In 2008, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon acquired a painting called The Flight into Egypt which was attributed to the French artist Nicolas Poussin. Thought to have been painted in 1657, the painting had gone missing for more than three centuries. Several versions were rediscovered in the 1980s and one was passed from hand to hand, from a family who had no idea of its value to gallery owners and eventually to the museum. A painting that had been sold as a decorative object in 1986 for around 12,000 euros was acquired two decades later by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon for 17 million euros.
What does this remarkable story tell us about the nature of art and the way that it is valued? How is it that what seemed to be just an ordinary canvas could be transformed into a masterpiece, that a decorative object could become a national treasure? This is a story permeated by social magic the social alchemy that transforms lead into gold, the ordinary into the extraordinary, the profane into the sacred.
Focusing on this extraordinary case, Bernard Lahire lays bare the beliefs and social processes that underpin the creation of a masterpiece. Like a detective piecing together the clues in an unsolved mystery he carefully reconstructs the steps that led from the same material object being treated as a copy of insignificant value to being endowed with the status of a highly-prized painting commanding a record-breaking price. He thereby shows that a painting is never just a painting, and is always more than a piece of stretched canvass to which brush strokes of paint have been applied: this object, and the value we attach to it, is also the product of a complex array of social processes - with its distinctive institutions and experts - that lies behind it. And through the history of this painting, Lahire uncovers some of the fundamental structures of our social world. For the social magic that can transform a painting from a simple copy into a masterpiece is similar to the social magic that is present throughout our societies, in economics and politics as much as art and religion, a magic that results from the spell cast by power on those who tacitly recognize its authority.
By following the trail of a single work of art, Lahire interrogates the foundations on which our perceptions of value and our belief in institutions rest and exposes the forms of domination which lie hidden behind our admiration of works of art.
For Freud, dreams were the royal road to the unconscious: through the process of interpretation, the manifest and sometimes bewildering content of dreams can be traced back to the unconscious representations underlying it. But can we understand dreams in another way by considering how the unconscious is structured by our social experiences?
This is hypothesis that underlies this highly original book by Bernard Lahire, who argues that dreams can be interpreted sociologically by seeing the dream as a nocturnal form of self-to-self communication. Lahire rejects Freud’s view that the manifest dream content is the result of a process of censorship: as a form of self-to-self communication, the dream is the symbolic arena most completely freed from all forms of censorship. In Lahire’s view, the dream is a message which can be understood only by relating it to the social world of the dreamer, and in particular to the problems that concern him or her during waking life. As a form of self-to-self communication, the dream is an intimate private diary, providing us with the elements of a profound and subtle understanding of who and what we are. Studying dreams enables us to discover our most deep-seated and hidden preoccupations, and to understand the thought processes that operate within us, beyond the reach of our volition.
The study of dreams and dreaming has largely been the preserve of psychoanalysis, psychology and neuroscience. By showing how dreams are connected to the lived experience of individuals in the social world, this highly original book puts dreams and dreaming at the heart of the social sciences. It will be of great value to students and scholars in sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis and to anyone interested in the nature and meaning of dreams.