19 March 2007

The Skin Ego. Didier Anzieu, 1989.

Didier Anzieu. THE SKIN EGO. Yale University Press, 1989. ISBN 0300037473

Current Selling Prices
$350-600? /£180-£300 Want level 25-50 Highish

A curiously desirable and expensive book with 30 persons waiting for it at ABEBOOKs alone. In France where it appeared in 1974 it was called 'Le moi-peau.' A man in a whitecoat explains:
' The term "skin-ego" designates a mental representation that the child forms on the basis of its experience of the surface of its body and uses to picture itself as the vessel of mental contents. The skin-ego belongs to the period in development when the psychic ego differentiates from the body ego on the practical level while remaining indistinguishable from it in the imagination. Intermediate between metaphor and concept, the notion of the skin-ego was worked out by Didier Anzieu and first presented in 1974.

According to Anzieu, the ego encloses the psychic apparatus much as the skin encloses the body. The chief functions of the skin are transposed onto the level of the skin-ego, and from there onto the level of the thinking ego. The functions of the skin-ego are to maintain thoughts, to contain ideas and affects, to provide a protective shield, to register traces of primary communication with the outside world, to manage intersensorial correspondences, to individuate, to support sexual excitation, and to recharge the libido. In brief, the skin-ego is an interface between inside and outside, and is the foundation of the container/contained relationship....An important part of psychoanalytic work with borderline patients is the reconstruction of the earliest phases of the skin-ego and their consequences for mental organization. This task calls on the techniques of transitional analysis....Didier Anzieu made use not only of clinical psychoanalysis but literature (Pascal, Julien Gracq, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel Beckett) and the visual arts as well (Francis Bacon) to bring to light the traces of the body in writing, drama, and painting. Finally, through his work on individual and group psychoanalytic psychodrama, he enriched the instruments derived from psychoanalysis by proposing a new outlook on the operation of the unconscious in groups.'

The curious thing about Anzieu is that his mother was a mental patient who was interviewed by Jacque Lacan in April 1931, when she was arrested and then sectioned for attacking a famous stage actress with a knife. Lacan wrote his doctoral thesis on Marguerite Anzieu under the pseudonym of ‘Aimée’, using her case-history as a prototype of the role of personality in psychopathic development. Didier Anzieu (1923-1999), in a set of interviews conducted in 1983, when he was sixty said: 'I became a psychoanalyst to care for my mother. Not so much to care for her in reality, even though I did succeed in helping her, in the last quarter of her life, to find a relatively happy, balanced life. What I mean is, to care for my mother in myself and other people. To care, in other people, for this threatening and threatened mother... "

Anzieu was much influenced by Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion, Samuel Beckett's pschoanalyst and himself wrote several pieces on Beckett. He was also influenced by D.W.Winnicott the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Sometime in the 1980s we were invited by his widow (herself a distinguished writer) to buy a lot of books from their Knightsbridge flat. I recall at the time that our customers were excited by the books, although psychology is generally a slow and modish subject. The ownership signature may have helped. I remember my fellow dealer Donald asked Dr Winnicott for a quick psychological summing up of the pair of us--she replied that she had never met 2 more normal men--something I suspect pstychologists say when put on the spot outside of the consulting room. It was reassuring, however.

VALUE? Usually $300+, although there are many who want $600 and some silly billies who require $1200+, presumably relisters. Not a book to buy at Amazon where none are under $600. Our image above which seems appropriate to the subject is by Michael Druks who was born 1940 in Israel, has lived and worked in London since 1972. His work, often collage, is much concerned with cartography, nomadism and symbols. Many thanks for the image, could find no pics of Anzieu's book.

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