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International Forum of Psychoanalysis

ISSN: 0803-706X (Print) 1651-2324 (Online) Journal homepage:

Culture and psychic suffering

Grigoris Maniadakis

To cite this article: Grigoris Maniadakis (2016) Culture and psychic suffering, International
Forum of Psychoanalysis, 25:1, 1-2, DOI: 10.1080/0803706X.2015.1129711

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Published online: 20 Jan 2016.

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International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 2016
Vol. 25, No. 1, 1–2,


Culture and psychic suffering

In his seminal work Civilization and its discontents, idealized body image. In their article “The implica-
Freud links the evolution of culture with man’s discom- tion of the sadistic superego in anorexia”, Ana
fort in it, mainly because of the loss of happiness due to Maria Rudge and Betty Fuks speak of the interplay
“the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego” of cultural and intrapsychic factors in the “culture”
(Freud, 1930, p. 133). He holds that if the aim of life, of anorexia. Concerning the role of the ferocious
as revealed by human behavior, is the satisfaction of superego in this case, they see it as an often culturally
all desires, the first requisite of culture is the assurance mediated, foreign-body like incorporated voice that
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of a law that would put limits to personal gratification as dictates the object’s wish to the subject.
a demand of society. “Man’s natural aggressive Relinquishing unlimited gratification as a prerequi-
instinct, the hostility of each against all and of all site of the social bond that forms the basis of civiliza-
against each” (ibidem, p. 122), which menaces society tion and as a source of pain, reminds of the necessity
with disintegration, is dealt with by its internalization of giving up possession of the object – or of the reality
in a part of the self called the superego (Jones 1957). of losing it, and of the depressive pain this causes.
Psyching suffering from relinquishing gratification Giancarlo Ventimiglia’s article “On the development
and from the harshness of the superego, the “pathology of depressive states from a psychodynamic point of
of cultural communities”, according to Freud (ibidem, view” focuses on the narcissistic aspect of object
p.143), is the price to be paid for civilization. According loss that underlies depression, while also analyzing
to Bion, group culture (as can be, for instance, faith to a its temporal dimension.
group leader or egalitarianism) arises from the conflict Object loss and trauma have often been associated
between individual needs and a group mentality that with the cultural activity that is called art, which
expresses a unanimous will, which is in opposition creates a special link of mutual containing between
with conscious individual aims (Bion 1961, Bléandonu the artist and its public, through a dialogue of aes-
1990). thetic forms and responses to them. In her article
In this way the cultural bond is associated with the “Claude Debussy’s Opera Pelleas et Melisande :
uncomfortable acknowledgement of incompleteness Secrecy, mystery and ambiguity in Debussy’s life
and of imperfect protection from lack. But what and art”, Gertrude Schwartzman deals with the way
happens if culture itself endorses the aim of omnipo- Claude Debussy achieved to contain the longings
tently gratifying every need? In this volume of Interna- rooted in his unhappy childhood experience in a
tional Forum of Psychoanalysis, Raaja Stitou ponders cherished work of art, speaking of love and loss.
the above question in her article “Psychoanalysis Love and loss constitute, to a large extent, the
and cultural change: Lacan’s contribution and a subject matter of Henry Zvi Lothane’s article “Sabina
new perspective”. She holds that modern civilization Spielrein’s Siegfried and other myths: facts vs. fic-
tries to cover up lack at its root through sophisticated tions”. The author attempts at fathoming the use of
objects which technology offers, while contemporary the mythical/cultural/artistic figure of Siegfried by
normative discourses are dominated by the denial of Sabina Spielrein and its transformation to a personal
the incompleteness inherent in the human condition. symbol in her effort to work through her relationship
All these can lead to a new kind of psychic suffering, with Jung. He also juxtaposes the creative use of
related to the destructiveness this very denial entails, mythology by Spielrein with the transformation of Ger-
and discernable in joint expressions of subjective suf- manic mythology to a racist, destructive ideology by
fering and social problems, such as various kinds of the Nazis, a culture which eventually served as legaliza-
violent actions and addictive behavior. tion for the genocidal “Final Solution”. This juxtaposi-
A culture of omnipotent denial of lack can imply a tion may remind us of Freud’s final remarks in
denial of bodily needs through the provision of an “Civilization and its Discontents”. Freud writes:

© 2016 The International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies

2 Editorial
“The fateful question for the human species article of this issue, C. Edward Watkins Jr considers
seems to me to be whether and to what extent supervision as “the primary means by which psycho-
their cultural development will succeed in master- analytic ideology becomes translated into practical
ing the disturbance of their communal life by the product”. The author puts stress on a set of needs
human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. concerning the systematization of training in supervi-
[] And now it is to be expected that [] eternal sion and on its adjustment to issues of today’s
Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the culture, such as technology and matters of difference
struggle with his equally immortal adversary. and diversity.
But who can foresee with what success and with
what result?” (p. 144). Grigoris Maniadakis
IFP Coeditor-in-chief
Concerning Jung, Lothane informs us that “he first
anonymously mentioned Spielrein in his second
letter to Freud in 1906 requesting Freud’s opinion,
in today’s terms, for supervision of his treatment”.
Today, one can say that, for more than a century Bion, W. R. (1961). Experiences in groups. London: Tavistock.
from Jung’s request to Freud, supervision has been Bléandonu, G. (1990). Wilfred R. Bion, 1897–1979. La vie et
l’œuvre. Paris: Dunod.
and is regarded as a major element of psychoanalytic
Freud, S. (1930 [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE 21, 59–
culture – especially of analytic training. In “Psycho- 146.
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analytic supervision in the new millennium: on Jones, E. (1957). Sigmund Freud Life and Work, Volume Three: The
pressing needs and impressing possibilities”, the last Last Phase 1919–1939. London. Hogarth.