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When Urgency Comes from the Past


François Ansermet 


Urgency implicates time. There is an urgency of the present, exemplified by the trauma that irrupts and freezes time. Then there is that of the future, revealed by the oracle that says what will come to pass. Along with this is the urgency to master it, just as Oedipus had wanted to escape the oracle’s prediction – and, as we know, thinking he had fled it, he accomplished it. But there is also an urgency coming from the past: that of genetic prediction, which, contrary to the oracle, says what there was, what was transmitted, and what will come to pass. The past is no longer behind us: it comes up ahead of us, hence the terror – a “panic point” [point de panique] [1] – from which, paradoxically, we can escape less and less as biotechnological developments progress. [2]
Faced with the possibilities of genetic prediction, is there an urgency to know or rather not to know? Are those who could be a carrier for Huntington’s chorea going to take the test for it? The same question goes for those at risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colon cancer for whom there is a determination of family risk.
In a broader sense, now that it is accessible, are we going to sequence our genome to know which past are we carrying within ourselves which threatens our future? Do we really want to know? Or are we going to choose to not know?
We find these same questions with regard to the link – possible today – between procreation and prediction. Are we going to do a genetic assessment before conceiving? A preimplantation diagnosis? A prenatal evaluation, and subsequently face the dilemma of terminating the pregnancy?
Prediction has established itself as a perspective of mastery, revealing at the same time the extent to which one does not control anything. As an eight-year-old child, blind from a recessive genetic disease, told me, “You know, genetics is pure chance.” Why is it upon him that the disease falls? Why were his parents carriers? Since when did these genes manifest in the generations? Why did his parents choose each other without knowing anything about it? Only unanswered questions.
That an individual could be touched by a prediction from the past, does not prejudice anything deductible about the subject. This is especially so since any prediction also reveals the infinity of what cannot be predicted. In any case, as Lacan says, “One is always responsible for one’s position as subject.” [3] How can one be made responsible for one’s genome? This is the real question, beyond the series of whys. Everything cannot be reduced to its past. What is at stake is that the origin may replay itself in a future to be kept open. This is the wager of psychoanalysis in the face of the urgency that comes from the past; such is the urgency of the analytic act beyond any prediction.

Translated by Arunava Banerjee



1Lacan J., Le Séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, 1958-1959, La Martinière/Champ Freudien, Paris 2013, p. 108.

2Ansermet F, Giacobino A. “Paniques biotechnologiques”, La cause du désir, Navarin, Paris, 2016, pp. 39, 55-62.

Lacan J., “Science and Truth”, in Écrits, W.W. Norton, New York/London, 2002, p. 729. 



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