Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Free Association

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 129):
In his writing, as in his conversation, Heckscher proceeds indirectly to his end. He does not set out to defend a position or to plead a case. He sees it as a danger when scholars behave as lawyers, struggling to convince judge and jury and to defeat a prosecutor: under these circumstances »scholarship turns into a kind of sic et non story, where you try to prove your point, where you are desperate to suppress subconsciously arguments which might not be favorable«121. Airtight arguments are inherently suspect; Heckscher is convinced that common sense makes little sense in historical study. The critical thing is to build associatively, to construct bridges between ideas.

121 Interview, 29 May 1987. Heckscher is always on the alert to recognize and avoid these mechanisms of repression. When he learned about the ascetic ideal of custodia oculorum — guarding the eyes against that which should not be seen — he found a moral in it: an art historian must be a voyeur. Gula oculorum is, for the artist, a virtue (»Biography and Evaluation of the Artist,« in An Exhibition of the Sculpture and Drawings of Raimondo Puccinelli (exhib. Duke University Museum of Art, 29 September-12 November, 1974, 3). Heckscher, who says, »I try to avoid lying in any form in my research,« draws a lesson from Freud, who, only after agonies, was able to face the evidence for infant sexuality. (Interview, 25 February 1987). Life in Hitler's Germany bred in Heckscher a fear of any kind of thought control.
Id. (p. 133):
Heckscher is a student of the human mind and its workings. To understand creative products of the past, he suggests, the scholar must himself be a creative thinker. By cultivating the art of free association, he may acquire that liberation which provides a balance to scholarly discipline. Once recently Heckscher decided to take the phrase »free association« and translate it into Latin as a way of gaining insight into the nature of the concept. He devised 23 different ways of expressing the idea, among them: conjunctio idearum; sententiarum nexus; disjecta membra — quasi metallica — magnete servitio apte interconnecta; cogitationes irrepresse emblematizatae; liberatio idearum et notionum jam misere inhibitarum quae nunc per vim affirmativam, quae — per viam mutuae attractionis — tute et argute, aequabiliter et eleganter (sine ullo artificio) nova nobis monstrant reperta148.

148 Letter, 8 April 1987.
Thanks to Dr. John Lavagnino for drawing my attention to Sears' very interesting biographical essay on Heckscher.

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