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Number 12: Summer 2016

Be Deported…and Bear Witness! Psychoanalysing, Bearing Witness: A Double Bind?

Anne-Lise Stern

It is expected from us, it is demanded of us to bear witness ‘before it is too late’. What kind of knowledge is thus hoped for, what kind of confession made on our death beds, what family secret? (Pertaining to the family)? What will be the outcome of all this collecting of survivors’ oral testimonies on the part of people who are a little or much too psy-trained or psy-informed? I’m afraid the outcome will be soundbites, available for the use, the jouissance of the generations to come (and even now…). For no pedagogy of horror can fail to induce the production of jouissance. To the three impossible professions pointed out by Freud—education, government, psychoanalysis—a fourth one must then perhaps be added: namely, the art of bearing witness. In France, there are very few former deportees who have become psychoanalysts. Or else they do not make themselves known as such. There are a few more who were in internment and in ghettos while they were children. Among Lacanians, I think I am the only one. In the midst of my fellow deportees as well, my position is quite unique: unlike most, upon my return, I was reunited with both of my parents who had not been deported and were alive and who were Freudian enough to be able to hear everything—absolutely everything— I had to tell. My re-emergence from this, from the camps, from having told them everything, took long years of psychoanalysis. But this—along with my good fortune at the camp itself, the relatively small scale of my deportation compared to others—is also what elicited my becoming an analyst in spite/because of the camp. The inability to talk about it, as a result of not being heard, is something I experienced much later and, sadly, mostly amid the psychoanalytic community. All this needed to be specified, for any elaboration originating from the outside is often offensive to other fellow deportees. What is elaborated on the basis of our flesh is generally unbearable to us, whether in history, in psychoanalysis, in philosophy, in politics and even sometimes in the various groupings of survivors. Inevitably, “it” (ça) is never conveyed. Shoah freed me from the sense of helplessness—and of obscenity sometimes—stemming from having to bear witness from the perspective of my own little history. On the contrary, it endowed me with the right to do so, paradoxically: for this film, in which one sees no horror, no archival footage, is a representation of the backdrop against which all our individual histories are inscribed, that over-there (là-bas)that we can see again, that we can feel again when we talk, one by one.

© Editions du Seuil 2004
Collection La Librairie du XXIème siècle, sous la direction de Maurice Olende

Translated from the French by Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz (2012)