This intervention was given in Barcelona on the occasion of a preparatory meeting towards the 3rd Forum of the ELP, to be held in Seville, on June 2nd 2012, on the theme: “What evaluation silences: Childhood under control".
1) Childhood, as we understand it, has not always been defined in the same way. This is a fact that had already been highlighted in studies, for example, by Philippe Ariès and the History of Mentalities. The time designated as “childhood” has changed considerably throughout history, which indicates that childhood is primarily a fact of discourse. What is meant today by “childhood” is necessarily constituted as a “bygone time”, more or less idealized, as a place located within and from the discourse of the Other. Moreover, it is always worth recalling, as Lacan repeatedly did, the etymology of the word “childhood”, which comes from the infant: (in-fari) someone who is not able to speak, not articulate words but to speak in public, to represent himself in public as a subject of discourse. Childhood is thus first established as a place prior to and outside of discourse. The child is thus he who necessarily remains under the responsibility of the Other, without being able to make himself the subject of a social responsibility.
2) And why should we “control” this fact of discourse? Because childhood has also come to designate something ignored in the life of each subject, something that also remains outside of discourse, as that which is at the same time most intimate and foreign, which is the most idealized but also the most hidden. If Freud could say that every memory is a screen memory then childhood is, in terms of the experience of a subjective time, each subject’s screen memory par excellence: it always hides a family secret, it is the veil, the screen, of a secret always ignored.
3) And what is this secret, which is always ignored? It is first of all the secret of what we call “jouissance”, namely, an experience around different drive objects. Childhood thus brings forward the object of an experience of jouissance for each subject. “Childhood under control” is therefore childhood as an object of practices of control by the Other, practices of power, of surveillance, of punishment (cf. Michel Foucault).Childhood as an object is also, necessarily, the place of segregation. Historically it joins the series along with the place of madness and of the woman.Let us recall Jacques Lacan’s remark in 1968, in his “Remarks on child psychoses” (“Allocution sur les psychoses de l’enfant”): segregation is “the factor, the most burning issue of our time, in so far as, firstly, it has to experience the putting into question of all social structures by the progress of science”(1). Lacan thus anticipated segregation as the phenomenon extending to our world “in an ever pressing way”.
Despite the good intentions of any policy of integration, how can one not notice that childhood is nowadays an object of segregation, in so far as this is inherent to the function of the object as remainder of jouissance? It is not sure that a greater attention and a heightened vigilance can preserve childhood from this structural segregation. One can see these effects in some policies of integration at all costs of the “different” child, an integration that in fact duplicates this effect of segregation. Under the normalizing ideal of the child there is always this place of “segregated” object as remainder of jouissance.
4) The child has been and is an object of jouissance of the Other, especially as a sexual object: one supposes that this remark – accepted as such – is part of the Freudian discovery. But to recognize the child as object was not the most subversive point of this discovery. The real discovery – already present in “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” of 1905 – was to listen to the subject of childhood as a subject in his own right, in his relation to the unconscious and to desire. There is something even more subversive than having exposed the place of the child as a sexual object:it is the idea of sexual jouissance in childhood itself, the idea that there exists a subject, responsible for a desire and for a jouissance, in the proper space designated as “childhood”; it is also the fact that there is a responsibility in the subject of the Freudian unconscious which extends to childhood, as place of a subject of speech and language.
5) Who is willing today to take on this truth and its effects in the various fields of knowledge, and in the practices that belong to them? Usually silence is kept about childhood as place of a subject of desire and jouissance.
Scientific discourse, in its alliance with the discourse of capitalism, decidedly embarked on a strategy of evaluation, control, surveillance and screening of childhood, as subject of jouissance, which becomes intolerable, which even bodes the worst social destiny. One should remember the campaigns carried out in schools in various countries for the prevention of adult crime, based on the evaluative control of children.
Legal discourse has difficulties today recognizing the responsibility of the subject of childhood: from when can a subject be considered legally responsible for his actions? Law enforcement sets this moment back to an increasingly early age.
Pedagogical discourse, meanwhile, remains today clearly divided between a conception of the child as an object of control and prevention against “disorders” of the adult world, and a conception of the child as an educando, a subject of experience in relation to knowledge.
6) For psychoanalytic discourse, the child is first and foremost a subject-supposed-to know in the same way the adult is. This remark was made by Jacques-Alain Miller in his intervention at the Study-Day on the Child, in March 2011, entitled The Child and Knowledge:
“In psychoanalysis, it is the child who is supposed to know, and it is rather the Other who is to be educated, it is the Other who is better taught how to handle himself. When this Other is incoherent and torn apart, when he leaves the subject with no compass and no identification, it is a question of elaborating with the child a knowledge to hand, custom made, one that he can make use of. When the Other suffocates the subject, it is a question of working with the child to take a step away from the Other, so that the child can get his breath. In every case, the analyst is on the subject’s side…” (2)
To listen and to understand childhood as the subject supposed to know involves taking each child as a being who speaks, as a speaking being, even where he is rather spoken by the Other as infans, as symptom of this Other, but in the end a subject responsible for the desire and the jouissance that inhabit him, always out of control.
(Translated by Francine Danniau)
(1) Jacques Lacan, Autres Ecrits, Le Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 362.
(2) Jacques-Alain Miller, The Child and Knowledge, in Psychoanalytical Notebooks 24, 2012.