The Inkblots : Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing
Overview - The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. Read more...
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More About The Inkblots by Damion Searls
The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test
In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.
After Rorschach's early death, his test quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliche in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, and people suffering from mental illness or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.
In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach's family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test's creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance--and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots
shines a light on the twentieth century's most visionary synthesis of art and science.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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In this clear and well-illustrated study, writer and translator Searls shares the histories of Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach as well as his eponymous tests evolution and reception. As Searles notes, Rorschachs test was not totally original; one precedent was the work of Justinus Kerner, a 19th-century German Romantic poet and doctor. Rorschachs genius lay in attending to patient-sensitive specifics, including those of psychotics, and in developing an interpretative code that revolved around how the patient saw movement, color, and form in the inkblots. After Rorschachs 1922 death at age 37, his test saw widespread use in America during the psychoanalytically oriented 1940s and 50s; it was given to every student entering Sarah Lawrence College starting in 1940 and the army used a multiple-choice version after Pearl Harbor. However, it had fallen in popularity by the 1970s, eclipsed by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and other personality tests. Despite its occasional abuse, the Rorschach regained some of its popularity around the turn of the millennium. Searls dutifully shows how the test added a whole new visual dimension to the emerging field of psychology in general, and the study and analysis of personality in particular. Illus. Agent: Edward Orloff, McCormick Literary. (Mar.)