the pleasure of taking interest in a soap bubble

Watching The Wall: Psychoanalysis put to the test of autism was like watching Ben Carson. To have so much in common with people who make you look ridiculous by association…

The analysts come across worse than necessary to make the movie’s point. Don’t get me wrong; I think those people suck. I just need to express my pedantry about this topic by going through the transcript and commenting on things.

To psychoanalysts, autism is a psychosis, in other words, a major psychic disorder resulting from a bad maternal relationship.

It’s unexplained that “psychosis” has a specific, unusual meaning in the context of Lacan. See the previous post and the one before that. This is really the third of a trilogy of posts about figuring out I’m autistic after doing a bunch of therapy where Lacan was part of it. I think I understand some of what the analysts are trying to say, sort of like Temple Grandin and cows.

Alexandre Stevens: I think that autism is a mode of reaction of the subject that is obviously very early in his logical history, if I can say so, it is that, finally, in response to what comes as invasion of the world and of the other, he clams up. He clams up, he gets into a bubble and refuses to enter the mechanisms of speech. But still some autists speak, don’t they, so it is more than speech, in the subjective mechanisms. I mean, speaking, yes, but without being really involved.

Well, this is what Lacan says in his seminar on psychosis:

…the subject starts by speaking of himself, he does not speak to you–then, he speaks to you, but he does not speak of himself–when he has spoken of himself, who will have appreciably changed in the interval, to you, we will have arrived at the end of the analysis.

It’s almost like Lacan wanted to bring “psychotic” people out of their shells…

Pierre Dulion: Now, when we say that, we upset many associations of parents of autistic children, who think that autists have nothing to do with psychotics. To me, this is a mistake, there are many things in common.

That’s interesting, because it’s currently unclear to neuroscientists whether autism and schizophrenia are overlapping or diametrically opposed conditions. If those issues are interesting at the biological level, they’re interesting at the phenomenological level.

Mother-blaming is another big theme in the film. The charge has merit. Roudinesco sheds light in Lacan: In Spite of Everything:

Lacan spent the whole of the Occupation dealing with family affairs…In September 1940 Lacan found himself in an impossible situation, obliged to tell his legitimate wife, who was eight months pregnant by him, that his companion was also expecting a child. A Jew of Romanian origin, Sylvia [Bataille] had taken refuge in the unoccupied zone to escape deportation. Lacan subsequently concealed from the offspring of his first marriage bed the existence of his daughter Judith, born under the name of Bataille, to whom he could only transmit his family name in 1964.

This was the fertile ground on which he developed the theory of the Name-of-the-Father, sketched in 1953 and finalized three years later, to refer to the signifier of the paternal role. Being the embodiment of the signifier because he calls the child by his name, the father intervenes with the child as the depriver of the mother. In other words, Lacan once again asserted that the family is at the base of human societies solely because it is dominated by the primacy of language: naming, he argued, enables a subject to acquire an identity…Lacan felt sorry for fathers and hated mothers and families, while himself being an actor in the intra-familial humiliations he denounced.

The film has a gotcha moment about how there should be more psychosis in places that life sucks:

06 58 SR : is there a higher incidence of the cases of psychosis or autism in countries involved in a war, in the shanty towns of Rio, in all circumstances when mothers have good reasons to be depressed ?

GL : I am not aware of this, I can not answer, I can only answer about what happens in my practice, you see … 07 15

Well…an earlier post discusses the well-known fact that merely living in a city increases the risk of schizophrenia. The film is implying the predicted relationship doesn’t exist because a crazy psychoanalysis lady doesn’t know anything.

In the film, Bernald Golse is clearly out of his depth when talking about biology:

For the baby, there is one part, one half of his genes, of his chromosomes are from his mother, the other half from the father. So, there is one part that is like the mother, this one does not pose any problem, but there is one part that is like the father and that immediately poses a problem, and by the way, as soon as the baby is conceived, the motherly organism will immediately secrete a very strong wave of antibodies to expel the baby that is half stranger to the mother’s body. It is a little sad to say, if I can say, but finally, the first thing that, biologically, the mother cannot stand in her baby, it is the part that comes from the father. So what is anthropological in there is the double « no ». No, I do not recognize this baby, I want to eject him, and at once, a no to the no. Which we will find later in the language. There is a whole interesting question, and in language, one will find such double negations. This comes at the biology level.

There’s real scientific attention given to “imprinting effects”, or cases where the parent-of-origin affects a gene’s expression. From the Wikipedia entry:

A widely accepted hypothesis for the evolution of genomic imprinting is the “parental conflict hypothesis.” Also known as the kinship theory of genomic imprinting, this hypothesis states that the inequality between parental genomes due to imprinting is a result of the differing interests of each parent in terms of the evolutionary fitness of their genes. The father’s genes that encode for imprinting gain greater fitness through the success of the offspring, at the expense of the mother. The mother’s evolutionary imperative is often to conserve resources for her own survival while providing sufficient nourishment to current and subsequent litters. Accordingly, paternally expressed genes tend to be growth promoting whereas maternally expressed genes tend to be growth limiting. In support of this hypothesis, genomic imprinting has been found in all placental mammals, where post-fertilisation offspring resource consumption at the expense of the mother is high; although it has also been found in oviparous birds where there is relatively little post-fertilisation resource transfer and therefore less parental conflict.

The idea that autism and psychosis are biological opposites is related to this idea. Autism = overgrowth, “more difficult” child. Schizophrenia = undergrowth, “less difficult” child.

Yes, what the analysts in the film are doing is archaic. Their ideas come from the 1930s through the 1970s. We have molecular genetics, now. I do think it’s interesting that modern therapists are open to finding insights in Buddhism, which literally involves magic as commonly practiced, but we have to pretend psychoanalysis didn’t learn anything from talking to all those people.