“First we are written and then we write.” These words resound in my head daily. Helene Cixous, the speaker of those words, was immediately given special and spacial status in my lived experience. Her words speaking to the many dynamic forces that seemingly make up my lived experience including past, present and some yet to be birthed influences.
Her words help me understand the paradox and tensions in which I/we continually live; that of our essential solitude and our inescapable connection to the world, the continual uncertainty we must create from and our responsibility to do so. They inspire me to recognise that only I can be responsible for what I make of my life as opposed to holding others responsible. This can sometimes shower me with a sense of liberation and at other times the opposite feeling of hopelessness.
Discovering a way to navigate our existence and relationships, amongst the many prevailing tensions can be hard sometimes. It might often feel difficult to not externalise, to blame others as responsible for what is happening or happened. There is an obvious morass of disparity, privilege and injustice everywhere. We can feel filled up by tragedy, dread and despair and often feel unable to loosen the grip of injustice, loss and fear and welcome uncertainty, ambiguity and difference.
Existential therapy talks of facticity, that which we are born and thrown into and which influences and shapes us and our surroundings. It is much of how we textually create our encounters with ourselves and the world. Some can be heavy forces, which we often feel powerless to when responding. Others we can utilise creatively to conduct and perhaps flow in the rhythm in which we move; cultivating the soil we traverse through more easily.
Merleau-ponty (1964, p. 116) posits,
“We must abandon the fundamental prejudice according to which the psyche is that which is accessible only to myself and cannot be seen from outside …My consciousness is turned primarily toward the world, turned towards things; it is above all a relation to the world.”
Sartre (2003) also tells us about this relationship to the world, amongst many other things, when he discusses how the gaze of the other objectifies us in a position, a role to perform, calling us to be for the other. The gaze of the other interrupts our inherent freedom, consequently we might deprive ourselves of our existence as a being-for-itself and instead learn to insincerely self-identify as a being-in-itself. Sartre argues that if we look to the other to give us definition we are living in bad faith. By not bearing the responsibility of what we are we are denying our freedom.
Sartre (1961) conveys,
“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.”
Sartre highlights a paradox; we are discovered by the encounter with Other but it is us who creates our meaning.
These paradoxes, contradictions and tensions are complex and not linear. There is a continual impermanence, uncertainty, negotiation and relationship revealed and expressed via affects and intensities, within and without. We are neither fixed nor congruent but always in passage and in motion.
We are called to create, enchant and become captivated. To remember the “heavy burden of the growing soul” (Elliot, 1964) and perhaps keep cultivating the yet unknown soil in which we breathe. To cease neither enrapturing and traversing the other nor becoming captivated and transformed by them. Perhaps, as Cixous writes, “… to find in myself the possibility of the unexpected.” (p.39).
Part two of this blog can be found here.
To enquire about psychotherapy sessions with Susanna, please contact her here, or to view our full clinical team, please click here. Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Susanna Petitpierre –
- Ciscoux, H. (1992). On writing. In coming to writing and other essays. London: Harvard University Press (pp. 1- 58).
- Eliot. T.S. (1964) Animula. In Collected Poems 1909-1962 by T. S. Eliot, copyright,
- 1936, by Harcourt, Brace & World Inc.
- Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) The child’s relations with others. In: Cobb, William, translator; Merleau-Ponty, M., editor. The primacy of perception. Evanston: Northwestern University Press; 1964.
- Sartre, Jean-Paul (1961) Preface to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”. In Fanon, Frantz (1925–1961). The wretched of the earth. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 9780140224542. OCLC 12480619.
- Sartre, Jean-Paul (2003). Being and Nothingness. Hazel E. Barnes (trans.). London: Routledge.