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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2001 Winter;49(1):279-309.

Diagnosing The English Patient: schizoid fantasies of being skinless and of being buried alive.

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Canadian Psychoanalytic Society, Toronto Branch.


The psychological world of The English Patient is explored to deepen the understanding of schizoid states. The protagonist, Almásy, is a remote desert explorer whose triangular sadomasochistic affair with the married Katharine destroys them all. His damaged skin is understood as a symbolic representation of his psychological condition. For the schizoid, love consumes and leads to obliteration of the self, represented by the loss of identifying features, and to traumatic permeability (i.e., the loss of boundaries between self and other, and between the ego and repressed desires). Other schizoid themes are the animation of the inanimate, as in the depiction of the desert as a woman; hidden or buried identities; the digital and destructive experience of emotion represented by the conundrum of the bomb defuser; the sense that everything good is imaginary and might suddenly explode; and the moral unevenness of the characters. Almásy collaborates with the Nazis so he can retrieve Katharine's three-year-old corpse, with which he has necrophilic contact in a cave. Fantasies of the lost object buried within the self, of being buried alive, and of being skinned alive are related to the schizoid condition. Hyperpermeability is proposed as a core schizoid state, underlying schizoid withdrawal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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