FILM_REVIEWS_A non-critique for a non-documentary: "història potencial de Francesc Tosquelles, Catalunya i la por" by Mireia Sallarès

Yesterday there were quite a few of us at the CCCB for the screening of "Història potencial de Francesc Tosquelles, Catalunya i la por" directed by Mireia Sallarès and Joana Masó as co-screenwriter. Mireia is a post-conceptual artist, Joana a philologist and writer of a beautiful book "Tosquelles, curar les institucions” that revolves around the psychiatrist's legacy.

A non-documentary by two non-filmmakers. It is therefore the presentation of a very singular object that, not because it escapes established aesthetic categories, lacks rigour or method. I'm not going to explain what it's about, I don't know if that's possible. I strongly invite you to see it.

Its originality lies in the fact that it is made in the form of what it tries to convey. In this way, the contents are subjugated to the forms, the statements to their enunciation. Therefore, what it shows, which it  does not say, is Francesc Tosquelles' saying. And this enunciation is at the service of operating an appropriation of his way of being in the world. Thus, rather than telling, he makes use of a transmission.

The film revolves around the fear of madness and circumscribes it to a place: Catalonia. The place provides the framework for a story, but not of an account of the facts, but of the potential story which, as such does not exist, is in the future. Mireia Sallarès tells us that potential history is a thesis she took from Ariella Azoulay. This non-documentary disrupts the classic idea of history, the one that is always written by the winners. It also disrupts and subverts psychiatry and its institutions, based on the work of Tosquelles.  It shows the presence of fear, but also the ways of combating it.

The film begins with an exquisite memory; Francesc narrates that as a young man he attended a football match in an asylum where the referee, the son of the director, whistled non-existent fouls to keep the madmen at a distance. There he discovered that psychiatrists were very afraid of madness. In this non-existent foul, the iron normality raises a wall as a defence, making madness a dangerous deficit that must be kept away from the world. This experience of fear will be an inaugural mark for the construction of everything he will undertake in life.

Two sides of fear are shown. There is the fear of the experience of the civil war, where nothing was of any use. It is the horror, the destruction. When we are immersed in war there is not even illness, because there is no subject. The asylum was a refuge, the trenches an antidote to neurosis. But there is also the vertigo side of fear. This vertigo pushes the subject into unknown terrain. It is the sign that it is necessary to cross certain thresholds in order to access desire.

This film, based on the idea of potential history, speaks to us of desire. Because desire, which is always unattainable, is what is ahead, what must come, what is in the future. Desire contains the yearnings of that which one wants to achieve. It is Tosquelles' desire that is reborn in the hands of these rescuers of failed experiences. And it is precisely this exercise that places him back at the starting point. 

Desire does not come with being, much less with eternity. Desire is potentiality because it is not, it does not consist, but it insists. Desire is a flash, a thrust that is produced thanks to a certain disengagement of the subject. Tosquelles abandons the destitution of the self, that mirage that differentiates us from the other and prevents us from entering into its otherness. That is why, to a certain extent, in this non-documentary, Tosquelles is neither myth nor hero, he is nobody, but rather he lends his person to embody a desire for social transformation that the director takes charge of. 

The film is a collage of voices that lend themselves to the proposal of reading the thought and the way of doing that inhabited the life of Francesc Tosquelles. But this reading exercise does not rely on the erudite lucubrations of experts in history, psychiatry, theology or sociology, but on the way in which each interviewee understands this legacy. Each one develops his contribution from the political subject that he is and the relationship he has with what he has been led to do in life. Thus, from the invitation to interpret Tosquelles, each voice contributes a piece to the collage of this potential history. The non-knowledge from which we start, this ignorance, establishes a central void that produces contributions that are biased, invented, imagined... and which, nonetheless, convey a truth.

The interventions of activists, prostitutes, poets, nuns, teachers, psychoanalysts, family members are combined and interspersed with texts that evoke the character in question. These disjointed fragments produce a kaleidoscopic image; they tell us about a man who lived through the civil war, and who ran the Saint Alban psychiatric hospital. The rules of the game there were in disarray. One can very well grasp Tosquelles's taste for dislocating the subject, for decomplexing the instituted knowledge, for always being a foreigner, and this, far from unleashing chaos and lack of control, was a driving force for the constant questioning of what was being done there. Francesc Tosquelles plays with the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century: the Catalan surrealism of the peasants , libertarian anarchism, word games, the material use of language... thinks with his hands, plays with art brut and, of course, practices psychoanalysis.

If potential history evokes the human desire that is always to come - without idealisations or hopes - it does not do so without showing that, paradoxically, it is also behind it, that which has always been pushing. The potentiality we seek was already in the struggles of those who came before us. The past, therefore, participates in that potential history, recovers the voice of the defeats and passes on a transmission.

But there is one more element for the alchemical operation of potential history to achieve its purpose, its vibration. It is a reading key that runs through the whole film. I am referring to the central status of shit, shit, failure. Because madness is summoned to incarnate all that we reject because it evokes in us the waste being that we are. For being that which comes to tear apart our narcissistic image, for being a witness to the primordial abandonment that constitutes us. Because the madman, when he looks at us, sees no one. Madness, Lacan said, is the most interesting thing about human beings, the problem is that there are people who suffer from it.

Art brut becomes a witness to this mutation. Because desire does not operate with our good image, but with that incurable and unspeakable thing that dwells in us; it is made of our shit. We can only suffer from this constitutive darkness and then we become ill, or we can transform it. The invitation is to make that shit a vital, collective, even amusing expression of the strange experience of being spoken, sexed and mortal beings.  

The four hours that brought us together in the auditorium of the CCCB defied the apathy, impotence and fear of the times in which we live. This encounter with Tosquelles, Mireia, Joana, Verónika, Marta, Éric and the audience produced a glimpse of the shaping of human desire. An invitation to look within ourselves for ways to resist the deadly drive of civilisation.

Irene Domínguez