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.

Re-learning trauma

As we may have seen earlier, memory being constantly re-generated, re-created and re-directed through sensorimotricity, the uses of symbolic memory select those patterns and structures which it maintains. Those are useful, notably, to social interactions and protection. Moreover, trauma helps or forces us to occupy spaces of interaction that would be likely to keep us safe, or safer than other ways. But one thing that we can learn from the scales in which short-, middle- and long-term memory generate and sustain useful patterns to sensorimotricity and imagination, is that we never learn anything once. What we learn is constantly re-learnt, because memory is never fixed, it is either sustained directly or it is indirectly.

The indirect way is the one of trauma, that builds up around the memory of pain – either slight or large – others ways of interacting with what surrounds us. As we are invited to learn and sustain what is presented to us as viable ways to do so, first by our parent-s or caretaker-s, we all have our own ways of measuring the distance between anticipated and unanticipated trauma. That is, between one that is explained in a way or another by the teaching of social patterns and meaning, and the other that is not and then fully in the charge of the individual themselves – often kept secret.

What we mean to address here is that hopefully, either the one or the other has to constantly be re-learnt and redefined. We constantly have the choice to do so, unless the trauma built around the memory of the wound is too deeply rooted to the ways that we had to find to keep ourselves safe. The way that trauma is anticipated, for example when we teach children to mind danger, can create and elude another kind of trauma that isn’t cleared out to be heard. That is the case in rape culture, when we notably teach little and young girls to mind their behaviour and appearance so not to attract sexual aggressors – the responsability becomes theirs to make aggression not happen. That is also the case with racialised people teaching their kids to mind their conduct so it would not raise racist interpretation, tainting their behaviour with prejudice due to the colour of their skin, more likely to be dehumanised and disposable – the responsability becomes theirs to bear the charge of anticipating racism. The same goes on with other kinds of discrimination based on class, race, gender, sexuality or ability.

But the world of memory is more mobile than we think and the relation to aggression, its memory and the persistance of potential re-enactment can also be redefined. Trauma builds up around the wound, that leaves the mark of the object that is the source of the aggression, which we would try to avoid further on. What is important to understand, to all people who experienced trauma, is that the source of the aggression, the aggressor-s cast aggression on you. The aggression and its contact is the object that makes the memory. Even the face of one aggressor becomes an abstract image and situations of domination are ones where the person-s that cast it use it as a mean of torture – as they can use it again and wield the power on you to do so. But, the object of aggression doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to you, for you create a memory. You can, hopefully, untie it from the person-s that believe they can cast it and submit your identity to this tie. Yet, ultimately, that is you that have the power to situate this memory in your body and not theirs.

The most difficult thing is to abstract the object of the wound from the threat of its re-enactment. As you re-learn everything that you do and know at every moment, for you are one body based on sensorimotricity, you can re-learn and re-direct this object as something that is fully yours to remember, to situate in your life, your past, your present, and define. No one else can define it for you feel it, and the other should be powerless to own that, unless you let them.

That is my call to you : once the thorn is out of your skin, it is no longer what sustains the pain that it might have provoked. This pain belongs to you and you only. And you might want to choose where it will take you.

Écoute, trauma, validisme et psychophobie

TW : violences intrafamiliales, pédocriminalité, inceste

À la suite de travaux militants sur des thématiques diverses comme le validisme et les questions queer (voir @austistequeer_le_docu par Delphine Montera et @tas_pas_lair_autiste par Evan) ou la pédocriminalité et les violences intrafamiliales et intracommunautaires (« Ou peut-être une nuit » de Charlotte Pudlowski chez Louie Média, « La fille sur le canapé » d’Axelle Jah Njiké chez Nouvelles Écoutes), nous avons décidé d’aborder la question du trauma sous l’angle politique du traumatisme comme valeur sociale. Dans quelle mesure la parole des personnes victimes de violences peut être dénigrée sous le seul prétexte que le traumatisme altèrerait leur jugement ? Quelle hiérarchie dans le rapport au discours et à la vérité cela suppose-t-il ? Dans quelle mesure la prescription d’une violence et d’un choc traumatiques peut être une arme politique et comment analyser la parole des victimes en ce sens ?

Un des fondements de la théorie du paradoxe sensorimoteur repose sur la généralisation du trauma. On y définit le trauma par tout ce qui marque l’altérité et laisse son empreinte sur sa perception du monde. On y intègre ainsi autant les chocs et rencontres violentes que la plus infime impression sensorielle, dont la marque oblige l’organisme à revoir ses stratégies, à se réorganiser et à s’adapter à cette reconfiguration du monde perçu (ce qu’en philosophie on désigne par le concept d’événement, comme l’explique Étienne Bimbenet, dans L’animal que je ne suis plus, 2011). Le trauma et son élaboration se font ainsi autour de la mémoire traumatique, du contact avec autre, laquelle est inaccessible sans réactiver le lieu d’une mémoire émotionnelle et sensorielle souvent difficile à supporter et à soutenir. Le moment de contact lui-même, dans son intensité, est difficile à se formuler à sa propre remémoration. Il fait partie du champ de l’indicible et ne peut ainsi faire l’objet que d’un contournement, d’une paraphrase, le flou. On parlera, par exemple, de « partie intime » pour parler du sexe, où la pudeur cache mal une gêne plus profonde.

Il n’y a pas de saut catastrophique

Nous pouvons reprendre les termes du neurobiologiste chilien Francisco Varela, chez qui nous avons déjà puisé nombre d’outils conceptuels, à propos de l’évolution des espèces.1 Selon lui, il n’y aurait pas de « saut catastrophique » entre les modalités d’expérience d’un gorille ou d’un chien, par exemple, et la nôtre. Toustes trois possédons une expérience riche dont la mémoire constitue nos modalités d’interaction avec notre monde perçu de façon singulière. Cela est dû à la vision de l’évolution qu’il propose, avec Evan Thompson et Eleanor Rosch, dans l’ouvrage collectif L’inscription corporelle de l’esprit, dès 1991. Selon lui, il faudrait sortir d’une vision prescriptive de l’évolution qui viserait à l’adaptation optimale des individu-e-s de l’espèce à des critères fixes donnés d’avance, pour l’aborder, au contraire, selon un mode proscriptive : à partir du moment où la survie et la reproduction de l’espèce sont assurées, les individu-e-s « bricolent » leurs propres modalités d’interaction avec leur monde perçu. Il n’y a aucune urgence à ce qu’iels s’adaptent de manière optimale à des critères évalués a posteriori dans une perspective d’explication et de contrôle. Cette perspective cache une partialité de point de vue qui place l’espèce humaine en haut de l’échelle évolutive et subordonne les autres à son autorité supposée, de fait ou de nature. Les luttes anti-spécistes et éco-féministes tendent à remettre, en ce sens, notre espèce dans une plus juste relation avec les autres espèces et dans son interdépendance d’avec les écosystèmes terrestres.

Car la vision prescriptive, nous l’avons vu dans de précédents articles, s’inscrit dans une visée politique de contrôle, établissant des hiérarchies entre les individu-e-s, les espèces et les groupes sociaux tels qu’ils se sont formés dans le contexte particulier de nos sociétés « impérialistes, suprémacistes blanches, capitaliste et patriarcales », pour reprendre encore une fois l’expression de l’universitaire américaine bell hooks. Nous avons déjà discuté de ses fondements sexistes, racistes mais aussi validistes, sur lesquels nous allons revenir. Car s’il n’y avait pas lieu de préscrire une conduite adaptative optimale aux individu-e-s, cela supposerait l’équité et l’horizontalité dans la prise en compte de l’expérience de chacun-e. Or, nous assistons régulièrement à la dévalorisation des paroles assignées à la minorité, et ce également de la part des institutions (administration, hôpital, police, …). S’il n’y a pas de « saut catastrophique », en terme de qualité, entre une expérience sensorielle en apparence bénigne et un choc violent, mais seulement en terme d’intensité et surtout, de possibilité de transformation et d’échange, toute expérience est saisie entre les limites de catégories socio-symboliques, fondées par leur dimension politique : qui a accès à la parole et à sa réception ?

Conditions structurelles et dynamiques opportunistes

Ce que révèle le travail de Charlotte Padlowski sur l’inceste et les violences intrafamiliales, dans son podcast Ou peut-être une nuit, c’est que l’élaboration du trauma incestueux et sa prescription font partie d’une dynamique de réaffirmation des hiérarchies de pouvoir, notamment patriarcal, au sein de la structure familiale. Celle-ci rentre en résonance avec les structures sociales dans lesquelles elle s’inscrit, d’où le tabou que l’inceste soulève. Nos sociétés occidentales, notamment, ont fondé et continuent de fonder autant leur ordre sur la réalité structurelle et tue de l’inceste et des violences intrafamiliales – dont on continue de nier l’ampleur (selon l’OMS en 2014, 1 fille sur 5 et 1 garçon sur 13 avant 18 ans seraient concerné-e-s dans le monde ; 1 français-e sur 10 en 2020, selon l’association « Face à l’inceste », chiffre sûrement sous-estimé du fait du manque d’accès de nombre de victimes à la parole) –, qu’elles se sont appuyées sur le racisme, le sexisme et de manière générale, le validisme.

Un des travaux importants menés par les communautés handies – au croisement d’autres – sur le validisme pointent le caractère structurel de cette notion. Qu’est-ce qui justifie, déclare et discrimine un corps valide d’un corps qui ne l’est pas ? Et valide à quoi ? Dans quelle mesure un corps est-il abîmé par une situation handicapante socialement, en plus de sa charge physique et émotionnelle ? Qui détient la légitimité pour ce qui est de la capacité à établir un raisonnement structuré, à parler au nom de toustes, à prétendre à l’universalité et à l’application potentiellement optimale de son jugement à toute situation ? Nous avons déjà vu que toute singularité qui n’est pas ancrée dans la position dite masculine, cisgenre, blanche, hétérosexuelle, riche et valide devra toujours justifier de la validité de son jugement. En dehors d’une série de critères, il y a une réalité structurelle dont nous participons quotidiennement à la reproduction. Derrière cela, il y a la capacité à faire taire les critiques, oppositions et remises en question du pouvoir prescrit sur autrui – ce qu’opère, au niveau des cellules familiales, les dynamiques opportunistes de l’inceste. Car ce que constate la journaliste Charlotte Pudlowski au cours de ses entretiens, notamment avec la psychiatre Muriel Salmona, c’est qu’une minorité des personnes ayant commis l’inceste prononce par ailleurs une attirance spécifique pour les enfants. Peu d’entre elleux sont ce qu’on pourrait appeler des « pédophiles ». Pourtant, il y a des circonstances et des facteurs à la fois d’opportunité et d’impunité qui amènent ces personnes à prescrire des violences sexuelles à des personnes mineures, dont la vulnérabilité, la disponibilité et la situation de dépendance matérielle et affective font des cibles faciles.

Ce qui est troublant, c’est que la psychiatrisation du récit autour de ces actes lorsqu’ils sont portés au grand jour pourra néanmoins toucher virtuellement à la fois l’incesteur-se et la victime. Comme dans tout trauma, il y a une assimilation de son identité à la rencontre à laquelle on a été convié-e ou, dans ce cas-là, forcé-e. Dans cette rencontre-là, les identités sont altérées au profit de l’oppression, ce qui indique aussi une torsion identitaire et une dynamique de dissociation de côté de l’agresseur-se, qui doit pour commettre son acte nier l’identité propre de sa victime et son intégrité à la fois physique et morale. Or, la personne qui commet l’inceste sera souvent traitée sans nuance comme un-e « malade mental-e », en oubliant que la manière dont on tente ou pas de réparer les dégâts compte tout autant que l’acte commis, puisqu’il confère son sens général et sa possibilité de transformation. De la même manière, le corps de la personne incestée pourra susciter une méfiance analogue. Elle a forcément été abîmée et l’incompréhension autour de la nature même de l’acte viendra contaminer jusqu’à la parole de la victime, quelle que soit sa fragilité émotionnelle et/ou mentale, à laquelle on répugne à s’identifier, parce qu’il faudrait admettre notre participation collective à une question sociale (ce qu’on exprime par le concept de psychophobie). Est-ce que cette personne-ci n’a pas subi une détérioration de ses facultés de jugement et est-ce que quelqu’un-e d’autre ne devrait pas parler à sa place, placer une distance entre l’infamie et moi, au nom de la pudeur et d’une certaine efficacité dans la transmission du « message » que son expérience aurait à transmettre en vue, moins de sa résolution mais de sa normalisation ? Est-ce que le traitement des effets, des symptômes du traumatisme et non des causes, y compris dans leurs aspects structurels, ne démontre pas une incapacité ou une situation de grande difficulté à porter la parole à sa dimension politique ?

Le validisme et la question de l’écoute

La question du validisme prend tout son sens lorsqu’on allume sa télévision sur une chaîne publique à une heure de grande audience, par exemple à 20h, où défilent les spots publicitaires mandatés par des organismes dits caritatifs ou « humanitaires ». La seule réponse proposée à la population face à des problèmes de « santé publique » ou de précarité est une réponse passive : donner de l’argent, pour « soutenir la recherche », en faveur d’organismes ou d’associations qui, d’une certaine manière, pallient la démission de l’État. Mais surtout, ces questions se voient réservée la même place que n’importe quel objet passif et compulsif de consommation, lesquels n’ont d’autre but qu’une satisfaction et un réconfort immédiats, à court-terme, sans réel impact structurel à long-terme. On se donne juste les moyens de supporter encore de continuer sur la même voie en réglant les « dégâts collatéraux » de façon marginale, en les plaçant dans une petite boîte, dans un coin de son esprit avec sa bonne conscience. Les mêmes mécanismes opèrent avec le racisme systémique et notre relation aux pays du Sud global, le génocide, la culture du viol et de l’inceste, le travail forcé, l’enfermement et la psychiatrisation de populations entières : une entreprise de déshumanisation. Pourtant, cette entreprise sert bien notre aveuglement quant à l’asservissement de groupes sociaux entiers sur notre territoire comme ailleurs.

On crée donc sciemment les victimes d’un système hiérarchique d’accès au pouvoir dont on se sert en même temps comme valeur de soumission, laquelle donne sens à la dimension verticale des hiérarchies sociales. On justifie sa propre précarité par la situation de plus misérables que soi. Mieux vaut faire partie d’un classe moyenne précarisée que d’un groupe sociale plus défavorisé encore, que d’être racialisé-e et/ou handicapé-e, de la communauté LGBTQ+ ou travailleur-ses du sexe, migrant-e, par exemple. On se distingue par la manière de parler, de bouger, de s’exprimer, qui nous différencie de paroles assignées à une position subalterne… Ces systèmes de domination créent toujours du pire pour en soumettre d’autres au chantage de faire accepter la restriction générale des droits de toustes et la confiscation de l’accès à la parole publique et politique, dédiée à la classe au pouvoir. Donc, si nous sommes toustes égaux-les face au trauma, nous ne le sommes pas face à l’accès à la parole et à l’écoute, laquelle possibilité d’une écoute conditionne l’élaboration d’un discours sur soi équitable en vue d’une résolution du trauma et de sa réécriture.

C’est donc moins la parole qui compte, mais l’écoute et la manière dont cette parole est reçue. Celles-ci indiquent la possibilité d’une action à venir qui nous soit propre, parle de nous et puisse nous inclure. C’est cette même manière qui nous informe de la valeur de notre parole et de l’expérience qui la porte. L’écoute, c’est ici s’écouter soi-même et l’autre pour éventuellement, savoir quoi dire, en connaissance des enjeux. Il faut donc faire de l’espace pour la parole et surtout, pour le choix de cette parole, orientée par la question du sens, à la fois intime et collectif. Dans la parole, c’est la réponse de l’autre qu’on anticipe, anticipation ancrée dans l’expérience et la mémoire traumatiques. Pourquoi donc ne pas écouter d’abord, puis parler s’il y a lieu de le faire ?

Nous parlions de cet espace circulaire ouvert entre soi et l’autre, qui permette de questionner le sens. Pouvoir choisir de parler, de façon pleinement consciente et consentante, implique le droit à l’auto-détermination, vis-à-vis de soi-même et des autres, en bordure de l’espace intermédiaire qui nous relie aux autres. Vivre en prise avec un traumatisme ne diminue pas la valeur de la parole. Cela accroît juste la capacité d’une écoute. Une écoute de soi-même, pour ne pas se mettre en danger. Une écoute des autres, pour comprendre quand et comment parler. Une écoute mutuelle, pour travailler ensemble.

1In Francisco Varela, « Le cerveau n’est pas un ordinateur », revue La Recherche, mensuel 308, avril 1998.

Crédit photo : « Papillon », par La Fille Renne ❤

Note on the question of space

Text in pdf :

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.

Simply put

Simply put, we can synthesise the purpose of the sensorimotor paradox theory this way, that two major structural situations may suffice to give a frame open enough to analyse the emergence of the cognitive disposition of human species :

  1. Sensorimotor paradox : given by the prominence and autonomy of the hands in our field of vision, consistent with the progressive and iterative development of bipedal stance, the situation of sensorimotor paradox would be first accidental, then actively looked for, sustained then maintained into a system of psycho-motor conduct. When I am gazing my own hand, what was then the manifestation of my agency toward objects becomes the object itself, interrupting the normal course of sensorimotor interactions in order for me to gaze it while it is still. Should I want to resume those interactions, I would have to break the object that I am attentive to by removing my hand. Being both the agent and the object at the same time, this situation provokes a paradox that opens to the free and deliberate production of images, of sensory imprints and representations of both those qualities for themselves : a scene, thus, imagination. It would then give us reciptivity for mental images disconnected from the necessity to enact the sensorimotor response (the idea of a ‘delay or lag of the response’ given by neurobiologist Gerald M. Edelman, 1990). It gives us as well a strong sense of one’s self, as the energy of the body that is mobilised and blocked from enacting sensorimotor stimulation provokes a form of entropic emotional distress, waiting for some kind of resolution.
  2. Trauma : understood as any situation of contact where the cause and the effect, the exogene element and the endogene one merge momentarily on the same surface, pushing the organism to develop a proper response in order to adapt to the reconfiguration of what they could expect from their interactions with the outside (even when it is about oneself experienced as an object of interaction and attention). Trauma can be large (a violent shock) or slight (discrete sensory and emotional events). Either way, they contribute to modulate how attention is driven and kept to the expectation of a certain type of memories, which would be likely to be reactivated, implying the kind of response then to be given. It leads us to a general frame for basic interpretation system, including a first system of conduct that would lean on self-interpretation according to traumatic memory – thus, to the creation of a subject, along with its tie to the local and more general structures of morals and violence within their own cultural jurisdiction.

The frame is rather simple, but enough to deal with the complexity of the connections that it allows to create between a rich variety of situated experiences (in the sense given by Donna Haraway, 1988). It is, following neurobiologist Francisco Varela’s analysis (1991), a proscriptive frame setting only the necessary threshold-like marks to permit all this variety of the evolutionary paths to form without any other prescriptive encapsulation (which would pertain to the elaboration of norms for optimal adaptation, whether natural or social). It is then an open system and should keep on being so.

It allows us to find terms with identity analysis such as philosopher Judith Butler’s coming to the spectrum of gender (1990, before she diverted from the proliferation of gender to a more restrictive vision1), but not restricted to. As philosopher Elsa Dorlin analysed from Butler, ‘If the subject is constructed within and by its acts, acts that it is ordered to accomplish and repeat, if the subject is a performative act in the sense that what I say, what I do, produces a – gendered – speaker to proclaim them and a – gendered – agent to perform them, we must conclude that the subject is not pre-discursive, that it does not pre-exist to its action.’2 As psychoanalyst Darian Leader stated as well as to the concept of jouissance in lacanian theory (2020), the latter (nor any other) cannot exist outside of its relational structure, that can include the complexity of traumatic experience on various levels – as analysed, for instance, through the lense of intersectionality in social studies (Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1989).

The frame is rather simple, because it must not be ideological. It must be aware of its political situation and radically cut from their appropriation. It must on the contrary be a tool in order to reappropriate means for thinking and analysis to their full extent. Our responsability in making our situatedness as a species is total. It is literally in our hands, though we cannot ‘forget the punitive force that domination deploys against all bodily styles that are not consistent with the heteronormed relation that presides to the articulation of the regulating categories that are sex, gender and sexuality, punitive force that attempt to the very life of those bodies’, as added Elsa Dorlin3 – but we may also include other categories pertaining to differenciation based on social class, age, validity, …

Although pain and trauma, whether slight or large, are crucial to the development and self-consciousness of all beings, symbolic violence and domination, pervasive in the conflictual maintaining of a stable identity, are fully dependent on the legitimation of physical violence (Pierre Bourdieu, 2012) – hence the (meta-)hermeneutic intrication between violence and morals (Paul Ricœur, 2010). Violence is thus not necessary, but always chosen and political at some point, driven into the maintaining of self-enacting social structures, the reinforcing and teaching of their laws.

As violence is unnecessary as a ‘natural’ trait, it is also unnecessary and uninvited in the course of this theoretical corpus. The core of the work put forward here is, on the contrary, about demonstrating how much violence should be discarted as a given but as a full social construct, reinforcing self-inflicting symbolic ties. It is but a possibility that is the easiest to reproduce as a patterned behaviour, and it is always anchored in the affective and emotional ressources of our experience, marking us up to our aesthetic sense (Ellen Dissanayake, 2009).

The theory of the sensorimotor paradox implies necessarily the acceptation and opening to all the variety of intermediary spaces where the right of anyone to self-determine themselves cannot be but mutual. The spaces for such a right must apply to everyone, respectful to the spaces in-between that we open in common and around which to share what one would choose and fully consent to.

Cited bibliography :

  • Bourdieu Pierre, Sur l’État, Cours au Collège de France 1989-1992, Paris, Seuil, 2012
  • Butler Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1990
  • Crenshaw Kimberlé, « Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics », University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8
  • Dissanayake Ellen, « The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetics », Cognitive Semiotics, Issue 5 (Fall 2009), pp. 148-173
  • Dorlin Elsa, Sexe, genre et sexualités, Paris, PUF, 2018, p. 127
  • Haraway Donna, « Situated Knowledges : The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective », Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-599 (25 pages)
  • Darian Leader, La jouissance, vraiment ?, Paris, Stilus, 2020
  • Ricœur Paul, Écrits et conférences 2 : Herméneutique, Paris, Seuil, 2010
  • Varela Francisco, Thompson Evan & Rosch Eleanor, The Embodied Mind, MIT Press, 1991

1Listen to Sam Bourcier Marie-Hélène Bourcier at the time) – Entretien – La Théorie Queer dans « Les Chemins de la philosophie » avec Adèle Van Reeth (2014), France Culture

2In Elsa Dorlin, Sexe, genre et sexualités, PUF, 2018, Paris, p. 127. My translation.

3It is however surprising that she refers to Sam Bourcier and Paul B. Preciado’s work by their dead name in her book. Though first published in 2008, we are surprised that the reedition would not update, should it betray the reluctance to grant trans speech their true legitimacy.

Facing trauma

We are seized into a network of interpretation. At the centre, there is a blindspot where one cannot reflect on themselves without borrowing back from another’s point of view. That is the paradox of the word ‘me’, that cannot reach its aim directly without separating from it, making it an object of shared consideration. The use of words, even in the secret of one’s stream of thoughts, automatically simulates and triggers sensorimotor enaction and its interpersonal nature. Its image is cristallised in symbolic memories. It always implies someone else to whom is addressed a speech in action, that implicates the participation of the body in the recognition of a shared reality.

Imagination for itself, free of words, in a work of meditation and contemplation, cutting off the continuity of the stream of thought, would make the individual a witness to their own images. The image of their own body and the simulated sensorimotor stimulations that might occur while diving into those self-generated images, would thus have the individual’s body participating as ‘passive’, being its own witness.

That is the place for facing trauma, for healing, by reducing every moving body to the force that they bear, their inertia. We could analyse the ‘absence of foundings’ seeked in the Indian meditation tradition of Madhyamaka (see F. Varela, E. Thompson & E. Rosch, The Embodied Mind, 1991) in those terms, that it is about centring oneself where one’s self cannot be interpreted but witnessed, even to themselves. It doesn’t borrow the way of speech anymore, only the self-generation of sensory imprints and memories, some orientated in the manner of a dream.

In his short History of Taoism, Rémi Mathieu (Le taoïsme, PUF, Paris, 2019) stresses the attachment of early theoretical corpus about the dao (the « Way ») in pre-Imperial China, from the 5th to the 3rd century B.C. – with their supposed leading authors being Lao Zi, Zhouang Zi and Lie Zi – to the limits of speech and their preference to the use of images. We can see that we might necessarily involve someone else’s gaze in speech, for it would involve the very structure of enactment to someone else in its symbolic and conventional nature – speech manifesting mutual convention on reality and the duty of the individual to respond to that reality they constantly redefine with others. On the contrary, one could be the witness of images and other sensory stimulations without necessarily involving the responsability of others, being non-communicable.

If the origin of trauma is a contact, whether slight and light or large and heavy, then beyond the reconstitution of the scene through psychoanalytic deconstruction, the inert and non-communicable nature of sensory memory should be addressed too. Inertia means the difficulty to slow down or divert the movement of an object, in Physics. Some Eastern traditions of thinking adopted a different strategy than resistance to the inertia of the wound, by taking the oblique, by removing the place where the subject is supposed to be in the network of the debt and trauma, as a being necessarily subject and mean to interpretation.

The compulsory nature of interpretation relies on being situated in the web of some semantic structure, of the world of meaning defining the capacity to borrow common words and representations to elaborate a speech, with its performative nature. We formulate the demand that someone else would understand and support the validity of the speech that we engage with our life and its integrity. Even the most elementary word assessing the reality and existence of a ‘me’ implies that someone else would understand and support the word that is meant to address it. One would always depend on that understanding, and it might not be self-evident. To say ‘me’ stresses the gap between the calling of the word and the separation from the very reality that it tries to address – while one says ‘me’ still minding that someone else that would have to approve their statement. This reality is still to be founded again and again with others through the use of collectively defined speech, and one cannot possibly control how this would be interpreted in all its forms.

The only thing that one would be able to control, is their own situation at the centre of the web where words are shut down, and the mind only bears witness to itself.

Photo credit : « Butterfly », La Fille Renne, Martinique