“A woman as myself”. Creativity and the image of the woman in Death instinct and knowledge. How it changed the history of art an ideas.


In our contribution, we want to find out where the idea of the “female image” came from and how far it went in Massimo Fagioli’s theory. This will help us understand how revolutionary it was, both at the time Death Instinct and Knowledge came out, when it went against most examples of cultural modernism, and for the reinterpretation of the history of creativity, which includes the most famous reflections on art from ancient times to the present day.

In his first book, Death Instinct and Knowledge, Massimo Fagioli talks about an “inner feminine situation.” This is a “feminine position to be recovered” by both men and women: an affective situation, a process of reaching human psychic life (M. Fagioli, 2017, p. 94 and p. 95). The “feminine,” then, is the possibility of “ideal interactions” during the psychic evolution (Ibid., p. 92), which includes the disappearance of something and the appearance of something else. It is best understood as creativity, which comes from a fertile, especially sexual, relationship with the world. In Death Instinct and Knowledge, which came out in 1972, the idea comes up in the second chapter’s second-to-last paragraph. It turns up in a very strong way in the foreword to the second edition of the same volume in 1976, where Fagioli makes it clear that he wants to fight back against the negative reactions to the book’s release. The author describes himself allegorically as a “woman” who, despite the surrounding Freudian violence, “managed to make a baby and make it grow” (Ibid., p. 298). This is the first time in his writings that the feminine appears as an “image,” visually referring to a pregnant, giving birth, active woman. It is a “way of being” that is marked by resistance and vitality and “does not cancel the established relationship.” Fagioli finds one more image for it in the “virgin who lets herself be deflowered […] and can “force” the male to become a woman who lets herself be deflowered and fertilised” (Ibid., pp. 297–298).

All of these ideas form the basis of the so-called The Peasant Girl, or History of an Interview, the introduction to Child, Woman, and the Transformation of Man, which is published in December 1979. The whole book is based on the image of a “serious girl” (p. 9) who “feels no repulsion in the face of substance” (p. 11) and “never thinks of her own death”. Also, “it’s impossible to educate her, she’s a threat to the established rules” (p. 17).

Also in 1980, Instinct of Death and Knowledge was republished with a new introduction written in 1979 for an unaltered French edition. Here, the author says again how important art and images are to him and explains that resistance to nullification is a method that consists in refusing absence, in responding to absence with presence, in «affirming the derivation of the being from  the being, and in rejecting the nothingness, that is but reality created by alienated man» (p.304). Sure, “feminine,” which was brought up before and turned into a linguistic representation, is the opposite of “without source”: «a method that does

not allow for the hypothesis of a nonexistent […] since nothingness creates nothing» (ibid.). The idea of the abstract absolute, the divine, and the sacred is also neutralised because «before any birth there must have been something else» (p. 324): «a dialectical praxis, a concrete confrontation».

This creativity of the mind, which Massimo Fagioli calls “feminine” and which is a valid part of human identity and psychic reality, can also be set up as the activity of making new things, as the physical manifestation of being and being present. If Fagioli himself calls his books «a trigeminal birth, the secret of a woman’s womb that rebels against death and absence, a fertile nature that continues to give birth despite violent oppression» (M. Fagioli, 2011, p. 296 and p. 303), it seems clear that he is talking about a creative identity that has the power to bring this invisible reality outside of itself, giving it a body. So, he is also talking about artists and their work, no matter what kind of “material” it is. If this idea of the feminine turns into a real thing, we’re talking about art too. That means taking creativity out of all cultural stereotypes and rethinking it from the inside, seeing it as a continuous “transformation” in a process of alternating connections and separations. Also, by giving women a new sense of image, it allows for a first-of-its-kind historical review of the “feminine” in the history of Western thought, showing the false praise that has been given to it and the overly partial oppositions to current thinking that still strongly define our culture.



“Una donna, il sottoscritto”, M.Fagioli, Istinto di morte e conoscenza, L’Asino d’oro Edizioni, Roma 2017, p. 298.



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