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Enneagramma

2014 was a strange year for me, dedicated to healing in every way the wounds of a relationship that had ended long ago but continued to have the effect of Odette de Crécy on Swann. That summer I had concluded a year of Gestalt therapy, which had at times exhilarated me – especially for its theoretical framework – and at times disappointed me – especially for its practical implementation. The fact is that at the end of the course, we could choose one of three intensive workshops dedicated to specific themes.

One of these was the enneagram. At the time I didn’t know what it was, and at first glance I’m afraid I have to admit that it seemed to me the usual mystical and shamanic discipline aimed at promising illumination and cheap salvation, as I had already encountered so many over the years. And I chose to do another workshop.

I lived several more years in my blissful ignorance, before someone started to at least make me realise the potential of this tool, and encouraged me to read an introductory book. Since then, I keep looking for the opportunity to do an experiential workshop on this technique, as this is the only way to actually put it into practice. And of course I am biting my fingers that I gave it up when it was handed to me on a silver platter.

Perhaps what won me over about this technique is that its subdivision of human beings into nine types is not based on abstract or even esoteric criteria, but entirely psychological; and to identify the enneatype one really has to dig deep into a person’s knowledge. That is why it is difficult enough to recognise one’s own character, let alone that of others: nevertheless, one can always try, and for me I admit it is also a game.

To begin with, we divide characters into three basic groups: instinctual, rational and emotional. The latter would seem to be the easiest to recognise, although this is not necessarily so: as far as I’m concerned, I’m pretty sure I’m an emotionalist at the moment. In turn, each of these types can be divided into three enneatypes: in the case of the emotional, these are 2, 3 and 4. I believe I am a 4, or ‘low emotional’, because I find in myself with impressive precision its characteristics. The 4 tends towards envy and a tragic view of existence – so it also has a strong sense of the comic – and a particular sensitivity to art. This means the search for both the beautiful and the original: everything that 4 does must be distinctive, and make it unique. That’s what lies at the heart of my choices and my lifestyle: originality. I often find the idea that I can repeat what others have already done unbearable, but this drive to be original at all costs is more of an obsession than a reality. And this obsession costs me dearly, because it makes all simple things complicated.

I have always been fascinated by instinctuals, and in the enneagram scheme my master would be type 1 which is the instinctual moralist, who always knows what is right and what is wrong. A famous example of type 1 is Johann Sebastian Bach, in fact his music has a sense of perfection and inevitability that makes us feel it is divine. It is not a beauty that excites but a beauty that amazes and inspires infinite admiration.

Another instinctual one is character 8, commonly called ‘the boss’. An excellent example is found in A Wonderful Struggle, the autobiographical book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the brightest African-American intellectuals of the new generation. On page 36 she describes what her brother Bill was like, ‘who was always wrong… He listened selectively, and took seriously only his inner compass, calibrated, in his opinion, to the way the world was spinning. He was a bull, with simple thoughts, and although I found him insufferable, and I was not the only one, his firmness generated the utmost respect in me. My brother was not the reflective type, and that made him fearless. If he saw you getting into a fight, he would jump in and fight, but it would take him several days before he thought to ask why we were fighting. He was also loyal, and that always got him friends wherever he decided to hang up his Baltimore B hat. That summer in the Towson dorms, he expanded his circle of allies. He began to wander up north to Liberty Heights, on the corner of Wabash and Sequoia, more than a mile away from the Mondawmin. He didn’t leave Tioga altogether, but an aspiring king needs vassals in every land.

Another celebrated 8 of contemporary literature is Lila, the indomitable, magnetic, generous and evil, rapacious and stubborn genial friend of Elena Ferrante’s novel. In early October, I went to the cinema to see the first two episodes of the television adaptation, directed by Saverio Costanzo, and it was an opportunity to rethink my old assumptions about their enneatypes. I always thought Lenù was an emotional, ambitious girl, in need of external success to fill her insecurities. Her sin is lies and pretence. In short: a 3. For Lenù the most important thing is to make a good impression; for Lila, making a good impression is the least important thing of all.

As I proceeded to listen to the audiobook, I think I understood a possible hidden meaning of the quadrilogy: the two friends together would represent a metaphor of writing, and more generally of creativity. In fact, it arises from the intense but difficult relationship between two very different forces such as Lila – instinctual, ignorant but also dazzling in her brilliant intuitions – and Lenù: hyper-literate, disciplined, refined, but full of insecurities and performance anxiety. Lenù is also the one who, in the end, puts her name on what she publishes and seeks celebrity, while Lila would just like to disappear into thin air; yet Lenù would not know what to write if she were not in contact with Lila, her true source of inspiration.

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