“A bug can change a life.”
Psychoanalyst and writer, Philippe Grimbert became famous with his autobiographical novel “The Secret”. In this book, he discusses the transmission of family bugs and the power of the unconscious hidden behind the unspoken. Two themes that only but fascinate Bug Me Tender.
Our actions produce unconscious bugs: missed acts, lapses, neurosis... Are these intrinsic bugs reprogrammable?
Freud evoked a dimension of the unconscious, extremely active without our knowledge. The unconscious lies deeply in us and appears from time to time, in the form of bugs: a slip, a missed act, a dream… This bug interests psychoanalysts because it has a meaning. If you say “goodbye” instead of “hello” to someone, probing a little further you will understand that you did not want to see this person, but you still sent him a message. Your unconscious is at most ready for the truth of your feelings.
Do not we pay enough attention? Should we be more demanding with our own interpretation of these bugs?
This is the work that is done on the couch of a psychoanalyst. The position of relaxation, without seeing his interlocutor, favours the development of the unconscious. These lapses, these bugs, these surges of ideas completely unexpected, almost unrelated to what we were saying, are very interesting because they reveal very deep things. It is an irreplaceable self-knowledge tool. There is no need to be sick to be in analysis. It is a sort of asceticism that can lead you to become what you really are.
The interpretation of the bugs is very present among the journalists who like to lend themselves to the exercise by interpreting the slips of the politicians. The bug is an eruption of the truth in a speech that could be pressed. Each one of us can perform this analysis work of our failed acts. Does it need to be analysed? This is another question, but there is always meaning in a slip.
As a psychoanalyst, and also as an individual, as you very much say in your book "A Secret", how would you define family bugs?
There are several forms of bugs. The intrafamilial bugs are those where for example a parent, without explaining it,talk with his child about his aggressiveness and not his love. Another bug that particularly interests me is the transgenerational bug. “A Secret” is based on my personal experience and this is where I mention this bug. I am in the book at the same time the psychoanalyst, the author and the subject of the novel. The question that bugs me is this: how has a drama of previous generations impacted the future of succeeding generations? It is clinically and statistically observed that there is an atoning victim in each generation. It is the somewhat mystical, esoteric tradition of the family curse,which is a bug, something of the past, shrouded in secrecy. It is interesting to note that malediction finds its etymology in “ill-said” (mal-dit) or “not said” (pas-dit). And what is not said impinges on the fate of subsequent generations.
I can take my own example because I almost fell into this danger of the family curse. The drama of the Shoah lived by the previous generation saw the disappearance of a little boy. This ghost of my childhood could have had a curse effect on me. I could have identified with this ghost or completely inhibited my knowledge, because if I do not have the right to know, I do not have the right to learn. Or somatise. But that was not the case.
Listening to you, the taboo is a bug preventing the psychological development. The problem is that this bug seems natural, almost innate...
Of course. The family secret is a bug. As a psychoanalyst, I evoke a failure of communication that has unconscious effects. The bug is also this irruption of the unconscious into everyday life that surprises us because it comes from a part of ourselves that we do not know.
The family secret originates in the very human feelings of shame, guilt and mourning that are passed on from generation to generation. Moreover, a family secret is for me a pleonasm, because all families have theirs!
And in this case, does this perspective not bug our modern conception of man, seen and perceived as a sovereign individual?
The title of the main work of Anne Ancelin, “Ouch, my ancestors!” is striking. What is this pain and how was it transmitted and hurt each of the generations that followed? Psychoanalysis, of which I speak with passion, suffered from what happened at the time. Today there is an almost liberal conception of mental health: efficiency, speed, the results must be quantifiable… What a bug! On the one hand, the human is not reduced to numbers and on the other hand, we must not seek to rid the symptoms. You have to learn how to deal with it. Psychoanalysis does not have the vocation to heal, its vocation is to save.
What makes my originality as a human being are my symptoms, my neurosis. Gide said that you always have to follow the slope, as long as it’s up. The slope is part of us, we must do with, as long as we go up. A hassle can be a source of strength or weakness. The secret that weighed so heavily could have ruined my life, but it pushed me to write a book. This story is today my identity card.
You were a psychoanalyst before writing this book. Did you become one precisely because there was this secret?
There was an extraordinary moment in my life when a great truth-clarifier, a blunder, revealed this secret to me. A blunder is a bug, it’s always the expression of a truth that should not have been said. At the announcement of the secret awkwardly revealed, I realised, by my answer that I was already an analyst.
Is an adopted orphaned then destined to bug all his life and to repeat this bug with the children he will have?
It is not for nothing that today – hoping that it is completely generalised – all adopted children know they have been.That was not the case a generation ago. The adoptive parents, by silencing this adoption, repaired the wound of not having had a child of their flesh. This probably provoked an unconscious search for the truth, which led these children to constantly repeat the story of abandonment. An adopted child who does not know it can spend his life abandoning his objects of love.
By saying things, we minimise the risks you’re talking about. But we cannot generalise. Former children who were beaten tend to become beating parents or, on the contrary, ultra-protective. There is always an unconscious choice that can be made between repeating or changing the game.
With psycho-genealogy, meaning this work on the transmission of family bugs, the unconscious unfolds at the family level and is more than just individual and restricted in the first circle. Can we think of this transmission at the collective level, that of peoples, of a kind?
Certainly. A disciple of Freud, Carl Jung, speaks of the collective unconscious. These are great archetypes that encompass us all, whatever our religion, our race, our culture. There is something that goes beyond the family circle. The history of a country also comes to constitute our unconscious, as our individual history. In Germany, where I go often, I see the impact of the country’s history. Guilt is very present. I am asked if I want Germany for what she did to my family.They are inhabited by that. It belongs to their collective, not individual history.
To come back to the family's destiny, does not knowing one's past, one's roots, it's finally a little not knowing oneself?
I remember a phrase that said, “If you do not know your past, you are doomed to repeat it.” Psycho-genealogy is interesting from this point of view. We understand some bugs, some symptoms when we face our family tree: there is something in the fate of a person in my family that I repeat without my knowledge. Nicolas Abraham and Maria Törok have written a book on family secrets, “The Bark and the Core”. They mention a place: the crypt. It is a psychic place where lies the family secret.
This crypt can be considered a Pandora's box. Do you understand the fear of opening it for some?
Of course. Not go digging in this Pandora’s box is a choice often dictated by love. But to say something painful to a very young child is not to kill him, it is to give him the conditions for his survival. It’s when a child becomes a teenager and has not been told, that is when the bug is likely to occur.
Does not our family destiny make our free will bug?
The family bug limits our free will to the extent that it offers us a forced choice between solutions that are not necessarily as vast and varied as one might have wished. Do we really have a free will? In psychoanalytic terms we could say that everything is written, with meaningful words that are signifiers. There is always a choice, but it is limited.
So how can you really afford to choose?
Psychoanalysis proposes to look at what is not strong in oneself to become stronger. The triggers of psychoanalytic work are the repetition of catastrophic experiences in series. And this is not free will, but concatenation.
Philippe, we always end our interviews with two rather personal generic questions: first, what is your own definition of a bug?
It’s a failure that could allow you to become better than what you are.
Second, in your field what is the biggest bug, potential or you have experienced?
The bug of my cousin’s blunder, which allowed me to decipher and clear the whole dimension of the secret at home. A bug can change a life.