Report on the ICLO-NLS Seminar with Neus Carbonell

Report on the ICLO-NLS Special Interest Group

Seminar with Neus Carbonell


10th May 2014, Dublin



Saturday the 10th of May marked a special occasion in the inaugural year of the ICLO-NLS Special Interest Group for Child & Adolescent Lacanian Psychoanalysis. In all over fifty people attended the seminar entitled ‘The Knotting of Body and Language in Childhood’ by Neus Carbonell. The seminar was opened by ICLO’s Joanne Conway who has headed up the SIG in its first year. Joanne offered a brief introduction to the aims of the group and the career of Dr. Carbonell.


Carbonell began by referring to the particularities that the analyst working with children encounters. As these young subjects are often led to the analysts consulting room by the parent, or some other adult with a vested interest, it is so often the case that a demand emanates not from the child but from this other. A word of caution to this effect; the analyst must be guided not by a demand but by the desire inherent to the subject. As Freud stated, ‘we are simply listening to the subject’. There is no difference in the case of the child, the child is a subject in his/her own right in the full sense of the term.


So why do we speak of a knotting between the body and language asks Carbonell? In a certain way we can say that the body is a communicating vessel in childhood. By way of clinical examples Carbonell refers to the frequency in presentation of conditions such as hyperkinesias, the proliferation in the diagnosis of ADD and ADHD etc. In these circumstances, what the analyst encounters is a child who does not speak well. As the language skills improve the body begins to relax.


Arriving in this world as an organism the body is an inchoate of drives that are unbridled. A mastery of the body is neither simplistic nor is it ever guaranteed, rather it is through the process of language and the acquisition of signifiers that these drives become distilled. Accessing the symbolic renders the body into a system of representation and meaning. This takes time. As Lacan said, ‘the speaking being adores his body because he thinks he has it’. One is reminded of the phrase ‘the word is murder to the thing’ (das Ding) here, in terms of this symbolic rendering of the body. ‘Insuring a child’s survival involves introducing him into social discourse – the symbolic order’ (Lacan, 1960). Referring again to Lacan’s teaching, Carbonell notes how from the moment we are born we are ‘immersed in a bath of language’.


Jouissance is uniquely human and our experience of it is always singular. This knotting involves the Real of the body (body as jouissance) and meaning which is inherent to language. Initially another must speak for a baby’s needs. Illustrating this point Carbonell draws the distinction between mothers in the wild such as lionesses, and human mothers. Where the lioness acts naturally in raising her cub she is untrammelled by ‘a history’. The speaking being however is affected by a history that is etched in words, signifiers. The history has a consequence for the baby as he too will be affected by that history and how it has structured his whole genealogy. Carbonell pays particular attention to how the mother’s words and every element in the care she provides for her baby sets the scene for this knotting of body and language. In a tone reminiscent of Winnicott Carbonell posits the psychical relationship as the fundamental discourse between subject and Other.


What is this knot then? A knot according to Carbonell is a symptom. A means of satisfaction in its classical origin. It goes beyond the pleasure principle as it refers to a drive which continuously strives for satisfaction. In its oral form we see how satisfaction is gained not only by eating but also by not eating. Anorexia nervosa exemplifies the jouissance of the drive where the subject not only refuses to eat but eats ‘no-thing’. Carbonell again high-lights how there is no such thing as a good object of satisfaction: there is no object that corresponds to the satisfaction of the drive. Symptoms therefore are never contingent. ‘Language infects the body’ and the drive can never fully be satisfied. ‘Eating is not a need but an attempt at satisfaction of the oral drive’. Childhood is the time in which the drive is constructed.


Referring to the case of Little Hans, Carbonell points out how the child’s symptom represents the excruciation of having too much of his mummy to himself. There is an excess in satisfaction here. There is an interpretation, on the part of Hans’, of his mother’s desire. Hans becomes trapped, ensnared by her desire. His phobia offers a way out. The bodily experience of this toxic relationship was a jouissance for which the phobia was a symptomatic response. What is pivotal in all of this is the child’s knowledge of what brought him into the world. ‘The symptom reveals a knowledge of a desire that brought him into being’ states Carbonell. Each speaking being must invent his way with enjoyment [jouissance] which is fundamentally bodily enjoyment. For Hans the phobia represents a particular type of knotting.


So what then is a body? It’s an ‘enjoying thing’. It is a substance. The body in psychoanalysis is a fundamental entity in reality, but what sustains reality is jouissance. Lacan, reworking the Cartesian cogito, posits the mental substance or consciousness as a corollary of that which enjoys; the unconscious! Hans enjoys too much. ‘Human beings enjoy their bodies and suffer their bodies’.


Relating to the body is evident even in how we speak, either speaking too much and/or not speaking at all. Pleasure – Pain – Jouissance. Carbonell asserts that the baby enters language through satisfaction not meaning. The baby babbles and enjoys this experience. Again, a resonance of the Winnicottian oeuvre, where play must first be enjoyed before it can be in any way functional, language must first be enjoyed before it becomes useful as a system of meaning. It is not through meaning but through jouissance that the human passes into language.


Carbonell provided a case vignette from her own practice of a young boy with autism, who began the process of language acquisition within the space opened up by his encounter with her. The child chose a book from the shelf which, over the course of several months began to function as a medium of communication. Carbonell stresses the importance of intonation and recalled how she would read in a musical fashion to this young subject. This was to become an important aspect of how language, first enjoyed, would then become meaningful. Eventually, he began to read the words himself. ‘Meaning only comes after the jouis-sense (enjoyed-meaning).


Carbonell spoke of how the Other, in bringing meaning, regulates the jouissance of the body through castration. A little must be lost for this process to succeed. Regulation means introducing a metaphor. The oral drive in feeding is then bound up with being loved.


Finally Carbonell spoke of the richness and depth of Lacan’s paper on the mirror stage. The infant comes to enjoy the specular image as a result of a uniqueness of perspective. He sees himself from a point exterior to himself and from where he is seen by the other. There is a jouissance that is inherent to the gaze in this moment. ‘The function of the ‘I’ (imaginary) – eye (the real of the body) requires an extraction of jouissance of the gaze which is underpinned by castration’ says Carbonell. A rather apt example of this point is demonstrated by another child she worked with, whose fascination with a cartoon exemplified the plasticity of this experience whereby these cartoon characters were continuously annihilated before returning to a fully formed state. This allowed for an illustration of the fragmented body and its promise of wholeness in the mirror.


Carbonell clearly and succinctly articulated how ‘as soon as the baby identifies with the body, the libidinal dynamism begins to calm down’. Conditions such as hyperactivity disorders make us interrogate the effects of difficulties in this process. It is language that underpins this whole process, ‘the knotting of body and language in childhood’.     


As part of the afternoon session a number of clinical cases were presented for discussion. This proved to be hugely enlightening for all and once again Carbonell demonstrated a clinical deftness and a wisdom that proved inspiring to everyone in attendance. 


The Special Interest Group of ICLO-NLS expresses sincere thanks to Dr. Carbonell for coming to speak. In addition due regard must also be paid to the enormous efforts of all who contributed and, in particular, a sincere thank you to Joanne Conway for her tireless work throughout the year.




Stephen McCoy

Participant member of the SIG



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