Willem de Kooning, Rider (Untitled VII), 1985


Presentation of the recently launched book organized by Daniela Teperman, Thais Garrafa and Vera Iaconelli.

“[…] man imagines while he thinks. He thinks while he speaks.
This word has an effect on your body” (Jacques Lacan, american conferences).

Body and the ethics of psychoanalysis

The theory about the body is linked to the ethics of the psychoanalytic clinic. An ethic is what grounds an act. For psychoanalysis, the foundation of the act is desire.

There are human acts whose foundations the conscious reason does not know. Furthermore, man's actions in the world embrace great paradoxes, and one of them is our strange relationship with the body, loved and hated at the same time. Nevertheless, the modes of satisfaction with which a body delights will never be unanimous among men. From the perspective of psychoanalysis, our actions are not based on a single reason, presumably valid for everyone. For a psychoanalyst, a subject's actions are driven by desires that only he can recognize. Precisely for this reason, an analysis is an ethics. It is an ethic through which everyone is led to take responsibility for what they want. This implies measuring and assuming the consequences of one's own actions. What do human beings want? We don't know wholesale. Each body, a sentence.

Body and malaise: inside and outside

Jacques Lacan, a specialist in unearthing the hidden meanings behind the scenes, suggests that Sigmund Freud bequeathed to the world not only a theory of the unconscious, but also a new conception of the body. This led psychoanalysis to distance itself from ethical narratives based on rationality and Christianity (Lacan, [1959-1960] 2008b).

By the line of rationality, in the Kantian thesis, reason should lead each man to act in accordance with the moral law. According to Christianity, human acts should follow the following principle: "love your neighbor as yourself". In the Christian imperative, self-love; in the Kantian imperative, the sovereignty of reason. The world knows, however, that reason or love do not always dictate acts among men. Psychoanalysis is faced with such a failure and theorizes about it.

Sigmund Freud warns the world that, as much as man strives and wants to use reason and love as the foundation of his actions, he does not always succeed. The unconscious acts in spite of theoretical universalities, and the actions directed at the body show this. Jacques Lacan ([1959-1960] 2008a) suggests that we all observe the body's relations with the images that surround us. The surrounding images shape the bodily experience, through demand. Hate and irrationality appear in social theater, and such antinomies are the result of a historical inversion in the conception of the body. For medieval man, evil came from the outside to the inside. But modern man discovers that he is doing himself harm.

Before Freud, men could share the consensus that bodily illness always had an exogenous origin. Evil invaded the body from the outside in. Society was used to justifying illnesses as divine punishment or signs of the invasive presence of the devil – that evil that enters the body without being called. Michel Foucault ([1961] 2010) showed how the representations of the devil in Renaissance paintings reveal the ills that befell the Earth, from the perspective of punishment. The Black Death, melancholia, madness, cholera, and sexual perversions have for centuries all been lumped together as news from hell or as signs of God's wrath. Possessed by evil, madmen, depraved and lepers were grouped and sent on a ship towards the open sea. The shared civilized space would be reserved only for the healthy, who supposedly knew how to make exclusive use of good conduct. Sick and misshapen bodies were thrown into the sea in the hope that they would sink into the void.

With Freud, man discovers that the deformed, the paradoxical and the irrational live within him. the publication of The interpretation of dreams ([1900] 1996) shows the world that man does not dominate everything he thinks, nor does he know what he desires. As rational and moralistic as we are, we will never be able to choose what our body will dream about at night. The light of reason goes out before the power of desire.

Since Freud, humanity is no longer able to support the version that the body only gets sick or feels pain when it is invaded by an external evil. Freud's description of masochism, for example, describes subjects who deliberately seek pleasure in pain. Strange and irrational relationship between body and pleasure. However, the body as a shelter for the irrational is not defined only by descriptions of perversions.

When listening to hysterical paralyses, Freud showed that an unconscious desire can command bodily illnesses, without any physiological damage. From the inside out, symptoms devoid of organic origin attest to the presence of dissatisfaction and sadness silenced by the subject. Freud reveals that content censored during the day tends to invade dreams at night.

The man of reason starts to hate a body that dreams without his consent.

Body and punishment: in the name of love

The blurred creatures that appear in our dreams cannot be grouped together and sent off on a ship. The body dreams, while reason falls asleep. Jacques Lacan was right. Freud not only discovers the unconscious, but he also discovers that the children of the Enlightenment hate everything that their rationality cannot control. If there is an unknown evil that lives inside the body, then it is necessary to annihilate it.

Behold, man's hatred is directed toward himself. And his body pays dearly for it.

Among all the animals that inhabit the planet, man is the only animal that fights against itself. It punishes your body for not fulfilling certain demands of modern rationality. Even today, body and punishment continue to go together, especially in the exercise of parenting. Currently, the agent of corporal punishment is neither God nor the devil, but the human being, who acts as its voluntary executioner.

It is not uncommon to hear fathers, mothers and children on the couch who are the most cruel enemies of their own bodies. Devotees to the logic of sacrifice, we see the body being taken far beyond the reasonable limits in overlapping roles, discussed and rationalized in the name of love. Currently, a growing number of young mothers, in addition to keeping their bodies dedicated to their children through continued breastfeeding, demand financial autonomy and are also responsible for monitoring their children's performance in school tasks and household chores. Exhausted bodies and silenced subjective existences.

It's true that it's not just mothers who strain their body limits in the name of love. I had the opportunity to listen to an executive who wanted to settle his children's school fees in advance, from kindergarten to graduation. He thought that, if he died, his father's obligation was to leave school paid. This man did not allow himself to sleep. Exhausted by fatigue, he preferred to consume amphetamines to stay awake, rather than consenting to the limits of his body. He neither slept nor played. Devoted father, he rarely saw his children, after all, in life he worked beyond death.

On the children's side, the rhetoric of punishment to the body also appears. In addition to alcohol abuse being a present reality in adolescents, we also follow up with those who cut their own bodies with blades. Evil directed at the body is an enigma. With vows of silence, they prefer to make the body bleed rather than tell the truth about the malaise that inhabits it.

Bodies mistreated in the name of love in the exercise of parenting. Faced with this, psychoanalysis faces the failure of the imperative: “love your neighbor as yourself”. After all, if you love yourself by punishing your body, then what kind of love will you reserve for your neighbor? Is it a fact that a psychoanalyst has the function of returning the message in an inverted way: and, therefore, to love is to sacrifice your neighbor as yourself?

As a rule, someone who sacrifices his own body in the name of a devotion to another tends to demand or expect the other to make a similar sacrifice, as a proof of love. Such a logic of devotion often leads to mutual annihilation. Innocent are those who believe that punishing yourself is loving others.

Body and sacrifice: in the name of the greater good

The bodily exhaustion to which many parents are submitted ends up distancing themselves from the logic of love.

The body and sacrifice dyad, in general, is not inscribed in the field of love, but in that of debt. A kind of debt to be paid in view of the cultural demand for the image of parenthood – many even pay the debt to hide their discomfort with the decision taken, consciously or not, to have a child, an act that gives work in life.

Let's ask again: what are the relations of the body with the images that surround us? The answer that many find is that body exhaustion is the result of an attempt to respond to an ideal of parental image that weighs on the shoulders. Since the time when getting sick was an index of the devil's presence, being a father and being a mother have been impregnated as signs of a gift. But we all know that, in matters of the divine, sacrifice aims at redemption. In this wait, many parents wait eternally for recognition from their children, which never arrives or is never up to the level of committed devotion. Frustrated parents on one side. Guilty and paralyzed children of another, after all, how to put the body to enjoy life and, at the same time, return the share of sacrifice given to them?

Today's punishment and sacrifice, in theory, would aim at achieving a greater good tomorrow. Watch. The logic of love is quickly swallowed up by the logic of good. This is the trap of taking parenthood as the exercise of reason, in the Kantian way. The discourse of love succumbs to the rationalization of the search for a greater good. It is usually a justified good, which is wrong when imposing the punishment of the body as a necessary condition for the advancement of life. The pitfall of always exercising parenting in the name of a good is that, unexpectedly, it can become the pursuit of a good at any cost.

We entered a minefield.

Let us remember that the script that promotes and talks about sacrifice and punishment in the name of the greater good has a history of leading humanity to tragic outcomes. The atrocities committed by Hitler, for example, followed this principle of rationality. Monstrous acts were based on the discourse that sought a supposed “greater good” for the German people. Thus, for psychoanalysis, it is a fact that cruelty, from time to time, appears veiled and masked in the name of good (Sanches, 2019). Due to this truth, Lacan ([1963] 1998) suggests reading Kant with Sade, as he observes that, with regard to the relationship of bodies, the ethics of reason in search of a good can easily slide into the discourse of perversion. Sadistic rhetoric exposes such a paradox. For sadistic fantasy, endowed with acid irony, each man should have the right to unlimited enjoyment in the name of the good of all; after all, supposedly everyone would benefit from cum without rules. Here is one of humanity's most perverse utopias: to assume that a body has the “right of possession” over another body.

The theme of possession and control of bodies is, finally, the most delicate point in the parental relationship between a baby and his world. The baby's body is entirely submitted to the care of the other. Parenting, however, is not the exercise of possession, nor the control of the child's body. On the contrary, it is the borrowing of traces, whose vectors leave a body to support the existence of another body. These vectors are drive circuits. It is about borrowing the gaze, the voice and the words, conveyed by affections and care that design the baby's body, while situated in the field of the Other's desire – which encompasses the maternal desire and the paternal function.

A baby surrenders to the care of the Other, which is why the separation of bodies between parents and children is not an obvious task. Maud Mannoni ([1965] 1999), one of Lacan's most praised child analysts, defended the thesis that in certain symbioses between mothers and children, a fantasy of body fusion would be on the scene. She observed that some children, who were healthy from a neurological point of view, delayed the motor control of the body, for relying too much on the mother's body. The thesis of the fusion of bodies is, above all, subjective fusion. In parenting, there is a risk that the movement to love is based on the desire to merge. Therefore, the subjective construction of a child's body involves necessary separation processes between parents and children.

In summary, psychoanalysis looks at the relationship between body and parenting with its ethics and asks: what is this desire that makes one body merge with another, that throws some into the logic of eternal sacrifice, that exchanges affections for promissory notes to be pay in the future? Each body, a sentence, but it is necessary to remember that this sentence comes from the body's relations with the images that surround us, and such images, sometimes, suffocate.

It is astonishing that, in a post-modern world, the images of the holy mother and the all-powerful father still continue to imprison ways of loving, dictating the logic of sacrifice and excessive rationality in the pursuit of good, always elsewhere. Make no mistake! The image of parenthood as a gift is not synonymous with goodness, but, mainly, the stamp of the illusion of omnipotence, a characteristic characteristic of deities. Omnipotence is not only a power, but also the illusion that limits should not exist. In the parental exercise, the overcoming of limits is announced by a malaise in the body. A body-symptom that complains, that fails, that gets tired and considers giving up. The body that has limits is not an evil to be fought, but a suffering to be listened to.

Faced with the paradoxes of affection between parents and children, it is not possible to pack up one's own castration and send it on a ship with the hope that it will sink, so that a heroic parental image can then triumph. Reason does not triumph over the unconscious, which, in general, is confused about what justifies its actions.

The word has an effect on the body, said Lacan. Thus, it is absolutely legitimate that parenting wants to be conjugated by the verb “to love”. But loving is not synonymous with exercising excessive rationality, nor the cult of eternal sacrifice. For the ethics of psychoanalysis (averse to redemption projects), loving is valid as an act, as long as it is based on desire.

If love is to be based on desire, not a speech “in the name of”.

The body and its chapters

Psychoanalysts who accepted the challenge of writing about the relationship between the body and parenting shed light on the paradoxes involved in this dynamic.. The chapters in this volume were written by authors with different backgrounds and cover multiple angles on the subject.

The feminine, motherhood and the baby's initial relationship with the mother appear as a privileged axis of the debate, from several angles. The reader has the opportunity to browse, in a single volume, different theoretical photographs of the relationship between body and parenting. On the one hand, some texts have detailed focuses that conceptually capture the inaugural moments of the baby's body linking with the life that surrounds him. On the other hand, some chapters are endowed with wide angles, whose panoramic views of historical processes demonstrate the inequalities that mark the body, its relationship with parenting and the social imperatives on the scene.

In the “Fundamentals” section, the collection opens with the chapter “What is a body? How does psychoanalysis respond?” written by Dominique Touchon Fingermann. The author places the mysteries of the body as questions to medicine and also as the starting point of psychoanalysis, through the Freudian listening to hysteria. The text rescues the notion of the body as a process, through which consistency is acquired by incorporations. In her argument, the body has its cultural pillars and is marked by signifiers, true trails that allow the subject to map the building that constituted it.

Next, the chapter “Body and mother tongue”, written by Nina Virginia de Araújo Leite and Paulo Sérgio de Souza Jr., prints a musical cadence crossed by complex concepts, sculpted with unique lightness. The authors reveal how the words are cradled by the tonalities of the voice, which promote the rooting of the mother tongue in the baby's body. Body delivery is closely monitored. In the beautiful image used in the text, the child's body appears as inhabited by a verbal Trojan horse, and such a gift received will forever besiege the subject and his body.

In the text “The worst blind person is the one who does not want to listen”, psychoanalyst Mauro Mendes Dias articulates the concept of voice with the political dimension of the social bond and examines the amalgamation between voice and gaze. The author reflects on the subjective blindness of those who do not admit to being affected by the truth. It shows how the constitutive traits of the primordial relationship make it difficult to connect the look with the truth that is heard. In the thesis of the text, the trait of blindness is potentialized as a specialty of capitalism. The author demonstrates that certain fundamentals of the psychic constitution allow the reading of certain forms of social bond.

The last text in the fundamentals category is “The Maternal Mark”, by Colette Soler. The author's criticism falls on the psychoanalytic doctrines that insist on normative and recriminatory discourses about the mother, who is always “accused of”, either for her excess or for her lack of care for her children. The text highlights the Lacanian theory as different from the other theses by emphasizing that, for Jacques Lacan, the mother imprints herself on the child as a being of speech. In this context, the maternal position is, in analytical terms, the mark that the subject received from the Other. The mother is the first representative of the powers of the verb, emphasizes Soler.

In the part “Parenting and contemporary malaise”, the chapter “The woman's body and the imperatives of motherhood”, written by Maria Helena Fernandes, makes psychoanalysis a powerful instrument of social criticism. The author shows how the change in our times, with greater and better conditions for the insertion of women, has not been converted into a transformation of ideals, but rather an accumulation of them. She argues how the woman's body is required to perform a contemporary trick that imposes multiple ideals, revealing a type of female suffering that succumbs to the imperatives of each era.

In the “Interlocutions” section, the chapter by Aline Veras Brilhante, “From the instrumentalization of the womb to the biopolitics of motherhood”, raises the tone of social criticism. The text unveils systemic layers that make up the symbolic violence formed by social inequalities, moral prejudices, racism and patriarchal precepts that advance over the woman's body. Instrumentalized as the stage of a technological market, the author shows how women's bodies and their ways of giving birth are signs of class differences, which promote historical processes of subjective imprisonment.

Concluding the volume, the chapter “Motherhood, racism and the body”, by author Daniela Roberta Antonio Rosa is also driven by research on social and racial inequality. The author reveals how the high mortality rates that appear among black pregnant women, compared to white women, show an unequal society that believes it has abolished slavery, when, deep down, it reproduces its maintenance. The text also reveals how the image of the “black mother” participates in an untold story of the struggle for abolition in Brazil, marked by a hygienist ideal.

The volume Body brings to the reader chapters that signate the plurality of voices of the authors. A great tool for debating a difficult topic. Without unifying discourses, each chapter, in its own way, reveals that, in the relationships between parenthood and desire, the body carries both the most singular trait of its first experiences and the more collective social insignia that cross generations. Good reading!

*Daniele Rosa Sanches, psychoanalyst, holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from USP.


Daniela Teperman, Thais Garrafa and Vera Iaconelli (eds.). Body. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2021.


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