Author(s): Damion Searls
Despite decades of controversy, the Rorschach test is still widely used and continues to pervade popular culture. Shouldn't we have written off this rather embarrassing vestige of early twentieth-century pseudoscience long ago, along with hypnosis, orgone boxes, and truth serum? In fact, the Rorschach test remains because it works-much better than Rorschach himself ever imagined. How and why that's the case cuts to the very heart of human personality. In The Inkblot Experiment, author Damion Searls explores this phenomenon. He tells the story of Hermann Rorschach, his ingenious experiment, and his pioneering insight into personality before going on to discuss the long and unexpected afterlife the Rorschach test has enjoyed in the last century. Searls pays tribute to this man's fascinating and too brief life but also considers the cultural history of his famous test, how it evolved and grew out of a period of intense ferment in psychology and psychoanalysis (Freud was a near contemporary, Jung a colleague) and how both the cultural and the clinical meaning and uses of the test have changed over time.This is a story that begins in a snow-covered asylum in Switzerland and brings us, a hundred years later, to the crossroads of mental illness, healthcare, science, law, and art.
'Searls has painstakingly woven together both the enduring strengths of Rorschach's iconic test and the controversies and convolutions surrounding it, all while capturing Rorschach's distinctive design, to which the inkblots owe their longevity. The book's engaging narrative, born of both detailed research and artistic sentimentality, is a fitting tribute to its enigmatic subject.' -- Erin McKay Science 'Damion Searls's book is a refreshing biography of Hermann Rorschach and a cultural history of his famous inkblot test. Rorschach died almost a century ago and this book reveals fascinating details about his life and the enduring controversies regarding the meaning of his inkblot test.' -- Joel E. Dimsdale, author of Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals 'What an amazing book. The Rorschach inkblot is like the enigmatic corpse in a mystery novel, and Damion Searls is the passionate and encyclopedic detective who unpacks the intricate and twisted story of how it came to be. By the end, one feels that Rorschach and his test are the key to understanding the whole 20th century. Searls is a wonderful writer: funny, compassionate, and unfailingly attentive to all the magical coincidences (or are they?) and twists of human history.' -- Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed 'A richly detailed, sensitive biography of Rorschach's short life and long afterlife.' Kirkus Reviews 'Very little has previously been known about Rorschach's private life; Searls now fills in many blanks, drawing a more rounded portrait of the Swiss psychiatrist ... Rorschach's genius is apparent, and his famous inkblots ever fascinating.' Booklist 'A deft, surprising, and illuminating portrait of Hermann Rorschach, and a compelling case that his improbable inkblot experiment should earn him a place in the pantheon of psychology.' -- Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy 'Who knew? Most of the founding lions of psychoanalysis often seem as petty and infantile as they were (at times) brilliant and inspired. But to hear Damion Searls tell it in this absorbing new biography, Hermann Rorschach was a different sort altogether: humane, empathic, loving, deeply sane, and possessed of a true artist's soul. Searls's account of Rorschach's afterlife is no less fascinating, as every culture that encountered his test seemed to project its own values onto it. In the end, true to Rorschach, Searls locates the heart of being human at the endlessly unfurling intersection of vision and self-awareness.' -- Lawrence Weschler, author of Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees and Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder 'The life of this fascinating man is a much-needed contribution to the history of psychoanalysis. This is sure to become the standard reference for both Hermann Rorschach's life and times and the history of the inkblot test from his time to ours.' -- Deirdre Bair, author of Jung: A Biography 'In this accessible biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls shows us the young psychologist, who died at a tragically early age, making his way among the feuding early 20th century thinkers in psychology, including Freud and Jung. Vividly sketched with many new sources, The Inkblots reveals Rorschach to be a fascinating character: part artist, part clinician. A marvelous portrait.' -- Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University 'The Inkblots is three books in one: an engaging biography of Hermann Rorschach; a vivid and meticulously researched history of his eponymous inkblots; and a fascinating exploration of the psychology of perception. This is a book that challenges us to consider the relationship between what we see and who we are.' -- Peter Mendelsund, author of What We See When We Read 'Searls restores much of [the inkblot test's] potency in this rich and resonant book ... Even in the age of alternative facts, there are still right answers, and wrong ones, and the inkblots still ring true' Sunday Times
Damion Searls received the 2012 Biography Fellowship from the Leon Levy Center at CUNY to write this book. He also received a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship. Damion has published nonfiction and is also a well-known translator from the French and German. His translation of Hans Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a degree in German, and has a PhD from Berkeley.