Italy and Psychoanalysis


The author recounts shortly the story of psychoanalysis in Italy, especially in these latest forty years. He links this history to the evolution of Italian psychiatry (passed through Basaglia’s anti-institutional dream to the present DSM dominance) and to the tides of cultural hegemonies in Italy (earlier historicism and Marxism, later positivism and rationalism). The influence of techniques other than psychoanalysis (such as systemic family-therapy, Jungism, cognitivism, etc.) even inside psychoanalysis is stressed. He focuses on weak points of the Italian analytic tradition–especially dependence on some foreign models–but also on the paradoxical advantage of a “weak psychoanalysis” in our epoch. He gives also a large space to the historical “lost opportunity” for Lacanism in Italy, which is more marginal than in many other countries of Romance languages.


First of all: is it really interesting to talk about Italian psychoanalysis? Not for everyone, evidently.
In fact, very few are interested in Italian psychoanalysis: up until now, Italy has not produced as many famous “masters” in this field as has Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, the US, and other countries. Hence the widespread-and partly unjust-belief that Italian psychoanalysis is insignificant. Unjust, because I believe the average level of Italian analysts is high enough; but we lack charismatic and internationally well-known personalities. In psychoanalysis, we weren’t so lucky to have someone like De Chirico, Gramsci, Fellini, Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, Pasolini, Eco, Armani, Agamben and others.

One of the best-known Italian analysts was…. a Chilean, Ignacio Matte Blanco (1908-1995), who can be considered Italian because he lived for more than 40 years in Rome. But his most well-known book, The Unconscious as an Infinite Set(1), was first published in English. A few of his disciples presently practice in Italy, yet he never established a Matte-Blanchian school. Edoardo Weiss (1889-1948)(2), a direct disciple of Freud albeit from Austro-Hungarian Trieste, also gained fame from having published in English, having migrated to the United States in 1939. Even Eugenio Gaddini (1916-1985)(3) is well-known in Anglo-American countries, especially for his work on child psychoanalysis. Anyway, beyond these and a few living analysts, the list of famous Italian analysts is soon exhausted. But why?

Some believe that Italians don’t excel in psychoanalysis because it is an exquisitely “gothic” activity, fit to introverted and twisted Anglo-Germanic and Frankish souls, which contrasts sharply with the Renaissance brightness and sunny Mediterranean extroversion of Italian culture. Italy’s best recent contributions have been on the esthetical surface–our Renaissance genius leads us to privilege the outer form over the inner abyss. This explains why Italians are the greatest exporters of la dolce vita (cuisine, arts, wine/liquor, design, fashion, bel canto), while in deeper activities–such as philosophy, mathematics, mystical literature, psychoanalysis-importation prevails.

Moreover, psychoanalysis was created mainly by Jews-in American movies the analyst is usually a Jewish doctor with a German accent-and in Italy, Jews are few and not very influential(4). Others say that Italian analysts lack an international audience because they write in a tongue which is spoken only in Italy.

Undoubtedly, one of the clichés abroad about Italians is that they “are not good analysts”, much like “the mafia rules Italy”, or “all Italian men are womanizers”; but like many common places, there is part truth and part falsity.
The truth: too many Italian analysts are spell-struck by their foreign “headquarters”, playing the (often profitable) role of followers. Kleinians and Bionians look only to London, Lacanians only to Paris, Jungians to Zurich or Texas (Hillman), and so on. We are good disciples-sometimes also at the top of our class-but not masters. And when some choose to later become dissidents and in turn masters, they often fall into the inverse defect: they lock themselves in their own small and cozy school formed almost exclusively by their analyzands and direct pupils, usually on a regional or city scale-in short, for them it suffices to play at home talking to their faithful. This is not exactly the best way to promulgate one’s original analytical approach beyond the national borders.

The falsity: precisely because we are short of Great Masters, our schools are less rigid and dogmatic than in other countries. Our Kleinians, Lacanians, Winnicottians, Jungians, etc., are often less iron-willed. The walls separating schools and styles in Italy are less impermeable than elsewhere. Perhaps in Italy a sort of heterodox, eclectic, unclassifiable psychoanalytic koiné or community is slowly building up-where dialogue is easier than in other countries. Certainly having been disciples of Great Masters is a great advantage: their impact raises the average level of followers. But if the Master is too grand, s/he risks blocking the creativity of the best disciples: rather than discovering their own road, eternal pupils will spend their whole life imprisoned in the golden and comfortable ghetto of the Master’s Thought.


Another reason for the relatively low development of psychoanalysis in Italy is the fact that the highest model for an Italian intellectual was and is, even today, political commitment in the agora. This reflects historicism’s impact in the previous centuries (Vico, De Sanctis, Croce, Gentile, Gramsci), and its basic assumption that “History shapes our souls”. Historicists tend to think that brooding over sexuality, intimate fantasies, dreams and slips of the tongue is a waste of time: “reality calls us!”

This red-white-and-green historicist tradition even penetrated Italian psychiatry. For two decades, the cream of an entire generation of psychiatrists was charmed by Franco Basaglia (1924-1980), a Marxist trained in phenomenological philosophy and psychiatry who was hostile to psychoanalysis, which he considered a mere “technique” for the bourgeois clientele. However, his generous apostolate to free psychotic patients from squalid asylums-real jails for the fringes of society-had a great impact on Italian public opinion in the 1970s. His anti-institutional crusade had some affinity with the Anglo-American anti-psychiatric challenge (Laing, Esterson, Cooper, Szasz), but concentrated rather on the “dismantlement” of psychiatric hospitals, and their replacement with what in Anglophonic countries is called community care, and in Italy servizi nel territorio(5). Basaglia’s campaign was fully rewarded in 1979, when the Italian Parliament approved the famous “Law 180”, which forbids any form of psychiatric incarceration of the mentally ill against their will, except for critical, but rather brief, periods (a law basically still applied in Italy).

Basaglian psychiatrists completely dismissed the study of the mind and/or the brain. Their psychiatry was essentially an extensive and intensive social welfare: housing for the mentally ill, endless discussions with bureaucrats and politicians to change local norms, pensions or allocations for the disabled, etc. All practical things, never the unconscious or intimate fantasies. For them the soul was a kind of bourgeois caprice, and the poor, of course, have no soul-the poor have only social-historical problems.

In this sense, Basaglian psychiatry carried on a long tradition among intellectuals since the Risorgimento (1848-1870), when a writer or philosopher had to be foremost a militant patriot, a garibaldino, i.e. a revolutionary activist. This tradition found its most powerful expression in Gramsci’s famous theory about the role of the “organic intellectual”. Even today, even when the Italian intellectual is far from Marxism or nationalism, one of his highest ideals is to become a member of Parliament or a minister, or in the worst case, a party bureaucrat(6) (even if today the political dream has largely been replaced with the dream of media, especially on TV, exposure). Certainly this massive (and often glamorous) political engagement does not push him toward the sedentary, shadowy, and mostly silent job of psychoanalysis.


A strong sign of the primacy of “the social dimension” in Italy-or, if you prefer, of extroversion on introversion-is the success of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) and his Palo Alto (Calif.) school, whose theories have inspired most “family psychotherapy” in Italy, where they have enjoyed a popularity perhaps higher than in any other country. Credit for their success mostly goes to Mara Selvini Palazzoli (1916-1999), a family psychotherapist in Milan whose influence went far beyond Italy. The basic assumption of this approach is that the mentally ill individual does not exist, rather his whole family is ill; the person “designated” as neurotic, psychotic, anorexic, etc., is only a symptom of his “family system”, or in general of the group or institution he belongs to. Thus, the “relational-systemic” therapist cures the entire family through sessions where they often prescribe paradoxical behavior (these prescriptions are often taken from the techniques of Zen wisdom).

Bateson in Italy was elevated to the level of a first-rate philosophical star, while in his native Britain hardly anybody reads him any more,(7) and in the US few recall him, at least as a typical 1960’s author. But his success in Italy, as well as that of his follower Paul Watzlawick (who works in Palo Alto), can also be attributed to the fact that their thinking gives no place to the individual subject: everything is “system”, that is a continuous network of human communication. In fact, it is only with difficulty that Italians can conceive of themselves as solitary, private subjects. So many Italian psychologists, formed by Gramsci’s and Lukacs’ Marxism, or deeply influenced by Frankfurt School, found in this “ecology of mind” the kind of social, anti-intimistic psychotherapy they needed. The popularity in Italy of group-psychoanalysis, inspired by Bion’s and Foulkes’ experiences, should also be stressed.

The radical political commitment of the 1960s and 1970s had a great impact even on Italian psychoanalysis in that epoch. The most meaningful figure of those roaring years was Elvio Fachinelli (1928-1989)(8), a practicing analyst in Milan and member of the SPI (Italian Psychoanalytic Society), although he was in dissent with its bureaucratic politics. I recall him here with special emotion because he was both my friend and one of my teachers. First co-editor of one of the most influential Marxist journals of the 60s, “Quaderni Piacentini”, he later founded the journal “L’Erba voglio” and then a publishing house by the same name, where he published “alternative” and non-establishment books. A very good writer, in the wake of W. Benjamin and T.W. Adorno, he published a series of articles and papers of social critique from a psychoanalytic perspective which impressed the 1970s and 80s audience, especially the young. He wished to make the psychoanalyst step out from the narrow and muffled universe of the psychoanalytic office to participate in the overall change in mentality: hence his participation in radical experiments of alternative pedagogy, of the creation of self-formation and self-consciousness groups, of anti-psychiatry. Diffident towards any hierarchical and institutional sclerosis, he refused Lacan’s Proposal in 1973 to become president of the Italian equivalent of his Ecole Freudienne de Paris (Fachinelli was one of the first readers and promoters of Lacan’s writings in Italy): Fachinelli did not believe that an institution, even if inspired by dissident thought, could promote psychoanalysis as an instrument of both political and personal emancipation and liberation.


Italian analysts write very rarely in English, and few of them read it. However, analysts in every country generally tend to resist English as lingua franca: every analyst writes in the language in which he practices. This is not a marginal detail: the decline of psychoanalysis’ scientific prestige is bound to its refusal to merge with International Scientific English. A CNR (National Scientific Council) colleague of mine once told me: “Psychoanalysis cannot be a science; otherwise you analysts would write in today’s scientific tongue, English.” Psychoanalysis follows lines bound to each country’s specific language, history and traditions. A psychoanalytic Esperanto does not exist-“wherever you go, psychoanalysis you find”(9). Psychoanalysis’ history seems to indirectly support Lacan’s idea, according to which the unconscious is bound to each specific language. This is a sign of the fact that psychoanalysis today appears closer to literature, theatre and cinema than to science.

As a result, every linguistic area ends up developing not only its local psychoanalysis, but also producing its own particular image of psychoanalysis in toto. When I cross a European border, I feel as though I am entering another psychoanalytic world. If I go to Britain, for example, I will deal essentially with Kleinian analysts and with so-called object relation approaches (Winnicott, Bion), while American approaches (Ego and Self Psychologies) are in fact non-existent. If I go to a Germanic country, I will find there analysts whose link to American schools is very strong, for the simple reason that what we today call “American psychoanalysis” in fact is the heir of those German and Austrian analysts who emigrated to the US in the 1930s and 1940s, and even later: German, Austrian and American analysts feel part of the same psychoanalytic family. While in France, American schools, without exception, are outright rejected: here Lacanism flourishes, but also some autochthonous schools inspired by Klein, Rosenfeld and Winnicott.

I was trained both in France and in Italy. Beyond the huge cultural differences between these two countries (in fact very far from each other), we students in both countries from the start were trained on this basic assumption: “Anna Freud completely misunderstood her father’s thought, American psychoanalysis has degenerated and betrayed the psychoanalytic spirit, it has been completely subjected to the American way of life. The true psychoanalysis is European…” If I was in France, one usually continued to hear “…Sigmund Freud is the absolute Master and Lacan is His Prophet”; while in Italy it was “….Winnicott and Bion are The psychoanalysis” (in Italy Kleinism and post-Kleinism rule).


Psychoanalysis exploded in Italy in the 1970s, almost 30 years after its boom in the USA-which is why in the minds of many Italians it remains intimately bound to the radical and visionary epoch of leftist dissent (epoca della contestazione). Even today, it is mainly the leftist media that gives space to psychoanalysis, while the rightist culture seems to focus on Science, Rational Economy and thus cognitive sciences. Then, the 1980s here saw the decline of the Marxist left, with the simultaneous rise of conservative liberalismo(10) and a shrinking interest in psychoanalysis. It was a great moment for family psychotherapies, which we already mentioned.

Afterwards, in the 1990s, even family therapy slowly declined. Families with “designated patients” began to rebel against the assumption that they were responsible for all the psychic disorders of their “sick” members. Today, organic psychiatry (psychopharmacology, genetic etiology of mental disorders) and cognitive psychotherapies lead the field. Interest in the neurosciences is diffused among intellectuals. But what dominates the streets today is the conception of genetic determinism. Today, Italian newspapers promote the fact that scientists will shortly find the gene for any psychic and physical trouble: one is born autistic, hysteric, alcoholic, or unfaithful lover. This determinism carries with it a considerable secondary advantage: one can cease to feel guilty for the faults of one’s children, brothers, or sisters; “I am not to blame: the genome is.”

Nevertheless, the success of neurosciences, psychopharmacology and genetics has not diminished the number of persons seeing a psychotherapist, but rather the contrary. Of course, classical psychoanalysis-with its long duration and 20th-century austerity-is more and more challenged by other psychotherapeutic techniques which promise short-term benefits and less rigid rules. For example, fewer and fewer analysts find patients willing to have more than two sessions a week. But on the whole, in Italy the demand for a psychological cure-of spiritual counseling in a general sense-is on the increase. In Italian metropolises today-just as throughout the West-one can choose the type of psychotherapy one prefers or can afford. The psychotherapeutic market supply becomes ever larger and more varied, as in a big superstore. Thus the psychoanalyst can no longer exploit the power he enjoyed in the past owing to his rarity, or to his near monopoly on the “cure of the soul”: today it is the patient who dictates the rules, having become the rare commodity (imbalance between supply and demand). Moreover, psychology departments continue to churn out many psychologists, nearly all of whom try to become psychotherapists: the psycho-market is already saturated in Italy.

Psychoanalysis still enjoys a certain prestige among the “soul cure shops”, not only because, being longer and more expensive, it is accessible to a wealthier and hence more prestigious clientele, but also because it is the least prescriptive therapy: psychoanalysis frees the analyzand (a term which some prefer to the old-fashioned patient, which stinks of medicine and hospitals) to tell what s/he wants, and banishes any advice or prescriptions from the therapist. Only those deeply imbued with the values of subjective autonomy can fully appreciate the exquisitely liberal psychoanalytic approach. The farther one steps down the socio-cultural ladder, the more one finds the need for an ever more active healer, rather than the too passive, relaxed, and hence useless, figure of the analyst. The less a therapy costs, the more the therapist is prescriptive, talkative and interventionist.


To understand the state of the art of analysis in Italy, we must refer to the international framework. The first psychoanalytic generation (approximately 1900-1938) basically spoke German-Vienna, Berlin, Zurich were the capitals of the New Science. The second generation (roughly from WW2 until the mid-1960s) was mostly Anglophonic: the hegemony of London and New York-albeit mutually alternative and incompatible-was unchallenged. The third generation (until the beginning of 1990s) marked a latinization of psychoanalysis: Paris, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and even swinging Milan, the capital of fashion and design, became the capitals of psychoanalysis (this generation adored the French Lacan and Derrida, Bion in his Brazilian version and the Chicagoan Kohut). It is still difficult to envision the fourth generation.

Over the last years, in the West in general and in Italy in particular, the figures of both the psychoanalyst and psychotherapist are changing. Today the psychoanalyst is less and less an MD and more and more a psychologist or social worker, and more and more a woman than a man(11), a “maternal” rather than “paternal” figure. She provides more and more spiritual-affective support than therapeutic technique, more and more holding and care, and less and less treatment and cure. Furthermore, the therapist is less and less linked to a precise School or Association: s/he follows a very personalized training and practices more and more in an eclectic and flexible way, a free-lancer not bound to strong institutions. This de-medicalization, social-workerization, feminization and de-institutionalization of analysis-if you forgive me these terrible neologisms-have accompanied the hermeneutical trend in Italy.

The hermeneutic or “narratological” re-interpretation of analysis rejects what Habermas called the “scientistic self-misunderstanding” of psychoanalysis: it brings it back to an existential activity of Bildung (formation) in the tracks of the German Romantic tradition. This trend has become influential even among psychoanalysts, who adopt a hermeneutic, and mildly Heideggerian, slang to describe their practice. Psychoanalysts currently no longer interpret dreams, rather they now interpret “texts of dreams;” they no longer interpret slips of the tongue, but rather “slips of the text.” Or rather, they no longer interpret, they just construct or, rather, deconstruct… Others no longer reconstruct childhood fantasies, but prefer “to situate themselves in the hic et nunc, here and now”. Analysis is just a recounted story, no truer than other possible stories-only a happier story. Some don’t even call it psychoanalysis but “conversationalism”: analysis is a specific conversation technique. The rough Freudian language is largely dismissed by these post-Freudian psychoanalysts (even in Italy, the prefix “post” is generously attributed): the new keywords are rapport, comprehension, being-with, communication, relationship, intersubjectivity, dialogue, vissuti or Erlebnis, conversation, desire, text, pietas. In this way, psychoanalysis tends to come back to the bed of humanistic consolationes, and perhaps might qualify as an activity worthy of protection by the Minister of Cultural Affairs, like archaeological sites or folk dances and costumes.

Psychoanalysis, a discipline always perched on the borderline between “scientific” and “humanistic” culture-which C.P. Snow opposed in a famous lecture(12)-is now shifting straight toward the humanistic, cultural side. But this would then mean the failure of Freud’s project, who thought of psychoanalysis both as science and art, psychotherapy and creative reinterpretation, empirical practice and subjective metanoia (conversion).

In truth, there are other analysts who don’t give up the ideal of scientific respectability, which is why they publish quite dry and concise articles in Standard Scientific English in the official journals (of course almost all in English), where they monkey the impersonal writing style typical of the international scientific community. These respectful analysts seem attracted especially by a transplant of the “attachment theory” (Bowlby) to psychoanalysis and by a practice more based on empirical evidence and scientific protocols. This approach to analysis as a “cure” however betrays the real vocation of analytic “care”, which remains soaked in local tongues and mentalities, as we have already said. This-often more stylistic than substantial-pretension of being scientific derives from the analyst’s mistaken idea that he is the equivalent of what the economist or the sociologist are for society: someone elaborating objective theories on human beings.

But in fact the analyst is rather analogous to a politician, for example, that is someone practical: the politician is successful not when he holds the true economic or sociologic theory (even if one hopes he knows something about economy and sociology), but when he is able to establish the right transference with his people. When Freud said that analyzing is an impossible activity-as education and governance were for him(13)-he probably meant just that: the good analyst is not one who possesses a proved theory of the mind, but above all someone who is endowed (in analogy with jurisprudence) with psychoprudence. A good analyst, even if she writes in English, is not one who first knows: she is one who knows how to do. Of course, like any politician, even the analyst is constantly exposed to the temptation of demagogy: to manipulate others by telling them just what they wish to hear.


Two contemporary events in 1988-89-one in Italy and another in the US-were eloquent signs of change. In Italy, the Ossicini Law was passed, allowing even psychology graduates the right to adopt the title of psychotherapist (which had heretofore been reserved, at least formally, to psychiatric doctors). In fact, this law sanctioned the increasing de-medicalization of psychotherapeutic activity-thus furnishing an institutional support to the hermeneutical vogue. At the same time, an American court forced the American Psychoanalytic Association to allow even non-MDs to be trained and recognized as psychoanalysts (the APA had always accepted only MDs). This new legislation in the US and Italy acknowledged the fact that psychiatrists were increasingly abandoning the analytic practice.

Today the typical Italian psychiatrist is formed by the DSM (the Anglo-American diagnostic manual for globalized psychiatrists), prescribes pharmaceuticals, and leaves psychotherapy to psychologists and other socio-psycho-pedagogic figures. The long psychoanalytic dream to acquire real respectability-by being accepted as a legitimate member in the exclusive club of Medical Science-is revealing itself to be only that, a dream. Today the analyst rather seems to say, like Groucho Marx, “I will never accept to become a member of a [scientific] club until it accepts me as one of its members!”
This mutation in the analysts’ social identity was paralleled by a mutation of the typical client. Today, the only ones who devotedly undertake a classical analysis-four to five 50-minute sessions a week for many years-are trainees, who are forced to follow the standards in order to be recognized as “good disciples”. Analysis becomes ever more a form of intermittent and discontinuous support for subjects who demand quick and concrete results, or who need help in “critical moments” of their lives. Of course, older analysts are nostalgic for the good old times when their numbers were few-and say that now barbarians triumph. But this is all a by-product of a change in subjectivity in the West. The kind of transference on which 20th-century psychoanalysis was constituted-based on the illusion of the analyst as a “subject supposed to know”, as Lacan said-works less and less. The analyst has lost his original endowment of authority, and more and more has to conquer the analyzand’s consent in the field, in a flexible and not-guaranteed context. Analysts say that “today patients are better read, more disenchanted, and hence more defensive toward psychoanalysis.” They are “more defensive” because they believe less in the power of speech. The critique of the authoritarianism of this supposed knowledge, which psychoanalysis itself ironically contributed towards spreading into the Western lifestyle, at a certain point in part turned against the very authority of psychoanalysis itself. Today, the transferal illusion and classical “correct” interpretations are less persuasive. The analyst today has to invent new forms of ties which can make 21st-century subjects permeable to the force of speech.


In the 1970s, Lacan’s influence was very strong in Italy, although it lessened in great part. One of the reasons for this decline was the case of Verdiglione.

In the 1970s and 1980s Armando Verdiglione, who was analyzed by Lacan, created a cultural and entrepreneurial empire in Milan, the capital of Italian business. He launched an intensive series of multi-cultural activities which impressed Italy, at that time still a little bit provincial: huge international conferences around the world (including Tokyo and New York), expensive journals and magazines, a very active publishing house, and a self-promoting cultural foundation. This psychoanalytic yuppie promoted Lacanian psychoanalysis, anti-Marxist (especially anti-Communist Party) propaganda-at that epoch Italian culture was magnetized above all by the Communist party, dissolved later in 1989-and a special bond with the Parisian cultural scene (especially with post-structuralism and nouveaux philosophes). His irresistible escalation ended in 1986, when Verdiglione was arrested, tried and sentenced to jail for having taken advantage of some of his analyzands and followers who had given him huge amounts of money. That trial gave rise in Italy to many controversies. But Verdiglione was considered, rightly or wrongly, the paradigm of the “bad analyst” who cheated his own patients by dragging them into megalomaniac enterprises, and who was involved with corrupt politicians (it was rumored that he had analyzed the then Italian prime minister Bettino Craxi, later convicted for corruption and who died in exile). But Verdiglione basically failed for another reason: he was unable-but not many Italians did better than he-to translate Parisian culture, French Thought as it is called in the US, for an Italian audience. If you sell a new electronic gadget without being able to translate the instructions into the local language, you will soon be suspected of being a charlatan. Verdiglione tried to sell the “Lacan gadget” without any explanatory translation.

We mentioned that to implant itself in a country, psychoanalysis must be “translated” according to the linguistic and cultural lines prevailing in this country. Lacan’s-and other analysts’-genius was to adapt Freud’s thought, conceived in a Jewish and Viennese context dominated by positivism, to a more Hegelian French culture and sensibility. Even the masters of US analytic schools, most of them Jews of German mother-tongue-from Kris and Reik to Kohut, from Hartmann, Loewenstein and Bettelheim to Kernberg-were able to make their discipline compatible with the American Way of Thinking. The same argument is valid for other countries. Verdiglione, but also Italian analysts in general, have up until now been unsuccessful (with some few important exceptions) in “Italianizing” psychoanalysis, in making it enter into the blood and bones of the Italian way of thinking.

In short, the 1970s was a lost opportunity for Lacanians in Italy to build a real competitive alternative either to the SPI or to Jungians(14). In fact, Lacanism in Italy had a weaker impact than in almost all other Catholic countries speaking a Romance language-even weaker than in Brazil, I believe.

Yet, beyond Verdiglione’s case, it is interesting to note that Lacanians are the best popularizers of psychoanalysis for non-specialists, and some become media stars. In France, Françoise Dolto (1908-1988), a close friend of Lacan, became famous thanks to a series of radio programs on childhood and to a series of successful books; today in France the Argentinean Juan-David Nasio, a disciple of Lacan, seems to have taken this place of divulgator. In Anglophonic countries, Lacanian philosophers like Slavoj Zizek or Judith Butler became real intellectual stars.

One wonders why Lacan’s sophisticated and hermetic theory turned out to be surprisingly suited-like Jungian analysis-to popularization. In fact, a certain relative media success amongst Lacanians is only one aspect of Lacanian success among philosophers, writers, cultured journalists and academics in the humanities, while in the US, the UK and even Italy, this Lacanian impact is much weaker among established psychoanalysts and doctors. Even in Italy, the split between analytic practice (today dispersed among a myriad of small and larger schools) and “cultural psychoanalysis”, where French post-structuralism prevails, seems to deepen. But perhaps this was the destiny of psychoanalysis itself. Already in 1923, Marco Levi-Bianchini (1875-1961), one of Freud’s earliest supporters in Italy, told his fellow Italian psychiatrists (who were-as today-very suspicious of psychoanalysis) that “psychoanalysis, thrown out the front door (psychiatry, neurology) will come through the back door (psychology, education and philosophy)”(15). This warning, with some change (art and feminism in place of psychology and education), holds even today: today Lacanism, ejected from established psychoanalysis, can return through the back door of Gender Studies, Gay Studies, Cultural Studies, etc. It is even possible that Lacanism could return to Italy not through France (French culture today is not very prestigious in Italy) but through America!


L. A. Armando, Storia della psicoanalisi in Italia dal 1971 al 1996 (Rome: Nuove Edizioni Romane, 1989).

S. Benvenuto, “A Glimpse at Psychoanalysis in Italy”, Journal of European Psychoanalysis, 5, 1997, pp. 33-50.

S. Benvenuto, “La ‘gioia eccessiva’ di Elvio Fachinelli” in Elvio Fachinelli, Intorno al ’68. Un’antologia di testi, a cura di Marco Conci & Francesco Marchioro (Rome: Massari Editore, 1998) pp. 249-278.

C. Caligaris, “Petite histoire de la psychanalyse en Italie”, Critique, 333, février 1975, pp. 175-195.

R. Canestrari & P. Ricci Bitti, eds, Freud e la ricerca psicologica (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1993).

G. Carloni, “La psicoanalisi nella cultura italiana” in R. Canestrari & P. Ricci Bitti (1993), pp. 53-77.

A. Carotenuto, Jung e la cultura italiana (Rome: Astrolabio, 1977).

M. Conci, “Psychoanalysis in Italy: a Reappraisal”, Int. Forum of Psychoanalysis, 3, 1994, pp. 117-126.

M. David, La psicoanalisi nella cultura italiana (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1990).

M. David, “La psychanalyse en Italie”, in R. Jaccard (1982), vol. 2.

R. Jaccard, Histoire de la psychanalyse (Paris: Hachette, 1982).

C. Musatti, “La psicoanalisi nella cultura italiana”, Rivista di Psicoanalisi, 1976, 22, pp. 154-161.

C. Musatti, Mia sorella gemella la psicoanalisi (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1982).

J. Nobécourt, “Freud et le ‘Triskeles'”, Critique, 435-6, août-septembre 1983.

J. Nobécourt, “La transmission de la psychanalyse freudienne en Italie via Trieste”, Critique, 435-6, août-septembre 1983, pp. 623-627.

A. Novelletto, G.E. Viola, F. Rovigatti, eds, Italy in Psychoanalysis (Rome: Treccani, 1989).

A. Novelletto, “Italy” in P. Kutter, ed., Psychoanalysis International. Guide to Psychoanalysis throughout the World (Stuttgart: Fromann-Holzbog, 1992).

A. Novelletto, “Freud in Italia” in R. Canestrari & P. Ricci Bitti (1993), pp. 79-85.

M. Ranchetti, “Les Oeuvre complètes et l’édition des Opere di Sigmund Freud”, Revue Internationale d’histoire de la psychanalyse, 4, 1991, pp. 331-355.

P. Roazen, Edoardo Weiss. The House that Freud Built (New Brunswick-London: Transactions Publ., 2004).

E. Roudinesco, M. Plon, Dictionnaire de la psychanalyse (Paris: Fayard, 1997), especially entries F. Basaglia (p. 92), V. Benussi (p. 103), E. Fachinelli (p. 281), F. Fornari (p. 316), E. Gaddini (p. 371), Italie (p. 524), M. Levi-Bianchini (p. 621), I. Matte-Blanco (p. 658), M. Montesori (p. 692), C. Musatti (p. 701), N. Perrotti (p. 788), E. Servadio (p. 969), E. Weiss (p. 1089).

E. Servadio, “La psicoanalisi in Italia. Cenno storico”, Rivista di psicoanalisi, 11, 1965.

G. Voghera, Gli anni della psicoanalisi (Pordenone: Edizioni Studio Tesi, 1980)


1) I. Matte Blanco, Unconscious as Infinite Set. Essay on Bi- logic (London: Duckworth, 1973).

2) E. Weiss, Elementi di psicoanalisi (Pordenone: Edizioni Studio Tesi, 1995); E. Weiss, ed., Ego Psychology and the Psychoses (New York: Basic Books, 1952); Agoraphobia in the Light of Ego Psychology (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1964); Sigmund Freud as a Consultant (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publ., 1991).

3) E. Gaddini, A Psychoanalytic Theory of Infantile Experience, A. Limentani, ed. (London, New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1992.)

4) Even if all the founders, in 1932, of the first Italian Psychoanalytic Society were Jews, except Nicola Perrotti (1897-1970). Among the founders we find Weiss, Cesare Musatti (1897-1989), Marco Levi Bianchini, Emilio Servadio (1904-1995).

5) Today instead of the psychiatric hospitals we have “family-homes”: few patients (often not more than five) live in private apartments, where they are followed by clinical social workers and psychiatrists.

6) In the Italian Parliament and in the Italian delegation at the Strasburg’s European Congress we count a large number of philosophers. Professors in philosophy have been mayors of important cities (like Massimo Cacciari in Venice), ministers, leaders of important political parties (like the super-catholic Rocco Buttiglione), and a professor of philosophy-Marcello Pera-is the president of the Italian Senate (the “second citizen” of the country after the president of the Republic). This political professionalization of the Italian philosophers, both on the left and the right, is very different from the commitment of the typical Parisian intellectual, for example: this one often intervenes actively in some important political issues, but he keeps far himself from the electoral game and from the parties’ life.

7) Among psychoanalysts who have mostly worked on the intersection between psychoanalysis and social issues, I recall Sandro Gindro (1935-2002) in Rome – founder of the movement “Psicoanalisi Contro” – and Enzo Morpurgo (1920-2002) in Milan.

8) E. Fachinelli, L’Ecole de l’impossible (Paris: Mercure de France, 1972); Il bambino dalle uova d’oro (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1974); Claustrofilia (Milan : Adelphi, 1983) ; La mente estatica (Milan : Adelphi, 1989).

9) Paraphrase of an Italian saying: “paese che vai, costumi che trovi” (“wherever you go, customs you find”).

10) In Italy, instead than in US, “liberalism” has a conservative connotation. Of course in Italy we have also a strong “liberal left” culture (or lib-lab).

11) Lacan said that “women are better analysts than men, because they know better how odd the human being is”. Probably this feminization has pushed psychoanalysis to focus more and more on primitive, “fusional” and “symbiotic” relationships between the mother and her child. Moreover, in these latest years, above all in Anglo-American countries, feminism has withdrawn from political streets to invest especially serene campuses: here it has achieved a symbiosis with psychoanalysis. In America feminist scholars have created a new kind of academic psychoanalysis, just when this latest was expulsed from faculties of Medicine and even of Psychology (in these latest ones cognitive sciences tend to prevail). Then, today especially professors of Women Studies, History and Cultural Studies are who assure the transmission of the fundamentals of psychoanalysis to the new generations.

12) C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Canto)(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964).

13) S. Freud (1937) “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”, SE, 23, p. 148.

14) Jungians-split in two schools, AIPA and CIPA-are very influential in Italy, especially for their capacity at popularization.

15) M. Levi-Bianchini, “Difesa della psicoanalisi”, Arch. Gen. Neurol. Psichiat., 5, p. 13, 1923-24.

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis