If you’ve been keeping up with the controversy over Sophie Robert’s film, The Wall, a study of the relationship between French psychoanalysis and autism, you will definitely enjoy reading Maarten Boudry’s analysis of the situation on the Rationally Speaking blog.
I have already posted about the central issues in the controversy and about the appalling decision to suppress the film in France.
Boudry has read through the court’s decision and offers his views on whether or not Robert has, by her editing, defamed the reputations of these renowned psychoanalysts by distorting their subtle thought processes.
In spite of Robert’s editing work, anyone who bothers to sit through the whole documentary will see a prime example of self-incrimination, with all sorts of bizarre pronouncements that are really self-explanatory, and that derive from a long psychoanalytic tradition of blaming autism on flawed relationships with parents (Bruno Bettelheim, Jacques Lacan, Françoise Dolto). For example, we learn that fathers need to intervene in the mother-child relationship in order to prevent their sexual fusion; that all mothers experience a period of “maternal madness” after pregnancy; that every mother-child relationship is intrinsically incestuous; that the autistic child “refuses” to enter into the world of language because it is “sick of language”; that some fathers are impotent and pathogenic; that one function of the placenta is to mediate between the murderous desires of mother and fetus during pregnancy (!); and that the psychological damage of father-daughter incest is not much to worry about.
Not all of those exotic views are shared by all the interviewed analysts, of course. Indeed, if you consult two psychoanalysts on any given subject, you usually end up with three different opinions. The analysts in The Wall have one thing in common, though: they revel in the same baseless and gratuitous psychoanalytic method, and they display the same cavalier disregard for careful scientific theorizing about the human mind.
The other charges against Sophie Robert are simply ridiculous. The film is accused of being “polemic,” as if this was a thought crime in itself. A film maker has the right to express his or her views on a subject, and to take sides if (s)he feels morally obliged to do so. Would any sensible person be able to make a documentary about homeopathy, astrology or Scientology and manage to remain studiously evenhanded about the subject matter? The polemic tone of the film is perfectly justified in light of the outrageous claims made by the Lacanian psychoanalysts themselves. And even if Robert had seriously misrepresented the views of some of her interviewees, the latter could have written a formal response instead of dragging a young filmmaker into court and demanding exorbitant compensation fees (€ 300,000 in total).