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Introduction to “groupal Oedipus and the primary scene in the network era”

Our era, which, after Lyotard, many people indicate as post-modern and which today some prefer to identify as “hyper-history”, is rapidly moving us towards a world we do not know, the “infosphere”, a world where technologies interact with other technologies, making the human being increasingly marginal and less involved of  processes (Floridi, 2014).

In this world, what weight does the family have? What filtering capacity has it maintained, and will it be able to maintain before the extraordinary assaults of changes imposed by the so-called fourth revolution, linked to the development of information and communication technologies (ICT)? The Copernican revolution has displaced us from the center of the universe, the Darwinian revolution has put us outside the center of the biological realm, the Freudian revolution has made us loose the illusion of being totally transparent to ourselves, will the fourth revolution displace us from the centre of the family? Is the relationship, or rather the quality of human relationship, destined to become one of the great narratives at its sunset? In a world where 2 out of 10 children at one year old, and 6 out of 10 kids at two years old, usually use touch screen tools, such as tablets or smartphones; and where parents are beginning to be replaced by electronic tools to tell fairy tales, play, interact, how much does the relationship count? And above all, how much are we still able to relate in an empathic way, transmit tenderness, patience, a sense of presence and the ability to pay attention?

Michel Serres (2015) in his eulogy of the virtual says that after the “hard” era linked to artifacts, we have entered a “sweet era”, announcing the advent of a new world, an era in which we are free to live virtually, in which everyone can connect with whoever they want, finally thinking on our own, without anyone telling us who we are, because the web makes us all “co-agitants, cogitants”, actors in an era of mass democracy, in which everyone can be at the top, or rather in which there is no top at all. The virtual for Serres is our virtue, it opens to all the metamorphosis, and therefore to the novelty of thought. In short, Serres thinks that in the ideal network, which is now real, every individual becomes a vertex, everybody can come into contact with one or more others regardless of distance and alienation: “fathers fade: the captain, the king, the president, the announcer, in conclusion, the universal intermediary fade away…from sheep we have become sheperds” (ibidem, p. 267). In his hymn to the technological god, however, Serres seems to forget the price that man have to pay for this “lightness” linked to the sweet age.

Curiously, neuroscientists especially remind us that every time we entrust to a machine a human function, we are removing something from our life and our brain (Merzenich, 2019). Entrusting memory, the ability to orient, to organize, to calculate, to avoid the complexity and harshness of reality, to live in the virtual, to depend on likes, to think with answers that have been programmed by algorithms and a thousand other issues related to control and programmed conditioning, does not seem to promote growth and creativity. In few words, these wonderful tools, that we hold in our hands and in our pockets and that tend to replace our brain, make our life easier, but beyond a certain level, they make us regress in a destructive way and according to many we have already crossed this line. Today, research tells us that the smartphone has become a transitional object, a body extension, and sometimes a prosthesis, of which we are increasingly dependent. It is hard to deny the convenience that this tool provides us, but which are the consequences? I simply report some evidence (Riva,2014).

Emotional illiteracy. The subject cannot use the body, the mimicry and the gaze of the other to understand emotions and this deprives him of an important reference point in the process of learning and understanding one’s own and others’ emotions, favouring emotional illiteracy. Intimate relationships become increasingly difficult, superficial and confused, while the tension towards mass narcissism is rampant.

Separation between virtual body and identity. The virtual body separates from the identity of the subject and becomes an expressive and communicative tool that can be used strategically to transmit a certain self-image. The receiving subjects can only reconstruct the identity of the other indirectly, interpreting images and messages that he or she shares. The virtual body then separates from the subject and acquires its own autonomy and stability. This on the one hand can help an introverted and timid person to build a safer fictitious identity, on the other hand it makes the subject a prisoner of this fictitious identity, which remains in the net. 


The off-line real world and the online virtual world tend to merge and blend together. The result is the so-called interreality, in which the digital world influences the real world and vice versa, just think about the phenomenon of tagging, labeling a person, even if they don’t want to. 

Maximization of thought, desires and identity. The tendency of the child to fill every empty moment with digital content prevents learning and the development of ability of contemplation, solitude and silence, essential processes to stimulate creative capacity, autonomy of thought and therefore identity and the Self. We no longer feel alone, but weactually are more and more alone, even when we are together with others. Relationships become more difficult, superficial and confused, while the tension of the mass narcissism is pervasive nowdays. Our society is that of selfies. One does not go to a museum or does not contemplate a landscape just to feel the beauty, but to take a selfie.

Alteration of the circadia rhythm. Many teenagers, and not only, spend most of the night on the net, profoundly altering the sleep-wake rhythm.

The ability to think, the last real defense against barbarism and a specific sign of our exceptional place in the cosmos, no longer seems to enjoy the esteem that many thinkers had given it and, in any case, does not enjoy good health. “Man is but a reed, the most fragile of all nature; but he is a thinking reed” (v.377) – wrote Blaise Pascal – that in the ability to think placed all our “dignity” as human beings. Is this still the case? The so-called fourth revolution has highlighted the intrinsically informational nature of human identity, so we must admit that ICT and artificial intelligence are not mere technologies, but “forces” that modify the very world in which we live, that create and reconstruct reality. Humanity is therefore moving from Newtonian space to the new environment of the infosphere, the virtual is now part of the real and the reality of the virtual, and all this leads to a radical transformation of the environment in which we live, which implies a rethinking of the very conception of what a human being is. In the face of these changes, it is important to ask ourselves how the new media are changing the texture of reality and transforming our society and our behavior. How to reconcile the real and the virtual, the closed and the open, repetition and singularity, method and creativity, invariance and emergency, in a world in which we struggle to recognize and recognize ourselves?

This issue of Gamma Function naturally does not claim to answer these complex questions, it would be enough if it could formulate the right questions. This collection of essays, after all, is not an anthropology research, even if it does not want to close its horizon in the narrow analysis rooms; it is not a research on digital natives, nor one about new pathologies linked to technological addictions, even if it suffers the backlash. On these issues there are specific researches to which I refer and that will be the background of our work that instead intends to follow a reverse path. Not from a philosophical vision of our age, nor from the psychopathologies connected to it, such as technological addictions, nor from new psychoanalytic theories. Our research starts from the clinic of groups, small therapeutic groups, where the Oedipus has always had a special connotation, which Bion linked to the Sphinx, as a “monstrous” chimera, the very symbol of the enigma, which puts together impossible things. It is from this summit that we try to see what is left of the Oedipal situation and if and how it has changed. This is because we believe that the small group is a special observatory of social changes and the way of relating, the privileged place where family, society, intrapsychic, intergenerational, coexist and interact with the ghosts of the past and the fears of the future. Not only that, but the small group is also a place where the relationship between family and group seems to oscillate like the one between figure and background, so the family is now a protective container, now a “monstrous” group. In the small group the same Oedipal drama appears “decomposed” in its various components, which appear “scattered” and in resonance with the outside, a groupal Oedipus, fragmented, scattered, which revolves around a composite, cryptic, disturbing primary scene, whose ghost oscillates continuously between externalization and internalization, between family violence and social violence.

Bion had sensed this inextricable garbule and had accepted a compromise between family model and emotion/work model when in the Revision he portrayed the primary nature of the basic assumptions and postulated that they are a secondary formation to an “extremely primitive” primary scene, which takes place at the level of primitive Oedipal conflicts. This position allowed him to avoid excessive antagonism with Freud’s hypotheses, and to maintain close contiguity with Kleinian ideas on schizo-paranoid and depressive positions. Bion recognizes that the family group can serve as a basic model for every group, but he maintains the belief that the main source of group behavior is to be found in psychotic anxieties. Today we can affirm that in that “hybrid” position a formidable epistemological “knot” is hidden, a “chimera”, a “garble”, between nature and culture, myth and reality, archaic and actual, individual/group, group/mass, family/society, subject/object, emotion /thought…that we can only just start to unravel, and on condition that we can perspective it in its historical development. Chapelier (1993), in his work with groups of adolescents, observes that it is difficult to know “if the groups are to be seen as a familiar phantasmatic repetition or, on the contrary, if the family is organized according to phenomena that appear in groups in general”. In any case, it is precisely the study of the small group that allows us to see the appearance of specific mechanisms for the functioning of societies and at the same time the elements of individual psychic mechanisms in the bonds that unite them to the whole group (Chapelier 2019). On the other hand, the transpersonal dimension of the group sinks into that same polyadic matrix of the family that participates in a complex way of multiple levels, biological, proto-mental, cultural, and even mythical, that configure the scene on which the figures of the various members and their relationships stand out. This probably is the reason why Bion associates group phenomena with the Sphinx and links them to problems of knowledge and the scientific method? Bettini (2014), using Seneca’s language, recalls that the enigma is based on interweaving and gargles, so there are very close similarities between incest and enigma. Oedipus, solver of enigmas, becomes an enigma himself. A union of impossible things, born of incest, the Sphinx is the very essence of the enigma, and when with his answer Oedipus marks its death, that enigma is transferred to him. “Who are you? […] I don’t know, maybe Oedipus, maybe the Sphinx. Let me go!” – Nietzsche writes – showing how the clear and unambiguous answer that puts the Sphinx to death does not make the mystery disappear, but rather transfers it to Oedipus himself, who now has to assume the tragic need to discover the truth. Who is the man? Now the Sphinx is him.

I would like to thank Stefania Marinelli without whose help and support this issue could not have seen the light of day, her patience and foresight have never failed in this difficult path, and her contribution to the theme remains an essay of exemplary coherence and lucidity also because she speaks to us about these issues starting from individual therapy, showing how our interpretative capacity is now rooted in the complexity of reality. I, therefore, thank the particularly generous authors, starting with Jean-Bernard Chapelier and Bernard Duez who produced two particularly generous and original works. I therefore thank R.D. Hinshelwood for his small pearl, and of course all the Italian authors, Silvia Corbella, Maurizio Gentile, Ronny Jaffè, Alfredo Lombardozzi, who have produced original and complex works that I do not feel like summing up in a few lines because they deserve deep attention.


Serres M. (2015), Le Gaucher boiteux. Puissance de la pensée. Éditions Le Pommier, Paris.

Riva G. (2019), Nativi digitali. Crescere e apprendere nel mondo dei nuovi media. Il Mulino, Bologna.

Floridi L. (2014), The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is Reshaping Human
Oxford University Press.

Pascal B., Pensées. Pensieri. Einaudi, Torino, 1962.

Chapelier J.B. (2013), Les groupes des frères et le syndrome des Dalton, Adolescence, II:327-343.

Chapelier J.B. (2019), La loi des pairs, Les psychothérapies de groupe à l’adolescence. èrès, Toulouse.

Bion, W.R. (1961), Experienze in Groups and Other Papers, Tavistock Publications,
London & Routlege, New York.

Merzenich M. (2019), Tecnologia contro complessità, ecco il prezzo che il cervello

paga alla semplificazione,

Bettini M. (2014), I mostri sono buoni per pensare, Mostri. Creature fantastiche

    della paura e del mito, a cura di R. Paris, E. Setari, N. Giustozzi, Mondadori
Electa, Milano.

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