Violence of Interpretation, The: From Pictogram to Statement

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The Violence of Interpretation, originally published in 1975 by the Presses Universitaires de France, was Piera Castoriadis-Aulagnier's first book, although she had already published a number of important articles beginning in 1961, and her research (seminar at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne), institutional involvement (creation of the Quatrième Groupe of the O.P.L.F. in 1969), and editorial work (as head of the revue L'Inconscient and, then, Topique beginning in 1969) were already widely known.

This book marked an important step in psychoanalysis in France, especially with regard to psychosis. It attracted a huge readership immediately, and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

Aulagnier's project sought to reexamine the Freudian metapsychological model on the basis of the psycho-analyst's obligation, in therapeutic work with psychotic patients, to rethink the mind and its models. The magnitude of the task and the systematic organization of the new theories presented explain why this book was published relatively late in her career.

The Violence of Interpretation, according to Aulagnier, attests to the "prodigious work of reinterpretation carried out by psychosis" (p. xxviii) and thus makes it possible to catch a glimpse of an unthinkable "before" that has been shared by all. Aulagnier did not base her work on the idea of a "psychotic kernel" common to all, a theory she rejected, but rather believed that the psychotic succumbs to the attraction of a mode of representation that has normally been surpassed, even though it remains latent in all subjects. The author's analysis thus culminated in a theory of representation, and more specifically of what she called a "primal" stage of representation, which "ignores word-presentations and has as its exclusive material the image of the physical thing" (p. xxix). Hence Aulagnier's definition of psychosis: "Psychosis is characterized by the force of attraction exerted by the primal, an attraction to which it opposes that 'addition' represented by the creation of a 'delusional' interpretation that makes 'sayable' the effects of that violence" (p. xxx).

Aulagnier innovated a number of new concepts based on this precept, in particular "primary violence," which is the effect of anticipation imposed by the discourse of the mother ("word-bearer") upon an infans from whom a response is anticipated that the preverbal infant is unable to give, and the "secondary violence" that "leans on" the first.

For Aulagnier psychic activity is subdivided into three modes of functioning, none of which necessarily silence one another: primal process (pictographic representation), primary process (fantasy representation), and secondary process (ideational representation).

The phenomenon of specularization (Jacques Lacan) and the psyche's "borrowing" from sensory models are characteristic of the primal process. The "pictogram" is defined as "the formation of a relational schema, in which the representative is reflected as a totality identical with the world" (p. 25). This "representative background" does not disappear from the subject, but is "foreclosed to the power of the I's knowledge" (p. 37), except in psychosis where it is manifest.

The primary process is comprised of fantasy activity, but Aulagnier emphasized that pleasure and unpleasure are always experienced here as being dependent upon an Other's desire to give or refuse it.

Finally we have the secondary process, which is linked to the appearance of word-presentations. Nomination, once it involves affect, means naming not just the object, but also the relation that links the I to the object: "to name the other with the term beloved is to designate the subject who is naming as lover" (p. 97). The I's self-naming, with the linguistic signs proper to affect and the kinship system, enable it to come into being. Aulagnier wrote: "The I is simply the I's knowledge of the I" (p. 5), but the I is also constructed: in relation to its past in "self-historization" and to its future in the "identificatory project."

The conditions that make it impossible for an I to come into being other than by passing through delusional identification are the topic of the second part of the book, where the author defines what she means by the "psychotic potentiality" or "primary delusional thinking" that can (or cannot) give way to actual psychosis.

Aulagnier developed the two major categories of schizophrenia and paranoia and, based on the hypothesis of secondary violence and delusional theories of origination, proposed a new psychoanalytic approach to these pathologies.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Aulagnier-Spairani, Piera, France; Infans; Object; Pictogram; Psychotic potential; Sense/nonsense.

Source Citation

Aulagnier, Piera. (2001) The violence of interpretation: From pictogram to statement (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). Hove, UK, and Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.