Dialogues from the Italian Psychoanalytic Journal - Archive

Comments by Joseph Triest



Thomas Ogden (1992) begins his paper, “The Dialectically Constituted/decentered Subject of Psychoanalysis. Part I – the Freudian Subject,[1]” by quoting the opening words of Hamlet’s first act, spoken by a guard: “Who’s there?” The question can be attributed to the generic subject/patient, whose object (the analyst) disappears from his field of vision. This is the historical moment where the analytic process of discovering/creating the self through a present-absent other commences, both on the clinical level – once the analyst has taken his seat behind the patient’s head – and on the level of meta-psychological conceptualization, once Freud had begun his quasi-Cartesian quest for understanding the subject exclusively from ‘within’. The object-Analyst remained a mystery to be discovered. Quite probably, the guard would not have deemed the answer: ‘an analyst’! satisfactory. ‘Who and what in bloody hell is an analyst?’ he would have insisted, ‘and how can you tell?’ No doubt, the one posing the question (Rivista di Psicoanalist) is in a much safer place than the one required to provide an answer. But, After all, one could expect analysts to agree to come out of ‘the philosopher’s armchair and sit on the rug’ (Winnicot, 1961)[2] – so to discuss not only what psychoanalysis has to say about identity formation – but also what the role-identity of the analyst actually is.  Giovanni Foresti, Andrea Marzi and Lucio Russo – have fulfilled this mission heroically and brilliantly – despite being well aware of the elusive and deceptive dialectic of the concept of identity in general (See Foresti) and the identity of the analyst – a ‘subject who is a stranger even to himself’ (Russo) – in particular.

I have read the three highly interesting papers using ‘binocular’ (even ‘multi-focal’) vision (Foresti)’, following the unique ways each of the authors carved out in this mine-field – in their (explicit or implicit) search for criteria that could define the analyst’s identity. For example: what he is not (Freud: “…not… doctors and not… priests”), and what he is on an essentialist-ontological axis (a ‘jumper’ – “torn between habitual logic and fantastical madness”; Russo); according to role and function [“to replace repressions that are insecure by reliable ego-syntonic controls” (Freud, 1937b, 229 – quoted in Foresti’s paper)]; according to the reasons for pursuing analysis (as one studying the representations of the physical in the psychic, with one foot in biology and the other in psychology); or to the form or purpose of this pursuit – as well as according to affiliation (belonging to a ‘prestigious Psychoanalytic Society’, Russo); to ethical, theoretical and professional positions; to training and qualification processes; to retrospective historical memory (the principle of change through time; past-present-future of the formation process of individual and collective identity of analysts) and, of course, the name of the father (Freud, of course) – and more.

It seems that no positivistic description of the analyst’s identity, based on the categorization of similar acts or characteristics, could withstand the singling out action of its negation. It suffices to recall the various metaphors that psychoanalysis applied to the role and function of the analyst throughout its generations, in order to demonstrate why the guard (Foresti’s ‘immunological system’) would probably suspect that he is dealing with an impostor: a surgeon with his scalpel, an archeologist, a scholar of hieroglyphs (all images suggested by Freud in Studies on Hysteria), an aggrandized father-figure (the super-ego in Strachey’s terms), an  auxiliary-Ego (Hartmann), a mirror (Freud, Lacan, Winnicott, Kohut), a ‘tabula rasa’ (Freud), a (good and bad) breast (Klein), a good-enough mother (Winncot), ‘a subject in his own right’ (Stephen Mitchell) and so on. But what makes it even more complicated is that the analyst is not only ‘all of the above’ but may be characterized by his/her unique ability to ‘put-on’ and ‘remove’ his patient’s identity, through either ‘empathy’ or projective identification – while (temporarily and paradoxically) suspending his own.

Seen from this perspective the identity of the analyst may be best described by the role he/she assumes of discovering/delivering the analytic subject – while the analytic subject itself would be defined as the one whose identity is constituted by his unconscious sexuality. This dialectic statement traps the analytic subject as well as the analyst (his object) in theoretical ‘discontent,’ while simultaneously constituting both of them. Since the subject’s identity entails an unconscious aspect, he/she is compelled to use the object as a mirror in order to know his/her own identity; nevertheless, as a subject, he/she cannot tolerate any external definition. Therefore, he/she must sooner or later negate the definition originating in the object, only to pursue it once again in a different context (or with a different object). This is how identity is formed through a constant dialectic pendular-motion of becoming. (as argued for example by Russo: “the first paradox is the illusion that the psychoanalyst is always a psychoanalyst”). In this view, sexuality is the transcendent driving force, urging the subject both to discover and inhabit their body, step by step, and to simultaneously transgress their own boundaries in order to know the object (in the biblical sense, a [self] knowledge of body and mind, that stems from the other and vise-versa).

I will enrich this point with Marzi’s fascinating offer to assimilate cyber-consciousness into contemporary analytic identity. Cyber-space, I would suggest following Marzi, is no longer ‘mere content.’ It can be seen as a realization of a ‘potential space’ in which the clear distinctions between internal and external realities are challenged in a playful way. It can be seen as a remarkable simulation of the world of ‘primary psychic states’, where the umbilical cord is not cut-off but ‘replaced’ by wireless connections. This turns the cyber-space subject into a ‘diffuse subject’, which can no longer be reduced to an exclusively body-related identity. It is a subject who lives in virtual space-time, exposed to multiple realities with often contradictory emotional impact. Its boundary-membrane is completely permeable and constantly changing. In fact, one might argue that the study of the unconscious, first as contents (pathogenic memories), then as a system (the topographic model), then as a broadcasting/receiving relay-station (with the discovery of projective identification in Bion’s version following Klein) and finally as a ‘group unconscious,’ which was later abstracted into a non-group entity (the Foulkesian matrix) has eventually led to the deconstruction of the subject and thereby to the inevitable deconstruction of the identity of the analyst. Did post-modernism transform the ninetieth-century ‘scientist’ of the discipline which hoped to become the ‘accurate science of subjectivity’- into a an ‘astronaut’ who is sent into inner/outer cyberspace, as a delegate of a new ‘mental-science-fiction’? As mentioned above, it is safer to ask the questions.




[1] Ogden, T. H. (1992). “The Dialectically Constituted/Decentered Subject of Psychoanalysis. I. the Freudian Subject.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 73: 517-526.

[1] Actually this may have been another description of the analyst’s identity – in: Winnicot, D.W., (1969). “The Use of an Object.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 50: 711- 716.


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