Hermann Hesse: Artists & Psychoanalysis

[Psychoanalysis] demands a truthfulness toward oneself to which we are not accustomed. It teaches us to see, to recognise, to examine, and to take seriously exactly those things that we had been most successful in repressing in ourselves.

For some of us there’s nothing of higher value in the pursuit of the meaning of life than to find out who we really are and to reconcile ourselves to it.. That sounds like a cliche to many and dead serious to others. The intention of this blog post regarding psychoanalysis is not the excavation and presentation of any unconscious matter, but to show the importance of one’s becoming acquainted with one’s unconscious. Even though the essay I’m going to refer to is addressed to artists, I would like to recommend it to anybody who is seeking their own way of self discovery. I personally see the exploration of the role of the unconscious - personal and collective - vital for the integrity of a human being. 

Please find below the synopsis of Hermann Hesse’s essay titled “Artists and Psychoanalysis” back from 1918. 

Since analytical psychology has turned directly to folk myth, to saga, and to poetry, a close and fruitful relationship has existed between art and psychoanalysis. […]As was to be expected, artists in particular were quick to take up this new and variously productive way of seeing things. A great many of them, neurotics themselves, had a personal interest in psychoanalysis. […]

I see three sources of corroboration and encouragement that the artist can draw upon from analysis.

First of all, the basic confirmation of the value of fantasy, of fiction. If the artist looks at himself analytically he cannot fail to see that among the weaknesses from which he suffers are these: a doubt about his calling, a distrust of fantasy, an alien voice within him that agrees with bourgeois views and education and rates his whole activity as ‘only’ a pretty fiction. But it is precisely analysis that emphatically teaches every artist that what he at times is inclined to regard as ‘only’ fiction is actually of the highest value, and reminds him loudly of the existence of fundamental psychological demands as well as of the relativity of all authoritarian standards and evaluations. Analysis justifies the artist in his own eyes. At the same time it throws open to him in the analytical psychology a realm of pure intellectual reality. These benefits of the method are, of course available to anyone who simply studies it objectively. 

There are two other values, however, that are only open to one who tries out analysis thoroughly and earnestly in his own person, to whom analysis is not just an intellectual interest but becomes an experience. […]

Whoever has followed for some distance the path of analysis, the search for psychological causes in memories, dreams, and associations, retains as a permanent gain what may be called the ‘inner relationship to his own unconscious’. He experiences a warmer, more fruitful and passionate interchange between conscious and unconscious; he brings up into the light much that would otherwise remain ‘beneath the threshold’ and waste itself in unregarded dreams. […]

Before everything else, analysis impose an important basic demand, whose evasion or neglect brings instant retribution, whose goad penetrates very deep and inevitably leaves lasting marks. It demands a truthfulness toward oneself to which we are not accustomed. It teaches us to see, to recognise, to examine, and to take seriously exactly those things that we had been most successful in repressing in ourselves, the things that generations have repressed under continuing coercion. This at the very outset of analysis is a powerful, indeed a monstrous experience, a shock that reaches to the roots of one’s own being. Whoever withstands this and presses onward sees himself more and more alone with every step, further separated from convention and accepted views, confronted by questions and doubts that have no limits. In return for this, however, he sees or surmises behind the collapsing theatrical scenery of tradition the inexorable image of truth arising, of nature itself. […] By way of father and mother, by way of peasant and nomad, by way of ape and fish back into time, in no fashion can the descent, affiliation, and hope of mankind be so earnestly, so shatteringly experienced as in a serious psychoanalysis. […]

Now no one is likely to find this stimulating, educative, goading power of analysis more beneficial than the artist. For his concern is not with the most comfortable adjustment to the world and its ways but rather with what is unique, what he himself means. 

In conclusion I shall quote a poet whom we usually number among the pure idealists, to be sure, but not among the strongly intellectual artists. […] The following passage [is from] a letter by Schiller [where] Schiller is writing to Körner, who had complained of a failure in productivity:

“The cause of your complaints, it seems to me, is the compulsion that your intellect imposes upon your imagination. It seems to be a bad thing, disadvantageous to the creative activity of the soul when the intellect examines too closely, as though at the very threshold, the ideas that stream towards it. An idea considered in isolation may seem very unpromising and even fantastic, but perhaps it will become more important through another idea that comes after it, perhaps in a certain combination with others that may appear just as absurd it can supply a very important connection: all this cannot be judged by the intellect unless it keeps hold of an idea long enough to examine its association with others. On the other hand, in a creative mind, it seems to me, that intellect has withdrawn its guards from the gates, the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does the intellect survey and criticise the whole assembly.”

This is the classical statement of the ideal relationship between intellectual criticism and the unconscious. Neither by suppression of the material streaming out of the unconscious, out of uncontrolled fancy, dreams, and the byplay of the mind, nor by permanent surrender to the unshaped infinity of the unconscious, but rather through affectionate attention to these hidden sources, and only afterward through criticism and selection from that chaos - thus have all the great artists worked. If any technique can help fulfil this demand, it is that of Psychoanalysis. (Hermann Hesse, 1918)

The stars are a free show / oil on canvas / 60x60cm

Notes from the attic is exactly what it says. I’m living in a tiny attic, the place of the creative joy and struggle of my life. These blog notes are timely fragments of the books that make me wonder about life, about the journey between my birth and death. This journey seems to have only one purpose: to find the way to myself. You are welcome to explore my paintings on this website  and connect with me through instagram or facebook, or you can subscribe to the monthly newsletter to hear about new works or notes from the attic.

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