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Diamond, N. (1991). The Skin Ego, by Didier Anzieu, translated by Chris Turner, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989, pp. iv + 232, hb £25. Free Associations, 2(3):467-471.

(1991). Free Associations, 2(3):467-471

The Skin Ego, by Didier Anzieu, translated by Chris Turner, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989, pp. iv + 232, hb £25

Review by:
Nicola Diamond

The Skin Ego is the English translation of the French Le Moi-Peau, published in 1985. Whereas in France the book has become popular, in England Anzieu's work is less well known. This may not be the case for long as, other than Esther Bick's concise paper ‘The experience of the skin in early object relations’. (1968), The Skin Ego is the most recent psychoanalytic contribution to account for the relationship between the skin and the formation of the skin ego, the mental ‘container’.


Anzieu draws upon the British object-relations school, French psychoanalytic work, semiotics, mathematics, biology and his clinical experience as an analyst to elucidate and illustrate the way ‘the skin’ is a ‘basic datum’.(Anzieu, 1989, p. 3) which provides the organic foundations for the eventual psychic formation of the ego. Jean Laplanche's (1985) interpretation of Freud's term ‘Anlehnung’.(étayage) is employed: Laplanche reads ‘anaclisis’ as the way the drives initially ‘find support’ in the biological functions of hunger, digestion, excretion, etc., to only later break away and become autonomous as mental representatives. Anzieu extends Laplanche's biological basis to include the skin's structural functions which, he argues, ‘support’ the emergence of the psychic ‘container’.

The Skin Ego thus states that the skin acts as the organic grounding for the eventual development of the mental ego: ‘the ego is anaclitically constituted’.(p. 85) upon ‘bodily experience’.(p. 85), on the ‘functions of the skin’.(p. 97). Anzieu quotes Freud, ‘the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego’.(p. 85), and the way Freud describes how both internal and external sensations spring from the surface of the body, to yield a subjective perception and an objective experience — the skin felt/touched as an object.

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