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Jumping To Conclusions

May 26, 1991

I was frankly puzzled to see a recent book of mine, "Vaslav Nijinsky: A Leap Into Madness," described (by reviewer Alex Raksin, March 3) as "psychobiography."

Nowhere in the text or on the dust jacket is this term used. The work is a straightforward biography, based on documents and eye-witness reports. Its purpose, as the preface makes clear, is to explore "the origins, manifestations, and treatment of Vaslav Nijinsky's madness."

I was happy to read that the reviewer felt "moved" by my descriptions of the great dancer's mental illness. But I must object to his characterizing me as someone "trying to psychoanalyze a 'patient' who has never sat on his couch."

I am not a psychoanalyst. Indeed, I take issue in this book with efforts that were made to psychoanalyze Nijinsky while he was psychotic.

As for my supposedly "taking literally the expression that Nijinsky 'had feet like a bird,' " our reviewer should know that articles were published in Nijinsky's lifetime claiming the bones of his feet to be those of an avian.

My search for X-rays was motivated, as was the rest of the research, by an urgent need--since no previous biographer had ever looked at his medical or psychiatric records--to separate fantasy from fact about Nijinsky's charismatic career and devastating decline.

PETER OSTWALD MD, Medical Director, UC San Francisco, SAN FRANCISCO

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