Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives

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9780156002530: Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives

In a book that the New York Times called “engaging...dramatic,” Werner Muensterberger plumbs the psychology behind the act of collecting, profiling individual collectors and their habits and looking at the cultural and historical patterns of collecting.

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About the Author:

Dr. Werner Muensterberger (born 1913 in Germany), is a collector of African art, a psychoanalyst and an ethnopsychiatrist. As a youngster, certain collectors, including his kinsman, Eduard von der Heydt, introduced him to ethnographic art. After immigrating to the United States in 1947, with $100 and two African sculptures, one a Guru mask, Muensterberger continued to collect African art, practice psychoanalysis and taught ethnopsychiatry. Returning to the U.S. in 1985, from London where he had "retired" in 1974, Muensterberger reopened his private practice. Muensterberger has written books and articles on ethnographic art, including Collecting: An Unruly Passion (1994). This article contains photographs of certain African sculptures in Muensterberger's collection, most notably the Guru mask, and is followed by some Thoughts on Collecting, a dialogue between the article's author and Muensterberger.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A blend of compelling anecdotes and dull psychoanalysis, as Muensterberger (an N.Y.C. psychoanalyst) examines the whys and hows of manic collecting. Collecting, Muensterberger establishes at the outset, can be an ``all-consuming passion''--whether the quarry be seashells, books, paintings, or women (he cites Don Juan as a prototypical collector). The act of accumulating repeated examples of a beloved collectible, he says, reduces ``the tension between id and ego'' and becomes ``an experiment in self-healing''-- invariably, of a childhood trauma or anxiety. A magical relationship develops between collector and object, most blatantly in aborigines who collect heads or in the faithful who gather saints' bones, but evident in all collecting. Upon this familiar premise (that collecting is a sign of insecurity), which sometimes leans towards reductionism (belief in the power of relics is ``an illusory attempt at self-preservation''), Muensterberger lays a banquet of fine stories. The centerpiece consists of three psychobiographies: of Thomas Phillips, a cruel and selfish man who longed to possess one copy of every book in the world; of the novelist Honor‚ de Balzac, obsessed with bric- a-brac; and of ``Martin G.,'' an acquaintance of the author's who adored porcelain, bronzes, netsuke, and other objets d'art. Around these three men flutter a host of other collectors, from Petrarch (who had a passion for coins) to Mario Praz (who spent his honeymoon collecting Roman antiquities) and the 17th-century Dutch who spilled fortunes on tulips. Almost all are men; most are smart; many are aware of the extent of their mania; and the one certain rule that governs them all is that they reach no saturation point: Collecting is the addiction par excellence. Too ideological to entrance most readers--but students of psychology will want to add this to their collections. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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