Let us consider the mind as a structure. This structure is made out of localities (points) and relations (lines). This is then a topological representation of the mind where the experiential memories are relating to each other through the categories and relations of language, structuring the relationship with reality.
This would be such a representation :
Part of the structure is closed and rigidified by the process of integration to the sensorimotor as well as by the resistances. It is in fact for this reason that the resistances are difficult to find in psychoanalysis ; because of their assimilation to the inner structures of behaviour. That is why we use a very large definition of trauma as part of the ontogenic learning that would include all the slight traumas that often go unnoticed ; that are simply part of the sustained imprint and mark of the broad environment on the sensorimotor, as well as the moral events encountered by the subject.
The slight traumas as much as the large traumas create those points, those localities, significant memory imprints. They leave a mark that makes the territory of the subject coordinated, structured by familiar events that became part of their identities.
This is the topology of the mind.
We propose a modelling image, a reprensentation for the topology of the trauma : Take the crashing of an asteroid. You could identify two objects : one still, the land, that you would expect to be still, that you would anticipate that it stay ; and a mobile one, the asteroid, which you did not expect nor anticipated at this moment.
For the moment, they are two objects, distinct from each other, with clean identities of their own. Then there is the impact : it has happened eventually. But at this other moment, it is already something else, a third object, the crash. And in the crash, the two original objects merge together. Like plunging into water, the asteroid disappears and becomes the crash. And then after the crash, after the shockwave caused by but distinct from the impact, what only remains is : the crater. So it is a cycle of transformation. And a transfer of identity.
You don’t fear the asteroid when it has crashed. You fear the consequences of the impact. But with the impact you cannot work. You have to wait after the shockwave and then, work with the memory of an event you could even not remember the origin and cause of. People can witness the crater without remembering nor knowing what provoked it. Yet the land is hurt, fragilised, vibrates differently. At least it has changed the way we walk the land, the way we see it, identify it, relate to it, tell stories about it, legends… It creates a new territory for action.
Therefore you could draw the structure of the trauma as being a vast form separate from the point of impact which it did come from, but that was belonging to another identity. It is the meeting of the asteroid and the land in certain conditions that created the shock, and then the mark of the trauma ; which is another identity.
Only the impact is invariant whatever the objects, but you cannot relate to it because it is an action provoked by the meeting of two or more separate identities and entities. You cannot relate to something that is already a relation, but to the common object of the relation. Here, there is no object in-between and that is the shock, the direct shock and crashing of two objects for which there was no object in-between to separate and relate them. It was pure relation without object, and so it created a shock, a magnetic shock, that excluded everything else but the consciousless meeting. A deadly shock to survive from.
The shock is consciousless because there is no object. So there is a trauma afterwards, because you have to recreate meaning, relation, from a desert, a crater then, nothing. –
In fact, the result of the shock is the object, that is a trauma. Yet it has become so entangled with the rest of the form that structures the identity of the subject that one sole movement of the traumatic point would generate movement on the rest of the structure. And as the relations have rigidified in time, the movement from the trauma would create torsions. Pain.
Because the body tends to reinforce the wounded regions. A broken bone becomes harder after healing. Except that the particularity of some wounds is that they would heal more slowly and stay open. The reason for that is the rigidification of the structure around the wound.
The shock creates a state of stupefaction and rejection of the alien part cast on the identity of the subject. The moment of the impact creating the trauma stops time, makes a snap photograph of the moment that has been petrified. There is this moment of sideration of pain that fractures the former settings of time, the way we thought that we could still inhabit its notion.
Freud called it the dread1, that is something you were not prepared to face. It is a condensation point in the perception of time, a singularity (to borrow from physicist Roger Penrose). Then comes the anguish, that is the workings of trauma, almost in an expressionist way. It exacerbates the sense of the event. It is a bit like early XXth composer Arnold Schoenberg’s paintings.
There is an induced paranoia in trauma that is not much about the subject as it is about the topology itself. The curve of the trauma. The subject is merely making choices among possibilities offered by the context. The trauma is a fracture in the space and time occupied by the subject in the moral structure. And that is why it can be related by the subject to something outside of them eventually, like in psychosis. The wound becomes eventually something on them, like a mark on the skin.
As well, if I feel like my body is going to shatter in thousand pieces, isn’t that the mark of something alien on me ? If in the traumatic shock the outside object fuses with the inside of the identity, isn’t the monstruosity that the other has gotten so well on me that it cannot be separated from myself, always monstrated ?
If my face is burnt, my identity is changed, I am a manifestation of the trauma that is, in fact, a trauma for all, a trauma in History, a fracture in the transmitted narrative.
At the centenary of the end of World War I, we saw again these images of the « gueules cassées ». At the moment of the shock, the trauma did not exist yet. It started to exist when they realised what had become of their face. The image of who and what you are, more than physical pain, has to do with the trauma. Because it shuts ways down. It closes your life’s perspectives, narrows it critically and forces you to change what was planned for you to do. You have to make decisions and live, or not make decisions and spiritually die.
Therefore, the most important in trauma is topology. Because it is about what happens next, what is going to cure the trauma, what is going to become of the monster. The Elephant man is also such an example of trauma in and of society. It deforms society’s image. It creates a new landscape, a discordance.
Most people hide the trauma and suffer a great deal living in fear ; others decide to change the reality they are living with, demanding a dignity for it, even when facing the brutality of rejection. This is a choice we make or not. We live the trauma in different ways. Yet in the first impact, there was the only perspective of life or death.
In the end, the trauma only deals with living people.
Topology and untied points
Yet, all those traumatic points are attached to the sensorimotor reliability. They are responsive to the sensorimotricity of behaviour, and that is why the resistances are making the subject so confused. They become uncertain whether they are doing this because they want it or because of an uncontrolled impulse.
In fact, the resistance has meaning because of the trauma, because of the local context, but one resistance cannot lead us to one exact trauma. In Mathematics, you would call that a surjection : when an application from an ensemble F to one G gives for result f(x) = y in G, there are several possible arguments and origins as for the x in F.
Same thing in Thermodynamics, as reminded by Roger Penrose in The Road to Reality, for two systems of equivalent temperature connected together, it is almost impossible to predict which one would influence the other. You could not « retrodict » so easily the second law of Thermodynamics that states generally that the hotter will transfer its calorific energy to the colder. This way is predictable ; not the other.
As well, for one manifestation of a resistance in analysis, you would find an infinity of possibilities as for the trauma that generates it.
In order to come closer to it, you would have to separate the slight traumas entangled to it from the larger traumas. You would have to eliminate probabilities, even created as a fiction, in order to clear the visibility on the fundamental structure of the self, bound by language and representation.
Yet there is a very specific type of point that may be useful and come in handy in order to have more clarity on this structure. It is one we would call an untied point.
This untied point belongs entirely to the representation out of language. If we take Penrose’s idea of the boxes that would be used to mark out the general macroscopic movements and evolution of a chaotic system, this point is the particle getting out of all the boxes. It is the representation of the abstraction itself : abstraction from the structure. In fact, it allows us to explore and « visit » the end of the subject, beyond its boundaries.
There are moments, like those of shock creating the traumas, where the structure is cast away, forgotten, as we forget how to use it to recreate structure. At this moment, there is still a sensorimotor inscripion, unless the body ends up collapsing as well. But this inscription is expulsed from the structure and becomes untied.
It is literally a point floating in an abstract space without a feeling of gravity but its own inertia, in a rectilinear and uniform movement into the void.
We would represent it that way :
The relation is loose, as the ones that would reach a new point without yet a relation. Except that the relation here is abandoned. And the structure is cast away, turned useless. The subject gives away the structure to an elementary exploration of their own void.
In fact, they are merely getting back to the first paradox : the hand paradox, the fascination for inertia, the psychotic origins of the mind, belonging to an inert thing out of the self.
Why is it so important to consider this topology ? Because in analysis, we expect the subject to reconsider the organisation of their own self’s structure. To localise the large traumas from the slight traumas is supposed to help them making the wound cleared off from the rigidity induced by the flashed topology of the trauma around it. We only help them bear again the generation of new relations that would take place after the trauma has started scarring over enough to continue with flexibility, to support new relations.
It is important that the subject accept that they can get off of their self without losing it completely. That is why they may depend on the analyst a great deal, « to excess ». We may not suggest that they should practice this representation but we may ourselves be aware of that settings.
A life without language is possible. A life without the organisation of language does exist everyday in our living with trauma. The fact that we can artificially represent an untied point that we would attach our mind on to travel out of the structure into the void doesn’t mean that it does not happen naturally on a daily basis. Except that it is fragmented into the daily use of the mind, maintained over its structure in the habits of language.
However we can project that our own mind structure doesn’t entirely belong to us, and that is why it is so difficult to live with when it is ruled by the movings of the trauma.
Identity is necessarily fractured, angular. To begin with, when first born, there is only an untied locality ; that is the sensorimotor inscription. But then the paradoxical condition of the mind doubles it and creates a second untied locality that would take up from the other. The first one creates relations and gets attached. The other one loses itself among the structure. It is forgotten and disregarded. Nevertheless, it is the mirror of the mind.
Then if we manage to forget about and discart the structure one moment that is secured, to give way to this untied point that is precious, because it is the reminiscence of the prime distance to reality created by the mind, we would allow ourselves freedom, and the possibility to recover a soothing voice of our own.
The voice, our voice as well as the voices inside of us, reactivating our memory through language, is what comes out of us that is invisible, almost intangible, impalpable. To make identity stand, we make ourselves believe that the voice is only a part of a global image, that gets confused because of that.
If we make the subject accept that there are things that are inside of them but don’t belong to them – the trauma doesn’t belong to their doing but has a healing power of itself that only we hinder -, maybe we can reach the point where there don’t have to be so many resistances for so few alien traumas. To allow the subject to separate from their own structure as something quite natural and purely speculative, maybe we can help them separate from the traumas as well.
They would still be here, but they would not need that much of a resistance for protecting the structure of the subject from collapsing. This structure has often grown relations out of an impact in hurry and sideration. They still vibrate from the shock.
By taking the subject to their end, beyond the boundaries of structure, maybe they could realise this is, as well, a reliable object that could be used.
1In Beyond the pleasure principle (1922).
© Clémence Ortega Douville