Discussion on “Translating Angst” by Fernando Castrillón

I would like to delve deeper into what Castrillon has written about different translations of the Freudian concept of Angst, by evoking my Italian experience.


When I meet Italian analysts whom I don’t know personally, I can grasp very quickly to which analytic “tribe” they belong just by listening to the words they use. Since WWII, most Italian analysts have been attracted only by two capital cities: London and Paris. New York is not on the list because American Ego Psychology was basically rejected by Italians—except for the group that revolves around the journal “Psicoterapia e Scienze Umane”, but this group is “Germanic”, and as we will see, German and American psychoanalysis were always in tune. But 15 years ago American Self Psychology started to gain influence among Italian analysts; its success in Italy is consistent with the success of  the signifier “empathy”, which now dominates the speech of many Italian analysts and psychologists.

Most Italian IPA analysts (I include the analytic nebula of institutes which orbit around the Italian IPA, SPI) are Kleinians, Winnicottians or Bionians—all from Britain. Yet others look to Paris as their beloved shrine (almost all French psychoanalysis is Parisian). I am not just referring to Lacanians, whose francophilia is obvious, but also to many IPA analysts who follow in the tracks of André Green, Paul-Claude Racamier, Jean Laplanche, Jean-Baptiste Pontalis and a few French others.

Starting from anguish/anxiety alternative, I have listed below the Italian terms which correspond to the two theory ‘capitals’, followed by the English equivalent.


PARIS Italian                           LONDON Italian            English


Angoscia                                  Ansia                              Anguish/anxiety


Fantasma                                 Fantasia                         Phantasy


Soggetto                                   Sé                                   Subject / Self


Soggettività                              Mente, psiche                  Subjectivity /Mind, Psyche


Simbolizzare                            Rendere pensabile           To symbolyze/To make something thinkable


Analizzante                              Paziente, analizzando      Analysand /Patient


Istanze del soggetto               Parti di sé                       Subject’s instances/Parts of the Self


Desiderio                                 Bisogni                           Desire/Needs


Godimento                               Piacere                           Enjoyment/Pleasure


Es                                            Id                                   Id


Dialettica                                 Dialogo                          Dialectics/Dialogue


Cura (analitica)                        Psicoterapia          Cure / (analytic)  psychotherapy


Punti di vista                            Vertici                            Points of View/ Vertexes


Legame sociale                        Relazione                        Social link/Relation


Seconda topica freudiana          Modello strutturale         Freud’s Second

                                                         freudiano                            Topology / Freudian Structural Model


Io, Super-io, Es                        Ego, Super-io, Id   Ego, Super-Ego, Id


Après coup                               Posteriorità                   Deferred Action


Controlli                                  Supervisioni                     Controls (with an expert analyst)/Supervision

(con un analista esperto)   (con un analista didatta) (with a training analyst)


Pensiero magico                       Controllo onnipotente     Magical Thought/Omnipotent Control


Transfert dell’analista              Controtransfert               Analyst’s transference/ Countertransference


Mutamento                               Maturazione, crescita      Change /Maturation, Growth


The list could go on.

I think that I don’t belong to either of these two analytic communities, even if I trained mainly in France and find the “Parisian” slang closer to me than the “British”. But I don’t consider one to be “right” and the other to be “wrong”. Instead, I am worried by the fact that, by speaking their own membership’s vernacular insignia, too many psychoanalysts have taken the easy route on which the jargon serves as a substitute for thought.

I think that psychoanalysis—like art forms, philosophical styles, political paradigms, religious preferences—inevitably feeds on the juices of its social and national context.  Its terminology is bound to reflect the Stimmung, tuning, of each new cultural and geo-political space where it implants itself.  One of the historical merits of Lacan was to “translate” and adapt a Mittel-European approach to a very Parisian way of thinking and talking.  Had Freud lived long enough to become acquainted with Lacan’s thought, I am sure he would have rejected it as completely foreign to his mental hygiene; Freud already considered Melanie Klein an “outsider”, so one can only imagine how he would have considered Lacan! Of course, had Freud rejected Lacan, a Lacanian would have anyway argued that Freud, by this rejection, would have fallen into a self-misunderstanding [in fact, many authors—namely, Jürgen Habermas—said that Freud has misunderstood the sense of his theory.]

In the same manner than Lacan, analysts from Germanic countries successfully “translated” Freudianism into their adoptive languages and cultures. A Hungarian trained in Berlin, Klein, managed to invent a special kind of “British” psychoanalysis; and, through their contribution to the invention of Ego psychology, a smart group of German-speaking émigrés adapted psychoanalysis of the old continent to the American ways of thinking.

In short: I don’t believe that a “true”, “authentic”, “faithful” interpretation of Freud and psychoanalysis really exists.  History is like a river, which never reverts to its source; it is always the story of conceptual betrayals.  Of course, I prefer certain readings of Freud to others. I find Lacan’s reading of Freud more thought-provoking, sharper, funnier than, say, Ernst Kris’.  This may be a matter of my personal penchant and history. Yet, as more than a century separates us from Freud’s most emblematic texts, there is no simple “return to Freud.” Any claimed Return to Freud is in any case an interpretation of what is essential about Freud, not according to Herr Freud, but according to us who came after him.



I don’t share the usual anathema against “American psychoanalysis” found in Italy, in France and in other, especially Latin-American, countries (sometimes even in the “America’ itself).  I don’t have any special sympathy or affinity for Ego Psychology or for many American “American analysts”.  But what was called “American psychoanalysis” may be viewed as a colonization of an emergent US psychoanalytic scene by mostly Jewish Austro-German analysts. For a long time, the stereotypical analyst in the US was an austere Jewish guy with a strong German accent (who appears in some American movies). While rejected by most British, French, Italian and Latin-American analysts, Ego Psychology, until now, has been the leading current in German-speaking countries.  In fact, we can speak of three leading analytic trends in psychoanalysis: the British (Klein and post-Kleinians, Winnicott), the French (Lacan, Green, Laplanche, Dolto) and the German-American (in Italy the German Alexander Mitscherlichrand Johannes Cremerius are especially appreciated).

Actually, almost all “American” analysts were born in Mitteleuropa, and moved to the US not because they loved the country, but because of Nazi persecutions and war. Kris was born in Vienna and emigrated to the US via London in 1940 at the age of 40; Löwenstein (Lacan’s analyst) was born in Poland and fled to the US (after having lived mostly in France for 16 years) in 1942 at the age of 44; Heinz Hartmann was born in Vienna and entered the US in 1941 at the age of 47; David Rapaport was born in Budapest and emigrated to the US in 1938 at the age of 27; Erik Erikson was born in Frankfurt and entered the US in 1933 at the age of 31; Heinz Kohut was born in Vienna and entered the US in 1940 at the age of 27; and Otto Kernberg was born in Vienna and emigrated from Chile to the US in 1961 at the age of 33. The basic inspirer of all of them was Anna Freud, who never lived in the US. The ‘Wasp’ influence on fundamental American analysis was minor, and the idea of “American psychoanalysis” (Ego and Self psychologies) as something specifically gringo or yankee is a bias we should abandon.

The evident decline of Ego psychology is in fact the decline of German-Austrian-American post-Freudian psychoanalytic tradition.

Of course, there was in any case an Americanization of psychoanalysis that determined some essential terminology shifts.  But we must note that the Standard English translation of Freud’s Works (which Bettelheim criticized in the book Freud and the Man’s Soul Castrillon quotes) was made in Britain, not in America. It was mainly the British version that changed Freud’s vivid terminology (which came from ordinary language) into a kind of Latin-Greek “scientific” terminology. And so, to quote only a few examples, Fehlleistung became parapraxis, Es became the Latin Id and not the English It, Ich became Ego, not “I”; Verdrängung became ‘repression’, not ‘removal’; and so on.  English-speaking psychoanalysis (and not only American) turned the original German into an aseptic pseudo-scientific language because these native German-speaking analysts made a strategic choice: to show that psychoanalysis was a science, a special and respectable branch of psychology (and now—see Peter Fonagy—of cognitive sciences). Traditions inspired by Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan went in the opposite direction, stepping away from the scientific method and protocols.



Prejudices about languages should be underlined and deconstructed.  For example, many—especially in Italy—find English to be a non-poetic language, a language of logic.  It is useless to remind these persons (often emeriti intellectuals) that many of the greatest poets wrote in English, from W. Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot and E. Pound. The fact that English appears “logical” and “pragmatic” (fit to the economic sciences) is just the effect of the usage of English as the contemporary lingua franca—what Latin, Italian or French were in the past in the Western world.  This means that people now speak a “standardized English” just as people once spoke a standardized Latin or French.  This ‘international’ English appears non-poetic because it is a mere communication tool, removed from any concrete linguistic Erlebnis; it is as arid as was the Latin of medieval theologians and the French of 19th- and 20th-century diplomats.

In fact, it is quite remarkable that when a language becomes a universal tool of communication, it appears “very logical” to its non-native speakers. When I was a boy, everybody was convinced that it was useful to teach Latin to young Italians, even if they lived on a farm: “Latin teaches people how to reason correctly”. In addition, my French teacher told us that diplomacy preferred French because it was the language of clarté, the clearest, the least ambiguous, of all languages (it was the French before the surrealists, Lacan and Derrida…). Intellectuals believed all that before Noam Chomsky showed that all languages are “logical” because each language is based on a “deep” grammar, and that it is wrong to believe that one language is more rational than another.  When a language becomes an international communication tool, it is perceived as “logical” simply because it is used not as a living language, but as a mere instrument by scientists, business men and technocrats.

This might explain why the English version of Freud seems so “repressed” and cold.  Even if Freud’s work was translated by native English-speakers, the German-speaking Freudians were adamant that the English version of Freud’s works be considered as the psychoanalytic Standard Text.  Had Freud’s works been translated, for example, by Faulkner or Salinger, the result would have been very different (and in fact, the contemporary translations of the Standard Edition are inspired by paradigms quite different from the old one).



One last observation.  Many English words have synonyms, some coming from the Germanic source of English, and others from the Latin graft.  The former connote something rough, wild, and even vulgar, while the latter are “civilized” and reputable: “My wife is nude but a whore is naked”.  Significantly, four-letter words all have Germanic roots.  This is not the case with “anguish” and “anxiety” because both come from Latin, “angustia“” and “anxietas” (A better translation would have been scare, which comes from Old Norse skirra, “to frighten”, and which has the same etymology as the German Schreck, fright.  Scare could be a basic, rough, unpolished anguish)  I would say that ‘Germanic’ words represent a kind of linguistic unconscious of English. Many English-speaking analysts tried to make psychoanalysis “serious” by putting aside its “gothic” Germanic halo—both its terminology and its conceptualization—and Latinizing it according to the academic custom.  In this sense, the English version of Freudianism is equivalent to a linguistic repression, that is, it does with language the opposite of what analytic practice is supposed to do with people.


Sergio Benvenuto is a researcher in psychology and philosophy at the National Research Council (CNR) in Rome, Italy, and a psychoanalyst. He is an editor of the European Journal of Psychoanalysis and member of the Editorial Board of American Imago and Psychoanalytic Discourse (PSYAD). He teaches psychoanalysis at the International Institute of the Psychology of Depth in Kiev and at Esculapio Specialization in Psychotherapy in Naples. He was or is a contributor to cultural and scientific journals such as Lettre InternationaleL’évolution psychiatrique, DIVISION/Review. His publications in English include: ‘Wittgenstein and Lacan Reading Freud’, Journal for Lacanian Studies, vol. 4, nr. 1, 2006, pp. 99–20, https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/wittgenstein-and-lacan-reading-freud1/. « Perversion and charity : an ethical approach », in D. Nobus & L. Downing eds., Perversion. Psychoanalytic Perspectives / Perspectives on Psychoanalysis (London : Karnac, 2006). With A. Molino, In Freud’s Tracks (New York: Aronson, 2008) nominated for Gradiva Award. “The Monsters Next Door”, American Imago. Psychoanalysis and Human Sciences, 69, 2012, 4. “The Gaze of the Blind. Notes on Cézanne and Cubism”, American Imago, vol. 70, 3, Fall 2013. “Does Perversion Need the Law?”, W. Müller-Funk, I. Scholz-Strasser, H. Westerink, Psychoanalysis, Monotheism and Morality (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2013). “Ethics, Wonder and Real in Wittgenstein”, in Y. Gustafsson, C. Kronqvist, H. Nykänen, eds., Ethics and the Philosophy of Culture: Wittgensteinian Approaches, 2013, Cambridge Scholar Publishing.  What are Perversions? (London: Karnac, 2016). Conversations with Lacan. Seven Lectures for Understanding Lacan (London: Routledge, 2020). He contributed to the volume Coronavirus, Psychoanalysis, and Philosophy Conversations on Pandemics, Politics and Society, edited By Fernando Castrillón & Thomas Marchevsky (London: Routledge, 2021). [eu.jou.psy@gmail.com]

Publication Date:

November 19, 2014

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