08 July 2007

Reply to Pere Beà’s review of Yolanda Gampel’s book Ces parents qui vivent à travers moi [Those parents who live through me]

By Janine Puget

I have had the opportunity of reading Pere Beà’s review of Yolanda Gampel’s book Ces parents qui vivent à travers moi. Not only did I ask myself a lot of questions about the psyche of psychoanalysts, but I was also particularly concerned about the issue of whether it is possible for a psychoanalyst to discuss ideas that he/she does not share. His/her reading, as often happens, is undoubtedly full of prejudices.

Dr. Beà begins by wondering if he has the right to review this book, given that he is not Jewish. But, since he reviews the book, why does he ask himself if he has the right? Is this the consequence of a double negation? If so, it says a lot about his position towards this book. If he reviews the book, it is because he thinks he has the right to do so; but, if he doubts this, it means that, by doing so, he wishes to demolish someone using a reaction formation. It is, however, a curious way of proceeding. He may have taken this book not as a psychoanalytic text claiming to explore more deeply questions that still remain obscure for many of us, but as a Jewish book – which, if so, would betray an attitude imbued with racist prejudice on his part. This is why it would seem that Dr Beà thinks that this book could only have been written by a Jewish woman, on account of her active involvement with the holocaust. He further adds, which is all the more curious, that Gampel undoubtedly wrote this book because she felt the need to express herself as a Jewish person. A need to express herself, well, basically, why not, given that each culture activates specific interests in us, which, in Freud’s case, for instance, led him to write certain texts in the light of political events. I am thinking here of the text he wrote in reply to Einstein, ‘Why War?’, but also of many others. We are all subjects of our time, of our particular culture, of the world, something that is not always conceptualised by psychoanalysts due to a lack of theory.

Moreover, I wonder if anyone has ever written a book which did not arise from the need to express oneself, that is, to have something to say intellectually and affectively. It is true that Gampel’s book is concerned with a certain group of patients who have traits in common, which is usually the case when one wants to penetrate more deeply into clinical and theoretical questions. For example, if a book treats of autism, it is likely that the majority of the clinical situations to which it refers will be related to the specific questions raised by these sorts of problems. This in no way detracts from its value.

It seems to me that Beà was unable to appreciate what this book is really about, focusing exclusively on the fact that Y. Gampel is Jewish, without being able to get beyond that. Or rather, that this became an obstacle for his psychoanalytic understanding.

In my view, Gampel’s book speaks to us about those zones of our lives in which breaches, cracks, silences and things left unsaid have opened up for which, in one way or another, we have as psychoanalysts to find other solutions. Examples of this are sufficiently plentiful in our everyday lives. Furthermore, it is not just any spaces of our lives which were passed over in silence, but those that were the cause of violent cuts, momentary or prolonged anaesthesias, containing specific pains and belonging to the world of the inadmissible. It is not a matter of the unthinkable, as I believed at one time but, as I have just said, of that which the psyche cannot accept, given that what is involved are categories which might be conceived of as not belonging to the human order. It is a question of sufferings which need to be elaborated with an other, a valid interlocutor, and to be recognised socially. And also of sufferings to which psychoanalysis has not yet given a specific place, for they are often reduced to a certain way of conceiving traumas.

I recall that, after Hiroshima, Hans Jonas was led to reconsider the question of responsibility and to create the concept of the Principle of Responsibility, whereby he proposed that, in future, man would have to take into account his capacity to destroy nature. A tragic event enabled him to think about an important question in a different way. This is what we should be able to do after events of major dimensions occur.

Nevertheless, at a certain moment, Beà seems to realise that what Gampel proposes might be useful not only for thinking about the psychic problems caused by the holocaust, but also for those which arise from other social traumas such as wars, or the fate of women who have been raped, of children who have been abused, etc. I would add that, since Beà lives in Spain, he also needs to give thought to the consequences of Francoism which, unfortunately, have been given very little consideration by psychoanalysts. I know that today a few colleagues, precisely in Barcelona, have begun to reflect on these questions and have turned to us for an exchange concerning methodological questions.

Dr. Beà considers that this book is a book of testimony and, while in a way this might be true, which does not detract from its scientific value in any way, it also must be said that it is thanks to these testimonies that we have access to the question of transgenerational transmission, which has acquired specific qualities through them. And it has also enabled Gampel to begin work on an important and original concept, namely, radioactive transmission. The latter breaks, as it were, with what is known as linear transmission, which informs most of the texts which deal with these questions. There is still much to do in the way of thinking about how we are all unconscious bearers of apparently remote events.

It is also clear that psychoanalysts have difficulty in listening to texts which espouse a theoretical frame of reference that they do not share and, in this particular case, Beà shows that he has little affinity or liking for Winnicott. I do not ask him to have affinity with him, but I certainly do ask him to respect the ideas of an other. But given that he does not approve of them, he permits himself to say that the technique employed by Gampel does not have much legitimacy. This kind of argument is unfortunately frequent during discussions between psychoanalysts, who have difficulty listening to what others say and consider that the true psychoanalysis is the one they practice themselves.

This is certainly why Beà considers that this book is more interesting if one regards it as the testimony of a Jewish activist rather than as that of a clinician. Unfortunately this is where Beà closes the door on himself which could lead him to investigate what is involved in social belonging and the subjectivity which flows from it.

Gampel’s book is concerned with certain effects of traumatic experiences due to the holocaust, and with how that which has remained in the collective and individual memory appears today in diverse disguises that have been created to get through everyday life. They are often cramped or uncomfortable disguises, either too large or too small, which nonetheless have to be worn if one is to be able to inhabit the so-called normal world. These disguises end up being indistinguishable from the bodies of the characters who wear them, until the coincidence of an encounter, a reading, a piece of news or a son who conducts himself strangely, etc., expose the disguises for what they are. I would add that a psychoanalyst who is capable of asking himself questions and discovering new worlds is able to be in contact with the present of his/her patients. It will be at this moment that the skin-Ego (Anzieu), a harmful disguise, will tear apart and lose its hitherto protective function. But is it possible to get rid of it by oneself when it has protected one for so long from death, from unbearable pain, from the presence of scenes that the psyche has difficulty facing up to?

Gampel has been able to help her patients give up their disguises; and she has also helped those who, directly or indirectly, have survived extreme situations, to find a way out of their internal ghetto. And she has done this as a first class clinician, for she has also been able to avoid adopting a disguise as a psychoanalyst imbued with her theory, and to show herself as a person/psychoanalyst who is able to listen to her patients. She also knows that we are not only subjects of our family history, but that we are marked by, and bearers of, distant effects which deserve to be thought through. Can we know how the Iraq war affects us and orients our lives, activating specific anxieties? Does the uncertainty prevailing today arise from our first object-relations or from the current world? (Puget, 1990).

It should be said that my comments are intended to open up a discussion concerning how psychoanalysts read certain texts, and also to throw a different light on Gampel’s book. Discussions between us are very useful.


Translated from the French by Andrew Weller, Paris


Anzieu Didier, (1965). Le Moi-peau. Paris : Ed. Dunod.

Jonas, Hans (1998). Le principe responsabilité. Paris : Champs Flamarion.

Puget, Janine. Qué difícil es pensar. Incertidumbre y perplejidad. Revista Psicoanálisis APdeBA, Dolor Social, May 2002. pp. 129-146.

Puget, J. Kaës R. et al. (1989). Violence d'Etat et Psychanalyse. Paris: Dunod. Psychoanalysis amid the unthinkable: essays on the Argentinian experience. Free Ass., 1990. In Spanish : "Violencia de Estado y Psicoanálisis. Centro Editor, Buenos Aires,1991. In Italian: "Violenza di stato e psicoanalisi". Ed. Gnocchi, 1994.

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