Note on the question of space

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The proposition that we just made on the role of memory in our perception of time leads us to some corollary consequences on the perception of space. As sensorimotor memory is encapsulated into a play of substitution with the production of mental images, what we usually call the signifier are merely possibilities left open in a world of meaning that is conditioning the global world of our action. Action is dependent on agency, which specifies how interaction is formalised in a context for interpretation, telling and meaning, mostly in terms of cause and consequence. So, it is dependent on the way that language (as including all that fall into the realm of interpretation) is structuring speech in order to orientate the narrative and address its audience as well as it tells something about the intention of the speaker. We invest some signifier, some mental object taken for a situation that is impossible to enact. We play the audience as well as we play the part for them, but we try to address something more personal that is at stake in our daily lives. Speech is, in a way, taken for some other spectrum of our interaction with others that social conventions forbid – that is partly why sexualities are one of the most difficult matter to address collectively. If the other person shows the signs that their world of understanding doesn’t include the possibility for you to exist any other way than the way they prescribe their expectations on you, you may try or not to avoid confrontation over that particular conflict. Whether it is about gender, race, social class, validity or other social traits, we saw that there is a different measure from a prescriptive regulation of social interactions, based on the compulsory observance of prescribed conducts, to a proscriptive one that would be based on the mutual right to self-determination.

However, we mostly live in prescriptive society systems based on showing the signs of obedience, on what is visible in order to prove our right to be left in peace and that we mean no harm to the public moral order. Moreover, a social contract based on competition includes that we have to prove our will to participate if not being excluded from the race, from start or in the meantime. Trust becomes secondary. First, we have to liberate ourselves from the duty to justify our presence, for fear of a sanction, that could be either physical, emotional, social or material, sometimes only for not having the right gender, colour of skin, sexual orientation, belief, capacity or general appearance which will condition the way we are to be interpreted in shared spaces (even to ourselves). So speaking is often a way to show first the guarantee of our participation to whatever convention is put forth about the ongoing conversation, even more than a real capacity to invest oneself into dialogue. The political issues in the repartition of social spaces for the use of power become crucial to the elaboration of both individual and collective trauma, as well as to the capacity to feel safe enough to actually be receptive to others in those places. The symptoms of trauma are then often more destined to address the right to heal in the first place than the healing itself. Yet, would reclaiming the right to heal necessarily mean taking a debt to society ? It shouldn’t be, yet it mostly feels like most of the time, we would not even have the right to be heard and listened to with enough care. It would be even more so as intermediary spaces for self-elaboration and dialogue tend to disappear under more and more extreme neoliberal political doctrines. It becomes then more difficult as well to elaborate a thinking that could result in positive and transformative action in and through those available spaces.

Repeating and remembering

According to Sigmund Freud – who initiated psychoanalytic study in the late 19th century, so within his social and personal time and belief system –, the person who shows their symptoms as being the manifest problem would be ‘repeating instead of remembering’ what has already emerged as such to their knowledge, as they are subjected to the conditions of resistance.1 To understand what they are resisting to when it comes to telling what hurts them, is to understand what debt would not yet be paid if it were told to someone that would not even have to hold it. If the debt has to be unlocked, so that the situation of pain would not be likely to come back again, some word has to be taken for it, that is likely to be someone else’s – what we usually call ‘transference’ in psychoanalytic theory and practice. If I address the hurt somewhere while I am still concerned about some other space out there where the debt would still run on – that means that I have sworn, even in tacit agreement, to respond to any demand –, it appears quite clearly that my freedom to say anything here will only have a few consequences there : either to transform or break the contract. But it becomes more complicated when the debt is sworn to a whole society system and the latter is calling people like me to conformity or submission. The repeating of the symptom, as a defencive system, gets quite along with the performance of the debt : we respond as an anticipation to the calling. Maybe, because we fear that we would not be able to fulfill its demand, that is always and can only be too much. In freudian theory with the Second Topic (since Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920 and on), that is the idea of the Super-Ego, that constant moral authority upon the individual. The symptom then, as part of the trauma, is still a response to the pain and hurt ; however, as one cannot do anything about the pain itself, their sole capacity to respond anything remains one vital sign and call for their integrity and existence. Any sensorimotor system in any being, except in withdrawal, would spontaneously repond to contact, sensory or emotional stimulation. But in the sensorimotor paradox, some part of those stimulations relate to a situation of impossibility. Thus, they remain unrelated, unless we start relating them between them, making some rough correspondence.

What we learnt about time in the last article is that memory is still ongoing, generating itself. Memory is the symptom of and for a transformation, as the transformed organism and the effects of this transformation on the perception of reality will again lead to new and sometimes completely alien transformations. As well, speech and imagination always reactualise and renew the conditions and coordinates for evolving one’s perceived identity. As a symptom of the sensorimotor paradox that we are maintained in, it permits the simulation of the neural connections that are derived from sensorimotor stimulations. Imagination allows us to stay alive though we are in a state of partial paralysis. It is quite clear in the elaboration of trauma, that we cannot represent to ourselves the moment of contact, the shock, for there is the moment to respond as a living organism. Then, the whole neural system for sensorimotricity is mobilised to the response. But nothing can prepare to a paradox. The state of sensorimotor paradox puts us in a perpetual state of anticipation, getting ready to and yet in an incapacity to respond in any immediate motion. But we have to question the modalities of our relation to the world, so to project possibilities, alternative scenes and situations, to which we cannot respond either. For a while.

Addressing the hurt

From here, we produce images without response as well as we produce trauma. Because it hurts not to know what to do, the indecision and suspension, to be contained. As a product of trauma, imagination and later on discourse are elaborated out of a situation that we cannot think nor address. Therefore, indeed, it is one thing to remember in the way the body adapted its knowledge of reality to trauma, and another to articulate memory into coordinate spaces for representation and transmission. A whole part of our lives is built on driving away from what we can’t address by performing imagination, speech and social representation.

We learn to use different spaces for different uses and social practices. ‘Go to your room’ is what we would say to a child when we teach them about what has become illicit to them in the shared place of the living-room. Their behaviour has become too deviant for the conduct that they were supposed to be taught to. They have to be managed in the education of the rules that counts for any adult to be grown. Each room obeys to different rules, and those rules replicate in the heterogenous social spaces out of home. However, being hurt by someone or something, especially when it comes to figures of authority, pushes trauma onto the person’s boundaries. The violence of being hurt cannot be related to meaning, as the junction of pain and the agency of the other blurs the capacity to think the moment when pain was inflicted. But as one would be aware that the conditions for such an agency as the agency of violence are still valid in society, what could they ever say that would repay their right to heal, to transform or break the contract ? In the context of our mostly ‘Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist and Patriarcal’ societies, as would bell hooks state, how could saying anything change the cycle of violence that still endures ? Many people can be trapped in spaces where expressing oneself turns into drifting away from the prescribed and favoured normed conduct and subjectivity, and being punished for it.

Therefore, the hurt, in its most affective sense, gets mostly about not being able to drive oneself away from the norms and social patterns that state what is acceptable or not to be told about oneself. For many people, those would push away the capacity to situate themselves toward their own moral and physical integrity. Further more, they would dictate how one should adapt optimally to the selective structures of our societies. Some other forms of being and living are yet possible but likely to suffer and be confronted to refusal and outcasting, whether they are the source or not of actual harm to others and society. Often, the voice of the victims are unlikely to be heard and recognised as being their own agents and concerned about how they could tell the trauma that changed their worlds. But speaking of a victim implies that we invest a certain regime of justice, that is to hear what happened or is still happening. It means that the whole society is summoned here to address how we hear or not the acts of violence and what that says about the way that we make society together. It is never a solitary justice, for we should all be concerned by the way we collectively address the question of violence and the fact that it is as well generated by choices that we make as a society and its collective history.

When someone wants to be heard, whatever they say, what they do give away and ask from the person that they address their symptoms to by telling their hurt by whatever means available, is that they would rather address the fear of not being heard, of being refused a space for telling anything that would be worth hearing. The confiscation of the private and collective spaces hinders the telling of the very specificities and similarities of one’s experience with others as confronted to the heterogeneity of social spaces. And it is still creating a doubt about the capacity to actually be heard and considered as a plain subject, in their integrity, for there is a much stronger prescription over what is preferable to be heard and which codified social identities to perform. Social norms will tell you the ways that are privileged when you at least try to address the question of who you are in the collective spaces. The less variety of those spaces, the more difficult it will be to hear different stories and the gaps there to fill. The categories of language, speech and social representation offer modalities for self-action and their justification. If you know that you are not supposed to show anything else than what is already told and prepared for – for you have learnt it the hard way or even by witnessing the uses of others –, you would be likely to transgress by showing otherwise. And no individual matter, as soon as it involves the telling, can be deprived from its collective origin.

1In Sigmund Freud, La technique psychanalytique, « Remémoration, répétition et perlaboration », PUF, coll. Quadrige, Paris, 2007 (1914), p. 121.

Photo credit : « Butterfly », La Fille Renne ❤

Consequences to the question of time

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From there, we could tackle in a new light the question of time. From the notion of memory and its role in sensorimotricity, given the proposition of the sensorimotor paradox as a condition of possibility for the evolution of our species, time unravels rather simply. As all experiences are and will always be only past, memory creating itself as a neural condition in sensorimotricity and ontogenic development, time is always a result of that memory. But we human bodies are continually seized in the maintaining of a state of sensorimotor paradox that we hold through socio-symbolic controls, so our perception of time, even in contemplation, is not the one of rest. On the contrary, even when we are still, we remain restless, suspended in our capacity as a body to interact freely with our perceived environments (Darian Leader, Hands, 2017). It is to say that when we approach the question of time, its perception and phenomenology, we have to take into account that we would always perceive it as an opportunity for action that is repeatedly lost. That is why we came back to this other meaning of trauma that could be that of ‘the defeat’. Our interpretative nature finds its measure in the bodily memory of action that is inhibited in order to favour prescribed conduct and mental projection. Our perception of time is full of interactions with our surroundings that are only whispered and fast discarted. Our perception of time is conditioned by that amount of aborted interactions that we are in the way of holding hidden, only sparked, in a perpetual state of forced equilibrium. We are never at rest with time unless we take a nap. We create time as a measure of the stability that we manage to get with our emotional trauma, that of silencing our own body to the performation of social conduct. The same conduct obeys to a very specific notion of time that is the compartmentalisation of labor in our societies.

So the restraint cast on our body by social imperatives pushes us to retain and examine the possibility of full occupation of space and time according to one’s own ‘biological rhythm’, to submit it to a constant and compulsive evaluation. We then create a memory of that time spent controlling our movement according to ritualised patterns that we learn from childhood to our latest socialisations, which have us reactualise them. Our experience of social time is highly sequenced, clockwise, all resting on our capacity to hold the paradox and keep our body tamed so to satisfy the assumption of someone else’s gaze – even oneself in a reflexive movement that impersonalises the relation to one’s own reality, as would philosopher Darío Sztajnszrajber put it.1 Through this gaze or anticipated gaze, we regulate our conduct and its restraint over our body, which generates a form of violence that cannot be expressed directly if not licenced in formalised and ritualised ways – as is ‘acting out’. So our perception of time, even a parenthesis of contemplated time, is never at rest. Even the break we take from social time to contemplation is timed up and conditioned by conventional spaces (at home, in a park or a temple, on a train, …) in which one doesn’t yet express sensorimotricity without deliberation. On the contrary, every move has to be chosen as a legit form of positioning towards others, as posing no threat nor exposing oneself to. Our perspective and projection in the future is therefore as well always conditioned by the necessity to mind our situation as to the repartition of spaces in political, moral and social structures.

From attention to memory

That debate between past, present and future has a philosophical history, as Paul Ricœur recalled in Temps et récit (1983), notably focusing on the figures of Augustine and Aristotle. In Book XI of his Confessions (approximately 397-401), Augustine elaborated an early phenomenology of time as the sense of it would constitute a tension between what we consider as future or past. The couple attentio-distentio expresses the idea of the continuity drawn out of the attention born to some local event. We cannot but experience time as an investment of our attention in reality, whether in action or imagination – and we saw that one is another side of the other. Trying to tell them apart is an attempt to distend the perception of time in a broader sense, that is the concept of distentio animi.

But the mental object of time itself is a product of imagination, sourced in the same memory, as we try to open a space for conceptual analogy and representation. Abstraction is an abstraction from actual sensorimotor memories. We approach future as an acheived form, something that would be past once it is done, but alternative from one actual past memory that we would know of – mingled. And that is even more true that memory always recomposes experience from its continuous making, self-generating. As we recall memories in a deliberate way2, we enact something that we learnt to do in our early development : to mind and considerate manageable memories, to use our body resources in order to access those memories as one mental space to be invested in our own imagination.

The situation of sensorimotor paradox puts us in a position of witnessing ourselves as an object of consideration. We become subject of images that we cannot enact otherwise than minding them, and our social teaching reinforces our effort of selection between licit or illicit manifestations of our bodily sense of reality. So the distance that is put from unaltered sensorimotor interaction by the paradox makes us perceive time as us witnessing of our being selecting what to express or not. We are in a way subject to our own effort of selection and conformity, so to open the spaces for action that we know are allowed for us to invest. This topology for projection and its image are only complete if they come as a perpetual past – that Ricœur expressed with the idea that some meaning makes only sense in relation to a borader context for its interpretation. The kind of future in which meaning will realise itself is continuous with the experience of delimited spaces for interpretation which have been experienced in a broader past – the one that is told. That is at this point that Ricœur summons some features of Aristotle’s poetics to underline how interpretation and formalised narrative structures are intertwined in the particular sense we would make of meaning. Here, the perception of time is rhythmed by the laced structures of the telling of an action. The way we tell things, the way the body is inscribed in the telling, are as important as what we actually tell, as it manifests the context in which we are to receive meaning. Part of our body always leaps with the action that is figured, as imagination is rooted in sensorimotor simulation. The telling always holds us back in the memory of our body. As well, the projection in a possible future is paradoxical and we are still trying to position ourselves in the perspective of realising it while we are resorbing at the same time the generation of past memory. The quality of being past is the quality of our body to still remain there where it is keeping position for an action to be told. Imagining a possible future or some alternative reality pertaining to dream or phantasy remains a substitution to immediate interaction, where the generation of past images becomes the source for others. In a way, while we are in the process of controlling our body expression and keeping ourselves still, the images born from aborted sensorimotor enaction come crashing against each other, from which crash we try to bring back some kind of order.

Consequences to the unconscious

This, of course, has serious implications to the theory of the unconscious, as we already saw in earlier work, because it dislocates the way we conceive it from the idea of a virtual finite space that would locate in our mind – and in the very fact that we would speak of an object that would be the unconscious, even as a realm. Unconscious is a quality of something not being brought to consciousness, as the latter would be articulating the person’s discourse and its position as leading their agency and understanding. It is closer to the repressed, at the heart of Sigmund Freud’s founding principles to freshly-born psychoanalysis. What we learnt from psychoanalysis is that signifiers are opportunists. They are easily associated with a state of mind, re-rooting and rewriting through the elaboration of trauma. In the end, it all belongs to the same neural system where memory is constantly generated in the purpose of facilitating sensorimotor interaction that we are stuck in the effort to inhibit and keep quiet. This inhibition of sensorimotor enaction creates a swell of self-generating memory that is not able to relate to motor coordination. As it cannot associate with motor expression, it is more likely to do with some other images that would substitute to realisation in order to get a release.

On a practical side, our brain needs to hold control over its limits, that is also routed in sensorimotor coordination. Using those self-generated memories as a resource for imagination and thinking is likely to use the same means than to coordinate movement, simulating those neural connections in order to recreate a consistent chronology based on formalised sensorimotor memories. The situation of sensorimotor paradox has the effect of destabilising the routes through which to enact a stimulation. As we cannot repond directly to its object, we would rush on something else, like the fact that something unusual and extraordinary happens to us. Here again, Ellen Dissanayake’s work in the field of neuroaesthetics is very useful to connect formalisation in ethological study and the hypothesis of artification, as aesthetic sense would be embedded in a very personal and emotional sensory inscription into a broader sense of reality.3 We situate ourselves in an interpretative time that is us trying to deal with this break in sensorimotricity, trying to bring back balance into a disruptive experience. The image becomes what is happening to us. That is what we are trying to bring back some sense and meaning from, to situate ourselves to. Our perception of time is always consistent with this effort to maintain of form of stability and chronological consistency out of a disruption in sensorimotor coordination. Otherwise, this self-generation of images, as they are not coordinated, open to an abyss ; and though here is the origin of our ability to think, that required some work of formalisation, as well as it got entangled in the intimate ties of symbolic debt to others like us. There is a history of imagination that makes one with the history of trauma.

Our body is where it is standing. It is a pack of memory, but also our connections with others actually are a convergence of memories. That means a lot, eventually that it is completely up to us to relate to those memories in the way that would be suited to our deeper sense of who we are both as a body and as a person. And then, the person reinvents the body they are living with.

1See « Heidegger | Por Darío Sztajnszrajber », Faculdad Libre, january 2016 on YouTube.

2Read Francisco Varela, « Le cerveau n’est pas un ordinateur », La Recherche, Issue 308, april 1998.

3Read, for instance, Ellen Dissanayake, « The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetics », Cognitive Semiotics, Issue 5 (Fall 2009), pp. 148-173.