Gérard Pommier, a psychoanalyst in Paris, is a psychiatrist and doctor of psychology. He is also a distinguished lecturer at the University of Nantes. He is a member of the research laboratory for clinical psychopathology at the University of Provence, a member of review committees for the journals Clinique Méditerranéenne and Psychologie Clinique and director of the journal La Clinique Lacanienne. He was co-founder in 1991 of the European Foundation for Psychoanalysis and is vice president of the International Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in China. Gérard Pommier is the author of numerous works, including Qu'est-ce que le "Réel"?
(What Is Reality?) (Erès, 2004) Les Corps Angéliques de la Postmodernité (Heavenly Bodies of Postmodernity) (Calmann-Lévy, 2000), Naissance et Renaissance de l'Ecriture (Birth and Rebirth of Writing) (PUF, 1993), and Comment les Neurosciences Démontrent la Psychanalyse (How the Neurosciences Can Reveal Aspects of Psychoanalysis) (Flammarion, 2005).
1. HOW THE NEUROSCIENCES CAN REVEAL ASPECTS OF PSYCHOANALYSIS
Research on the brain has made significant progress these last few years, so much so that the very idea of what man is has been turned upside down: The body would no longer be thought of merely as a “machine,” whose various moving parts could be replaced in the event of a breakdown and set going again; feelings like love and desire, the ability to be creative, as in writing poetry, would no longer be simply a question of hormones and how nerve endings connect. As far as the physical side of things is concerned—dreams, the unconscious, symptoms—effective medication would keep them well under control. It is the age-old debate of mind and body that neuroscientists are pushing psychoanalysts to get back to work on. At a point such as this in the discussion there is one question in particular that persists: Can there be two different, even contradictory, ways to approach the same phenomenon?
This lecture shows how this groundless opposition is wrong, having gained credence through a misunderstanding of cerebral processes and the physical side of life. It would never occur to a psychoanalyst to deny the importance of organic processes: how could psychic power ever do without the body’s potentialities. From its early days, psychoanalysis has subverted this opposition through one of its major discoveries-that of desire, which animates the psychic powers while including the body as well, creating a dialectic to such a degree as to invalidate any opposition between the mental and the cerebral.
But it even gets better! A number of neurophysiological discoveries add wind to the sails of Freud. Without actually trying to do so, the neurosciences show how our use of language has a shaping influence on the body much more profound than the hysterical symptom was able to foresee. The body’s heightened tension because of language is so important that a number of neurophysiological results cannot be interpreted without psychoanalysis. Several questions as essential as, what is the conscious? remain unanswerable without the concept of the unconscious.
By measuring what neurosciences have brought to psychoanalysis, we can begin to get a pretty good idea not only of what a “subject” actually is, but also of this body of which we are so antagonistically the strange lodgers.
2. CONSCIOUSNESS IS RELATIVE TO THE UNCONSCIOUS
Living beings generally possess a consciousness which conditions the choices necessary for survival. Does human consciousness differ in any way from this general condition among all living things? An animal must distinguish among the aspects of a moving scene both spatially and in time. By recognizing one object among those that are present, it begins focusing its attention. A fish, for example, has to be able to distinguish a worm from a hook, and so on. Man has a quite different problem: before being conscious of one object among the others, he has to first hold back all that is associated psychically with this perception. All sorts of fleeting thoughts get themselves into any and all perceptions, which touch the consciousness, but only sporadically, according to the degree to which they are being held back. The subject of human consciousness is redefined: It is now defined in proportion to that of the unconscious.
Consciousness and the unconscious are thus inextricably linked together. A form of the unconscious exists in the conscious (Freudian slips, for example, witticisms, and so on), and there is a form of the conscious in the unconscious (we are conscious, for example, inside a dream).
3. BIRTH OF WRITING IN HISTORY AND ITS ACQUISITION BY A CHILD
The problem of the origins of writing can be taken up by considering its evolution over the course of the last millennia. We will go through and analyze the important archeological material now available and order it all according to what it has in common, and place it in a chronology. We will then be able to interpret it all to find out how writing evolved.
The origin of writing can also be analyzed in terms of individual acquisition. It will then be a good idea to observe how children begin to write, according to procedures with general rules and exceptions. The difficulties of students learning to use writing and reading skills together deserve special attention, because they help underline the hurdles involved and, consequently, the steps in this learning process. Here again, the researcher will be able to try to interpret the progression.
A long history of writing precedes the time when a child seizes, in turn, the individual letters of the alphabet. How is the individual’s learning of the written form of his language analogous to the steps that humanity had to get over in order to invent them ?
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