Fleeting minds

Ideas and mental representations are floating and fleeting events and experiences – that is why it costs us a constant effort and commitment to sustain them. We seem to largely resist abandonment to a present sensory experience that would not bring guarantees of safety as to our capacity to respond to sollicitations from our social world and existence. We have to maintain a mental conditioning that would allow us to respond as spontaneously as possible in the most appropriate way, so not to risk the awkwardness or outrage of being off mark in some way. That comes down the tension exerciced toward our moral environment which would work in a prescriptive way, pressuring from the outside but internalised and anticipated from the inside.

However, maybe one of our worst fear is to lose track of our own mental continuity in line with that prescription. Psychoanalyst’s Jacques Lacan’s idea of a ‘chain of the signifier’ does point to that anxiety of finding support on any mental representation that would do, at least momentarily. There is a constraint to that effort of conformity that is not that much based on care for oneself and others, but on the fear of their sanction and rejection. Our drive to attachment from an early age (in psychologist John Bowlby’s sense) confronts us to the way that family and its extensions are structured within societal boundaries to relational engagement and expression. Local dialogues and agreements between living beings are most of the time constained within those boundaries that affect the ways that we come forward with our needs up to their very possible question. If the way to conduct oneself is prescribed as one and unique possible way, there is nothing to ask if not being led to question the very foundations of such an exclusive way. And again, if we cannot ask that very question, the call for an answer will go on trying to find its own way within the limited available possibilities, especially when those carry the weight of an often unspoken violence.

Memory was never meant to be fixed, as its sensorimotor and neural roots are always sollicitating connections and self-generation. So, what we do, is try to put on hold micro-spaces in order to grasp onto those mental generations into something that could remind us of some idea of what might be expected in such or such social environmental conditions. In an earlier talk with a physicist working at the Paris University of Jussieu on astral particles and black matter, he explained to me to how they were looking for those particles of black matter that would be able to cross the surface of the mountains of the Pyrenees deeper than most particles do from the universe. By removing as much particle noise as possible around the site of their measurements, they hoped to catch something about it. The problem was that with no reference to configure their settings, as black matter is supposed to interact with no other particle, they could not be sure about anything to be found at this point. That is the inertia of indetermination, as a straight line needing no force nor effort to push itself through.

Our body knows how to sink into its own absoption within its sensory triggers and motor response impulses. We have been maintained very much in a strong state of dependency to others in order to seek our material vital needs, especially and up to a breaking point within our Western societies, as the generalised practice of externalisation and increase of social precarity induces insecurity upon them. Here, we are always in debt to someone else, and ultimately, to capital. So, it becomes often complicated to create our own questions, anything that would at least to belong to us so to address the issues of our potential insecurities. We have to borrow another language, so it goes circle. We are virtually sollicitated everytimes within our capacity to abstract relations and rarely get to fully take the time and space to dialogue with one another in whichever way. What we grasp on is often merely the hope for a momentary truce from the constant pressure to adapt a cycle of aggression, though we know that much of our difficulties have identified political roots. We cannot heal while being complicit to the way that our society models are built on the ruthless exploitation of the ressources and the living, but in the state where things are, we can merely survive without it on the individual level.

There is a spiral in the insecurity of living this way in this particular political and economical setting. The chain of the signifier is always a form of a chain of authority. The way that our mind works is and will always be floating and fleeting. That it should be a problem only relies on our fears, their causes and their consequences, but is also equally a matter of individual practice as it is of the collective.

Credit : « Moth », by La Fille Renne ❤

Social psycho-physionomy : a hypothesis ?

Beyond the questionable elaboration of any kind of ‘morphopsychology’ aimed at finding any absolute correspondence between physical traits and individual psychology, it remains interesting and maybe important to observe one other hypothesis : that the way that we are perceived by others according to conventional categories affects the reactions that they would have to our presence and thus, our possible interactions with them, up to the point that it would encourage or inhibit our agency and its expression in a shared world of meaning.

That means that what we act and think doesn’t exist as an absolute, but only as the expression of possibilities according to what our bodies allow us to express and to the ways that we learn to control that expression so to seek gratification or avoid social and moral sanction. In any case, any intention of ours that we would express will be interpreted by others to the extent of what they see and project onto our bodies in the first place. Any prejudice and defence mechanism attached to certain body traits and/or conduct (in terms of gender associations, race or culture, social class markers, visible abilities or disabilities, alleged sexuality, …) will taint the value granted to our actions or the expression of our personality, whether in a positive, negative or rather neutral way.

As most of those prejudices are socially conditioned and generate some constants, from our first family environment to our social ones and the whole mythological ensemble that composes and ties together the values of our societies into our main narrative structures, we rapidly internalise them as prescriptions in order to avoid exclusion and hostility. There would be then indeed some kind of social psycho-physionomy, because our perception of our own identity as a composition of what it is possible for us to express or not in a world of others is conditioned by the way that other people are likely to perceive us and define in our place that identity, based on what they see from the outside. Some social elements of identification take part of such defaut identity prescriptions, according to some enforced social norms that any individual has to take position to. They are indeed enforced and internalised symbolically as the consequences of stepping out of them can be very material and impact our access to the resources vital to our survival, hence the violence that they can convey. It even becomes part of the compulsive activity of our stream of thought that works at maintaining a form of stability to the world around us while preserving as well as possible our capacity to respond to what is expected from our own physical and external attributes, as they are supposed to carry some meaning and lead to a certain outcome assiociated with those traits.

Therefore, maybe, the opposition between the symbolic and the imaginary, for instance as developed in lacanian theory, comes from the capacity or not to elaborate a correspondence between those attributes and any agreed meaning between parts, that would form a symbolic field for our agency that we could invest with a clear mind, given that its proper meaning would be understood, received and responded to without conflict. On the contrary, the imaginary would always fill the lack of a common understanding over the interpretation that we are to give to the external expression of a body’s capacity, personality and even sole presence in a shared world.

In a way, our imaginary is always in a struggle and resistance to that eventuality that our presence in the world would be misunderstood and mistaken for something that we have no inclination for. We are forced into a symbolic world that tends to polarise what is most difficult to admit into something that could be more easily assimilated into the practices of the group. As those compulsive identificatory mechanisms are embedded within a history of violence and systemic oppression, most of our instantaneous and mental responses to the presence of others may be based on fear, to which can also respond a misplacing of desire. For instance, in cispatriarcal and sexist societies, the fear of most cisgender men to be misidentify as potentially homosexual or overly feminine as they try to confirm their socially marked virility based on emotion control, may tend to disrupt desire into objectifying women or people identified as such into mere sexual attributes (that can assimilate people from groups assigned to minority as ‘weak’, inferior and whose intolerable and guilty presence should be resolved into destruction). As the violence of any desire would become opportunistic to self-reassurance, having to absolutely contradict the assumption of non-standard cisheterosexuality in order to keep conforming to the group’s line of conduct, it shows us one possible continuity within most sexist and sexual violence altogether, where self-inflicted violence is turned back against groups already assigned to minority (up to people under age for what concerns pedocriminal actions). The expression of certain emotions being likely to be identified as something that it may or may not be, in the panic of a social sanction and outcast, anything must come to compensate that fear of rejection and stigma.

Part of it is symbolic, in that case because it would have something to do with a problematic inscription of homosexual desire in the education of cisgender men, and part of it is imaginary, because the first event that comes to the mind and causes the panic is something that is merely coming to existence and has not specific determination yet : an outburst of sensorimotor projection as a response to a situation of tension to other bodies. Hence, somewhat, the partial nature of the way that pulsion, in freudian terms, would be displaced into sanctioned and problematic objects, to the subject’s suffering of an intolerable misunderstanding of their own feelings and sensations – such object as the idea of the penis of another cisgender man, that tells us something about how the classic oedipal structure may have itself seen erected the father’s ‘phallus’ into a silent taboo, while deriving the sexual drive to the mythical and convenient mother. In a way, maybe gay and queer sex in a large sense may show a way that a typical cisgender man’s penis could be disinvested from the archetypical father’s authority exercising necessarily a form of violence prescribed onto the subject. It is no wonder that the idea of freudian’s super-ego would be associated with the drive to morality (when not excessive) and that some analysts would see gay and queer identity as a lack of it, without analysing the dimension of constraint into the prescription of morality within a history of violence and oppression – in its confiscation of vital resources and its excruciating call to conformity onto those who can’t while asking for nothing else than to be able to live with peace and dignity.

Credit : « Moth », by La Fille Renne ❤

To pronounce is a negation

The key binding idea of the sensorimotor paradox theory is a process of alienation. If you think of the act of denomination, to use a word, for instance, to point at and mean some object, experience or element of reality around or inside of us, is comprising an ensemble of properties contained in the idea that we have of such an object and turning it into something else : an object of discourse. As soon as one pronounces the word that is meant to describe a reality, this same reality vanishes as what matters now is the experience of saying something related to a common experience about it. It enters the realm of abstraction, that negates it. Even when I say ‘me’, as soon as I say the word, this object of discourse replaces the very experience that I try to transmit to someone else – and comprehensible for them – of the fact that I am. In the same way, when I gaze at my own hand, as soon as I start to envision it as some random object that I could maybe grasp with the same hand, it becomes alienated from myself for a moment of stolen and suspended consideration.

This states the impossible simultaneity of the word with its object, of the hand that momentarily seems to be not mine with the one that is related to my interaction with the world, or the attention that I could pay to my present experience with the very sensory, motor and emotional experience of pronouncing, even just in thought, a word or an image to remember it.

About sensorimotor simulation

One last note would be addressed to the notion of sensorimotor simulation. The whole theory of the sensorimotor paradox lies on the idea that motor enaction of a contradictory situation, such as gazing at one’s own hand and the impossibility to catch it with itself, is subtituted by its imaginary outcome, which gets disconnected from the very need to enact sensorimotor impulse in the first place. Yet, the fact that the enaction of the impulse is contradicted, that the neural response is ‘delayed or lagged’ (to borrow from Gerald M. Edelman’s condition for self-consciousness) doesn’t mean that the impulse doesn’t come from the same place ; that is, that our imagination and stream of thought don’t come from the same neural system, only diverted from the possibility that the impulse should be enacted physically but contained, confined to the limits of the production of mental images and self-induced memory.

One empirical experience that could stress that, is that if one gets to mentally represent to themselves a continuous piece of music or sound, for example, that mental representation would be systematically cut off by physically emitted sounds such as breathing or tapping with one’s fingers – which are both a way that grounds us back to our present reality, as investigated by psychoanalyst Darian Leader in Hands (Hamish Hamilton, 2016). If I imagine a continuous sound, for instance an organ playing one continuous note, and I breathe in, even for half a second the sound that I imagine will be interrupted by the perception of the actual sound of my breathing – as I perceive it by the same way that I neurally perceive what I mentally produce from a reconstituted memory. Beyond speaking for a question of paying attention to two different things simultaneously, this kind of phenomenon supports the idea of emitting both a physical and mentally represented sound being physiologically impossible. I could be thinking or having a music playing in my head and still hear what is around me without the latter perturbing the continuity of my mental activity. But, it is something else when it comes to being able to think and emit a sound at the same time by whatever means. (The question should be addressed differently as to the linguistic experience of hearing impaired or deaf people, notably, as communication would be centred on other sensorimotor and memory organisations.)

This means that somehow, they have an equal value as to the origin of the experience, whether physically enacted or mentally simulated, which supports again the theory of the sensorimotor paradox. We can see the stream of thought, for instance, as a preparation of an action that is looped and continuously delayed. But, as soon as one sound is enacted from the body, it liberates motor enaction in its relation to sound perception and releases the effort of neural looping. We can triangulate the sensorimotor paradox hypothesis with Gerlad M. Edelman’s condition for self-consciousness and the fact that, as far as the physical action of emitting whatever sound is concerned, we cannot physically enact it and imagine it at the same time – in the same way that we can’t be with the hand and catch the hand with itself at the same time.

This note is meant to support further synthesis and elaboration from the theoretical corpus already existing on the matter. So it seems, things only just began.

About the stream of thought

In a previous text, we highlighted some of the issues that we might encounter with a certain use of the concept of the unconscious in psychoanalysis. In this additional note, we will precise something that could be analysed about the stream of thought and the role that it plays in controlling and repressing what might be framed as unconscious – as not expressed directly and openly to oneself, but also contained by something else, keeping the mind busy elsewhere from primary wounds, with thoughts and mental representations creating a diverting noise. (Further more, we will remind what we can take from the theory of the sensorimotor paradox, that is that the very action of thinking would be itself a defence mechanism and an imaginary resort to body disruption.)

Notably, what our daily mental activity and stream of thought teaches us about how we learn to think is that most of the commentaries that might come up, say, when we see somebody in the street, is often composed of the usual sorts of speech that we hear around us when it comes to certain apparent caracteristics of people and how we learnt to identify them according to some formalised system of association (the way that their body shows, the way that they dress, speak and behave and that we associate with desirable or undesirable traits, something different or alike from us, …). It is often less of a personal point of view that we might have about our actual encounter with such people, but an anticipation of what may be said about them according to discriminatory and reactionary perspectives from an enclosed world of meaning (might it be about notions of gender, race, social class, sexuality, disability, …).

When we learn how to speak, understand others and think, we learn it in a great part from situations of interaction with people situated in their experience, their traumas and their dependence on their own cultural and social situation. We learn to be situated as a function of other people’s reactions to us, how they objectify us or not and their conduct. When we learn to think and think ourselves, if we follow psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s proposition of the mirror phase, we learn that we are defined in our symbolic position amongst others by the commentaries that are made about us and others, as a world of contrast, and that how we define others in a way protects us from being pointed and commented at ourselves. Naming objects and people, as an intermediary space to run from our own inertia, would be, in that understanding, a reaction to the strangeness of being commented at. It is also a founding paradox that we can’t symbolically tell anything about ourselves without stepping out of ourselves, resorting to conventional means like a language system and external designation, even though we try to make ourselves special to ourselves and those closest to us (to borrow from Ellen Dissanyake’s artification theory in neuroaesthetics). Analysing our stream of thought then mostly tells us more about our insecurities about living and trying to situate ourselves in a world where certain body attributes might expose us to social stigma and rejection and others to care (even excessive care or objectification), than a reflection on who those people other than us (and potentially exposed to social stigma) might actually be beyond those compulsory and external identifications, but enriched by a foundation of acceptance and dialogue.

Really, we learn a great deal of how we should think and behave in our daily lives, according to that kind of compulsive control, by mentally repeating speech and assertions that we think might come up in certain situations as in the stories that we witnessed, those kinds of commentaries and phantasies of assertiveness and reclaimed agency that may release for a moment the tension of being around people in an open space without really knowing what to do about it, for most of us are so immature on so many affective levels. Most of us haven’t learnt to establish common ground with strangers without resorting to any prescribed and pre-established order and frame of meaning, and whether people other than us might conform to it or not. If it were completely open as a shared space, we could simply be around them and not mind that they share the same space as us, save the relations of power that keep us in the urgency of our constraint. (What is precious about Black American scholar bell hooks’ expression of an ‘Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy’ in intersectional studies, though incomplete, is how compact it all feels within one same body of experience.)

In fact, we are mostly educated and formed into the fear of being judged non-conformed to a set of norms according to which one would belong to the group or not. The fear of exclusion works against the safety of any open space, and that is why some healing and political spaces are held in non-mixity within concerned communities. The tension between sharing a common given space and the difficulty to create safe meeting areas would likely trigger that kind of fear of rejection and a reflex of targeting back at others as a response born from fear, arguing over why they should likely be rejected by the same logic of conformity to the group – something that philosopher Sara Ahmed analysed as to the way oppressed subjects might intuitively internalise, potentialise and have to adapt to a general climate of violence against them within their own body reaction.1 In a compulsive fashion, the apparent liberty of others to be in their own different way in the same space as us can make us very uncomfortable if this way is alien to the one that we were trained and are training ourselves to be fitting, because it exposes a space of freedom that maybe we internalised as dangerous. We are still trying to find some stability between what we are spontaneously prone to do and what we have come to forbid and repress ourselves from doing and even representing to ourselves as possible. Our world of meaning comes to shrink, as well as the scope of what we know and are open to, as to our own intuitive and bodily experience.

Whatever is, most of our compulsive daily thinking resorts on that reflex to use formalised and repeated speech in order to divert our attention from our deeper insecurities and the difficulty to be and feel safe in social spaces as bodies, that are always interpreted by others and thus, never neutral. ‘The intimate is political’, as it is said in feminist, intersectional and crip theory. If we are commented upon since our early age, of course, those commentaries stick to our skin and form our identity, along with more material issues that they are connected to (access to any resources that we need to grow and live in a sustainable way). Maybe, we feel attacked when anything evades the possibility to be commented at and then objectified and controlled – especially when it comes to something as uncontrollable and contradictory as desire –, as we learnt to navigate inside of such a dense network of designations and meanings, covering up the very sense of our own bodily experience that doesn’t seem to belong to us to decide and situate in our own terms. Only that experience, sensory and emotional, is and should be inalienable. The rest is noise, at least very much of it. It is the noise of having to deal with an environment of interpretation where we are the interpreting or the interpreted, where we objectify others but are first objectified ourselves since we were infants (in most cases).

Some practices, like the practice of Buddhism, help us disidentify from those commentaries that we make or that are made about ourselves, but that is no mean feat. Thoughts are memory, a self-generating and simulated sensorimotor memory. It is not logical at all. Those mental images come from our experience as a body and first defined by the limits of what our body experienced and is capable of experiencing. Our indecision as a body generates those kinds of neural loops, where neural and motor responses are ‘delayed or lagged’ into abstracted mental images (to borrow from neurobiologist Gerald M. Edelman), creating new memories that only happened in our own head that would loop again. And maybe, we cling on to that capacity to enclose our own mind and protect ourselves, stay in control of what happens by that very mean, especially as we are socially, morally and affectively trained to do that. Social norms have nothing to do with the diversity of modalities of experience and living, but most of the time with the violence of perpetuated structures of domination and conditioning. This is the frame of the world that we were made able to comprehend. So, it is important to take that note whenever we consider ourselves as thinking beings, that any of our abstraction is rooting out of a protecting screen of noise, that often leaves as us stranger to ourselves – and that under that screen, what we fear and cannot be said remains unseen.

1In Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

About the unconscious

The idea of the unconscious is a construction, a representation born of the idea of the repressed, as elaborated by Sigmund Freud in the early days of psychoanalysis. Freud elaborated his representations of the psychic apparatus as the first topic – being the unconscious, the preconscious and the conscious – around the year 1900, and the second topic – the id, the I and the superego – around 1923. Though there is an explicit connection in his work between what is proscribed and repressed to the mind into the unconscious and the matter of the body, this representation remains structured by a classical and binary view on the mind vs. the body – albeit Freud’s take on the theory of pulsions. Such a view still takes the mind as a closed system that somehow filters what can or cannot be expressed and assimilated to the structure of the self within a certain context. Whether we like it or not, speaking of an unconscious – rather than reflecting upon what remains unconscious as, unexpressed or unrepresented – essentialises the mental space where it is all supposed to take place, whatever we might think of it or do about it.

In the work that we are doing here, we suggested that the very capacity of our species to develop imagination and thoughts might have originated from a sensorimotor paradox, rooted in the very functioning of the body, its neural network and constant feedback with the individuals’ environment of interaction. In this case, mental images, symbolic relations and thoughts as mere simulations of sensorimotor memory would compose a whole that could not easily be told apart, as they are all intricated into one living, sensory and emotional experience. What can be tested by our direct experience is that we are constantly in control over what we can do or express or not. Necessarily, that control will inhibit what we forbid ourselves even to think of. What remains unconscious is simply what is forbidden and discarted from mental representation in our very constant relation with our cultural and social milieu.

As a consequence, of course, it impacts our conduct, our daily interactions, our experiences, creating new memories and especially, traumatic ones that will, in their turn, generate new points of control over what we allow ourselves to express, feel and think or not. To talk about an unconscious, it seems, would allow us to continue a process of disembodiement of that motion of control, that in fact occurs in this constant interaction with our surroundings from the moment that we are told how to do or not to do or think, encouraged to do some and discouraged to do others. Then, if we cannot understand and connect with our own agency why things are, should or should not be forbidden, of course, it will remain a traumatic inscription that cannot be told, because it cannot be talked about without facing an unsolvable conflict. If we cannot ask to understand something, we cannot let it out, make it something other than ourselves and consider it in common rather than identifying with it.

The very reification of the unconscious pertains to a feeling of control over what we think of our minds and bodies and what comes to us, without necessarily having to contextualise all that makes us a thinking body. That may be what we are going to do in this space for reflection.

Catégories et monde de sens

Texte en pdf ::

Les catégories auxquelles nous sommes introduit-e-s depuis l’enfance, que nous intériorisons et avec lesquelles nous interprétons nos expériences et travaillons au quotidien, de façon consciente ou inconsciente, constituent les bornes de notre monde. La réalité que nous percevons est telle que nous la comprenons. Selon le philosophe Doug Smith1, la notion de perception dans le bouddhisme des premiers textes serait justement liée, au-delà de la question des perceptions sensorielles, à la manière dont nous nous engageons vis-à-vis de celles-ci et dont nous les comprenons, dans une compréhension à la fois phénoménologique et épistémologique en quelque sorte. Il y aurait déjà une dimension active de projection.

Dans le champ de la philosophie herméneutique, par exemple, chez Paul Ricœur, tout élément perçu et interprété prend sens au sein d’un monde de sens qui fait office d’appui et de système de référence, de « système de réalité », pour reprendre l’expression de l’écrivain américain James Baldwin. Aussi donc, les catégories formant les outils d’appréhension de l’expérience constituant tel ou tel monde de sens composent-elles les bornes de notre réalité perçue, dans le sens où elles conditionnent nos capacités de nous la formuler et d’y répondre d’une manière qui soit permise par ces mêmes outils. Dans une conception sensorimotrice de la pensée, dans le sens où l’on entendrait nos capacités à former un imaginaire et à établir des correspondances symboliques et logiques à partir de notre mémoire sensorimotrice et émotionnelle, on peut comprendre qu’il s’agisse des moyens mêmes par lesquelles nous nous figurons notre capacité éventuelle d’agir et de réagir à une expérience et à une situation donnée. En somme, le monde de sens dans lequel nous nous situons en tant qu’individu-e sanctionne ce qu’il est pensable ou imaginable de faire, de façon plus prégnante encore au sein d’n certain cadre moral socialement et culturellement déterminé. Sortir de ce cadre impliquerait de s’extraire d’un réseau de contrainte et d’adhésion à un ensemble de pratiques collectives qui implique notre agentivité au quotidien et la perception que nous sommes émené-e-s à entretenir de nous-même dans notre relation à d’autres personnes (fonction miroir symbolique de l’autre). C’est aussi la mémoire (traumatique) de la sanction face aux écarts à la règle, que celle-ci soit juste et équitable ou non, qui renforce les facteurs de cette contrainte.

Ceci est évidemment à considérer lorsque nous abordons les effets des conduites prescrites sur les individu-e-s, aussi bien que la manière dont ces derniers-ères parviennent à se construire et à prendre des décisions éclairées parmi elles. Notamment, dans le contexte de sociétés majoritairement régies par des modes d’organisation binaires (par exemple, dans leurs conceptions du genre, des sexualités, des questions raciales ou de classe sociale, de ce qu’est un corps valide ou non ou de notre relation à nos écosystèmes partagés, …), la difficulté à admettre la cohabitation de points de vue multiples et possibles sur une expérience considérée en commun se comprend par les modalités d’application exclusives du modèle binaire – dites du « soit…, soit… »(dans la littérature féministe et intersectionnelle anglosaxonne ; « either…, or…. »). Cela aboutit souvent à une incapacité à concilier l’expérience avec des impératifs de conformation à des normes d’usage reposant souvent sur une violence et des enjeux de pouvoir avec leur historicité. La possibilité d’appréhender différentes façons de composer et d’élaborer des modes de relation avec différents environnements matériels et sociaux de façon ouverte, permissive et inclusive pourrait au contraire être rendue possible par une éthique élémentaire du respect mutuel du droit de chaque être vivant à l’auto-détermination, celle-ci se présentant à elle seule comme condition suffisante à une régulation et à un partage équitable des ressources essentielles à la vie de toustes (opposition modèle prescriptif / modèle proscriptif chez le biologiste chilien Francisco Varela dans le champ d’étude de l’évolution des espèces2).

Ces points sont évidemment déterminants lorsque l’on considère les questions liées au refoulement en psychanalyse et dans une approche traumatique du développement et de l’expression des individu-e-s3 et de leur agentivité dans un contexte donné. Notre souhait, ici, est notamment de sortir du déterminisme sexuel dominant dans une bonne partie de l’appareil théorique psychanalytique lorsqu’il ne prend pas en compte les effets de contrainte des prescriptions binaires et les intrications que met au jour leur contextualisation. Les apports du bouddhisme, notamment celui des premiers textes, sont également cruciaux pour appréhender de façon radicalement ouverte le caractère conditionné et situé de nos modes d’appréhension de l’expérience.

1Voir, par exemple, « Five Ways We Construct Ourselves »,, sur la chaîne YouTube Doug’s Dharma, 18 octobre 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taz55McTJ8E .

2Lire F. Varela, E. Thompson & E. Rosch, L’inscription corporelle de l’esprit, Seuil, 1993.

3Lire Darian Leader, La jouissance, vraiment ?, Stilus, 2020.

L’habit et la conduite

Texte en pdf :

Nos conduites sont codifiées. Dès notre naissance, nous sommes introduit-e-s au sein d’un ensemble d’habitudes (notion d’habitus en sociologie, telle que conceptualisée par Pierre Bourdieu dans les années 1960) et de pratiques culturellement situées, mais aussi d’une manière singulière de répondre à des situations de joies ou de détresse. Nous élaborons nos propres stratégies d’interaction et de réponses en fonction de cet environnement, de ses couleurs, de ses sonorités et de ses inflexions, de son climat, de son espace, de son agitation ou de son calme. Comme il façonne notre mémoire, il devient tout autant le matériau au sein duquel nous projetons notre imaginaire. Mais aussi, les corps nous apparaissent autant tels quels qu’à travers les vêtements qu’ils portent, les mots qui sont dits, les gestes, les désignations, les représentations plus ou moins schématiques.

Tous ces processus d’acculturation (c’est-à-dire, d’introduction à une culture et d’adoption de ses codes, mais aussi d’intégration plus ou moins complète aux communautés qui les pratiquent) sont connus des anthropologues et des ethnologues, avec une vision plus ou moins européocentrée. Nous avons de fait tendance à considérer le support scientifique ancré dans un point de vue occidental comme une base neutre, en oubliant notre propre situation spécifique et singulière. Toujours est-il qu’il est attendu de nous, dès notre naissance, que nous apprenions à être plus qu’un corps, mais tout un ensemble de voies et de manières favorisées de se représenter soi-même comme un-e membre d’un ensemble ou d’un groupe sociologique.

Comme nous travaillons à partir de l’hypothèse évolutionnaire du paradoxe sensorimoteur comme fondement de notre capacité de représentation imaginaire et symbolique, on peut comprendre à quel point ces points d’ancrage culturel constituant son environnement immédiat peuvent représenter une aide, un support et une attache à l’individu-e en train de se développer. Ce phénomène d’aller-retour, de va-et-vient entre la perception de soi-même et de son environnement dans cette sensorimotricité contradictoire constitue une source d’instabilité que ces éléments répétés, simplifiés, formalisés et ritualisés viennent compenser. L’hypothèse d’artification proposée par la chercheuse américaine Ellen Dissanayake en neuroesthétique, se justifie, autant que ses suggestions sur l’importance des premières interactions entre l’enfant et son/ses parent-e-s ou donneur-euse-s de soin.1 Les éléments codifiés qui composent nos cultures, si l’on admet l’hypothèse du paradoxe sensorimoteur, constituent de fait plus que des modalités d’expression de nos modes de perceptions et d’interaction, mais aussi un foyer d’attachement et d’anticipation des imprévus venant contrebalancer une grande instabilité dans le fonctionnement et les modes d’émergence de la sensorimotricité. C’est la force de disruption du paradoxe sensorimoteur qui fait de tout élément de fixation dans la représentation de soi un si puissant repère dans la quête d’une homéostasie psychique, affective et émotionnelle chez l’individu-e, notamment face à ses figures premières d’attachement (voir les travaux du psychiatre et psychanalyste anglais John Bowlby à partir des années 1950).

De là, les éléments introduits par la théorie psychanalytique freudienne des différents stades du développement psychique, relationnel et affectif (oral, anal, génital) des individu-e-s retrouvent de leur intérêt. Toutefois, leur valeur de prescription est à nuancer. Si l’on peut admettre des aires de découverte sensorielle, motrice, physiologique et émotionnelle de soi qui soient graduées et différenciées selon la progression du développement de l’enfant jusqu’à l’âge adulte, on ne peut les séparer de leurs intrications avec l’environnement d’interaction global qui conditionne leur rencontre – ainsi, bien sûr, que les dispositions intra- et inter-personnelles. L’échelle de temps qui est fixée à cette découverte et à l’introduction aux impératifs culturels auxquels l’individu-e est soumis-e constitue en soi un facteur de dérégulation et de fixation à des éléments de repère ou à d’autres.

Nombre de cultures ont en effet tendance à prescrire des étapes plus ou moins nettes et rigides dans ce qu’il est attendu que chaque individu-e soit capable de faire à tel ou tel âge, ce qui peut ne pas correspondre avec le développement de l’individu-e constitué-e isolément comme un tout avec son rythme propre. Si un équilibre reste à trouver entre le développement harmonieux de l’enfant jusqu’à l’âge adulte et les contraintes du monde qui l’entoure, les normes constituant ces attentes n’en restent pas moins souvent empreintes de validisme, notamment dans nos sociétés occidentales. Or, la stigmatisation réservée aux personnes qui faillissent à se rendre capables de telle ou telle performance physique, intellectuelle ou relationnelle à un âge prescrit demeure très fort, pour l’enfant, l’adolescent-e ou l’adulte comme pour celleux jugé-e-s responsables d’ellui. Cela peut en outre conduire l’individu-e à développer des stratégies de sur-compensation en vue de subvenir à une demande ou à l’anticipation d’une demande d’adaptation, ce qui est généralement le cas à des degrés divers. Cela participe à la confection d’un masque social destiné à protéger l’individu-e d’une stigmatisation.

En fait, la majeure partie de nos conduites sont motivées par de telles stratégies d’anticipation de toute demande de conformation et de performance codifiées, dans un jeu où chacun-e se préserve de toute attaque ou réprimande en projetant une façade, un mode d’expression et de représentation de soi qu’on sait conforme à certains usages les plus communément partagés ou pratiqués et facilement reconnaissables. Aussi, lorsque nous marchons dans la rue, nous croisons bien plus de conduites et de modes de représentation (vestimentaires, par exemple) de soi que de personnes en pleine possession de leur corps. Une majorité de personnes vivant en société est, sans doute, plus motivée dans son expression et ses interactions par la peur de l’exclusion que par la confiance dans les possibilités d’une ouverture et d’un dialogue équilibré, bienveillant et sans jugement.

Il est important de considérer cela pour comprendre que notre corps est constamment soumis à un stress et à un réseau de contrainte, qu’ils soient liés au fonctionnement paradoxal du psychisme humain et/ou aux facteurs environnementaux qui font dépendre sa survie physique et/ou émotionnelle à sa capacité à adhérer aux structures culturelles du groupe. Nous fournissons donc constamment un travail pour suivre le rythme prescrit par les régimes de performance spécifiques aux espaces sociologiques dans lesquels nous évoluons, sauf à devoir nous positionner en faux et à devoir justifier ce positionnement, qu’il soit de résistance ou de survivance lorsque l’effort de sur-adaptation aux normes discriminantes atteint son point de rupture. A défaut de repositionnement, bien connu des structures militantes, par exemple, le risque est à l’effondrement psychique, avec toutes les conséquences que cela implique.

L’application de la théorie du paradoxe sensorimoteur au champ social et psychologique permet de fait de bien défaire les éléments d’intrication et de co-dépendance de ceux qui permettent l’élaboration des structures de dialogue et de compréhension, au-delà des formes d’attachement d’urgence et par défaut. Nous souhaitons proposer ces pistes de réflexion et souligner que dans chacun de nos gestes les plus anodins, jamais rien ne l’est.

1Lire Ellen Dissanayake, « The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetic », Cognitive Semiotics, Issue 5 (Fall 2009). En anglais.

Vers une autre pensée des sexualités

Texte en pdf :

Avec un remerciement chaleureux à Marie-José Minassian pour m’avoir introduite, il y a bien des années, au travail passionnant d’Ellen Dissanayake.

Cette réflexion est introductive à un travail plus vaste de refonte de nos outils de pensée en ce qui concerne les sexualités, notamment telles qu’elles sont abordées dans la plupart des traditions en psychanalyse dans nos sociétés occidentales. Dans ce cadre, la théorie de la sexualité, quelle soit freudienne ou lacanienne (pour citer deux de ses courants de pensée majoritaires, du moins en France), s’appuie sur le modèle du coït hétérosexuel et cisgenre pour fonder sa vision de la différence des sexes sur le plan symbolique. La sexualité est perçue comme un foyer assez chaotique de pulsions et de désirs qu’un ordre symbolique préférentiel viendrait canaliser au travers de certains interdits (notamment et à juste titre, celui de l’inceste) et de prescriptions (le modèle cis-hétérosexuel est posé comme norme logique du fait de la théorie de la différence des sexes, de la complémentarité génitale et de la fonction reproductive de l’acte sexuel dans ce sens).

Cette théorie expose comme divergences et/ou comme perversions tous modes d’expression de l’expérience sexuelle et/ou de genre qui n’entrerait pas dans ces prescriptions (de l’homosexualité aux pratiques BDSM1) et ce en y établissant une différence de nature plus qu’au travers d’une analyse des questions éthiques liées à la violence, à la contrainte, au droit inaliénable et mutuel à l’auto-détermination et à la notion critique de consentement. La critique n’est ainsi pas neuve, notamment dans une perspective féministe et intersectionnelle, de la vision partiale et située qu’offre cette élaboration et de l’histoire bio-politique et médicale de la cristallisation des schémas sexuels et de genre dans l’imaginaire collectif et des pratiques de pouvoir les un-e-s sur les autres.2

Mais ici, il ne s’agit pas tant de repartir sur ces notions en elles-mêmes, que nous avons par ailleurs déjà évoquées dans de précédents textes. Il s’agit plutôt de reprendre les choses dans notre perspective anthropogénéalogique de départ ; notamment, en utilisant un outil de réflexion en neuroesthétique élaboré par la chercheuse américaine Ellen Dissanayake, de façon à questionner les fondements de nos outils d’approche de l’expérience sexuel.

Un des concepts-clés du corps de pensée d’Elle Dissanayake dans son approche de l’évolution et de l’émergence des facultés esthétiques chez l’espèce humaine, c’est l’idée d’artification. S’inspirant de l’observation du comportement d’autres espèces animales dans le champ de l’éthologie, Ellen Dissanayake propose de moins considérer le contenu sémantique d’une œuvre ou d’un objet d’expérience esthétique comme étant le plus important dans cette expérience, mais plutôt la marque laissée par l’individu-e sur le monde à travers elle. La possibilité même de cette marque, de ce moment singulier entre l’individu-e et le monde qui l’entoure, de ce lien spécial, qui a un impact émotionnel et affectif pour l’individu-e et de l’individu-e à ellui-même, serait l’élément fondateur de l’expérience esthétique plus que son contenu symbolique. Par exemple, pour les premiers êtres humains à avoir apposé la marque peinte de leurs mains sur la roche, l’expérience même de pouvoir accomplir cet acte et de rendre des éléments de la vie ordinaire (les mains, la couleur, la roche) extraordinaire, aurait été à elle seule fondatrice de cette expérience – avant d’être répétée, simplifiée, formalisée, ritualisée, …3

De fait, on voit comment une telle approche peut intéresser la manière dont nous abordons l’expérience sexuelle, qui elle aussi est d’abord individuelle et singulière, avant d’être ensuite répétée, simplifiée, formalisée et ritualisée. C’est une expérience à laquelle nous pouvons virtuellement avoir accès de façon relativement immédiate et qui a sur nous un effet spécial, qui sort de l’ordinaire, avec la radicalité de ne pas forcément recourir à la médiation d’une structure symbolique (si l’on ne considère que l’excitation génitale, par exemple). Après cela, c’est l’attitude des autres par rapport à cette expérience et à son existence dans le monde qui change notre propre rapport : comment on y réagit ; comment on nous la présente, avec ses simplifications et ses interdits ; comment les êtres elleux-mêmes autour de nous se débattent avec leurs envies, leurs frustrations et leurs incompréhensions autour de la chose. Tout cela, nous en devenons témoin à mesure de notre croissance depuis l’enfance, de façon plus ou moins traumatique. Nous nous confrontons aussi à tout l’imaginaire et l’ensemble de règles codifiées autour de l’expérience sexuelle, dans le but de la canaliser selon un certain ordre, lequel a à voir avec la morale, le politique et le social.

Ce qu’il y a à comprendre de cette ouverture sur la théorie de l’artification, sans doute, c’est que contrairement à une marque sur un objet, par exemple, l’expérience sexuelle ne dure pas ou en tout cas, l’aboutissement de l’excitation génitale ne survit pas à son avènement. Elle se trouve donc compensée par une esthétique de l’érotisme ou par la fonction qu’on lui attribue dans le corps social (comme les fonctions de reproduction et de contrôle, notamment, sur les corps des femmes, des minorités et des étrangers-ères au corps social tel qu’il se conçoit lui-même). On part donc d’une chose relativement simple, de l’expérience d’une relation spéciale à son propre corps, pour aboutir à un ensemble de règles régulant cette expérience, qu’elles soient justifiées (comme l’interdit de l’inceste et de manière générale, comme devrait y aboutir l’exigence d’un consentement éclairé) ou non (toutes les violences et mécanismes d’oppression que ces règles justifient ou du moins, qu’elles admettent alors même qu’elles n’auraient pas de justifications légitimes et absolues, sinon leur arbitraire et leur historicité).

Une bonne partie de la psychanalyse se targue par ailleurs d’aborder la sexualité, les pulsions et le désir d’une façon qui soit amorale, neutre et de libre observation. Elle demeure toutefois arquée sur l’idée d’une structure fondamentale, logique et inaliénable de la constitution psychique des individu-e-s quand à l’identité sexuelle, qui serait une structure préférentielle (encore une fois, autour des modèles d’une sexualité hétérosexuelle, cisgenre, souvent ignorante de sa situation dans un imaginaire blanc, bourgeois et valide en ce qui concerne les cultures dites occidentales).

L’avantage de l’apport que peut constituer la théorie de l’artification chez Ellen Dissanayake dans ce contexte, c’est de ne pas présumer automatiquement de la violence intrinsèque des pulsions d’excitation lorsqu’elles interviennent, mais plutôt de l’effet qu’elles auraient sur notre curiosité et notre sens de nous-mêmes – surtout si l’on situe notre travail dans le cadre de la théorie du paradoxe sensorimoteur, qui pose l’expérience des structures cognitives de la pensée humaine comme une disruption du rapport à notre corps et à ce qui nous entoure. De fait, la violence s’articule ailleurs, dans la frustration et dans la contrainte qui fonde l’expérience humaine et qu’il s’agit de comprendre et d’apaiser pour ouvrir, dans le meilleur des cas, à des solutions dans l’organisation de la vie collective.

Nous rappelons que dans notre travail, la question de la violence est étroitement liée, dans une perspective herméneutique empruntée au philosophe Paul Ricœur, aux structures de l’ordre moral et de la mesure de sa contrainte. Si un pan de la psychanalyse justifie cette contrainte (exprimée, par exemple, à travers le concept freudien de surmoi) par une sorte d’ontologie sexuelle innée (la sexualité « normale » serait intrinsèquement hétérosexuelle et entre personnes cisgenres), nous pouvons ici mettre en balance l’expérience individuelle et inaliénable de l’excitation sexuelle, émotionnelle et sensorielle, d’un côté, avec les contextes de violence au sein desquels des traumas, au lieu d’être entendus et accueillis, sont convertis en interdits et en règles, de façon éclairée ou non, de l’autre, avec leurs intersections. La possibilité de verbaliser des enjeux et de les entendre, lorsqu’il s’agit de transgressions de l’intégrité physique et psychique des individu-e-s, en est le nœud central, qui malheureusement, aujourd’hui encore, est trop peu considéré – rencontrant des résistances ayant trait aux politiques de contrôle de la chose sexuelle et des violences sexistes, sexuelles et de genre.

C’est qu’on a déplacé le cœur du problème, au fil du temps et des cristallisations culturelles, politiques et sociales, d’une capacité inaliénable à dire oui ou non, à notre capacité à nous conformer à des motions de contrôle des corps certes plus confortables pour des personnes qui ont peur, qui ont beaucoup à perdre à entendre un refus et qui de fait, s’accrochent désespérément au contrôle qu’iels peuvent avoir sur leurs frustrations et leurs souffrances et donc, sur les autres et la possibilité de leur objectification. C’est à toutes ces questions, entre autres, qu’un tel remodelage permettrait de nous atteler d’une façon à séparer l’expérience sensorielle et émotionnelle, singulière et inéliable de l’individu-e, de celles liées aux réponses collectives qui en tirent leurs justifications symboliques, sociales et politiques – c’est-à-dire, des enjeux de pouvoir et de contrôle.

1Lire, par exemple, Gayle Rubin, « Une conversation avec Gayle Rubin », realised and translated by Rostom Mesli, in Raisons Politiques, 2012/2 (n°46), pp. 131-173.

2Lire, par exemple, Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie : sexe, drogue et biopolitique (Grasset, 2008), largement inspiré du travail de Michel Foucault, et bien sûr, l’ouvrage emblématique de Judith Butler, Trouble dans le genre. Le féminisme et subversion de l’identité, La Découverte, 2006 (1990).

3Lire, par exemple, Ellen Dissanayake, « The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetic », Cognitive Semiotics, Issue 5 (Fall 2009). En anglais.

Difficult to grasp

One reason why the theory of the sensorimotor paradox may be difficult to grasp is because a paradox is difficult to grasp. It forces us to look at a situation from two contradictory ways at the same time. Though any process of differenciation requires that we alternate between two different objects, the simultaneity in the paradox hinders the capacity to differenciate one part from the other as different, nor can we figure out how they could evolve and change. But, it also comes from the fact that the two objects coexisting in a contradictory way are not likely to collide. That is, for instance, the very fact that I cannot collide with my own reflection in a mirror that makes its experience paradoxical. Logically, if I moved further on toward it, I should come to meet with it, but it never really happens. Precisely, the solution to a paradox is never logical, but imaginary.

Likewise, the famous impossible constructions in Dutch artist M. C. Escher’s lithographs display physical dimensions that should not coexist, whether they represent staircases or a waterfall going impossible ways. A paradox means that two dimensions of one same object or a set of two identical objects could have opposite properties and still coexist in the same space at the same time. It is something like an A = -A = 0 equation. One cannot go anywhere with a paradox. However, it presents a crack within the very structure of how a body can or is supposed to interact with their surrounding environments.

M. C. Escher, Relativity, 1953.

There, we get to the paradox in sensorimotricity when it comes to the situation of gazing at one’s own hand and not being able to go anywhere beyond that confrontation. At a certain distance, within a certain setting, gazing at one’s own hand is an impossible direction : one cannot look elsewhere and cannot seize anything else, but is condemned to stare at each other with their own hand for as long as it can be sustained. But, we hate paradoxes. We want to find solutions to their trap, a way out, to overcome them, even though we cannot resolve them. We want to determine a path that would progressively lead somewhere, by differenciating each step. A paradox is too radical, as no direction would lead to a consistent solution : thus, no progression could overcome it. It gets all assimilated within this same and only situation, that swallows all effort up within its abyss.

There is something difficult to bear also in a paradox that is physiological. The confusion cast over the neural system to make those contradictory options coexist cannot be held for too long without increasing a sense of distress. The way out of a paradox is always an escape from a singular image that crystallises the impossibility to project into a viable solution that we could think of on a sensorimotor level. We cannot make the scene change, whatever effort we put into trying, and this impossibility to make things change can be suffocating.

But, finding an escape from an impossible representation puts us in relation with that very representation, the image for itself and as an image that comes as one, unified, impossible to alter but in a radical break-up. The image becomes the object that we are forced to relate to. It is not the hand, nor the solution. It is the whole picture as a complete new possibility. Paradoxes exist for themselves. They have no other purpose than to force us into a relation to their closed-in and looped reality. So, we have to differecienciate oursselves from it, if we cannot change it. Somewhat, an intense sense of one’s own experience of reality comes out of the encounter with a paradox, even at the cost of alienating one’s own body for a moment when the representation of the body becomes more real than the prime experience body itself. We are, in a way, stepping out of ourselves.

Therefore, there is a constant struggle in representing our ‘self’, our own reality as an image to ourselves. It is a paradox to represent something like a ‘me’ from the outside and somehow, as we mentioned in an earlier text, that is something that a practice such as a Buddhist practice helps us deal with in a more peaceful way. If we cannot do anything out of a paradox, even the paradox of our own thoughts, we may better stop struggling with it and keep our minds to a more gentle and skillful use. The best way to live with a paradox is only to acknowledge that it exists.

Credit : « Moth », by La Fille Renne ❤