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  • Preface
  • Peter L. Rudnytsky

As used most famously by Felix Deutsch (1959), the phrase "mysterious leap" refers to the process known in psychoanalysis as "conversion" whereby thoughts in the mind express themselves through the body. This meaning of the term serves as an implicit point of reference for the essays that follow, though I have chosen it for the title of this issue of American Imago as much for its symbolic resonance as for its literal appositeness. If, moreover, one adopts a monistic perspective, in which the brain is understood to be an organ of the body, of which the mind is ultimately the subjectively experienced epiphenomenon, then the notion of a split between psyche and soma that requires overleaping comes to seem less a self-evident truth than a highly problematic assumption, albeit one that retains its power as an evocative metaphor.

Our lead essay, Anne Golomb Hoffman's "Is Psychoanalysis a Poetics of the Body?" exemplifies the clinically informed yet intellectually rigorous interdisciplinary inquiry that I am ideally looking for in a submission to this journal. The leap in question for Hoffman is that between body and language. Drawing on her own expertise not only as a literary scholar but also as an analytic patient, Hoffman explores how "a reader's experience of textuality" is inevitably grounded in his or her "experiences and fantasies of the infantile body." The "fluid interchanges between subject and object, text and body," she notes, "form part of both analytic and literary experience." Hoffman locates the "personal roots" of her meditation in a surgical procedure she underwent several years ago, the removal of a "tubular organic vessel" inside her body that resulted in the "loss of access to precisely the absorption in textuality" that had been central to her professional identity.

From this starting point in her experience of both mental and physical pain, Hoffman leads her readers on a quest through the writings of Freud, especially The Interpretation of Dreams, in [End Page 387] which "Freud's associative work brings his body into the dream-text." Citing also the Three Essays, Hoffman argues that infantile sexuality is perforce subjected to a "double loss," first in that it becomes "unavailable to consciousness," and second because "the very notion of communication in signs—semiotics—is predicated on the loss or absence of the object." Having shown that our doubly lost bodies of infancy subtend our subsequent relations to language, Hoffman gives new depth to the analogy between bodies and texts that has informed aesthetic theory from Aristotle's Poetics to Roland Barthes and Peter Brooks. Hoffman concludes with a coda on "the place of the body in the writing of two siblings," Henry and Alice James, comparing Alice's intense yet exquisite renditions in her diary of her physical infirmities, culminating in her death from breast cancer, to Henry's alchemically sublimated depiction of "the encounter of a child with a realm of sexuality that is both frightening and alluring" in his late masterpiece, The Ambassadors.

In "Crashaw and Abjection: Reading the Unthinkable in His Devotional Verse," Maureen Sabine invokes Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection to frame her discussion of what it means for any form of discharge to cross the boundary between what is inside and what is outside the body. Both the contemporary French psychoanalyst and the seventeenth-century English poet "draw inspiration from the ascetic practices of late medieval women mystics" whose "disarming mixture of servility and audacity" is "replete with rituals that modern readers are likely to find as morbid as anything" in Crashaw's baroque conceits.

In addition to placing Crashaw in the tradition of "feminine piety," Sabine examines his relationship to his father, the Puritan controversialist William Crashaw, as well as to his mother and stepmother, both of whom died before Crashaw was seven. Sabine revises earlier assessments of Crashaw's family dynamics by Richard Geha (1966) and Vera Camden (1983), both published in this journal, by suggesting that Crashaw's conversion to Catholicism was not simply an act of oedipal rebellion, but led him to write poetry in which "maternal succor does not undermine paternal authority," and thereby enabled Crashaw "to keep faith with both his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 387-394
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-25
Open Access
No
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