Lene Auestad – Prejudice, Exclusion and the Social Unconscious

par EBP-BSP | Articles, Colloque du 50e Anniversaire

This post is trilingual (in English)

(Exposés pour le 50ième anniversaire de l’École belge de psychanalyse – Mai 2015)

Exposé de Lene Auestad, suivi de la réplique de Barbara Haverhals et du contrepoint de Francis Martens: “Y aurait-il un inconscient social ? ”

Lene Auestad – Prejudice, Exclusion and the Social Unconscious

Thinking psychoanalytically involves reflecting on how we experience everything on an unconscious as well as on a conscious level, what Bion referred to as ‘bifocal vision’. When the object of reflection is social and cultural phenomena, unconscious representation of experience can be both individual and shared by several people in a social system, unit or subculture. Unconscious symbolisation and patterns of affect are always already marked by external others and by fantasies about these others. Human beings relate to others even when we are alone, as enemies, supporters, objects of desire, rivals and sympathisers. At the same time, unconscious fantasy has a capacity to transcend fixed patterns of identification, thereby challenging established social arrangements. Think of how in our dreams we can be young or old, big or small, or take various animal or human shapes; these rich identifications transcend fixed social categories and hegemonic ideas, thus carrying a revolutionary potential.

On psychoanalysis and the political

Freud often uses political metaphors so as to explain one’s inner world via a description of the outer. Consider the following quotes;

“In the ordinary way, I will admit, the intelligence which reaches your consciousness is enough for your needs; and you may cherish the illusion that you learn of all the more important things. But in some cases […] your intelligence service breaks down […] You behave like an absolute ruler who is content with the information supplied him by his greatest officials and never goes among the people to hear their voice” (1917a:143).

Or on the writing of national history;

“many things had been dropped from the nation’s memory, while others were distorted, and some remains of the past were given a wrong interpretation in order to fit in with contemporary ideas. Moreover people’s motive for writing history was not objective curiosity but a desire to influence their contemporaries, to encourage and inspire them. [… Thus childhood memories] correspond, as far as their origins and reliability are concerned, to the history of a nation’s earliest days, […] compiled later and for tendentious reasons” (1910c:83-84).

When attempting to explain the concept of the censor, Freud uses the example of political censorship in Russia;

“Where can we find a similar distortion of a psychical act in social life? Only where two persons are concerned, one of whom possesses a certain degree of power which the second is obliged to take into account. […] A writer must beware of the censorship, and on its account he must soften and distort the expression of his opinion. […] The stricter the censorship, the more far-reaching will be the disguise and the more ingenious too may be the means employed for putting the reader on the scent of the true meaning” (Freud 1900:141-142, 529).

Freud is in effect saying ‘take this political phenomenon, of tyranny, and try to imagine it as taking place on an individual level’. Now in all these cases we find that power and representation are centrally in play.

My understanding of ‘politics’ is influenced by Arendt, to whom it is not about rule from above or bureaucratic routine, the field as professionalised, but rather about different people coming together, debating issues of shared concern to them all. The central metaphor involved is spatial, “we each illuminate the world from different angles”, thus real encounters with others who see a matter differently is what may expand our understanding. Opposed to this are, on the one hand, too homogenous spaces where everyone speaks with one voice as it were, and on the other, exclusion of certain others from public spaces where dialogues take place. On this basis, it may become clear why ‘representation’ is central to ‘politics’ – and to thinking, you may add. As Abramson points out in relation to Freud’s study of Little Hans, “self-knowledge waits upon first being known to another”. To psychoanalysis, self-knowledge is an achievement between two minds, not something achieved in isolation. When our subject is knowledge or understanding of social and cultural phenomena, this insight should be extended to a more complicated field where there are multiple others, and where some voices are strong and others barely heard or silenced.

Psychoanalysis can be seen as a practice of listening to voices that are barely heard, providing a safe, protected space where insights that would otherwise be too dangerous can be found and uttered, as expressed in Marie Cardinal’s title Les mots pour le dire, by subjects who have been marginalised. Historically, psychoanalysis has been central to the idea of sexual liberation, and political battles for the right to access contraception and abortion have been won throughout most of Europe, leading to a broad acceptance for sexual life as a right and a central source of meaning. Freud’s more conservative ideas about female sexuality were criticised already by the first generation of women analysts, leading to new theoretizations. Another key development is the psychoanalytic influence on the view of the child. Children have come to be seen as subjects with rights of their own. Violence towards children has come to be seen as unacceptable and people have become aware of the role of emotions, fantasy, creativity in children’s development, enabling identification with their immaturity and vulnerability. When it comes to thinking about social and cultural groups, formations and categories, there is a tension between a universalising gesture and knowledge of specific situations. Psychoanalysis provides very accurate and sensitive phenomenological descriptions of situations, interactions, emotions and unconscious intentions, thus offering concrete and empathic points of access to human reality. At the same time, it proposes a theory of what is universally human. Where the latter move always risks being imperialist in the sense of generalising what is in fact specific, it also, importantly, enables extending the idea of the human to people who have been suppressed and silenced.

Prejudice as a psychosocial theme

In thinking about prejudice; racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism and homophobia I am concerned with analysing their a-rational aspect as founded in primary process logic and magical thinking, together with their social aspect as fantasies that are shared and shaped by past and present inequalities of power. Thus psychoanalytic thinking is necessary but not in itself sufficient when it comes to grappling with these phenomena; it needs to incorporate critical reflection on its own social and cultural position. In the opposite case, what often result are analyses of the more extreme expressions of prejudice, formulated in terms of pathology, which leaves ‘normality’ untouched and unquestioned. Sadly, some of these forms of prejudices have been ‘normal’ for centuries, others – think of xenophobia and islamophobia – have recently become more normalised so as to increasingly escape reflection. These phenomena are seen more clearly from some vantage points than from others, points of view that are often socially and politically suppressed.

Thus explorations into the phenomenon of prejudice need to focus on what is absent from subjectivity, about what a ‘we’, as any society or social unit, do and repeat (Freud 1914g, 1939a [1937-39]), but do not and cannot think and experience. I have proposed to use Balint’s model of trauma, built on Ferenczi’s writings on the subject, as a metaphor for how prejudice functions on a societal level. This model enables one to think psychoanalytically in a more social way about the relationship between power, love, and responsiveness on the one hand and subjectivity and its absence on the other.

In Trauma and Object Relationship (1969) Michael Balint argued that clinical experiences reveal that the structure of trauma has three phases. In the first phase the child is dependent on the adult and is in a primarily trustful relationship (1969:432). In the second phase the adult, once and suddenly or repeatedly, does something highly exiting, frightening or painful. The child may be exposed to excesses of tenderness or excesses of cruelty; to severe overstimulation or rejection. The trauma is only completed in the third phase when the child, in reaction to the second phase, attempts to get some understanding, recognition and comfort and the adult behaves as if nothing had happened. The adult may be preoccupied with other matters or plagued by severe feelings of guilt, and may reproach the child with moral indignation or feel that his or her action is best redressed by a feigned ignorance. This structure changes the basis for the theory of trauma from the field of one-person to two-person psychology (1969:432-433). In his view, the second phase is preceded by a trustful relationship, and crucially, is followed by a non-response which deprives the event of its character of reality. Bion’s concept of nameless dread can be seen to point to a similar phenomenon: “If the projection is not accepted by the mother,” he writes, the rejected feeling does not remain the same but becomes qualitatively different; it is “stripped of such meaning as it has” (1962a:116). Thus it cannot be truly experienced but becomes indigestible, meaningless, that-which-cannot-be-thought. Like the bird mother that feeds the baby bird with food she had digested, Bion’s mother feeds the infant digested experience, leading to the growth of an ability to think (Auestad 2010d). In this case there is a feeding of meaninglessness; the infant is being fed, and left with unthinkable, unpredictable and assaulting occurrences. The situation is one where “the infant has a wilfully misunderstanding object – with which it is identified” (Bion 1962a:117) He or she becomes, incorporates, the misunderstanding object and is also at the same time the subject which is misunderstood, and thus deprived of subjectivity.

Inherent in the common response of the racist, antisemite, misogynist or homophobe; “My statement was not intended to be hurtful. You must be hypersensitive. You misunderstand me”, is a similar structure to the one seen in Balint’s account of trauma. It contains the claim that the speaker’s intention should be seen as real or valid, whereas the feeling and interpretation of the recipient do not. As in his description of the trauma’s third phase, the reality of the occurrence is denied. Moral indignation may enter in, as in the accusation of hypersensitivity, where the blame is allocated to the recipient. The speaker is re-affirming his or her own subjectivity and nullifying that of the other. To allude to Bion, the reaction of the recipient is deprived of its name; the position from which it could be articulated is not significant – it is not a meaningful experience. Finally, the recipient is invited, or forced, to identify with the speaker. This is the position, it is assumed, from which it makes sense to speak, thus in so far as one is making sense one is connecting with this position. Since the speaker’s version presents itself as being in line with “common sense” whereas the recipient appears as “radical”, a third party would be inclined to support the former, which appears as intuitively meaningful, while the second is on the edge of the universe of meaning. Thus, we have a situation where the supposedly neutral third party in responding, to refer back to Balint, by “non-participating passive objectivity” (1969:434) repeats the third phase of misunderstanding, of depriving the event of its reality. It has become non-existent.

In this way, a social majority or stronger party possesses a power of definition, to decide what is real, what counts, and whose experiences are valid and worthy of articulation and attention. The foreigner’s speech, writes Kristeva,

“[…] fascinating as it might be on account of its very strangeness, will be of no consequence, will have no effect, will cause no improvement in the image of reputation of those you are conversing with. One will listen to you only in absent-minded, amused fashion, and one will forget you in order to go on with serious matters. […] Your speech has no past and will have no power over the future of the group: why should one listen to it? (Kristeva 1991:20-21).

Since persuasiveness rests on a relation to the common sense and to the authorities of the community, the foreigner’s speech lacks weight. It is out of tune with the taken-for-granted frame that prevails in the surroundings, heard as uncommon sense or as not making much sense. It passes by, fleetingly, fails to make a mark while carrying a mark of strangeness.

Now the minority or weaker party needs to relate to, or incorporate, the view of the socially dominant other since this is what counts as common sense. He or she cannot but relate to that position, while at the same time needing to maintain a sense of identity which conflicts with that defined by the other. In Goffman’s words:

“The nature of a ‘good adjustment’ is now apparent. It requires that the stigmatized individual cheerfully and un-self-consciously accept himself as essentially the same as normals, while at the same time he voluntarily withholds himself from those situations in which normals would find it difficult to give lip service to their similar acceptance of him” (Goffman [1963]1990:146).

Goffman describes social situations where there is an implicit negotiation of distance and acceptance, where separate parties observe a norm that need not be articulated or examined. Note that there is a discrepancy in the reflection required of the parties – the stigmatized person needs to be able to perceive two contradictory norms simultaneously and to act in such a way as to take account of them both, whereas the person assumed to be ‘normal’ is allowed to remain unconscious of his or her lack of acceptance of the other. Where the latter may experience a ‘smooth’ situation, the former sees one that requires extensive manoeuvring. Hyper-reflexivity with regard to some aspects of the situation is needed. I believe this point links with Kaës’ (2007) descriptions of how unconscious alliances may lead to asymmetries in what is socially unconscious. The latter would vary with one’s position in social space as some are made the carriers of symptoms for others.

Condensation in public space

We may speak of condensation and displacement as unfolding in public space when people are portrayed as masses and become mere objects of discourse, when groups are depicted as inwardly homogenous and rigidly distinct. Prejudices can often be wholly unconscious – but unconscious material is also present in prejudices that are actively articulated and consciously upheld. I believe it is important to think about the continuity between extremism and more ‘ordinary’ prejudices, those that are socially valid, and often escape reflection.

Dreams, Freud writes, are conveyed in a different language with a different syntax from that of conscious thought as we know it. Some of the most prominent characteristics of unconscious thought processes are: Condensation, Displacement, Absence of mutual contradiction and negation, Reversal, and Timelessness. Though all of these are important, I will limit my focus to condensation and displacement in what follows.

In condensation a single idea, located at the intersection of several associative chains, serves as a representation of all the ideas with which it is associated. One of the chief methods by which condensation operates in dreams is by the construction of collective and composite figures. One way in which this happens is described in On Dreams;

“The dream-work then proceeds just as Francis Galton did in constructing his family photographs. It superimposes, as it were, the different components upon one another. The common element in them then stands out clearly in the composite picture, while contradictory details more or less wipe one another out” (Freud 1901a:649).

Used by Freud to illustrate a form of condensation where individual features that do not fit a general picture are cancelled out, so as to become invisible or blurred, the historical phenomenon of the ‘Galton photograph’ is illuminated by Sander Gilman (1993b). Francis Galton was a eugenicist, a cousin of Charles Darwin, who believed in a ‘uniform Jewish appearance’ and tried to capture what he thought of as a Jewish ‘essence’ in his composite photographs of boys in the Jewish Free School, Bell Lane, London. His original photographs were superimposed on one another to produce a kind of multiple exposure technique and create an image of an ‘essence’, first published in 1885. (1993b:16, 43-49). Thus, a central metaphor used by Freud to explain the process of condensation as a principle of unconscious functioning was taken from the scientific literature of the times, where condensation, consciously employed, was used to promote an antisemitic line of argumentation.

The context in which Freud mentions the ‘Galton photographs’ is in reference to his dream of his uncle with the yellow beard, for which antisemitism figures as a background problem. In the spring of 1897 Freud dreamt that R. was his uncle and felt a great affection for him. He saw his elongated face before him. The yellow beard that surrounded it stood out especially clearly (1900a:137-142). In reality, he thought, he had only one uncle, Uncle Josef, who had been convicted of an illegal transaction more than thirty years earlier. Freud’s father had said that he was not a bad man, but merely a simpleton. In merging R. with Uncle Josef in the dream, Freud expressed the opinion (implausible in reality) that R. was a simpleton like his uncle. Reflecting on the purpose of the comparison, Freud remembered having encountered his colleague N. in the street, and N. had congratulated Freud on having been recommended for a professorship. Freud had replied that such a recommendation was not worth much, which N. himself should know, since he too had been recommended for a professorship without having received the actual appointment. N. had replied that a woman had once started legal proceedings against him, and that this fact had probably served as an excuse not to appoint him. “But you have an unblemished character” (139), he had said. By means of this association, Freud interpreted that the figure of ‘Uncle Josef’ stood for his two colleagues who had not been appointed to professorships, who were depicted as a simpleton and a criminal respectively.

“If the appointment of my friends R. and N. had been postponed for ‘denominational’ reasons, my own appointment was also open to doubt; if, however, I could attribute the rejection of my two friends to other reasons, which did not apply to me, my hopes would remain untouched. […] [W]e no longer had anything in common; I could rejoice at my appointment to a professorship, and I could avoid drawing the distressing conclusion that R.’s report of what the high official had said to him must apply equally to me” (1900a:139-140).

Freud’s assessment of the characters of his friends in the dream stood opposed to his judgment of his friends in waking life. The dream expressed the wish that R. and N. might be so different from Freud himself as to have nothing in common with him. Freud’s dream had been preceded by a visit from a friend the day before, who had told him of how he had driven a Ministry official into a corner with the question of whether the considerable delay in his own appointment to a professorship was due to ‘denominational considerations’ – the antisemitic feelings in late 19th century Vienna (136). Since he was in a similar position, Freud’s feeling of resignation was strengthened by his friend’s story. In the dream his communal feelings were rejected, and the facts of the situation altered so as to support his wish to be appointed for the professorship.

This dream presents us with a glimpse of Freud’s subjective grappling with the antisemitism of his days’ Vienna. Freud can be seen to struggle with the question of to what extent his suspicions point towards something real. According to Marthe Robert, the Minister of Education at the time, Wilhelm von Härtel, whose antisemitism was well known, did not reject Jewish candidates as Jews, which would have been illegal, but rather made sure that they were “accidentally” overlooked time and time again, until they finally gave up applying ([1974]1977:73).

Antisemitism was inherent in the medical, biological and anthropological science of the time, and Freud developed explanatory models that countered the prevailing biological determinism. This dream, on the other hand, reveals some of his own ambivalence of identification. In trying to reassure himself about his prospects of promotion, he also, in the dream, abused his two friends, and displayed a wish to break with his Jewishness (Robert 97). This baseness he discovered within himself contrasted with the moral courage and loyalty he possessed in his conscious life; he regarded the socially convenient option of conversion with contempt. Thus, his reluctance to interpret his dreams is to some extent understandable, at the same time revealing and concealing the complexity of the story to/from his readers.

While the dream of the ‘uncle’ can be said to illuminate Freud’s subjective engagement with the societal condensation he was confronted with, the more general point is that condensation is present in all the familiar claims about how ‘they’ are dirty, lazy, immoral etc. – what is implicit in these statements is that separate individuals have been replaced by a mass, about which substance claims are made. Winder describes how, at the beginning of the First World War;

“In Britain, the newly arrived Jews were the first victims of the anti-immigration lobby. […] People were no longer seen as individuals, families or villages. […] Seen en masse, they looked barbaric. Intellectuals winced. […] A few voices tried to resist this impulse […] but few could resist the temptation to deal disdainfully with ‘the masses’” (Winder 2004:254).

Ignacio Matte-Blanco’s work, where some of Freud’s ideas about unconscious processes are reformulated in terms of mathematical logic, is based on the sense that psychoanalytic theorists have tended to move away from the revolutionary characteristics of the Freudian unconscious, pushing their discipline in the direction of conventional psychology and conventional logic (1988:5). Matte-Blanco formulates ‘the principle of generalization’ as follows: “The system Ucs. treats an individual thing […] as if it were a member of a class […] treats this class as a subclass of a more general class, […] and so on” (1975:38). The unconscious tends to choose some possibilities of generalization and avoid others in such a way that some particular features of the ting from which the process started remain in the general class. Thus the class is at once highly abstract and in some ways concrete.

Matte-Blanco’s second principle affirms that the unconscious treats asymmetrical relations as though they were symmetrical. ‘Peter is John’s brother’ expresses a symmetrical relation because the converse is also true, John is also Peter’s brother. ‘Anna is Julia’s mother’, on the other hand, is an asymmetrical relation, since the relation and the converse are not identical; Julia is not Anna’s mother, but her daughter. Though when the principle of symmetry is applied, the conclusion ‘Julia is Anna’s mother’ follows from the first statement. Absurd from the point of view of Aristotelian logic, the principle of symmetry is constantly applied in unconscious thinking. It follows from the statement ‘A precedes B’ that ‘B precedes A’; hence its application abolishes the relation of succession in time. ‘A is a part of B’ has the consequence that ‘B is a part of A’; thus the distinction between part and whole vanishes – the whole is equal to the part and the part to the whole.

Displacement makes use first of the principle of generalization and then of the principle of symmetry (1975:42-43). The one who displaces treats the original object and the object onto which the idea is displaced as members of the same class, i.e. they are unconsciously (though not necessarily consciously) perceived as having a feature, such as dangerousness, in common. The application of the principle of symmetry then entails that the two objects not only possess a common characteristic; since each part of the class is equivalent to the class as a whole, they are in fact identical. Thus from an inside point of view nothing is displaced.

A classical illustration of displacement is provided by Aesop’s fable about the wolf and the lamb:

“Once upon a time a Wolf was lapping at a spring on a hillside, when, looking up, what should he see but a lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. […] The he called out to the lamb, “How dare you muddle the water from which I am drinking?” “Nay, master, nay,” said Lambkin; “If the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” Well, then”, said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be”, said the Lamb; “I am only six months old”. “I don’t care”, snarled the wolf; “If it was not you it was your father”, and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up” (Aesop c. 6th Century BC).

In this story, the lamb points out that the wolf’s ideas about causality are as muddled as the water is claimed to be, and that he is mistaken about her identity. The wolf, however, disregards the lamb’s valid objections – one might here speak of ‘bad faith’ in the sense of being aware of wanting to believe in his own justification while at the same time maintaining the belief in it. The story can also serve as a parable of the crudeness of the element of power inequality involved in prejudice; while presumably intellectually capable of grasping that this lamb is different from another one, the social setting allows the wolf to disregard this fact completely, in the same way as a majority member is free to disregard the difference between one ‘asylum seeker’ and another.

Thus while dehumanisation can be expressed as various forms of demonization, as trying to force the other to carry shame and guilt, to receive the hatred and contempt directed at him or her, another aspect is this collective act of making the other disappear – as a subject and as an individual. In the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean the metaphor of being ‘flooded by a wave of migrants’ is employed, so as convey an image of a depersonalised mass rather than separate people. Attempts are made to shift the focus from people in need to people smugglers as enemies of Europe, thus framing the issue as a security threat rather than a humanitarian crisis. Farage and other right-wing politicians have also argued that the refugees themselves are to blame, that their reasons for fleeing are illegitimate, that “saving people will only encourage more to come”, and even that they are likely to be Islamic terrorists (Loewenstein 2015, Mason 2015). Thus condensation and displacement operate in the discourse so as to enable a turning away.

Politics, fantasies, identification

This exemplifies how politics is laden with fantasies – of what specific others are made to represent – and ridden with issues of identification – of who is construed as other, and what is meant in saying ‘we’, who is regarded as intimately familiar, who is seen as exotic and who is beyond the pale, made too remote or frightening for care or recognition. While people do have a need to communicate, to share with others, they also have a need to identify with powerful and idealised leaders and authority figures, to submit to their will, thought and ideation – and to merge with homogenous groups where sameness prevails. These tendencies, supported by many structures and institutions in ‘democratic’ societies, lend support to attacks on people conceived of as ‘others’, disguising the element of personal desire involved, while also delegitimising and excluding from view the ‘living targets’.

Psychoanalysis, as a practice of listening to the unknown in the other, enables the previously discarded and disowned to emerge as meaningful, as worthy of wonder and elaboration, expanding the understandable and the potential for identification. Inherent in Freud’s metaphors cited in the beginning, of censorship and disguises, spurious history-writing and tyrannical rulers out of touch with the people, is the analogy between the rejected social other and the disowned otherness within. The terror is internal and external. Having an unconscious mental life means that we are sometimes taken aback by our own actions, our own reactions, by a sudden encounter with someone who is not who we thought we were, and whom we would not want to identify with. The analogy between expanding one’s range of identifications and of representation internally and outwardly, applies, I think to some extent, though not fully. With social and cultural phenomena, we encounter a more complicated field where there are multiple others, some loud and forceful, others barely heard or silenced. In terms of sensing, and making sense of, other positions in social space, art and literature provide irreplaceable sources, and safe fora that challenge the petrified doxa of one’s various in-groups open up other such sources of thinking anew about how we live with others, and with ourselves.

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  • Mason, R. (2015) “Nigel Farage: EU response to migrant boat crisis would bring jihadis to UK” in The Guardian, April 28th.
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Barbara Haverhals – Réplique à Lene Auestad*

Lorsque j’ai reçu le texte de votre exposé, je venais juste de terminer la lecture de votre livre. Cela m’a aidée à suivre votre riche exposé au départ d’un contexte plus vaste.

L’enjeu de votre question, je peux l’expliquer au mieux par le grand Autre selon Lacan. Cet Autre s’écrit avec un A majuscule, pour indiquer sa transcendance à l’égard de l’autre concret. Il figure le langage au sens large d’un monde culturel de signification avec les usages, institutions, lois, normes etc. qui lui appartiennent. Bref, ce grand Autre – à partir duquel le sujet parle et désire, selon Lacan – représente formellement ”un” ordre établi. Abstraction faite de la question de savoir ce qu’il en est de cet « ordre » sur le plan du contenu. Certains analystes, dont vous et moi, sont intéressés par la pertinence de cette question pour la pratique psychanalytique.

Votre travail rejoint une tradition critique qui, après Hegel, a été instituée par Karl Marx. Ce dernier a été touché par l’exploitation inhumaine du salariat au début du capitalisme industriel. Après Marx, la théorie critique a été confrontée aux affres du totalitarisme. Et au cours des dernière décennies elle s’est centrée sur le problème des nombreuses identités par lesquelles toutes sortes de minorités éprouvent la discrimination ou l’exclusion à partir de la culture majoritaire.

Dans votre ouvrage, vous montrez comment l’exclusion se renforce par des préjugés qu’on ne peut pas imputer tout bonnement à des intentions conscientes d’acteurs sociaux. C‘est trop simpliste. C’est donc au travers de la notion d’« inconscient social » que vous tentez d’atteindre comment, dans les dialogues publics, les processus primaires qui confirment les relations de pouvoir établies sont à l’œuvre.

J’ai beaucoup de sympathie pour votre tentative de donner à nouveau une place à la psychanalyse au sein de la tradition critique, et j’aimerais y contribuer par mes remarques.

  1. Votre approche se concentre surtout sur le langage et la parole. Peut-être faut-il relier aussi l’inconscient social avec la pulsionnalité qui s’extériorise ailleurs. Dans une rationalité technicienne qui semble aller à la rencontre d’une contrainte de contrôle pour maîtriser toutes les facettes de la vie. Je ne puis guère argumenter cette suggestion ici. Mais je peux l’illustrer à l’aide d’une énorme ambivalence sur laquelle Valerie Sinason a mis le doigt.

Pour des personnes atteintes du syndrome de Down, il est très douloureux d’être convoqués à s’inclure dans un monde qui simultanément met tout en œuvre pour prévenir techniquement que des personnes comme elles puissent encore naître dans le futur.

  1. Les pulsions humaines sont des forces qui empêchent aussi qu’un individu puisse totalement s’intégrer dans le social. Je parlerais ici d’une exclusion existentielle qui traverse la lutte sociale pour la reconnaissance ou l’inclusion. C’est pourquoi, dans la méthode d’une théorie critique, nous devons au moins pouvoir faire la différence entre une pratique psychanalytique qui adapte l’individu au social et une pratique qui sait prendre en charge un individu dans sa chute hors du social, dans sa position marginale, au bord, qui constitue un aspect essentiel de son humanité. Je ne vais pas prétendre de manière romantique que cette position existentielle est en soi une source de liberté, de créativité ou de potentiel révolutionnaire. Nous savons tous qu’elle cause aussi beaucoup de misère. Mais peut-être que la psychanalyse peut s’y joindre pour offrir un travail de résistance contre ces tendances totalisatrices actuelles. J’y compterais l’idéologie intrusive du management qui sous le dénominateur self-management menace de pénétrer dans la subjectivité.

Merci déjà pour votre réaction à ces remarques.

Francis Martens – Y aurait-il un inconscient social ?  En contrepoint à Lene Auestad1

Voici un cheminement de pensée qui ramène la psychanalyse dans la cité ! L’une comme l’autre en ont besoin, en ce moment où l’avertissement de Bertolt Brecht s’avère plus que jamais d’actualité : « Le ventre est encore fécond d’où a surgi la bête immonde ». La formule date de 1941 et se trouve à la fin de La résistible ascension d’Arturo Ui — une allégorie théâtrale de l’ascension du nazisme. Disons d’emblée que Brecht se montre optimiste : « Le ventre est encore fécond » … la violence totalitaire, le déferlement xénophobe, couvent sous la cendre mais pourraient aussi s’éteindre. L’anthropologie psychanalytique est plus radicale : le ventre n’est pas encore mais à jamais fécond d’où ne cesse de surgir la bête immonde. De la complémentarité entre pulsions sexuelles de vie et de mort, de l’antagonisme entre le pulsionnel et le culturel, nous ne sortirons jamais. Nous n’en aurons jamais fini, autrement dit, avec le politique, ni avec la violence aveugle, ni avec l’éducation au sens le plus noble mais aussi le plus normatif du terme. En ces domaines, la capacité d’élucidation de la théorie psychanalytique n’a rien perdu de son tranchant.

Mais je viens d’évoquer l’anthropologie psychanalytique : un terme vague où souvent les niveaux se confondent. Pour préciser, j’évoquerai le paradoxe de la naissance de la psychanalyse : un cheminement largement auto-analytique où Freud convoque la singularité de sa propre histoire consciente et inconsciente (par exemple, dans le rêve de l’ « Oncle à la barbe jaune », évoqué par Lene Auestad, où apparaît l’ambivalence de Freud par rapport à l’assimilation dans la Vienne antisémite2, avec en parallèle une attention clinique prêtée aux traits pathologiques les plus individuels, irréductibles à quelque généralisation que ce soit. Pensons à l’écoute patiente des hystériques ou à celle des « bêtises » du « Petit Hans » — au crédit accordé aux lapsus les plus infimes, pour déboucher progressivement sur une anthropologie universelle novatrice, fondée sur la notion d’inconscient individuel, sexuel, refoulé (chaque mot compte). Au XVIème siècle, Montaigne avait pressenti cette altérité interne : « Il y a autant de différence de nous à nous-mêmes que de nous à autrui » (Essais, XI, 337). C’est l’occasion de souligner que, si la multivocité du langage ouvre le champ au retour du refoulé, l’accent mis sur le statut d’être parlant n’appartient pas à la psychanalyse. Pour Aristote déjà, l’homme est un être pourvu de logos et un « animal politique », et les deux sont liés. Pour citer encore Montaigne : « Nous ne sommes hommes et ne nous tenons les uns aux autres que par la parole » (Essais, I, 9), et « La parole est à moitié à celui qui parle, à moitié à celui qui l’écoute » (Essais, III, 13).

L’exposé de Lene Auestadt nous rappelle que l’animal politique n’est pas régi par le seul processus secondaire, qu’il n’est pas fanatique de la non-contradiction préconisée par la logique aristotélicienne. Son analyse débusque le mécanisme pervers du déni (Verleugnung, chez Freud, de la famille de lügen, « mentir »). Son regard met en lumière les manigances du retournement projectif : quand Goebbels, en majeur, proclame qu’il faut exterminer les juifs sans quoi ce sont eux qui vont nous anéantir, on n’est pas loin du discours qui, en mineur et par devers soi, murmure que mieux vaut voir les boat-people submergés par l’océan que « nous » submergés par eux. Son cheminement témoigne de la richesse des concepts psychanalytiques pour décrypter les rouages intimes de l’aliénation — tant du maître que de l’esclave. Dommage que les psychanalystes répercutent si peu dans le champ du politique ce que la souffrance individuelle fait entendre de la violence collective. C’est sans doute que leur sensibilité éthique (leur « idéal du moi » ?) n’est pas moins en butte aux mécanismes de condensation, déplacement, transformation de relations asymétriques en symétriques mises en évidence, par exemple, dans la représentation des boat-people. En abrasant les singularités et les visages, ces ruses du processus primaire dispensent de s’identifier aux cibles de chair et de sang de la violence planétaire. Elles annulent les différences entre les jeux-vidéo et les assassinats ciblés perpétrés journellement par les drones. Elles court-circuitent l’esprit critique, en ces jours de mauvais augure où le stéréotype « les arabes » prend le relais des clichés antijuifs. Le sort, évoqué par l’auteur, de groupes disqualifiés forcés pour survivre de s’identifier à ceux-là mêmes qui les disqualifient, éclaire le déchirement intime des Turcs d’origine arménienne comme le vécu quotidien des Israéliens d’origine arabe. Et de tant d’autres !

Il reste que ce questionnement invite aussi à s’interroger à un autre niveau. La psychanalyse, nous le savons, a perdu ses paillettes. Démodée, stigmatisée, elle n’a plus droit au dogmatisme ni au mépris. Elle n’a d’avenir que dans la cohérence clinique et la rigueur théorique dont l’ont dispensée trop de dérives identitaires. C’est une chance ! Il n’est pas inutile dès lors d’examiner ce que recouvre ici l’expression « inconscient social ». S’agit-il d’une métaphore ou d’un emploi plus précis ? Car en toute rigueur freudienne, l’inconscient, fruit du refoulement originaire, est strictement individuel. Pourtant, l’expression « inconscient social » fait sens. Je propose donc une façon d’aborder cette apparente contradiction. Il faut revenir à la théorie traductive originelle de l’inconscient, celle de la Lettre 52 (désormais 112)3, et différencier clairement les niveaux de la théorisation psychanalytique. En bref, la réalité fait irruption en nous sur un mode intrusif structuralement proche de celui du traumatisme. Pour percevoir et mémoriser cette sensation, nous devons nous la re-présenter : n’en traduire qu’une version intégrable selon nos capacités du moment. Il faut s’imaginer ici l’impuissance originaire du nouveau-né, maîtrisant l’afflux d’excitations comme il peut, rendant signifiant petit à petit ce qui lui arrive, et refoulant en lui – faute d’autre possibilité – un reste intraduit : corps étranger interne, toujours actif mais échappant à la signification. Ainsi se constitue peu à peu l’inconscient. Mais l’enfant, Dieu merci ! ne doit pas retraduire à lui seul l’entièreté du monde. Naissant dans une culture, il bénéficie, comme dit Laplanche, de structures « mytho-symboliques » qui lui préexistent : comme, par exemple, l’Œdipe4 et on ne peut plus clairement le « genre »5. Ces structures s’incarnent en codes que je qualifierais d’« aides à la traduction », bien qu’ils puissent aussi jouer le rôle d’interdit de traduire – voire même d’obligation de mentir et de se mentir. Impossible de redéployer en deux mots l’ensemble de la métapsychologie. Mais il importe de clairement distinguer, au niveau de la théorie, le modèle anthropologique scientifique universel de l’inconscient individuel sexuel refoulé – fruit de la Hilflosigkeit originelle6 – des modalités mytho-symboliques variables qui encadrent sa mise en place. Il n’y a dès lors pas de contradiction dans les termes à parler d’inconscient social. Il s’agit d’une différence de niveaux dans la formation de l’inconscient. De même, il n’y a pas d’incohérence à parler de déni collectif.

Un dernier mot. Les composantes collectives de l’identité ont été soulignées par Freud comme par Lacan. Handicapé de l’instinct, l’homme ne peut se sentir lui-même ni coopérer avec autrui qu’en s’identifiant à des « mêmes » qui doivent impérativement rester des « autres ». Psychiquement, la pirouette n’est pas simple. En témoignent diverses pathologies. En outre, le sexuel – au sens freudien7 – procède d’une dépendance originaire au corps d’adultes dont les soins – par nature intrusifs – peuvent s’éprouver autant sur le mode de la protection que de la persécution. La distance est faible, autrement dit, de l’image du protecteur à celle du persécuteur. On peut voir en ce paradoxe la racine des retournements projectifs et donc des comportements xénophobes, tout comme celle des soumissions serviles qui médusèrent Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) — l’ami trop tôt disparu de Montaigne8.

Rappelons enfin que le pulsionnel – source du désir de vivre – fonctionne sur le mode du « tout et tout de suite », alors que nos conditions de survie – par définition collectives – dépendent d’une aptitude au renoncement et à la médiation des désirs. Prédateur sans frontière, le capitalisme financier néolibéral mondialisé dérégulé privilégie, comme on sait, le « tout et tout de suite » des actionnaires. Favorisant l’emprise individuelle au détriment des régulations collectives, il détruit le lien social. Formatant la parole, il empêche la pensée. Mettant en concurrence chacun avec chacun, il nourrit le préjugé, l’exclusion, la diabolisation projective de l’autre. Ruinant les solidarités, il n’a qu’une devise : « Après moi le déluge ». Matrice socio-économique du terrorisme, il constitue la négation même de l’éthique universelle — enracinée par Freud dans la Hilflosigkeit9.

* Traduit du néerlandais par Ria Walgraffe, relu par l’auteur.

1 Voir aussi : Lene Auestad, Respect, plurality and prejudice. A psychoanalytical and philosophical enquiry into the dynamics of social exclusion and discrimination, Karnak, 2015

2 Voir : Sigmund Freud, Œuvres Complètes IV 1899-1900, PUF, Paris, 2003

3 Lettre de Sigmund Freud à Wilhelm Fliess du 6 décembre 1896. Voir : Sigmund Freud, Lettres à Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, PUF, Paris, 2006

4 Et ses dérivés comme, par exemple, le « Nom du Père ».

5 Ceci dans le cadre du codage normatif – mais selon des contenus variables – des « sept différences anthropologiques fondamentales » : différences entre les vivants et les morts, les humains et les animaux, les humains et les « dieux », les hommes et les femmes, les parents et les enfants, les épousables et les non-épousables, les rapports au corps permis et interdits (soin, sexualité, violence).

6 Hilflosigkeit : incapacité originelle de l’enfant à se secourir par lui-même, et dès lors dépendance vitale prolongée par rapport à tout autre disposé à l’aider. Laplanche propose de traduire par le « désaide».

7Voir : Jean Laplanche, Sexual. La sexualité élargie au sens freudien, PUF, Paris, 2007

8 Étienne de la Boétie, Discours de la servitude volontaire (1549), Flammarion, Paris, 1993

9 Dès son Esquisse d’une psychologie scientifique, rédigée entre 1895 et 1896. Voir : Sigmund Freud, Lettres à Wilhelm Fliess, déjà cité.