Psychoanalysis & Iconoclasm.

Throughout its short history, psychoanalysis has been concerned, apparently almost to the point of obsession, with the interpretation of art and seems to have coveted the secrets of art and creativity. Why should this be so? Why should so many psychoanalytic theorists from Freud, through to Lacan and Kristeva, ostensibly engaged in what purports to be a scientific, medical and clinical practice, be so readily distracted by excursions into cultural territory?

The answer to this question is rooted in the fact that artistic creativity, particularly as it is manifested in the inner painterly creative process, is in fact the prototype of psychoanalysis itself and of psychoanalytic practice and procedure. However, psychoanalysis, as a method of interpretive hermeneutics, is not always keen to acknowledge the debt it owes to art and creativity in its very operational format. Clinicians in the fields of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy more usually prefer to see themselves as scientists, rationalists, or humanists, divorced from the apparently illogical diversions of art. For Freud, ‘there is no court of appeal beyond reason’ (Freud,1927, p.173).

This extends into a rivalry between art and psychoanalysis. Freud’s assertion that: ‘Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms’, is an unwitting acknowledgement of this (Freud,1928, p.239). This rivalry works both ways; just as psychoanalysis needs to deny its antecedents, artists can be very self-conscious about the fundamental therapeutic aspirations of creativity. The desire of artists to distance themselves from what is often perceived as the limiting, reductive and prescriptive pronouncements of psychoanalysis, is no doubt a factor in this.

Nevertheless, in the twentieth century, psychoanalysis and modern art are two cultural phenomena which developed very much in tandem and in many respects have come to represent the century’s defining characteristics. Both are concerned with what lies behind the facade; what is going on underneath; with unconscious hidden motivations, symptoms, neuroses and pathology. Edvard Munch’s famous painting of The Scream (1893) is the scream of modern neurotic man. Modern art shares the same concern of psychoanalysis for the expression of subjective emotion; for the therapeutic and cathartic release from the repressions and constraints implicit in the human condition. Both movements fed ideas into one another in a continual, cultural cross-fertilisation still going on today, albeit in the context of postmodernism .


Modern art, in fact, was very much a response to the new development of psychoanalysis. This is not just in the more commonly and superficially accepted sense of Dadaism and Surrealism’s critique of psychoanalysis through the parodying of free association. It is rather in modern abstract art and especially abstract painting that the strongest reaction to psychoanalysis is developed. Significantly, psychoanalysis has virtually nothing to say about abstraction and abstract art, as if a type of negation is in operation. It is well documented how psychoanalytic interpretation of art has ignored art’s formal qualities in favour of content, narrative and subject-matter. Freud was contemptuous of the Expressionist painter’s concern for form; in a letter to Ernest Jones he states: ‘Meaning is but little to these men all they care for is line, shape, agreement of contours. They are given up to “ Lustprinzip ” [pleasure principle]‘ (Jones, 1957, p.441). Jung brands Picasso as a schizophrenic; in an essay on the artist, he says: ‘On the basis of my experience, I can assure the reader that Picasso’s psychic problems, so far as they find expression in his work, are strictly analogous to those of my patients’ (Jung,1989,p.135). Winnicott dismisses abstract art as a ‘cul-de-sac communication…that has no general validity’ (Winnicott,1990,p.183). Of course, the abstract painting, which deals exclusively in art’s own intrinsic formal language, denies psychoanalysis the stock-in-trade of its interpretive methodology in the form of iconographic symbolism, condensation and displacement.

Perhaps the disdain with which psychoanalysis unconsciously treats abstract art forms, is connected to the fact that they expose the very therapeutic core of the creative process, which is arguably simulated in psychoanalytic practice. The abstract painting strips away the congealed layers of false realities and disinters the therapeutic and regenerative nucleus of creativity, with its real potential for transformation, new symbolism and a spiritual renewal. So how is psychoanalytic procedure connected to the abstract creative process?

It could be shown how the dialogue between the artist and the artwork may be concerned with the rehearsal and negotiation of concepts isolated and labelled in the psychoanalytic discourse. For example, in the relationship with the painting, the painter may define tolerable levels of aggression, projective identification and of omnipotent control; of ‘splitting’ and ‘reintegration’. In general, all the factors implicit in psychoanalytic ‘transference’ and ‘countertransference’ relationships can be assumed to be potential factors in the creative dialogue. The painter effects a transference on to the painting, which in turn effects a countertransference back on to the painter and also on to the general audience in the culture.


At a very basic level the painter can be seen to indulge in a type of exorcism; symbolic fragments of hidden and repressed aspects of the self represented by dislocated, uncontrolled or ‘inarticulate’ unconscious form, are expelled and projected into the painting. The painting can act as a vehicle to integrate, unify and make sense of these elements; it becomes the structure within which such aspects can be re-presented to the artist in a form suitable for a greater conscious apprehension. In a bluntly simplified scenario this has a parallel to the setting and process of a psychoanalysis, where the therapist, in the position of the artwork, might be expected to interpret and rationalise incomprehensible fragments of intense emotions, or irrational hatreds or whatever.

The concept of ‘inarticulate’, unconscious, ‘gestalt-free’ form is that of the theorist Anton Ehrenzweig (1908-66). Ehrenzweig further defines the ‘minimum content of art’ and his schema of the ‘three phases of creativity’ (Ehrenzweig 1953, 1967). Inarticulate form is projected into the artwork in the first phase. Ehrenzweig says ( 1967, pp.102-3):

The creative process can thus be divided into three stages: an initial (‘schizoid’) stage of projecting fragmented parts of the self into the work; unacknowledged split-off elements will then appear accidental, fragmented, unwanted and persecutory. The second (‘manic’) phase initiates unconscious scanning that integrates art’s substructure, but may not necessarily heal the fragmentation of the surface gestalt…In the third stage of re-introjection part of the work’s hidden substructure is taken back into the artist’s ego on a higher mental level.

In this sense it can also be conceded that the painting has the potential to fulfil a fundamental function, at a rudimentary or primary level, of ‘reality testing’, or in Kleinian terminology, of re- rehearsing and navigating the transition from the ‘paranoid-schizoid’ position, to the ‘depressive’ position. However, it is at this point that there is a crucial divergence between painting and psychoanalysis. Furthermore, this radical difference is located and defined within the abstract painting, which in the early part of the century tried to reflect back to psychoanalysis its fundamental misconceptions about therapeutic regeneration and transformation.

What the revolutionary early modern abstract painting exposes, is the abstract ‘manic’ level of the creative process. Although Klein recognised the central role of manic omnipotent defence as a ‘failsafe’ fallback position against an unsuccessful transition from the paranoid-schizoid into the depressive (Klein, 1935,1940), psychoanalysis in general has manifestly failed to comprehend the significance of the manic level of unconsciousness. Ehrenzweig did understand this, however, and explains that psychoanalytic interpretation operates exclusively on the Oedipal, phallic, oral or anal levels of consciousness in its complete disregard of the deepest unconscious level, which he describes as the ‘manic-oceanic’(1). Ehrenzweig, writing in the 1960s. (1967, p.263), recognised that this neglect of the abstract manic unconscious formal structures of art:


has been responsible for the deadlock which has held up the progress of psychoanalytic aesthetics for over half a century. What Freud calls primary process structures are merely distortions of articulate surface imagerycaused by the underlying undifferentiation of truly unconscious fantasy.(my emphasis)

This is borne out by Freud’s reliance on the methodology of dream interpretation in his analysis of artworks. That the dream is closer to consciousness than the unconscious flux or form from which it is derived, is clear from its liability to break into conscious perception (2). The anxiety dream can break through into consciousness and may often be confused with reality itself. In practice this results in the interpretation of distorted surface symbol which misses the deep unconscious structure of art. For example, there is a vast difference between a mistake in consciously articulated composition, such as a door handle painted on the wrong side of a door, and deep formal unconscious structures in art. Freud might make an interpretation of why the door handle was put in the wrong place, in line with the paraprax. This may or may not have any validity, but it misses the point of art’s real unconscious form language.

Radical modern abstract painting by, for example, Guston, Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko, or modern serial music by Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Stockhausen, manifest a deep level of unconsciousness which psychoanalysis has traditionally not concerned itself with. More recently, contemporary psychoanalytic theorists have shown a greater interest in the pre-symbolic, pre-verbal, pre-conceptual and pre-psychological positions, which all have congruences with the manic-oceanic. However, all too often the definitions of these concepts are still reduced to the feminine nurturing space and confined to the creche. Whilst this feminine and developmental aspect is certainly of central significance, it acts only at a rudimentary level of the creative process.

So this being the case, what is the unique function of the deepest abstract level, or phase, of creativity? What lessons can psychoanalytic practice learn from it? It is certainly the case that Ehrenzweig considers phases or periods of abstraction, whether on an individual developmental level, or on a wider cultural level, as occurring during times of severe crisis and as essential to regenerate a new, real and meaningful connection with outer reality (Ehrenzweig,1967,p.280f.). In this sense, abstract phases, whether they are manifested culturally, as in modern abstract art, or individually, as in the acquisition of language, should be viewed as a means to an end, and not as ends in themselves.


In effect, what Ehrenzweig asserts is that genuine or authentic symbolism can only be formulated at this manic-oceanic creative level. This assertion is implicitly echoed in the work on symbolism by Hanna Segal. For Segal, ‘true symbolism’ can only exist in the depressive position (Segal,1988,pp.49-65). Only the dissolution and flux of the central manic-oceanic phase of creativity can transform the concrete symbol of the paranoid-schizoid position into the genuinely regenerative symbol of the depressive position. In Ehrenzweig’s schema of the structure of creativity, therefore, he assigns a far more prominent and critical role to this manic central phase between the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive.

The manic-oceanic level is barely visible, totally undifferentiated, ambiguous, vague, diffuse and superimposed abstraction. It depicts the genesis of the psyche itself; it forms an externalised simulation of the unconscious psychic womb internalised originally from the mother’s body and nurturing space. In its manifestation of fundamental psychic processes such as repressive mechanisms and processes of symbolisation it externalises in plastic form alone inner psychical structures.

This is an unconscious space which can create a profound therapeutic regeneration and transformation. In the context of painting it is described as the pictorial space and elsewhere I have described it thus (Newton,1996,pp.21-2):

In formal terms this pictorial space involves a depth which is determined by the gradual evolution in shape and form and texture from vague, diffuse, unfocused and fragmented aspects in the deepest recesses of the painting, to clearer, more focused and sharper elements towards the surface. This evolution in shape and form results in a type of surface crystalisation behind which all the amorphous elements used in its realisation are still perceptible. In other words, clarified shapes become symbols of their earlier selves within the actual formal facture of the artwork. So this formal, symbolic externalisation of the workings of psychic repression echoes and mirrors the evolution of inarticulate material into something articulate and acceptable for conscious appreciation. The whole dynamic pictorial space is also structured much in the same way in which, as Freud recognised, particularly vivid parts of the dream indicate a complex substructure.

This simulation in the materiality and facture of the artwork, of transformation, symbolisation and ultimatelytranscendence , opposes the censorship of repression. In the manic-oceanic phase, rational conscious control is temporarily suspended. Rational conscious control is represented in the painting by surface, conscious formal elements; deliberately controlled line, shape, definite form and gestalt, which culturally represent the ‘conventional inherited text’. In the manic phase these aspects are to a degree negated, partially painted out and obliterated. As the representations of consciousness and ego functions become subsumed in art’s deeper matrix, so too does the conscious perceptual ego itself. By imitating such events in the unconscious psyche’s own formal language, a psychic ‘mirroring’ effect is established, whereby the plastic repressive mechanism has an immediate structural effect on its real psychic counterpart. One can only converse or communicate deeply through a common language.


The replication is carried out in the plastic materiality of art’s formal process, which is the only direct vehicle through which the unconscious psyche can communicate. Because inarticulate form and unconscious form processes comprise the language of the unconscious psyche there is a direct and immediate engagement, or communication, between the ‘model’ and its real counterpart, with the potential for a fundamental retranscriptionor realignment. It is as if the mind is momentarily removed from the brain, restructured or reprogrammed and then replaced. This momentary absence of conscious functioning as rational, logical, conceptual and perceptual faculties are disabled, can be experienced as a trance-like, out-of-body ek-stasis  the root of ecstasy; or as the phenomenon of envelopment , which were such peculiar experiences widely related to modern abstract art. These two controversial phenomena are central to the argument as it relates to iconoclasm. Throughout his writings, Adrian Stokes tries to explain the phenomenon of envelopment, of ‘engulfment’ (Stokes, 1961,65,55). In reference to Neo-Platonism and ek-stasis E.H.Gombrich states (1972, p.157):

The highest mode of knowledge is thus normally denied to man, for this is the process of intellectual intuition of ideas…For Plato…we can only hope to achieve this true knowledge in the rare moments when the soul leaves the body in a state of ek-stasis , such as may be granted us through divine frenzy (3).

Richard Kuhn’s has also suggested that the ‘mechanism of repression’ is central to both the content of art and to the processes of response to it (Kuhns, 1983, pp.25-33). In the mirroring effect of the plastic simulation on its real psychic equivalent, the internal mechanism is induced, triggered, or stimulated to activate and neutralise the forces of repression in either the mind of the artist or of the spectator. This breaching of what Donald Kuspit has called the ‘repression barrier’ (Kuspit,1993, p.148) or achievement of a ‘flexibility of repression’, in Freud’s sense (Freud,1916-17), is responsible for the immediate ‘kick’ or ‘manic high’ that an artwork can briefly transmit as the energy tied up in the maintenance of repression is released. By externalising and activating a plastic repressive mechanism, the artist can manipulate, analyse and objectify an instinctive drive.

It is in this set of creative events that Ehrenzweig perceived the artist’s transitory manic union, or communionwith the artwork, involving a symbolic ‘death’, in the sense of the destruction of conscious rationality and of the ‘constructed self’, of the social, cultural and developmental construct of identity, to be followed by a rebirth orresurrection . As the inner workings and structure of the psyche are reflected in an external plastic ‘mirror’and become momentarily united, in religious terminology, the soul appears to leave the body in an ascension .


The genuine and meaningful therapeutic transformation made possible in this radical creative dimension can only be effected through psychic structural change. Such a psychic structural transfiguration can only take place at the abstract manic level of unconscious creativity. It can often be powerfully experienced as a new beginning; a rebirth of a whole, integrated being and self. In fact a strong and cogent argument can be put forward to show that this creative transformation into a new spiritual dimension in life, really underpins religious symbolism of death, transfiguration and resurrection. It should be more widely accepted that religious parables of the lives of saviours are actually allegories of individual human developmental transition throughout a lifespan.

This has indicated some conjunctions between art, psychoanalysis and religion, especially in the sense that all three are concerned at times to one degree or another with the basic creative structure of transformation and re-birth. In fact the creative and therapeutic structure excavated by abstract art is universally evident throughout human culture. Abstract art is the clearest twentieth century version of this phenomenon. There were many pagan religions prior to Christianity which follow this classic mythological form based on the same symbolism of the death and resurrection of a saviour. Dionysius, Osiris, Jonah, Orpheus, Asclepius, to name but a few, are all engaged in rescuing the lost half of the self. Much archaic Hesychasm, gnostic, ascetic and esoteric thought, which informs and defines Christianity, involves the allegory of the death of the man of the physical, material life and the re-birth of the man of self-knowledge and of the spirit. The legend of the virgin of the miraculous birth reflects the creative birth of a new self. Gnosticism is perceived as being the root of all religion and the gnostics stressed that they were working from their own intuitive faculty and poetic creativity. To quote Temple: ‘The symbolism and imagery of the gnostics was the product of an artistic creativity of a high order’(Temple,1992, p.43).

The ancient mythological idea of a descent into the underworld – or the unconscious – in order to retrieve the whole self and be re-born of spirit, formed the basis of the whole system of healing oracles and incubation which pervaded the archaic world for many millenia. It is here that we can find the prototypes for modern psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. For example, in the inner underground chamber, or abaton , the sick would lay on a couch and be attended to by priests, or therapeutae, who would act as mystagogues, that is to say, dream interpreters. Wound dressings were hung on a tree to transfer the disease to it; this has been interpreted as the origin of transference. There are prototypes of ancient shock treatment. The dialectical procedure of modern psychoanalysis is prefigured in ancient healing.


Perhaps of greater importance for modern practice is the archaic recognition that the sickness itself is the route of healing; that the healer must be sick or wounded. This is the genesis of the modern idea that a therapist must have undergone analysis, and not just for training. The healer must have experienced the need to heal the self. Furthermore, ancient healers such as Artemedorus of Ephesus, collected thousands of dreams and correlated the life of the dreamer with them in order to evaluate their significance. He also made allowance for wish-fulfillment. His advice would not be out of place today; for example, he suggested that the analyst shouldn’t justify his interpretation by quoting authorities or by appearing too knowledgeable. These important antecedents, usually ignored by contemporary practitioners, are discussed in greater detail by C.A.Meier (Meier,1985).

The principal point at issue here, is that psychoanalysis has clear prototypes in ancient healing rituals, which in turn, had evolved from fundamental and universal creative and poetic structures. Psychoanalysis is in actuality rooted in art and creative processes.

In the twentieth century it is abstract art, more than any other art form, which tries to reconnect a genuinely therapeutic, healing and spiritual, creative unconscious matrix. Modern abstract art is the first art form since the Byzantine religious icon to manifest a transcendental, transformative spirituality, intrinsically within its own formal and material structures. This was clearly recognised by modern artists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky and Klee, who stressed the spirituality of their painting.They were likewise conscious that they ran the risk of commiting sacriliege. It was a problem Philip Guston continually and agonisingly wrestled with, especially in relation to his pure abstract paintings. He says (Ashton, 1990, p.187):

An artist is driven to be free; I think its the devil’s work. You know damn well you’re dealing with forces . It’s hubris. We’re not supposed to meddle with forces – God takes care of that’.

What links these spiritual forces in the modern abstract painting and the religious icon painting is the unconscious pictorial space, with its externalisation and simulation of inner psychic structures and processes. The prototype for the icon painting is the mandylion, which purports to represent the imprint of Christ’s face. Mandylion icons depict Christ staring out of the linen back at the spectator. In fact the mandylion is just a metaphor for the creative process in which the psyche is completely externalised and em-bodied in the material structure of the paint and reflects itself as in a mirror.


In effect, the modern abstract painting involves the same creative process as that of the icon: acheiropoiesis ,which means ‘not made by human hand’. In both cases the essence of spirituality must reside in the fact that it can appear to the artist, immersed in unconscious creative processes, that some other force is directing events. The religious notion of a miraculous, spontaneous manifestation of an icon is really rooted in the intuitive, subliminal and unconscious processes of creativity. In the abstract expressionist painting, the creation of an ambiguous, complex, unfocused surface, lacking in pregnant shape and gestalt, totally denies the surface perception processes their physiological mode of functioning; a different, deeper and more complex mode of subliminal, unconscious, intuitive type of perception is compelled to take over. Because the artist’s whole constructed, coherent, logical, rational, surface conscious perceptual and organisational functions are immobilised through a type of ‘overload’, it can seem as if a divine, spiritual force completes the work. Ehrenzweig comments on how astonishing it can be to see artists study their finished work in great detail, as though it were the work of somebody else (Ehrenzweig,1967, p.103).

This unconscious pictorial creative space is not only spiritual in the sense of the ‘death’ of the conscious self, psychic communion and resurrection. It is also in its manipulation of the psychic repressive processes through which we construct ‘reality’ that a cultural reverence is conferred. The idea that reality is an illusion runs deep in human history and philosophy, contributing to the suspicion of the visual image. Plato regarded the visual image as suspect, considering it to be only an illusion of an illusion. Freud disapproved of the virtual absence of a pictorial syntax and the slippery, multivalent imprecision of imagery. However, the psychology of perception shows that in the unconscious pictorial space, the artist actually creates a more vivid and plastic reality by manipulating and re-inventing those physiological and psychological repressive processes through which we build up that original illusion of reality. Ehrenzweig analyses this in depth in his first work (Ehrenzweig,1953).

The visual image is indeed an illusion of an illusion. What the artist does is to materialise, simulate, rehearse and recreate the physiological means through which we psychologically construct the illusion of reality. It is in reference to these issues that Ehrenzweig developed his key notion of structural repression , in which formal aspects are repressed from consciousness purely because they fall outside of the narrow ambit of the conscious perceptual ego. Through the processes of structural repression is developed the stratified and structured unconscious, which is pivotal to the pictorial space. For Ehrenzweig, artistic creativity, along with the very quality of being unconscious, is not dependent on censorship against malevolent content, but automatically follows from a change in the formal structure; i.e. in the dissolution of conscious gestalts. The seed of the concept of structural repression was taken from a letter written by Freud to Fliess dated 6th.December 1896 (Masson,1985, pp.207-215). Ehrenzweig further develops this concept, describing the crucial role of structural repression in the creative process; ‘It is the undifferentiated structure of low-level imagery and not its sado-masochistic content which brings creativeness’ (Ehrenzweig,1957, p.205).


It is this complex and intricate stratified unconscious, operating beyond the grasp or acknowledgement of consciousness and with its greater capacity to ‘process’ psychic transactions, that generates the unconscious creative process which appears ‘not made by human hand’. I have indicated that during this immobilisation of conscious perceptual processes, the artist can experience a transient ek-stasis during which time a different perceptual dimension is encountered; a perceptual dimension which religious authority has labelled ‘spiritual’.

It is this, I would argue, which underlies the suspicion of and hostility towards the visual image. Margaret Aston in her seminal work: England’s Iconoclasts – Laws Against Images (Aston,1988), describes how religious reformers such as Calvin clearly connected painting with transubstantiation; in fact a very plausible argument can be put forward to the effect that the religious idea of transubstantiation is actually based on the unconscious abstract creative process of psychic incarnation and em-bodiment in the ‘flesh’ of the painting and not, as it is usually considered, the other way around. Aston notes (1988,p.7):

This principle of repesentation enabled the Eucharist to be spoken of in terms of art. Calvin, for instance, referred to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper as a peinture of the gift of Christ, and Wycliffe placed the communicant’s reception of the host alongside his use of images.

The iconoclasts, who smashed images to wage war against ‘idolatry’, were not attacking the surface figurative symbol of the icon, but rather its intrinsic material facture , which through ek-stasis affords access to the supernatural. This, of course, threatens institutionalised control of this access.

So I am arguing here that a deep therapeutic transformation and spiritual renewal can only be effected through psychic structural change at the abstract manic level of unconscious creativity. The inner painterly creative process at this level is the authentic prototype for psychoanalytic practice, which can suffer from the defects of mannerism. The relatively superfical transactions with dreams, surface symbolism and parapraxes of consciousness, imitate a genuinely creative dialogue without ever engaging a real creative transcendence. Psychoanalysis should also acknowledge its antecedents if it is ever to develop a creativity necessary to re-develop its own static dynamic structures, which often appear locked in a timewarp.


Modern art was spiritual and healing in intention. Unfortunately, where contemporary psychoanalysis does engage art and culture today, it becomes embroiled almost exclusively with contemporary postmodern art, which by intention, is of little or no therapeutic value, being opposed to deep cohesive integration in what Paul Virilio has described as the ‘triumph of art of the fragment’ (Virilio,1983). Postmodern art served a valuable role in critiquing modern art’s degeneration into formalism and in its expansion of boundaries; but it denies unconscious integration in the celebration of mannerism, surface and ideology. Nevertheless art has moved on since modernism; it recognises the cliche of the ‘spontaneous gesture’. Can psychoanalysis recognise the cliche of ‘free association’? Psychoanalysis cannot evolve without embracing its creative roots; it should recognise the healing and transfigurative potential of abstract creativity in its own clinical procedures.


1. Ehrenzweig discusses the levels of consciousness (1967, pp.186-7). The abstract ‘manic’ unconscious level is only evident in ‘revolutionary early modern abstract painting’ by such pioneering artists as Kandinsky, Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock, before modern abstract art later degenerates into a formalism amd mannerism dissociated from its unconscious matrix and only about surface pattern and ornament. From a theoretical perspective, Ehrenzweig analyses the ‘two types of abstraction’ (1953, pp.175-6, 1967, p.136).

2. In mythological terms, Apollo is the God of the dream who has the function of converting this unconscious flux into figurative symbols which act essentially as ‘conscious compromise formations’ in assisting conscious apprehension. This is echoed in Schopenhauer’s concept of the principium individuationis . In his seminal work on modern aesthetics The Birth of Tragedy , Nietzsche also analyses the role of unconscious Dionysian form in its relation to the Apollonian . The dream has a deeper role than Freudian ‘wish-fulfillment’, of organisation of ‘day residues’. It has the function of a container or framework to represent the day’s emotions, just as in early Greek Tragedy the chanting, rhythmical Dionysian chorus informed and defined the narrative and content of the play and created the appropriate frame of mind for its apprehension. The content reflects and symbolises the form.

3. Contemporary feminist thought is concerned with this creative position and phenomenon. A recent review in the TLS (22.3.96), p.10, What the Beguines began by Monica Furlong questions Grace Jantzen’s claims about the ‘feminisation’ of mysticism and religious experience in her book Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism.Furlong says: ‘The longing shown in so much searching seems to be a yearning for ekstasis – the standing outside of the self that is also a transcending of the self – perhaps from an unconscious sense that this will give a new perspective on living, a new sense of its meaning’.


It should also be recognised that this manic, creative trance-like state formed the basis for much tribal initiation rite and ritual. In Western culture, the breakdown of traditional and institutional provision for such spiritual experience resulted in its attempted preservation and dissemination by the solitary modern artist. Today’s youth culture tries to reconnect with this essential human transformative and developmental state through the use of the manic, rhythmical dance, allied with the drug ‘ecstasy’, at so-called ‘rave’ parties. Whether this can fulfil the void is doubtful; Bacchusand Dionysius were, contrary to popular belief, Gods of a liberating creative ecstasy totally devoid of alcohol or drugs. I have briefly discussed such ‘psycho-spiritual’ experiences elsewhere. (Newton, 1996, pp.101-6).


Stephen J.Newton



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