The pandemic provoked by the covid-19 virus is having enormous repercussions not only on the health of thousands of people but also on the psychic structure of the entire human race. Never before has an issue regarding health had such vast media coverage. For obvious reasons, neither the Black Death which devastated Europe between 1347 – 1352 killing over a quarter of the population nor the Spanish flu epidemic which between 1918 – 1920 infected 200 million people causing over 10 million victims, had such coverage.
The web, social media, whatsapp, Telegram, basically every modern Channel of communication bombard us with approximate and sensationalist information, often tailor–made and implausibly overdramatised for the sake of gaining exposure in the immense planetary magma of information. The virus is much more present psychically than in substance. To get an idea it is sufficient to look at the spike in the web search query “coronavirus“ typed on google, shown in the image below. It is obviously the most searched key word in Italy.
The Virus in Filmography and Literature
Viruses even more so than bacterias have always fascinated the human mind. It is sufficient to think of all the films and novels dedicated to this topic. It is practically impossible to make a thorough list. We will mention just a few also thanks to indications from the expert (Alessandro Gallo – communications personnel). “Resident Evil” by Paul W.S. Anderson (2002) is surely the most well-known among the younger generations (based on a videogame): the T virus, after having exterminated the scientists who were working on its creation, transforms human beings into mutant zombies. From the same year “Twenty-eight days later” by Danny Boyle: here the consolidated image of the zombies’ imperfection is demolished, rather than dragging their feet awkwardly they run!
In “The Road” by John Hillcoat (2010), based on the homonymous novel by Cormac McCarthy, we follow the endeavours of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son on a journey to the United States of America in the search for a more peaceful place to live. A strange epidemic (of which the origins are not uncovered) has halved the world’s population. The few survivors have become cannibals in a total widespread human aggression.
In “Contagion” by Steven Soderberg (2011) Gwyneth Paltrow dies after contracting the first symptoms of flu. Similar to these days of the coronavirus the protagonist has contracted a virus called MEV-1 that damages the lungs and the nervous system. The virus begins to expand rapidly infecting the whole world whilst a cure is being searched for.
There are tens of other films which are all similar and just as famous, as there are tens and tens of scienze fiction novels dedicated to this topic.
I find “The Stand” written by Stephen King in 1978
particularly interesting, you will understand why shortly. Some scientists alter a flu virus vector with the aim of obtaining a bacterial weapon with the capacity of infecting 99.4% of the subjects it encounters. Within a few days it manages to wipeout almost the entire human race. The very few survivors have one thing in common, an oneiric state (this is the detail which interests me the most) that leads them to contact a dark-skinned clairvoyant, Mother Abagail who tries to organise them to form a peaceful community. Contemporaneously in another part of the planet, Randall Flag, the evil incarnated (also present in some of King’s other books) tries to organise his army from the darkness. It will be the fight between good and evil that determines the survival of the human species, in psychoanalytic terms the urging eternal dynamism of death-life drive.
“Blindness” by Josè Saramago, “Pandemic” by A.G. Riddle and “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston, a fiction based on a true story about the origins of the Ebola virus, are perhaps the most famous.
In “Urania” by John Scalzi (2016), millions of human beings who have been infected by a globale virus find themselves paralysed, no longer able to move a single muscle (another detail which raises my interests).
However, I had promised to talk about the psychic activation caused but the coronavirus.
Psychism and Coronavirus
Lets begin with a suggestive image:
On the left we can see a scientific image of a coronavirus, on the right an image of a human ovum during the moment of fertilisation: two images of contamination.
Maybe not many people know that, after all, the creation of a human life – the conception, is a traumatic act which resembles the assault of viruses or bacterias: it is most probably the first act of aggression accomplished by the future human being. The spermatozoon which has undergone the spermatic maturation during its transition along the female genital ducts encounters the ovum: thus the acrosome reaction begins, consisting in the liberation by the spermatozoa of lithic enzymes which begin to dissolve the zona pellucida of the egg: the two pre-exisiting biological entities no longer exist and a fusion of the two gametes occurs.
Therefore human life begins with an aggressive act which is necessary in order to violate the cellular structure of another living structure and give life to the project of eternalisation of the genome. The virus, which cannot live for long outside a biological organism, does the same thing: it attempts to use human beings to duplicate and eternalise itself.
The same dynamic was at the centre of the successful “Alien” saga, whose first film was directed by Ridley Scott in 1979: also here there was an egg and an infesting parasite. A team of astronauts enter the wreckage of a gigantic alien spaceship, where they find a huge fossilised body of an alien with an enormous laceration in its chest; the vice commander Kane, lowering himself into the cargo hold finds a multitude of strange objects which resemble eggs. One of these suddenly opens and a parasite squirts out and, after having cracked his helmet, it sticks to his face. Kane is medically assisted and taken back to the spaceship.
Commander Ripley, realising the danger of the situation, insists on applying the quarantine protocol which entails the impedance of the contaminated member of entering the spaceship, thus avoiding any possible contamination. The sequence of events are known to everyone: violation of the quarantine and a foreseeable disaster.
I have recalled this element because one of the most frequent phenomena that expert psychoanalysts observe in patients during pregnancy is the massive manifestation of a series of dreams about “bacterial or viral infestation” as the founder Nicola Peluffo defined it when he conducted specific research at the University of Turin during his years of teaching.
(regarding which, below is the link of my article for consultation “The intrauterine war: The hypotheses of micropsychoanalysis are confirmed by the evolutionary biology” 2007)
Just as the gestation, in other words a “physiological virosis” (please forgive the expression!) produces an oneiric dynamic in which women have anguishing dreams in which they are contaminated by viruses or bacteria and defend themselves from this aggression, it is probable that the media bombardment to which we are exposed and the fears (which obviously have a true sound basis) that combine with people’s subconscious fantasies, more so kaleidoscopic since the virus is not representable nor visible, leads to a regressive movement up to the so-called initiation stage (intrauterine) with the activation of relative archaic defence mechanisms .For example, the denial and the splitting often work together. You will all have read the news about the gathering of thousands of smurfs (spermatozoa!) beyond the alps who, together with enthusiastic declarations of omnipotent refusal of the real danger (“it isn’t true”, “it’s all a hype”, “it’s just a simple flu”, “it can’t touch us”) assembled together in thousands to break a record, thanks to the implementation of a splitting mechanism between the conscious-egoic (that’s if they actually have an ego :-D) that knows well the dangers of a similar assemblage of masses, and the subconscious which builds the phantasm of the omnipotent smurf the Great Smurf: we all know that make-believe characters cannot die.
Lastly the necessary quarantine to which we are compelled and to which we are absolutely not used to, having enjoyed the greatest and maybe inconceivable liberty of movement of any era, places us back into the claustrophobic situation of the foetus, a foetus that dreams its mother’s dreams of bacterial/viral infestation.
What To Tell The Children
Finally, many people have written to me asking how to present the situation to their young children. My answer is the following: until the child asks for explanations, there is no need to expose him to the problem. Evidently his mechanisms of psychic defence will function properly. I cannot stand that assault pedagogy which tends to give any kind of explanation to the child for every situation.
So, now that the working activities are at a standstill, I would give this piece of advice: read with great care the unparalleled masterpiece of psychological literature “The Child’s Conception of the World” by Jean Piaget. It will remind us that up to the age of 6/7 years children are located in the so-called preoperational psychic stage. Once the radical egocentricity of the sensorimotor stage has passed, in this next stage an intellectual egocentricity persists, meaning that other people’s point of view is in no way different from their own, in other words children only see things from their own point of view. So, for example, they will say “grass grows so that I won’t hurt myself when I fall”. Believing that everyone thinks the same way they do and that everyone understands their thoughts (from here results their killing rage towards the parents’ NO) typically when they tell a story they will do so in such a way that the listener (who is not familiar with the story) will not understand anything. They reason by free association, due to ideas which contaminate themselves.: let’s therefore leave them to their defence mechanisms without exhausting them with useless notions that they cannot understand. What really matters is the presence of a genuine and empathetic parent by their side and their ability of elaborating their anxieties, which the children immediately perceive by identification.
I will conclude these brief lines with a request: whoever may dream about the virus appearing in the manifest content please send me a detailed report to the following email address: [email protected]
Happy quarantine. We will make it through!
Written by: Quirino Zangrilli © Copyright
Translated by Linda De Nardo
Doctor Quirino Zangrilli was born in Fiuggi in 1955. Graduated with honours in Medicine and Surgery in 1980, he practices Psychoanalysis, with intensive method, since 1982. He is author of 72 scientific pubblications. He has attended as speaker or president of session to many national and international scientific Conventions. His book “La vita:involucro vuoto” (Life: empty involucre), published by Borla in 1993, has been in use by the Chair of Dynamic Psychology at Turin’s University since 1994. He is the author and founder of the multimedia review “Psicoanalisi e Scienza” (Psychoanalysis and Science), the most read Italian on line review of psychoanalysis. In 2012 he participated as a Speaker at the Scientific Festival of BergamoScienza. In 2013 he illustrated his research on the maternal-fetal interaction in the Special Session of the XI World Congress of Perinatal Medicine in Moscow with his relation “Intrauterine Imprinting”. He is visiting teacher at Moscow Institute of psychoanalysis and training psychoanalist of Swiss Institute of Micropsychoanalysis
Le Le Docteur Quirino Zangrilli est né à Fiuggi en 1955. Diplômé avec mention en Médecine et Chirurgie en 1980, il pratique la psychanalyse depuis 1982, en utilisant une technique intensive. Il est l’auteur de 72 livres et publications scientifiques. Il a participé en tant que conférencier ou président de session à de nombreuses conférences scientifiques nationales et internationales. Son livre “La vie : enveloppe vide”, publié par Borla en 1993, est adopté depuis 1994 par la Chaire de Psychologie Dynamique de l’Université de Turin. En 1994, il a reçu le “Prix national Ciociaria de médecine”. Il a conçu et fondé le magazine multimédia “Psicoanalisi e Scienza”, qui est le magazine de psychanalyse en ligne en italien le plus suivi au monde. (Source : Entireweb, Alexa, Google, Virgilio, Arianna., etc.). En 2012, il a participé en tant que conférencier à la colloque scientifique de BergamoScienza. En 2013, il a exposé ses études sur l’interaction materno-fœtale lors de la session spéciale du XIe Congrès mondial de médecine périnatale à Moscou avec le rapport “Intrauterine Imprinting”. Il est chargé d’enseignement au cours de spécialisation de trois ans en psychanalyse, psychothérapie psychanalytique et consultation psychanalytique à l’Université de Moscou. Il est membre didacticien de l’Institut Suisse de Micropsychanalyse et de la Commission pour la Pratique de celui-ci.