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Riolo, F. (2009). Identity: The Fool's Motley Coat and the Thread. Ital. Psychoanal. Annu., 3:155-161.

(2009). The Italian Psychoanalytic Annual, 3:155-161

Identity and Change: The Space of the Subject XIV SPI Congress «Giornate Italiane» Rome, May 23-25 2008

Identity: The Fool's Motley Coat and the Thread Language Translation

Fernando Riolo

Translated by:
Philip Slotkin, M.A.

It sometimes happens that, while thinking of something, we come across a story that casts a singular and perspicuous light on the subject of our reflections. I shall therefore begin by quoting the words of Medardus, the protean protagonist of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixir (1815):

«I felt a strange irritation […], till it seemed as if my frame was split and divided an hundred fold, and every division thence arising assumed a peculiar and individual principle of life, while the head in vain strove to command the limbs, which, like unfaithful vassals, would not submit themselves to its dominion. Then, methought, each of these separated parts became a glittering fiery point, which began to turn itself round in a circle […]. It seemed to me that peradventure those manifestations which we commonly call dreams and imagination might in reality be the symbolic cognizance of the secret thread that runs through our life, binding it fast in all its conditions, and that he must be deemed lost who believes himself, by dint of this cognizance, to have acquired the strength to tear that thread forcibly asunder and to contend with the obscure power that holds sway over us» (Hoffmann, 1815).

Hoffmann was appreciated by Freud, who saw in him the brilliant prophet of the splitting of the ego and of the «double». Breton, however, did not like him, and even included his works in the catalogue of «books that should not be read». And not without good reason, for as Claudio Magris points out, the surrealists, as champions of a kind of writing seen as the immediate transcription of the unconscious and of dreams, rejected him as an artist who sought a «thread» and a meaning in the representation of the irrational and of the depths: «In Traumdeutung, what interests him, like Freud, is the aspect of Deutung, rather than the pure (and in reality non-existent) element of Traum that was Breton's concern» (Magris, 1979, translated).

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