A Review by Philip Dravers
"Between man and love,
There is woman.
Between man and woman
There is a world.
Between man and the world
There is a wall".1
So goes the poem by Antoine Tudal, "Paris in the Year 2000", quoted by Lacan in the Écrits; but, as for Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, sometimes the wall (an ever-ready metaphor for what separates and keeps people apart) is very palpably there, between the couple, right from the start of their relationship.
Perhaps, this is why Lacan later coined the term 'Amur',2 condensing the word for love, 'amour', and for wall, 'mur', to emphasise the barrier that language forms between couples — including all the determining factors of a person's history and social environment, and all the impasses and impossibilities that its structure contains.
And so a lover's discourse begins:
"Thou Wall, O Wall, O sweet and lovely Wall,
Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eye."3
A Syrian Love Story is a documentary filmed over 5 years by Sean McAllister, charting the relationship of a couple, Amer and Raghda, who first met through a chink in just such a wall. However, unlike the wall between Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream, this particular wall lay between cells in one of the infamous prisons of the Syrian regime, where Raghda (Amer's future wife) was being tortured.
"A freshly beaten, bloodied and swollen face, just visible through a tiny hole in his cell wall. This was how Amer first caught sight of Raghda".4
In what is referred to, appropriately enough, as the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ tradition of British documentary filmmaking, McAllister’s film picks up the thread of their relationship some years after their initial encounter, when Raghda has been sent to prison a second time for writing a political novel based on the circumstances in which they first met. It then follows the couple and their young family, with extraordinary candour and openness, and a surprising lightness of touch, through the turmoil and tragedy unfolding in Syria, through their political struggle and their exile, first in Lebanon, and then in Paris and elsewhere in France (where they were granted refugee status by the French Government), to the final break-up of their relationship – when elements of the wall that had been there from the start reassert themselves in ways that can no longer be accommodated within the couple.
"It is the tragic portrait of a disintegrating marriage; the story of two people whose love has been hammered by fate, history and each other."5
"A microcosm of a global crisis."6
The film was broadcast on the BBC at the end of September,7 and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this year. It will shortly be competing for another such award at the Copenhagen Documentary film festival, CPX: DOX and it also recently featured in an episode of “Outlook” on the BBC’s World Service.8
It is not Paris in the year 2000, as imagined by Antoine Tudal in the 1950s, but the reality of a globalised world, a globalised Paris, of the 21st century and, if you get the chance, it is a must-see for the upcoming Journées of the ECF, to be held in Paris on the 14th-15th of November 2015, on the theme: Faire-Couple.
Yet its interest for the psychoanalytic community does not stop there, in what it means to form a couple in the 21st century amid the turbulence and the fallout of global politics, or even with the fact that it serves as a poignant reminder of the way it mobilised its forces in 2011 to help free the Syrian psychoanalyst Rafah Nached from her detention in Duma. For as Jacques-Alain Miller said in establishing the theme for the next Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis, in his presentation "The Unconscious and the Speaking Body":
"Amur means above all that the wall of language has to be pierced through anew each time in order to grasp more tightly, let's not say the real, but rather what we do in our analytic practice."9
So it's love then – and transference to a cause – that brings two people together in a situation in which at least one of them will find themselves, as Lacan put it, speaking to walls.10
1 Jacques Lacan, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (London/New York, Routledge, 2006), p. 239.
2 Lacan uses the pun in different ways in the course of his work. See, for example, Jacques Lacan, Encore,trans. Bruce Fink (London/New York: Norton, 1998), p. 5: “There are traces on l’amur”.
3 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, scene 1.
4 Kate O'Sullivan, “Meet the Syrian revolutionaries who fell in love through a prison wall”, The Telegraph. 25/09/2015.
5 Peter Bradshaw, “A Syrian Love Story – Review, a searing insight into a marriage under fire”, The Guardian. 17/09/2015. http://www.theguardian.com/
6 Mark Kermode, “A Syrian Love Story – a microcosm of a global crisis”, The Guardian. 20/09/2015.
7 Available on the BBC iplayer at the time of writing.
8 Available on the BBC iplayer Radio, (20 minutes) here.
9 Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”,, Hurly-Burly 12 (2015), p. 120. Also available online at: http://www.wapol.org
10 Cf. Jacques Lacan, Je Parle Aux Murs, Paris, Seuil, 2011.
The following link is to the Director's website. The picture shows Amer and his son Bob speaking to Raghda in jail.
A Syrian Love Story (2015) Filmed over 5 years by Sean McAllister, 'A Syrian Love Story' charts the journey to freedom in the West By Raghda, Amer, and their family. SEANMCALLISTER.COM
Love relationships, are often a mixture of illusion and reality, a nest of fantasies
entangled with dissatisfactions.
What are people’s main concerns about love?
Not being loved as we would like to, feeling of loneliness, the need to feel whole again with oneself? Being stuck in old patterns? Ignoring what is happening to me? Losing something and I don't know exactly what this is?
A desire for something new and exciting?
Like dancing the “Tango”, love is an improvised dance where a couple moves from an open to a closed embrace. Love and hate are entangled like bodies when they move. A close relationship between happiness and despair. Getting closer, moving away, sometimes painfully. Other times, being able to look at it with humour and affection.
Mario: I'm overflowing with emotions, are you with someone else?
Will you ever return to me? :
Mario believes in the myth of the “other half”, “the soul mate”, where they are united as ONE.
His wife has asked for an open relationship, he is fearful and suggests... let's go to the psychoanalyst!
Between Mafalda1, Rhymes and Love.
Mafalda says: “ Let's meet and I will introduce you to my friends” Miguelito thinks to himself: “I thought I was THE friend. But I am just one of them!”
In the tangle of love, exclusivity, possession, jealousy, resignation, there is tension and sometimes pain.
Maria says: I want only a moment of passion. I want to experience other relationships. You want me all to yourself. I want an open relationship. I want to be free to follow my own desires. You make me feel guilty.”
Remember Mafalda?: “ That tenants, it all started with that voice that said “that is wrong !”
Mafalda's mother: “Which tenant?”
Mafalda answered: “The tenant that lives inside of us”
Maria discovers that love is not a like “Cinderella” story, it's no fairy tale. Not how others portrayed it, not as she had imagined it to be, not like the stories her aunt told her.
She wants to listen to her own desires, as well as feel the love for her husband. Her love rhymes with dissatisfaction and pain.
Mafalda says: “ Be careful! Because when we go out seeking adventure we can get lost on the way back. Ah?...”
Jose: “I want an open marriage. You can have sex with whomever you want, only when you are away.”
Anna: “You can have other relationships, as long as I remain your number one.”
As with all love relationships, there is an underlying need for contracts, for rules to gain the certainty of love, to be able to make it through the anxiety, the dissatisfaction and the pain that the momentary remoteness of separation brings.
Is it an impossible dream?
The voice of Mafalda: “ Welcome a good breeze of fresh air.
Pity the smell of Naftalina mothballs”
On the long journey of love, negotiations and renegotiations will result in new, and not so new, agreements and disagreements. However, this time the desires of one, are not secret any more to the other.
It results in a need for new inventions, different ways of being together are discovered, and new bonds are made.
What will love rhyme with tomorrow? How will one view define love tomorrow?
Susanita says: “ First I will marry, I will be a Lady, I will have children, I will buy a house, a car, jewellery, I will have grandchildren. Do you like my life?
A pre-planned future? Looking for exits to go through life avoiding dissatisfactions?
Mafalda says: “ That is not life, it is an obstacle course !”
1 Joaquin Salvador Lavado Tejon, QUINO, argentinian cartoonist , creator of “Mafalda”. “Mafalda”, Quino, Ed. Lumen.
In around 2008 a particular kind of pleasure was newly identified. At that time and subsequently various internet groups, Youtube channels, and blogs sprang up to discuss the sensation, to induce it, to name this response to a variety of calls or triggers which had previously passed unidentified. The sensation is described as an affirmative, intimate, inner, tingly, pleasurable feeling often experienced within the head, scalp, back or the peripheries of the body. The experience involves paying close attention to cases and combinations of a diverse range of stimuli: visual; tactile; olfactory; purely imaginary; and most frequently the auditory. Role play, with benignly inconsequential themes, is common. Not everyone is susceptible to the experience, and whilst some stimuli work for many, no trigger works for all adherents, and although the experience is described as particular and distinct, descriptions of the phenomenon remain imprecise. Most who experience the sensation say that they had experienced something like it in passing prior to it being named for them, but few seem to have had identified it as a distinct phenomenon.
The experience has been called attention induced head orgasm, attention induced euphoria, and attention induced observation euphoria, as well as the tingles, brain massage, head tingle, brain tingle, spine tingle, or brain orgasm.
The acronymic neologism which has stuck is ASMR - autonomous sensory meridian response.
The phenomenon is autonomous in so far as it is contained, but also is particular to each, and is polymorphous and perverse - the triggers and responses of each are non-identical to those of others, and we may conject that it is not a universal or natural phenomenon.
It is Sensory because of the emphatic quality of the process of sensing in creating the phenomenon, in making a notable experience of it. It may be for instance that the emphatic aspect of a recording of a sound makes it more effective as a trigger than the original sound, and role play emphasises this artifice. The containing structure of the category of ASMR organises such an emphatic attention. The distinctly artificial triggers of ASMR have a sense of standing for themselves, shorn of any meanings which might stand out other than that of their framing by ASMR, but with a sense of being a call, of calling forth a response, they have the quality of semblants.
Meridian it is said is used in place of the term orgasm, since many adherents of ASMR object in general that their experience is not sexual, and particularly that the pleasure is different than that of a sexual orgasm. Meridian evokes the notional pathways for the flow of vital bodily energy particular to Chinese medicine or acupuncture, or the astronomical concept of a peak, zenith, or high point. It may or may not be fair to note that there seems to be a denegation of the sexual dimension of ASMR which points in the direction of just such a dimension. Indeed ASMR is only rarely combined with explicitly sexual motifs. In this way perhaps ASMR maintains its discreteness as a phenomenon, involving the libidinal drive, but without the messy, perhaps less comfortably contained significations of sex.
The fourth term, Response, reminds us that there is a relation - there was something of the drives, that was already experienced in an intimate, unnamed, undefined and poorly contained way that as ASMR is given form such that it can be interpolated as discreet invocation through which the drive can be safely channelled in what can be understood as a response, the semblants involved in ASMR seem to relate to the invocatory drive. They are, it seems, semblants of the objet petit a of the voice - those partial objects of the body, of the invocatory drive.
Beyond what we might read from the component words of the acronym, ASMR functions as a proper name, told to the Other. In discussions about ASMR among its adherents there is a frequent concern with the question of what it really is, and a range of answers running from the religious to scientific, with hopes of underpinning it, giving it meaning, or ascribing use. There are high hopes among some that neuroscience can give them the assurance that they want, the confirmation that this phenomenon which is not experienced by everyone, can be recognised by science as distinct and really existing. This matter of formulating and underpinning ASMR seems important to its effectiveness as a phenomenon in so far as its circumscription as a subject of attention is part of what produces its pleasurable experience and in so doing sublimating that which had felt not contained: a disembodied trace of an unbounded invocation, a remainder of voice, which may threaten an encounter with a real, but which in the activity named ASMR is organised, is sublimated as a new pleasure.