by Vasco Santos
Freud loved cities, the biographical dimension of cities.
Rome was probably his most neurotic passion of them all, and in it he found an analogy for his own psychic workings, in its topographic visibility and invisibility.
As for its conceptualization, however, he was not interested in the mental space but only in the mechanisms and dynamics of the internal and external processes. For Freud, the ego must confront two strange and adversarial territories: the internal (the repressed) and the external (reality itself).
The interest of psychoanalysis in the concept of mental space has undergone several post-Freudian evolutions, especially in the so-called object relations theory. This school was founded by Melanie Klein, who emphasized the inner world, deepened the concept of "phantasy", and introduced the idea of position.
Wilfred Bion, the exponent of this paradigm, created a theory of thinking that considers more than cognitive function. Thoughts are perceived as a space occupied by thoughts without a thinker, while Euclidean geometry has an intra-psychic origin, arising from the experience of a space that was occupied in the past by a feeling or by an emotion.
Following this path, Donald Winnicott, a refractory psychoanalyst, provided an original contribution by laying the grounds for an intermediate area of psychic functioning, located between inner psychic reality and external reality, thus becoming a mediator.
There are two essential concepts in his work: the transitional object and the potential space.
The transitional object is not a common toy (a teddy bear, a blanket); it's an object located between the thumb and the teddy bear, becoming the first possession of something that is not me by the child. It lies in the field of illusion and it is the creator of illusion.
This is a potential space between the outside and the inside, the subjective and the objective, between the extensions of the I and the not-I. It is from this angle that one may understand the interaction between playing, creativity, transitional phenomena and cultural experience.
Winnicottian analytical thinking also allowed a shift in the Freudian theory on dreams. Although the theoretical status remains, its practical status has changed.
To simplify, one can say that the meaning of the dream is abandoned in favour of a conception of the dream as an experience, where the dream may come as the transitional object between the I and the not-I. The dream is understood as the place – space – it occupies in the subjective theme and in the here-and-now of the analysis session.
The dream is a painting. The psyche is a dream.
Of all the objects that take on a symbolic representation in dreams, the house is the most typical and frequent.
Freud understands the house as a feminine symbol, as the first lodging, since the woman herself is the space in which the human being dwells during intrauterine life. He also considers the symbolic representations of castles, fortresses, and cities as equivalents.
Following in his tracks, Bachelard proposes a topoanalysis of the house, an admirable reflection on the poetics of space.
The house must be perceived as a place of imagination, a symbolic and imaginary topography of our intimacy.
The primary function of a house is to be inhabited.
"The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. The house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts and dreams of mankind."
The house is a house of Paradise, an oneiric house. A childhood house.
It is a transitional object, something between the not-I and the I, a thing of the mind that operates beyond protection.
Juhani Pallasmaa, Finnish architect, while theorizing on the issues of identity, intimacy, and domicile, overlaps the notion of home with the notion of house.
"The act of dwelling is the basic mode for one to relate to the world. Dwelling is also a symbolic act that, imperceptibly, organizes the dweller's entire world. Not only our bodies and physical needs, but also our minds, memories, dreams and desires should be accommodated and housed. Dwelling is part of our own being, of our identity."
For psychoanalysis, indeed, the human being needs a border with the inner self. Without a protected inside we are not able to face the outside. Psychoanalysis is a poetic experience of concentration. And, like the political act that it also is, the psychoanalytic act requires a stable place so it may listen to the singularity that rewrites the story of the subject and relaunches it. And the place where the political act occurs in the city requires a stable place, the polis.
In 1902, Georg Simmel wrote The Metropolis and Mental Life, which begins as follows:
"The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life."
The modern city, seat of the monetary economy, will bring about a change in subjectivity and in the relationship between public and private space.
Freudian creation follows this modern movement and is its interpreter. But it opposes the vertigo of acceleration with the vertigo of delay, a presentification of movement, analogous to Duchampian art.
In his classic essay The Uncanny (Das Unheimliche), Freud shows how the familiar, the known, the intimate, that which evokes home, ends up incorporating the non-familiar. The strangely familiar is repetition, the return of the repressed.
It can be objected that if intimacy is a key concept of modernity, it is no longer a constant in the present, vaporised by permanent exposure and circulation.
We would therefore live in an era of disseminated humanity in which intimacy would give place to extimacy. This neologism invented by Lacan is reappropriated today by anthropology to interpret subjectivity in these techno-social times.
In this way, the house would lose its metaphysical status, and it would be merely the place where messages were sent and received. The hermit's cabin would now be loneliness centred on my iPhone.
But it is not the human that is inexhaustible, it is drive.
The ideological proposal of Yona Friedman, in the 50s, of a mobile architecture, a mobile society, along with the concepts of mobility, networks, plasticity and social movement, would be celebrated today.
Her revolutionary urbanistic project named “Ville Spatiale" would no longer be a distant and abstract point, but only something which cannot be recognized with exactitude.
One may ask: and is psychoanalysis not questioned today by the sociology of the generic city in a generic world?
G. Simmel, in his above-mentioned essay, states that "The fact that we are all pressed against each other, together with the traffic flow of big cities, would be unbearable without psychological detachment. In urban civilisation, we are obliged to move so close to each other it could cause human beings to fall into a state of total despair if the objectification of social relationships did not also determine an internal limit and a special kind of privacy."
And this has not changed.
Psychoanalysis has always been aware of the social dimension of mental life.
The opening to the Other is that which questions and recreates urban space and also analytic experience. And so, wandering is part of such a work, aiming at rupturing psychic fields, notlimiting he who analyses, as reaffirmed by Herrmann, to a psychogeography formed by one-way streets.
The crystallographic mind and archaeological psychoanalysis is succeeded today by a fractal mind and nomadic psychoanalysis, interested in the phenomenology of the session itself, and thus happiness is a newly-built house.