Tormenti Di Anime, Passioni, Sintomi, Sogni [Torments of the Soul: Passions, Symptoms, Dreams]1

Article excerpt

Tormenti di Anime, Passioni, Sintomi, Sogni [Torments of the Soul: Passions, Symptoms, Dreams]1 by Antonino Ferro Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 2010; 216 pp; euro21.00

The title of this book published by Antonino Ferro in 2010 paraphrases a famous film by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Secrets of a Soul [Geheimnisse einer Seele], which reached movie theatres in 1926. Availing himself of consultations with Karl Abraham and Hans Sachs, Pabst succeeded in a difficult undertaking that was in some ways paradoxical: to make known the method and goals of psychoanalysis by utilizing an art form that was at that time still silent. The film is thus a brilliant paradox: ''a silent movie about the talking cure'' (Sabbadini, 1994). Making use of Bion's thinking, Ferro pursues an objective no less arduous and equally paradoxical: to contribute to the development of psychoanalysis, emphasizing not what it has been able to explain up until now, but instead discussing the limits of our knowledge of the psychic apparatus.

In the first chapter of the book, the author clearly explicates the conceptual perspective that seems most convincing to him - the only one, in fact, that he finds reasonable. Psychoanalytic theories, he writes, are conceptual systems that are barely comparable to each other, in part because they have been constructed in thinking about various aspects of experience (the Newtonian mechanics of tangible objects is one, while the microphysics of particles is another), and in part because their utilization is influenced by defensive phenomena analogous to keloids (overgrown scars on our will to know) and to para-amnesias (confabulations and pseudo-memories that have come into being in order not to recognize lapses in memory).

Ferro maintains that, in order to avoid having to tolerate the limited degree of our knowledge, we tend to become ''like shipbuilders who insert plugs into the keel of a ship'': ''patches to avoid sinking into not knowing'' (Ferro, p. 6).2 Given that we do not like to face our ignorance and that uncertainty terrifies us, we often function like a religious community that sanctifies its theoretical canon (orthodoxy) and defends it, excommunicating thoughts and thinkers who seem to be at odds with ''real psychoanalysis.'' When things go particularly badly, ''the operation is completed in sessions through 'transformations in hallucinosis''' suffered by patients (when ''we project what we have constructed, thought, or more often learned from books, and then we read this 'projection' as evidence'' (ibid., p. 7).

The paradox on which Ferro's book is constructed is the demonstration that the recognition of our weaknesses, our errors, and the gaps in our clinical competence can be useful for psychoanalysis because this recognition increases our comprehension of what happens in sessions. The fact that the analyst's mind itself presents its own upsets and is lefttemporarily overwhelmed by emotions in the clinical field is unavoidable, and thus cannot be considered contemptible. It is necessary, however, that the analyst carefully consider these phenomena that are co-determined by the analytic couple, and that he understand them as a responsibility to be shared within the different poles of the clinical field.

The first illustration of his thesis is the story of something that happened on the evening in which Ferro 'discovered' the beauty of Pabst's film. While traveling by car to a conference at which he had been invited to comment on Secrets of a Soul, he happened to think of one of the last patients he had seen prior to leaving. This patient told him she had dreamed of her childhood home: ''a very big house where there was space for everything ... but not for me.'' Only at a certain point, in retrospect, did the analyst understand that the dream was in part a re-elaboration, of course, of her experience of neglect during her childhood, but also a warning in real time of the low level of mental availability perceived in the session. …