“Psyche & Muse: Creative Entanglements with the Science of the Soul” may leave some visitors simply entangled. But for intellectuals seeking a journey through the discourses of human psychology, the exhibit provides a soulful experience.
Displayed on the first and second floors of the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, “Psyche & Muse” seeks to expose the relationship between iconic artists and writers and the psychological notions of dreams, love and creativity.
I meandered into the exhibit one afternoon, my mental state floating somewhere between two extremes. On the one hand, I was dying to see any bright color among the white mounds that have taken over the campus, and on the other, I was hoping to catch up on what I had missed in Intro Psych. I ended up only with the latter — “Psyche & Muse” is mostly a monotone display of books and manuscripts, and yet it vividly depicts a multitude of 20th-century thinkers’ opinions on the science of the mind.
The exhibition is divided into nine sections, each consisting of metal, waist-high pedestals supporting glass boxes that enclose antiquated books, century-old handwritten notes, and cards of text that explain the artifacts. The exhibition is lacking in extraneous decoration, yet it is still artfully presented: it gracefully blends with the quiet, dignified ambience of the Beinecke.
What I found most engaging, though, was the nature of the documents themselves: beautifully honest, the notes and manuscripts were completely uncensored when speaking on issues ranging from mental insanity to sexual identity to immeasurable heartache. Some of the sections battle controversial topics, such as “The Influence of Anxiety: Race and Writing in Jim Crow Times,” and display works that discuss the divide of a supposedly democratic nation through psychoanalysis and existentialism. Another section, titled “From Symbolism to Surrealism: Dreams, Madness, and Insurrection,” speaks candidly of asylums, mental health and stifled creative expression.
At times the information becomes arduously dense and heavy, as if it has become the physical embodiment of an overly lengthy dissertation. Simultaneously, this is the appeal of “Psyche & Muse,” a whirlwind tour of the history of psychology, and perhaps the best way to tackle such a broad topic. The target audience is almost painfully clear: those who are willing to rise to the challenge of complex ideas and considerable amounts of reading. The vast exhibition is admittedly daunting at first glance but certainly engaging once you’ve delved in. I may have slept through Intro Psych, but “Psyche & Muse” kept Freudian dreams at bay.
“Psyche & Muse: Creative Entanglements with the Science of the Soul” will be on display at the Beinecke until June 13, 2011.