No or yay to life!

If it wasn't already plain enough for all of us to see, pretty much anything we think or do has got a 'no' at its centre. Nothing else than the whole of who we are as a free individual depends on our handling of this one tiny, two-letter word 'no'.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word no as “a noun, a determiner or an adverb such that may be used in signs and notices to show that something is not allowed, is used to give negative answers or to vote against a suggestion”. In geographical terms we usually say 'no!' to erect a barrier or limit between us and an intruding other: Do not trespass!”. No stops the others wanting to break-in and make use of what we own. In this, transgression describes the desire that a no generates, and desire is crucial in defending ourselves against the others at times overwhelming demands. For ultimately, no has 'danger' as a horizon. Danger of what?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby. Baffled pediatricians and doctors admit to being unable to attribute any definite causes to such a tragic turn of events. For child psychoanalysts only one interpretation is possible: the baby responded to his being thrown in the world with a no! How can a no have such an impact on life?

From a psychoanalytical point of view a no is generally regarded as being part of a vital process of separation. Indeed, biological life develops starting with a single cell dividing itself into two other cells as part of a process of separation. Looked at in reverse, virus contaminate cells is a process we may describe as one of alienation, suggesting as it does that the organism is being forced to integrate something alien into it. And this is usually how Lacanian psychoanalysts dare to think about the effect of language upon human beings – not being that much different in kind from a foreign body forcing its way into the organism with the view to controlling it!

As it happens, this very specific process of alienation by language may sometimes be 'successfully' defended against, although at an enormous cost. Since the theoretical work by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan it is now widely accepted that psychosis is the manifest result of yet another fatal decision taken by the subject early on in his life: a refusal to being alienated by language. For the German philosopher Martin Heidegger “language is the house of being” and so, having refused categorically to surrender himself to the other as language, the psychotic subject is forever unable to rely on a primary yes from which he can say no.

In other words, if no substantial idea of our self, or 'soul', is properly incarnated as a result of our having accepted language at some specific time in our past, then no yes will be securely enough anchored from which we can successfully defend with a no. Whether internal in the form of overwhelmingly powerful physiological currents traversing through his body, or external in the shape of societal rules being imposed upon him, the psychotic individual is unable to defend himself against the relentless assaults of the desiring other.

Could this explain why, forever indebted to language for having been saved from a tragic fate, most people tend to spend the rest of their lives abstaining themselves from truly saying no?

Nowadays the significance of no seems all the more important to restore. A genuine and authentic no - and not a systematic refusal which would amount to yet another kind of yes - is a protective barrier which automatically creates the necessary desire we need to live a more fulfilling life amongst ourselves. Indeed, no is a measure of the distance between us and the other in what makes us uniquely alive. It produces something new from a dialectical process against that which is established and consequently half dead already. Is this not now the time we say a bit more yes to no and a little less yes to yes?

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Written by Stephane Preteux - English/French MBACP Accr. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist

After graduating in Applied Mathematics from the university of Paris (X) in France, followed by a brief incursion in film 3D special effects in Soho (UK) I certified in Transactional Analysis from the Metanoia Institute and received a diploma in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy from WPF in London. I then graduated with a Master of Science (MSc) in Counselling and Psychotherapy from Roehampton universit… Read more

Written by Stephane Preteux - English/French MBACP Accr. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist

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