Overcoming his past

boris Cyrulnik

C ' was beautiful as a cliché: the heat wave, the orange sunset and Caribbean music. Everything was there, even the warmth of welcome, and the kindness of Nancy Pascal-Clodion (the organizer of the symposium "Medicine and Resilience") who, as soon as I had landed, invited me to drink the inevitable punch on the not pretty harbor of Fort-de-France. From the very first glass, Guillaume Suréna, a Martinican psychoanalyst, told us of his pride in having Caribbean origins and never "being a slave". This sentence immediately inspired me with two ideas.

First idea. Fortunately I'm not West Indian because the punch is so good and fresh and cheerful that I could never resist!

Second idea. Why, this return of the past? In what way is it right to justify the present by the representation of its past? I misspoke. It is not the return of the past, but the return to the past that characterizes this intellectual attitude. It is a question of finding in the images, in the stories some pieces of truth in order to represent the beginning of its history, even before its birth. What a strange happiness! The simple fact of knowing that there are fishermen, bandits, free men and brave women at the beginning gives a delicious sense of self.

In the evening, around the punch, we spoke only of slavery! They were wise, these Antilleans, they could compare the footprint of Rochelais in Haiti, very different from the violence in Santo Domingo, the seduction of Martinicans, getaways of blacks in Guiana. Meanwhile, we compare the punches. Do not think it's cynical, it happened like that, the friendliest in the world! And that exacerbated the questions that I was asking myself: "Why are they going to look in their past for these buried pains, why such a pleasure to evoke these horrors?"

Because the evocation of the past is not the return of the past. It is his representation, today, in a new human context. When one is a slave in the eighteenth century, that one is torn from his village by a raid of armed men, deported to an unknown country, one can only adapt or die. But when today, two centuries later, we want to know who we were before we were born, we will search in our past for the history of those who are at the origin of ourselves, and we discover then a exciting horror. "Horror" because in the real world this mass crime is staggering. How could well-educated families from Nantes or Bordeaux have been able to organize such a commercial crime so effectively? And "exciting" because this slavery is no longer a suffering in the real, it is a stir provoked by the representation of the real.

But this work of memory, which gives meaning to the present and makes it possible to campaign "so that it never comes back", risks at the same time to make us prisoners of the past. Unless a hint of personal freedom allows us to ask ourselves, as Jean-Paul Sartre did: "What will you do with what we have done to you?"

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