I was in Paris on the night of the terrorist attacks, which occurred on the eve of the Journées of the ECF, where 3,400 people were due to attend. Like so many in France, and around the world, I watched the terrible events unfold on the screen of a television, refracted through a reportage in which journalists were frantically trying to piece together what was happening from a variety of sources and social media, with live scenes of desperation, the enduring image of which, for me, was that of a woman, later revealed to be pregnant, hanging from an upper window of the Bataclan theatre, fifteen metres above the street below.
In the morning, after the full scale of the tragedy had been revealed, I expressed my sorrow and deep sympathy to the Parisian woman who served me breakfast. She was the only member of staff on duty and I the only customer at the time. She looked tired and exhausted and replied, “Yes, I was there.” I asked her what she meant by this and she told me that, to make ends meet, she has a second job working through an agency, and that the previous evening she had been one of the security team at the Stade de France, working at the very gate that the first terrorist tried to enter before blowing himself up. As her words welled up within her, she told me that her “chef” or supervisor, one of those involved in confronting the man and herding him away from the gate, had, as far as I understood the French at the time, lost a leg in the attack, while others were killed outright. Then a short while later a second bomb went off at another gate. She told me that three or four people died in the first attack and that seventeen people were injured, but she also told me – and this is something I have not heard reported in the news – that this first gate was the gate that gave access to the area where the VIPs were sitting. Apparently some of them came down to see what was happening after the bomb went off and she and others suddenly found it within themselves to put aside their own sense of shock and horror in order to reassure the descending dignitaries that everything was under control, while at the same time urging them to go back inside. Then later, after everyone had been safely conducted away from the stadium, the police kept all those present at the time of the attack, taking statements until 4am, when they were finally allowed to go. As she handed me my coffee and my croissant, my waitress told me that, when she returned to her flat, she did not sleep, but simply sat on her couch. She then got up to open the bar at 7.30. She was still in shock and clearly needed to speak. The next morning, when I greeted her again, she told me that all the members of her team had received thanks for their professionalism and the way they had handled themselves during the incident – and then she added that her agency had also rung her later that day to ask if she was available for work, which for once she declined.
This is a small vignette, from a night of terror which, for me, bears out something of the spirit of the French people on that terrible and devastating night. I cannot help linking this strong and courageous woman, whose manner was modest yet assertive, with the female figure that Delacroix used to embody the spirit that led to the creation of the French Republic and even, as the title of the painting suggests, the first of its underlying principles, which as Marie-Hélène Brousse reminded us in a previous post, are rendered emblematically in the three colours of French flag that she can be seen raising in her hand.
So it was Liberty at the gate then, and not simply barbarism – liberty and what today could perhaps be described as its reverse side: namely, that push-to-enjoy [pousse-à-jouir] the radicalisation of which Eric Laurent sees at the root of such appalling acts of terror.3. Which begs the question: how can psychoanalysis re-engage its revolutionary spirit to confront this push-to-enjoy, in all its forms, where we encounter it in the clinic? We are no longer in a time where we can sit back with the assurance that the dialectic will run its course as it plays itself out between truth and knowledge, but must consider new ways in which to position ourselves and our act. To put this in the form of a question, and in a reprise of what Lacan says in the Écrits, how can we “reopen the junction between truth and knowledge [and now let us add jouissance, even if it is also disjunctive in its effects] to the mobility out of which revolutions arise”,4 revolutions both large and small in the lives of our patients? Whatever answers we find to this question one thing is sure: namely that, in one way or another, the solution will lie in the Liberty that wells up in speech.
1 Although I can no longer remember the exact words, it is possible that she was using an idiomatic expression that means that he was rendered utterly speechless: “ça lui a coupé la jambe”, in other words, it completely floored him, but the expression also brings to the fore, if we read the implication, that any traumatic experience implies a mutilation at the level of the speaking body.
2 The title of the painting is: “Liberty Leading the People”.
3 Cf. “The Unconscious and the Body Event: An Interview with Eric Laurent”, in Hurly-Burly 13. We could say that the radicalisation of this push-to-enjoy is demonstrated by the final body event to which such appalling acts tend to lead.
4 Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire”, Écrits, p. 679.