The Play of the Imagination: Towards a Psychoanalysis of Culture

Pruyser, Paul W.

In 1976 the Topeka Institute for Psychoanalys is inaugurated a didactic course entitled "Psychoanalysis and Cultural Factors." The title of course covers an immense range of topics, only a small portion of which can be addressed in any time-limited seminar. As one of several instructors in this course, it fell to me by peer invitation and self-selection to deal with those domains of culture which in common parlance are known as the fine arts, literature, music, science, and religion. These figure prominently in people's minds when "the humanities and sciences" and "liberal education" are spoken of. They constitute by common consent the goods of culture toward the enjoyment of which a great deal of formal and informal education is directed. All are rife with symbolism and symbolic meanings. The present work seeks to be a continuation and modernization of these classical interests of the psychoanalytic movement. It owes a great deal to Freud's own pioneering work as well as to the slowly evolving, ever more elaborate, but as yet unfinished "general psychology" that subsequent generations of psychoanalysts and their friends have sought to articulate. A singular debt is owed to several ideas first articulated by D.W. Winnicott, notably those of transitional objects, the transitional sphere, and the nature and forms of children's play. To my mind these ideas are of great heuristic value. It is hoped that the reader will join me in my enthusiasm regarding their application to "a psychoanalysis of culture."

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