Avatars of Desire and the Question of Presence: Virtual and Transitional Spaces Meet Their Liminal Edge – from Pygmalion to Spike Jonze’s Her, and Beyond…

by Alfred S. Margulies, MD


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


There is a poignant strangeness to Spike Jonze’s movie Her (2013); we resonate with the characters’ clumsiness in trying to reach one another, each an avatar to the other’s desire. The movie is an expression of the human condition of being grounded in desire that can never fully settle itself. And because desire arrives wrapped in fantasy, it is always-already virtual. As analysts we are familiar with this: the analytic situation itself structures a transitional space – a virtual space – that situates the analyst, too, as an avatar of desire. The liminal frame of the analytic space maintains the transitional possibilities by heightening, frustrating, and sustaining a core of desire wanting to be expressed – and not merely in words. And here at the threshold of connection lie the possibilities of new awareness.

The Question of Presence: What does it Mean to Be Somebody?

What does it mean to be somebody? Here is Lily Tomlin: “All my life I wanted to be somebody. And then I realized I was aiming too low.” And how about Tom Ripley, the charming psychopath in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella, 1999): “I’d rather be a fake somebody than a complete nobody.” Consider too the prescient New Yorker cartoon of two dogs typing away at a monitor: “On the internet no one knows you’re a dog.”

And there you have it: The deep wish to be somebody in a world of other somebodies, the opportunity to create self anew, and the illusory self-affirmation in the reflected mirror of the other. True self/False self <…>

International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 97/6: 1697–1708, December 2016.

Link to Online Publication (fulltext can also be requested from the library).


About the Author

Alfred S. Margulies is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and Associate Chair at the Cambridge Health Alliance Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Another of his recently published articles is The Varieties of Nothingness: Commentary on Henry P. Schwartz’s Papers on Perec and Pontalis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 85/1: 179-187, January 2016.


Previous Posts:

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD. (2016). The Capacity to Tell a Joke: Reflections from Work with Asperger Children. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 97/6:1609–1625.

Nancy Chodorow, PhD. Twentieth-Century Psychoanalysis. In The Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalysis in the Social Sciences and Humanities edited by Anthony Elliott and Jeffrey Prager. Routledge 2016, chapter 11, p. 185-205.

Axel Hoffer, MD & Dan Buie, MD. (2016). Helplessness and the Analyst’s War against Feeling it. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 76/1:1-17.

Fred Busch, PhD. (2016). The Search for Psychic TruthPsychoanalytic Quarterly, 85/2: 339-360.

Daniel Jacobs, MD. (2016). Clinical supervision of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Edited by Jill Savege Scharff. London: Karnac Books, 2014, xvi + 176 pp., $39.95 paperback. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 64/2:431-437.

Judy L. Kantrowitz, PhD (2016). Appreciation of the Importance of the Patient–Analyst “Match”. Psychiatry, 79:1, 23-28.

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