wayward bodies

Clara Figueiredo, 1205, digital photomontage, 2015


The transformation of the psychoanalytic field in response to changes and historical events that operate the production of new subjectivities is a job to be done continuously, in clinical and theoretical terms

“Develop your legitimate strangeness” (René Char).

It was not so difficult to imagine a possible title for this brief comment/response to the article by the French psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller entitled “Docile au Trans”, published on April 22 in the French digital magazine Rules of the Game.[I] The mocking and ironic tone with which the author performs what would be a “analysis of the crisis and the revolution of transsexuals” gives indications of another crisis and revolt, not so much within the trans movement, but even more within the old structures of power that prevail in the psychoanalytic field and that now seem to collapse. In his opening lines, Miller plays with the words, “Trans are in a trance.” It is true that he admits to an incurable addiction to “playing with words”… Like a clown hopelessly entertained with his juggling, the “jeu” of words is almost always present in Miller's language.

Dealing with the labyrinth of language, it seems that the author doesn't pay much attention to real bodies, pulsating and vertiginous surfaces. When all the surface evidence shows something the “inside out”, a foreign body, Miller insists, from a long dive into the deepest structures, that it is the “right”, the same (identical) body as always. For example, he suggests in his text: What would be the movement among men that claims a “masculinist” lifestyle and philosophy, the MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way)? Now! The opposite of FGTOW (Female…), whose expression would be the work Lesbian genius, by Alice Coffin.

At the end of the text, the operation is not one of identifying a symmetrical opposite, but of simple equivalence: the trans body is for the contemporary analyst just as the hysterical body was for Freud... The body, for Miller, does not admit metamorphoses, mutations... Even though the body is different, the language, or rather the structure, remains the same. This “analytical” gesture reveals all its symbolic violence insofar as the hysterical symptom seems to reveal a pathological structure of the trans body, something impossible to sustain from psychoanalysis.

The first lines of the text are devoted to some of Miller's biographical references. He cites fundamental authors and readings from his youth, important encounters and decisive scenes... like a very brief formation novel. The name of Dr. Lacan, of course, but with ironies about an alleged “abuse of authority” on the part of his father-in-law. Miller seems to imply that he is one more victim of patriarchy. His irony, however, is addressed to those who suffer in their bodies the effective violence of patriarchal power. This, I think, is the lowest point of the text.

Miller recognizes that he is facing what would be a very “serious” matter, which should not be joked about: a crisis that affects the Civilization… or rather, the crisis and revolt of transsexuals show, in a contemporary version, the “Freudian malaise”. In this sense, his proposal of “analysis” of trans bodies identifies the presence of two axioms at the base of a “paradigmatic” change: the constitution of what he names as “paradigm shift".

1) The axiom of supremacy is founded on the hypothesis of a “distributive injustice”: “This old notion here takes the form of what I will call the axiom of supremacy. It is understood that society is completely structured by a matrix of domination; domination being an asymmetrical relationship between powers of opposite signs (binarism!). With MGTOW, it is not the capitalists and proletariats, nor the elites and the people […], it is simply women and men.”

2) The separation axiom, according to Miller, “stipulates things like these: 'Thou shalt not have easy relations with the opposing party. You will go your way. He will make no pact. He will value himself, not his neighbor, but his fellow man. Thou shalt love the equal of thyself. You will run away from each other like Satan. Those who resemble each other will come together. Let him who does not resemble himself not enter here.'”

Without delving deeply into the genealogical research aimed at investigating the foundations of Miller's analysis – something he also does not do there with much rigor and honesty –, we finally recognize the historical context of the established quarrel: at the end of his text, the author leaves of course, the whole scolding is still with the philosopher and writer Paul B. Preciado and his conference given in Paris at the Journey of the School of the Freudian Cause in November 2019.

Another possible and much more interesting path in response to Preciado's intervention would be to take advantage of the moment of a supposed crisis in the psychoanalytic field – and not in trans bodies – to think about the possibilities open to the field of psychoanalysis. The affected record of this author accustomed to consecration among faithful followers – now fighting like never before to be on top – should draw attention to what can emerge again from this crisis. That is to say, a radical questioning and reworking of the discipline, in clinical and theoretical terms, and not, as he suggests, a reaffirmation of what is old. Miller's revolt helps us to think of another type of drift that is not just that of language over itself, its "jeu” of words. I am thinking, above all, of an analytical movement capable of understanding the metamorphosis and affection of contemporary bodies.

Therefore, it is necessary to understand that the metamorphosed bodies do not so much pose a question to the myth of Oedipus, but, fundamentally, to that of Narcissus. The Freudian Oedipus complex, in the crudest sense of a “machine” or device destined to produce the coincidence between the biological register and the sexual identity, was reassembled and rethought, among others, also by Lacan: the signifiers “man” and “ woman” do not signify themselves, constituting themselves in the difference in relation to all other signifiers. Furthermore, as pure signifiers, they do not bear a privileged relationship with biological nature. Thinking about the question of the narcissistic investment of an ideal body, destined to represent the human species in finished forms, we are facing a problem that is far from being so simple and impossible to solve through brief analytical roundabouts, as some would like. To overcome the specular forms that confine human nature to a framework conserved at all costs, it is necessary to do, as the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro warns when referring to the challenges of his own discipline (and that we would do very well to borrow them ), a movement towards the anti-narcissus.[ii] Psychoanalysis, instead of assuming for itself the role of guardian of the narcissistic image of the species, a kind of watchman of the contours and pre-established forms, must equally stop asking itself what is proper to the human. This would only be possible in the face of an openness to what the human body can do, between humans and non-humans: the trans body, in this sense, witnesses the interaction of chemical and pharmacological agents, resulting in the formation of a “technological body”. No more spiritual conversion, or reconversion, as Miller seems to propose, but metamorphosis and mutation. It is indeed necessary to learn to listen to the speech of this “monster”, as Preciado suggests in the title of the book “Can the monster speak?” (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2021), in which he publishes his speech given at the 2019 Journey. In the crisis and revolt of bodies – in which the trans body is inscribed – anyone who imagines it to be a new cultural revolution or ideas is wrong.

In his text, Miller reports a conversation with his grandson in which he “innocently” presents another subjective configuration among young French students: “You must not say, Jacques-Alain, that she became a girl. It's irritating for her. No, he is a girl.” The way he presents the dialogue takes the form of a generational conflict, which could suggest that trans presents us with an avant-garde appeal. Far beyond that, the body in revolt claims the surface of its nature, which is multiplied in new perspectives created from experimentation with other bodies. But Miller's problem, contrary to what he himself manages to imagine when he created his own trans antagonistic character, his “Trans ventriloquist”, does not consist in getting rid of a power-knowledge that accuses him of the ghost of Michel Foucault. Miller's problem is another, even more limiting one: how can we think that we are no longer dealing with multiculturalism as it is disguised as a “paradigm shift”, but with multinaturalism? The universe of culture certainly has its variation there: multiple forms of manifestation of the same natural, insurmountable real being. It is true that an excess of variation bothers some people, who are stuck in certain irreducible structural formulas. But the bodies, on their surface, carry the power of being each one: unique aesthetic formations, accidental encounters impregnated with regimes and body diets of different natures.

Foucault is mentioned several times in Miller's text – a true ghost that haunts him. One gets the impression that the philosopher is almost accused of being the intellectual mentor of this transsexual crisis and revolt. However, if the author were able to overcome the ghost, he would walk a little better towards understanding history and the power relations that cross us. Foucault says in “Nietzsche, genealogy and history” (Paz e Terra, 2014):

“The body: surface where events are inscribed (while language marks them and ideas dissolve them), place of dissociation from the I (which presupposes the chimera of a substantial unit), volume in perpetual pulverizing. Genealogy, as an analysis of the provenance [of forces], is therefore at the point of articulation of the body with history. It must show the body entirely marked by history and history ruining the body.

We think in any case that the body has only the laws of its physiology, and that it escapes history. New error; it is formed by a series of regimes that build it; it is torn apart by rhythms of work, rest and celebration; he is intoxicated by poisons – food or values, eating habits and moral laws simultaneously; it creates resistances.”

The transformation of the psychoanalytic field in response to changes and historical events that operate the production of new subjectivities is a job to be done continuously, in clinical and theoretical terms. The bet on old structures and theories that took place at other times seems to contradict a libertarian impulse that is characteristic of this practice born at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century. The vocation of any practice of freedom is at stake at all times. It is not guaranteed to certain social positions that underlie the discourses of the old authorities. Thanks to positions such as that of Paul B. Preciado, we can continue to carry out – as psychoanalysts – an imperative so dear to Foucault in his analysis of power relations and practices of resistance: to estrange the present and ourselves, to invest more and more in experiences capable of transforming us… an “art of living” and of being beyond what we are.

*Joao Paulo Ayub Fonseca, psychoanalyst, he holds a doctorate in social sciences from Unicamp. author of Introduction to Michel Foucault's analytics of power (Intermediates).


[I] Available at: https://laregledujeu.org/2021/04/22/37014/transsexuel-docile-au-trans/

[ii] CASTRO, Eduardo Viveiros de. “The Anti-Narcissus: place and function of Anthropology in the contemporary world”. Brazilian journal of psychoanalysis. Sao Paulo, vs. 44, no.o. 4, p. 15-26, 2010.

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