Include Me Out, Please!

by Angelo Villa, PhD

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The author addresses the complexity of the relationship between the analysand and the analyst at the close of the training analysis. On joining a psychoanalytic association or institute, the analysand may experience a reemergence of the dynamics that led to his original symptomatology in the context of his family and development. Through a critique of the splitting and false identifications that arise in psychoanalytic institutes, the author advocates for a psychoanalytic group that is formed around an aspiration of work.


     I will begin with a question that, for me, opens up a way to reflect on a problem I have thought about over the years: the problem of belonging to psychoanalytic associations. Thequestion is quite simple: what does a person experience during his analysis? First, as Freud makes clear, the Ego is not the master of his home. The proof of this is that the patient is led into treatment by a symptom, which leads him or her to demand a cure. Second, this non-mastery eventually leads the subject back to his dependence on the unconscious demands of his immediate family, and even further back to previous generations. As Lacan says: the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.

     To summarize: the patient, or rather the analysand, finds that while he thought his psychic life was under his control, through further investigation he sees this is not so. Rather, he realizes that it belongs to others; it is connected to their history and their unconscious drives. Above all, it is connected to his family – the family from which he believed he had separated, or, at least, was in the process of doing so. This non-mastery does not refer to any mysticism tucked away in a dark corner of the mind, unfathomable and unmentionable, but to the oppressive weight of his entry into the family’s discourse, of which the patient carries the signs. In the end, this non-mastery is a thin veil that obscures the belonging, or the subjection, of the individual to the legacy of others. The more the patient strains to understand the essence of his being, his symptoms, secrets, desires and ghosts, the more he finds that his motivations, his will, maintain a strict link with what someone else (a mother? a father?) had wanted for him, in one way or another, through him and, in a sense, within him. The symptom, inexorable, indicates the precise point where the patient’s pain is fixed. He would like to overcome it with all his strength; he would indeed! Autonomy, derived from the ancient Greek, means “to give oneself to one’s own law.” But the unconscious shows us a psychic system already at work, following a law that is already established and capable of being iniquitous, or even worse, cruel.

     Consequently, what kind of work is the patient doing in his therapy, if not the immersion in his history in his family’s history? It is not a choice or a desire; the patient is driven by a necessity. He needs to begin to feel that his life belongs to him. How is it that we undervalue, in the end, the deep sense of his analysis as the attempt to loosen the vise of a belonging that absorbs him, that squashes him? A belonging that obliges the patient to endorse another’s unconscious requests.

     If a person is not self-made, and his unconscious is history in the sense of one’s causal genesis, it is the unconscious that introduces us to the relationship between history and the patient. The capacity or the incapacity of subjectification is also an index of the pathology of the patient. I will try to explain. We can make reference to a classic Freudian distinction between memory and repetition. The first concerns our psychic life, in one word: the mind. The second refers to the body and action. Memory is, perhaps, a possibility more than a choice. It involves psychic work and, more precisely, the possibility for the patient to re-read the events that have marked his life. Or, memory also may permit the reinterpretation of events in order to escape from their weight. Repetition, on the contrary, is a silent and unacknowledged memory. The patient acts, in his real life, more or less mechanically, with the signifiers that bind him to his mother’s or father’s jouissance. Repetition emphasizes the strength that dominates the subject. Freud, in fact, spoke about the compulsion to repeat, elaborating on it with the idea that repetition is in fact the repetition of a failure. We can say there is a double repetition: the patient’s failure, but also the parents’ failure, to which the repetition returns us. But there is more: we could situate this problem in relation to a temporal axis, both chronological and logical. Childhood defines a period of life in which a person is subject to his parents’ demands, especially the mother’s, in a more or less complicit way. More generally, he is subject to the demands of the familial institution, insomuch as the symptomatic expressions are hidden in that same structure, where they are reabsorbed, ignored, or tolerated. Usually, the most difficult moment is adolescence. During this period, the malaise is often now expressed in opposition to the adult’s order and the respective family structure. Many times, this attempt to separate turns out to be a disaster, deceptive and clumsy. The step forward, the escape, reveals itself as incomplete, and sometimes even transpires as a source of ambiguous or dangerous experience. Frequently this attempt leans toward a messianic or libertarian rhetoric, where such charismatic figures and their alluring discourses are appealing precisely because of their anti-familial stance.

     It so happens that, in this description, I can recognize the journey, the painful experience that leads to the dramatic emergence of these personal difficulties, which open the way for the symptom: a symptom secretly cultivated during childhood, presumptuously eluded during adolescence and then, voilà, arriving in full force in the moment we are called to seriously enter into the world, namely in the encounter with sexuality. Paraphrasing Hegel, we could see it as thesis, after the childhood and familial institution, antithesis, after teenage rebellion and synthesis: the symptom arrives. And through this, we see that the process of separation from the family has not happened, or at least, it has happened in an incomplete way. 

     As Dante highlights in The Divine Comedy, it is necessary to find a Virgil in order to descend into the Inferno and try to reach the Purgatorio and finally, maybe, glimpse the glimmer of light, not of the Paradiso, but of that dim light that desire makes us appreciate. In other words, analysis sets a deep sleeping subjectivity into motion, to the extent that it dismantles or, in Derrida’s words, deconstructs the viscous bond with the family. Only in that moment is the patient able to detach himself and let his own voice emerge, a voice that no longer passively clings to the previous figures who influenced him inside and outside of his home. The recovery of subjectivity interrupts a cycle of repetition that marks a decrease of the belonging in which the subject is enmeshed.  Something is loosening, something is moving, something is starting to breathe again.

     When analysis is working, the word assumes the value of a unique discovery for the individual. Based on these findings, the subject moves towards the world, whereas before he assumed it was the world that should move towards him. This internal path often finds an external confirmation: familial relationships redefine themselves, some love relationships and friendships end, and some others begin and so on. Sometimes, finding his own desire in his analysis, an analysand decides to start an analytic career, moved by a desire that the treatment revealed.

     In this case, the analysand inevitably will become part of a psychoanalytic association. In effect, if it is true, as Lacan said, that the analyst authorizes himself, it is also true that he has to confront others and participate in a scientific community. Emerging from the unconscious and determined belonging – the familial institution – the analysand is now called to enter another institution that maintains a subtle continuity with his former one. More precisely, he becomes an analyst through the re-elaboration of his own story of belonging. How will the new belonging be constituted? What shape will it take?


The Trauma, on the Return

     I think it is important to stop here with these questions, which highlight two essential points. First, while the analyst authorizes himself, this does not mean he can practice without colleagues or without participating in activities that sustain psychoanalysis and analytic research. Alone, he is not going anywhere; the risk of falling into a narcissistic auto-referential delirium or withdrawing into oneself is very high. That is why being part of an association is a logical and ethical necessity. A mandatory passage, I would say. The second point is precisely this passage: it requires a change of perspective that is not insignificant or harmless.

     When we discuss clinical material, we rely on theory. Theory gives a direction that orients our considerations of therapeutic treatment, our diagnostic formulations and so on. In contrast, when applied to institutions or associations that are active, theory suggests a set of principles and ideals that clash with the actual history of an institution. The discrepancy can appear as schizophrenic, as if theory and history did not have much in common. Theory becomes a hostage of rhetoric or Kantian enunciation. It also could be used as a misleading weapon according to the situation: a stereotyped ritual or an instrument with which to settle an internal feud.   

     This is what happens, and what has happened, here and there. It could be useful to compare The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels with the history of the communist movement or the Evangelists with the history of the Church to understand the great distance between theory and reality. Psychoanalytic associations do not escape this destiny; on the contrary, they even pay an excessive price. In spite of this price, the discrepancy is rarely investigated.

     A central point of the psychoanalytic principle is the role of  the word at the center of everyone’s existence. Not the word in and of itself, but the word as it sustains a certain relation to the truth. As often happens, the analysand, while investigating his familial roots, often discovers their hypocrisies,  or even their explicit lies. Similarly, in his encounter with an association, the analysand may recognize that the theory, which was thought to provide a realistic representation of reality, as far as it is possible to observe in our clinical practice, appears to be inadequate or even misleading, thus leaving the word to itself as a purely suggestive expedient.  

     This is the reason why I advocate a phenomenological analysis in this situation, as opposed to using a theory, which might be used in other contexts. Phenomenology provides us with the crucial terms for describing experiences and the sense of belonging to an association better than what can be ascribed to theory. The rest does not count that much, even though it is often called forth in discussions. It is a cover, nothing more.

     Now, the switch from theory to phenomenology, as a test for two different languages, can be traumatic for the analysand because it constitutes his authentic initiation into a “new” belonging. The quotation marks I put here are essential to indicate the ambiguity of this change. The difference between theory and phenomenology marks the difference experienced by the analysand – both with respect to his analyst and to his own word. During analysis, he had discovered a freedom based on this word, thanks to the discrete listening of the analyst and the absence of his personal question. And now? 

     That word he was looking for, that word he was grasping at, together with the possibility of expressing himself – he is now forced to stop, to retrace his steps. This is not because he does not know the distinction between the public and the private but because he encounters (unexpectedly?) something already experienced, even though the analysand or the ex-analysand may struggle to recognize it at first. A phenomenological element to be precise, that I have observed time and again from beginning to end: the analysand joins, at least at the beginning, the same association to which his analyst belongs. Most of the time, it is the analyst that “introduces” him. From here, we see how the problem of belonging to associations emerges: the analysand is legitimatized by his analyst who becomes his implicit or explicit guarantor. In exchange, the analysand spontaneously offers legitimation to the analyst – I recognize you as far as you recognize me –  a reciprocal use, as a colleague of mine defines it. It is an operation that supports an extension of a transference, maybe badly analyzed or perhaps still pending. The evidence for this is in the frequency with which we observe, not surprisingly, how the lines of continuity between analysand or ex-analysand rupture and break. Above all, when the analysis is over, the ambivalence towards the membership in the association emerges, whereas it may have been suspended during the analysis; it now can erupt in a post-analytic showdown. This could concern the transference, even retroactively, or even beyond to the subject’s relation with castration and loss.  

     The psychoanalytic association becomes the scene in which the cut takes place: a sudden and maladroit cut from belonging. An enactment, de facto, placed as a rupture of a subjection previously celebrated. It is as if, in the end, there were just two choices left: remaining on the same path as the analyst or being situated in opposition to it. The association often becomes a transitional object with a type of either-or belonging.

     Therefore, what is sacrificed for the sake of the belonging is the negative aspect of the transference: on the one hand, the negative transference developed towards the analyst; and on the other, the negative relation of the analyst towards the others. The enemies of the analyst are now potentially placed to become the enemies of the ex-analysand. For co-option, automatically. In other words, the negative does not encounter a citizenship in the word when it fails to be addressed on the outside, outside of that dialectic transference that initiates the subject's entrance in the analytic institution.

     Belonging to an association thus allows the question of the transference to be posed once again. Most importantly, belonging, apparently or ostensibly idyllic, ends up reproducing that opposition between word and freedom previously experienced by the analysand in his family. In this new context, the analyst takes on the role of a potential liberator but in an even more complex way. The “new” belonging recalls something “old.” Will the analysand or the ex-analysand betray his analyst, disappointing his expectations? Will he be ungrateful or, as I once heard, not grateful enough? Will his belonging be a way to re-edit a dependent logic, now even more unbearable than before? Will he become even more alienated in exchange for professional advantages, or even worse, for unlimited infantile gratification?

     Willing or not, the familiar returns. That familiar to whom the patient belonged, in the passive sense of the term, even more than it belonged to him. Inhibition reappears in the most clever way, hiding behind a veil of calculation or even, more deeply, behind the cynicism that animates it. Lacan himself wrote about the end of analysis in this way, evoking a sold cynique.  But the familiar, we know, is a light cover for incest. And so? Could belonging to an association pose a risk of triggering a dynamic that works in a counterdirection to the desire that orients an analysis? The phenomenology of relationships in the associations gives us a snapshot of reality much more complex and exhaustive than the one offered by theory.


The Group and the Training

     Does this return us to the point at which the analysand started? Truth be told, the situation is not easy. A psychoanalytic association sustains a cause, precisely the one of psychoanalysis. There is no association that does not have this affirmation in its bylaws, supplied by Lacan's and Freud's suitable quotes. But a cause is an immaterial entity. In order to promote a cause, one needs to collaborate with other people, and in this case, with other colleagues. 

     Many associations orient themselves around the same psychoanalytic authors. Significantly, the strongest disputes happen between “sister” associations. Differences among these groups do not revolve around theoretical debates but around which people belong to which group. This results in selective references of who cites who in the respective groups and the creation of  “us” against “them” and so on.

     The concrete references to the cause effectively translate into a belonging for a group and, consequently, generates a link. Or more to the point, a movement occurs, a transference from the analyst to the analyst’s analyst, upward to a key point. This leads to the mother of all misunderstandings, the one that mistakes the cause (psychoanalysis) for a person. Usually, this person is the founder or leader, the center of the association around whom the same group revolves, and who at times even politicizes analysis. If I think about my early years, along with my peers, I could say that my sense of belonging morphed into a militancy (from the Latin militare), without articulating this connection between a cause and the individual.

     I encountered a difference between belonging to a public institution where I was working and the psychoanalytic institution where I took my first steps. I have always wanted to work in a public institution because that was my interest. I loathed the academic profession. Being in a public institution meant I could be directly involved with the socially disadvantaged, creating unique interventions or closing repressive institutions. It was a clinical desire but also a political one. Within the institution, no one asked me about my desires. I maintained a bureaucratic belonging, a formal fact. The important thing was that I performed those tasks I was given; anything else was my personal quest. In contrast, in the psychoanalytic association, the connection was reversed. Desire had to be shown obsessively, pushing it to perversely change into a superegoical construction. The demonstration of the desire led to militancy and, consequently, it became subject to acclaim or reward. But militancy… for what or for whom?

     This question is crucial. If a person can embody the cause, as was confirmed frequently in public speaking, indicated through the use of a name and surname, the problem becomes more complicated in the same way as it, paradoxically, becomes simplified. The cause is reduced to a person, just one. It is not by chance that when someone tries to understand an association, one often uses an expression like “that’s the one of…,” specifying the name of the founder or the psychoanalyst who is the leader. This issue is a difficult topic, rarely engaged, or when broached follows a predictable path – the elusive issue is democracy, or more precisely, the nature and the consequences of democracy in an analytic milieu. Such is the case because, above all, egalitarianism is a trap that works against historical, prestigious and transference differences within the group and its functioning. For this reason, it may be that recalling one person simplifies the picture. In this way, the leader of the group is a priori compared to the father; leading any protest against his position or actions is subject to oedipal interpretations. I will elaborate on this to problematize my somewhat hasty sketch.

     The first observation is a well-known fact: German intellectual thought gave a central role to the figure of the leader, in the political and social organization of the masses, from Clausewitz to Max Weber, with the only exception being Kelsen. Nonetheless, the equivalence between the leader and the father is not automatic. First, the leader is not the normative oedipal father, the one who castrates the individual. Rather the opposite is true: history gives us the tragic examples of some of the so-called “fathers.” Second, the leader is not a copy, a reflection, of an effective father for those members of the crowd that enthusiastically claim him. The family man, Freud dixit, is someone who really loves his sons or who should love them; he does not participate in the seductive deceit that bonds the masses to their leader. 

     We could also refer to the psychological portrait of American president Woodrow Wilson, which Freud drew when he wrote about the very important role played by “mad men” in history when they were “assigned full powers.” Or, we also see this in a short text, “A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis” (1922), where Freud compares the primitive father to the devil and not to God, as was usually done. Therefore, our question is not that easy.

     It is important to add a fundamental detail. First, I frequently heard the argument that transference generates power used as a justification of the power dynamics within psychoanalytic associations. And if this is true, so is its opposite. In other words, power nourishes the transference, whether it is authentic or not. Marc Bloch, a historian, described the medieval kings’ miracle worker praxis, where the political powers of the king guaranteed him his therapeutic virtues.

     The second observation is linked to a certain style in associations that I would define as preemptive and disagreeable, used by the leader analyst and some of his favorite pupils, some of whom might still be in analysis with him and who seem to be engaged in an endless analysis, offered as a guarantee of fidelity. It is a tradition that is obsolete or at least abnormal and that I never found in a public institution; it would not be tolerated if it appeared. Paraphrasing Lacan’s famous discourses, in my small way I tried to find a formula that could synthesize it: I called it the discourse of the despot. As pathology teaches us, it presents itself behind a mask of love or kindness as the expression of a request, which could reach the point of blackmail. It generates terror, not because of its threatening features, but because it induces fear in the individual, exploiting his fragilities. The fear of being abandoned and cast aside becomes, in this case, even stronger than the fear caused by intimidation. Intimidation allows one, at least potentially, to mobilize defensive coping mechanisms to deal with an enemy who is visible and well defined, coming from the outside. Abandonment, instead, carries the phantasms of loneliness: “Can I do it all by myself? Will I be able to? And what if other people were right? What if my attempt to separate leads to my expulsion from the group? And what if I need help? Can I still ask them or will they shut the door in my face?” 

     I would write the discourse of the despot in this way: it can use both a rhetorical degenerative “paternal” and a “maternal,” interchangeably. The phenomenology changes, but the substance does not:

     S1                     $

     —        →        —

      a                      S2


     In the place of the truth, I’ve put an “a,” or so to say, the reality of a whimsical satisfaction not really questionable. In the place of the agent, the despot, I have written an S1, causing the other to be the hostage subject of the discourse. This is what puts the subject in the position to create an understanding but…what type? The one of getting by? The one of adjusting?

     This second observation of the despot concerns the misunderstandings and ambiguities of transference. Consequently, it highlights the paradoxes that are revealed in the public space of the association and its so-called social relationships, or better said, its political ones. Let us go back to the question of belonging, which is different from the desire, and, above all, it is irreducible to it – this is what makes the question unfailingly circular, constantly repeated. In particular, during the more or less traumatic encounters that the individual experiences throughout his life, I highlight one fundamental aspect: when the demand is about to emerge, it conserves the drive of overturning through its opposite, that is to say, as it begs for satisfaction. In other terms, the demand of the Other tends to transform into an offer to the Other, in an almost unperceivable way. It is as if this offer constitutes or reveals itself as the real aim of the question of belonging. It is an aim for the longed-for effective “response.” From here, the vicious circle leads the subject from loving, to wanting to be loved, to finally surrendering to the jouissance of the Other. As object and victim of an alienated satisfaction, the subject looks for and, in a masochistic way, gives himself love. Gladly or, at least in an almost intuitive manner, the subject gives up a potential satisfaction in exchange for that of the Other, joining and mixing up his jouissance with the Real or supposed one of the Other. The subject throws himself into the Other, as if he is lost or sacrificed to the Other, when, with Heidegger’s words, being thrown in this world is unbearable.

     This regressive path will then reinstate the original historical sequence. Indeed, if the existence of the Other, the maternal in this case, is the condition for the subjective existence of the child, then the love for the Other precedes, temporally and logically, love for oneself. This is, sometimes dramatically, illustrated in the treatment of childhood abuse, where we see how the child can be offered as a sacrifice to defend an Other for the damage that was actually done to himself, without even minimal protection. What changes is the style, the way, or the quantity, but it is always the same issue.

Talking and Giving

     Therefore, what does being a part of a psychoanalytic association mean? A friend of mine, paraphrasing Sartre, said “Hell is other people, the colleagues.” The large amount of quarrels among analysts confirms this. I have never seen as much resentment, bitterness, and malicious gossip as that which I saw within the psychoanalytic association: the delegitimization of the other is a daily practice.

     This highlights the danger behind this attempt to regain an experience of belonging, which the subject already discovered as alienating: his entry into narcissistic drift. I was able to observe the splinter pathology that characterized psychoanalytic associations as evidence of this danger, and which demonstrates Freud's findings of the repeated comingling between the psychology of the masses and the narcissism of small differences. This is one sure way to decline belonging. On some occasions, this leads to the ridiculous: an obstinate and paranoiac closure that follows Carl Schmitt’s format, friend or enemy. Being a friend means sustaining a narcissistic specularity, and being an enemy means being an embodiment of everything negative. Of course, one forgets that the worst of enemies were previously the best of friends. But that’s how relationships and political dynamics work.

     Naïvety is a serious analytic error from which an analyst should be immune. From Balzac to Donna Tartt, literature has given many examples about the disenchantment resulting from our entrance into the adult’s world. The naïf is the good boy who doesn’t want to know about the jouissance of the other or, even worse, who supposes that his fidelity to the familial ideal (or more frequently, the maternal ideal) will protect him from the voracious and inhibited impetuousness of other people’s demands. This position will be a mere lonely act, where his conviction in respect to conforming to these ideals will end up a cold comfort.

     Being a part of an association, then, entails a more complex relational game. It can push the careerist, although not necessarily the best of them, to participate even more intensely in the association and some even get to the point of considering it as their own business. The same dynamic pushes others to the margins, again not necessarily the best. The association’s internal dynamics tend to assume a typical configuration (the ones writing, the ones speaking, the ones controlling, the ones…); what is important is that they remain rigid.

     Therefore, it remains essential to understand how we can encounter a belonging that is neither an alienation nor a narcissistic compensatory solution. Here, analytic theory – especially Lacan’s – offers us enlightening formulas. However, as I said above, it is exactly in these associations’ dynamics where we see a tremendous divorce between theory and practice. Recalling what Hannah Arendt said in a different context, we need more experiences than theories.

     This belonging (in the psychoanalytic association) puts the subject in the middle of a crossroads – between identity and work. When belonging endorses an ideal of identity, relegating everything else to a subordinate position, a range of conflicts emerge and pushes the association towards a group dynamic of  “us against the other,” as guardians of the word against the heretics, and so on. The history of psychoanalysis is full of these kind of episodes, especially the Lacanian history. In contrast, if instead the actual work is endorsed, identity can recede into the background. Lacan himself talked about the transfer of work as a foundation for an analytic community. So with a transference to working, we have an answer to the mourning of the personal transference. Easier said than done.

     Throughout the life of an association, we see different dispositions. Those that follow the cult of an identity tickle a bulimic drive of taking, while a central focus on the work allows for giving as opposed to taking. To say this in a less emphatic way, it is our personal energy or interest that is needed to lead the way in order to keep an association alive: developing research, encouraging fields of interest or, in other words, resisting the commonplace idea of what it means to be an analyst today. 

     Furthermore, an association needs to address the unsolved question of training analysts; this is an implicit aim of the association. While analysis has an end, training does not. The analyst authorizes himself, Lacan dixit. Nonetheless, authorization needs to be constantly measured within a research environment, unless it is to become a self-referential act. This is not an easy question because it concerns not only our work but also its quality. Who or what can judge it? This topic affects the association’s structure itself. The problem of orthodoxy or an untamed clinical speculation is added to the problem of elaboration. In the first case, the association has a more closed and exclusive nature, proclaiming itself as the warrantor of the correct interpretation of psychoanalytic teaching. In the second case, the association doesn’t explicitly want to “monitor” the production of the case material. The association assumes an inclusive shape or, better said, an extensive one, but to the detriment perhaps of its scientific rigor. It is the archipelago against the monarchy and vice versa, or is it dispersive plurality against arid compactness?

     So it seems that the structure and functioning of the association, intimately linked to the training process, is always in tension, unless the association takes a purely instrumental stance and dispenses with titles that can be exhibited publicly. In that case, belonging would be worthless.

     Returning to the starting place, participation in an association is practically obligatory for the analyst, but what guides this choice and shapes his or her membership? This is not a theoretical question; we have all worked through this. During a tenacious debate between me and my symptoms, the question was: to belong or not to belong? I repeated it to myself, as if a new Hamlet. I was experiencing a kind of belonging that pinned me to an alienation I couldn’t stand. However, non-belonging threw me into a loneliness I refused. I have met colleagues who developed careers within the associations; others, instead, left them, and became lost in their isolation. The first option I disliked, so shameless and conformist, and I couldn’t stand the second, so stuck in the predictable, but ineffective, complaint. And what about me? I opted, of course not consciously, for a symptom, or as I just described, a compromise in the Freudian sense. Hence my title for this essay: Include Me Out, Please! In other words, I am in an association because I am unable to stay out of it but, at the same time, I am not able to place myself within it. I am on the edge, in a sort of reversed extimacy. But at the same time, the pain of my body (ouch!) knows something about this.

     This was how I arrived at the question of belonging and its relationship to the choices I made, and the question of how to separate this from the ambivalent bonds that are sustained in the transference. I will try to get to a conclusion…if a conclusion exists. In my opinion, it doesn’t. There is no conclusion because there is no solution. Every social bond simultaneously includes both what it negates and what constitutes its truth: why should we be amazed? Why should it be different among analysts? Just because they've been in analysis? Why has this made them any different, dare I say better, from the rest of humanity?

     Clearly, it hasn't. It is useless to engage in historical in-depth studies; we would be disappointed. Analysts are cut from the same cloth as any other human being. Therefore, if a solution doesn’t exist, it is because, on the contrary, there is only one possible position, which will always be a singular one. Freudian, one by one.

     What does belonging to a psychoanalytic association then mean to me? I have laid out my critique, and now it’s appropriate to examine this through a self-critical lens. A disenchantment in  the association faithfully copies the disenchantment in the world, and from which we can never be anesthetized. One limitation of the critique is that it is directly derived from the ideal. It can be a way to give voice to the Hegelian beautiful soul that rests in every one of us. I have nothing against the beautiful soul. I don’t share the ironic attitude, so close to sarcasm, that Lacan shows in his interpretation of Dora’s case. Yet, within an association, it is an unproductive position. Is it better to situate ourselves outside the association, proudly claiming a non-belonging, running the risk that the “I my own” becomes the “I alone” (against all)?

     Another limitation of the critique is that it emerges as a product of nostalgia, or the (rancorous?) return of a disappointment. Whatever the reason, there is the sense that we live in a climate of perpetual expectation, frequently disguised in different ways. As such, we revert to “magical” citations, as if the appropriate quote could ward off the real, hard encounter with the others. The citation is more a metonymy than a metaphor for an absent father (or mother?). A place to which we always return. Moving through our disappointing relationships, we arrive at a transference that can seem almost religious in its anticipation of what is yet to come, or of what we can predict thanks to a quote. And while this critique may seem to be free of aggression, belonging should entail a negation of this transference. The analysis can endow the analysand with the wish to participate in an association, but not to be an active part of it.  

     For belonging does entail an identification; I suggest that the turning point must be made through the difference between a passive identification and an active one. As far as the analysis delves into a familial bond, it allows the patient to return and find a new place in his personal history; a different place from where he had been placed by his symptom, along with those symptoms belonging to others. In other words, the analysis doesn’t break the belonging (how would it be possible?) but it allows the patient to introduce into it his own subjectivity, to have the chance to finally re-write his belonging. This is what needs to happen in an association, too. Belonging to an association should entail the possibility of affecting the life of the association. This is the only way toward a belonging that resists alienation. Of course, there are the others, as always. And not only the friends, the ones we admire, the ones who…

     But an association can’t be formed through friendship alone because friends often end up revealing themselves to be enemies. From my point of view, an association has to maintain an institutional dimension in order to work. The bonds between people don’t have to be too close. As with Schopenhauer’s hedgehogs during winter, the hard part is finding the right distance. Too far from each other, they die from cold – and maybe they get paranoiac; too close, they pierce themselves with their quills. This new belonging requires experiencing the association as both a personal group and a shared one with participation, but also freedom and a bit of loneliness are indispensable to avoiding the typical fusion of exasperated groups.

     Ultimately, belonging to an association means having a place where one can give more than one takes. It is a place where one can put something personal: ideas, thoughts, elaborations, acts, etc. It is a similar realm of personal that was part of an analysis that enabled the patient to emerge, now… impatient. If analysis enabled the patient to go into himself, the association also enables him (or it should, so that each one chooses the most suitable association for him) to use that experience in his journey in the association, which in return will also be impacted. But, I repeat myself: the time taken by the work of the association is not easy. It is exhausting and interminable, and honestly, this should be acknowledged. But are there alternatives to the social bond? And finally, at the end of it, whatever I can say about others, is it not just what the others can say about me? Belonging to an association entails the possibility of working on that belonging, to use Gramsci’s words, with the optimism of the will and the pessimism of the intellect.

     After all, alone, one doesn’t conclude much. 



The author thanks Ms. Nadia Mongelli for her translation services, and Dr. Victoria Malkin and Ms. Kelly Merklin for their editing assistance.



Freud, S. (1922). A seventeenth-century demonological neurosis. Standard Edition 19:72-105.


Address correspondence to:

Angelo Villa, PhD
Piazza Faruffini no.1
20099 Sesto San Giovanni (Milan), Italy

Angelo Villa, PhD, is a member of the Italian Lacanian Association of Psychoanalysis. He is a co-professor of Rehabilitation Psychology at the University of Milan-Bicocca and a tenured professor at the Institute of Research and Applied Psychoanalysis in Milan. Dr. Villa has authored a wide variety of reviews, articles, essays and books including Psychoanalysis and Severe Handicap: The Hand in the Cap (Karnac, 2013).


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