The mask question


France advances in disguise. Not always on time for those on the front lines of priority and essential care and services, but it is increasingly visible on the streets of Paris, in particular, despite the inconsistency of the recommendations. Curious mix of security and anxiety, duality between protection and interrogation. One protects oneself, one protects the other, while also masking body and emotional language. Because a smile, a grimace, a heartfelt or pensive mouth make us alive. Our lower face is now hidden and our words filtered by a piece of cloth that is immediately used, immediately thrown away. An aseptic sensuality that questions me. So, mischievously, I thought that maybe a psychoanalyst could help me... Surprise! I wasn't the only one who questioned me. It's with her spontaneity and her (very) enlightened sagacity that Paule Pérez, Psychoanalyst, has given herself to a small reflection that UP' gives you here. - Fabienne Marion -

At the very beginning of the confinement, we were going "around the four streets", the best named of which is Boulevard de l'Hôpital, Boulevard de la Pitié, where the sirens of the ambulances seem to have become a little less frequent since yesterday... Each one of them is very close to my heart: today we all know people who have lost someone there.

After five days of this confinement I felt, despite the kindness of the law enforcement officers (especially with the homeless), locked out.

Since then, I, the walker, who had spotted countless treasures in the courtyards of Paris on my solitary walks when I arrived in France: here a large tree hidden a stone's throw from the Boulevard St-Germain, there a well in the Marais, plots of vegetable gardens near Père Lachaise, a tiny forgotten 18th century cemetery on the Avenue de Flandres... You could push the porches before the use of codes.

My guide dog, surprisingly resilient, has become accustomed to micro-outputs. Staying at home means I don't have to wear a "mask", "surgical" or not, literally or figuratively. 

Patients requested sessions by telephone, another material mask quickly forgotten in the profound truthfulness of their words. Like many of us, they have nightmares that we have no difficulty in deciphering together, so clear is the primary violence, life and death.

Wearing the mask reminds me of the Spanish proverb: "En boca cerrada non entran moscas", in a closed mouth, flies do not enter. A version, as popularized, of the more distinguished one according to which "silence is golden". But is it gold that we are looking for, or rather, with Paul Valéry in front of his marine cemetery at dawn, just "trying to live"? Because here we certainly don't want to say, after Cocteau: "since these mysteries are beyond us, let's pretend to be their instigators". Which is what we are, however.

I remain perplexed by the way in which the virus enters us, reminding us in a flash of the functions of the mouth, linked to the world, to the elements: Earth by what we eat, Water from the "droplets" to be avoided and from the pollution scattered around the globe, Air from breathing which makes us think of the pulmonary alveoli targeted by the virus, and speech, Fire from fever, and metaphorically, from our primary cries of sorrow and fear... It is indeed this mouth, the gateway that the virus has "found". But what does "found" mean here? It refers us to the strength of what we do not know how to name well: according to each person's references, nature, instinct, chance, necessity, destiny, or simply, life processes. 

There is also that the "psychoanalyst" dreams of the future: that life, especially in the city, finds true sociability. That the one that exists only fleetingly in borderline situations lasts and disappears the next day, in a kind of oblivion of the other.

And there is also, paradoxically, the fact that I am perplexed by this adaptability to containment. It makes me think of Milgram's experiments, which placed subjects in uncomfortable or painful situations, situations to which they subjected themselves as they went to extremes, pushing back the frontier of the unbearable..., Showing man's resistance as much as his strange capacity to accept on command, inconvenience, constraint, even servitude: desirable psychic plasticity or miserable abullification? Although here we are questioning ourselves in the name of life and not for destruction, I am thinking of the compliance of an Eichmann to have submitted without fail to Nazi authority, not even through the slightest questioning. Free from any form of "thinking". I just mean what makes us "measure" a situation, because think comes from Latin weigh.

It remains fundamental, while complying with health injunctions, that we remain attentive to what is at stake in these constraints and deprivations of the elementary freedom of our movements: just stay awake to the singularity of the moment's circumstance, this awakening being our only resistance in the name of the instinct of life.  

What remains for us is to "dream" of a form of "world repair" as the Kabbalists say, so that through our actions and words, it can take place.

The world has turned upside down, as it were. By extracting the pangolin, the bat, the snake and the mosquito, from their "middle", to bring them to a Chinese market, we just reversed an order. A bit like an Apocalypse, but not with the same intention. Viruses from the steppes or the mountains came to town with their hosts.

We have to imagine something else. In this dereliction we can see that, even if human errors are blatant attacks on the environment, we can dream of a better world in short. That we invoke, each in his own way, in this expectation of the afterlife. Social justice, solidarity, respect for the natural elements of the Poles in Ecuador...

However, three days ago I heard a politician declare that it was necessary to "get together to anticipate the after" by evoking the economy, the stock markets, the revival, without the slightest difference with the pre-epidemic, without a minimal modification of the technocratic language. This used to be a source of annoyance to me, but now it gives me the bizarre effect of the rather psychotic discourse of actors that the turmoil of the planet would not have passed through, to the point that their executives, if not shattered, are resistant to the slightest internal tremor?

I hope that, while keeping a watchful eye on the realities, politicians as a whole will have understood that what happened, in any case, will have, as some commentators have said, "a before and an after". The mask hides our mouth and nose, but "nevertheless" does not cover them.

Paule Pérez, Philosopher - Psychoanalyst

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