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By Erminia Passannanti

Transference is believed to be the sine qua non of psychoanalysis. But I think that also in poetry and literary matters interpretation of the stimuli behind the process of transference is of major importance.

What do I mean by “transference”? In a general sense, the ability to communicate and transmit one's feelings and ideas, one's intra and extra psychic perceptions, which encompass the artist's relationship with his or her experiences of the world - say the totality of one's mental processes - to transcend oneself and project on others the psychological, affective and creative passions one might wish to articulate or shape in order to inform reality with new meanings.

In this light, transcendence is nothing but the creative drive to produce something for an audience, a cultural aesthetic tradition, a group of people. What role poetry and the arts in general play in this interaction? They play the role of the therapist, being, as they are, the very tools, the mediums for transference to happen and let mutual experiences of inter-personal phenomena be enacted. We could start from the assumption that reality is interpreted as perception.

Therefore, transference in the visual or verbal arts can be seen as a way to interpret reality starting from it and going beyond its frame, a communicative attempt to transfer to others one's understanding of it, from both a rational and unconscious perspective, whereas unconscious or irrational accounts of the world's phenomena are not only to be taken as metaphors, but as a hyper-communicative constructions (as in the Surrealist attempts to organize in a complex structure the unfathomable mental experiences that occur in dreaming where reality is superimposed by our interpretations and marked by an fundamental unpredictability of response).

So, in my understanding, the term “transference” refers to the author's chosen mean of transports, say the artistic forms he or she engages in as getaways to verbal or visual disclosure, or, if you prefer, “revelation”. Revelation, here, is not intended, of course, in a mystical and esoteric sense, but merely as the epiphany of the real: the fantastical but also the logical and organizational experience of the relationship of the author's mind with his materials and tools as well as with the factual actions needed to transfer these experiences and epiphanies to the external world (say, of letting one's creations move beyond any encompassed intra-psychic realm).

Moreover, when one reflects upon these peculiar aspects of creation, we will see how much of the artist's verbal or visual expressions involve material derived from his conscious as well as from his unconscious perceptions of the world in terms of “facts of life” and “imaginative constructions”. An example of this is Un Chien Andalou, by Buñuel and Dali or Buñuel's “Le fantôme de la liberté ” (The Phantom of Liberty) 1987, designed both to shock the bourgeois and to make a parody of the avant-garde. It is clear that, in exceeding and surpassing even the Surrealist modes and discourses, these artists were enacting an hyper-critique of society and of the artist's realistic and/or imaginative productions, creating, by so doing, the notion of the trans-avant-garde.

I would also like to underline a necessary distinction between perceptions of reality and expressions of fantasy, conscious and unconscious, both in the artist and in the spectator, which occur within this process of transference. This will allow us to understand the role that both parties have in this exchange which is made possible by multiple shifting interpretative steps through verbal and non-verbal vehicles of transactions. Transference, thus, is an interactional process, involving no notion of passivity of the audience whatsoever. We can, indeed, assume that a reader, responding to an object the poet has set in the reality of this creation, is also transferring back ,or anew, his or her feelings and constructions, in the form of free associations, from an object of reality belonging to his or her past onto the poet. The reader's mental, emotional and behavioral responses are, therefore, as in the Derrida's sense improper or Eco's theory of the “opera aperta”, major components of the process of transference and are essential to transcend the reductive frame possibly created by a given work of art. These perspectives imply the exercise of a counter-authority assumed by the reader and conferred by the symbolic meaning of his or her narratives, producing concurrent changes in the frame of the author's story.

The idea involves not only the centrality of interpretation as such, but that of translation, in its creative interaction with a given text for the circulation and regeneration of ideas and aesthetical values through literature and beyond it, with the consequent radical questioning of the cultural, aesthetical, ideological standards being transmitted. The revolution of Ezra Pound's translation of Chinese poems (that he merely decoded with the aid of extensive notes) lies without a doubt in the centrality neither of the poet nor of the translator as implicit authorities but of the idea of “transference” itself in relation to the chosen means of transport.

In his analysis of literary works, Mikhail Bakhtin used the expression “double-voicing”, or vari-directional double voicing (as in irony or parody) to account for the kind of dynamics I am referring to - which actively at work within a text make the text capable of resisting dialogically any attempts by the critique to fix or finalize its meaning in a rigid structure.

To conclude, I'd like to suggest an image and a poem which will synthesize better than any of my theoretical explanations my idea of transference, and it is that of Icarus flying high towards the sun, following the spirit of his father's project of freedom, but meeting the dissipating, if not disastrous, outcome of his young soul's drive to extend that freedom beyond all limits.

The Night Poet.

The first story I ever heard
Was that of Icarus
Of how he
Missed the sun
And how he fell and sank
Deep in the sea
Leaving in the sky the stain
Of his parable.
And also of how that flight
Was all Daedalus' making, Daedalus' plan.

I used to hear the story at bed-time
Murmured in cold indigo depths
Rising from the grotto
Of my father's mouth
My exclusive bard
Turning on me his vacant gaze
Blinded by the night gloom.

And I would know the fire
Burning Icarus' wings
As dreams of adolescence
The splash of the young limbs attracted
In a blue chasm
Daedalus still high above witnessing the fall
with a desperate howl.

Thirsty I would call for water.
And in the dark I'd sense
Each crevice of my father's face
With minute fingers.

Bard of the human venture
Father of lost traces
On whose chest I would
Place my ear
To seize the voice of the unsaid
All the whispers from the starry branches
Of that dark wood
The blood resonance
In him that runs in me
Like a deep river.

© Erminia Passannanti 12 Febraury 2001

Italian Version

Poeta notturno  

  La prima storia che abbia mai ascoltato
Fu quella di Icaro
Di come mancò
Il sole
Di come cadde ed affondò
Nel mare
Lasciando nel cielo la scia
Della sua parabola.
E anche di come quel volo
Fosse tutto un costrutto di Dedalo, un suo saldo

Sentivo la storia prima d'andare a letto
Bisbigliata in fredde falde d'indaco
Sorgere dall'antro cavernoso
Di mio padre
Il mio esclusivo aedo
Che volgeva su di me il suo sguardo vacuo
Reso cieco dalle tenebre.  

E immaginavo il fuoco
Che ardeva le ali di Icaro
Come sogni d'alolescenza
Il tonfo delle giovani membra attratte
In un azzurro abisso
Dedalo ancora in volo che con grida straziate
seguiva dall'alto la caduta.  

In quell'arsura io gli chiedevo acqua.
E al buio percepivo
Ogni singola crepa sul volto di mio padre
Con minuscole dita.  

Poeta della vicenda umana,
Padre di tracce smarrite
Sul cui petto
Posavo l'orecchio
Per cogliere la voce del non detto
Tutti i bisbiglii sommessi tra i rami stellati
Di quell'oscura selva
La risononza del sangue
In lui che in me scorreva
Come in un fondo greto.  

  erminia passannanti, 12 febbraio 2001

Erminia Passannanti is an Italian poet, translator and essayist. She read Modern Languages at The Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of the Salerno University (Italy). She is completing a doctorate at the UCL (London University College) on the poetry of Franco Fortini. Erminia Passannanti has hosted a group of European poets on the occasion of the United Nations celebration of The Year of Dialogue among Civilizations through Poetry. She lives in Oxford (UK) and teaches Italian Literature at the St Clare's College. To visit Transference, www.transference.f2s.com.