30, 1909, he married
Flora Chandler, a friend of his sisters, who was six years older, and
was employed by various photography concerns until 1911 when he
built a studio for himself in Tropico where he was able to make a
living, primarily through portraiture. Within a few years, he had
numerous one-man shows and earned a nationalinternational repu-
tation for his work, which was done in soft focus.
By 1919, there were four sons, and Weston was closely engaged in
their upbringing. The marriage, however, was stormy and he had
many affairs, often with women who were his models. In 1921, he
began a protracted relationship with a married woman, Tina Modotti,
who was also a photographer. In 1922, he had a meeting in New York
with Alfred Stieglitz, the dean of American photographers at the time,
that was to have a profound effect upon the evolution of his photo-
graphic style, which had already been getting more abstract over the
previous three years.
In August 1923, he left his family to go to Mexico with Tina
Modotti and his oldest son, Chandler, aged thirteen, where he

experimented with his photography and stayed through January 1925,

when he returned to California to open a studio in San Francisco with
his friend, Johan Hagemeyer. In August 1925, he travelled again to
Mexico with Modotti and his second son, Brett, remaining there until
November 1926, by which time the affair had ended, and then went
back to California, where his subject matter shifted to shells, vegeta-
bles, and nudes. In 1929, he relocated to Carmel, his home for most of
the rest of his life, and became absorbed with the natural life of Point
Lobos, particularly the ocean, cypress trees, rock formations, kelp
patterns, and various objects washed up on the beaches, such as drift-
wood and dead birds.
Weston had his first New York exhibit in October 1930 and in 1937
was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship,
which made it possible for him to travel at length throughout the
American south and north-west, photographing a wide range of
subjects. He was divorced in 1937, and the following year married
Charis Wilson, a much younger woman. They separated seven years
later and he was forced to give up photography entirely in 1948 when
symptoms of Parkinsonism, which began in 1945, became so severe he
could no longer focus a camera properly or do dark-room work. He
lived essentially alone at his home on Wildcat Hill in Carmel, assisted
by his sons and their wives, until his death on January 1, 1958.
From extensive clinical experience, Wolfenstein (1966) concluded
that when the death of a parent takes place prior to the end of adoles-
cence, mourning is incomplete due mainly to a hypercathexis of the
lost object with denial and the unconscious fantasy of recovering the
object generating powerful resistance to working through the loss,
thus predisposing the individual to a depressive character structure.
Throughout his life, Weston suffered frequent depressions, which
he called my blues. His oral needs were such that he drank coffee
incessantly and was a heavy smoker, once stating: I find myself auto-
matically reaching for the ever-ready package, especially when ner-
vous or excited (Weston, 1961b, p. 38). A strict vegetarian, he would
get nauseated if he ate meat and in his journal kept track in detail of
what he had for lunch each day (Friedman, 1975). On another occa-
sion, he offered the following account of himself :

The fog sweeps by like smoke. The sirens shriek dismally. I am alone
in this great roomno, you are with me, but only your counterpart on

the wall, forming a kiss I never got. I read a bit, walk the floor, smoke
nervously, try to write but cannot. I question which of my friends who
have begged me to call I shall telephone. The answer comesnone, so
I shall open a can of Campbells Soup and try to find solace in eating.
(Weston, 1961a, p. 118)

The female breast was of rare interest to Weston, both in his work
and personal life. When he first met Alfred Stieglitz, a photograph of
one of Tina Modottis breasts entitled The Source drew the greatest
praise from the older man, who told Weston it was perhaps the most
complete thing you have (ibid., p. 6). In 1933, alluding to a young
woman with whom he was having an affair, Weston proclaimed: I
am not exaggerating when I say, that she had the most beautiful
breasts I have ever seen or touched; breasts such as Renoir painted,
swelling without the slightest sag,high, ample, firm (Weston,
1961b, p. 272). While in Mexico, he remarked: Magnificent specimens
in one groupa girl I remember with breasts like cannons and legs
like tree trunks, of regal bearing she was (Weston, 1961a, p. 38). Here
the eye contact between the mother and her nursing infant enhances
the latters potential for visual incorporation of objects having a
connection to the mother and/or her breast, as well as the long-term
retention of these images (Allen, 1974; Almansi, 1960; Barglow &
Sadow, 1971). Such increased cathexis of visualization is conveyed by
Weston in letters to Stieglitz, after their initial contact in November
1922, about some paintings he was then shown by Georgia OKeeffe,
Stieglitzs wife. On February 21, 1923 he had written: her lone
green apple on a black trayhow vividly it still remains! and on
March 3, 1925: I have never forgotten those apples. The apple is a
common symbol for the breast. Following the end of an affair with
Miriam Lerner, Weston divulged:

Three months ago we parted, to-day I retain impressions as of yesterday

of all our times together. I find myself climbing once more to her hill-
top or racing with her over the white sand of Carmel, or listening to
Stravinsky, or pointing my camera towards her naked body. (Weston,
1961a, p. 138, my emphasis)

After putting a green pepper that he had photographed into his

dinner salad, he asserted: It has been suggested that I am a cannibal
to eat my models after a masterpiece. But I rather like the idea that

they become part of me, enrich my blood as well as my vision

(Weston, 1961b, p. 180).
Clouds, another symbolic equivalent of the breast, were also an
important and recurring theme in Westons work (Almansi, 1960). A
cloud formation photographed in Mazatlan, Mexico, was one of the
most majestic moments I have ever recorded (unpublished letter).
Pictures of a cloud and Tina Modotti in the nude taken consecutively
in 1924 in Mexico show a remarkable resemblance between the two
forms. About this sequence, Weston indicated :

Clouds have been tempting me again. Next to the recording of a fugi-

tive expression, or revealing the pathology of some human being, is
there anything more elusive to capture than cloud forms! And the
Mexican clouds are so swift and ephemeral, one can hardly allow the
thought, Is this worth doing? or Is this placed well?for an instant
of delay and what was, is not! . . . My eyes and thoughts were heaven-
ward indeeduntil glancing down, I saw Tina lying naked on the
azotea taking a sun-bath. My cloud sitting was ended, my camera
turned down toward a more earthly theme, and a series of interesting
negatives was obtained. (Weston, 1961a, p. 83, my emphasis)

After the breakup with Miriam Lerner, he apprised her in October


When I last wrote you I was very sickif I did not say soyou may
have sensed an ill-concealed depressionbut I am almost my usual
self againand quite ready for a period of work which I look forward
to with real joyyou may not have realized it but the work I did of
youthe nudesand those of my little boyNeilI forget if you saw
themwere the start of a new period in my approach and attitude
towards photographyyou were an ideal person to work withand
tooI felt your beauty so very keenlyand by this I do not mean just
the undeniable physical beauty you possessyet of the latter I speak
and insist that now I have not the same enthusiasm to go on in the
direction started with youperhaps I shall turn for solace to the clouds
againor the Mexican juguetes! I want to follow you in your travels
and in your search for expressionand I shall write you of myselfI
dont expect to travel muchbut thank the Gods the elusive search for
expression never ends!1 (Maddow, 1978, p. 68, my emphasis)

As an adult, Weston had many nightmares and anxiety dreams,

both of which dealt with aspects of violence and loss in varying

degrees. On January 18, 1924, a week before the anniversary of his

mothers death, he wrote in his daybook: A horrible night of dreams.
I saw my father put a gun to his head and shoot himselfhe was
holding Cole (Westons youngest son) in his lap at the time. On May
24, 1924, he disclosed:

If dreams have any symbolic significance, the one I had last night must
be of great import. I only have a thread to go on, I cannot recall nor
reconstruct the whole dream. It was this, someone, and it is impossi-
ble to remember who, said to me, or rather I understood them to say,
Alfred Stieglitz is dead. Alfred Stieglitz dead! I exclaimed. No,
said the other person, referring to a newspaper, not dead but dying.
(Weston, 1961a, p. 72)

On December 12, 1924, he recounted:

A dream I had of the night just passed: someone and to my regret I

cannot recall whom, perhaps Tina or Chandlercame running to me
and called, Come quick.There are the most wonderful cloud forms
for you to photograph. I hurried, regulating my Graflex as I went. But
once out of doors I was terrified, for black ominous clouds bore down
on me, enveloping me: I seemed to be overwhelmed, I dropped my
head into my arms to protect myself from the sweeping forms and
slammed the door to keep them from me. (ibid., p. 109)

On July 20, 1926, another entry reveals: dreamed Cole was

deadawakened weeping and crying out O my baby! Later that
year, he was

awakened with tears from a half dream in which Diego (Rivera) said,
No te vayas, Edward, as we embraced farewell. It was reacting our
parting of last night! I suppose in the dream Diego was a symbol for
all that I shall be sad to leave in Mexico. (ibid., p. 199)

On March 11, 1931, he professed: I dreamed strangely last night:

I went to the studio, found the big French doors had been unhinged,
taken off, the place wide open and stripped of everything: cameras,
furniture, books, all gone! What now? (Weston, 1961b, p. 208).
During his last four years, he often awoke screaming from nightmares
in which, for example, one of his arms was a snake gripped tightly by
the other or hordes of raccoons were devouring his cats.

Weston was extremely hypochondriacal, had recurrent somatic

symptoms, and was terrified of doctors, treating himself with homeo-
pathic remedies such as fasting, juices, and enemas whenever he felt
unwell and sure that there was a psychological cure for malignancy.
He was opposed to vaccination and would not tolerate having the
pus of sick cows injected into his body. When his son Brett was seri-
ously ill in Mexico, he was most disconcerted. My heart aches to see
him so gaunt and sad. I fear my own judgment, the assumption of
authoritybut I fear the pill and knife doctors more (Weston, 1961a,
p. 191).
Weston had limited capacity for long-term relationships with
women and, as noted, had a great many, usually brief, liaisons. In this
regard, he declared:

Last night K. held me close and said, I want to tell you something
darling,that I really love you very, very much.a sudden change
from her flippancy. Just dont care too much dear girl. I must remain
freeI also care,but not too much. (Weston, 1961b, p. 5)

I would like to be loved for myself: which means I would like to be a

highly sexual animal. But would I? We cant have everything! I am a
poor lover, in that I have no time nor desire for sustained interest. I
make a grand beginning, then lose out through indifference. The idea
means more to me than the actuality . . . My ego is gratified by all
these easy conquests over the cream of the crop,many of them I
know to be girls not easily persuaded. (ibid., p. 88)

I am having another reaction, from my statement that I could go

through life with one woman! Ridiculous thought! Imagine never
again having the thrill of courting,the conquest,new lips to find,
new bodies to caress. It would be analagous to making my last print,
nailing it to the wall forever, seeing it there, until I would despise it or
no longer notice it was there. No!let me stay free! (ibid., p. 93)

In a letter to Miriam Lerner, he makes a telling slip: Are we to

meet again? I prey so . . . When Weston separated from his second
wife, Charis, in 1945, Nancy Newhall, an old and close friend, wrote
to him: Flight from women seems always to agree with you. You do
ever more wonderful things. He was unduly distrustful and
disparaging of women generally. After leaving his first wife, when the
question came up in 1924 as to whether their son Brett, then thirteen,

should stay with his father or mother, Weston contended: Better with
me, to be sure. No woman is fit to bring up a boy. How can they possi-
bly understand them! To Johan Hagemayer, he complained:

Indeed I have kidded myself long enough about modern women

intellectualsBah!Bedroom Bitches in disguisewith Cavernous
Cuntsall whores at heartthey are supposed to have marvellous
intuitiona false famethey merely say the first thing that comes to
mindthey are reputed to bear suffering better than mennothey
are less highly organizedthey are regarded as more subtle than
menbunk!they are less frankless openreally they are crude,
blundering and quite without poiseGod placed their brains in their
vaginas. (unpublished letter)

When partying with friends, Weston often dressed as a woman

complete with little pointed breasts and would burlesque the
ladies by dancing alone to musical accompaniment, flirting with men
and participating in improvised dramatics. He took much pleasure
whenever his antics made any of the women present envious of his

After awhile I indulged in exaggerations, flaunted my breasts and

exposed my pink gartered legs most indecently. Lupe was enraged by
my breasts, punched at them, tried to tear them loose, told me I was
sin vergenzawithout shame. I treated Tina shamefully in my take-
offeven beauty can be made ridiculous. (Weston, 1961a, p. 55)

In a photograph of one such gathering in 1920, he is lying on his back

on the floor wearing a dress and womans hat and playing dead with
his eyes shut and his arms crossed over his chest, surrounded by his
friends who wear expressions of mock anguish. His lower abdomen
is noticeably enlarged, suggesting an unconscious identification with
a pregnant woman, a not infrequent concomitant of male creativity. It
also raises the question of whether Westons mother might have been
expecting when she came down with pneumonia in 1892, her resis-
tance to such intercurrent infection being lowered by her, perhaps,
being in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
The foregoing traits and symptoms are compatible with a failure
to mourn the death of a mother at age five, a time when Oedipal issues
are at a peak of intensity, and might predispose a male child so

afflicted to unconsciously equate love with devastating loss, making

it difficult to establish intimate ties to women in later life, the more so
since Westons mother died at home following an acute respiratory
infection and he would have been witness to her terminal suffering
and suffocation. On March 4, 1930, he reminded a friend:

Pillsbury called Sunday, asked for you, told me he had heard from
Frank that you were dangerously ill. Of course I know pneumonia is
dangerous, caused my mothers death but somehow I did not worry,
though I was distressed, I could not see you as a pneumonia type
. . . (unpublished letter)

Residual anger and rage over being abandoned by his mother would
also interfere with his ability to mourn and relate to women subse-
quently, despite the surrogate care bestowed on him by his sister and
It is the principal thesis of this chapter that Westons choice of
photography as a vocation was a direct function of the need to both
undo and master the trauma of his mothers death (Colson, 1979).
Upon receipt of the camera from his father in 1902, he became an avid
photographer, and when he acquired a second camera equipped with
a ground glass and tripod shortly thereafter, he wrote:

. . . denying myself every luxuryindeed many comforts too . . .

money saved penny by penny, walking ten miles to save 10, denying
sweets, selling rags and bottles . . . until with $11.00 in my pocket I
rushed to townpurchasing a second hand, 57 camerawith a
ground glass and tripod! And then what joy! I needed no friends
nowI was always alone with my love . . . Zero weather found me
wandering through snow driftsseeking the elusive patterns in black
and whitewhich covered the groundor sunsets over the prairie
wastes. Sundays, my camera and I would take long car rides into the
country around Chicagoand nights we [the camera and E.W.] spent
feverishly developing my plates in some makeshift darkroom, and then
the first print I made from my 57 negativea snow scenethe
tightening, choking sensation in my throatthe blinding tears in my
eyes when I realized that a picture really had been conceived . . . I can
even record my ecstatic cry as the print developed out, Its a peach!
and how I ran, trembling with excitement, to my fathers library to
show this snow scene made in Washington Parka tree, a widening
stream, snow-covered banks. I slipped into the stream and rode home

on the Cottage Grove cable car with my trouser legs frozen stiff as a
board . . . I can see every line of the composition yetand it was not
half bad . . . months of happiness followedinterest was
sustainedyeswithout many lapsesit is with me yet . . .
(Maddow, 1978, p. 34, my emphasis)

He next purchased a developing tank whereupon:

My whole life changedbecause I became interested in something defi-

niteconcrete. Immediately my senses of sight and touch were devel-
opedmy imagination keyed up to a high pitchbecauseat last
after years wastedaccidentally enough, it is sad to relateI became
interested. (Maddow, 1978, p. 34, my emphasis)

While in Mexico on March 3, 1924, he wrote to his youngest son,

Cole: Six months since I have seen you! Do you even remember how
I look? I wonder because my mother died when I was five and all that
returns to me of herare a pair of black piercing eyesburning eyes
perhaps they were burning with fever (Weston, 1961a, p. 53).
From this letter, it is evident that Weston has a vivid, though
partial, internal representation of his dead motherher eyes, pierc-
ing and burning. He also mentions wanting to watch Coles eyes
snap and sparkle. Whenever he became infatuated with a woman,
Weston would pay special attention to her eyes. In October 1928, he
commented about A: I read her eyes . . . What an incorrigible roman-
ticist I am. Who would not be with A!? Rich chestnut eyes,frank,
open eyes. On January 18, 1933, he explained: First, I can go long
periods with no desire, no need; then I see the light in a womans eyes
which calls me, and can find no good reasonif I like hernot to
respond. February 26, 1933: Seeing the light in her eyes, I soon found
a way to be with her alone. About his second wife, who was then one
of his models, he pointed out on December 9, 1934: I made some eigh-
teen negatives, delaying always delaying, until at last she lay there
below me waiting, holding my eyes with hers. When one of his
favorite cats, Keddsy, was accidentally killed in late January 1951 on
the day after the anniversary of his mothers death, Weston informed
Nancy and Beaumont Newhall: You will know what this means to
me. I see her ghost everywhere I walk. Her big yellow eyes look up in
perfect confidence no matter where I go or what I do . . . She had a full
rich life as matriarch of Wildcat Hill. (unpublished letter, my emphasis)

The camera, a critical part of which is its eye or lens, acted as a

transitional object for Weston. (Fromm, 1989; Winnicott, 1953). I
needed no friends now. I was always alone with my love he had
written about his second camera, and on February 3, 1924, he reported
on a mountain hike in Mexico: We climbed up and up, stumbling
forward, slipping back. I was the rearguard. My camera slowed me
down. It is always so. I pay the price of my loveperhaps my only love
(Weston, 1961a, p. 47, my emphasis). Concerning the actual taking of
photographs, he stressed: When Im inside that cloth, the light
perfect, the focus just right, and in front of me something entirely beau-
tifulin that split second Im the most powerful man in the world
(Weston, 1946, my emphasis).
In concert with a partial representation of the motherthe camera
and its lenseyeWeston is able to capture or visually incorporate an
aesthetically pleasing image, thereby magically restoring the lost love
object temporarily (Fox, 1957). In so doing, his omnipotence is
momentarily boundless.
The quest for restitution is contained not only in the statement
cited at the beginning of this chapter but in many others he made
about the purpose of his art.

Photographys great difficulty lies in the necessary coincidence of the

sitters revealment, the photographers realization, the cameras readi-
ness. But when these elements do coincide, portraits in any other
medium, sculpture or painting are cold dead things in comparison . . . For
when the perfect spontaneous union is consummated, a human docu-
ment, the very bones of life are bared. (Weston, 1961b, p.162, my emphasis)
I have made the juguetes, by well considered contiguity, come to life, or I
have more clearly revealed their livingness. I can now express either
reality, or the abstract, with greater facility than before. (Weston,
1961a, p.150, my emphasis)
When I showed him [a man named Mayorga who was a physician like
Westons father] my series of Mexican toys, he exclaimed, You are a
godfor you make these dead things come to life (ibid., p. 152, my

In November 1953, Weston notified Merle Armitage, also a

photographer: You are one of the last of my old friends left; Tina,
Ramiel, Margarethe, sisterand lesser lights are out. Sounds
maudlin, isntjust a comment. I think if it were not for physical

disabilities I would be photographing right now. The next associa-

tion to loss is his work and his regret about not being able to do it.
Westons overriding preoccupation with nature has the attributes
of maternal displacement.

Though city-bred I always preferred the country, all that hills and
valleys, lakes and skies symbolize. But I think my first great realiza-
tion came through my camera: at least it brought me into closer
contact with nature, taught me to observe more carefully, awakened
me to something more than casual noting and romantically enjoying.
Even as I was trying to understand, getting closer, becoming identified
with nature. She was then as now, the great stimulus.3 (Weston, 1961b,
p. 239, my emphasis)
I do not wish to impose my personality upon nature, (any of lifes
manifestations) but without prejudice or falsification to become iden-
tified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so that what I
record is not an interpretationmy idea of what nature should bebut
a revelation,a piercing [The same word used to describe his mothers
eyes while she was on her deathbed] of the smoke screen artificially
cast over life by irrelevant, humanly limited exigencies, into an
absolute, impersonal recognition. (ibid., p. 241)
It is quite coldpraise be: the desert exquisite, fantastic, enticing. I
have always been fascinated by barren wastes,even the mid-west
prairies, especially in winter. One tries in vain to pierce the distance,
the white silent level unrelieved by even a mound. The sky is white,
there is no horizon, all is a shroud of white. (Weston, 1961a, p. 115, my

To a question about types of motion, Weston once replied: There

is an inside movement that is rarely manifested in an external manner.
A kind of breathing, a sort of stirring inside. His interviewer then
went on to say:

Weston is not happy with words. He wants to tell me of that peculiar

and indefinable illusion we receive sometimes at night, when we
imagine the earth is breathing, when the hills of her breasts seem to
fill and refill with a nameless and imponderable breath. This also is
movement. (Rodriguez, 1930, p. 38, my emphasis)

Weston believed: Any creative work should function as easily

and naturally as breathing or evacuating (Weston, 1961a, p. 156) and

that: One should be able to produce significant work 365 days a year.
To create should be as simple as to breathe (Newhall, 1984, p. 81).
Jean Charlot, a friend, was an artist who functions in work as easily
as he breathes (Weston, 1961b, p. 275). His mother having died from
pneumonia, it is understandable that Weston would place such
emphasis upon respiration and attribute this physiological feature to
natural settings. Many of the inanimate objects he photographed in
his later years have a discernible likeness to the human female body.
A few months before he settled on shells as subjects, one of his
models, Bertha Wardell, made a unique impression on him while
posing: As she sat with legs bent under, I saw the repeated curve of
thigh and calf,the shin bone, knee and thigh lines forming shapes
not unlike great sea shells,the calf curved across the upper leg, the
shells opening (ibid., p. 10). Ansel Adams, his friend and colleague,
once remarked on Westons uncanny ability to find mother figures
in nature. (See Charis, Santa Monica, Fig. 968/1936; Shell, Figure
F31927; Nude on Sand, Oceano, Fig. 927/1930; and Eroded Rock
No. 51, Fig. 634/1930 in Conger (1992).)4
The drivenness underlying Westons inordinate attraction for
photography in mid-adolescence, especially after he got his second
camera, is striking. He thrived on going out in the harsh Chicago
winters, oblivious of personal comfort (Zero weather found me
wandering through snow drifts), worked feverishly5 developing my
plates to produce his

first print . . .a snow scenethe tightening, choking sensation in my

throatthe blinding tears in my eyes when I realized that a picture
really had been conceived . . . at last after years wastedaccidentally
enough, it is sad to relateI became interested . . . (Maddow, 1978, p. 34,
my emphasis)

It is, thus, after a long period of doubt and uncertainty about himself,
struggling to come to terms with the impact of his mothers death, that
his life suddenly became meaningful to him, and this same youthful
zest remained a constant throughout his life. One becomes hardened
to anything, used to all sensations; blood and death grow eventually
commonplace, love and romance too. It is only my work that I return
to with never diminishing enthusiasm, with untiring energy
(Weston, 1961a, p. 68). In a letter of July 23, 1923 to Alfred Stieglitz,
who was a mentor, he related:

and yet through it all is the ever increasing urge to lose myself in
workI may have been overwhelmed at times-falteredmade
mistakesbut I have never lost the desire to grasp that intangible some-
thing which haunts my ground-glass. (my emphasis)

Westons friend, the photographer Willard Van Dyke, was convinced:

His whole life centred around work, which Weston corroborated:
When I do not function in my work my only reason for existence is
stopped (Weston, 1961b, p. 42). The application of such tight, perfec-
tionistic control to every aspect of his photography would allay the
immense passive helplessness aroused by his mothers illness and
death when he was five. Toward the end of his life, Weston admitted
to Merle Armitage: I have a deep rooted fear of becoming helpless,
unable to earn a living or even wait on myself. When the time comes
I hope some good friend will hand me a sleeping potion (unpub-
lished letter).
Weston depicted his first visit to Stieglitz in 1922, just after Stieg-
litzs mother died, as one of the most important days of my lifeand
memories of it are burned into my breast and brain forever. A year
later, he expressed his gratitude directly to Stieglitz: . . . somewhere
within there will always be that flame of desire which has never been
smothered and which you fanned once more into a fiercer glow (unpub-
lished letter, my emphasis). While photographers enhance images by
burning them on to film in the darkroom, his recurrent use of incen-
diary metaphors, in this case to signify some characteristics of his
creative ambition, could be associated with his mothers death, as
might his choice of the word smothered in this context.
Weston was unusually fond of the music of Bach, with its intrinsic
funereal qualities, and acknowledged:

I have often mentioned the importance of Bach in my life; recently,

Dec. 10, I called him my greatest influence . . . only Bach holds up
fresh and strong after repeated playing. I can always return to Bach
when the other records, even some moderns, weary me. (ibid., pp. 248,

He also insisted: Whenever I can feel a Bach fugue in my work I

know I have arrived (ibid., p. 175).
But no matter how hard he tries, Weston can never attain his ulti-
mate unconscious wish, the achievement of permanent restoration of

and fusion with the good mother, which is conveyed in the following

Reviewing the new prints, I am seldom so happy as I am with the

pear-like nude of A. I turn to it again and again. I could hug the print in
sheer joy. It is one of my most perfect photographs. If (the saddest of
words) if I had not needed to remove the spots in that patterned back-
ground, so carelessly used, I might be almost satisfied. (Weston, 1961a,
pp. 147148, my emphasis)

His enjoyment of the very first picture he developed at sixteen

did not last long: I soon realized that the tree was too black, the snow
too white, and my struggle began, caused by dissatisfaction, to
improve my technique, a long, tough struggle without help . . . (Wes-
ton, 1961b, p. 122). Thus, he is forever having to repeat the process. In
addition, the threat of failure and further loss is inherent in the tech-
nical procedure itself, as Weston perceives it. I find myself every so
often looking at my ground glass as though the unrecorded image
might escape me! (Weston, 1971, p. 50).
Photography facilitates the discharge of a certain amount of
aggression in that the camera is loaded, aimed, and a picture taken or
shot without either damaging or destroying the subject, which Weston
affirmed: So there stands my camera focussed, trained like a gun,
commanding the shells not to move a hairs breadth. And death to the
person who jars out of place what I know shall be a very important
negative (Weston, 1961b, p. 22). Referring to the immediate utiliza-
tion of his first camera, given him by his father when he was sixteen,
Weston wrote: armed with a No. 2 Bulls Eye Kodak . . . (ibid.,
p. 181). In 1929, he advised Miriam Lerner, who was an artist: The
creative force if possessed, is pure dynamite: released at the wrong
moment or placedestruction! (unpublished letter; January 16,
Westons stay in Mexico from 19231926 can be interpreted in its
totality as a complex anniversary reaction to the death of his mother,
which yields another perspective on the issue of inadequate mourn-
ing (Pollock, 1970). He went there initially when his youngest son,
Cole, was the same age that he was when his mother died, as he tells
Cole in the previously quoted letter of March 3, 1924. He also lets Cole
know that Mr. Gehee (a friend) says you are the image of meso all

you have to do is look in the mirror and see Daddy and yourself in
one! His oldest son, Chandler, whom he took along on this trip
together with Tina Modotti, was then thirteen, as was Westons sister,
May, when they lost their mother in 1892. Four months after his
departure from California, Weston had observed: For the first time
in Mexico, that old melody of my aunts music box has returnedmy
childhood again (Weston, 1961a, p. 36). Weston was amused and
intrigued by the Mexican attitude towards death and its prominence
in their cultural rituals, which might have affected his decision to go
there originally. In July 1926, he discovered a store in which coffins
and bread were sold from the same counter. The staff of life and the
symbol of death,take your choice,on Monday buy bread, on
Tuesday a coffin (Weston, 1961a, p. 174). In November of that same
year, he was moved by

The indifferent familiarity of the Mexican to deaththe macabre

viewpoint is indicated in the puestas on this day of the dead. Death
for sale is the vendors cryDeath from every realistic and fantastic
angle is sought and sold. Great candy skulls, tin trolley car hearses,
tombstones, puppet skeletons who fiddle and dance, gruesome death
maskswhile a jolly crowd banters and buys.6 (Weston, 1961a, p. 200)

The combination of death and Mexico had a very personal mean-

ing for him as well, in that Tina Modottis husband, Roubaix de
Richey, a painter, had died from smallpox in Mexico City in early
1922, after he and Tina had begun their affair, and his sudden demise
was most distressing to Weston. Because of his repugnance to vacci-
nation, Weston exposed himself to the same possible fate as de Richey
by refusing to have himself inoculated before entering Mexico.
In Mexico, Westons photographic techniques had changed notice-
ably and he was getting much closer physically to his subjects than
ever before while his photographs were becoming quite abstract. I
have done work here I could not have done elsewhere, he announced
to Miriam Lerner in April 1926. By the time he left Mexico for good in
November of that year, he was approximately the same age as his
motherforty-onewhen she died. In February 1923, he wrote to
Stieglitz: I leave for Mexico City in late March (the time of his birth)
to start life anewwhyI hardly know myselfbut I go (my
emphasis). Due to unanticipated delays, he did not set out until that

August. Reminiscing about this venture to Willard Van Dyke in

March 1932, Weston elaborated:

Its a thrill to throw aside good judgement, to disregard consequences.

I did when I left the unlovely level of 10,000 good peoplewho were
giving me a good livingand went to Mexico. These good people
were scandalized, I had run away with another woman! Bah!the
woman was incidental, I was escaping their own suffocating breath.
(Calmes, 1982, p. 6, my emphasis)

Using journals, letters, dreams, early memories, and anniversary

phenomena as a clinical data base, an attempt has been made to
demonstrate how Edward Weston sought to master the immense
psychic trauma imposed by the death of his mother in early childhood
through the medium of photography, whereby his artistry dominated
his entire life, with nature acting as a symbolic maternal substitute
and a never-ending source of subject material for him. The circum-
scribed memory of his mothers eyes during her last days, the only
recollection he had of her, was a crucial and specific determinant of
his choice of photography, while the camera was a transitional object
and his one constant love attachment, enabling him to do some of the
finest work in the annals of his profession.

1. John Keats, whose mother died when he was fourteen, had a similar
affinity for clouds and included them in many of his poems as symbolic
representations of her (Hamilton, 2009).
2. Roland Barthes (1981, p. 82) thought Photography has something to do
with resurrection. For Susan Sontag (1978, p. 16), photographs are
incitements to reverie. In the view of Edward Steichen (1960, pp. 136
137), a leading American photographer, The created visual image, the
visual forms which we make with our hands and eyes together, link the
outer vision that explores the external world with the inner vision that
shapes our felt experiences into symbols.
3. The French writer, Gerard de Nerval, whose mother died when he
was four, described a long, complex dream he had as an adult in
which her body changed abruptly into a lovely landscape (Resnik, 1987,
p. 180).

4. Viederman (1994) has shown how the form and content of the paintings of
Edvard Munch were determined by an organizing unconscious wish to
symbolically recreate his lost mother, who died from tuberculosis when
he was five, especially through the inclusion in his work of a particular
shape that was specifically linked to his very early relationship with her.
5. His mothers fatal illness would have been accompanied by high fevers
and she died in the midst of winter.
6. Death-related material appears continually in Westons work. Many of
his first portraits were the dead infants of poor Mexican and Chinese
immigrants in southern California. In May 1937, he notified Ansel
Adams: A very exciting adventure. Too long to be written. Will tell you.
Got a beautiful picture of a fresh corpse. Part of the tale. The next year
he lamented:

And what does anyone know of my past years work? 1300 nega-
tives,21,000 miles of searching. No, I have not done faces and
postures, except one dead man (wish I could have found more)
and many dead animals; but I have done ruins and wreckage by
the square mile and square inch, and some satires. (Weston, 1971,
p. 62)

In 1941, he was commissioned to do a series of photographs around the

United States for a special edition of Whitmans Leaves of Grass, about half
of which turned out to be cemeteries and the remains of houses and other

Ingmar Bergman

Movies are, of course, fantastic media with which to touch

other human beings, to reach them, to either annoy them or
make them happy, to make them sad or to get them to think.
To get them started emotionally
(Bergman, in Singer, 2007, p. 28)

n referring to The Silence, one movie critic wrote that it is a

I symphony of despair, a harrowing harmony of unspoken anguish

and the unheard lament of the loveless. And it is, perhaps, the
most psychologically complex and symbol-laden of Ingmar Berg-
mans movies and one of his most demanding while another pro-
nounced it the mature Bergmans masterpiece (Crist, 1964; Donner,
1964). The last in a trilogy which includes Through a Glass Darkly and
Winter Light, the story concerns three main charactersAnna, a young
married woman, Johan, her six-year-old son, and Ester, Annas older
unmarried sister. As the film opens, they are returning to Sweden by
train from an unknown country. War is pending and through the
windows of their compartment can be seen military trains passing on
adjacent tracks, laden with tanks and heavy artillery. Their journey is


interrupted when Ester, who has a serious lung disease, either tuber-
culosis or a malignancy, becomes too ill to continue traveling. They
take rooms in a strange, almost empty hotel in a small town called
Timoka, which in Estonian means executioner, where Ester is
confined to bed.
Anna is indifferent to her sisters suffering and behaves in a
hostile, seductive fashion toward her son, asking him in one instance
to wash her back while she is having a bath. He is overwhelmed by
this stimulation and leaves the bathroom before completing the task,
only for his mother to insist that he nap on the same bed with her
while she lies naked on top of the covers.
Anna then goes to a bar, where one of the waiters makes a date
with her. While she is gone, Ester is cared for by an old butler who
offers her food, alcohol, and medications, although they cannot
converse, as he speaks only a Finno-Ugric tongue, a re-enactment of
the preverbal phase of development where oral gratification is pro-
vided by the mother without the child having to ask for it. Shortly
after Anna returns to the hotel, she is joined by the waiter and they
retire to an adjacent suite to make love, after which Anna and Ester
have an angry confrontation wherein references are made to their
deceased father who was a very authoritarian, domineering person.
Ester, in striving unsuccessfully to establish a homosexual relation-
ship with Anna, reproaches her sister and accuses her of being with-
out any feeling or sensitivity in not responding to her overtures.
Esters physical condition deteriorates and, as the film ends, she is left
alone in the hotel with the butler, while Anna and Johan catch a train
for their original destination. Before their departure, Ester, in the only
effort in the film to genuinely communicate, gives Johan a rather cryp-
tic note, which reads: Words from a forgotten language. With the
dialogue being so sparse, the story is carried by symbolic imagery,
which accounts for the dream-like, timeless quality throughout. In
discussing his technique, Bergman stated:

I always write too much. The intellectual process goes after, in the
selection, in deciding what to cut. I try to write subconsciously, to let
my dreams flow. Is that the word-dreams? Or ideas? When I try to
direct my ideas, tell them what to do, I think they go to pieces. In my
last pictures, I never try to tell my ideas what to doI just let them
emerge as they come. (Archer, 1967)

A central dynamic theme of The Silence is the failure of both

women to mourn and work through the loss of their father. Ester has
incorporated and identified with him. She is chronically depressed
and seeks continuous oral gratification in the form of eating, drinking,
taking medications, and smoking. She is also a translator by profes-
sion and has a fatal respiratory illness (Ruddick, 1963). Her dress and
hairstyle are quite masculine and, in one scene, while she masturbates,
her whole body hyperextends in phallic fashion as she reaches a
climax (Lewin, 1933). Esters relationship with Anna is extremely
ambivalent and, in trying to attain a homosexual liaison with her,
Ester is the aggressor, just as she had been dominated by their father.
Late in the film, Ester realizes that she and her father shared the same
illness, which she calls euphoria, before declaring that as far as
life is concerned: Its all a matter of erections and secretions . . .
We try out attitudes, but they are worthless. The forces are too
The butler, too, is mourning unsuccessfully. At one stage, he
shares with Johan some pictures of a funeral, including one of a body
in a casket and, though overcome with tears, he cannot explain to the
boy what makes him so sad. His appearance at times could almost be
described as cadaverous. During the film, the funereal music of Bach
is heard in the background.
In contrast to Ester, Anna displaces her conflict on to her son and
develops an overly seductive relationship with him where he func-
tions primarily as a narcissistic extension of herself. While she is in
bed with the waiter, Johan puts on an old pair of metal-framed
glasses, thereby creating a striking resemblance to the butler, who is
clearly a paternal surrogate. Incestuous acting out recurs often in
Bergmans films, the fatherdaughter and the brothersister variants
being presented in The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly.
Annas sexual behavior provokes Ester, as mentioned previously, and
there is a suggestion that it might have been determined by Annas
sadistic wish to arouse jealousy in her father for not paying sufficient
attention to her when she was a child.
Much of the story is conveyed from Johans perspective. At the
beginning of the film, he is by himself, gazing into space and rubbing
his eyes. Classical primal scene material is abundant. Following the
sequence where he naps with his mother, he roams around the hotel
corridors, shooting at a repairman on a ladder with a toy pistol.

Next, he spies on the butler in his living quarters from behind a large
chair but flees, terrified, when the old man becomes aware of his
presence and playfully lunges at him. He stops running to stare at a
voluptuous Rubens painting of a naked man and woman embracing
before he is surprised by the butler from behind. Again, he runs away,
to be confronted by a troupe of achondroplastic dwarfs who take him
to their rooms, dress him in girls clothes, and perform tumbling acts
for him on a large bed. Immediately after leaving them, he urinates
in the hallway, thus alleviating his castration anxiety by checking to
be sure that his penis is still there and working properly and then
walks away with his hands in his pockets and an innocent air about
While Anna and the waiter are making love and Johan is with
Ester, a large tank with a huge protruding cannon rumbles along the
street and comes to a menacing halt outside their window, after which
Johan enacts a Punch and Judy puppet show for Ester wherein Judy
is savagely assaulted by Punch. When asked by Ester to comment on
this pantomime, Johan replies: Punch is afraid. The scene then shifts
to the dwarfs, who are wandering aimlessly through the halls of the
hotel. Before encountering the waiter in the bar, Anna stops briefly at
a movie theatre, where a couple directly in front of her are having

At this point, it might be helpful to cite some characteristics of child
rearing in Sweden in order to gain a better understanding of the
psychodynamics of this film. Swedish children, as a rule, experience a
very early separation from their mothers. It is not unusual for the
latter to resume work within three months of delivery, the infant
being looked after in a day- care nursery. Swedish mothers seem to
get little narcissistic gratification from their children and one sees few
pictures of children in Swedish magazines. This premature separation
is seldom worked through as the mother continues to encourage
maximum independence in her offspring. The child, therefore, is
forced to repress and deny angry feelings and to regard his passive
needs as unacceptable, masking them behind a reaction formation of
excessive self-reliance and pseudoindependence (Hendin, 1964).

According to Hendin:

The Swedish child, especially the boy, is taught not to show too much
feeling. Much emphasis is placed on the childs ability to be reason-
able and unemotional even in disturbing situations. To be tyst och lugn,
that is, quiet and calm, is somewhat of a Swedish ideal, particularly
for the boy and the adult man. (p. 67)

Again, the silence.

Toilet training is implemented early also, and is accomplished
rapidly with an emphasis on orderliness and cleanliness, which rein-
forces an adaptation where self-esteem is conditioned by perfor-
mance, and where compulsivity might be utilized to defend against
genitality (Hendin, 1964). There are numerous examples of this mech-
anism in The Silence. Sexuality is treated with much contempt and
disgust. Ester refers to semen as dirty and to impregnation as pollu-
tion. After her first meeting with the waiter, Anna returns to her room
and washes while Ester picks up her dress from the floor and smells
it. As Anna and the waiter make love, the scene shifts suddenly to the
street below where several workers are scrubbing the pavement with
hand brushes, detergent, and water. When Johan tries to elicit some
basic sexual information from his aunt, she replies: Have you
washed yet? Further, Swedish humor has a great deal of analsadis-
tic content concerning bowel and bladder function, particularly to the
passage of flatus (Hendin, 1964).
There is a high incidence of childhood phobias in Sweden, the
commonest being fears of darkness, thunder, and death of the mother.
Sleep difficulties are one of the foremost presenting symptoms in
young children seen for psychiatric evaluation (Hendin, 1964). In The
Silence, there is a definite phobic quality to the story, with war a
constant threat. The action is almost entirely indoors and, while Anna
does go out to visit bars and attend the cinema, Johan and Ester never
leave the hotel. He is quite frightened of horses and, following the
scene where he naps with his mother, the camera moves quickly to the
street outside their room where an old man is driving a horse-drawn
wagon before switching back to the butler. Later when Johan and the
butler are together, the butler grabs a weiner and very forcefully bites
off a large piece of it, which horrifies Johan. Subsequently, he draws
a picture of a human face, accentuating the teeth and recapitulating
certain aspects of the case of Little Hans (Freud, 1909b).

Swedish fathers tend to be rather cold and distant and participate

minimally in the process of child rearing (Hendin, 1964). In The
Silence, Johans father never appears, although many unanswered
questions are asked as to his whereabouts and when he will return.
In Through a Glass Darkly, the son is overjoyed at the conclusion of
the film when his father shows him but the slightest gesture of recog-
In the Swedish educational system, competition amongst boys,
especially beyond the age of ten, is intense, performance again having
a significant influence on self-esteem. During latency, greater empha-
sis is put on the girls domestic capabilities than on her scholastic
achievements. In adolescence, girls are more often aggressive in
dating so as to overcome the boys aloofness, and sexuality is used to
initiate and maintain relationships that would otherwise collapse. The
girl learns to settle for loyalty rather than any open display of love
from the boy, and this pattern carries over into adulthood. Swedish
males usually prefer the company of other men to women and Swed-
ish marriages are often characterized by a failure to communicate
affectually, best described by the idiom tiga ihjal, which means to kill
somebody with silence (Hendin, 1964). This sado-masochistic orienta-
tion is seen in the Swedish movie Dear John, where a woman is drawn
to a man after he insults her and treats her harshly at their first meet-
ing. In The Silence, Ester remarks to the waiter after they have made
love: How nice we dont understand each other.
Swedish literature is preoccupied with death and separation anxi-
ety, best exemplified by the writings of August Strindberg and Par
Lagerkvist. Bergman himself has been heavily influenced by the
former, and, as the son of a Protestant minister, noted:

A child who is born and brought up in a vicarage acquires an early

familiarity with life and death behind the scenes. Father performed
funerals, marriages, baptisms, gave advice and prepared sermons. The
devil was an early acquaintance, and in the childs mind there was a
need to personify him. This is where my magic lantern came in. It
consisted of a small metal box with a carbide lampI can still remem-
ber the smell of the hot metaland colored glass slides: Red Riding
Hood and the Wolf, and all the others. And the Wolf was the Devil,
without horns but with a tail and a gaping mouth, strangely real
yet incomprehensible, a picture of wickedness and a temptation on the
flowered wall of the nursery. (Malmstrm & Kushner, 1960, p. xiv)

The later plays of Eugene ONeill, which deal with the above
issues, were widely acclaimed in SwedenMore Stately Mansions and
Long Days Journey Into Night had their world premieres in Stockholm.
One must wonder if this popular response is due to the fact that, like
many Swedes, ONeill himself endured considerable early maternal
deprivation, which contributed to a lifelong susceptibility to depres-
sion, which he attempted to resolve through his work (Hamilton,
A recurrent topic in Swedish periodicals is whether or not life in
Sweden is boring, the boredom (trakighet) being a sign of internal
affective constriction (Hendin, 1964). Ennui permeates The Silence.
One might speculate that collective affectual detachment or non-
involvement might conceivably be responsible to some extent for the
Swedes position of neutrality in global politics, from which they have
supplied arms to both sides during two world wars without partici-
pating actively themselves.
About the trilogy, Bergman observed:

Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence stand together. My
basic concern in making them was to dramatize the all-importance of
communication, of the capacity for feeling. They are not concerned
as many critics have theorizedwith God or his absence, but with the
saving force of love. Each film, you see, has its moment of contact, of
human communication. A tiny moment in each filmbut the crucial
one. What matters most of all in life is being able to make that contact
with another human. Otherwise you are dead, as so many people
today are dead. But if you can take that first step toward communica-
tion, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult
the future may beand have no illusions, even with all the love in the
world, living can be hellishly difficultthen you are saved. That is all
that matters. (Livingston, 1982, p. 253)

The element of love was noticeably missing from Bergmans

family life. As he recounted:

When I was born in 1918, my mother had Spanish influenza. I was in

a bad way and was baptized as a precaution at the hospital. One day
the family was visited by the old house doctor, who looked at me and
said: Hes dying of undernourishment. My maternal grandmother
took me with her to her summer house in Dalarna, and on the train
journey, which in those days took a whole day, she fed me with

sponge cake soaked in water. By the time we finally arrived, I was

practically dead, but Grandmother managed to find a wet nursea
kindly, fair-haired girl from a neighbouring village. I got better, but
was always vomiting and had constant stomach aches. (Bergman,
2007, p. 1)

He goes on to report a lack of empathic resonance between him

and his mother and later elaborated: But love? I know we dont use
such terms in our family. Father talks about Gods love in church. But
here at home? What was it like for us? How did we cope with that
divided heart, that compressed hatred? (ibid., p. 284)
Bergman was always attracted by the female breast and face. One
woman, for instance, had hard, small breasts, anothers were
large, while a third had colossal ones (ibid., pp. 53, 114, 107). He
described an event that occurred when he was a young boy where
Helga, the mother of his playmate, Jonte, was breast-feeding her
infant. When she had finished nursing, she invited Jonte to take a turn.

I would look on with envy while my friend stood between his

mothers knees. She held out her heavy breast and he leant forward
and sucked greedily at it. I asked if I might have a taste, but Helga
laughed and said I would probably have to ask Mrs. Akerblom for
permission first. Mrs. Akerblom was my grandmother, and I realized
with shame that I had stumbled over one of those incomprehensible
rules that kept piling up on my path. (ibid., p. 55)

He was fascinated by human faces, particularly a womans, and


always looking for the face of his mother. After she died, he collected
photographs of her in a little documentary that he called Karins Face.
In Saraband, a photo of Anna, the dead and highly idealized mother
who understands what love is better than any of the other characters,
recurrently appears as a touchstone of how to live. (Singer, 2007, p. 13)

A Passion was one of Bergmans favorite films, partly because of

the six-minute close-up monologue of the Liv Ullmann character talk-
ing about her marriage. Its just running, he remarks. The camera
doesnt move. That is, to me, the most alive moment in my whole
career (ibid., pp. 138139).

In summary, The Silence has been studied utilizing psychoanalytic

concepts to depict the relationship of phobic and depressive sympto-
matology in Swedish culture to object loss and separation anxiety.
Swedish child-rearing customs are examined to account for the gen-
etic derivatives of these clinical phenomena and Bergmans develop-
mental history is reviewed with respect to early deficits in affectual
attachment as impediments to the expression of love.

Franois Truffaut

One works with what happens to one in the first twelve years,
and this base is inexhaustible
(Truffaut, 1976, p. 34)

his chapter deals with the life and work of Franois Truffaut,

T who was in the forefront of the New Wave, or auteurism, in

French cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, along with several other
young directors, and will explore in depth the adaptive value for him
of filmmaking.
Truffaut was born in Paris on February 6, 1932, an illegitimate and
unwanted child. He had only the slightest contact in his early years with
his mother, Janine de Monferrand, who was sixteen at his birth, and
was placed with various wet nurses until the age of three, when
he began to eat sparsely, lose weight, and looked as if he might die
(Rabourdin, 1987, p. 11), His maternal grandmother, Genevieve de
Monferrand, realizing how debilitated he was, took him into her home.
She was a warm, kindly person who encouraged Franois to read from
age five and let him go along with her to book stores and libraries. Her
husband, Jean, was harsh and demanding. In Franoiss estimation,


He was really a pain in the neck. For example, at the dinner table, my
aunt Monique, who was very mischievous, would take a fistful of salt
and throw it behind her, just like that, and I would roar with laugh-
ter. He would immediately grab me by the collar and say Take your
plate to the kitchen! I would finish almost all my meals in the kitchen.
Thats what the Monferrand atmosphere was like. (de Baecke &
Toubiana, 1999, p. 5)

In November 1933, his mother married Roland Truffaut, an archi-

tect, who adopted Franois. The Truffauts had a son, Rene, in early
1934, who died at two months of unknown causes. Janine Truffaut
had lovers during her marriage, which Franois was privy to, having
seen her being overly demonstrative with other men in public and
read her love letters to them. She was exceedingly narcissistic and
concerned about her appearance, spending lavishly on her wardrobe.
Her relationship with Franois was strained and whenever they were
together, there was much quarreling. At age seven, he was either quiet
and withdrawn or talking incessantly. He excelled at school and was
an honor student until the third grade, when he became disruptive in
class and was absorbed in fantasy, neglecting his assignments. An
indifferent eater, his favorite food was large bowls of cream made just
for him with a special brand of flour by his grandmother, which was
a breakfast fixture for the rest of his life.
After his grandmother died of tuberculosis in August 1942, he
moved in with the Truffauts, never felt welcome, and was expected by
his mother to be silent. He was left by himself on week-ends while
they were off hiking and mountain climbing. I was a child, he
proclaimed, who huddled forgotten in the corner and dreamed
(Crisp, 1972, p. 6). He began to steal money from his parents and to
lie regularly. He described his mothers stance towards him.

Bossiness mixed with a touch of contempt, a certain way of calling me

my child or silly little fool, or little idiot, and of ordering me
around, treating me like a servant, seeing how much I would put up
with without complaining, though she didnt go so far as to hit me,
not often at any rate . . . True, my birth had really burdened this
woman, and then she had been unburdened when my grandmother
took care of me for her. How fantastic! Then suddenly, after the
summer of 1942, she had to take me in, or thought she had to. It was
when I understood this that I began to hate my mother, when I felt I

was a nuisance to her. There were signs of this, admittedly small little
things, but which hurt me terribly. For example, at every medical
checkup, the doctors always said I had to have my tonsils operated on,
and my parents were always putting off the operation; then there was
the sentence that recurred every Spring, with the vacation approach-
ingWhat are we going to do with the kid? The underlying
thought, which they didnt even bother to hide from me, was
alwaysHow can we get rid of him? And then the other thing that
was hard to swallow was two or three Christmases all by myself,
while my parents were in the mountains with friends. At first, this was
presented to me as something good: I could do whatever I wanted in
Paris, without any interference, Id have a bit of money, I could go to
the movies or the theater with my cousins . . . I know each time I was
terribly depressed . . . Obviously my childhood wasnt much fun, not
that of a martyred child or a child who was beaten, but that of a child
unloved or just ignored, which is even then pretty galling. (de Baecke
& Toubiana, 1999, pp. 1011; Rabourdin, 1985, p. 11)

Nonetheless, a friend commented that he (Truffaut) very much

admired his mother, quite simply because she was a beautiful woman,
an independent woman (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p. 11). He also
tried repeatedly to win her approval by doing chores voluntarily
around their apartment, but to no avail. At the age of eleven, he
became more of a disciplinary problem at school and was often truant
so that he could read such writers as Dumas and Balzac undisturbed.
When he was twelve, requested by his teacher to justify an absence,
he claimed it was because his mother had died.
He formed a close relationship with a classmate, Robert Lachenay,
who was two years older, much more aggressive, and with whom he
shared a love of books, film, and theater. As Lachenay noted: We
were really all alone, the two of us, making up for a family and giving
each other support in our loneliness (ibid., p. 16). Having seen his
first film, Abel Gances Paradise Lost at age eight, by twelve Truffaut
was going to two or three a week, and especially delighted in those
depicting doomed love, sneaking into the theater via an exit door or
washroom window. He saw ones he especially liked, such as The
Raven and Jean Renoirs The Rules of the Game twelve or thirteen times,
memorizing the complete sound track as well as the music. For him,
then, Life was the screen. He stole books to build a personal library.
He was quite wary of authority, dropped out of school at fourteen,

and shortly thereafter went to a film by Sacha Guitry, The Story of a

Cheat, twelve times, basing his ethical philosophy on his assessment
of the central character.

Expect nothing from others; when you need something take it, for it
wont be given to you; get ahead without recourse to violence; dont
get attached to people; learn to be self-reliant; set up a free and easy
schedule; such is the moral of The Story of a Cheat, a moral that makes
no claim to being moral but consists only in protecting oneself from
the moral code of others. (ibid., 1999, p. 30)

He and Lachenay lifted still pictures from the lobbies of theatres,

which they sold to buy food for themselves, Franois being a big
eater in the morning. He had many romantic infatuations with girls
whom he deemed proper and sexual affairs with older women. A
relentless autodidact, in adolescence he was an avid readerI took
refuge in reading. I think I very quickly got into the habit of reading
enormously (Rabourdin, 1985, p. 11). He went to movies continu-
ously, belonged to several film societies, where he impressed the
membership with his prodigious knowledge of the field, and collected
extensive printed material on film, which he carefully indexed and
catalogued. In October 1948, he and Lachenay started a club, the
Cercle Cinemane (Movie Mania Circle) with Franois as artistic
director and Robert as secretary and manager. To finance this venture,
which folded after a week due to poor attendance, Franois made off
with a typewriter from Roland Truffauts office and peddled it on the
street. He was convicted of larceny in December 1948 and sent to a
juvenile detention center, where he was miserable. The act of stealing
serves dynamically to circumvent the helplessness of being passive,
dependent, and waiting to be given to by actively taking (Allen, 1965).
While incarcerated, Truffaut wrote a brief autobiographical sketch.

My life, or rather my slice of life to this day, has been banal to the
utmost . . . Ive eaten almost every day and slept almost every night; I
think Ive worked too much and havent had very many satisfactions
or joys. My Christmases and birthdays have all been ordinary and
disappointing. I had no particular feelings about the war or the
morons who took part in it. I like the Arts and particularly the movies;
I consider that work is a necessary evil like excreting, and that any
person who likes his work doesnt know how to live. I dont like

adventures and have avoided them. Three films a day, three books a
week and records of great music would make me happy to the day I
die, which will surely occur one day soon and which I egotistically
dread. My parents are no more than human beings to me; it is mere
chance that they happen to be my father and mother, which is why
they mean no more to me than strangers. I dont believe in friendship,
and I dont believe in peace either. I try to stay out of trouble, far from
anything that causes too much of a stir. For me, politics is merely a
flourishing industry and politicians intelligent crooks. This sums up
my adventure; it is neither gay nor sad; it is life. I dont gaze at the sky
for long, for when I look back down again the world seems horrid to
me. (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p. 44)

Upon return home in September 1949, his hostility towards his

mother increased, and they had a serious falling out which lasted
several years. He became part of a group of young film enthusiasts
that included Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard,
where initially he was not accepted because of his brashness and
hyperactivity before being recognized for his commitment to the
media and consummate scholarship.
In July 1950, he tried to take his life by slashing his right arm
twenty-five times with a razor, and might have died if he had not been
inadvertently discovered unconscious in his bed by a girlfriend after
he had bled heavily. In September that year, he wrote his first screen-
play, The Angel Skin Belt, which was never produced because of its
blasphemous content.
In December 1950 he enlisted in the army for three years but, in
September 1951, had misgivings about military service, went AWOL,
was arrested and confined to a psychiatric unit, where he again tried
to kill himself using a razor. At the time, he recorded in his journal
that behind the contemptuous haughty airs I put on, theres a little
boy who would break out in tears from just an affectionate squeeze on
the shoulders (ibid., 1999, p. 66).
In February 1952, he was granted a second-class discharge from
the military and went back to Paris, where he got acquainted with
Jean Genet and Andre Bazin, the editor of Cahiers du Cinema, who
became his mentorsIn three weeks Bazin and Genet did for me
what my parents never did for me in fifteen years (ibid., p. 62). Genet
instructed his publisher, Gallimard, to send Truffaut detective novels
from its Serie Noire by William Irish, David Goodis, Henry Farrell,

and Charles Williams, which he would eventually convert to films.

Truffaut lived for two years with Bazin and his wife, who found him
wild, shy, insolent, charming and cheerful.
He began to write for Cahiers, and from 1953 to 1959 published 170
articles, principally reviews of film and interviews with directors, as
well as another 528 in a cultural journal, Arts. His style was provoca-
tive and scathing, such that he was called The Gravedigger of French
Cinema and banned from the Cannes film festival temporarily. He
put in long working hours, energizing himself with coffee and ciga-
rettes. Between 1940 and 1955, he attended roughly 4000 films, an
average of one a day, including Johnny Guitar ten times in two weeks.
He got to know some of the leading directors of that era such as Jean
Renoir, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Ophuls, Roberto Rossellini, and Alfred
Hitchcock, visited them at their studios to learn technique, was
Rossellinis assistant from 19551957 and thought of someday being a
director himself. Hitchcock had a profound effect on him. He was a
very courageous man in his work. I say courage because sometimes
there are subjects that are very difficult to do, but when I think of him,
I feel I can try themand think about how he would have solved
these problems (Yakir, 1985a, p. 51).
He made his first film, A Visit, in 1954, then The Mischief Makers in
1957, and A Story of Water in 1958, all short works. His first full-length
picture, The 400 Blows, which is highly autobiographical and indebted
to Orson Welles A Touch of Evil, won an award at Cannes in 1959 for
best direction. It was dedicated to Andr Bazin, who died of leukemia
on the first day of shooting, prompting Trufaut to write in a special
edition of Cahiers du Cinema:

Bazin helped me make the leap from film buff to critic, to director. I
blushed with pride when, in the midst of a discussion, he agreed with
me, but I felt even greater pleasure in being contradicted by him. He
was the Just Man by whom one likes to be judged and, for me, a father
whose very reprimands were sweet, like the marks of an affectionate
interest I had been deprived of in childhood. (de Baecke & Toubiana,
1999, p. 130)

To be Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, Truffaut chose a fourteen-

year-old actor, Jean-Pierre Leaud, in whom he discerned definite simi-
larities to himself.

. . . for example a certain suffering with regard to the family . . . With,

however this fundamental difference: though we were both rebels, we
hadnt expressed our rebellion in the same way. I preferred to cover
up and lie. Jean-Pierre, on the contrary, seeks to hurt, shock and wants
it to be known . . . Why? Because hes unruly, while I was sly. Because
his excitability requires that things happen to him, and when they
dont occur quickly enough, he provokes them . . . I think in the begin-
ning there was a lot of myself in the character of Antoine. But as soon
as Jean-Pierre Leaud arrived, his personality, which was very strong,
often led me to make changes in the screenplay. So I consider that
Antoine is an imaginary character who derives a bit from both of us.
(ibid., pp. 129130, my emphasis)

The role of Antoine is so close both to me and to Jean-Pierre

Leaud that we never think of other people. For example Antoine never
quarrels with anyone in the films because I am the same way. If a
quarrel begins, we leave (Samuels, 1970, p. 11).
After The 400 Blows came Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim in
1960 and 1962 which earned Truffaut even wider acclaim. Despite
such success, he apprised his mother in October 1963: I have the
profession I like, unconditionally, the only possible one for me, and
yet it doesnt make me happy. Im sad, Mom, very often so sad (ibid.,
p. 143).
In October 1957, he married Madeleine Morgenstern, whose
father, Ignace, was an eminent French film distributor, and by 1961,
they had two daughters, Laura and Eva, of whom Truffaut was
genuinely fond, trying to be the good-enough parent he never had. He
also had liaisons with other women, mainly actresses, as well as pros-
titutes, with no shame or guilt about such conduct. He practically
adopted Jean-Pierre Leaud and tried to curtail his delinquency with
modest results. In December 1965, he was divorced, but maintained a
cordial relationship with Madeleine and his children.
In 1970 after The Wild Child, which is about a feral boy whom an
anthropologist, Dr. Itard, portrayed by Truffaut, tries patiently to
educate, Truffaut lamented:

I see life as very hard; I believe one should have a very simple, very
crude and very strong moral system. One should say yes, yes, and
do exactly as one pleases. This is why there cant be any direct violence
in my films. Already in The 400 Blows, Antoine is a child who never

rebels openly. His moral system is more subtle than that. Like me,
Antoine is against violence because it signifies confrontation. Violence
is replaced by escape, not escape from what is essential, but escape in
order to achieve the essential. (ibid., p. 271)

He was leery of political allegiance, persuaded that life is neither

Nazi, Communist, nor Gaullist, it is anarchistic (ibid., p. 274).
Besides The 400 Blows, Truffaut made several other films with Jean-
Pierre Leaud as Antoine Doinel, such as Love at Twenty, Stolen Kisses,
and Bed and Board. He decided to end the series in 1979 with Love on
the Run, which meant severing his working affiliation with Leaud as
well as the screen persona that had been invented, which made
Truffaut feel almost like an orphan and discouraged about his
Before Love on the Run, he wrote to Alain Souchon, who had been
commissioned to compose music for the film: Antoine should stop
. . . running away . . . he should take advantage of the present . . .
should stop settling a score with his mother through every girl he
meets, which was applicable to Truffaut, as Robert Lachenay attested
(ibid., p. 347). In the film, Doinels girlfriend, Sabine, presents him as
a gift with nineteen volumes of the diaries of a writer named
Leautaud, whose hangup, according to Doinel, was he wanted to
make love to his mother. She wanted it too but she got scared, so noth-
ing ever happened.
To assuage the loss of Leaud, Truffaut was captivated by Gerard
Depardieu and began to conceive projects for him such as The Last
Metro and The Woman Next Door in 19801981. They became good
friends, and Depardieu later would describe Truffaut sympathetically
as being like the mischief maker at the back of the class in school.
On October 21, 1984, Truffaut died of a malignant brain tumor,
diagnosed a year earlier, and was the same age, fifty-two, as his
mother, with whom he was never reconciled, at her death in 1968.
From 19541983 he had directed twenty-five major films and planned
on retiring after doing another five to write books.
In his last days, he read many books about death, principally
Simone de Beauvoirs Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. He met with a
Catholic priest to try to get some idea about an afterlife, only to dis-
cover: He knows no more than anyone else. When Robert Lachenay
visited Truffaut on September 19:

We talked about literature, like in the good old days . . . Even on his
death bed, Franois was the same, merry, still forever joking . . . When
it was time to leave, he got up to walk me to the door. On the landing,
I realized I wouldnt see him again, that this was the last time . . . And
for the first time in forty years of friendship, we embraced. (ibid.,
p. 393)

Truffaut experienced severe early adversity, having been rejected
from birth by his mother and consigned to surrogates. Of crucial
significance would be not only the number of such care-takers he had
but the quality and consistency of the interaction with them, includ-
ing their authentic affectual investment in him and attunement to his
needs, as well as the magnitude of the anxiety and discontent with
which he had to cope. It is reasonable to infer that this arrangement
was unduly strenuous for him, culminating at three years of age in the
equivalent of an anaclitic depression that could have been fatal had
his grandmother not intervened. In re-examining his school years, he

These were good schools, a bit dirty, grimier than the Lyce Rollin, but
you got used to them. What was more difficult, for me, was going
from one teacher to many teachers. This may have had something to
do with my grandmother, who had accustomed me to certain educa-
tional methods, but I suddenly had the feeling of being abandoned like a lost
object of no interest. (ibid., p. 14, my emphasis)

In Stolen Kisses, Antoine Doinel is a private detective hired by a

young mother to find out why her twins are so skinny and so pale
when their nanny was supposedly taking them for outings every
afternoon. Doinel follows the three of them one day and watches her
leave the babies with a concierge in a filthy, sordid, stinking loge.
She then

crosses the Boulevard de Clichy and walks into a stripjoint . . . where

she stripped off her nurses uniform. I mean she did her number as a
nurse . . . two or three things with the babys bottle . . . Fifteen minutes
later she did her act again., after which she retrieves the children and
drops them off at their home. (my emphasis)

Truffaut paid inordinate attention to the breast. In one article for

Arts in November 1953, he wrote about learning the angles suited to
revealing a brassieres fabric and color, and consequently the very life
of the breasts it supports, adding the face can pretend, modesty can
be false, and virtue simulated, but the brassiere never lies (ibid.,
p. 81). In April 1971, he confirmed a colleagues observation about The
400 Blows: You are quite right to point out that, on several occasions,
Antoines glance wanders to his mothers breasts (Truffaut, 1990,
p. 357). In Shoot the Piano Player, for which Truffaut wrote dialogue, a
young woman asks her dance partner in a cafe called Mammys Bar:
Say, is it my breasts you find exciting? to which he exclaims: You
bet! One of the male entertainers then sings a song about a waitress
who has breast augmentation surgery to enhance her desirability. In
The Man Who Loved Women, after another woman has had the same
procedure, her breasts, previously disparaged as blah blah, are now
In Jules and Jim, Jim reminisces with Jules and their friend, Albert,
about the First World War, in which all three were combatants:

I am thinking of a gunner I knew at the hospital. He was coming back

from leave when he met a young girl on the train. They talked to each
other all the way from Nice to Marseilles. As she stepped out onto the
platform, she gave him her address. Then, for two years he wrote to
her frenetically every day from the trenches, on bits of wrapping
paper, by candle-light. He kept on writing even when the mortar
bombs were raining around him, and his letters became more and
more intimate in tone. At first he began Dear Mademoiselle, and
ended With all good wishes. In the third letter, he called her My
little sylph, and asked her for a photograph . . . Then it was My
adorable sylph, then I kiss your hands, then I kiss your forehead.
Later on, he described the photograph she had sent him and talked
about her bosom, which he thought he could see under her peignoir,
and soon he dropped the formal mode of address and started to call
her tu: Je taime terriblement. One day he wrote to the girls
mother asking for her hand and became officially engaged to her,
although he hardly knew her. The war went on and the letters became
more and more intimate. I take hold of you, my love, I take your
adorable breasts . . . I press you against me quite naked . . . When she
replied rather coldly to one of his letters, he flew into a passion and
begged her . . . not to flirt with him because he might die from one day
to the next. And he was right . . .

When he arrived at the hospital, he was wounded in the head like you
[Jules], but he wasnt as lucky as you. He died after being trepanned,
just the day before the armistice. In his last letter to the fiance he
hardly knew, he wrote: Your breasts are the only bombs I love.
(Truffaut, 1989, pp. 6566)

In Bed and Board, Antoine Doinel and his wife Christine are lying
in bed together talking before going to sleep.

CHRISTINE: [She pulls at her nightgown and looks down.] My poor

breasts; if I ever have a baby, I certainly wont be able to breastfeed it.

ANTOINE: Neither will I. Hell have to feed himself. Lets have a look.
CHRISTINE: Listen . . .
ANTOINE: I just want to see . . . Whats wrong with them? [He peers
under her nightgown and seems concerned] Say they dont match.
CHRISTINE: What are you talking about . . . youre crazy!
ANTOINE: No, I mean it . . . One of them is bigger than the other.
CHRISTINE: Thats not true.
ANTOINE: It is so!
CHRISTINE: But isnt everybody like that?
ANTOINE:Not at all. We ought to give them names to tell them apart.
We could call them Laurel and Hardy. (Truffaut, 1971, pp. 246247)

As he is stroking her breast, another character says to a young

woman You look like a cream puff, and then warns her: Watch out
because I love cream puffs. If I had a pair of breasts, Id fondle them
all day long. Christine chides Antoine for eying another woman:
Yeah . . . A nice plump Italian . . . with beautiful breasts . . . a sexy
mouth . . . and everything! After their first child is born, when there
is nothing in their apartment for them to have for dinner one evening,
at Antoines urging, they eat some of the babys pured dishes (ibid.,
pp. 258259, 277, 280).
In Small Change, a latency-aged boy, using binoculars, peers at a
beautiful young woman through her bathroom window as she is
taking a shower and washing her ample bosom. A first-time mother
breast feeds her child as her husband recites a passage from a book by
Bruno Bettelheim:

While breast feeding, the infant is well aware whether he is being

held in an anxious or a relaxed manner. It is not simply a question of
comfort. The infants wellbeing or unease will influence his entire
future behavior, and his later relationships with women will depend
directly on his relationship with his mother. (Truffaut, 1976, p. 157)

While filming Fahrenheit 451, Truffaut complained that he was

impatient to start the scenes with Julie Christie. The interminable
dreariness of films that are womanless (Truffaut, 1966, p. 14).
Truffaut himself was indifferent to food and advised a culinary
critic on August 8, 1980:

I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but I am on such bad terms with

food that I cannot answer your questionnaire. Bruno Bettelheim
explains that, with food, one has the same relationship as with ones
mother, and I really believe that thats the case with me. The fact
remains that an hour after a meal I am incapable of saying what I ate.
(Truffaut, 1990, p. 518)

For dinner, he usually had an overcooked steak topped with

mustard that he finished quickly with minimal enjoyment at the same
restaurants, often in the company of women, being hesitant to be
around men after 7:00 p.m. Hence, the ingestion of food was a
perfunctory exercise for Truffaut. He was a perpetual nail biter, chain-
smoked, particularly while directing a film, and read prolifically, all
of which are indicative of unresolved oral strivings (Strachey, 1930).
In Confidentially Yours, his last film, a corrupt lawyer lights two ciga-
rettes for himself simultaneously while telling some people he is with:
Your conversation made me hungry . . . Ill just hop out for a sand-
wich. The scene reverts to a woman who had been a client of this
lawyer and is upset because: I had to slap him one day to get him to
remove his hand from my bra.
In Mississippi Mermaid, Louis Mahe owns a cigarette factory that he
has to sell after his wife defrauds him. She is slowly killing him with
small daily doses of rat poison. When he catches on to what she is
doing, he forgives her and tries to salvage the marriage by clinging
masochistically to a corrosive relationship in lieu of having none
at all.
Truffaut was propelled by a voracious need to seduce but had
problems with intimacy and attachment, confiding to a female friend:

Im afraid of ties. Im afraid of making promises and not keeping

them. You shouldnt scare me, when Im with you Im happy, very
quickly and durably, but its abnormal that on the following days Im
tortured with the thought that I should be phoning you, as though I
were in the wrong, as though I owed you an explanation, as though I
were going to be bawled out. (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p. 305)

In one intense relationship with a distinguished French actress,

spoken communication was a minor factor. As she recounted: Fran-
ois wasnt a very talkative person but this did not prevent a deep
bond from developing between us very quickly. Usually when people
first get to know each other, they exchange a lot of memories. For us
it was silenceswe exchanged a lot of silences (ibid., p. 169)a re-
enactment of the preverbal phase of infancy.
Truffaut would sometimes be involved with more than one
woman concurrently. He handled being away from them for
protracted periods poorly and had difficulty terminating an affair and
letting go, becoming clinically depressed afterwards. In Bed and Board,
Antoine Doinel protests: I hate everything that comes to an end. I
hate all endings. In 1978, to console a friend, the writer Jean-Louis
Bory, who had been intractably depressed, Truffaut wrote:

Pains of anguish that are like death, the feeling of a black hole, of no
longer existing, the unreality of faces in the streetI have experienced
all of that, as well as the conviction that it is impossible to make others
understand what one is going through, the material world slipping
away, this numb emptiness. I have experienced all of that and it took me
a year and a half to get over it, before finding the inner strength to
bounce back; and it was three more years before I could live normally
and love without mistrust . . . I know when the time comes, you will
find the strength to fight your way back to the surface again, among
us. (ibid., p. 343, my emphasis)

Nine months later, Bory killed himself.

In 1971, after a break-up with one woman, Truffaut confided to a
friend that the little nightmare eight times out of ten about Catherine,
of course, reminds me of the black hole (ibid., p. 28). One must
wonder if the black hole were not analagous to his subjective state
of mind in his first three years whenever he was weaned or lost one
of his maternal substitutes.

Liebestod, or dying together, which is alleged to confer immortality

on both parties, appealed to Truffaut and is a subject in several of his
films, especially the combination of a man and woman, thereby atten-
uating anxieties about separation and the permanence of death
through recourse to fantasies of fusion (Jones, 1911). I am very open
to the idea of an exalted death, he specified, and death can be
exalted as in The Woman Next Door, a motif of which is neither
with you nor without you, where, after making love vigorously with
Bernard, Mathilde kills him with a pistol and then shoots herself.
(Rabourdin, 1985, p. 187). Brodsky (1957) postulated that Lewins
oral triad [the wish to eat, to be eaten and to sleep] is at the basis of
Liebestod fantasies.
Truffaut was forever searching for the ideal or perfect woman,
impeded by his rigorous standards, or trying to devise one in his films
and probably secretly believed that harmonious love relationships
were more likely to exist on screen than in real life (de Baecke &
Toubiana, 1999, p. 279). When Im working, I become attractive, he

I feel it and at the same time this work, which is the best in the world,
puts me in an emotional state that is propitious for the beginning of a
love story. Before me, there is usually a young girl or woman, agitated,
fearful and obedient, trusting and ready to surrender herself. What
happens next is always the same. Sometimes the love story is synchro-
nized with the filming and ends with it; at other times it continues
afterward, by the will of one or both. (ibid., p. 286)

In the last of such alliances, he was enthralled by the woman,

Fanny Ardant, after seeing her on television and wrote to her straight-
away, asking if they could meet. What was so irresistible to him was
her large mouth, her deep voice and its unusual intonations, her big
black eyes and her triangular face (ibid., p. 365). She assumed the
female lead in his last two films, The Woman Next Door and
Confidentially Yours!, and he had a child with her, his third daughter,
who was born in September 1983, a year before he died.
His prior reaction to Isabelle Adjani, who played the title role in
The Story of Adele H., was similar to that of Fanny Ardant.

She is the only actress who made me cry in front of a television screen,
and because of that I wanted to film with her right away, in all

urgency, because I thought that I could, in filming her, steal precious

things from her, like, for example, everything that passes over a body
and a face in full transformation. (Rabourdin, 1985, p. 145)

He also wrote to her announcing:

Youre a fabulous actress and, with the exception of Jean Moreau, Ive
never felt such a pressing desire to capture a face on celluloid, immedi-
ately, and without further delay . . . Your face tells a screen story unto
itself, the expression in your eyes creates dramatic situations, you could
even act in a film with no story line, it would be a documentary on
you and would be as good as any fiction. (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999,
pp. 319320, my emphasis)

In Adele, Truffaut expounded, it was really a facethe entire film

was her visage. It was like a 90-minute close-up . . . (Yakir, 1985a,
p. 48).
When The Story of Adele H. was done, Truffaut predicted:

I will know Isabelle Adjani in a few weeks, when we will leave each
other, that is, when the shooting is over. She will go her way, I dont
know where, and every day I will be looking at her at the editing table, in
all directions and at all speeds. Then nothing more will escape me, and I
will understand everything, belatedly: Theres what should have
been done, theres what should have been said, theres what should
have been filmed. And thanks to that reawakening dissatisfaction, thanks
to that great frustration, I will become eager to begin a new film. (Rabour-
din, 1985, pp. 145, my emphasis)

Truffaut was also adroit at endearing himself to female film critics,

as Claude Chabrol affirmed:

Keeping a serious, sceptical air, he was very shrewd and had them
eating out of his hand. He had a terrific trick with women critics of
about forty, who liked him a lot. He acted like a baby with his mother, and
this worked very well with the ones who literally felt a maternal affec-
tion for him. (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, pp. 272273, my emphasis)

He was fortunate to have had as a consultant and loyal friend an

American woman, who was a benevolent maternal figure to him and
not a sexual partner.

In his work, Truffaut was preoccupied with control, minimizing

chance by engaging himself meticulously in script preparation, cast-
ing, the selection of locales for filming, promotion and distribution,
down to the minutiae, while exhibiting impressive executive skills
along with a keen business sense. After acting in Stephen Spielbergs
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he vowed never to be subservient to
another director again, since he would have to forfeit control of the
production. In the summer of 1984, as he was dying, he said to a
friend: Me, whose life has always been organized around a schedule,
this is the first time Im living in uncertainty, Im no longer in com-
mand of my time (ibid., p. 390). From the first days shooting
onwards, he propounded

a film becomes something that has to be saved like a ship in distress. Its
not so much a case of taking the helm, but of keeping the boat on an
even keel, otherwise one is heading for the rocks. Because time passes
so quickly in relation to thought, you might compare the making of a
film to a runaway train that burns up the track to the point where you
havent even time to read the names of the stations it races through.

Were getting the footage, were making screen-time, we knock off the
numbers. In no case can all this expenditure of nervous energy result
in a masterpiece, which requires absolute control of all the elements, but at
best something thats alive. (Truffaut, 1966, pp. 1516, my emphasis)

To a friend, Lucette de Givray, on September 1, 1968, he wrote:

On the pretext of protecting my films, which Ive always treated as
though they were children, I havent been attentive enough to other
peoples problems and yet I realize that yours have come to a head
this year (Truffaut, 1990, p. 328, my emphasis).
By the completion of a film, he was physically and emotionally
depleted. In Madeleine Truffauts opinion, her husband was invari-
ably tired, short of breath, and worried he would die young. She also
stressed that: All his life he craved to be loved, which might account
in part for why he was so taken with Johnny Guitar, a Western tale of
betrayal, infidelity, vengeance, and macho heroics in which one of the
male characters sacrifices himself to protect an innocent woman. As
he is lying on the floor of a saloon dying from a gunshot wound and
surrounded by law-enforcement officers, he cries out: Everybodys
looking at me. Its the first time Ive ever felt important. For Truffaut

The film with the most bitter character I know is Johnny Guitar . . .
There are films I used to love but changed my mind about, but this
one I continue to love. Its a good example of a bitter love story
(Yakir, 1985a, p. 48).
The film world constituted the bulk of Truffauts existence: . . . in
general I scarcely take part in life . . . I dont have a way of life (I dont
live outside of cinema) (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p. 266; Truffaut,
1989), which is also reflected in his vast correspondence. In another
interview, he declared: When I first saw Citizen Kane, I was certain
that never in my life had I loved a person as I loved that film
(Samuels, 1970, p. 44), and that

there is no doubt that my love for the cinema had its neurotic side . . .
I would hardly be exaggerating if I said that the cinema saved my life
. . . If I threw myself into the cinema, this was probably because my
life gave me no satisfaction during my childhood, that is to say the
Occupation years. 1942 [the year his beloved grandmother died] is an
important date for me; that was when I began to see a lot of films.
Between the ages of 10 and 19 I threw myself into films. (Nicholls, 1993,
p. 20, my emphasis)

Altogether, he watched Citizen Kane around thirty times.

If I was asked what places Ive most loved in my life, he pro-
fessed, Id say the countryside in Murnaus Sunrise or the city in the
same film, but not a place Id really visited because I never really visit
anything (Crisp, 1972, p. 10). When he took a rare vacation, it was to
go to Hollywood, where he divided his days between mutually reju-
venating reunions with Jean Renoir and Hitchcock and sitting alone
beside the pool at his hotel, engrossed in myriad books about film,
never going in the water as he could not swim.
Through the young actor played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, Truffaut
acknowledged in 1973, at the age of forty-one,

I am always coming back to the question that has tormented me for

thirty years now: is cinema more important than life? That may be
scarcely more intelligent than to ask, Do you like your father better
than your mother? But I think about cinema for so many hours a day, and
have for so many years, that I cant stop myself from putting life and the
movies in competition. And from reproaching life for not being as well
designed, interesting, dense, and intense as the images we organize.

There are no bottlenecks in films, Ferrand says to Jean-Pierre

Leaud, no holes, no dead spots. Films roll on like trains in the night.
. . . As for myself, I am a nostalgic type, my inspiration is constantly
turned toward the past. I have no antenna to tune in on what is
modern, I function only through my sensations. That is why my
filmsand more particularly Stolen Kissesare full of memories and
make a real effort to revive memories of their youth in the people
watching them. (Rabourdin, 1985, pp. 140, 103, my emphasis)

I dont ever think of filming anything too remote from the way I
am, he conceded.

I need to identify, to say to myself that I have been in such circum-

stances or I could be in such circumstances. I need that criterion in
order to work . . .

At the outset, yes, I make it for myself, for my pleasure. Afterwards,

as I get further along with the preparations, I do my very best to make
it comprehensible to everyone, clear, logical, but without ceasing to
please myself. And in the shooting once more, I feel that the film again
becomes very personal . . .

Misgivings, anxiety, doubt, skepticism, pessimism, and if I dared, I

would add anguish, are my daily lot from the first day of writing the
script to the last evening spent mixing the sound. (ibid., pp. 201202,

On the set, Truffaut was often elated or hypomanic, although his

moods could switch suddenly and unexpectedly. His films alternated
between the sad and the joyful reinforced by the type of background
music. He made every effort to retain the same film crew, which was
an extended family for him. Nestor Almendros, the renowned cine-
matographer, collaborated with him on his last nine films. He was
solicitous of the welfare of his actors, who, by and large, relished
working with him. For Jacqueline Bisset: It was wonderful to belong
to Truffauts world: it was warm and gentle and full of tenderness. I
was honored to share it, while Catherine Deneuve emphasized . . .
Truffaut was a wonderful director of actors, especially for women. He
appreciated them and knew how to bring out the best in them. I
consider him one of the greatest filmmakers ever. Gerard Depardieu
recollected: I got along very well with Truffaut: we saw each other

often. We understood each other well because we were both juvenile

delinquents who were saved by the cinema. And he was such a gentle
artist (Yakir, 1985b, pp. 4243).
Primal scene exposure might have had an influence on Truffauts
choice of occupation in that when he lived with the Truffauts after his
grandmothers death, it was in a small, cramped apartment where he
could have witnessed or heard parental lovemaking, stirring up feel-
ings of exclusion, rivalry with his stepfather, and betrayal by his
mother, possibly regarding it all as an unrestrained assault on her. In
making a film, he had the opportunity to envision the characters in
similar situations and to win an attenuated Oedipal victory by seduc-
ing the actress surreptitiously in reality. There are numerous vivid
primal scene recreations and unmistakable allusions to it in his films,
not least The Story of Adele H.
While editing Jules and Jim for four months at age twenty-eight in
1960, Truffaut recalled: I tried to make the film as though I were a
very old person, and at the end of my life. It was probably the first
time I really experienced a fear of death (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999,
p. 180). He had become friends with Henri-Pierre Roche, the author of
the novel on which the film was based, who died in his eighties in
April 1959, shortly before the premire of The 400 Blows, and the above
symptom can be ascribed partially to this loss. In February 1970, in a
letter of condolence to a friend whose father had recently died, he

There are far too many dead around me whom I have loved, and since
Franoise Dorleacs death [she was the older sister of Catherine
Deneuve and died in an automobile accident], I have decided not to
go to any funerals, which, as you can imagine, does not prevent the
presence of sadness, darkening everything for a while and never really
being completely obliterated, even as the years go by, for we dont just
live with the living, but also with all those who have counted in our
lives. (ibid., p. 413)

To an inquiry For you, death represents what? Truffaut replied:

Youre obliged to think of it when youre filming because that is a job

involving a beginning and an end, a job that has a limit in time; so one
thinks about death, one thinks also about the actors in an egotistical
fashion, in a falsely friendly fashion . . . For example, if Im shooting

in the mountains I dont want the actors to go off skiing, what can you
do, a film is a baby you protect all the way. There is a kind of feeling of
relief when the film is finished. (Rabourdin, 1985, p. 46, my emphasis)

To a follow-up question, Is it in order to avoid that image of death

that you always have in mind two films? Is it so as to push back its
limits?, he elaborated:

Yes, whenever one of my films comes out I am always in the process

of working on another; I have already fixed the dates, already hired
the main characters; I think its for emotional reasons, to endure less
anguish, to attach less importance to how the release of that film will
go, and everything connected with it, thats it. (ibid., p. 46)

He usually had three or four scripts in progress at any one time.

In Stolen Kisses, another detective, Paul, informs Antoine that at a
family gathering after his grandfather died, he and a female cousin
went up to the attic together and I laid her right there . . . on the floor
. . . Since then Ive often thought about it. Making love after a death is
like a way of compensating . . . as if you need to prove that you still
exist. When an older man, Henri, dies suddenly of a coronary,
Antoine goes right from his funeral to visit a prostitute. A French term
for orgasm being la petite morte, or little death, having inter-
course in conjunction with a loss could be a counterphobic tactic to
decrease angst about dying.
In 1978, after having some physical health problems, Truffaut
became apprehensive about aging, complicated by the commercial
failure of his latest film, The Green Room, which was inspired by a
short story by Henry James about links between the living and the
dead. In March 1978, he confessed: Im faithful to the dead. I live
with them. Im forty- five [he was actually 46] and already beginning
to be surrounded by dead people (de Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p.
336). The next month, he disclosed: I dont want admiration, that
doesnt interest me. But I want the audience to be really drawn in by
the film [The Green Room] for an hour and a half. Because I think this
kind of theme can touch a deep chord in many people. Everyone has
their dead (ibid., p. 341). This predicament might have been aggra-
vated by a mid-life crisis which, for Jaques (1965), is a depressive
syndrome precipitated by the breakdown of unconscious denial and

manic defenses that hitherto had diminished awareness of individual

mortality and destructive tendencies.
Truffaut had undergone many important losses: his younger step-
brother at two, his maternal grandmother when he was ten, and later
Bazin, Roche, Dorleac, Bory, his mother from cirrhosis in 1968, along
with respected preceptors, particularly Hitchcock, Rossellini, and
Renoir. He was unable to mourn and accept the finality of death,
almost certainly intensified by the fear of desertion stemming from his
first three years where he was forsaken by his mother and reared by
other women (Wolfenstein, 1966).
This configuration is conveyed in The Green Room, which opens in
1930 with Julien Davenne being supportive of a friend, Gerard Mazet,
whose wife, Genevieve (his grandmothers name), has just died.
Mazet refuses to let her casket be sealed and removed from the church
for burial, while Julien angrily assails a priest who is offering religious
platitudes to placate Gerard. Julien is struggling with the aftermath of
his wife Julies death shortly after their marriage in 1919, when she
was twenty-two. They were engaged before he went off to the First
World War in the French army, and she patiently awaited his return.
He tells Gerard: I decided that if she was dead for others, for me she
was alive. He searches for a ring that had once been his wifes at an
antique shop, where he meets Cecilia, who works there and whom he
thinks he met eleven years ago in Rome. She corrects him, saying that
their encounter was in Naples fourteen years previously, which is
chronologically untenable as he was in the military in 1916. When the
ring, which is a linking object and consists of two amethysts embed-
ded in a silver figure of eight, is located, Julien buys it at auction for
a nominal sum, returns to his home, and enters a special room (the
green room), which contains many photographs of Julie on the walls
(Volkan, 1972). He puts the ring on a finger of a plaster cast of a hand
and forearm, murmuring I found your ring, Julie. I wanted to give it
back to you today and not wait for your birthday . . . I havent forgot-
ten you. Quite the opposite, I think of you more.
Julien is a journalist whose editor calls him a virtuoso of obituar-
ies. Last year he wrote thirty-one articles about dead people without
ever using the same expression twice. After he attends the funeral of
another friend named Massigny, who had been Cecilias lover, there
is a thunderstorm in which lightning strikes the green room, setting it
on fire. Julien douses the flames and rescues the pictures of Julie,

muttering: I was able to protect you. He visits the studio of a sculp-

tor whom he had commissioned to make a life-size mannequin of Julie
but is dissatisfied with the result and orders it destroyed on the spot
because It isnt her. Dejected, he goes to Julies grave and speaks to
a picture of her that is on the tombstone. Ive lost all hope, Julie. I feel
like Im losing you all over again. Please dont abandon me (my empha-
sis). On his way out of the cemetery, he comes across the ruins of an
old chapel, badly damaged during the First World War, which he
negotiates to acquire from the Catholic church through the local
bishop, assuring him:

I chose it precisely because its been abandoned . . . No one will be

bothered if I consecrate it to my dead . . . All the people who counted
in my life are dead now . . . Now I know I must do more for them. This
chapel will help . . . I only think its time to offer the dead an expres-
sion of the love they deserve . . . Im shocked by the terrible way the
dead are forgotten . . . I dont know where I got the will to refuse to
forget but I invented a ritual for them.

After the chapel has been fully restored at Juliens expense, he

transfers all the photographs of Julie and his dead friends to the inte-
rior, which becomes a shrine, eerily lit by hundreds of candles. While
there later with Cecilia, some of the candles are inadvertently knocked
over, igniting the space, whereupon Julien collapses from a coronary
and dies.
About this film, Truffaut, who played Julien with certain reserva-
tions, divulged:

For me, The Green Room belongs to a family of films where one finds
Fahrenheit 451, The Wild Child, and Adele H. The dead in it are like the
books in Fahrenheit, a great deal of effort goes into making inert things
live, the living breathe their own breath into them, their own passions.
Those cemetery scenes, moreover, come from my childhood memo-
ries, but I became aware of it only while shooting. I had a paternal
grandfather who was a stonecutter. He worked a lot in the cemeteries,
and during vacation he often took me along with him. I also went
there with my grandmother, whose family had had numerous deaths
and who always had many graves to visit. There was a whole hierar-
chy for her dead. For example, she devoted much more time to the
grave of a young girl who died at twenty. I remember that when my

grandfather died, she slipped a pair of socks into the coffin because he
would be cold. (Rabourdin, 1985, p. 163)

In addition, during the Second World War, Truffauts life was

tightly bound up with alarm sirens at night, air-raid shelters, and
getting enough food (Crisp, 1972, p. 25).
Argentieri (1998) proposes an explanation for Julien Davennes
inability to mourn.

In La chambre verte, Truffauts outstanding intuition lies in showing

us how the impossibility of completing the mourning process coin-
cides with the impossibility of loving. The drama of Julian [sic]
Davenne, a kind of platonic necrophile, is not so much the sorrow
of having lost his real wife; it is the suffering caused by not being able
to keep his love for her alive within himself, and his fear of losing the
remembrance of her, of being unable to keep the image of her in his mind.
The many photographs and portraits with which he surrounds
himself are fragile, inadequate substitutes for the memory, and his
obsessive worship of them is the symptom of the precariousness of his
internal symbolic world. This is dramatically illustrated by the
grotesque failure of the wax figure that he tries to make as a faithful
copy of his dead wife, but that turns out to be only a useless fetish. Or
in the scene of his first conversation with Cecilie [sic], the woman who
tries to bring him back to love and to life as she tenderly recalls their
first meeting long ago, while hewho lives in the cult of the past
remembers nothing . . .
Using his own countenance in the part of Julian [sic] without even the
mediation of an actor, Truffaut lives the sense of death, solitude and
the absence of love. If defensive desires rather than authentic needs
are satisfied, then resistance are satisfied, then resistance towards
comprehension and symbolism is reinforced and the only destiny
remaining is that of the repetition compulsion, by acting out what
cannot be thought or remembered or symbolized. (pp. 813, 815, my

Nathalie Baye, who was Cecilia in The Green Room, said that
Truffaut, who was not introspective or receptive to psychological
interpretations of behavior as a rule, was uncomfortable about making
the film because he would be displaying too much of his private self.
When The Green Room fared poorly at the box office, Truffaut decided
to do Love on the Run, hoping it would make him feel less depressed.

Piaget (1937) formulated six stages from birth to eighteen months

in sensori-motor maturation that evolve optimally into the establish-
ment of evocative memory and object constancy, which is a prerequi-
site for the attainment of autonomy and coincides with the acquisition
of symbolic mentation and more intricate speech patterns, as well as
imaginative play and imitation.
From their work with borderline patients, Adler and Buie (1979)

have observed a core experiential state of intensely painful aloneness.

This feeling state often includes a sense of inner emptiness together
with increasing panic and despair; over time these patients develop a
concomitant desperate hopelessness that this feeling will ever be alle-
viated . . . A notable aspect of the borderline patients experience with alone-
ness is his relative or total inability to maintain positive fantasies or images of
sustaining people in his past or present life . . . (pp. 83, 86, my emphasis)

Without a good, stable introject, these individuals cannot soothe

themselves and, therefore, respond to the frustration of needs for
closeness with vehement rage, often of annihilatory proportions,
which begets a vicious cycle by expanding the sense of aloneness and
guilt for such destructive intent as well as an over-reliance on splitting
and projection.

At times the need for sustenance is so urgent that the borderline is

impelled to use the most primitive mode of internalization, that of
incorporation . . . Incorporation is experienced in terms of ideas and
impulses to eat the sustaining object or be eaten by it, or to absorb or
be absorbed. The inherent difficulty with the incorporative mode of inter-
nalization in persons who have achieved self-object differentiation, as border-
lines have, is that it is experienced as threatening the loss of the object and/or
the loss of the self. In order to preserve the object and the self, the
borderline, at the times of his most intense incorporative wishes, must
distance himself from the needed person. (ibid., p. 84, my emphasis)

Grief, under these conditions, is felt by borderlines as unbearable

sadness that is defended against by massive denial, which obliterates
all trace of the object representation or introjection of a lost sustain-
ing object (ibid.).
When early mothering is not good-enough and there are other
deficiencies in the holding environment, such as the absence of a
transitional object, especially in the second year, the infant might have

to tolerate too much aloneness and not consolidate an efficient evoca-

tive memory, being compelled instead to depend on recognition
memory, which emerges at the end of Piagets stage IV (813 months)
(Winnicott, 1953).
Adler and Buie (1979) believe that borderline adults have a brittle,
if any, evocative memory and regress under duress secondary to the
mobilization of extreme rage by real or fantasied rejections in the
realm of support and caring to a utilization of recognition memory
exclusively where the object can be recognized when presented and
can be remembered for a few moments but its image cannot be evoked
unaided (p. 86)
In The Man Who Loved Women, Bertrand Morane, a serial woman-
izer and another double for Truffaut, after being spurned by a woman,
goes over photographs of all the many others he has had affairs with
to rekindle his memory of them before electing to write a novel that
will include a fictionalized version of each, uneasy that he will forget
them otherwise. Later, as he is caressing the breasts of Genevieve
[again, the grandmothers name], who is editing his book while they
are sitting clothed in the front seat of a car, he coyly asks: Do I have
the right to put my hand there? She agrees, but playfully admonishes
him: Well be careful that it never becomes a duty. In The Last Metro,
Bernard Granger admits to a woman whom he once loved that he
cannot remember her face.
The above material is not to imply that Truffaut was a borderline
character, merely to introduce a framework for understanding the
genetic roots of specific memory defects compatible with his early

The creative process

From direct evaluation of the motherinfant dyad, Spitz (1957)

By the third or fourth week the child keeps his eyes open during part
of the nursing period and stares unwaveringly at the mothers face
until he is satiated . . .
Our motion pictures show that when the nipple is suddenly with-
drawn from the mouth, the infants eyes shift from the mothers face

and, without focusing specifically on the breast, deviate more or less

in its general direction. The breast is not fixated by the infants eye, but
its image is probably present in the peripheral parts of the retina,
together with the face.
It appears likely that when we performed this experiment, the cavity
perception of the nipple was interrupted by the loss of the nipple and
followed within the same second by the visual presence of the breast
adding itself to that of the face. The withdrawal of the nipple does not
occur only in the experimental situation, but takes place in a more or
less modified form at practically every feeding. I am unwilling to
assume that at this age level the infant connects these events. But there
is certainly an unbroken transition present from the quasi-coenesthetic
cavity perception of the nipple to the peripheral vision of the breast
plus face, which may lure the infant to follow it with his head move-
ments. (pp. 3233; 113114)
The dream screen in its earliest origin is an inchoate experience of
variations in tensions; when it becomes conscious in the adults
dream, it has already passed through several levels of nascent psychic
development . . . Its ultimate appearance as a screen is the result of the
functioning of the secondary process. Regard for representability is
one of the tasks of the secondary process. It will, therefore, supply
from the memory images available to the adult those which come clos-
est both chronologically and in terms of experience (that is, feeling
tone) to the original experience of tension reduction. From the point of
view of visual perception, that is the picture of the breast. (pp. 7879)

Thus, with the retraction of the nipple, the infants vigilance devi-
ates from the face to the vicinity of the breast, with these differing
images being indistinct and conflated. Should this dissonance be
repeated sufficiently during infancy, it will leave a residue of unful-
fillment that would carry over into adulthood, unconsciously predis-
posing the individual towards trying to obtain vicarious alternative
gratification in the present.
A critical consideration here is how flaws in evocative memory
might elicit and yet interfere with an overriding need to make repa-
ration for real and fantasied losses through the restitution of the object
in the artistic act, which, with each inevitable failure, leads to more
and more concerted but ineffectual reduplications. If this conjecture is
valid, it has nothing to do with the aesthetic impact of a singular

The projection of images onto a blank surface has certain parallels

to dreaming with the dream screen representing the breast and the
intrapsychic component consisting of the dissolution of ego bound-
aries and fusion with the contrived object (Lewin, 1946).
Robbins (1969) has hypothesized that

The creative process is set in motion when painful affects related to

object loss and object hunger threaten to become conscious. The egos
defenses set in motion by the internal signal as well as the unavail-
ability of the real objects striven for block the path to consciousness
and motor discharge much as in the dream state. Regression accord-
ing to the laws of primary process to the perceptualvisual apparatus
then occurs, as in the dream. Whether this hallucinatory-like wish
fulfillment is not sufficient, as in severe anxiety dreams which lead to
waking, or whether this whole process remains under some ego
control, or both, there ensues an attempt on the part of the ego using
secondary process mechanisms to reproduce the perceptual experi-
ence as art, analagous to the attempt of the dreamer on awakening to
recall his dream. In this way the artist creates his own world of objects
which he may then possess and maintain, thus avoiding for the time
the pain of loss. (p. 248)

In another scene from Jules and Jim, Alfred, who was present when
Jim told the story of the soldier that was enamored of a young woman
he met on a train, is showing slides of ancient Greek sculptures of
women and critiquing them.

Very pathetic, this one! The face looks positively decayed. Its very
odd, too, to see the stone treated in such a flabby manner. After another
pause, a womans head sculpted in stone appears on the screen: first in full
face, then in profile, then in detail; close-ups of the lips and eyes. She is very
beautiful. This one I like very much; the lips are very beautiful . . . a
little disdainful. The eyes are very fine too.

There is a pause. ALBERT is about to change the slide when JIM turns around
towards him.

JIM: Could we see that one again, please?

ALBERT nodding: I have an even closer detail of it too.

Shots of the statue from different angles and in extreme close-up pass across
the screen, dwelling in particular on the eyes and the mouth.

Voice off: The photographs showed a crudely sculptured womans face

wearing a tranquil smile which fascinated them . . . The statue,
recently excavated, was in an open- air museum on an island in the
Adriatic. They decided to go and see it together, and set off immedi-
ately . . .

They stayed by the statue for an hour. It exceeded all their expecta-
tions, and they walked rapidly round and round it, without saying a
word. Not until the following day did they talk about it . . . Had they
ever met that smile before? Never! What would they do if they met it
one day. They would follow it . . .

The French girl, Catherine, [who becomes part of a menage a trois

with Jules and Jim] had the same smile as the statue of the island. Her
nose, her mouth, her chin, her forehead, had the nobility of a certain
province which she had once personified as a child in a religious festi-
val. The occasion took on a dreamlike quality. (Truffaut, 1989, pp. 18
19, 25)

Neither this excerpt nor the one from the screenplay of Jules and
Jim (pp. 144145) are in the Roche novel and were improvised by
Truffaut. Just as he was attracted to Fanny Ardant and Isabelle Adjani
because of their perceived countenance on a television screen, so Jules
and Jim pursue the enigmatic statue and Catherine for the same
reasons. In Two English Girls, when asked if he likes a particular
woman who is wearing a blindfold because of conjunctivitis, Claude
Roc answers that he will not know for sure until he can see her eyes.
In Mississippi Mermaid, Louis Mahe focuses lovingly on the facial
attributes of his wife, also an innovation of Truffauts, and in The Soft
Skin, Pierre Lachenay gently palpates the face of a younger woman,
Nicole, with whom he is enchanted. In The Last Metro, Bernard tries to
pick up a woman on the street, having been intrigued by her eyes and
her expression when he caught sight of her earlier in a bar. Do you
know what its like to be attracted to a woman? he asks, inviting her
to have a drink with him and talk, which she resolutely declines to do.
About Julie Christies participation in Fahrenheit 451, Truffaut

In the role of Linda, I am going to film her mostly in profile . . .

Needless to say her profile is very beautiful, in the manner of a
Cocteau drawing, a fantastic straight nose and turned back upper lip,

an immensely wide devouring mouth . . . Linda in her bathroom will

stroke her breast inside her dress. (Truffaut, 1966, pp. 20, 15)

As Oremland (1997) has indicated:

Increasing evidence suggests that the mothers face is the primary

organizing external experience for the human being. The basic
symmetry of the human face may provide the formal organizing prin-
ciple to which all subsequent visual events are referenced. With
increasing development, the basic representation of the self, the body,
intensifies the importance of symmetry as a primal principle. (p. 39)

When he went to the cinema as a young boy, Truffaut felt a

tremendous need to enter into the films. I sat closer and closer to the
screen so I could shut out the theatre . . . At that period of my life,
movies acted on me like a drug (Truffaut, 1975a, pp. 34). As with
Quentin Tarantino, whose childhood was equally as traumatic as
Truffauts, this proximity would permit him to gain a semblance of
merger with the actors, especially the women, and recapitulate vital
elements of the early nurturing relationship through visual incorpo-
ration without being distracted by his surroundings. It might also
arouse erotic fantasies about these women, possibly inducing mastur-
bation. Such gratification, however, would be transient and not
contribute to the internalization of a reliable benign object that
Truffaut, because of the deficits in his early care, was missing, forcing
him, almost desperately, to repeat the experience again and again.
Also, in watching movies then, he would have headaches and stom-
ach cramps, the result, in all probability, of overstimulation of aggres-
sive and libidinal drives and the somatization of such affect. (de
Baecke & Toubiana, 1999, p. 22). Later, as a director, he could actual-
ize these wishes, being in an active, dominant rather than a passive
position, by having affairs of varying duration with the actresses in
his films, but would still be without a substantive resolution of his
dilemma, necessitating a repetition (Truffaut, 1975b). In 1976, he con-
cluded: Obviously I am certainly beginning to recognize that I make
only films that show what is askew and painful in certain family or
love relationships (Rabourdin, 1985, p. 145). If I could say theres
one point all my films share in common, its questioning love, and the
question is: Is love provisional (temporary) or definitive (perma-
nent)? (Sweeney, 1979, p. B12).

In The Last Metro, Bernard avows: Love hurts. It hovers over us

like big birds of prey, a sentiment that also pervades Mississippi
Approaching these issues from another perspective, Truffaut in
1962 allowed that he wouldnt be able to write a novel: that kind of
creativity would be too abstract for me. In 1970, he remarked: I
never understood the meaning of a film. I am very concrete. I only
understand what is on the screen. In my whole life, I have never
understood a single symbol. According to Deri (1978):

The holding mother is a salient concept in Winnicotts refreshingly

concrete terminology. A mother who holds well gives her infant a feel-
ing of unity within his skin. Loving and secure holding will lay the
foundation for basic trust; bad-holding, for distrust and unthinkable
anxieties, such as sensations of falling into a bottomless abyss.
This stage might be decisive for the subsequent capacity for and
love of symbolization. A libidinally cathected skin surface will pleas-
antly delineate the inside from the outside. Communication between
the two areas lying on either side of the boundary will be felt as desir-
able; and symbolization is communication across a boundary. A
comfortingly wrapped up inside will lead to the experience of a
good inner space (Erikson, 1950) . . . If the inside is a good place, then
it is worthwhile to fill it with good things. The internalized things,
which are symbolic representations of outside objects, might also
become imbued with the good qualities of the space in which they are
The selfs positive relationship to the preconsciousso crucial for
healthily functioning symbolizationmight well be rooted in the
earliest tactile experiences offered to the infant by the holding mother
The mothers optimal adaptation to the infants needs provides him
with the illusion of an outside world that corresponds to his needs and
his capacity to create. The mothers ability to offer her breast at the
height of the childs mounting need tension provides him with the
experience of magical control over the objects of the world. Winnicott
believes that without this primary illusion of omnipotence, the
growing infant and child cannot enjoy reality. Frustration can teach
him to perceive and adapt to reality, but only the experience of fulfill-
ment, coming from the outside but magically created by his wish,
can foster a true love of reality.

In other words, a good mothers empathic provision of her breast

offers her baby the world as a friendly, fulfilling place. The world will
be cathected positively, and so will the act of wishing. Here is a good
beginning for an optimistic, trusting attitude to the surround and a
motivated connectedness toward its objects. The pleasure of primary
illusion is likely to lead to the capacity for symbolic perception that
lends rich coloring to seemingly ordinary objects . . . (pp. 4850)
For the child to play with enjoyment, a good playspace must exist,
i.e., the intermediate transitional space at that phase of development.
This space is hospitable and generates symbol formation; it is synony-
mous with Winnicotts potential space between mother and child. A
good mother can turn this potential space into a good, creativity-bear-
ing intermediate region, which both joins and separates mother and
the playing child. (p. 55)

In other words, a durable positive internalized object representation

is indispensable for the evolution of symbolic processes.
In summary, an attempt has been made to demonstrate how
Franois Truffaut was unconsciously motivated to try to master over-
whelming pre-Oedipal trauma by assembling an imaginary cinematic
microcosm, through hypercathexis of the visual apparatus, in which
he could immerse himself and virtually dominate all matters of conse-
quence. Such remarkable creative transformation or sublimation of
internal conflict raises intriguing, if unanswerable, questions about
innate ego strengths and the unique but truly rare human faculty for
not only surviving, but prevailing against, ostensibly insurmountable

Quentin Tarantino

If you ask me how I feel about violence in real life, well, I have
a lot of feelings about it. Its one of the worst aspects of
America. In movies, violence is cool. I like it . . . I wouldnt
mind making the most violent movie ever made . . . I dont
make movies that bring people together. I make movies that
split people apart
(Tarantino, in Clarkson, 1995, pp. 113, 245, 248)

ulp Fiction, written mainly by its director Quentin Tarantino,

P was widely acclaimed, receiving the Palme dOr for best picture
at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and a 1995 Academy Award
for best screenplay. One critic felt the movie was A work of blazing
originality. It places Tarantino in the front ranks of American film-
makers, while another considered it The most exhilarating piece of
filmmaking to come along in years. Tarentino was compared to
Orson Welles: Not since Citizen Kane has one man appeared from
relative obscurity to redefine the art of filmmaking (Dawson, 1995,
pp. 2, 12). Within forty-eight hours of its release, Pulp Fiction grossed
$9.16 million, quite remarkable for an independent production.


The film opens in the Hawthorne Grill, a coffee shop in Los

Angeles, where a young man, Pumpkin, and his girl friend, Honey
Bunny, after having breakfast, rob the place, using handguns to
extract wallets and purses from the other patrons and cash from the
register. The scene shifts to a couple of gangsters, Vincent Vega and
Jules Winnfield, who have been sent by their boss, Marsellus Wallace,
to discipline three college students, Roger, Marvin, and Brett, for
welching on a drug deal with him. After surprising and callously
shooting Roger and Brett in their Inglewood apartment, they flee in
Vincents automobile, taking Marvin with them.
The next sequence is in a topless bar, where Marsellus Wallace,
the owner, is in the midst of fixing an upcoming boxing match with
Butch Coolidge, a twenty-six-year-old former Olympic silver medalist
whose skills are fading, by bribing him to throw the fight, which is
being billed as The Battle of the Titans. During the negotiations,
Vincent comes in to report to Marsellus on the killings and deliver an
attach case, containing some mysterious luminous substance, that
was removed from the students apartment.
That evening, Vincent buys some heroin from a drug dealer named
Lance before picking up Mia, the wife of Marsellus, who has gone to
Florida for a few days and assigned Vincent to entertain her while he
is away. They go out to eat and dance at Jackrabbit Slims, a 1950s-
style diner where the matre d is an Ed Sullivan look-alike and the
waitresses are made up as famous Hollywood stars of that era. As
Vincent is using the bathroom when dropping her off later at her resi-
dence, Mia rummages through the pockets of his overcoat, discovers
the heroin, and snorts a large batch, presuming it to be cocaine.
Vincent finds her comatose on the living room floor and, concerned
that she might be dying, carries her out to his car and rushes back to
Lances, where he administers an intracardiac injection of adrenalin
that revives her instantaneously.
Having already been paid off by Marsellus, Butch Coolidge reneges
on their agreement and literally kills his opponent, Floyd Ray Willis, in
the ring. Anticipating rapid retaliation from Marsellus, he exits the
arena hastily without showering or changing into street clothes and
takes a taxi to a motel that he and his girlfriend, Fabian, are using as a
temporary hideaway until they can escape next day to Knoxville,
Tennesee, where Butch was born. When Butch recognizes that Fabian
has forgotten to bring his wristwatch, a family heirloom given to him

by his father, he goes back to their apartment to recover it. While there,
he notices on the kitchen counter a submachine gun equipped with a
silencer, which belongs to Marsellus, who is across the street buying
junk food at a Teriyaki Donut shop. The door of the bathroom, which
is beside the kitchen, opens suddenly and out steps Vincent Vega,
whom Butch quickly kills with the above-mentioned weapon, the force
of the blast throwing his body back on to the toilet seat.
As he is driving away from his apartment in Fabians small Honda,
Butch spots Marsellus at a nearby intersection holding a box of donuts
plus two styrofoam cups of coffee and runs into him deliberately,
sending Marsellus flying over the front end of the car, which is then
rammed by another automobile and winds up on the sidewalk badly
damaged. Butch limps off with a knee injury, only to be chased and
shot at by Marsellus, who has only minor abrasions. Butch ducks into
the Mason-Dixon pawnshop, where the two men start fighting until
the proprietor, Maynard, brandishing a shotgun, forces them to desist
just as Butch is about to shoot Marsellus in the head with the latters
gun, and leads them down to a basement room where they are lashed
to chairs with rope.
Maynard is joined by his brother Zed, a security guard who is in
uniform. They take Marsellus at gunpoint into another room, leaving
Butch to be guarded by The Gimp, who is clad from head to toe in a
bizarre leather outfit that includes a hooded face-mask and is attached
at the neck to a leash suspended from the ceiling. Butch soon untan-
gles himself and knocks out The Gimp, who strangles to death on his
leash. Butch wonders about taking off, but elects instead to rescue
Marsellus, using a Samurai sword selected from among assorted
items in the front of the shop, including a rifle, a baseball bat, and a
chainsaw. He sneaks up behind Maynard, who is enthralled watching
Zed sodomize Marsellus, having already done so himself, and kills
Zed with the sword. In the ensuing chaos, Marsellus seizes the shot-
gun and shoots Zed, who collapses in a corner, screaming in agony
and obviously dying from a massive pelvic wound. Marsellus lets
Butch go after he promises to leave Los Angeles forever and keep
quiet about Marselluss sexual humiliation. Taking a motorcycle
named Grace belonging to Zed, Butch returns to the motel to collect
Fabian before heading to the train station.
The film reverts back to the students apartment, where Jules and
Vincent, having just killed Roger and Brett, are caught off guard by an

anonymous Fourth Man, who leaps out of an adjacent bathroom and

fires at them with a silver Magnum, missing with all six bullets. He is
shot dead by Jules and Vincent, who then kidnap Marvin. As they are
driving around Los Angeles, with Jules behind the wheel, Vincent in
the front passenger seat and Marvin in the back, Vincent turns
around abruptly, points his .45 at Marvin, and accidentally squeezes
the trigger, hitting him squarely in the throat and decapitating him,
splattering blood and body tissue all over himself, Jules, and the
inside of the car. With a cellular phone, Jules contacts Jimmie Dim-
mick, a friend, and arranges for he and Vincent to go to Jimmies
house in Toluca Lake. While there, Jules calls Marsellus to let him
know what has happened and he dispatches Winston Wolf, a.k.a The
Wolf, to Jimmies to take charge of the situation. Winston advises
Jules and Vincent to wash the car out thoroughly, put Marvins body
in the trunk and take it to a scrap yard, Monster Joes Truck and Tow,
for compaction, after which Jules and Vincent go for food to the same
place where Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are eating before staging the
After Vincent excuses himself to take a shit, the armed robbery
begins. Returning from the restroom, he and Jules pull out their .45s
and make Pumpkin and Honey Bunny surrender. They are allowed to
go free unharmed after Jules, quoting a Biblical passage from Ezekiel
about forgiveness and being ones brothers keeper, gives them
$1500.00 in cash. The movie ends with Jules and Vincent walking
casually out of the restaurant, without saying a word.
Pre-oedipal conflicts permeate Pulp Fiction. There is pronounced
emphasis on instant gratification, as is true for the majority of Taran-
tinos films, through eating, drinking, smoking, and taking drugs with
much discourse about the virtues of different fast food items.
While in the coffee shop, Pumpkin smokes cigarettes like theyre
going out of style while Honey Bun pours a ton of cream and sugar
into her coffee. As Jules and Vincent are en route to kill the students
who cheated Marsellus, Vincent describes the two hash bars he hung
out at in Amsterdam, where beer is sold in movie houses and many
of the local people put mayonnaise rather than ketchup on their
french fries (And I dont mean a little bit on the side of the plate, they
fuckin drown em in it), and the quarter-pound cheeseburgers
known as Royales at McDonalds in Paris, where beer is also available.
When they reach the apartment, the students are having hamburgers,

french fries, and soda pop for breakfast to which Jules and Vincent
help themselves.
Jackrabbit Slims is the big mamou of the fifties diners. Either the
best or the worst depending on your point of view, where Mia orders
a $5 milk shake that Vincent asks to sample and the Donna Reed
waitress is making her customers drink their milk. Mia and Vincent
reminisce about a hash bar, the Cobra, that they each frequented when
in Amsterdam. Butch and Fabian speak baby language privately while
he calls her sugar pop, lemon pie, jellybean and baby- love.
They discuss food at length, and when Butch returns to his apartment
for his watch, the first thing he does is pour himself a glass of milk
and throw some pop tarts in the toaster.
Jody, Lance the drug dealers girlfriend, wears an earring in one of
her nipples, which has been pierced and, when Vincent tries to save
Mia after she has taken the heroin, he stabs her through the breast
with the needle of a syringe filled with adrenalin. Vincent packs a
roll of money that would choke a horse to death.
Anal derivatives are prominent. Much of the violence and killing
is preceded by someone coming out of a bathroom unexpectedly at
the Hawthorne Grill, Mias home after her night out with Vincent,
Butchs apartment and the students quarters. After Jules kills Roger,
one of the students, Brett, shit his pants.
Butchs gold watch was bought in Knoxville by his great-grandfa-
ther, who wore it during his tour of duty in France during the First
World War and bequeathed it to his son, who kept it with him in the
Second World War until he was killed on Wake Island. It was then
presented to Butchs father, who concealed it in his rectum for five
years to prevent his captors from confiscating it before he died of dys-
entry in a prisoner of war camp after being shot down over North
Vietnam. When Butch was five, the watch was delivered to him per-
sonally by Captain Koons, an Air Force friend of his fathers to whom
it had been entrusted. The watch, a linking object, is symbolic of war
and death, which Butch corroborates in muttering to himself, my
Wake Island, just before entering his apartment to retrieve it and
inadvertently kill Vincent (Volkan, 1972).
When he hears that Butch has double-crossed him, Marsellus
declares: Im prepared to scour the earth for this motherfucker. If
Butch goes to Indo China, I want a nigger hidin in a bowl of rice,
ready to pop a cap in his asswhich is a euphemism for killing

someone. Jules avoids pork completely because Pigs sleep and root
in shit. Thats a filthy animal. I dont wanna eat nothin that aint got
enough sense to disregard its own feces.
Magical thinking is referred to as Fabian informs Butch: You were
gone so long, I started to think dreadful thoughts. There are some
uncanny turn of events having either miraculous or superstitious
implications in the film, such as Jules and Vincent not being hit when
the Fourth Man fires at them point-blank with a .357 Magnum, the
resuscitation of Mia after she mistakenly takes the heroin, and Butch
and Marsellus surviving the automobile collisions near Butchs apart-
ment. About he and Vincent nearly being killed in the students apart-
ment, Jules proclaims:

That shit wasnt luck. That shit was somethin else . . . That was
divine intervention . . . That means God came down from Heaven and
stopped the bullets . . . What just happened was a fuckin miracle . . .
We should be fuckin dead now, my friend! We just witnessed a mira-
cle, and I want you to fuckin acknowledge it! (Tarantino, 1994,
pp. 114, 115)

At Jimmie Dimmicks, Jules and Vincent, following The Wolfs

direction, painstakingly scrub the interior of their car. In the midst of
this chore, which is a form of undoing, Jules becomes enraged and
warns Vincent: I will never forgive your ass for this shit. This is some
fucked-up repugnant shit! When they are finished, The Wolf rinses
Jules and Vincent off with a garden hose and excuses Vincent for
having been so contentious, assuring him it never happened.
The sexuality in Pulp Fiction is entirely polymorphous perverse.
Butch and Fabian favor cunnilingus and fellatio, while Jody has a
stud in her tongue because It helps fellatio. When Jimmie Dimmick
compliments Jules and Vincent for cleaning up their car, The Wolf
admonishes them: Well, lets not start suckin each others dicks quite
There is a strong fetishistic element. One of Marsellus henchmen
is thrown from the upper story of a building for having given Mia a
sensuous foot massageMarsellus fucked his ass up goodwhile
Jules and Vincent argue whether or not such activity is as pleasurable
as cunnilingus.1 While at Jackrabbit Slims, Mia, who is not wearing
stockings, removes her shoes before dancing the twist provocatively
with Vincent. As a prop for the film, Tarantino had a life-size portrait

done of Mia in bare feet that is hung conspicuously in the living room
of her house. He also dressed her in black pants cuffed above the
ankle to show off her feet to best advantage.
Sadomasochistic issues are introduced at the pawn shop where
Butch and Marsellus are tied up in two separate chairs. In their
mouths are two S & M-style ball gags (a belt goes around their heads
and a little red ball sticks in their mouths) . . . The Gimp is a man they
keep dressed from head to toe in black leather bondage gear. There are
zippers, buckles and studs here and there on the body. On his head is
a black leather mask with two eye holes and a zipper (closed) for a
mouth. They keep him in a hole in the floor big enough for a large dog.
(Tarantino, 1994, p. 101)

The vicious anal assault on Marsellus occurs shortly thereafter.

There are allusions to female aggression and potential castration
threats. Of her involvement in Fox Fire Five, a TV pilot film about a
group of female secret agents, Mia confides to Vincent: The charac-
ter I played, Raven McCoy, her background was she was raised by
circus performers. So she grew up doing a knife act. According to the
show, she was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife. The
book Vincent is reading on the toilet before he is killed by Butch is
Modesty Blaise, who is a female version of James Bond.
Once Butch and Marsellus are subdued, Maynard, the owner of
the pawn shop, phones his brother, Zed, to report: The spider just
caught a coupla flies, the spider being a symbol for the terrible, pre-
Oedipal, androgynous and castrating mother.2
After anally raping Marsellus, Zed is blasted in the groin with a
shotgun wielded by Marsellus and mortally wounded.
Automobiles are highly sexualized and serve as phallic narcissis-
tic accoutrements. Vincent complains to Lance about how his prized
red Chevrolet Malibu convertible was intentionally vandalized.
You know what some fucker did to it the other day? . . . Fuckin keyed
it . . . I had the goddam thing in storage three years. Its out five days
five days, and some dickless piece of shit fucks with it . . . Whats more
chicken shit than fuckin with a guys automobile? You dont fuck
another mans vehicle. Thats against the rules, you dont do that.
(Tarantino, 1994, pp. 3334A)

While frantically transporting Mia to Lances in this same car after

she has overdosed on heroin, Vincent is going so fast that he is unable

to stop on the lawn and crashes into the dealers home. Butch slams
into Marsellus with his automobile, which is immediately struck from
behind by another driver (Hamilton, 1967). Winston Wolf, who has a
silver Porsche and likes to drive real fuckin fast, is doing 135
mph on his way to Jimmie Dimmicks. The booths at Jackrabbit
Slims are made out of cutup bodies of 50s cars.
Primal scene imagery is pervasive. While debating whether to hold
up the Hawthorne grill, Pumpkin, in weighing the risk of robbing
liquor stores owned by Vietnamese and Koreans, tells Honey Bunny:
We keep on, one of those gook motherfuckers gonna make us kill em
. . . Restaurants, on the other hand, you catch with their pants down.
As the heist begins, he shouts: Any one of you fuckin pricks move
and Ill execute every one of you motherfuckers! Got that?, which
addresses the terrifying effect the often frenetic body movements of
parents can have on the child exposed to the primal scene, including
a feeling of being betrayed or excluded that can stir vindictive fan-
tasies (Arlow, 1980).
The term motherfucker is used repeatedly.3 Before his entrance,
the Fourth Man is hiding in the bathroom listening hard to whats
being said on the other side of the door, tightly clutching his huge
silver .357 Magnum . . . Bursting out the door and blowing them all
away while theyre fucking around is the way to go. After emptying
his gun, his face does a complete change of expression. It goes from
a Vengeance is mine expression, to a What the fuck blank look.
The interruption of eating at the Hawthorne Grill (Jules takes a
mouthful of muffin then . . . Pumpkin and Honey Bunny rise with
guns raised), the students apartment, and when Butch drives his car
into Marsellus, who has just purchased some junk food, is the equiv-
alent of magically being able to halt parental intercourse. While dis-
cussing whether or not to rob the restaurant, Pumpkin reminds
Honey Bunny: Customers are sittin there with food in their mouths,
they dont know whats goin on. One minute theyre havin a Denver
omelette, next minute somebodys stickin a gun in their face. Before
sipping Bretts Sprite at the students apartment, Jules calls him a
smart motherfucker.
Thus, the immense violence in Pulp Fiction is vastly over-deter-
mined by primitive cannibalistic rage secondary to oral frustrations
and the necessity for momentary indulgence of such appetites in the
here-and-now, which would include stealing as a defense against the

passivity of helpless dependence (Allen, 1965), anal sadism, profound

castration anxiety, latent homosexual fears, and phallic narcissism, as
depicted in the alliance between Jules and Vincent with its inherent
pseudo-masculine reaction formation; and primal scene traumatiza-
While these different etiological components might have a syner-
gistic effect on one another in proceeding along a final common path-
way towards discharge, it is not possible at this point to discern, either
theoretically or neurophysiologically, precisely how such interaction
evolves and which, if any, is the more critical contributor to a specific
Tarantinos films being so autobiographical, it is essential to be
aware of his background to fully appreciate the latent and manifest
content of Pulp Fiction.
He was born prematurely in Knoxville on March 27, 1963 and
weighed less than 5 lbs. His mother, Connie, who was sixteen and had
been briefly married and divorced, was angry about having become
pregnant since she had been hoping to go to medical school eventu-
ally. Because she returned to work and college shortly after his birth,
he was bottle fed and looked after for the first year by an English
nanny at her home, where his mother would visit him on week-ends.
A very active, very willful child, he was left for the next eighteen
months with his maternal grandmother, seeing his mother, whose
apartment was twenty miles away, only on her days off, a repetition
of the pattern of her early years. She named her son after two fictional
charactersQuint Asper, a half-breed blacksmith played by Burt
Reynolds on the TV series Gun Smoke, which she followed during her
pregnancy, with whom she was enamored, and the Quentin of
Faulkners The Sound and the Fury, who was also the product of a
short-lived marriage.
When Quentin was two, his mother obtained a nursing diploma
and relocated to Los Angeles, where he was reunited with her six
months later, by which time his diet consisted mostly of hamburgers
and hot dogs. Unusually precocious and with an I.Q. of 160, he was
able to read by the age of three, encouraged by his mother, with Dr.
Seuss stories taking precedence. He and his mother had a mutual inter-
est in superhero comic books and at four years old, after she read him
Moby Dick, he was captivated with the plight of the white whale and its
struggle to avoid being killed by Ahab and the crew of the Pequod.

His mother remarried when Quentin was four, and she and her
husband, Curt Zastoupil, who adopted him, started taking him to
movies every week, including four on Friday night, regardless of
whether or not the material was suitable for children. He would talk
constantly about the films and the numerous television programs
he had seen, memorizing complete dialogues and exhibiting a unique
talent for mimicry. When viewing TV, he would sit up close to the
screen for hours at a stretch and often wanted to climb inside the set
and be part of the action. At five, he resolved to be an actor, and each
week assumed a new name taken from a television or film character.
He enjoyed devising ferocious war games with G.I. Joe dolls, inspired
by coverage on the evening news of live combat in Vietnam, his toy
soldiers being so dismembered each time that his mother was
required to reattach arms and feet before they could be reused. For
her, these exercises all had Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs overtones, the
latter being the first film he wrote and directed. Also, when five,
Quentin refused to go to a barber and cut his own hair from then on.
He had no friends among his peers by choice and was with adults
most of the time, such that he preferred to be photographed solely
with them rather than other children. He could not ride a bicycle or
tell time until the fifth grade. He disliked school, being bored by the
curriculum, and, during class, was hyperactive and disruptive, chat-
tering loudly and incessantly. His mother would not let him be
medicated just because he was too damn intelligent for them to
handle. Due to their proximity in age, he and his mother related
more like siblings than parent and child.
When he was 89, he experienced a series of crises. Taken by his
mother to the film Deliverance, he was terrified by the vivid anal rape
scene, vowed he would never go camping again, and claimed:
Deliverance scared the living shit out of me. I saw it at Tarzana 6 in a
double feature with The Wild Bunch . . . Did I understand Ned Beatty
was being sodomized? No. But I knew he wasnt having any fun
(Dawson, 1995, p.19). One day, he came home from school to be told
that his stepfather, to whom he was quite attached, had moved out
and that a divorce was under way. Concurrently, his mother was
diagnosed with Hodgkins disease and he was sent to be with his
grandmother in a trailer park in Knoxville for the better part of a year,
ignorant of his mothers condition and led to believe he was going on
a limited vacation.

His grandmother, a severe alcoholic, beat him frequently, both

manually and with a switch. He became infatuated with the actress
Claudia Cardinale after seeing her in the movie Circus World, where
John Wayne made love to her in a hay loft, Quentin wishing he were
Wayne. When his mother proved not to have Hodgkins, she brought
him back to be with her in Los Angeles. No sooner had he settled in
than his dog, Baron, was killed by a car and he was devastated by the
loss and inconsolable. He started doing screenplays, one of which was
in homage to Tatum ONeal, inspired by her Academy Award role in
Paper Moon, where she had starred with her father, Ryan.
As he grew older, Tarantino became homophobic, avoided athlet-
ics both as participant and spectator, behaved like a bully towards
other students and would walk through dangerous neighborhoods in
Los Angeles, excited by the challenge. Later, he observed: I guess my
biggest demons have to do with boyhood masculine pride. Like if Im
pushed into a situation I will totally respond with violence or some-
thing like that. Which I wish I didnt. I used to fight at the drop of a
hat through my early twenties (Bernard, 1995, p. 145).
During Quentins early adolescence, his mother travelled exten-
sively for pleasure, leaving him at home with a housekeeper. He quit
school when sixteen in the tenth grade and enrolled in an acting class
part-time, collaborating on violent themes with two other students
and displaying a prodigious recall of actual film dialogues. Another
student remarked that it was pretty weird stuff at times. Killings,
maimings, decapitation. You name it and they did it (Clarkson, 1995,
p. 54). He took a job at a video store, where he engaged in endless
exchanges with the clientele and fellow employees about everything
connected with movies and their production. In his off-hours, he
watched films on his VCR, wrote screenplays, which he would
rehearse in his head down to the minutest details, and seemed to
inhabit his own universe.
He was shy and seldom, if ever, dated in adolescence. He cruised
gay bars intermittently and was most uncomfortable whenever
another man made a pass at him. Reservoir Dogs has an all-male cast
playing hardened criminals who have no qualms about savagely
killing one another whenever necessary. Following its great success,
Tarantino secluded himself in Amsterdam in March 1992 for six
months to complete the script of Pulp Fiction, doing much of the
writing in hash bars and fast-food restaurants. While there, he sent

postcards to a heterosexual male friend in Los Angeles, one of which

read: Hello gay fag. You should come down, the gay population is
very large. You could get your dick sucked by a man every night,
while in another, he pretended to be a homosexual hustler (ibid.,
p. 197).
Tarantinos first two years were marked by considerable depriva-
tion, primarily because of his being away from his young mother
during the week and cared for by surrogates, one of whom fed him
nothing but junk food. From two to two-and-a-half, he was separated
from his mother when she moved to California.
He never knew his biological father, Tony Tarantino, who was not
interested in him, and, until the age of four, was without a substitute,
which gave him an early Oedipal victory but at the expense of inter-
nalizing an appropriate paternal object representation and masculine
identity, resulting at age five in an avoidance of barbers to minimize
castration anxiety and, during adolescence, in counter-phobic, macho
behavior to manage passive homosexual fears, which were amplified
by the traumatic overstimulation of the films he saw from age four on,
especially the anal rape in Deliverance, which had such a detrimental
effect on him (Berg, 1936).
He attempted to cope with violent fantasies through enactment in
the form of war games and writing film scenarios, constructing his
own private world inhabited by figures from movies and television.
At eight years of age, his stepfather abandoned him abruptly and
he was returned to his maternal grandmother in Tennessee for a year,
where he was so grossly mistreated. At fourteen, he did a screenplay,
Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit, about a man who robbed
pizza parlors. According to his mother,

He used to write all the time when he was a child. He used to write
Mothers Day stories for me, little dramas. Every year Id get a
Mothers Day story. But he would always kill me off in the story. And
then hed tell me how badly he felt about me dying, and how much
he loved me. I said, Well, Quentin, why cant I live, why cant you
love me when Im alive? (Bernard, 1995, p. 12)

By the age of eight, he was fascinated by grisly horror flicks,

such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, to which he got real
attached . . . I loved that movie. Its not like the way they do comedy
films now. The fact is that the monster in that movie actually killed

people, one of the them being a nurse, like his mother, who was
thrown out of an upper story window, a scene that also made a last-
ing impression on him (Clarkson, 1995, p. 26). I remember thinking
wow, because the scary parts are scary and the funny parts are really
funny, he reminisced (ibid., p. 27).
When his mother took him to see Bambi, he walked out after
Bambis mother was killed. As an adult, he would make friends sit up
all night and watch movies with him, whether they wanted to or not,
an identification with the aggressor as far as his having endured the
distress of films like Deliverance and Bambi because of his mothers
influence (Bernard, 1995, pp. 220221).
Implicit here is the enormous ambivalence Tarantino, an only
child, would have felt toward his mother for her capricious and insen-
sitive treatment of him, alternating varying degrees of rejection with
compensatory overindulgence and seductiveness, confusing him
about her commitment to him and promoting grandiosity to bolster
his fragile self-esteem. There is a symbiotic omnipotent quality to their
relationship, with Quentin functioning as a narcissistic extension of
his mother and she providing a Jocasta-type parenting to foster in him
a quest for great accomplishments from which she would derive
much vicarious gratification (Besdine, 1968, 1969; Khan, 1969;
Tartakoff, 1966). She had given him a multisyllabic name so that it
would occupy a whole movie screen. Its a big name and I expected
him to be important, she said. Why would I want to have an unim-
portant baby? (Clarkson, 1995, p. 10). Before embarking on his acting
career at seventeen, Quentin changed his surname from Zastoupil
back to Tarantino and, to fill the void left by the absence of men in his
life, began a search for father-figures in films. In his words:

In a weird way, since I grew up basically without a father, you kind

of go looking for your father in other places. One of the things that a
father does, and why theres so many fucked-up kids in the world
when a father doesnt do this, is that he comes to tell the boy, you
know, what being a man is. What is expected of men and everything.
Its really easy to write that off as something thats not important, but
actually that is important for a boy, because you know what, a boy is
actually looking for that, whether they can articulate that or not.
Looking for some guidance, you know, as far as being a man, and
everything. Childhoods really weird for a boy. You get torn in all
these different directions. When I was a kid I totally like didnt accept

any of the prescribed things of right or wrong. I wanted to find a right

or wrong inside my own heart. And since I didnt have somebody
who I admired showing me the way, I went looking for it, and in a
way I guess I kind of found it with Howard Hawks movies. I saw the
ethic that he was proposing in his films about men and their relation-
ships with each other and with women. And I guess I recognized it in
my own self and kind of adopted that. A girl I was talking to about
this said I picked the right guy, he did a better job for me than half the
fathers out there. I dont mean to drill this into my movies, I guess
they end up coming to the surface. (Bernard, 1995, pp. 2021)

When Quentin was eight, he saw John Travolta in Brian de Palmas

Carrie, a classic horror story, and then prevailed upon his mother to
buy him clothing like that of Travoltas in the film, a vest and red flan-
nel shirt, which he then wore every day for several weeks. While
making Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino reacted to Harvey Keitel as if he
were a good fatherstrong, firm, yet soft at the edges when circum-
stances demanded.
Lacking a stable paternal presence accentuated Tarantinos prob-
lems with poorly delineated boundaries between self and object
representations and left him with superego deficiencies, especially a
reduced capacity for genuine idealization, obliging him to rely on
imitation as opposed to ego-syntonic identification to develop mean-
ingful personal values and acceptable standards of masculinity,
thereby inducing identity diffusion (Erikson, 1956). Hence, his
extreme vulnerability to the impact of Deliverance, where two moun-
tain people in rural Georgia, after sodomizing one of four city-
dwellers canoeing through their territory, are killed by the victims
friends (Hamilton, 1981). Tarantinos urgent need to master this
trauma in Pulp Fiction is conveyed through the episode at the pawn
shop where the two hillbilly brothers who have raped Marsellus are
slaughtered, there being many similarities to what happened in
Deliverance.5 To enhance the effectiveness of this scene, Tarantino had
hoped to use as background music a song called My Sharona
because Its got a good butt-fucking beat to it, but was unable to
procure the rights. He also got so physically immersed in the actual
shooting of this incident from out of camera range that he interfered
with the concentration of the actor playing Marsellus.
Trust, respect, loyalty, and betrayal have been major concerns
for him, stemming from the loss of a pair of father figures and the

protracted separations from his mother from his first year on. When
Butch Coolidge double-crosses Marsellus and not only wins the Battle
of the Titans but kills his opponent and rescues Marsellus as he is
being anally raped at the pawn shop before heading to Knoxville,
Butchs rage in the ring might have antecedents in Tarantinos affec-
tive response during early latency to being forsaken by Curt Zastoupil
and his mother as a consequence of the divorce and being shipped off
to Knoxville, where he endured a miserable year with his abusive
grandmother. When Vincent Vegas is contemplating whether or not
to make a pass at Mia after they have been to Jackrabbit Slims, he
thinks to himself: . . . its a moral test of yourself, whether or not you
can maintain loyalty, because when people are loyal to each other,
thats very meaningful.
The number five, which has Oedipal connotations, recurs in Pulp
Fiction. Butch Coolidge is five when he gets the gold watch which his
father has hidden in his rectum during the five years he and Captain
Koons were incarcerated in North Vietnam. In rigging the fight with
Butch, Marsellus instructs him: In the fifth, your ass goes down.
When he was five, Tarantino foreswore barbers, began trimming his
hair himself, and decided to become an actor.
As a boy, Tarantino could easily have been traumatized from
primal scene exposure, his mother having been married twice and
having had numerous boyfriends. At age five, when he was taken by
his mother to see his first so-called adult film, Carnal Knowledge, he
would excuse himself and go out to the food concession to buy pop-
corn whenever a sexual scene was being shown.
There is a subjective side to the fetishistic preoccupations in Pulp
Fiction. Tarantino is a real feet guy, according to an artist friend who
painted the portrait of Uma Thurman for the film, one of the reasons
for her getting the Mia role being her feet are considered the best in
the business. Mia who is a combination of Quentin, his mother and
his former lover, Grace was the only invented persona in the cast. As
Ms. Thurman noted:
You know Quentin always says that all of the characters come from
somebody he knows, or somebody hes met or something that hes
seen. And hes always been led by that in casting and designing it.
And my character was one of the few that came entirely from his
imagination. He didnt have a preconceived notion, he just knew hed
know her when he saw her. (Bernard, 1995, p. 192)

It is quite plausible that Tarantino provided his mother with foot

massages as did Jules Winnfield, who regards himself as the fuckin
foot master . . . I got my technique down man, I dont tickle or
nothin. Vincent Vegas has given a million ladies a million foot
massages and they all meant somethin.
Clinically, in the perversions, there is a fusion of the drives,
making it exceedingly difficult to distinguish internally between
sexual and aggressive urges because the arousal of one is never a
discreet entity, which, in turn, means that aggression becomes heav-
ily libidinized. In the case of the male fetishist, a symbolic feminine
phallus, such as a shoe or foot, is utilized to alleviate castration anxi-
ety and insure heterosexual potency (Hamilton, 1977).
Tarantinos films are laden with many particulars from his own
life as he readily admits: Im all over my stuff. You know, Im soaked
through with it . . . Im positive after Ive finished a screenplay and
someone reads it I wont be able to show my face because Ive just told
too many of my secrets (Bernard, 1995, p. 145). It is crucial

to bring those experiences with me. Im not there unless I bring that
on with me and make that work inside my material. If Im not then
you could send a robot out there . . . that pain that Im feeling has got
to find its way into the story or else, what am I doing? (Clarkson, 1995,
p. 93)

In Pulp Fiction, Butch Coolidge, as a boy, positions himself next to

the television screen like Quentin did, and both came from Knoxville.
Vincent Vegass Malibu was Tarantinos own car which was once
keyed, or scratched up, while the board games in Lances living room,
Operation and Life, were also his. Lance eats Tarantinos brand of
cereal, Capn Crunch with Crunch Berries. The motorcycle on which
Butch rides away from the pawn shop is named Grace, after one of
Tarantinos former girlfriends. While in kindergarten, he misled his
teacher that his mother was not a nurse, but was Modesty Blaise.
Tarantinos ability to interpret time has remained rudimentary
since the fifth grade, in which he could do the 30s and the oclocks,
but when it got more than that, I was perplexed . . . To this day I cant
tell the time that well (Dawson, 1995, p. 22). He neither wears nor
owns a watch. Questioned about this cognitive deficit, his mother
affirmed: Hes a genius, who gives a shit if he can tell time or not?

He can always ask somebody the time. If he needs to know the time
hell find out (Bernard, 1995, pp. 1617). In Pulp Fiction, one segment
of the story does not fit chronologically. Jules and Vincent knock on
the students door at 7:22 a.m. and are still at Jimmie Dimmicks in
North Hollywood at 9:15 a.m. when Winston Wolf starts to wash them
off with the hose after they have cleansed their car before driving to
Monster Joes and then across town to the Hawthorne Grill where the
film has begun at 9:00 a.m. with the two of them already inside. While
Vincent and Mias date might have been that same evening, there is
no way to be sure when the other story line emanating from Butchs
fight takes place, except that it must be on another night, as Marsellus
and Mia are seen briefly in Floyd Ray Williss locker room after the
bout, comforting his trainer.
Time recognition is a complex faculty conditioned by each psycho-
sexual phase of development such as the hungersatiation pattern of
early infancy, the vicissitudes of toilet training, and the acquisition of
sphincter control, recalling that Butchs watch had been sequestered in
his fathers rectum for five years while he was imprisoned in North
Vietnam, and the internalization of reliable maternal and paternal
imagos as an important precursor to the attainment of object constancy
(Colarusso, 1987; Hartocollis, 1974). Given the turmoil of Tarantinos
childhood, with its many separations, losses, and other repetitive trau-
mas, it is understandable why the comprehension of time was such a
formidable obstacle for him.
The psychoanalytic concept of sublimation, where both conflicted
aggressive and libidinal drives are unconsciously neutralized or trans-
formed through the creative process as a means of achieving mastery,
would apply to Tarantino and his work, not least Reservoir Dogs and
Pulp Fiction. One of his close associates divulged: If Quentin didnt
make it in the film business, its very likely hed have ended up a
serial killer (Bernard, 1995, p. 48). Indeed, one of his first screen
projects was an unproduced script called Criminal Mind, about a serial
killer who renounces killing, so that the police can never catch him.
About his method of composing a script, Tarantino stressed:

When I sit down and write I just let the movie unfold before me.
Sometimes it doesnt unfold very well, sometimes you walk into the
darkest recesses of your mind and thats the joy of writing, thats what
makes it funall of a sudden theyre bringing out The Gimp and then

they start butt fucking. Where does that come from? I have no idea.
Im a really normal nice guy. This stuff just spills out of my head.
There are two things you can do, you can either censor yourself or you
can walk down that path and see where it goes and I prefer to walk
down that path. (Dawson, 1995, p. 144)

1. In Tarantinos script for the film, Past Midnight, an older man tantaliz-
ingly rubs a younger womans feet.
2. In developing the Mia character, my favourite, Tarantino recounted:

One of the things I liked about her was I didnt know where she
came from, she just kind of like sprung up . . . I knew no more
about Mia than Vincent did. All I knew were the rumours and the
inneundo. She was Marselluss wife and she might be a black widow.
All I knew was what Vincent knew because the film was from
Vincents perspective. (Dawson, 1995, p. 155, my emphasis)

Tarantinos mothers favorite super-hero comic was Spiderman, a doll

model of which he obtained and used in mock battles against his GI Joe
toys, never being able to decide who was the winner.
3. Jules Winnfield carries a wallet bearing the inscription Bad Mother-
fucker which Tarentino kept for himself after the picture was completed.
4. From Dusk Till Dawn (Tarantino, 1995), which Tarantino wrote before
doing Pulp Fiction, is about the Gecko brothers, Richard and Seth, notori-
ous Abilene bank robbers, who hold up a World of Liquor store in rural
south Texas before going on a rampage and killing five Texas Rangers,
eight policemen, and three civilians, plus a female hostage who is first
raped by Richard.
Fast food (i.e., Big Kahuna burgers, etc.), cigarette smoking, drugs, and
alcohol are ubiquitous and violence erupts after someone leaves a bath-
room. Sexuality is restricted to pedophilia, foot fetishism, cunnilingus,
fellatio, and anal assault. While he and Seth are fugitives, Richard Gecko
mocks a TV news announcer: Is it safe to assume since the law enforce-
ment authorities of the great state of Texas are homosexuals of a sick and
deviate nature that they will be too busy fucking each other up the ass to
actually catch the Gecko brothers?
Seth and Richard flee across the Mexican border and wind up at a place
called The Titty Twister which is the rudest, most crab-infested strip

joint, honky-tonk whorehouse in all of Mexico . . . the kind of place where

they sweep up the teeth and hose down the cum, the blood and the beer
at closing. There is a large sign over the main entrance consisting of a
well-endowed woman, whose breast is being twisted by a neon-hand.
One of the male customers uses a bullwhip to snatch a bottle of beer from
another customer who is about to take a swig from it. Another inhabitant
unzips his fly and takes out his penis, which is shaped like a metal gun
barrel, and begins shooting bullets wildly.
The female dancers, one of whom, Santanico Pandemonium, is The
most sinister woman to dance on the face of the earth . . ., having the
beauty of the siren who lures men to their doom, eventually turn into
vampires and begin to attack the patrons like sharks in a feeding
frenzy. Santanico kills Richard Gecko, like a mongoose attached to a
cobra, legs wrapped around Richards waist, fangs buried deep in his
neck . . . and then goes after Seth, screaming: Lets see if you taste as
good as your brother. The carnage ends at sunrise with all the vampires
dead after having stakes driven through their hearts.
5. In From Dusk Till Dawn, one character exclaims: Those acts of God really
stick it in and break it off, dont they? (Tarantino, 1995).

Florian von Donnersmarck

Filmmaking isnt to do with being intellectual. In fact, that gets

in the way . . . Once you learn the craftand thats not hard to
learnits more about using your own personality and tastes
and trusting all that
(von Donnersmarck, 2007)

lorian von Donnersmarcks The Lives of Others, which won an

F Oscar for best foreign film in 2005, is a detailed examination of

the obsession of the former East German secret police (STASI)
with spying on their fellow citizens, relying on a network of 200,000
informers. In 1984, Georg Dreyman, a forty-year-old playwright, is
suspected of being too friendly with his literary counterparts in West
Germany. His apartment in East Berlin, therefore, is electronically
wired by the STASI and a listening post is set up in the attic of the
same building, where all conversations detected by the hidden micro-
phones are closely tracked, tape-recorded, and typed by Gerd Wiesler,
a STASI captain and his assistant, a Sargeant Leye. Wiesler is highly
aroused by the sounds of Dreyman and his girlfriend, Christa-Maria
Sieland, a prominient actress, making passionate love.


Before there is any eavesdropping, Wiesler attends a play of

Dreymans, The Faces of Love, that features Ms. Sieland and after it
ends observes the two of them embracing and kissing in front of the
stage through binoculars from his seat in the balcony. When he
initially hears Dreyman and Ms. Sieland in bed, he exclaims: Theyre
already at it. Those artists! Theyre always at it. Thats why I prefer
monitoring artists to priests or peace activists. A few days later, Leye
compiles a summary of an incident:

When I began my shift Laszlo [a pseudonym for Dreyman] & CMS

are arguing . . . Eventually, she leaves but after 20 minutes, CMS
returns to Laszlos surprise and mine. He seems very happy about
this. Vigorous acts of intimacy follow. (They make love.) She says
shell never leave him again. He says repeatedly, Now Ill do some-
thing. This likely refers to writing a new stage play. In recent weeks,
Laszlos playwriting has been plagued by difficulties. What she
means by her statement is unclear. Perhaps she intends to take better
care of his household. The rest of the night was peaceful.

When Wiesler has read the report, he compliments Leye on his effort.
As Ms. Sieland is walking home alone one night from the theatre,
she is offered a ride by Bruno Hempf in his limousine. He is a cabinet
minister with whom she is acquainted who has made overtures to her
in the past and considers her the loveliest pearl in the GDR. He first
caresses her face, assuring her: Im looking after you, before seduc-
ing her in the back seat with her acquiescence while his chauffeur
watches intently in the rear view mirror as he undoes her blouse and
fondles her breasts before making penetration. He drops her off at
Dreymans place, where she goes directly to his empty apartment and
takes a long shower, washing her pubic area very thoroughly.
Later, Wiesler is visited by a prostitute in his living quarters. When
he answers the door, he wonders how she managed to get into the
building on her own, to which she replies: A bunch of you guys live
here. As he sits in a chair fully clothed, she straddles him naked
while he buries his head between her enormous breasts and nuzzles
them. After he presumably has ejaculated, she pulls away from him
and prepares to leave. He implores her to stay which she cannot do as
my next customer is at half-past. I work on a schedule. At 1:30, he
interjects. You wont make it. Sure I will, she says. Dont you
worry . . . Book me for longer next time. Bye.

Wiesler then surreptitiously enters Dreymans apartment while no

one is there and goes right to the master bedroom to inspect the sheets
on the rumpled bed where Dreyman and Ms. Sieland had made love.
He departs, taking with him a book by Bertolt Brecht that belongs to
Dreyman. In another scene, Hempf instructs his chauffeur to keep a
careful eye on Ms. Sieland, ordering him to report on every minute
that shes not with me.
Through a camera installed on the exterior of Dreymans apart-
ment building, Wiesler had spotted Ms. Sieland getting out of
Hempfs car and, while mumbling to himself Time for some bitter
truths, rang Dreymans doorbell by crossing some wires. When
Dreyman opens the door to the building, he catches a glimpse of his
girlfriend stepping away from the vehicle across the street. He hides
himself in a corner adjacent to the front entrance where she does not
notice him when she comes in. Hence, he is not in his apartment when
she gets there.
Shortly thereafter, Wiesler is shown raptly reading a poem by
Brecht that is in the above-mentioned volume.

One day in blue-moon September, silent under a plum tree,

I held her, my silent pale love, in my arms like a fair and lovely
Above us in the summer skies
Was a cloud that caught my eye.
It was white and so high up.
And when I looked up it was no longer there

Wiesler then falls fast asleep.

Dreyman is given a typewriter as a gift by a friend, Paul Hauser,
on which he writes an article about the vast number of suicides in East
Germany that is eventually published by Der Spiegel in West Berlin, to
the embarrassment of the East German government. To prevent
anyone from locating the machine and possibly comparing its charac-
ters with the typefaces in the original manuscript, Dreyman stores it
when he is not using it in a hollowed-out space beneath the doorsill
between the living room and the hallway.
Sieland is arrested for possession of illicit substances, to which
she is addicted, and when interrogated by the STASI reveals where
the typewriter is sequestered, marking the spot on a diagram of the

interior with a cross. Her drugs, which had been confiscated, are
returned to her and she is released from custody for her cooperation.
When the STASI search the apartment, however, the compartment is
empty. Sieland appears while the police are still there, and when they
leave she showers before rushing down the stairs distraught in a
bathrobe and out into the street, where she is hit by an oncoming
truck. As she lies flat on the pavement dying, she admits to Wiesler,
who had been standing nearby before the accident: I was too weak.
I can never put right what Ive done wrong, to which he responds:
Theres nothing to put right! You understand! Nothing. I moved the
typewriter. During the film, because of his protracted exposure to
Dreyman and his artist friends, Wiesler is able to empathize with their
position, which induced him to carry out the protective action of
discarding the typewriter (Diamond, 2008).
One day while at the theater, four and a half years later, Dreyman
by chance comes upon Hempf in the lobby, who arrogantly advises
him: You were under full surveillance. We knew everything about
you. We knew you couldnt give our little Christa what she needed.
Dreyman is allowed access to his previously restricted STASI file
where he discovers a signed statement made by Christa: I Christa-
Maria Sieland commit myself unofficially to work for State Security.
The decision is the result of my conviction.

The central theme in The Lives of Others is the preoccupation of the
STASI with the loyalty of the East German people and the urgent need
to know everything about as many of them as possible, using what-
ever methods as necessary to identify enemies of the state. The
resultant atmosphere is one of extreme paranoia, with minimal basic
trust in interpersonal relationships. A prominent psychodynamic con-
stellation is the primal scene, where clinically the young child,
particularly the boy, witnessing parental intercourse, either visually
or aurally, could interpret the situation as a brutal physical assault by
the father on the mother and the mothers participation as a betrayal
of the son, which, in turn, can stir up inordinate rage, sometimes of
homicidal proportions towards her and/or her spouse. This conflict is
a principal motivating factor in the evolution of the story, as depicted

in the character of Gerhard Wiesler, who is overstimulated by what he

overhears from his attic hideaway of the lovemaking of Dreyman and
Christa-Maria. In other words, this invasive, heavily charged
voyeuristic scrutiny serves as a vehicle for the displacement of under-
lying feelings of profound disappointment in the primal scene mother
for her perfidy by concentrating consciously on the matter of absolute
political allegiance to the State. At the same time, primitive anal sadis-
tic mechanisms of control and punishment are mobilized, with the
victims not infrequently being incarcerated and tortured or done
away with as vengeful retribution for maternal deceptionanother
variant of disloyalty.
Christa epitomizes this behavior, letting Hempf take advantage of
her sexually, a re-enactment of the primal scene with the chauffeur as
passive onlooker, just as Wiesler watches Dreyman and Christa-Maria
at a distance being affectionate with each other at the theater and later
while he is standing on the street below a window of her apartment.
She is eventually killed, her death constituting a punishment for her
treachery as the bad mother. She had earlier tried to atone for her
sexual infidelity and for having divulged where Dreymans type-
writer was concealed by cleansing herself stringently, a compulsive
gesture of undoing.
On a deeper level, oral dependent strivings and their frustration
play a vital role, as conveyed in Wieslers encounter with the prosti-
tute whose services he must share with STASI colleagues or siblings.
He is more concerned with her breasts, which she peremptorily with-
draws and refuses him extra time, insisting that he arrange for a more
extended appointment in future, thereby raising the question of
demand versus regulated feeding in infancy and reasonably adequate
nurturance during that phase. While conversing with Dreyman at a
social gathering about the artists function in a Communist society,
Hempf greedily devours a large chocolate clair.
In stealing the Brecht book from Dreyman, Wiesler is actively
taking something rather than waiting passively for it to be given to
him, which has oral phase implications associated with feeding
(Allen, 1965). In the poem that is of interest to Wiesler, the cloud,
which can be a symbolic substitute for the breast, disappears. After he
finishes the work, Wiesler dozes off, introducing the possibility for
dreaming as an avenue to regressive fusion with the good, pre-
Oedipal mother (Almansi, 1960; Hamilton, 2009, pp. 138).

A similar dynamic pattern to that of The Lives of Others is contained

in 1984, George Orwells classic novel, where STASI repressive tactics
are replicated by the omnipresence of Big Brother, the Thought Police,
and the telescreen to enforce abject submission to the state of Oceania
among its populace (Hamilton, 2009, pp. 187222). The overriding aim
is to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent
thought. Winston Smith and his partner Julia try to rebel against this
withering totalitarianism but are finally apprehended by the authori-
ties when a room that they had rented for their sexual liaisons, which
were officially proscribed, proves to be equipped with a secluded tele-
screen which captures their lovemaking and seditious scheming. They
are imprisoned and when Winston is threatened with being viciously
tortured, he relinquishes his opposition to the political system and is
provided with unlimited oral indulgence in the form of alcohol for the
rest of his days. Within the text there are multiple references to the
breast, oral dependent struggles, and the rage secondary to insuffi-
cient gratification of such wishes, core conflicts which were intense
and pervasive in Orwells life.
In The Lives of Others, the pathological intrusiveness of the STASI
in East Germany into the privacy of their countrymen in order to
uncover political deviance can be traced to unresolved issues derived
from primal scene trauma superimposed upon critical deficits in the
oral psychosexual phase of development. The repetitive documenta-
tion of disloyalty becomes an instrument for attaining revenge on the
capricious mother, whose indiscretions and deficiencies as a parent
compromised crucial aspects of her childrens emotional well-being.

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Abraham, 15, 20, 22 Archer, F., 126, 193

Adams, L., 63, 193 Ardant, F., 148, 162
Adjani, I., 148149, 162 Argentieri, S., 157, 194
Adler, G., 158159, 193 Arlow, J., 59, 6365, 174, 194
affect, xi, 30, 35, 41, 46, 55, 59, 61, 98, Armitage, M., 116, 119
100, 106, 130131, 133, 143, 161, Art Students League, 2, 84
163, 181 Ashton, D., 5, 7, 10, 18, 21, 37, 81, 194
aggression, 4142, 46, 6162, 86, 103, Astaire, F., 54
120, 127, 130, 137, 163, 173, 179, Atget, E., 32
182183 attachment, 19, 81, 122, 133, 146
Aiken, C., 36, 193 Avery, M., 2
Akhtar, S., 5, 193
Allen, A., 138, 175, 191, 193 Bacall, L., 38
Allen, D. W., 109, 193 Bach, J. S., 119, 127
Almansi, R., 109110, 191, 193 Barglow, P., 109, 194
Anthi, P. R., 65, 193 Barrett, W., 35, 86
anxiety, 12, 18, 6163, 68, 7576, 110, Barthes, R., 122, 194
143, 146, 152, 161, 164 Baye, N., 157
acute, 46 Bazin, A., 139140, 155
castration, 128, 175, 178, 182 Baziotes, W., 86
chronic, 26 behaviour, 5, 32, 42, 66, 103, 146, 157,
separation, 72, 80, 103, 130, 133, 178, 191
148 irrational, 14
Apollinaire, G., 75 sexual, 127


Berg, C., 178, 194 Commentary, 87

Bergman, A., 100, 194 Compton, M., 18, 195
Bergman, I., 101102, 132133, 194 Conger, A., 118, 195
Bernard, J., 177183, 194 Connolly, C., 86
Besdine, M., 179, 194 conscious(ness), 17, 2930, 48, 53, 55,
Bettelheim, B., 145146 57, 99, 106, 160161, 191 see also:
Beyeler, E., 78, 194 unconscious(ness)
Bisset, J., 152 sub-, 14, 29, 126
Blatt, S., 50, 200 Cornell, J., 3235, 3740, 195
Bloom, C., 38 Cossacks, 2, 6, 8
Blotkamp, C., 54, 5758, 61, 194 Crespelle, J., 73, 195
Boekraad, C., 54, 68, 194 Crisp, C. G., 136, 151, 157, 195
Bogat, R., 8 Crist, J., 125, 195
Bois, Y.-A., 57, 194 Cubism, 45, 49, 52, 59, 75
Bonaparte, M., 65, 194 Curtis, T., 34
Bory, J.-L., 147, 155 Czarist pogroms, 2
Brach, P., 87
Bradley, N., 65, 195 Dali, S., 3
Braque, G., 12, 48, 59, 7576 Davenne, J., 155, 157
Brassai, G. H., 71, 195 Davis, D., 82, 195
Brel, J., 30 Dawson, J., 167, 176, 182, 184, 195
Breslin, J., 112, 1419, 2123, 195 death, 78, 14, 3031, 3940, 7273,
Brodsky, B., 148, 195 75, 82, 121, 130, 142, 147148,
Brothers Grimm, 25 153155
Brunswick, R. M., 51, 195 fear of, 30, 37, 78, 153
Buie, D., 158159, 193 of parent, 3, 5, 11, 14, 16, 2122,
2627, 3738, 59, 84, 102, 106,
Calmes, L., 122, 195 108, 111, 113115, 118120,
Cannes Film Festival, 140, 167 122, 129, 153
Cardinale, C., 177 symbol, 32, 121, 171
Caro, R., 91 de Baecke, A., 136141, 147151,
Carroll, L., 65 153154, 163, 195
Casagemas, C., 7475 de Beauvoir, S., 142
Cerrito, F., 38 de Givray, L., 150
Chabrol, C., 139, 149 Deicher, S., 44, 68, 195
Chave, A., 78, 23, 195 de Kooning, E., 8
Christian Science, 37, 39 de Kooning, W., 82, 89, 98
Church, 27 Deneuve, C., 152153
Christie, J., 146, 162 Depardieu, G., 142, 152
Clarkson, W., 167, 177179, 182, depression, 3, 7, 21, 51, 57, 86, 108,
195 110, 131, 133, 137, 143, 147, 154,
Clearwater, B., 6, 195 157
Cocteau, J., 140, 162 acute, 16
Cohen, E., 87 chronic, 28, 127
Colarusso, C., 183, 195 severe, 74, 88
Colson, D., 106, 114, 195 suicidal, 102

Deri, S., 164, 196 Gabo, N., 53

de Richey, R., 121 Gaddini, E., 47, 6162, 197
development(al), 41, 43, 62, 100, 103, Gance, A., 137
115, 126127, 133, 160, 163, 165, Garbo, G., 38
183, 192 Garza-Guerrero, A. C., 5, 197
Diamond, D., 190, 196 Gay, P., 42, 44, 50, 52, 5457, 66, 197
Disney, W., 5960 Gedo, J., 43, 197
Donner, J., 125, 196 Gedo, M., 72, 75, 77, 197
Duchamp, M., 28, 63 Geldzahler, H., 92
Duke, P., 38 Genet, J., 139
Duse, E., 38 Gertler, M., 47, 68, 197
Ghiselin, B., 79, 197
Eagels, J., 38 Gifford, S., 35, 197
Edelheit, H., 50, 196 Gilot, F., 73, 79, 197
Edwards, R., 9, 196 Giovacchini, P., 14, 38, 197
Egan gallery, 89 Godard, J.-L., 139
ego, 19, 56, 67, 74, 82, 106, 112, 139, Golding, J., 45, 197
153, 161, 165, 180 Gonzalez, J., 76
infantile, 62 Goodis, D., 139
super-, 67, 103, 180 Gordon, M., 20
Elderfield, J., 10, 196 Gordon, P., 1819, 197
Eliot, T. S., 88, 97, 102 Gottlieb, A., 12
Erikson, E., 164, 180, 196 Greenacre, P., 4142, 4445, 47, 52,
Ernst, M., 3, 2728 6566, 197
Esman, A. H., 4244, 52, 59, 66, 196 Greenberg, C., 83, 90, 9394, 9698,
Esquire, 85, 9496, 101 104, 197
Grinberg, L., 58, 198
fantasy, 35, 38, 54, 61, 6365, 99100, Grokest, A., 23
108, 136 see also: Guggenheim
unconscious(ness) Fellowship, 108
Farrell, H., 139 retrospective, 19
Feiner, K., 64, 198 guilt, 5, 12, 59, 67, 7273, 82, 141,
Fenichel, O., 30, 196 158
Fine, B., 67, 202 Guitry, S., 138
Fischer, J., 9, 14, 196
Forge, A., 18 Haesaerts, P., 78, 198
Four Seasons restaurant, 14 Hagemeyer, J., 108
Fox, H., 105, 116, 173, 196 Hamilton, J. W., 5, 1112, 22, 31, 36,
Frankenthaler, H., 88, 102 122, 131, 174, 180, 182, 191192,
Freud, S., 5, 15, 34, 42, 47, 50, 129, 198
196 Harrison, C., 53, 68, 198
Wolf-man, 42, 47, 50, 68 Harthoorn, J. M., 68, 198
Fried, M., 92 Hartigan, G., 88
Friedman, S., 108, 196 Hartocollis, P., 183, 198
Fromm, G., 106, 116, 196 Held, A., 90
Fry, R., 9899, 197 Hendin, H., 128131, 198

Hess, T., 90 Lazarus, H., 9293, 96, 100

Hitchcock, A., 140, 151, 155 Leaud, J.-P., 140142, 151152
Hoffman, H., 89 Lehning, A., 53
Holtzman, H., 53, 198 Lerner, M., 109110, 112, 120121
Houdini, H., 2627 Lewin, B. D., 35, 127, 148, 161, 199
Howe, I., 86 Life, 87
Lipscomb, P. A., 99, 199
Illinois College of Photography, Livingston, P., 131, 199
107 Lloyd, F., 20
Impressionist, 44, 75 Longo, V., 91
introjection, 11, 14, 61, 158 Lubin, A. J., 4344, 5051, 199
Irish, W., 139
Isaac, 15, 20, 22 Macdonald, D., 86, 104
Ivan the Terrible, 3 Maddow, B., 107, 110, 115, 118,
Jacob, M., 76 Malmstrm, I., 131, 199
James, M., 48, 198 Marlborough Galleries, 20
Janssen, H., 57, 19 Marquis, A., 92, 199
Jaques, E., 154, 198 Maso, C., 25, 199
Jeanmaire, Z., 38 Matisse, H., 2, 10
Jensen, A., 15, 20 Mazet, G., 155
Jesus, 7, 93 McCarthy, M., 86, 92
Johns, J., 88 Medicean Library, 14
Jones, E., 148, 198 Meller, R., 29
Joosten, J., 57, 194 Metropolitan Museum, 16
Julian Levy gallery, 2728 Meyer, B., 12, 59, 75, 92, 199
Miller, M. L., 31, 199
Kahnweiler, D.-H., 76 Milner, M., 99, 199
Kant, I., 88, 97 Miranda, C., 38
Khan, M. M. R., 179, 198 Mishima, Y., 65
Kierkegaard, 15, 20 Modernism, 98
Kingsley, A., 8, 12, 17, 19, 23, 198 Moffett, K., 92
Kleiner, J., 30, 39, 198 Mondrian, P., 1, 41, 45, 4749, 5153,
Kline, F., 88 5859, 68, 199
Knafo, D., 64, 198 Monroe, M., 38
Kramer, H., 86 Moore, H., 63
Krassner, L., 88 Morane, B., 159
Kuh, K., 1516, 199 Motherwell, R., 3, 11, 14, 23, 28, 53,
Kunitz, S., 9, 14, 18, 22 86, 199
Kushner, D., 131, 199 mourning, 3, 5, 1314, 26, 3031,
3840, 106, 108, 113114, 120,
Lachenay, R., 137138, 142 127, 155, 157
Lagerkvist, P., 130 Mozart, W. A., 9, 2223
Lake, C., 73, 79, 197 Museum of Modern Art, 10, 15,
Lamarr, H., 38 8687
Larsen, E., 67, 199 Myers, W., 58, 63, 67, 199

narcissism, 6365, 127128, 136, 173, Rabourdin, D., 135, 137138, 148149,
175, 179 152, 154, 157, 163, 200
Nation, The, 86 Rahv, P., 86
Nazism, 58, 142 Reik, T., 20, 200
Neo-Plasticism, 45, 4849, 5254, Reinhardt, A., 89
5659, 66 Reis, B., 20
New Masses, 85 Renoir, J., 109, 137, 140, 151, 155
New Republic, The, 85 Resnik, S., 122, 200
New School of Design, 2 Richardson, J., 73, 200
Newhall, B., 115, 118, 199 Riding, A., 69, 200
Nicholls, D., 151, 199 Rijksakademie, 44
Rivers, L., 88
object, 17, 30, 35, 62, 65, 100, 102, 108, Robbins, M., 161, 200
116, 122, 158, 163165, 178, 180, Roc, C., 162
183 Roche, H.-P., 153, 155, 162
internal, 3, 15, 102, 165 Rockwell, N., 98
loss, xi, 22, 40, 133, 161 Rodriguez, J., 117, 200
lost, 14, 21, 38, 108, 143, 158 Rogers, G., 54
primary, 76 Rohmer, E., 139
relations, 61, 64 Rose, G., 99, 200
sacred, 28 Rosen, V. H., 65, 200
self-, 158 Rosenberg, H., 8990
objective/objectivity, 98 Rossellini, R., 140, 155
Oedipal ideas, 56, 16, 30, 6263, 102, Roth, D., 50, 200
113, 153, 165, 170, 173, 178, 181, Rothko, M. (Rothkowitz), 1, 8, 17, 28,
191 9899, 200201
Olitski, J., 91, 102 Roy, C., 82, 201
ONeal, T., 177 Rubenfeld, F., 84, 8692, 9798, 103,
ONeill, E., 131 201
Ophuls, M., 140 Ruddick, B., 127, 201
Oremland, J., 41, 163, 199 Rudenstine, A. Z., 57, 194
Orwell, G., 192
Sabartes, J., 7476, 78, 201
Parmelin, H., 7778, 81, 200 Sachar, L., 3
Parrot, L., 82, 200 sadism, 42, 46, 63, 92, 103, 127
Pavia, P., 87 anal, 129, 175, 191
Pavlova, A., 38 oral, 14, 80, 101, 103
Pederson-Krag, G., 65, 200 Sadow, L., 109, 194
Phillips Andover Academy, 26 Samuels, C., 141144, 151, 201
Piaget, J., 158159, 200 Sandemose, A., 65
Picasso, P., 7880, 200 Sandler, I., 8, 16, 89, 201
Podhoretz, N., 87 Scharf, W., 5
Pollock, G., 120, 200 Schueler, J., 34, 88, 201
Pollock, J., 8689, 98, 102 Seldes, L., 4, 21, 201
Pomeroy, R., 9, 196 self, 50, 53, 61, 62, 64, 75, 100101,
Proust, M., 3031 158, 163164, 180 see also: object

-esteem, 21, 85, 129130, 179 164165, 171, 173, 182, 191
private, 157 Syracuse University, 85
-referential, 88
-reliance, 128, 138 Tarantino, Q., 163, 172173, 202
-representation, 14, 58 Tartakoff, H., 179, 202
secret, 9 Thurman, U., 181
Seuphor, M., 44, 46, 59, 201 Toubiana, S., 136141, 147151,
sexual, 6, 20, 46, 55, 112, 127, 129, 138, 153154, 163, 195
169, 173, 181182, 191192 Toumanova, T., 38
see also: behaviour Travolta, J., 180
hetero-, 178, 182 Truffaut, F., 135, 144146, 150151,
homo-, 93, 126127, 175, 178, 184 162163, 202
infidelity, 191 Tyler, P., 27
partner, 149
psycho-, 16, 38, 45, 183, 192 Ullmann, L., 132
sexuality, 67, 129130, 172, 184 unconscious(ness), xi, 17, 48, 50, 52,
adult, 52 55, 62, 6465, 67, 71, 74, 78,
Shengold, L., 101, 201 8283, 105106, 114, 119, 123,
Simon, B., 6465, 201 139, 154, 160, 165, 186 see also:
Simon, N., 47, 68, 201 conscious(ness)
Singer, I., 125, 132, 201 fantasy, 38, 6364, 108
Sloan Kettering, 16
Socarides, C., 102, 201 Van Den Berg, P., 45, 4748, 50, 53,
Solman, J., 3 58, 202
Solomon, D., 2628, 34, 36, 3839, 92, Van Doesburg, N., 52, 54, 202
201 Van Doesburg, T., 5859
Sontag, S. S., 35, 38, 122, 201 Van Dyke, W., 119, 122
Souchon, A. Viederman, M., 123, 202
Spitz, R., 159, 201 Virgin Mary, 7
Steichen, E., 122, 201 Vogue, 28
Stern, M., 6263, 201202 Volkan, V., 102, 155, 171, 202
Sterne, H., 28 Vollard, A., 76
Stevens, M., 90, 202 von Donnersmarck, F., 187, 202
Stieglitz, A., 107, 109, 111, 118119,
121 Waldhorn, H. F., 67, 202
Strachey, J., 35, 146, 202 Waldman, D., 10, 203
Strindberg, A., 130 War, 5758, 61, 75, 9596, 125, 129,
subjectivity, xi, 49, 55, 98, 147, 181 138, 171
surrealism, 23, 27 First World, 44, 55, 57, 144,
Swan, A., 90, 202 155156, 171
Sweeney, J. J., 68, 202 Second World, 1, 7, 45, 157, 171
Sweeney, L., 163, 202 Spanish Civil, 77
symbol(-ism), xi, 68, 1112, 2122, Wayne, J., 177
32, 35, 40, 50, 52, 63, 65, 67, Weber, M., 2
7577, 93, 99, 101, 106, 109111, Welles, O., 140, 167
117, 121123, 125126, 157158, West, M., 54

Weston, E., 105, 108113, 115121, Wolfenstein, M., 3, 38, 108, 155, 203
123, 203 world, 11, 75, 147, 161
Whitman, R. M., 35, 123, 203 external, 4, 47, 79, 105, 122, 164
Wight, F., 74, 203 internal, 157
Wijsenbeek, L. J. S., 54, 203 Western, 93
Williams, C., 140 Wray, F., 38
Winnicott, D. W., 18, 99, 116, 159,
164165, 203 Yakir, D., 140, 149, 151, 153, 203
Wolfe, J., 87 Yale Saturday Evening Post, The, 12
Wolfe, T., 3031 Yale University, 2, 22

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