An Other Who Is Too Good

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When asked how his new school was, he replied immediately: “It is very, very, big!” This was far from being an objective statement about the place itself. On the other hand, it said a lot about his subjective experience. In his first days at our specialist institution, he busily explored every corner of the space, got involved in all the activities, made himself known to all the professionals as well as to all the children of various ages who were in the institution. In this way, he enlarged his subjective space.

His mistaken assessment of the size of the place we had put at his disposal was nothing other than the observation of a paradox: with children who demonstrate certain types of difficulties in passing through the common social bond, the good intentions of the social Other – its sincere desire to include and integrate the child – can actually produce a segregation much more radical than the one that expels children from school (which was still common practice with children considered as misfits a few years ago).

This is because, in striving to make the subject welcome, the institution ends up condemning the subject to isolation within the very place where he or she is being looked after. It does this by constantly checking up on the child – a process always taken to extremes – on everything he does and on all his interactions with his peers.

This is how things were for this nine-year-old subject. During the last year he spent in primary school, he was in a small room and accompanied at all times by a single adult whose job title, in his language, is ‘watchman’ – the one who watches over the child as one watches over a sick person.

In our education system, with its ideals of inclusion and integration, there is a claim to equality of opportunity for all children. It is all about ‘all are equal’, which undoubtedly contains a strong element of good faith. This, as Lacan proposes, far from lessening the burden of the child’s fault, makes it even more unforgivable.[1]

For children who do not succeed in being sufficiently like the others, this well-intentioned ideal of inclusion – and above all the demands that underpin it – turns into a terrible and invasive imperative. It becomes a perfect breeding ground for phobias and passages to the act as unique ways of dealing with the anguish that this Other produces, with its excessive good intentions. The Other, at first too good, becomes a source of malice and persecution.

Our society expects subjects to submit themselves – and if possible, in silence – to the identifications so generously offered to them. This is the realm of what Lacan has called “the generalised child,” the child that has lost its singularity in order to be reduced to the rank of an object like the others: classified, studied, and so on. As a consequence, this implies “the entry of a whole world onto the path of segregation”,[2] because segregation means converting a subject into an object included in a programme. Even if the programme wants to be good!

Translated by Janet Haney and John Haney

[1] Lacan, J., “Science and Truth”, Écrits, Norton, New York/London, 2006, p. 729.

[2] Lacan, J., “Address on Child Psychoses”, Hurly-Burly, No. 8, 2012, p. 276.

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