In Defense of Secrets
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In Defense of Secrets

Anne Dufourmantelle, Lindsay Turner

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eBook - ePub

In Defense of Secrets

Anne Dufourmantelle, Lindsay Turner

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Finalist, French-American Foundation Translation Prize In an age that prizes political and personal transparency, In Defense of Secrets champions the secret as what permits relation and ensures our humanity. Psychoanalyst and philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle drowned in 2017 in an attempt to rescue two children caught in the ocean. Her work lives on, though, in this provocative and necessary book. Through etymologies and case studies, personal history and incisive commentary on contemporary society, In Defense of Secrets returns us to the fundamental psychic scene of the secret. The secret, for Dufourmantelle, is not a code to be cracked or a firewall to be penetrated but a dynamic and powerful entity that permits relation and that ensures our humanity.Tracking the secret though art and literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and sociology, from the Inquisition to the present, Dufourmantelle's writing spirals around the question of the secret's value. In our age, when political and personal transparency seem to be prized above all—lives posted on the Internet, information leaked, whistles blown, taboos absent except with respect to the secret itself— In Defense of Secrets champions what remains hidden, private, veiled, hushed, just out of sight. The secret is on the side of nature, not science; organic growth, not technology; love's generosity, not knowledge's grasp. For Dufourmantelle, the secret is a powerful and dynamic thing: deadly if unheard or misused, perhaps, but equally the source of creativity and of ethics. An ethics of the secret, we can hear her say, means listening hard and sensitively, respecting the secret in its secret essence, unafraid of it and open to what it has to say.

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Information

Year
2021
ISBN
9780823289240
Edition
1
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VI
Toward Mystery
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Secret Nature
Nature is exemplary. It teaches us that growth demands a secret: The flower unfolds its petals in a cyclamen hidden out of sight; the chrysalis opens at night; the ultimate secret is a garden in which we are regenerated. Growth needs shadows to give us what could make us grow.
This nature is rendered obsolete by the kind of scientific investigation that makes hidden processes into an order of growth to be divulged—that is, to be understood. Nature, however, teaches us respect for what is hidden and for the time that it takes to emerge.
We only have secrets because someone else to whom we address ourselves has existed and will exist. And even when the tombstone comes to seal the secret forever in its tomb, there will be a living someone to hold the secret. An address. God, lover, beloved, totem animal, name, sky—its intimate Orient. This original other is not maternal, not even matriarchal—it is language, language as world, first horizon more intimate to ourselves than ourselves. We want to be sovereign there where we are bound. And the more we re fuse to recognize it, the more the slipknot tightens. Result: shame, violence.
The secret we cannot lift stretches toward the horizon line until it disappears, shifting quicker than the light, escaping our electronic and psychoanalytic radars and undoing itself as if it never existed. Its resistance is colossal, for it is infinitely subtle: Like sweetness and liberty, a secret is not taken but given. The instant of death, as Blanchot describes it, is a secret even for the person who will experience it. A given that will only be given to that person, incommunicable and inalienable. Like every radical passage, it turns us into a stowaway, a migrant.
The secret that refuses to become an enigma becomes a mystery. This is the word we have found to remind ourselves of the sacred—of what will never be lifted, never solved.
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Veils
For Heidegger, the secret is an essential part of the unveiling of truth (alethia or Unverborgenheit). What was obvious to the first Greek thinkers has been erased little by little over the course of the history of metaphysics. Mystery has become an enigma to resolve, and the veil that is constitutive of alethia has been lowered to the status of voluntarily hidden truth. Respect for mystery and its elucidation has given way to an incitation to denounce. We have entered into the “age of suspicion.” The task of shedding light on what is hidden now falls to the police and to techniques of espionage.
Heidegger showed that the veil constituting truth is characterized by a certain ambiguity, one that the Greek poets and thinkers respected. Unlike us, it was not mystery and secret that they considered a threat to the truth but their exact opposite—dissimulation.
For Freud, what the subject represses that does not remain at their disposition is a dissimulation that carries secondary benefits. The secret is not the same if it is consciously concealed or if it becomes an agent of repression. What the subject cannot bear (shame, for example) seems to withdraw from consciousness. It will return in a similar situation, all the more forceful for having been blocked from representation.
“Both a concealing of ‘things’ and a concealing of this concealing occur in an interplay through us,” Heidegger writes. 9 We are responsible for the effects of our forgetting. To return to the Greeks: They opposed disappearance in the river of Lethe (forgetting) to effacement by imitation. Imitation is the reign of the same, as trompe-l’oeil, as lookalike. In his analysis of forgetting, Heidegger refuses to equate the veil of truth with a form of nontruth. This also allows him to show the degree to which consciousness remains unable to think the fatal phenomenon of forgetting—not because forgetting does not affect the subject in their relation to things but, on the contrary, because it affects them as an event that escapes their initiative and their control. In other words, forgetting affects the subject just as much as the things to which it relates. In forgetting a thing, the subject forgets themselves in their relation to that thing.
In our age, so prolific in reproductions, a desirable thing immediately deteriorates into multiple versions. Where the secret reveals itself without being noticed, imitation or something that is infinitely reproduced is ready to be used to the point of gratification. We can thus overlook a secret out of inadvertence as much as by determination to drag something hidden out into the light. A thing does not need to be hidden to keep its secret.
The true opening of a secret cannot be forced. In our age, are poets and thinkers the only ones who have not forgotten everything about the secret’s essence? Does it fall to them only to open the secret that is held not only in the gift but in all things? Are they the guardians of past histories, or are they prophets of new eras? Does it fall to these individuals, even as exceptional as their abilities might be, to open up new times in which every present thing would speak to us freely while still keeping its secret?
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Legacies
For Derrida, the legacy is a reserve that we can never entirely decipher or interpret. The tacit commitment of the heir is not to end the legacy but to preserve it for the future. It is a responsibility leading us somewhere not known in advance. This legacy is at once individual and/or collective. It poses the question of transmission (of knowledge, bequest, promise) and its eventual breaking or forgetting. In a sense, this legacy is a secret. Like a hidden drawer in a family heirloom, it keeps apart something that resists capture. We do not know where the secret is sealed up. It remains inviolable. The walls might crack, perhaps something might come out—but this is only a derivative element. The secret itself remains heterogeneous, inaccessible to both knowledge and authority. While an archive can be made up of collections or systems, and while a code—even entirely encrypted—can always be decrypted, a legacy or a transmission cannot. Like a moment of revelation, the secret is a space-time in becoming—a spiral, the center of which is the truth. The truth itself is in movement, itself a moment of revelation. An entire cosmology. These three circles, sacred/sacrifice/secret, are interconnected. It is thus first a separation from the secular real, from the living flux of the world.
Unveiling is the process by which a thought process and a process of the metamorphosis of the living come to the surface not only of consciousness but of the real itself. Even the most buried trauma comes back one day to make itself visible. Unveiling holds an irresistible attraction. Contrary to what we imagine, the fabrication of the secret, the infinite production of protective codes, is destined toward the entropy of constant effacement; systems of closure and defense are rendered obsolete by increasingly powerful technologies. Everything unfolds as if the secret wanted to be revealed, thus opposing mystery, which is neither breakable nor decipherable and which does not return toward a possible unveiling.
The secret is the absolute moment of the exposure of human speech. Indeed, it founds the possibility of speaking: this “hushing” that it holds at its center and that is suddenly released—or disappears. The possibility of this disappearance, of this burying in the sands of night, of forgetting, of violence, of misguidedness, of renunciation, is an abyss, a vertigo, around and with which unfold all the human passions. But the interior secret, that which we always keep, which will never cross our lips and is known only to us, a wound, an event, a drama of which we have been the only witnesses—? This speech is walled up, an embedded suffering, a folding in of being around an unshareable suffering. The secret begins only when otherness enters: It is another language that comes to make our native language resonate, much as our memories awaken in exile.
This moment of speech’s exposure is what poetry imagines—all poetry, or poetic writing itself—in its relation to the world. If it is used for what it contains—in other words, not as a moment of life but as a precious object guarding its treasure—this moment becomes a deadly arm, deadly to speech itself, against life and against love. Against what escapes all hold, in presence. Our legacies are versions of the world of which we are both the intended recipients and the illicit dealers.
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Aside
A first analysis is perhaps always the tracing of a family history into the future perfect—a history of which we have previously seen only the legend, without being able to make out the thread of silk (or of self) running all through it, knotted up where suffering accumulates. In this analysis, we notice the failures of speech in that history—the ellipses, the lacks, the lies assembled and perpetuated—as they give each person a place in the family constellation. If this place is missing, it can provoke boundless aggression, which will accompany any feeble attempt to enter into the first truth of desire. In the room full of secrets of analysis, we still believe in revelation. We expect that a word might gather all wounds into itself, as the place from which the cry called “primal” emerges, as the originary chaos, still linked to the mother, that gives the dirt roads of hysteria their strange permanence.
In a first analysis we are given a genesis that is caught in the snares of mute suffering. For me, analysis ended with a clear awareness that beyond all representation—representation being the order by which something in the visible realm is inscribed in language—lies the unnamable. “The unconscious,” writes Perrier, “is not the opposite of the stage set; the psychoanalyst is not the backstage worker of being, there to bare what makes no sense. In this backstage, or in the artist’s dressing room, everything can always be reborn for the next ‘representation,’ the next show—even if the subject has taken off their masks and is virtually nothing more than punctuation, a pure body articulating the signifiers that concern them and none of which subsume them.” 10 It is precisely on this point that I question Jungian thought’s denial of the death drive when in fact, in the figure of the Self, it implies the desire and the possibility for every human being to come to themselves as subject, the unconscious having become the interior spiritual guide whose message the being learns to discern. To unveil the images by which archetypes invade the libido of a patient means that desire is structured and sutured by archaic images. Yet as soon as they come to the aid of interpretations, Jungian archetypes discovered in dreams, bungled acts, and projections do not, it seems to me, always allow this fear to emerge where the image is corroded without another to follow it. And anyway only the scansions of a silence can perhaps express the subject in relation to the signifier and to the impossible distress of finitude.
For a long time I hesitated to go the way of medicine, and for some time I had been indecisive. But then came the story of Julie, my closest friend and sister spirit of a sort, and this was so unbearable to me that I had not breathed a word of it during my first analysis, so wrapped up as I still was in her own silence—a silence, the nurses said, that had progressively shut her up in madness. I needed even more time, a long time, to be able to reach this desire to heal, even from a distance—to heal her and to heal from her. This began one day when I was able to name her, to call her by her name in the street where, after having returned from a long stay in Latin America, I encountered her, led by the hand like a child.
“Does the other come before even our possibility to exist as a subject? Is it necessary to have been named to be able to name?” 11 It is because of the articulation that the “prophetic” creates between name, time, and relation to transcendence that I entered into “philosophy.” My thesis revolved around this question: What does it mean to be called to prophecy? “What the call represents in the field of speech … [is] the possibility of refusal,” 12 says Lacan; the prophet is precisely the one who begins to avoid the call—“no, I’m not here, find another, I will not go prophesize.” In the Old Testament, this refusal is one of the signs of vocational authenticity. The possibility that the version of philosophy that happily for us emerged one fine day beneath the Greek sun from the impasses of myth and poetry—or so we’re told—might have a prophetic vocation is dubious at best. It seems to me, however, that this dissident thread carried by certain thinkers at right angles to our most assured certainties creates, in philosophical questioning, the side roads that are so very necessary. To interpret prophecy only in its affiliation with Cassandra is to forget that it is first—as André Neher shows—that patient revolt that transforms a decree of destiny into a nocturnal turning around of a human being toward a forgotten word that is the bearer of the future once it is again taken up. It seems to me that prophetic thought tries to say that we think always starting from an unassignable alterity that breaks the quietude of our being-in-the-world. If knowledge is a capture of the object by the concept, then prophetic thought questions us beneath and beyond knowledge. It signals the subject’s radical relinquishment of knowledge in the direction of ethics. Prophetic thinkers break a kind of watch-trail, not to perpetuate a track or a teaching but to risk the question of the human’s humanity even further. They live this question starting from an uprooting from their native community. They are the “exiled” thinkers par excellence, an exodus symbolized by the displacement of all our categories of thought, articulated to those of action and incarnated in the vocation of “a subject in the position of the respondent,” as Ricoeur expresses it so well. It is from a confrontation between the emblematic figures of Jonah, who spent three days in the entrails of a marine monster for having refused to go back to Nineveh, and of Cassandra, the prophetess in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, that I tried to reformulate the problematic of prophecy in the context of contemporary philosophy, centering it on texts by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Patočka, and Levinas.
This anteriority of alterity described so well by Levinas, heralding the surprise of the promise as the figure of our future [à-venir], challenges that foundational relation to the sacred that finds in prophetic thought (whether Nietzschean or Kierkegaardian) another way of crossing the sayable on each side of belief.
The gulf between prophetic conversion and mutation is perhaps what we cross when we go to meet the basis of a being’s truth. Concerning mutation, it was the return (forced, I should say) to my first analyst that allowed me finally to emerge from Julie’s silence, inside which I had partially remained, entombed—and thus to approach in another way the feeling of exile that had gripped me for so long. There was that suffering, that shame, too, at not being able to do anything, at having in cowardice abandoned her to the doctors she hated, she who described with terrifying lucidity—so intimidating for anyone who approached her—the exact contours of her madness. In his memoirs, Elie Wiesel speaks of the fascination exercised by a Kabbalist over a little study group of which he was part and who led two of his best friends to their deaths. “What irony,” he writes, “that these ‘killers’ [in other words, the Nazis come to ‘clean’ the Jewish ghetto] were the ones who saved me, as it were.” 13 This passage of the memoirs made a deep impression on me. Julie’s intelligence was fascinating because she expressed so well the effect of vertigo provoked by the dazzling line to which psychotic discourse sometimes holds itself and the fascination of the position where truth is entirely incarnated in a subject, a master signifier alienated from its own mastery. To interrogate en abyme each word spoken up to the point of making its cracks, approximations, and gaps appear was Julie’s passion, in a literal sense of the word—her only way of feeling assured of fragile certitude. “Perhaps the body is only the beginning of the unpronounceable,” wrot...

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