Customer Reviews: Mirror and Metaphor: Images and Stories of Psychological Life
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on November 16, 2001
Of all the books I have read, very few so profoundly affected me so as to literally change the way I see the world. This is one of them, among a select few. I am amazed how Dr. Romanyshyn can write with such lucidity about ideas that are so profound and otherwise complex; it speaks to his essence as a teacher, who knows how to provide a perfect balance between the concrete and the abstract.
In the very beginning of the book, Dr. Romanyshyn begins with the example of looking in a mirror, and from there he unravels with apparent ease the basic assumptions of modern psychology, and in its place, builds the foundation for a different "psychology" that is concerned with "psychological life." Such a psychological life is profoundly metaphorical in nature--and yet unmistakably grounded in concrete experience.
Make no mistake, Dr. Romanyshyn's thesis, if taken seriously (as it should be) has widespread significance for what it means to understand, teach and practice the discipline of psychology. Psychology from the perspective of psychological life will be a psychology that is not reducible to a natural science, nor to philosophy, nor to literature. But, rather, psychology as a way of seeing comes into its own--and for the first time in the history of the discipline, would finally come home, in the sense that it would for the first time have its own identity.
Certainly, Romanyshyn is standing on the shoulders of giants: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sigmund Freud, Paul Ricoeur, Carl Jung, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Wilhelm Dilthey, Michel Foucault, and many other thinkers in the history of the philosophy of the human sciences. But no one has quite synthesized and formulated psychological life the way Romanyshyn does so in "Mirror and Metaphor." I have no doubt that if Dr. Romanyshyn's text were to be read widely and carefully, psychology as we know it would never be the same.
It is a must read! Don't miss it!
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When I worked as a clinician I often felt frustrated that so many "psychologists" (with a degree that said so) were in fact neurologists, biologists, and physiologists, dealing as they did with psyche (which they called mind, or brain) in terms of its literalized mechanics: soul as circuitry, heart as pump, world as background to human concerns. What I could have taken heart (not the pump) from, and what Robert Romanyshyn provides in this book, is what he calls "a psychological reading of the historical appearance of the science of psychology." A psychological reading: a reading that takes psyche on its own terms and disassembles psychological empiricism into a series of working fantasies, a dream too often untended as such.

Using the metaphor of the mirror, Romanyshyn brings into his study a sustained reflection in which the reflected-upon and the reflecter transform one another. This mirrorlike dissolving of watcher into watched, which eludes captivity in numbers or in graphs depicted in psychology texts, cannot be called a property of psyche, for psyche is not a thing or a substance. "Between persons and things, man and world, subject and object, a story appears, a story which is expressed in terms of a way of seeing and speaking about the world. The story which appears is the appearance of psychological life."

What does a psychology offer when it has forgotten this storied quicksilver aspect of its subject? Automata; a subject without subjectivity; or as the author puts it, an animated corpse. Read a mainstream psych text and see for yourself: drives and their derivatives, but no person; mechanisms and libidinal hydraulics, but no soul. Spiritless schemata whose vocabulary might have been dried in formaldehyde before ever hitting the page.

As one of archetypal psychology's original thinkers, the author points out that behind the most "objective" observation lurks a fantasy, an image; and perhaps nowhere is this truer, and with larger psychological consequences, than in psychology itself. "Psychology, however, forgets this vision. Focusing on the events of physiology as the facts of psychology, it forgets that these events are primarily ways of seeing psychological life. Focusing on what it sees, it forgets how it sees. And in this forgetfulness what originally matters metaphorically is taken literally."

What always strikes me about Romanyshyn's work (see my review of his book THE SOUL IN GRIEF here at is how vibrantly relational its own metaphors are. They image, connect, dream into each other, now at rest, now in motion, but never static or sealed in glass jars. Loosening itself from the customary constructs we bring to it, the world he paints for us shimmers into enactments, poetics, that dance around the details he shows us: the face in the mirror, the old man in the park. The style of writing reminds us of the worlds of difference between the imaginary and the imaginal, the spatial and the spacious, the mind and mindfulness.

Psychology the Science, so precise, so factual, and so possessed by physics envy and blind to its architecture of assumptions, moves in this book into psychologizing, from self-distracted noun to alchemically self-reflective verb.
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on January 23, 2002
Romanyshyn explores the assumptions regarding person, others, body, and world, that are the cornerstones of scientific psychology, anad he compellingly dissolves these in terms of the metaphors of our cultural history. In doing so her articulates the irreducibly metaphorical character of psychological life and opens the possibility of a phenomenological depth psychology. This little book is a classic in phenomenological psychology and metabletics. Its gifts are numerous, and it is essential reading for anyone concerned with the meaning and direction of psychology.
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