The Psychoanalytical “Field” of Interpretation

The term psychoanalysis on the formal level denotes the analyst-analysand relationship as the space of the analytical process, and in particular the operating method of the analytical couple: to analyze the psychic event of the couple, following specific procedures. This couple is both the factor and actor of the analytical action.

On the mental level, it defines the transformative processes of the analyst-analysand relationship psychomental movements, stimulated by the analytical discourse and the unconscious involvement of the two components of the relationship, affect structural passages from undifferentiated to differentiated levels of the representation of the Self and of communication with the other.

I shall call the mental subject of psychoanalysis the analytical field, i.e. the world of representations including the individual genesis, the personal history and the relational network of the two components of the analytical couple. The mind of each of these two is conceived as a field and sets of representations: their encounter tends to amalgamate the two fields and to produce a new, diversified, but integrated field of analysis and transformation.

It is analogous to the concept of field as an extensive and circumscribed territory, in which many zones or divisions can be identified: gardens, sown ground, woodlands, pasture, meadows, streams, and so on. The unifying element of this area is constituted by two factors: in the first place, by the same type of terrain; in the second, by the “property owner’s” utilization of the objects of the field for pre-established purposes. One could say that the various events and objects developing in the area give form in multiple and varied ways to the vital potential of the land, which is both lymph and root.

Thus, in the circumscribed area of the individual subject, various zones or divisions are active and present. They pertain to linguistic-cultural relationships, to kinships in both ascending and descending lines, to climatic and geographic environment, to social, political, national, and religious affinity, to the history of one’s city, country and region of origin, to one’s health history, and so on. The element unifying these various internal objects is made up of that principal nucleus of the subjective structure which can be defined as protorepresentation of the body as expression of that primary mental representation of the Self. We could say that the representational whole of the various relational networks is kept connected by the protorepresentation of the self and from it acquires sense and force.

This protorepresentation of the Self could be conceived of as the specific quality of the fertilized human ovum which is the product/result of the combined efforts of two organisms and two minds, which thus orginates from a mental-physiological bouillon in which it hovers as a physiological and mental entity. One might postulate that there subsists, from the outset, a structure-memory, this is the first mental-spatial nucleus, where the first and last relationships evolve, and where they come to be placed a basic container of sorts (in the sense of Bion), an organizer of all the psychic, mental and bodily operations of the apparatus (alpha function). The field would not then be only a reticulum of relational representations, but would at once be the unicum, proprium, seipsi identicum of that specific subject distinguishable and possibly found again in all relationships.

In the mental field that is, in the unconscious representatiosn of the self the individual is thus never alone, but accompanied, as it were, by the geographic, cultural and historical territory of his existence and all those vertical and horizontal vectors which have determined and continue to determine his becoming and his growth in life; the analytical dialogue and analytical transformations are, in mental reality, field events. They express the confluence, at a repesentational level, of the respective stories and relational networks of the two components of the couple.
In this view, the interpreting subject and the interpreted object is always the analytical field.

The use of the concept of field, in practice and in theory, makes possible the concept and definition of the individual subject as the focal point of complex relational networks. Understood thus, the concept of subject includes the psychophysical person in all his historical, cultural and geographic context. In it, present and functioning in the form of single representations and of a network of representations, are all the objects events and persons which are significant in the interior of his genesis and his history. They are objects invested with sense and libido which, in a diversified way, are represented systematically if temporaneously at many levels or at the same level, or as distinct from the self, or as parts of the self, or in the end, as coinciding with the self. That is, they are totally identical to the self and indistinguishable from it. But also present in the individual field are objects not yet invested with sense and libido and which perhaps cannot be invested the beta elements of Bion, or the real of Lacan, or the representations of things of Freud. They are what I would call transient objects, in the expectation of being transformed into representations of words, but which have not yet found their adequate mental placement, or their specific sense which would render them functional to thought and life. They can be disturbing elements and have pathologically psychotic effects; they represent a kind of internal persecutor figure which, projected onto the analyst in connivance with the internal persecutor of the analyst, opens the way to the formation of a persecutory relationship. In any case, they constitute in themselves a material in reserve, which the mind can elaborate and utilize for living.

The use of the concept of field thus has the advantage, for the operator and the theoretician, of rendering accessible and comprehensible to cognition and to treatment both protomental events and the contents and structures coincident to the analytical relationship. In the same way as what occurs between mother and new-born infant at certain, deeper levels, the analyst would in the mental representation of the analysand not seem extraneous, distinct or different, and in the analysand’s mental representation the analyst is not extraneous, distinct or different from himself. There is not just the representation of reciprocal belonging, but also that of “being identical”. This coincidence is the basis of those drives and dynamic events, such as projectional and introjectional identification through sensorial perception on the corporeal plane, as well as transference and counter-transference identification, and is the basis of the concept of the mind as a field of relationships. The concept of field thus makes possible the identification and understanding of this vast range of psychomental events oneiric, preverbal, verbal and abstract connected not only with differences but, and above all, with the identical and all that which pertains to the absence of separation-distinction.

The analytical field must not be understood epistemologically as something given, beyond the analytical discourse: it is revealed and is constructed as knowledge on the basis of the spoken word through the dialectic of question and answer, and has its natural outlet in understanding. Lacan retook and theorized on the function of language within the analytical relationship. The analytical field is created according to Lacan the moment the analyst’s speech succeeds in evoking and giving new life to the missing subjectivity or wound of the analysand. This occurs when he, before the analysand, succeeds in “recognizing that which he had renounced agreeing to recognize”, that is, to decipher the repressed and hidden significant references of the symptom-symbols, to help the subject recover the sense of the Self, his own imaginary and his own symbolic subjectivity, beyond the objectivizations which today’s science and formalistic culture have proposed and imposed on the mind” (1).

The concept of the analytical field renders comprehensible and acceptable Lacan’s affirmation that the unconscious is structured like language; that is, like a body of correlated elements. In relation to the unconscious, the speech functions as operator of the representations, and thus mediates the encounter, the confrontation and the integration of the mental objects in the analytical field. Through the spoken words heard and given back the two individual fields open the way to that confluence which will lead to the creation of the analytical field. When two persons meet and begin a relationship made up of words, their reciprocal fields, along with their articulation-representations, converge to form a single, diversified and complex territory, which over time will tend to become integrated and transformed. The analytical field is thus a terminal event which combines and amalgamates the individual fields brought together by the language of the two individual analytical subjects and by their convening in thought and in affect. The process is similar to that of a large lake, formed by the confluence of two rivers, each bringing its own tributaries.

By fields we thus intend a network of relationships; that is, representations and symbols. One could speak virtually of a symbolic field, which would embrace the entire chain of symbols (or pre-symbols, para-symbols and acting-outs) generated, in the individual subject, by an experience, an emotion, or a representation. As in a dream, each single element acquires, in the analytical discourse and through the play of free associations and movements of affects, the dignity of a symbol. However, combined first with one element and then with another, the initial sense is modified and enriched by new subtleties, defining it progressively more clearly in one semantic direction. Or, as in cartomancy, where the sense of every card-symbol is extended and its original sense specified through proximities and combination, so the mind through the work of thought constructs from an initial symbolic nucleus a series of concatenations and amplifications which eventually form a network or framework of symbolic representations, all having either a common semantic denominator or sharing a related sense. One thinks of the representational network of kinship, that is, sexuality as generating the continuation of the species in the temporal division of beginning, evolution and end, and thus of the changing of forms in the immutability of the vital substance.

In turn, the representation of horizontal relationships does not contain only personal relationships with siblings, cousins and by transference friends, but also contains the concept of space in the human and thus physical and social territory as well. In the kinship system, therefore, at the level of mental representation, are rooted the concepts of time and of space and the concept of a creative social and historic Self.

That which occurs on the individual plane occurs on the dual, triadic and group level: the setting becomes the linguistic mental space where the reciprocal symbolic fields with their respective divisions gradually and item by item meet, often coinciding, to then be transformed, integrated or exclude each other reciprocally. The convergence of the two individual symbolic fields thus introduces a process of amalgamation which moves towards the formation of that single field, which we call the analytical field, and which we now invest with the attributes of symbolic. In this symbolic analytical field, thought, the representations of one’s self and the world, the representations of relationships which are different than those which each contains in his own camp, can arise. Virtually new representations can emerge in the service of life and creativity.

A transformation has occurred. Does this mean that an alteration has also occurred? Alteration (I prefer this term with its Latin origin to the less precise change, the philological origin of which is more uncertain) does not consist of the emergence of thoughts and representations, but in the quality that is, in their contents. Transformation means in itself only movement of forms; alteration or transformation occurs if the new mental forms of the analytical field satisfy in a more appropriate way the needs of life and desire, both on the emotional-affective and the conceptual-abstract plane. Relations and relationships are in this case more suited to the process of thought and the creativity of love.

Freud did not use the concept of analytical field in the specific sense which we do today. However, we could say that he identified the original psychomental state from which the structure of the psychomental apparatus of the field derives, and which would justify the introduction into the psychoanalytical sphere of the concept of field. In paragraph 11 of Chapter 1 of Project of a Scientific Psychology (1895) (2), Freud states the following:

The filling of the nuclear neurones in phi will have as its result an effort to discharge, an urgency which is released along the motor pathway. Experience shows that here the first path to be taken is that leading to internal change (expression of the emotions, screaming, vascular innervation). But, as was explained at the beginning [p. 297], no such discharge can produce an unburdening result, since the endogenous stimulus continues to be received and the phi tension is restored. The removal of the stimulus is only made possible here by an intervention which for the time being gets rid of the release of Qn in the interior of the body; and this intervention calls for an alteration in the external world (supply of nourishment, proximity of the sexual object) which, as a specific action, can only be brought about in definite ways. At first, the human organism is incapable of bringing about the specific action. It takes place by extraneous help, when the attention of an experienced person is drawn to the child’s state by discharge along the path of internal change. In this way this path of discharge acquires a secondary function of the highest importance, that of communication, and the initial helplessness of human beings is the primal source of all moral motives. [Cf. p. 366]


This text contains some fundamental aspects of Freud’s thought.

The mature individual/child relationship is essential and structural to the cathexis/discharge and stimulus/need dynamics which guide the vital and evolutive processes. Freud would seem inclined to think and experience would lead us to postulate that the mother-child relationship on initial impact is already a mental-symbolic relationship. The child actually has a relationship with the mental representation of the mother as individual capable of specific actions in response to his signals, a representation which the child forms upon the first encounter with the real mother, with all its charge of sense and functions. The real mother, and with her every person in life with whom the child will have to deal, becomes a symbol of that original mental representation on which the child first and the adult later invests all of himself. Thus is formed that dynamic which will inevitably characterize mental processes such as seeking, finding, and investing the symbol with libido. This is an affective reality to be continually discovered, nourished and increased, while referring it ever progressively to that original mental representation which is the fundamental reference of this symbol.

Understanding, stimulated by the discharging of internal tensions of the child, is unleashed by the satisfaction of the need. This makes possible the correspondence of the adult to the mental representation which the child has created, and therefore unleashes a specific action in the sphere of the adult/child relationship such structures, in the psychomental apparatus of the entire life span, increase the capacity for relations and relationships with the other.

Ultimately, impotence the impossibility of satisfying by himself his own vital needs through discharge is the primogenial and perennial condition which induces the human psychomental apparatus to seek understanding, and thus to weave together all those relationships with the outside world, the moral value of which consists of overcoming mental impotence in the structuring of a functional relationship between signifier and signified, in expanding the vital processes and in maintianing dynamic equilibriums. The relationship network, to which the individual opens, through the effort to overcome his own impotence, can be called fields of functions and reticular structures tending to stimulate, improve and conserve life in the complexity of its forms and its balances.

Summing up, we might say that the individual field of relationships and divisions constituting the individual subject derives from an event structured by four fundamental primary experiences: the experience of impotence, the action of appeal, the experience of the other’s response, the experience of belonging and of satisfaction. Freud comes back to this theme in his works touching on the social; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), for example. In the introduction, he states:

In the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponent; and so from the way first individual psychology, in this extended but entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social psychology as well (3).

Although theoretical and formal development in Freud tends to go in the direction of the individual subjective sphere, texts such as the above cited not to mention successive works on the interpretation of dreams, on technique, on culture, religion and phylogenesis lead us to observe that in Freud the individual subject, along with his particular psychology, is always seen and considered within the broader framework of relationships or better still in relational fields which from the time of his existential primordium shape and characterize him. However, it was Melanie Klein who eventually turned to specific accounts and studied the mother/child relationship in more depth. Winnicott would provide further contributions on the subject.

The concept of field seems more than ever opportune in the formulation of a general theory of the mind, since among other things it functions as a bridge between individual and collective psychology and can aid us in better understanding mass cultural and historical events without severing them from their roots of individual and primary relationships.

The determinant therapeutic factor is provided by the transformations produced in the analytical field. The attention of the psychoanalyst must then be concentrated on this, which is achieved through the observation and comprehension of dreams, of free associations, moods, states of mind, fantasies and the comportment of the analyst and the analysand. However, the analysis of the field begins with ascertaining as to whether, and to what degree, the analysand carries into the therapeutic relationship a representation of the self as impotent (a cry for help directed at the analyst), a representation of the analyst as one willing and able to help him, a possibility of an understanding with the analyst and of satisfaction as regards his work. In the same way, the analyst in his being with the analysand must gradually verify whether or not, and if so to what extent, he possesses the mental representation of himself as willing and able to understand and satisfy the analysand’s request for help, of being capable of overcoming his own impotence before the pathology or the single aspects of the analysand’s personality, and to succeed in being with him with a certain measure of satisfaction. In short, it is a matter of focalizing the limits of the individual field.

Bion (4) advises us to suspend memory and desire during the session. What is it that produces this suspension in the analyst at work if not a stronger impact of and a closer contact with his own emotions, fantasies, thoughts and conscious and unconscious desires in relation to the analysand? This suspension makes possible the formation of the relational field between the two components of the analytical couple. Thus, it is to be considered the first act in the process leading to the formation of the analytical field. Because it is not a question of an abstract unconscious, but of an unconscious which mirrors the analysand, interacts with him and finds itself once more in him just as, at that specific moment, the unconscious of the analysand both mirrors that of the analyst and becomes impressed on it.

Winnicott (5) studied the primary mother/child relationship in its function as reciprocal mirror, insisting on its structural role in the process of the formation of the Self. He developed a collaborative model of the psychoanalytical treatment: the analytical relationship once more takes up, the primary relationship at that point at wh it stopped, ichcarrying it then to its completion. As the good mother is not separate from the child, and her Self includes him, and the child is not separate from the mother and his own Self includes her, so it also occurs in analysis that a relational identity is formed in which the one includes the other. This means that, through the processes of introjection and reciprocal identification, the unconscious world of both converge in an undifferentiated Self, which gradually self-differentiates, leading to what we call mental health.

One of my analysands an ascetic and obsessive personality, completely devoted to humanitarian causes, to the point of sacrificing her own affective life, all the while sheltering in her home a colony of cats and three dogs, all taken in off the streets came one day to her session, during the fourth year of treatment, sporting a new hair style, which made her considerably more attractive and interesting. Her hair, which up until then had hung long onto her shoulders, had been cut to form a pleasant frame for her face. She proceeded to tell me that she no longer desired to continue her relationship with her companion a relationship which had begun a few months previously, after years of sexual abstinence. He only came around when he felt the need, she told me, and had not made any commitment to her. She further complained that she practically never remembered her dreams and suspected that her analysis had reached an impasse. I was extremely surprised by her new, well-coifed appearance and the pleasant image she projected of herself, and in the attempt to understand, I was reminded of a personal situation of my own. After a serious illness, which had kept me blocked for nearly two years, I was just beginning to experience the drive for love and relationship. Had there been some connection between my illness and her resuming the experience of relationship? Between my recovery of desire and her making herself available for an affective life project through improved personal care?

The six months’ suspension in the treatment of my illness was the subject of a deep analysis on the part of this analysand who was a psychologist and psychotherapist to the point of placing in question the validity of our therapeutic relationship. She had begun to suspect that my illness had been caused by her projection on me of her hatred toward her mother, an unaffectionate, insecure woman, but one above all anguished to the extent of being totally incapable of satisfying the most basic needs of her own family. The analysand had arrived at the point of thinking that her habitual silences during our sessions, her lack of dreams and free associations had had the purpose of protecting her from the analyst/mother, about whom she was unsure if he was similar to her mother or attentive and provident. These communications brought my attention back to my relationship with my own mother, who had been the object of a painful self-analysis during my stay in hospital. I realized that, from birth, I had never abandoned myself to my mother not because she was not solicitous or generous, but because I had intuited, strengthened by representations of the archaic relational networks of my mental field, the high level of anxiety which accompanied her from the time when, as a very small child, she had lost her parents and been wrenched from her affective matrix and original ecological niche. Although each in different ways, my analysand and I had both been deprived of that sense of belonging and primary filial identity which constitutes the basic nucleus of the representations of the self and the affective and drive identity. Our individual fields seemed to coincide on this point.

I scrutinized this circumstance in fact, I believe that in the theoretical view of the analytical field, the analyst must inevitably read his own experiences in the light of the experiences of the emerging imaginary of the analysand and to presume that certain mental representations of the primary relationship in the analysand stimulate the emergence of his own similar unconscious representations. These mirrorings of the one by the other can, over time, constitute the stimulus of transformations of the field which derive from the complex game of projection/introjection: that is, from the integration of the coinciding representations. My self-analysis had the effect, due to an unconscious process of adhesive identification, of provoking in M. a series of free associations, introspection and reflections, which considerably animated the analytical discourse. She began by saying, without any coaching on my part, that perhaps I could also have had the same problem, that perhaps I too had suffered because of an anxious mother, as she had. She insinuated that perhaps I was not in a condition to help her. Her words led me to believe that, in my being with her, I had coincided with her sense of not belonging, that precisely due to my coincidence (6), she had been able to recognize her frustrated desire. I responded that she seemed to want to attribute her own destiny to me, as if I also had experienced the same feeling of not belonging. I added that, having succeeded in exposing in a clear discourse the terms of the distance we had covered together during the analysis, this constituted the help which in that space of time I had been able to give her. I said to her that her intuition that we both possessed the same mental representation of not belonging now made it possible providing we each accepted our own archaic image of our selves, which rendered us identical for me to belong to her, and her to me. M. recognized the fact that her relationship with me was completely different from that with her former analyst who had repeatedly told her that she was made and rebellious.

I insisted that I feared her destructiveness towards me, as she considered herself responsible for my physical collapse and the mortal danger with which her unconscious hatred had brough me into contact. She admitted having thought the same of me. I had in fact interpreted the illness as the last in a series of systematic attacks launched by my self-hatred and self-destructiveness, as I unconsciously considered myself guilty of not having entrusted myself to my mother and so had prevented her from the very beginning from being a mother to me. The patient’s hatred and my own had converged to produce a potentially mortal illness.

It was not difficult for me to speak to this person with a considerable degree of openness and, perhaps, also confidence. We shared a language and a mental-cultural, psychological-psychotherapeutic standpoint an element of affinity which, I believe, made our respective individual fields potentially convergent.

Successively, the analysand continued to bring to me her rare dreams. Her way of experiencing our encounters however had changed. Her persecutory fears in relation to myself, her sense of alienation in feeling incapable of collaborating in the session, had diminished considerably, and in their place was a serene and trusting expectation. I should insert into this new emotive context the episode described at the beginning.

The altered image of her self, of a monadic, autarchic type, all of which was projected onto the exterior in philanthropic actions which left no space for the satisfaction of her own needs or for personal affective relations, caused the alteration of her exterior image. In truth, it was not only a question of an exterior image, but of an altered interior attitude of which the exterior aspect was but the manifestation. M. no longer represented herself, at least not in a total manner, as an independent, autonomous entity, but as a subject open to relationship. She seemed to be very close to entering the drive-affective dimension and to creating personal love relationships, relationships of complicity and reciprocal integration, with another person. At this point, I as well was able to verify whether or not I possessed a relational mental representation of myself with her and whether I was more or less capable of constructing together, of sharing and realizing, a real love relationship. That verification confirmed the alteration which had occurred.

V. had just graduated from law school when he came to my office. He was suffering from various phobias; for example, moving trains, airplanes, cars and elevators. He was also harassed by persecutory thoughts of being killed in the street by terrorists, so going out of the house was a source of deep anxiety. He had not had a good relationship with his parents: his mother was distracted and unaffectionate; his father had always been cold, distant and punitive. He had a twin brother and two sisters, one older and the other younger. He was the only child to have completed his university studies. He was a handsome young man, tall, blond and blue eyed, slim but with a sad expression. Closed within himself, he had practically no sexual life. He had a girlfriend who seemed unaffectionate and sexually cold.

In retrospect, I can say that V. benefited considerably from the analysis. He succeeded in overcoming his phobias and his persecutory anguish. He obtained, through a competition, an interesting job, and in the space of a few years reached the managerial level. He married his girlfriend very early on and once he had realized the near impossibility of achieving a complete union with her, he made a firm decision to divorce. Once he had developed an adult and knowledgeable sexuality, he remarried, this time happily. However, he succeeded above all in developing his own autonomous identity through a long and difficult process of separation-distinction from his twin brother, experienced at the deep archaic level as one and the same as himself, as the only object of love with strong narcissistic connotations. I soon had the impression that the idealized twin occupied the individual field of V. completely. However, the relational network also revealed a good relationship with an uncle and aunt, whom V. experienced as good alternative parents, and with a Jesuit priest who had taken a considerable interest in him as a boy on both the cultural and recreational levels, a valid paternal figure who, together with the aunt and uncle, provided him with a sense of belonging and recognition. The relationship with his parents and with their original families had left on V. an indelible mark of oppression and anxiety. His rigid and formalistic family education had been experienced as mortifying and punitive. The other siblings had also suffered from this situation.

The request for help from the analysand was urgent, although he, due to a reserved character, never spoke of it explicitly. And his expression of it was the deep affect developed toward me, which, however, during the course of our fifteen years of analysis he mentioned very rarely. He spoke of it to me directly only upon my return from the hospital, saying that, because of the affection he felt for me, knowing that I was seriously ill had caused him great suffering.

From time to time, V. dreamed that he was doing something when suddenly his brother entered and continued what he had been doing. In his unconscious mental representation, V. and V. (the name of the twin also began with the letter V) were interchangeable, were one and the same person. However, after a few years there was an alteration. In the oneiric operation, it was no longer the brother, but the analyst who entered. V. dreamed of me intent on finishing what he had begun. I had become his twin, his identical copy. He had introjected me and I had become his Self. The two individual fields had begun to converge: the ideal narcissistic image of me was the first element of my individual field to coincide with his ideal narcissistic image through the figure of the twin brother. The unconscious representation of the twin as the self and of the self as the twin brother had been integrated with the representation of me as his ideal specular image. I had become his “twin”. At the unconscious level, it is not improbable that as a result he also had become for me an ideal twin. We had placed in common our reciprocal ideal images maybe the prelude to a more complete amalgamation.

That coincidence resulted in the emergence, in the transference experience, of negative representations of the twin relationship. It was as though, once a solid base of contact had been created, it has become possible to transfer, in the analytical relationship, his hatred, persecutory anxiety and aggressive defenses. V. experienced at times, both coming to the sessions and during them, an inexplicable anxiety, a subtle fear and a sense of rejection combined with fantasies of attack against me or by me against him. The analytical twin demonstrated his true assailent’s face to the security-identity of the analysand. The twin identity of V. with its effects of rendering the Ego immobile revealed a terrorist’s nature which inhibited movement and growth, and a castrator’s threat to the virile libidinal power of the affects. Our individual fields coincided also on this point. An element of my interior field was that which I had defined antidesire, a series of archaic mental representations which, developed probably for defensive purposes against the libidic and vital energies, tended to mortify and block in me the desire to love and satisfy the need for pleasure at all levels (an effect on the physiological plane was my systematic hyperglycemia which with time had reduced to a minimum the pleasure of taste). The fear of V. in this phase of the treatment was once more the result of a projective identification on his part and an introjective identification on mine. His antidesire, represented by the castrated twin, was reflected specularly on me. My antidesire in turn recognized itself in his. In his dreams I at times appeared as a severe professor who failed him during school examinations or else as the division chief in his office who gave him tasks of insignificant importance, or left him for days without anything to do.

The analysis of this phase involved us for a long period and included moments of tension, suffering and pain. However, V. did not turn back from the task. With courage and constancy he attempted to see and evaluate everything. In fact, the phobias gradually disappeared, and his relationship with his brother altered. His constant apprehension and “compassion” for him decreased, and he developed a greater emotional detachment which made possible a more objective and realistic approach. For reasons of work, he undertook a series of voyages abroad, where he experienced no difficulty at all in driving a car. At the same time, he embarked on a new love relationship which he experienced with passion and enthusiasm, and which eventually led to a happy matrimony (his second). The play of projections-introjections ended and our relationship started down the road of analysis of the Ego and the examination of reality.
The analysis of the field helps us considerably to understand better the primitive protomental levels of the analytical relationship.

G. was a twenty-three year old law student, born in Sicily, suffering from violent obsessive ideas which were blocking his studies, his thoughts and his affects. He was the youngest of four children. At our first encounter, G. pleaded with me, in tears, to help him be cause his illness was destroying his life and killing the generosity and enthusiasm with which he had begun to approach life.

From three to eight months of age, G. had been in danger of dying due to a serious and rare illness a kind of lung atrophy, if I remember correctly from which, though he unexpectedly was cured, seemed to have affected him deeply. Despite his vivacious and generous personality, G. had from that time on lived under the threat of dying and tended to perceive those around him as potential enemies, beginning with his parents and including friends and strangers alike. The question which this analysand posed for years during the treatment was whether I really loved him and really wished to help him. He felt deeply torn between sentiments of love and of doubt and distrust towards the analyst, which he had borne toward his parents, siblings, lovers, neighbors, and teachers. He had defended himself by cultivating an attitude of non-affectivity and a narcissistic image of himself. He considered himself as autarchically independent of and superior to everyone, eminently capable of realizing his life’s plans. But this split made itself felt through the continuous attacks of obsessive ideas which introduced doubt about everything he did, ultimately paralyzing him. However, there was a part of his Ego which was valid and healthy and capable of examining with great precision reality and investing affectively his energies. With this part of the Ego he was able to establish between us a solid therapeutic alliance.

Evident in G.’s field were various relational divisions. In the temporal dimension of lived experience there was the complex of persecutory representations, in which the human universe surrounding him was seen and feared as the bearer of hatred and death: the anguish could be attenuated only by turning to his own narcissistic image, felt as being immune to damage and capable of self-nourishment without the help of others.

This persecutory zone of his field included a system of defenses of an autarchic monadist type. He often dreamed that he was lecturing to an enormous, silent and astonished crowd in a huge square. It was not an empty or undifferentiated relational space. It was rather a space of which he was at the center and in which all the objects present were in relationship of dependence on him or existed to serve him, as in a hive, the worker bees depend on the queen bee and work for her.

This field situation was transferred and experienced in the relationship with me in all those moments in which G. began to speak, holding forth endlessly on a given subject (often of a political or cultural nature), making detailed and complete observations, but in reality locking me into the position of listener which left no possibility for my intervention. I complied with this G.’s behavior, waiting for him to realize on his own what had occurred and its inherent meaning. But it was at the same time a way for me to approach his field and to transmit something of my own to him. In fact, one day G. realized what was occurring between us. His analyst, felt before as a treacherous and threatening object, was there beside him, not in the least intimidated by his fear and diffidence, nor irritated by his grandiose, rhetorical Self, ready to listen to him but not passively and respond to and understand him without ever being on the defensive or contradicting him. He was not there to threaten him, exploit him or compete with him. A crack had appeared in his dense system of persecutory representations, one that at the same time provoked an alteration in his self image. He realized that he was no longer monadic, but that I was there also and I also could become in certain moments a center in his relational field and that various objects or arguments of the field itself could from time to time become that center. He dreamed one night of an orchestra which was executing a piece of music in counterpoint in which every instrument in its turn was repeating the principal theme successively, in an original and different way from the other instruments.

Alongside the persecutory zone there was, in the individual field of G., the zone of the healthy ego: a network of needs, of experiences, of memories and of emotions which in the relationship with me gained strength and sense. This zone was attacked and bombarded by his obsessions and fears; it was full of wounds but it held fast and kept alive, albeit lacerated, the hopes and plans of his life. The force and the sense of his emotive world were unleashed by the pouring into his field of the strength and sense of my individual field. This holding fast in the face of adversity, not giving up in the face of obstacles and hostility, thus courage and tenacity have always been a characteristic of my ego. That which I am today I owe not to the help and favors of those in positions of power who could have helped and championed me, but to my persevering insistence in following the aims which I had set for myself. I realize now that our individual fields began to interact and integrate. They exchanged interpretations and emotions, compared ideas, each assumed the real image of the other, set confines both to the individual interior and the interaction between the two, while incessantly dialoguing. There was a continuous passing of mental objects, one towards the other which, like running water, dug channels, opened valleys, irrigated deserts and watered forests.

The synchronic dimension of the field of G., risen from roots in time immemorial, was revealed in his character and his concept of life: like his entire native environment, G. felt dominated by a fatal and tragic destiny which flung him continually at the mercy of evil and its perpetrators, who were hidden though omnipresently manifest, absolute bosses before whom the only defense was submission and silence. Some time was necessary before G. ascertained that his analyst was not one of these perpetrators and before he understood that one of them was hidden within himself, that it was his dark, destructive and negative side, a sadistic and evil force always ready to prevent even his slightest pleasure or success, to undo his serene comprehension of things and persons and above all to crash his internal peace and hope.

The elaboration of this element of the field was for me the most delicate of tasks, since it coincided with my own tragic ancestral dimension, with my Greco-Sicilian soul, with my radical and bitter skepticism which has never given way to the slightest illusion as regards humankind, which has always and stubbornly identified that which in man is destructive and resistent to alteration. Precisely this coinciding quality caused me to understand and feel deeply and subtly the emotive weight and the intellectual conditioning which the tragic sense caused in G. The elaboration which we made of this sense through analysis made possible the gradual opening of the doors of our minds to hope and to the recovery of valid aggressive forces needed to face and constructively resolve the basic tasks of life, such as university, work and the affective life.

I had the impression that the small healthy part of G., which until then had been crushed and compressed between the walls of obsession and grandeur, has taken heart by virtue of the contribution of my healthy part and recovered terrain, so presenting itself with a network of needs, memories, interests and emotions never before expressed. In a short time, G., who when he came to my office read only a sport newspaper, had opened to a series of more serious readings in the areas of philosophy, history, literature, and politics. “Being with you”, he said one day, “has made me aware that art and knowledge exist and how wonderful it is to possess them and learn more about man and society”. He resumed his studies, succeeded in completing his examinations, and graduated. The intellectual and cultural-artistic relations in my field converged in his small and restricted cultural territory, stimulating and enriching it. It was a question of an authentic and not imitative event, since it is still continuing and gratifies not inconsiderably the libido of the analysand’s ego.

The stories described here seem sufficient to me to begin a discourse on the concept of the analytical field.


Translated from Italian by Joan Tambureno


(1) Jacques Lacan, “Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse”, Ecrits (Paris: Seuil 1966), p. 237-322.

(2) S.E., 1, pp. 317-8.

(3) S.E., 17, p. 69.

(4) Wilfred R. Bion, Attention and Interpretation (London: Tavistock Publ., 1970).

(5) Donald W. Winnicott, “The Location of Cultural Experience”, Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 48, 1967, pp. 368-372; “Mirror-role of Mother and Family in Child Development” in Peter Lomas, ed., The Predicament of the Family: a Psycho-Analytical Simposium (London: The Hogarth Press, 1967); “Cure”, Home is Where We Start from: Essays by a Psychoanalyst (London: Pelican Books, 1970).

(6) Cf. Rosario Merendino, “Sulla coincidenza. Per una comprensione metapsicologica del concetto di ‘Relazione analitica'”, Rivista di Psicoanalisi, XXVI, 1980, pp. 53-80.

62 Stolorow & Atwood, Context of Being, cit.
63 Weiss & Sampson, The Psychoanalytic Process, cit.

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