Associazione Richerche Psicologia Analitica
It is hard to say what happens within a group. Thirteen Jungian analysts, of different associations, meet once in a month for more than three years to talk about politics. And they decide to do so just because they’re Jungian analysts.
This Congress marks, for our group, a stop in the path, in which we’ll have the possibility to explain and expose ourselves. In our speeches it will not be possible to neatly distinguish between ideas and emotional experiences, even though we’ll try to, because in politics ideas are love and hate instruments. We are not fanatics, but we don’t want to give up our pathos. We don’t even know whether to try to make some points clear, or to be proud of our confusion.
With regard to this I feel I must make a statement. One of the main things we have realized is that politics is a fundamental tool to enter the world of Shadow. A too-“scientific” approach would cause the vanishing of the anxiety that takes hold of us when we continuously and inevitably project ourselves or are objects of the projections of someone else with different ideas.
Jung’s relativism and the theory of compensation are, in my opinion, the most important legacy he left us. Nonetheless, this stance can bring to disengagement. Those who relativize can appear as people looking at the things from a distance, detached, and consequently contravening another fundamental rule of Jungianism. That is, a third position can only originate from a conflict lived with full emotional involvement.
But let’s see how it worked. In the spring of 2001, I wrote to fifteen colleagues inviting them to join the group. I obviously thought they were interested in the subject I proposed, even though I wasn’t sure at all they would have been available to spend part of their time and energy discussing about psychoanalysis and politics in a continuative way as it happened. Despite our doubts, the group kept on rolling: during these three years we all were stupefied by this ongoing interest.
Is this wonder something like a vocational distortion? We are analysts and are used to considering psychic suffering in individual terms. All that is “external” ends up in the “defense” and in the “acting out” categories. Sometimes, we psychanalists seem so sly and cunning to think that the extrapsychic world does not exist, that it is just pure illusion. And if we come to terms with it, we’re afraid we’ll be considered too naïve. In other occasions, moreover, as Freud pointed out, it seems as if we think of “reality” as an immutable datum, almost metahistorical. In both cases, that “reality” remains distant, unchangeable.
When we started, in the first months of 2001, it was almost crystal-clear that Berlusconi would have won the general elections. He was the symbol of a far away world, one who owed his big success to the business of images, that expanded reaching the business of imagination. Not only images and imagination in the service of profit, as it happens in the advertisements, but a wider attempt, never seen before, of conscious manipulation. As Jung would probably say, not only imagination becomes reverie, but reverie is used to conceal lies.
In this way, our group definitely started “dirtying its hands”, following feelings of rage and sadness: feelings shared by millions of people, but at the same time, exactly for the abuse of the psychological medium adopted in an operation of power, we analysts felt somehow more sensible and maybe more responsible. More than once, in our discussions on TV language, on consumism, on pollution, recurred the image of an “avalanche” irresistibly coming in and running over everything. An avalanche that frightens us to death, but of which, more or less, we are part.
If one of us or a patient, for instance, dreams the sea, is it the real one or that seen the night before on TV? More generally, we could say that the Fake Self, a triumphant Fake Self, in Italy and abroad, is bound to achieve much consensus. And what about us, who filled books on how to cure narcisism, talking about authenticity?
I don’t think that the aim of the analysts is to pursue consensus; I’m only saying that those books, those speeches, often don’t seem in tune with the social context. It must be said that lately, deep inside in the analyst, the doubt emerged: If I don’t adapt myself, will I end up unemployed?
For sure, this happens also to an architect who projects a new quarter, to an economist who would like to reduce poverty, and many more professionals. They also fear the fact of having to adapt to keep on working. But they also have the habit to propose new and unique solutions. Even if they know their projects won’t be approved, they still propose them.
We know that analysis has been revolutionary because, at its very beginning, it has shown that the Ego is not “the boss in his house”. But are we still sure of that? That the analysts’ consulting room should still be a “revolutionary cell”, as Hillman would like it to be?
Our founders, Freud and Jung, have passed on to us the interest in the social reality and their preconceived ideas, linked to their historical context and to their social position of well-educated and privileged bourgeois. Nonetheless, the fact that some of the things they wrote are not accepted or shared today doesn’t necessarily mean that they were not inspired by a true interest. Both Freud and Jung knew they were going against the general opinion, and knew they were doing politics. Politics is here intended as consciousness: He who knows that one’s own professional decisions have effects on the outside also knows that the job acquires a political dimension. He knows that his job will influence the new face of the city, waking up sleeping consciousnesses, freeing positive energy and producing new identities.
Maybe we think that Freud’s and Jung’s positions were natural when psychoanalysis was “invented”. Now, therapy is institutionalised: in this way, we take for granted that the analysts don’t busy themselves with politics because of the specific situation of analysis, of the relationship with the patient, of the setting; in other words, opposite to the multiple relations of the pòlis and to its different objectives. It is the logic of specialisation: but, shouldn’t we think that we are all political subjects? Generally, we tend to be so, once every four or five years, when we go to the polling stations: to vote for some specialist or professional of politics.
But let’s discuss some more about specialisation. Our work-group has put the following question: in what are we analysts “expert”? The first answers have been: we are, or should be, expert in suffering, communication, imagination. Now, since suffering, communication, and imagination are constantly repressed and distorted in the world we live in, wouldn’t it be logical to involve “experts” in these fields?
Consequently, it could be that Freud and Jung, in going against the general rule, not only were in the midst of a contingent situation, linked to the then-historical context, but constituted an essential and basic datum of analysis; it is an aspect that should be recovered both from a theoretical point of view and in terms of lived experienced: firstly, an inner conflict.
Until some decades ago, the most coarse Marxist critics defined analysis as “bourgeois science”. Today, it is far more common to consider analysis as an antidote to Western poisons, but we end up forgetting that it remains a Western antidote. Without freedom, money and wealth you can’t do analysis. But notwithstanding freedom, money and wealth, analysis is done because something is lacking.
When we started talking about these subjects, unresolved contradictions rapidly came to light. The first one regards neutrality. We have realized that is much easier to accept as a patient a perverted paedophile who, in the moment in which he asks for help shares our system of values, than a convinced fascist. Obviously, the fact is not new that we can project our shadows on patients. But why do we project so much and so little consciously when politics comes into play? Why is this emotional dimension neglected? If some specific aspects of a phenomenon are so widespread in a group of people that shares the same occupation but so scarcely described, it could be that that very aspect has been undervalued: in our case, the political dimension.
We don’t have to forget that often analysts record very bad performances in “collective” situations, just as politicians are disasters from a psychological point of view.
The second contradiction refers to the distrust that Freud and Jung traditionally held towards the “masses”. Only two quotations: Freud: “As to the moral conscience, God has done an unequal and bad job, since the majority of mankind has received so little of it that it is not worth talking about it.” Jung: “Morality in society as a whole is inversely proportional to its width.”
Such statements contrast with another analytical tradition: The trust in the possibility of every man and the dislike for dictators and all those who propose a prepackaged model of individuality.
Freud talks of compulsions and in particular of the herd instinct. He talks of this in a way in which we are induced to think that it’d be extremely positive if we were able to get rid of it, and that the best people can partly do that. It seems a less noble instinct than hunger or sexuality.
Jung, moreover, adds that the psychic misery of our time was necessary to found psychology as a science. The withdrawal of projections, he wrote, makes us feel the reality as ugly and senseless. It is true, but we risk thinking of the past as the golden age of the spirit. God is dead and has been replaced by the almightiness of human narcissism: well then, since we and our patients suffer from this, let’s start the session and close the door in order to revive the old gods. But, actually, who is willing to give up lamps, bathrooms, streets and cars, antibiotics, plastic containers and polluting? If we don’t realize that the “mass” is a projection, and that each of us is a bit of the “mass” and is influenced by it, every such discourse remains theoretical.
These were our starting points that we tried to develop.
Six months after we began, there was September 11th, and, more recently, the Iraqi war. These events lead us to talk about diversity. And they have sparked the discussion on two ways of thinking about politics, apparently opposite: one, that we could describe as the politics that “passes over our heads” in front of which we feel powerless and very far away, and, the politics of everyday life. Such themes were not external at all to our initial ideas, but we could not foresee that they’d have irrupted so radically and dramatically. They will be the main theme of the next speeches.
For now, I can only anticipate that our discussions have brought us to remember that we are, or should be, experts also in another field: “borders”. Today, as well as in the past, who stands on the border is subject to a cross-fire, both metaphorically and concretely. On this border we can find two different images of shadow. One could be defined as compulsive: the fanatic terrorist, let’s call him Bin Laden; and one that could have some more in common with the narcisistic themes bound to our “Western” identity: Bush, Berlusconi.
I conclude referring to a question that Mrs. R. Gordon put to herself years ago: “[Can] … our clinic experience can contribute to the development of moral philosophy and thus facilitate the elaboration of an ethics founded on empirical bases? …”
Mrs. Gordon lists a series of qualities that could be defined as “good”, first of all creativity and imagination. They are qualities that, in my opinion, coincide with what H. Arendt has defined as “reason”, quest for meaning, need to think.
Can we say, for instance, that the lack of freedom “damages the psyche?”
If those qualities, concludes Mrs. Gordon, “… are really intrinsic to the individual … then, maybe we are in the position to be able to offer moral philosophers some information on the needs of man and on the very same human nature”.
Paola Terrile (CIPA)
The little warrior carefully prepares himself for war. He fastens the glittering cuffs, pulls the helmet down over his head, his eyes protected by the visor. With his small expert hands he adjusts the thongs of the armour protecting his chest. He then takes the shield with the left hand, the sword with the right one and starts marching. He glances around proudly, firmly; each muscle of his body is ready to identify and face the enemy. He cautiously hangs about, lies in ambush: always alert, he’s deeply, anxiously and happily waiting for an enemy to fight against.
Should another little warrior appear, he’ll let out his scream of war and will throw himself into a harsh fight, moving nimbly to avoid the blows.
If he’s alone, he’ll march with a will and rhythmically, sometimes changing weapons, holding a rifle and a gun. And he waits, with his bright eyes like those of one who is going to fight an epic battle, in which he will use all his strength to be the winner. His mother watches him puzzled and irritated. She loves him very much, he’s clever and lively. Nonetheless, she’s far from that military approach, both culturally and sentimentally. She’s got a warrior son; she couldn’t help it.
Almost every day, when her son plays the fight, the mother looks at him and feels the conflict in herself between love for him and the refusal of the weapons. However, she does not interrupt and lets him play at fighting as long as he likes. The boy had experienced war during the infancy and she knows war is important to him though she can’t share it.
Some other times she lets him play a while and then asks him to play other games. Sometimes, however, she can’t stand the preparations, the warlike gestures, and the childish but aggressive joy that her boy expresses when he plays the soldier. She tries to propose him other games. The boy usually obeys without protesting, looking at his mother surprised and with a questioning look.
As if he was thinking: “I don’t understand why she doesn’t like this game”. Sometimes he even speaks it out, “I’m just playing!”. “I don’t know why you don’t like this war-game, but you’ll have your reasons”, thinks the boy looking at his mother respectfully.
I have started my speech on the relationship with “the different” with this scene of everyday life because I think it explains clearly the relationship with “the different” with whom we have to interact, in our profession as well as in everyday life.
The different is among us and, for analysts like us, can be represented by the patient coming from far away cultures, who deals with discomfort in ways that we cannot quite understand.
There are two types of “different”: one attracts us, and one repels us.
It is easier to feel closer in the difference until we find ourselves in an individual or micro social relationship (the mother in the above picture is helped by the love for her son in sharing his behaviours, culturally distant from her), whereas, at a macro social level, the differences that seem to be unresolvable come to light. At this point, feelings like the fear of the foreigner get the upper hand both at personal and social level.
A definite radicalism is the common characteristic of the two stances towards the different: either you keep it at a distance looking at it superficially, or otherwise it is given a positive value a priori just because it is different from us.
How can the interpretative categories that constitute our vocational background help us in reading a world that is increasingly less explicable? Our habit of moving along the borders, to put in contact dimensions that seem to those who live them hopelessly distant, can help us also when such borders seem impossible to overcome, that is, when empathy with the other can not be established because the distance is excessive.
As an example of a non-superficial approach to the relationship with the different, I’d like to quote an article appeared on the newspaper “la Repubblica” a few months ago, relating to the kamikazes. In this article, the author applies to a dramatic phenomenon of our times – the very word evokes in us images of death and rage that leave no room for other emotions – categories for the cultural (and not only) contextualisation that modify the interpretation.
A deed like that of a son of an Iraqi woman belonging to the intelligentsia, who, after the American attack on Iraq, decides to leave as a kamikaze, is impossible to understand with one’s own cultural schemes. Such patterns, re-affirmed by the Western mass-media when describing the news, consider the young kamikazes as fanatic lunatics, victims of religious fundamentalism.
But what if it is not always like this?
“Shadi loves life and fears death. But he was born in a tribal culture in which the blood is shared and the single does not exist. Here each one is at the service of the whole community. In the tribal cultures of Syria, Lebanon and Morocco, to die for others’ sake means to continue to live in them, through them. The public passes into private: the higher political aim of justice requires the body of the individual.” What is hard to understand, says the author, is that “in other cultures the body is social, it has a collective use”. Death and life have other values: this is not allowed in our culture. Death is feared, the body overtreated and life’s quality and length optimised.”
Finally says the author, “instead of simplistically thinking that the indoctrination techniques of the radical Islamic groups are sufficient to move masses to resist, in order to understand this phenomenon wouldn’t it be more useful to recover the strength of ideas, the power of the community, the sacredness of group values that mobilizes the members of the community?”
I think this is a very interesting thought. Its central nucleus consists in trying to take into consideration a dramatic phenomenon like that of kamikazes from other points of view, widening the usual and one-sided approach we are used to employing. In such manner, it is possible to recognize that in the “other” cultural values also exist and therefore get in touch with them.
Thus, the author suggests an approach as much as possible free of prejudices, as a means to avoid the “stereotypes creating violence”.
We know from our practice that a prejudice-free approach is not possible at an intellectual level, or when, as in the case of the author, there is already a deep relationship, also sentimental, with the other culture. Outside these two fields, feeling empathy with a tribal culture, in which the single individual does not exist and the life of each member is at the community service, is very hard for us.
I think that, in this regard, Jung’s thought is still very fitting.
We can get close to each other, says Jung, only if we are conscious of our limits, of what constitutes and marks the boundaries of our cultural identity. Only knowing this will we be able to communicate and to discover the eventual analogies with us. We can avoid the risks of fascination risks only by relativizing the relationship with the other.
Moreover, if we stand on the border that separates us from the other, we can try to establish a relationship over time.
The concept of limit is strictly connected to that of identity.
A methodological approach like this allows us to increase consciousness of our identity in the very same moment in which we recognize that of the other, knowing that we can identify ourselves in the other only at certain moments.
When we enter this kind of relationship with the different, which I would define as diversity recognition and acceptance, our identity is not weakened but rather consolidated and strengthened.
However, when the other is too distant to be understood or even approached without fear and sense of foreignness, as we have seen in the case of the kamikazes, is there an alternative to hostile co-existence? Is there a place somewhere where negative feelings can be expressed?
Let’s go back to the mother of the little warrior and to her relationship with the energy of her fighting son. In this case, I think also that the discomfort of the mother about the weapons and the clashing feelings she has towards the war-games of her boy, are aspects of the relationship with him. Not being able to understand is also part of the relationship. If we allow ourselves to consciously recognize the negative feelings, the viewpoint is more flexible, changes and varies according to the moment.
Some days the mother can withhold the prejudice, some others she can’t. The relationship with the different, outside and inside us is not always the same.
During the critical moments of a psychoanalytic treatment, when you cannot enter the symbolic dimension, the analyst’s duty seems to be limited to listening, tolerating the lack of empathy and the stagnation of the psychic energy. The experience shows us that this kind of listening, facing the prejudice without being squashed, can pave the way towards the confrontation and the emergence of the symbolisation – as if the patient understands that within that hard- to-defeat listening there is a possibility of a solid identity, and feels somehow attracted by it.
Similarly, if we can sit in front of the other, who’s foreign to us, tolerating the fear and the desire to defend ourselves, we will already be beyond the non-relationship dimension. If we look at our prejudice without letting it take hold of us, its weight will be lighter. We will be able then to enter the relationship firstly with our fear and consequently with what has triggered it.
We will discover that this is enough to start a transformation.
It seems to me that only by exposing oneself to the other would it be possible to work for one’s own “different” and for that of the other. The relationship with the other can be ignited only if we accept being exposed to what is unknown or can’t be understood, to avoiding falling into prejudice through the shelter of the stereotype.
It seems hardly a practicable approach if we consider the extent of the radicalised conflicts in the world we live in. Here, in the everyday relationship with the different, the dimension of the power that influences us up to the point of allowing or not allowing considering the different must be taken into account. But I think, anyway, that this approach can lead to the recognition of the existence of those who seem totally foreign but live side by side with us. Sometimes what is completely alien can also foster the recognition of the attraction, opening new horizons to the complexity of a co-existence moving along borders as well.
The difference is that the borders, from this viewpoint, are practicable.
Anna Alderuccio (CIPA),
Lina Cattabeni, Gerolamo Crivelli (CIPA),
Raffaele Toson (CIPA)
1. We’ve met in order to recover the social and political dimension of our job. Our rage and sadness towards a politics from which we were far away has united us. Powerless and disillusioned by the difficulty of considering other points of view, we were taking for granted and mangled by the logic of the “winner and loser”.
The group has found a political common ground around the rela tionship of differences: between self and self, self and the other, between different “worlds”.
In the group, our contribution has been the political work of “shifting the focus”, that is, to put forth the “disfieri”: shifting the focus, without being mangled by the necessity to be in favour or against the war, against or in favour of peace at all costs, against or in favour of the clash of civilisations.
We would like to make some points clear. Shifting the focus does not mean:
“You undo that sweater, and you’ll have a ball of thread available for another item. You don’t destroy anything, but subtract meaning to the given mediations, to the institutional networks, to all that is intended as ‘politics’, which is often the mere management of power”. (From Il Dio delle donne, by Luisa Muraro, a theoretical philosopher)
2. We can take as an example a moment of political confrontation between some members of the trade union FIOM (the biggest workers’ trade union in Italy) and one female leader of the women’s’ political movement from Milan. The trade unionists want the left to give more room to work and its values and, at the same time, affirm that the female experience and point of view are irreversible conditions of the social relations. Lia Cigarini asks the representatives if, in order to create more freedom and less suffering at work, they would be available to acknowledge a particular competence to the female workers and to leave them a space for autonomous negotiation on the working time issue, which, for women but increasingly also for some men, is strictly associated to the life time. It is a negotiation that breaks the logic of quotas, which involves a female representation seated at the negotiation table as provided in the contract: this is the institutional procedure. Lia, instead, thinks of a negotiation resulting from an exchange of ideas between men and women at the workplace, within the trade union and conscious of the sex conflict. The negotiating power, indeed, comes from itself and from the establishment of associative relations, contrary to the unions’ delegation which provides for a quantitative representation. The political course followed by many women is to introduce in the market a relational quality as well as the responses of the female and male colleagues to one’s own presence, the meaning of work, either with its suffering or gratification.
Another example can be drawn from the peace flags movement, which constituted an invention beyond the given politics, which has spread all over the world, breaking a logic based on nations, civilisations, ethnic groups. We remember the proposal of the Berlusconi government to fine the houses permanently exposing the multicolour instead of the national flag, and the prohibition addressed to public institutions to exhibit the flag. The movement could not stop war but has been saluted by the New York Times as the second world superpower. For us this is the expression of a citizenship based on relations.
3. The group has been fertile ground for us, the place of political experience where you can try to stay clear from the logic of power, get to know each other and clash without leaving people dead or wounded. We can’t stay inside the conflict unless we reduce its dangerousness. We have earned something in terms of freedom: we didn’t consider ourselves neutral and abstract individuals among individuals, but we dared a connection with a live experience, between the sexes, men and women with their own bodies.
Here are the terms of the exchange: Raffaele, interested in the attitude of “shifting the focus”, expresses his reservations: he wouldn’t like the disfieri to threaten the antagonistic logic, seen as archetypal cornerstone and psychic value, at both the individual and collective levels. We agree that within the analytic experience we can find that the representation of the masculine is encompassed by an antagonistic logic, though we doubt its archetypal fundament. Raffaele agrees with us that a man is not to be identified with fallacy and antagonism, but he points out that fallacy is flattened on a solely negative evaluation and proposes to consider it as a function that has to be integrated at a more evolved level.
Gerolamo, keen to safeguard the maieutic function of analysis, makes reference to a series of partisan memories of Mario Spinella in his book, Memoria della resistenza (Memory of the Resistance), which constitute an experience that to us is a kind of displacement from the antagonistic logic. Spinella was a partisan in the area around Florence when the Americans were approaching the city. His mission was to bring discipline to a chaotic group made up of the colliers coming from the surrounding villages. Two German soldiers stopped him: Spinella felt the blonde corporal’s hand getting hold of his gun. The German didn’t say anything and let him go. “The memory of that pale blonde has never abandoned me … indeed, it has contributed to make myself so dubious in front of any judgement involving not single men but abstract categories … it has helped me in overcoming the tendency to refer to reality from a strictly personal point of view … As uncertain, careful and bleary is the tiring advance of who, like me, only after having minutely examined the uneven and steep ground of the others’ personalities, considers himself able to act.”
“Shifting the focus” is for sure a desertion from the fallacy of men and women: for the former it is a matter, perhaps, of introducing a representation of the masculine and of the other’s manliness, whereas for the latter it is a matter of giving value to its own way of being different, without falling into the snare of revendication and the mystification of equality and parity. It is, finally, a matter of staying where we already are, of passing through the conflict with the unchangeable other, becoming conscious of it and telling it. To tell means to make something happen, it is already a political event. Here starts the work of the challenge to the phallic symbolic order.
4. To undo the sweater in analytical practice means to shift the focus of the patient from neurotic fixity, using the ball of thread of his/her history for another possible narration. To operate politically means holding back from falling into the dualistic opposition inside/outside the analyst’s room and feeling the inadequacy of defining the analyst’s work as individual: in the analysts’ rooms there are at least two people and there is the relational experience.
Without entering into the details of single cases, we cite here some fragments that have allowed us to “shift the focus” within an analytical relation.
A young man dreams of a group of soldiers (dreamer included), armed to the teeth, shooting at a house from the top of a hill. After many shots, the dreamer realizes that the house is empty. Why then shoot if there is no enemy? He drops his arms to the ground, walks alone down the hill and goes towards a group of people who are having a peaceful discussion. As he spoke I was thinking: “He’s afraid of aggressiveness and returns to the maternal world. Is there somehow a connection with homosexuality?” His obsessive symptoms came about when he finished his studies and started working for a big, very competitive company. He has to learn to face the world, weapons in his hands, but he can’t make it. What struck me was the underlying lack of meaning of the shooting for the patient: there was no real enemy, the house was empty, and he shot because the others were doing so. This caused my listening to change: he is looking for his personal way of being a man but puts himself elsewhere than in the logic of power and strength. The obsessive symptoms could result from the clash between his different way of being masculine and the current symbolic order. The fact that we moved from the phallocentric viewpoint to the curiosity for the other (the analyst) has allowed a few cracks to take place in the obsessive symptoms.
A young female patient brings with her to analytical therapy the themes of absence and inadequacy with respect to her brothers. Actually, the young lady was economically successful and finished her studies before them, but the feeling of inadequacy could not be flattened by the objective reality. The patient was suffering from a past of abasement fostered by her brothers when she used to ask and organise meetings among them. We tried to stand in that inadequacy, deficiency, without falling into the dichotomy trap of emptiness/fullness, and wait there for something to speak out: her minus was due to the plus in love and relational capacity that could hardly find its way to be translated into thought. Thus, it opened the possibility of subtracting oneself to mutual revendication and refusing the quality of the conflict aimed at selling the other short and winning over him.
A man, though living a fully responsible and passionate professional and affective life, is tormented by an interior phallic inadequacy with respect to his role in the world and with the woman.
He brings this dream: “I find myself in a little square on the lake shore. With me there are some colleagues of mine and Luisa, my partner. A strong wind is coming and risks sweeping away everything. We can counter it by making wind in the opposite direction. I put myself in the first row, Luisa is just behind me and the others are apart. I start to blow inside a kind of lifesaving pipe, like those used in swimming pools. Afterwards, Luisa and I go to bed in a double sleeping bag.”
In the dream, the counter position to destructive and aggressive forces could be defined as a “soft” fallacy (as the lifesaving pipe’s material) and pathetically ineffective. This doesn’t prevent him from somehow exposing himself manly and using a reading key that rejects the reductive logic of the phallic counter position; the soft and elastic material of the pipe hints at flexibility as a personal quality, serving the intimate relation with the woman.
Elena Cristiani, CIPA
Dr. Cabibbe’s letter prompted me to some interesting reflections on a reality I had long been wondering about. As a person and an analyst I reflected on the meaning of the personal and professional tools before a change the dangers which I realise, while I still don’t completely know their solution and my professional role.
The social-political context I am considering is characterised by an increasingly less controllable reality, where the level of risk is very high and the room for individual political action very limited. The degree of distrust towards institutions is increasing and so is the experience of powerlessness, while there is a collective trend toward estrangement from the active social sphere, in favour of a sort of survival fight restricted to one’s limited family context.
The accelerating rhythm of change continuously challenges the individual’s adaptive ability and leads him to put his existence horizon in a sort of “present-continuous” mode, in which fragmentation in self perception and in relationships seems increasingly to become greater than the need for continuity with oneself and others. Here, I perceive rather a strong change in the initial therapeutic request. The need-desire of knowing oneself seems to be replaced by the request to be put into the condition of “functioning” again as soon as possible, in order to face the unbreakable and urgent external necessities.
The value of individuality is not as critical in today’s culture. It seems only to appear in a growing and sometimes desperate need for “being present” for oneself and for others and in the world, and is often confused with “appearance”. The patient who comes into analysis today often bears only the symptom as a witness of himself and his history, and he is increasingly less motivated by a desire for self-knowledge. What he does seem to ask is: “Let me function again so that I can easily go back to my daily fight to survive” in a reality where either you win or you are bound to be marginal and anonymous to yourself and to others.
The need for continuity and belonging seems to open up room for their opposites: our reality is discontinuous and the experience of belonging is fragile.
In this collective context I wonder if I still may ask the patient to stop his running in order to focus on the search within himself. In the analytical dimension, temporality is subordinated by internal time and history, and self-perception is focused on listening to one’s emotions and experiences. I believe that, actually, we have somehow modified our way of dealing with the patient today. We might perhaps confront ourselves on this issue. Moreover, if we refer to Jung’s concept of individuality, we could say that Jung proposes an intrapsychic model of relationship between unity (Ego-Self) and multiplicity (internal psychic issues and external reality). Therefore, eventually, the unity of self arises from acquired knowledge of one’s internal multiplicity and the activated capability of relationship with it.
But what happens when we shift from internal complexity to external complexity? Here, a Jungian model would seem to reproduce Socrates’ model: “Know the other in yourself and this will enable you to have a relationship with the Other outside yourself”.
This is to me one of the most weakest points of Jungian thought, and elsewhere I have proposed a development hypothesis.
In fact, if the Other’s role in the psychic investigation is brought back to the Other’s experience in ourselves, we run the risk of removing from the individual analysis the opportunity of developing self-knowledge, like being in a relationship with an otherness not self-ascribable.
I believe it is possible here to extend to Jung’s model the criticism Levinas makes on Totality and the Infinite to the Western philosophical tradition. He says: “Western philosophy has been essentially the reduction of the Other to the Same. This primacy of the Same has constituted Socrates’ teaching. Receiving nothing from the others but what is within me, as if I have always been having in me what comes from the outside”. (E. Levinas, Totalità e Infinito. Saggio sull’esteriorità, Jaca Book, Milano, 1980, p. 41)
The risk of our approach to the psyche being affected by this onesidedness in interpreting relationships and adaptation mechanisms to external reality seems to me always present, and all the more so in today’s collective reality.
At an emotional level, being finally together with persons who shared a similar training and political background to mine seemed to open up an opportunity for fulfilling, in part, the need for belonging I have lacked since my political and social commitment.
Actually, precisely from the disappointment of all my expectations, some reflections have arisen giving indirectly partial answers to my initial questions. After the first meetings, I began not to understand clearly what my expectations had to do with this “group”. In general, I felt I was sailing among the most varied opinions, with a very fragile lead and a purpose very difficult to define. It was as if even within the group I would find that discontinuity and estrangement I had identified as a correlate of today’s collective living.
So, among thousands of questions, I asked myself why I kept on participating for two years.
Doubtlessly, my participating could fulfil a need for continuity and belonging, but this was not a sufficient explanation. What happened then? Maybe, almost without realising it, and precisely in the suspen sion of waiting to find a cohesion with the group, I had to make the feeling of estrangement and the search for convergence live together within myself without eliminating one of the two poles.
Thus I wondered what were to me the implications of the cohesion and belonging notion. I realised that essentially they were based on the discriminant of the Similar category. Also, the convergence on a goal presupposes it! Rethinking about professional or political groups I participated in, I considered how the category of the Similar was at the base of infinite separations and crashes, always looking for an increasingly similar Similar up to a progressive fragmentation in opposing small groups. This was the case of belonging to professional societies, as in the active political experience.
But how can we conjugate the Similar and the Other in our analytical psychology?
Perhaps, precisely in bringing back to the intrapsychic dimension the sense of Otherness, the confusion arises between two issues that are, to me, equally important for the human being. I believe that in Jungian thought the Similar category is to be brought back to the need of individuation, that is, bringing back the world to oneself, so the need of similarity is the need of similarity to oneself. Here, the Other represents the limit and the beginning of the assimilation process. In this dimension an equally important passage is lacking: wondering what role difference, the Other, as such and perceived as such, plays in the development of our knowledge and personality. The Other is not within ourselves and what urges us toward the Other is not necessarily only the need of similarity. The need for similarity to oneself counters an equal need of confrontation-curiosity about the Otherness. In this context, our analytical model, as well as in part our Western culture, seem to confine themselves to establishing the Other as a limit from which the sense of ones’ individuality and belonging is developed. As to this, to me, both psychology and our culture are lacking. The risk we run is precisely that of shifting on the Other our need for similarity and being moved only by this category when we interpret what surrounds us.
Levinas says: “The encounter with the Other, far from exhausting itself in the internal magic circle, as if the Other were a sort of Alter-Ego, … implies a bursting opening on the external and appears as an absolute novelty, not reducible to any dialectics of the same … the true union, or the true whole is not a whole of syntheses, but a whole of face to face”. (E. Levinas, Etica e Infinito, Città Nuova, Roma, 1984, p. 94)
In other words, if the need for relationship is considered as a need for a bridge with the Otherness and not only as a need of similarity, we can have a different understanding.
Thus, I started to find some answers to the reason for my unease in the group and, in a deeper dimension, to the reason for its continuity, as if the group, as a reality in itself, might become a bridge not toward an impossible assimilation, but toward a first sketch of relationship among diversities of its members.
Then, I thought I could see some similarities with a macro-system such as the one of the no-global movements, where in a more enlarged form, a reflection and a possible confrontation and development program among different people for a common goal seem to emerge.
In the view of the Similar lies in fact the convergence on a goal eliminating reciprocal Otherness, being one thing with the goal. Here lies the time and organization optimisation around a leader, but also the fight to become a leader; here lies the assertion against, and, alas, the breaking and fragmentation. In this fragmentary confrontation lies, on the contrary, the possibility of co-existing with estrangement and finding in it the categories of a confrontation in diversity and in the rule of reciprocal acknowledgement.