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Alexandre Benois. Petrouchka, de Igor Stravinski. 1920

The verbal language takes place in an already advanced stage of the psychic-motor development of the human being without the child having encountered any difficulties what so ever to communicate his existence and his primary needs to the surrounding environment. In effect, the newborn has a vast range of expressive possibilities at his disposition before he begins to speak: smiles, gestures, stances, cries and rhythmic movements.

In the first stages of his development man expresses himself with his body; the first useful gestures for a baby are expressive gestures, signals founded on hereditary patterns aimed at soliciting the necessary attention and gratification for his needs from the surrounding environment.
Only later, during the course of his development, man will learn that it is not always opportune to leave his needs to free expression and that these will not always find satisfaction.
Gradually, with the germinating of the verbal language, the child will become aware that it is much more disciplinable than the motor one and the gesture one, it is more authentic par excellence since there is no affective perturbation which does not manifest itself in the stance and in the gesture of the upset subject.
At a certain point of the human existence, especially in the industrialised western world, a drastic repression happens: everyone continues to express themselves by gestures and stances, but the body-expression ceases to have any dignity or value of communication and it becomes an “accident” or a “disturbance” and sooner or later it must bow down to the supremacy of the Word, the only legalised communicative instrument. In other terms the human being loses something which he possessed before without any compensation. It is important to underline the concept that the verbal language and the body language are not equivalent or interchangeable: even the most superficial observations lead to the conclusion that they draw from different fields.
The movement, as well as representing a form of communication, is also a fundamental means for extending the knowledge of oneself and of one’s own environment. In fact, beside movements which express themselves with a motor skill that is not finalised but is in keeping with the very need for movement (undifferentiated motor discharge finalised for the dissipation of energetic accumulations), the exploration behaviour which responds to the need of knowledge assumes, especially in children, a great value: movement, therefore, as source of knowing. This affirmation is better substantiated if we move our attention to the play function, another fundamental activity for the child, which is as important in the correct structuring of the psychosomatic equilibrium as is the movement during the first months of life.
Even the play, as the body expression, disappears in the adult life; or at least it is denied of any dignity and, when it arises, it is indicated as a “difficulty” and becomes a symptom, a signal.
Nicola Peluffo, among the many innovative contributions which he has given us in a pioneering way, thanks to the deep integration between genetic epistemology (personally learnt from the Master Piaget) and freudian psychoanalysis, has also recently indicated another thread of research, individualising an unconscious phenomenology defined “Child”. Peluffo defines “Child” “… that part of the adult in which the infantile residues remain encysted…”1
The play is not an exclusive prerogative of the human species: it is common both in animals and man. And yet the human play has its own specificity inasmuch as it is not limited to the releasing of simple motor discharges or only to the simple activity of exploration. In play the “function of simulation” 2 is built-in, which specifically represents the highest level of the knowledge and learning function: “The imaginative and the simulation function is not orientated towards owning the object but, on the contrary, it implies the reflection of the subject upon himself feeling pleasure for his own activity and creating a fictitious world in which everything happens according to one’s very own desires using all the forces of the affective life. The play, like the adaptive activity, is a conduct through which a certain balance between the internal and external world, tends to realise itself”. 3
The zoopraxiscope* - a couple waltzing Therefore, in the child’s play and also in that of the adult, those desires inhibited to the action which filled the infancy and which have been removed come back to life and look for a realisation. I believe that it is this partial and camouflaged realisation which is the very source of the pleasure embedded in the play. Without going into too much detail, we can limit ourselves to consider how great a part of the removed desires, arisen in the pre-verbal age, can find a privileged realisation in the motor activity, more or less ritualised in sports and dance.
From an operative point of view of the psychoanalysis, this fact implies the existence and the conservation of traumatic traces that do not have corresponding verbal codes which describe them, but rather, motor patterns of difficult recognition during the psychoanalysis which accompany them; motor patterns which should be adequately studied. (see the article by Nicola Peluffo, “Formation and Consequences of a Traumatic Trace“, appearing in this Review).
Peluffo had already introduced into his clinical observations the interesting tool called “posturogramma” (posturgram) to underline the importance of the study of the gestures and movement. 4
The repetition of a certain movement in dance and in sport, if on a rational level has the task and the function of sharpening the efficiency of the gesture with the aim of increasing the performances, on the deep level it often corresponds to the realisation of a need/desire of decreasing the tension. A tension, clearly, dating back to a traumatic trace memorised in the unconscious and which can, therefore, potentially always be reactivated.
In the case in which the motor of the repetition is a traumatic vicissitude, it is evident that, because of the existence of the compulsion to repeat, the coveted distension is never reached.
The ritualisation of the highly formalised movement, on one hand represents a sublimation of aggressive-sexual pressures and on the other hand a more or less efficient compromise of tensional binding (often, evident compulsive rituals which precede the performance, are recognisable in athletes).5
This consideration, from a clinical point of view, evidences the notable difficulty of reaching a total dissolution of conflicts in subjects characterised by motor sublimations such as dancers or gymnasts.

Written by: Quirino Zangrilli © Copyright

Translated by Linda De Nardo

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1  Le manifestazioni del Bimbo nella dinamica transfert-controtransfert, Scienza e Psicoanalisi, settembre 2006. 
2  J. Le Boulch, Verso una scienza del movimento umano, 1975, Armando Armando Editore. 
3  J. Le Boulch, ibidem. 
4  N. Peluffo, Per un posturogramma della seduta, Bollettino dell’Istituto Italiano di Micropsicoanalisi n.1, Diffusioni grafiche Villanova Monferrato (AL), 1985.
Consulta anche l’articolo di Luigi Baldari “La postura” pubblicato su questa stessa rivista. su!
5  Ringrazio le Colleghe Bruna e Gioia Marzi per il contributo datomi per la messa a punto di questo concetto. su!