Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Combining according to the laws of a closed order
I've recently been thinking a lot about families, and how they shape us. Not in the usual ways that people talk about that, but in how things get passed down in a really unconscious way. How what families talk about, or don't talk about, or the secrets they keep, or the habits they have, effect subsequent members of the family.
My mom says that my older brother has pretty much the exact same personality as our great-grandfather, who my brother never knew. In fact, my grandfather died several years before my brother was even born.
The French psychoanalyst and neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan says that everyone speaks in unconscious signifiers, which, as I understand it, are more than just words we say. They are words that sound like other words, said in place of what the person either can't really say, or doesn't know to. They are very common in instances of repression, or trauma, when an individual doesn't have a way to construct a narrative about their life. But aside from trauma or repression, everyone uses signifiers in their speech, because according to Lacan, even using language is traumatizing, because it will always be woefully incomplete (as a form of expression).
Thus, these same forms of expression, or non-expression get passed down, even in very unconscious or historical ways that can even skip generations. It's more than genetics; it's a way of understanding and being in the world. I don't think it's just families that do this, though, but families have the biggest influence on this for each person.
How is it that so much can be absorbed into each person throughout a lifetime and then expelled in so many other ways that are completely unconscious? How come so many families, through generation after generation, just can't seem to get it right? It's more than conditioning. It's their language, even in the way they talk about things when they're really talking about something else. Resentments, terrors, fears, hopes, desires. All of these things are embedded in our DNA in one way or another, whether we know it or not.
In more ways than one, we're always stuck with our families.