Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meeting the Continual Challenges... by E. Vazques

Meeting the continual challenges…

We in the Tampa Bay area are all very fortunate to have a number of remarkable ongoing educational opportunities – see the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc’s educational program for trainees for this year, posted on this blog, the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc’s excellent 2010-2011 Speakers Series and its, along with the USF Humanities Institute 2010-11 Film Series (a report from which was just posted on this blog).

I am very grateful to our colleagues who took the trouble and made the effort to put all this together for I cannot think of a better way to help us meet the continual challenges we face as contemporary clinicians – “our everyday struggle to understand and heal by way of the ‘talking cure’; the conflicts between old and new ideas in psychoanalytic theory and practice; the challenge of developmental thinking; the need to recognize our work as situated historically, culturally, and politically; the pervasiveness of cognitive neuroscience, of ‘evidence-based’ treatments like cognitive-behavioral approaches, biological/pharmacological reductionism, and many more“ (Orange, 2010).

Sometimes one can experience these challenges as daunting, as in these lines (my free translation) from Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1917): “Traveler, your footprints
are the road, and nothing more;
you make the path as you walk…
Traveler there is no road,
only wind-grooves on the shoals.”

Fortunately, Orange (2010), contends that “[t]houghtful psychoanalysts and other humanistic clinician are practicing philosophers.” For whom “Socrates remains the dominant ideal for Western philosophy. Simple-living, ever-questioning, relentlessly seeking the good human life…”
As clinicians our personal and professional ideals resemble those of Socrates; we “long to understand, but know how little we know. We are always questioning our assumptions, our reactions, and the inevitable limitations of our points of view. Our field is human emotional life – in particular the lives of those suffering others (the word PATIENT coming from the Latin PARTIOR, meaning to suffer) who come to us full of hope and dread (Mitchell, 1993): hope that a human connection may save them, and dread that it may fail them once more.” She suggests, moreover, that a “hermeneutic sensibility,” a “hermeneutic attitude,” makes our clinical work possible, and that such hermeneutic clinical sensibility includes:
“a) a strong sense of one’s own situation – including one’s theories, personal history, and personality organization –
that constantly and inevitably shapes and limits both one’s actual understanding and one’s capacity to understand
a particular patient;
b) a sense of experiential world or system, one’s own, the patient’s, and that formed with the patient;
c) a strong sense of complexity that resists all forms of reductionism and technical rationality [that is, technique]
in clinical work;
d) a sensitivity to the languages of personal experience, including their nonverbal backgrounds and forms of expression;
e) a strong developmental-historical [and, I would add cultural] sense that gives, overall, equal emphasis to past and future,
one that attends to processes of emergence, including emergence of defense and dissociation, throughout the clinical process;
f) a belief that understanding is effective, that is, that understanding in the rich sense is curative;
g) a conviction that dialogue and conversation are the best way to create and register that emotional resonance indispensable
to meaning-oriented work; and
h) a sense of vocation and devotion similar to Friedrich Schleiermacher’s “rigorous practice.” For Schleiermacher,
“misunderstanding occurs as a matter of course, and so understanding must be willed and sought at every point”
(Schleiermacher, 1998:110).”

Ernesto Vasquez, MD
October 21, 2010

Orange, D. (2010). Thinking for Clinicians. Philosophical Resources for Contemporary Psychoanalysis and the Humanistic Psychotherapies.
New York: Routledge.
Machado, A. (1917). Poesias Completas. Madrid: Residencia de Estudiantes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society And Humanities Institute Film Series: Developing Passions: LOVE AND ANARCHY

In Love and Anarchy, Italian director Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, Swept Away) brings us the romantic notion of love triumphing over personal politics. This notion calls into question the age old misogynistic idea that women divert men from their important worldly tasks, and overpower men with their potent sexuality. Much like the existential angst of death looming over all of us, death comes at the end of Love and Anarchy, and so makes Tonio’s (Giancarlo Giannini, who won Best Actor in 1973 at Cannes for this role) and Tripolina’s (Lina Polito) one normal day in the countryside so poignant.

In the film, Tonio learns as a boy (from a beloved, old, anti-fascist) what an anarchist is. His mother, with her pretense of a rope around her neck foreshadowing his fate, draws the picture of an anarchist more acutely. As a man, Tonio travels to the capital, and we see Rome in all its grandeur, skylines and statues. Tonio, however, seeks out its alleys and brothels, one in particular with Salome (Mariangela Melato), with whom he meets to execute her plan to assassinate Mussolini. [Salome wants Mussolini’s head on a platter, so to speak.]

Tonio, a farmer, and somewhat the country bumpkin made ugly with freckles or pockmarks, is out of his element. There is humor in his discomfort around women. Though Tonio can barely utter a word, he is very much aware of the swinging buttocks exiting down the brothel’s hallway. Perhaps out of pity, or perhaps to ensure Tonio’s cooperation, Salome urges Tonio to stay quiet. Just as with a hungry kitten, she says she is happy to satisfy him: that way it’s over with and he can get his head back on track.

Salome, during a day of comic idyllism in the countryside -- with Tonio,Tripolina,(another prostitute) and the high ranking black shirt Spatoletti -- believes Spatoletti cares for her enough to be duped by her wiles. Spatoletti first checks out the church square where Mussolini is to visit (and is to be assassinated), then the party travels on to a country café, where we see Spatoletti for the villain he is, threatening the proprietor for the wait, and misogynistic with women. Tonio too, scouts out the square, then falls asleep in a field as if without a care. Later he and Tripolina make love, falling in love. Tripolina had tried to make it a business transaction, but Tonio is loving and gentle. Tonio seems everything Spatoletti is not, even compassionate with an alley cat.

In his room, Tonio practices with a gun in the mirror, but the room seques to a carnival shooting gallery. Next we see the more literal ‘carnival’ of prostitutes at the brothel pedaling their wares, tits and winks, flirting and insults. But the concomitant fascist gathering has detained all the swells. Tonio enters and seems shocked to see Tripolina at work; he pays and takes her upstairs while the Madam insists they hurry, for it is rush hour. Tonio entreats Tripolina to stay with him for two days before he must go away forever. He reveals his plan and Tripolina asks if Tonio is an anarchist. He replies that someone has to say 'basta!' (enough) and he will do it.

Death is again foreshadowed as Salome, Tonio, and the Madam transport a dying patron to the cemetery. Salome and Tonio fight about the anarchist’s cause, and Tonio confesses his fear (Salome retorts that fascists are not scared) and how he inadvertently became involved in the cause: delivering a suitcase to the comrades of/ for a dying friend. Salome, both compassionate and taunting, calls him “Saint Antonio” and foreshadows death again: “They’ll beat you to death and no one will know.”

Tonio, in bed, considers his plan. Tonio and Tripolina make love in the dark, and we again see the rooftops of Rome. As Tonio sleeps, Tripolina, after praying to the Virgin Mary, sits over him like a guardian. Salome has set the alarm clock, but she and Tripolina fight about waking Tonio. Tripolina says no cause is worth Tonio dying, but Salome thinks it is better to die like a dog than live like one. Salome asks what would happen if all women stopped their soldiers [what, indeed?], then relenting, agrees with Tripolina, remarking, “They are right, never trust a whore.”

Tonio is awakened by the sound of the marching band below. He strikes Tripolina for not awakening him. As the black shirts arrive downstairs, Tonio bursts in to confess, and starts firing at the police. Once out of bullets, he runs into the street where he is punched and kicked by soldiers and sailors before being taken away. Salome shouts: "He was a poor guy with a big heart."

In a well-appointed office, where the statue of a wolf suckling two infants (the founders of Rome)is displayed, Tonio is beaten and threatened, but he will not name names. The news reports that an unknown man, in a fit of madness, shot at police during a routine inspection, and died violently beating his own head against a wall.

This Film Series, Developing Passions, is a collaboration of the Humanities Institute and the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. and free to the public. All films in this monthly line-up will are on Sundays at 200pm in MDA 1097 at the USF Medical Center. All films will be discussed with the audience by a local university scholar and by a local clinician. Tomorrow, October 17, 2010, Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man, Woman will be viewed and discussed.

Silvio Gaggi, PhD, Director of the Humanities Institute, and Robert Porter, PhD, local psychologist, discussed Love and Anarchy on September 12, 2010.
Gaggi noted how Love and Anarchy portrayed anarchy as a romantic idea, where the father figure is killed with the hope that men could live free and equal, the way nature intended. Gaggi also noted in this film how a scene often begins with a panoramic view, then shrinks to the close up. [I preferred the Opposite approach of the camera, as when the face of famished Tonio is eating heartily, and the scene widens to show him surrounded at the table by prostitutes. While either approach would lend itself to the importance of context, each has a different impact. ]

Robert Porter, PhD in psychology, and clinical discussant, highlighted the theme of adolescence and the struggle to oppose ones parents, who, like fascists, are seen to oppose freedom. But rebellion itself incurs responsibility, and new constraints of maturity, as adolescents grow up. Porter noted, too, that fascists allowed their own hedonism while disallowing it for others. Though a female director, a more complex theme of misogyny exists in the film: Salome in the end was too weak to be an anarchist. Women are seen as weaker and potentially dangerous, distracting men from their role as soldier or anarchist.

The audience was divided on whether or not the prostitutes in the film had real power over their clients.[Perhaps women’s power lies in the ability to foster connectedness, not submission, just as real consolidation of identity (the developmental task of adolescence) is better achieved by transcending doer-done to dynamics of violence and fostering an appreciation of difference. It was love that drove both Salome and Tonio to profess their allegiance to anarchy, as both wanted to avenge someone, killed by fascists, whom they loved. When Tripolina and Salome decide not to wake Tonio, they choose love over anarchy. ]

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, MD