Numéro 1 / février 2012

Cutting out from the Other's body

Angelique is a young woman of about twenty who has been at the Courtil for five years, after having, since her earliest childhood, incessantly moved back and forth between her family and a number of hospitals, institutions, and part-time foster families. She has never been able to live with her family for more than a few months at a time without finding herself in a catastrophic physical and mental state ; her institutional placement, which was expected to separate her from her "pathogenic" environment, has not, however, had the hoped-for effect. "Anorexia" and "self-mutilation" respond to the keen sense of unworthiness that she experiences in feeling reduced to the status of "her mother's robot", an idea that came to her around her thirteenth birthday. At her arrival she was accompanied by a diagnosis of hysteria and a dossier chronicling the vain efforts to disentangle the true from the false, to re-establish the chronology of events in her past,to restore the so-called social and cultural causality of all of these dysfunctions, and to finally understand the repeated failures of all of these reasonable projects to which Angelique had, however, adhered with enthusiasm.

Thirteen years is in fact the age at which, according to her mother, a crucial change took place, about which we know very little. Up to then, she recalls, Angelique formulated no demand at all ("I never had to call her because she was always there") and refused to eat. From the age of thirteen years, and continuing today, Angelique has never ceased to obsessively reproach her mother for having reduced her to slavery, for having roboticized her, for having starved her, and for having refused her any place in the family. She denounces the mortifying signification that is permanently present in her mother's discourse and is scandalized by the ignorance of the human soul revealed by her mother's education of her children. Angelique's place in the family history was never able to be inscribed. Her paternal grandmother cast doubts on the paternity of Angelique and would not recognize her as the daughter of her son ; her mother repeated to her that she was born at the wrong moment and that she "raised her eyes to a woman other than her", thus losing her forever (her mother evokes here Angelique's placement with a maternal aunt) ; and the father, looking one day for a way to defend her, could only find these words : "You don't hit a robot", which would lead Angelique to say that "when he defends me, it's worse". These are roughly the only words that scan the non-history of Angelique such as it was reported to us at her admission to the Courtil. Her mother is the unique figure around whom everything always converges. Angelique attributes her institutionalization to a "complication with her mother" and, more generally, she admits that the most important thing in her life is what happens between them. Her pain is a "mother-ache" (mal de mère)1, a deep and permanently open wound. This "mother-ache" has nothing metaphorical about it : what overwhelms her is intense bodily pain. In a word, cohabitation as well as separation are equally infernal for each of them and always have been, but it is only since the age of thirteen that Angelique has presented a state in which what dominate are intense feelings of unworthiness, unbearable pains, and problems with her body image.

On her side, Angelique's mother considers her "dead", both for her and for the family, when she is not present at her side and regularly declares that "even dead, you will always be my daughter". She knows that she is what her daughter lacks and can never admit the idea that the wish to keep away from her could spontaneously come to Angelique. Her unshakable point of delusional certitude concerns the manipulation of which her daughter is the victim and which consists in distancing her from her mother despite herself. From the moment of her admission to the Courtil we could only note that the relation was infernal : the most virulent anathema would have no effect (restent lettres mortes) and the most apparently anodyne speech would trigger subjective catastrophe and physical degradations. The attempts at separation fail. Angelique continues to trigger her family circle's paranoia through telephone calls that she knows will lead to an orchestrated family kidnapping. And, once she arrives home, her demands that the Courtil take her back immediately are unceasing. In an infernal game of chassé-croisé between mother and daughter, reciprocal declarations of love and delusional denunciations succeed each other, the whole resolving itself for Angelique in an alternation of atrocious pains and feelings of devitalization.

Thoughts, the voice, pain, cutting

If, despite her wish to keep herself at a distance from her mother and our support towards that end, there is no relief to be found, it is because her mother is first of all her thought-partner. It is not so much the physical presence or absence of her mother that determines the alternation of the painful phenomena in her body as it is the connection or disconnection with the thought-mother (mère des pensees). It is in the separation from the "mother-thoughts" that her rare moments of respite come.
It is to treat her pains and her hallucinations that she practices self-cutting, stopping "at the first blood". The calming down comes when the blood flows and when the pain of the cut chases away the pain provoked either by her mother's speech or by the mother-thoughts.
If, when she is actually in the presence of her mother, she succeeds in connecting only with the sound of her mother's voice (and not with her demands or her imprecations), then Angelique wins a few days of respite. If she does not succeed in doing this, then the cuts in her skin which, like so many firewalls, form a barrier against the pains. Her commentaries regarding her cuts clearly suggest that the term of self-mutilation must not be understood as an attempt on the body aiming to mutilate it, to make a hole in it, or to amputate it from something that would be in excess, but on the contrary as an attempt to add, through this operation, something lacking from the body, i.e. a zone where she could localize and make fast a non-phallic jouissance. The cut appears, in this perspective, as an artificial erogenous zone. The cut "deroboticizes" her, not because she verifies that she is not a machine by seeing her blood flow, but because it stops her from experiencing her body as being completely invaded or deserted by the unstanched flux of jouissance that simply traverses her.

A new partner ?

The prevalence of the bond with her mother was such that the question was posed of finding out what might be introduced as a new "transferential" bond in such a ballet. The first question was thus that of finding a way out of this double delirium and trying to introduce at least a third element by operating in such a way that a new libidinal investment, one that would not be based on the model of her bond with her mother, could be made possible.
Let us begin by noting that after five years of residence the prevalence of this bond has in no way been shaken ; we are dealing with an atemporal point of fixation that, like a stationary wave, will probably always mark the mode of her bond with the Other, and it is not certain whether another, truly different bond might be able to find a place. If we could write the history of their relationship, it would be written in the eternal present tense. Angelique has found a formula for saying this which she wants to make the title of a text : The future is a long past.

Since her arrival, Angelique has had two new relationships, one with a "lover", the other with her "home". Not a home in which to house a lover, but rather a home that would permit her to leave her lover outside. Angelique has chosen a romantic partner with whom she engages in a bond exactly modeled on her bond with her mother. She is everything for him and he cannot tolerate the thought of her escaping, going as far as scarifying her first name on his torso. He threatens to kill her if she leaves him; Angelique herself has observed that he speaks like her mother and that, when she thinks of him, she thinks of her parents. She asks him not to come too close to her and feels dirtied by his advances or his sexual practices, but this way she can present herself as a "girl who has a lover". Nothing new for Angelique in this relationship that very quickly took the same turn that she has always known.

What of her bond with "home" ? What kind of bond was it for this subject that she must lose something in order to be able to leave ? The project of making oneself the partner of the psychotic subject finds here its moment of verification regarding the most silent, even the most opaque part, of this partnership. Angelique hangs on to her home, literally...
A certain imaginary restoration of the body has of course taken place via the activities centered on the "beauty treatments", the attention brought to clothes and getting dressed and the regulated frequenting of other young girls. There is also the fact that we have not attempted to make her give up at all costs the practice of cutting herself, nor have we attempted to deprive her of the knives that accompany her almost permanently ("just in case") ; otherwise, there is the fact that she has found a way of assuring herself of a constant presence of the voice in the form of the ambient and anonymous brouhaha that relaxes her to the extent that she can fall asleep in the middle of the common rooms.
To all this is added a labor of translation in the sense in which Eric Laurent has evoked it in several recent interventions, a labor which for Angelique took a very precise form when she began to repertory, to inventory the language tics, themes of predilection, and style unique to each of the educators, trying, whenever she addressed herself to one of them, to speak to them in their own "language". She occasionally makes very great efforts to speak each person's language. Her attempt encounters its critical limit when it switches over into submission to the tyranny of the master-signifiers that she assumes for each person whose language she tries to speak. This labor has the benefit of provisionally detaching her from the fixation on metaphors of the type "I am my mother's robot", which is a more paranoid point of crystallization about which it cannot be said, in this case, to constitute a clinical advance.
Nonetheless, the failure of her attempts to connect herself in a viable way to her only and practically exclusive libidinal partner and the impossibility of sexualizing other relationships because she is lacking a body do not exclude her envisaging rather a definitive separation from her thoughts through a suicidal passage to the act if she does not find, if we do not find with her, a way of reconnecting her to another institution that could sufficiently form a body for her.


Translation by Timothy Lachin

1Mal de mère” follows the same formula as “mal de tete” (headache) or “mal d'estomac” (stomachache), which implies that for Angelique, her mother is part of her body.  In addition, “mal de mère” and “mal de mer” are homophones, the latter meaning “seasickness”.