Conversation with Antonio Di Ciaccia[i]
Bollorino: Let’s start from psychoanalysis as a clinical and institutional practice: cancelled sessions, Skype therapies, missed conferences: how does psychoanalysis change in times of contagion?
Di Ciaccia: The real of the coronavirus enters our existence with great pomp, tearing our security to pieces. We need to face this reality. In these circumstances, Freud’s sentence that governing is impossible is profoundly true. But, as we see day after day, among the impossible professions there is also to cure. And there is also a version of this which has to do with analysis. It is a structural impossibility, but today we do not see its appearance due to the current situation. We know that in such circumstances, which emerge contingently, something of the order of necessity is imposed so that when we arrive later at its end, we will have known from now that it will no longer be as before.
What about psychoanalysis? I think it only affects the bureaucracy of the various Societies and Schools. Amidst this urgency it is necessary to receive notifications of their functioning and their institutional organization through the social networks currently available.
But things are to be questioned on an ethical level, with regards to what Lacan calls the discourse of the analyst. In a situation like this, the division between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis is clear. The art of psychotherapy is that of knowing how to grasp the speech of the sufferer, of knowing how to respond with a word able to untangle it, and attempt to symbolize trauma. The tool is speech: the word that asks, demands, and the word that can answer. This dimension is present in psychoanalysis too, but an analysis aims beyond it: towards the logic of what causes the jouissance (as Freud called it) inherent in the symptom that makes you suffer. For this operation, the psychoanalyst, in addition to knowing how to respond, finds himself embodying the real presence of that object that allows the analysand’s unconscious to tell its reasons – reasons which are the basis for the repetition of the symptom.
In the current situation, it will be up to each analyst -one by one- to know, not so much how to comply with standards, but with those ethical principles that allow the analysis proper to continue. And he will be able to assess this only on a case-by-case basis.
Bollorino: Let’s move on to the experience: what do patients bring to the session?
Di Ciaccia: They bring what worries them. And what worries them is, as always, carried by the frame of their own fundamental fantasy. Even the emergency we are experiencing today. I find that a crucial problem concerns the analyst, who -in a tragic moment like this- finds himself having to grasp what worries the analysand, and grasp it beyond his own fantasy [the analyst’s], in order not to take ‘whistles for flasks’, an expression by means of which Lacan’s critique of countertransference can be summed up. Put simply, is the “psy”, first of all, capable of facing his own anguish? Since, to paraphrase a well-known sentence, man’s anguish is the anguish of the Other.
Bollorino: It seems like a science fiction film, but the reality is that we are not prepared for the infection, what do you think?
Di Ciaccia: We are never prepared for trauma. Trauma is what falls on us and we are not prepared at all. Of course, the situation was unthinkable, although it had been predicted several times by some scientists.
Bollorino: What positives could this experience that we must go through leave us?
Di Ciaccia: This experience can make us remember that death is an important moment in life. I dare to hope that something will change at the national, European and world level also from a political point of view. But actually I don’t believe it. Unless you come to understand that our planet is infected precisely by us men, and that we need to change of register.
Bollorino: The plague of 1300 gave us the Decameron… what could this war on the coronavirus give us?
Di Ciaccia: There will probably be works of art and of thought born out of this conjuncture. I too strive to do my best, even if it is a work in which I am only an instrument, as a translator. These days I’m correcting for Einaudi the drafts of Lacan’s Seminar XIX, entitled “… or Worse.”[ii] A wonderful text, although damned difficult and to be studied in detail. Lacan speaks there of the structural non-relation between man and woman. This accounts for the fact that, to put it in Lacan’s terms from the previous seminar: “A man and a woman can hear each other [s’entendre]. I don’t say no. They can, as such, hear each other shout;”[iii] however this does not prevent them from making love, from loving each other even, on condition -forgive me this other quote- of what Lacan says in a text addressed to the Catholics: “Have I at least succeeded in conveying to you the topological chains that situate at the heart of each of us the gaping place from which the nothing questions us about our sex and our existence? This is the place where we have to love the neighbor as ourselves, because in him this place is the same.”[iv]
Bollorino: How do you, as a person and as an analyst, live this climate?
Di Ciaccia: I translate Lacan, whose voice I still remember. As for my function as an analyst, I can tell you that those who have turned to me know that, although from a distance, they find me present. But I must tell you that, more than about themselves, they are often worried about me. I don’t believe it’s just because I am in the coronavirus’ favorite age group, but because what characterizes transference is that, when the Other could fail or fall, the subject clings to it even more. Will the subject let go? He will do so when the analytic operation comes to an end, which reduces the analyst to a pure residue. Eventually leaving a shade of love, or hate, but (if there was an analysis) never of indifference.
[i] Antonio Di Ciaccia (Rome) interviewed by Francesco Bollorino for Psychiatry Online Italia. Published 28th March 2020. Available here.
[ii] Lacan, J., “… Or Worse” The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XIX, Ed. J.-A. Miller, transl. A.R. Price, Polity, 2018.
[iii] Lacan, J., Seminar XVIII, “D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant”, Lesson of 9th June 1971, Ed. Seuil, 2006, p. 145.
[iv] The Triumph of Religion Precedede by Dicourse to Catholics, transl. B. Fink, Polity, 2015, p. 47.