Psychoanalysis, Identity and the Internet, by Andrea Marzi

Explorations into Cyberspace

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Every day on the internet we look for information, play videogames, chat, work, or buy something. But what exactly is the nature of the ‘space’ we surf in and through? Is it virtual or real? What is the actual relation between the ‘virtual’ reality we inhabit in a videogame, or a film, or on the internet and the invisible ‘psychic’ reality which is the main focus of  psychoanalysis? How does cyberspace affect issues of corporeality, or time and space, that traditionally constitute subjective experience? What happens to the embodied relationships between people? In Psychoanalysis, Identity and the Internet I suggest that psychoanalytical theory is the best – most appropriate – way for us to understand  the nature of the new ‘subjects’ and subjective presences that appear in the modern world of the internet and cyberspace.

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Jill Savage Scharff’s books explore the impact of the internet on psychoanalysis

The book, which is now available for the first time in English, has a compelling preface by Antonino Ferro and an equally illuminating foreword by Jill Savage Scharff, one of the leading authorities in exploring the consequences of virtual reality on the analytical field. Psychoanalysis not only influences and affects the multifaceted nature of virtual reality, but cyberspace in turn shapes and sculpts our reflections about psychodynamic theory, and our ideas about the ‘virtual space’ of the mind. The book explores the peculiar characteristics of the encounter with the particular state of mind of internet-addicted patients, and also shows in detail the path of the therapy, and the therapeutic encounter, between the analyst with the net ‘surfer’, castaway in virtual reality.

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“It poses uneasy questions about the subject of permanence and transience, of memory and its survival”

It’s undeniable that the digital world, which produces interactions and disseminates information in a way that was unthinkable only a few decades ago, poses awkward questions and problems for the scientific and humanistic disciplines, including ethics and psychoanalysis. It asks us to look into the issues of reality and ‘truth’, a theme that reverberates problematically on psychoanalysis and from which it can receive stimuli and, perhaps, clarification. It asks us to look into the bond that links materiality, immateriality, and virtuality – understood as space and/or potentiality. It also poses uneasy questions about the subject of permanence and transience, of memory and its survival.

Psychoanalysis, Identity and the Internet contains contributions from eight psychoanalysts of different nationalities and theoretical orientations, as well as one from an expert in information science, grouped into three sections corresponding to three different viewpoints from which the subject can be considered. The book is preceded by a rich in-depth “Introduction” by Andrea Marzi, that illuminates the main concepts in the book and puts them in the appropriate context.

The contributions that follow are arranged according to a number of threads:

  • 173358125an enquiry into the nature of virtual reality, the world of informatics, and the new media
  • a psychoanalytic enquiry that tackles the psychopathological level arising from the potential of risk inherent in immersion in cyberspace
  • a reflection from cyberspace about psychoanalysis itself and the “virtual spaces” in the mind: their (possible) existence and meaning, their role within the analytic setting, the consequences in the analytic field, and the distinctive characteristics of the analyst’s meeting with an “internet-addicted” mind
  • a comparison between virtual space, dream space, and the crucial concepts in psychoanalytical theorising, such as Bion’s β elements which can fill a space with a quality that can induce psychosis, the mirror/screen derived from Lacan’s theories, the “psychic retreats” postulated by John Steiner, Winnicott’s transitional space, and various autistic mechanisms.

The first section, “Cyberspace, Cybernetics, and Society” (written by R. Sorrenti, the information scientist, V. Egidi Morpurgo, and M. Longo) examines the concepts of cyberspace and virtual reality.

The second section, “Identity and Cyberspace” (by G. Antinucci, and A. Marzi) concentrates more directly on the processes of subjectivation in the age of the Net, by means of conceptual comparisons between the virtual-digital and the virtual as a psychic property, between cyberspace and potential space.

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clinical situations include cases of internet-addiction

In the third section, “Virtual Space and Clinical Psychoanalysis” (by D. Rosenfeld, M. Johns, and M.G. Sforza) these issues are addressed primarily by means of clinical situations, often cases of internet-addiction, against a background of various psychopathological disturbances. The authors’ contributions are in that way  connected in an ideal dialogue with each other.

The book emphasises that on the one hand it is time to put behind us the phase of moralising oppositions, and apocalyptic disapproval and, on the other, a naive faith in the innovative potential of the new technologies, and instead to try to search for a more realitic position, using the Net as a helpful vantage point from which to revisit and compare the psychoanalytic models and even to develop some new ones.  In this volume we have therefore the opportunity to investigate, among the various subjects, whether the digital world, with its particular characteristics, may have an influence on our attitude to symbolisation and on the theme of the construction of identity, or to what extent cyberspace interweaves significant cross-references with the sense of analytic space.

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the internet invites us to explore comparisons between virtual space and dream space (as in the 2010 film ‘Inception’)

As is discussed in the Introduction, the very concept of “virtual” is problematic and difficult to define, especially if we try to approach it from a psychoanalytic standpoint. Yet, the appearance of virtuality might suggest something profound about the “mind” (as the object of our analytic work), in that they share the same charter of place–nonplace that, while having a base that is physical and material (the brain and the nervous system, or the structure of the hardware) is, in fact, dematerialised. It is a place-metaphor that, nevertheless, still has to be detected by and through the coordinates of space and time.

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“virtual reality allows a subject to immerse himself/herself in an environment that can be three-dimensional”

In brief, thanks to technology, virtual reality allows a subject to immerse himself or herself in an environment that can be three-dimensional, mobile, and dynamically evolving, and that permits both interaction with, and exploration of, it. Indeed, it is possible to think that the mental space and the virtual space of cyberspace evoke each other (in a form of similarity or reciprocal allusion). Furthermore, patients’ communications about their experiences in cyberspace, implicating the diverse senses and sensoriality in all its forms—perception of colours, sounds, images, words—enable working through within the analytic experience, thanks to the closeness of the dimensionality experienced and lived in these two discrete spaces. In the analytic session, this material creates a pabulum from which unknown emotions—which can be given or regiven meaning—can spring, since they are introduced into the relational flow, in the dimension of a new construction of meaning.

Considering all the points of view expressed in the book, cyberspace appears, on one hand, as a mirror that traps vulnerable people in a pseudo-reality, and on the other, as a particular and unique dimension which sets creative phantasy free. In any case, this dimension challenges us every day, while spreading out, alluring us, eluding us.

Andrea Marzi is a psychiatrist and analyst. He obtained his PhD in Medical Ethics and is a former Professor of Developmental Psychology. He is also a Full Member of the SPI (Italian Psychoanalytic Association) and the IPA (International Psychoanalytical Association). Dr Marzi currently lives and works in Siena, where he has taught in various schools of specialisation in the Faculty of Medicine, and is the author of numerous books and articles.

      His book, Psychoanalysis, Identity and the Internet: Explorations in Cyberspace, has recently been published by Karnac.

Reviews and Endorsements

38427-1‘I think that it would be a failure for psychoanalysis to deny, ignore or avoid the huge change that the internet has brought about in our lives today. This book acknowledges and explores this major topic, opening up a thoughtful and stimulating debate, and I consider this a remarkable contribution for the psychoanalytic community.’
– Stefano Bolognini, training and supervising analyst, and President of the International Psychoanalytical Association

‘This book is a profound meditation on the virtual complexes of our modern world, allowing a freedom to imagine beyond the narrow discourse of Skype technique and training.’
–Dr Jonathan Sklar, training analyst, British Psychoanalytical Society

‘In this book a number of psychoanalysts respond to the challenge that internet users – their patients – are asking them to take. It is not only about having sessions on Skype, a challenge to the setting, but also about engaging with what their patients follow on the internet, be it pornography, war games, or other material. Solidly anchored in theory, the authors venture into the material, finding through it a golden road to their patients’ unconscious phantasy. A timely book.’
–Alessandra Cavalli, child and adult analyst

‘Andrea Marzi’s excellent volume provides a much-needed and timely bridge between psychoanalysis and today’s internet technology. Psychoanalysts are challenged to consider the impact of these technologies on personality development, psychopathology, interpersonal relationships and clinical practice. Although the internet has great potential for expanded relatedness, it also has deleterious effects, including seriously limiting personal relationships. This book is a must-read for psychoanalysts, and in fact all healthcare professionals and those interested in the interconnection of mind/brain and expanding modes of communications.’
–Mary Kay O’Neil, supervising and training analyst, Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis

‘Andrea Marzi and his co-authors have taken a daunting subject and made it not only understandable, but also clinically useful, especially for those of us who did not grow up with the concepts of cyberspace, digital technology, and virtual reality. They have ingeniously and courageously shown that these concepts are no different analytically from the technical concepts of earlier ages, such as “the influencing machine”, radio waves, and TV transmissions. They make it clear that digital technology, like the earlier ones, can also be used for defensive and narcissistic purposes, to create a virtual world of “imaginary” relationships that are the proper focus of treatment and transference in this “modern” age.’
–Robert L. Pyles, Past President of the American Psychoanalytic Association

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