MANIFESTO FOR THE OFF-SCREEN (Le hors champ) by Laure Naveau

From LQ 76 – 1.11.11 – Translated by Francine Danniau

Link to french version

The death of Gaddafi: these images of his body” – This week’s (October 27th 2011), note-book by Bernard-Henry Lévy, on the death of Gaddafi, showing another example of courage and lucidity, holds my attention on this point, of the image. I do not have a television and I keep away, as long as I can, from these images of the world as it goes, to rather turn to the writings. But, there, indeed, the savageness one catches in passing “repulses” and “revolts”. BHL, speaking of “some kind of a summit in the art of profanation”, apologizes for being “an incurable beautiful soul.” Let’s go even further than the lucid friend.

I think that these images exposed to the global gaze, along with so many others since the September 11th attack, create a lasting precedent, in relation to the apprehension of the facts of history and of the real, which can only contribute to the ambient and underlying negativism of this exhibition.

In his latest book, “The absolute eye” (L’oeil absolu), Gérard Wajcman denounces the omnipresence of the gaze and the crossing of reality towards the real constituted by it. The disappearance of the veil of modesty, which is one of the consequences of the ideology of transparency known of the hypermodern world, destroys at the same time, every possibility of the elision of the object of the gaze, of the dimension of the off- screen. That’s where anxiety arises. This mutation, unprecedented in the history of man, described by Gerard, has the consequence that the promise of seeing all changes the nature of the desire to see, into a will, which becomes a law, a requirement of visibility, which gave birth to a multinational of the gaze. The thesis put forward is clear: when everything is visible, there is no off-screen anymore. But, in the meantime, the field of the visible is annulled. A lidless eye is onto the world, which Gerard Wajcman calls “the absolute eye”.

The triumph of seeing has, it seems to me, a perverse and tragic consequence, revealed by the image of the dying Gaddafi, twisted in the wrong direction, quite alarming: all of the real being visible, what is not seen is not real. This apocalypse of the visible, Gérard remarks, was well and good the cause of the Holocaust deniers, since none of the images, a contrario, showed the ongoing process.

This psychotic mutation has, and will have, this is certain, consequences on the psychoanalytic clinic. Some may remember that, commenting on Seminar XI of Lacan, Jacques-Alain Miller made of the schism between the eye and the gaze, “the secret of the visual field”, since this schism contains castration as a condition of opening onto the visible world. Gérard Wajcman diagnoses the time: the schism between the eye and the gaze has disappeared from the hypermodern world invaded by technology, squashed by technological objects, more and more sophisticated, leaving no room for this desire, in the form of, precisely, the Lacanian object of the gaze. The squashing of the schism is present for example when Gérard evokes that the baby, shown on the scan long before birth, is not anticipated by words any more. He is realized, made present, on a screen: he is first of all a looked at being, suspended from a gaze before his entering the world of language. Even when otherwise, the author underlines, it is not in question that the echography assures a better monitoring of the pregnancy, that it attests the life of the baby and has a pacifying effect for the parents.

The thesis is a strong one: the mere fact of this generalized technology, the child comes to us as an image, not as a discourse. So, “one watches us, with a close look, suspicious, intrusive, a  global look, going from video surveillance cameras to the discourse of evaluation”.

What kind of analogy is there between this invading gaze and certain elementary phenomena identifiable in child psychosis? For example this unbearable look to which Joël, a five year old boy is subjected? I receive Joël at the Red Cross Centre in the Paris region where I am consulting. He confesses, one day, sadly, with a low voice, that he was, at night, watched by monkeys and this forced him to take refuge in his parents’ bed. He is the child watched by monkeys. Apart from all technology, this visual hallucination is deciphered as the return in the real of the omnipresent gaze of his mother, who cannot separate one single moment from her child, even when she could not, at his birth, take one look at him.

Joël, the small monkey boy under a strange and disturbing gaze laid on him every night, without any symbolic frame nor any castration of a specular dimension, coming to rescue him, isn’t he, this little subject, captured entirely by the gaze of this monkey that he himself is to his mother? A mother so perplexed when her child is born, that she could neither look at, nor take him in her arms.

In the case presentation of this suffering family, which took place at the institution – for which I thank Daphné Leimann, for her transcription and her work of elaboration very precious to me – Joël, playing, calls on the firemen and the police – a call to the father, which took consistency at that moment, and which the analyst ( Agnès Aflalo) interprets as his solution. A solution to the impossible to bear, which the phantasm of his anxious mother represented for him. The father of Joël, from his side, reveals that he, as a child, was expected to be a girl coming after two older brothers. He even is surprised to hear himself say he believed to have disappointed his mother by being born. On this point, the analyst offers him an interpretation with the value of a dis-identification: it is not a fatality, for a boy, to disappoint. The session with the mother and Joël highlights the fact that this woman lived this moment in which she became a mother like a breakdown. Crying, she reports how distressed she is and speaks about the difficulties related to her motherhood. She confesses that her eldest son, Joël, has not slept through one night in 5 years. The first sessions at the CMP brought relief. But there has been a relapse. He tells her about monkeys, and she does not understand. She admits that, to have peace and quiet, her husband and she ended up taking him into their bed. The analyst tells him about the forbidden. Joël’s mother speaks about the immense demand she puts on herself. She wants to be a perfect mother. When the analyst asks questions about her own mother, she focuses on a chosen, even supplementary relationship she had with the maternal grandmother, and on the fact that this relationship was interrupted at the birth of Joël. In fact, she mentions being radically dropped at that moment, by the degradation of health of this grandmother, who became confused. She died shortly after the birth of the eldest son, sleeping, she specifies. She evokes the irretrievable loss that the death of whom she calls “the woman of her life”, represented to her. Agnes Aflalo will then offer her different interpretations:  How to not become an insomniac child when one knows that the woman of the life of his mother died in her sleep? She proposes that the death of this grand-mother should be talked about with Joël in order to relieve the relationship the child has with sleeping. She also proposes to this mother to try to invent another way of being a mother, relieved of the tyranny of the ideal model. Then the session approaches the question of the amorous encounter, the object choice, and the making of the father. The mother then evokes the indignity of her own father, who long ago lost all the family money gambling, making her mother miserable, to the point of threatening her husband with divorce. She uses the same expression to describe her father, as she used to describe her son Joël to me: ”he is in the clouds”. So, she says, she chose a down to earth husband, whom she thought to be the opposite of her father. But the indignity of the father shifted to the son, and she admits to fear her son was autistic, a term she heard on the radio, which in fact names her perplexity the moment her child was born, the moment of being dropped by the principal figure who had been, to her, a replacement for the paternal failure. There is a pattern showing here, which goes from the enigma of motherhood to the rejection of the male infant, against a background of the tyranny of the ideal model of the mother. The analyst then proposes to her to get rid of a too much that is devouring her, by speaking.

The following sessions, with me, witness a spectacular benefit due to this presentation. The mother tells me about having realized the incredible pressure she had been putting on herself and the appeasement she felt with her husband. I pointed out to her that she realized she had a better husband than her mother. As for Joël, he had started to call on his father for help, the same way he called the police during the session, when he was afraid at night. Henceforth his mother uses the father as a third separator, and she appreciates his calmness. While both parents do well in keeping to their son sleeping in his own bed. The father comes to the rescue of the child when the hallucinations reappear, which, little by little, has the effect of distancing them, until one day Joël says to his parents: ”the monkeys are at the zoo”.

Uprooting himself from his mother’s melancholia, Joël will appeal to the letter, to the letters of his first name, in an attempt to write, to limit what does not cease to invade him in the real. One day, he draws on the board, for the first time, the four members of his family. I congratulate him warmly, emphasizing what he knows: he knows how to count to four, and he knows to count himself as One among his own, to be registered, to be written, to find his place. 

Between the child in the clouds and the down to earth husband, an enigma is deposited, a gap is gradually narrowing. The child agrees to stop making a couple with a mother he wants to complete. While the pleasure to write, this deposit of the gaze on a piece of paper that the act of writing constitutes, gradually substitutes the anxiety of the elementary visual phenomenon and the symbolic escape, in the intimate address unlike any other of the analytical device (dispositif analytique).

In this elective device, the analyst represents this unique object, the off- screen, whose disappearance in the culture of the gaze Gérard deplores. One could say that the off-screen position of the analyst is one challenge at stake in the future of Psychoanalysis.


A wink of the eye towards “the Absolute Eye”, the  “l’Oeil Absolu” de Gérard Wajcman.

From the 4th edition of his book:

To see is a powerful weapon. Since the video surveillance up to the satellite scans of the planet, via the medical pictures and the reality TV, countless devices try to make us totally visible and transparent. One knows leaving and going shopping in London today, means being filmed more than three hundred times. Science and technology have made an electronic all-seeing god, a new kind of Argos with a million eyes who never sleeps. More than in a world of images we now live in a civilization of the gaze. Once we watched criminals, today we rather watch the innocent. For the security politics, we are all collateral damage. But beyond the surveillance, this global gaze today infiltrates all areas of our life, from birth till death. The transparency does not only concern the social side, but equally affects our private homes and the inside of our bodies, dissolving every day a bit more the space of the intimate and the secret. In a brilliant language, documented and very accessible, Gérard Wajcman explores and questions this ideology of hyper visibility. –Fourth edition (date of publication: February 2010).


A selection of texts from Lacan Quotidien, the daily online Lacan news bulletin

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