I’d like to share the notes I wrote about a fascinating French book:
De la Guerre des Boutons à Harry Pottter by Jean-Marie Gauthier and Roger Moukakou.
In this book, two psychiatrists connect the novel of Louis Pergaud, La Guerre des boutons (English: “War of the Buttons”) written in 1906 with the best seller of Joanne K Rowling (1997-), Harry Potter. The authors present a century of evolution in the teenagers’ life: their space/time structure, their relationship to a group of peers, and their appropriation of the land. The authors analyze the progression from developing concrete skills (close to the ones of adults) to an imaginary virtual world. Based on these two influential novels, a repository for this evolution, they illustrate their clinical analysis with real life scenarios of teenagers.
You can read on La Guerre des Boutons flyer: “Il y a des guerres qui durent des années, celle-ci doit se terminer avant le diner” which stands for “There are wars that last for years, this one needs to be over before diner”. For the ones who do not know this French novel, I am posting some screenshots from a movie interpretation of La Guerre des boutons made in 1962 by Yves Robert.
An excerpt from the movie can be found ->here<-
Notes from: De la Guerre des Boutons à Harry Pottter by Jean-Marie Gauthier and Roger Moukakou.
The authors observed that the ones who usually have difficulties to talk and show some reserve towards socialization, tends to spend a long period of time on internet for remote communication. With the computer, the relationship between distance and proximity, direct communication, corporeal and indirect, mediated is transformed. It is as if these teenagers privilege a communication in which the body is absent. The authors propose that this transformation induces difficulties in sharing and exchanging across generations and difficulties in the position that parents take place in the growth of their children.
The relationship to the body
- Rhythm of lives is different. We neglect the sun’s motion in our lives! Before the industrial revolution, a rhythmic life was imposed due to the constraints of working in the field, outside! Now we eat at unstable hours, find abnormal quantity of food anytime of the day, forgetting that meals can have a social function. The social function of meals is replaced by their nutritional function.
- The physical constraints related to transportation have been transformed. We walk less, thus transforming our relationship to time and space as well as our relationship to the body: feelings, feeling tired, cold/heat or being well.
At the time of “la guerre des boutons”, children were progressively learning how to build toys, hunting equipment, using the wheelbarrow under the grand father’s supervision! Now we can be a champion in Karate without moving a finger! The measure of each gesture (cause and effect) goes through an iterative process usually explored by gathering in locations & spaces.
Play is key for social & individual development, a way to measure personal skills in comparison to others at the same time than measuring one’s body, a necessary step imposed by the life as an adult.
Urban concentration has reduced the children’s possibility to gather outside. The space for play and collective experience is disappearing. Not only that but the parents themselves lost their everyday corporeal connection, their craftsmanship and their personal space. These transformations impact our ability to measure the consequences of our actions; this can explain a come back of the magical thought in a world where the relationship between causes and effects is more and more uncertain. Not only the quantity of available land has changed but also its quality has decreased. Before one could close his house with doors and windows, now it is completely impossible. The house walls not only did become porous, but the family remains in communication with the entire world through telecommunication, TV, internet, mobile phone… thus interrupting the paternal order of things!
Distinguishing between the inside and the outside world is harder (this relationship becomes more and more ambiguous). Distinguishing between private, individual, internal and external realities becomes very hard.
Children have a predisposition to form groups in which learning by imitation is very important. This helps children leave the exclusive parental relationship to enter a more complex form of socialization: creating an identity and functional skills. In La Guerre des Boutons one practices his skills by crating weapons for hunting while in Harry Potter to compete with one another the children use magical formulas.
In psychoanalysis, authors such as Leroi-Gourhan, Winnicott, Mendal, Montagner, Gibbs show the importance of a psychic construction that needs to connect to the outside world, necessarily going through gesture and object manipulation. Playing without using the body, without manipulating objects is very different.
Creating relationships between children is a considerable advantage as it allows children to realize early on the human’s fundamental destiny: a social being (De Waal, F. 2005). It also allows kids to find modes of learning outside of the parental relationship. The authors remark that we need to think of this child’s pleasure to group and learn in a group and reevaluate the quality of learning that can happen within the group. It is not impossible that behind this pleasure of the group, kids can rediscover values of solidarity probably essential to our humanity and that were still very present at the beginning of industrialization but that are disappearing.
With La Guerre des Boutons one would constitute a group that opposes itself to another one, but today individuals are pushed towards being identical. Solidarity as a value is the most compromised, while individuation is assimilated to the general identical. Consumer society can only live if it destroys values of sharing and solidarity benefiting individualization …
Time and space
Important for rational thinking, time and space are constituted and function via intuition. These intuitive forms of representation are constructed progressively while the child uses his corporeal skills. Corporeal exercise has a direct influence on the essential cognitive functions (Gibs, Gauthier, Montagner).
With a computer, one can be in contact with the entire world without having moved from the parent’s house. The computer is the perfect compromise between the teenager’s necessity to go outside to become independent and the necessity to keep the protection and security of the parent’s house.
While in the 20th century, kids were riskily gathering outside, creating groups, risking their identity confronting others, now kids can just stay home while contacting the external world, protected by their parents. According to the Oedipian complex, teenagers have to develop their personal lives outside of the family environment [Winnicott & Mendel], the computer seem to be the perfect compromise as children avoid the risks of the foreign while being closely connected to this outside world. The teenagers can also escape their fears related to their own body in comparison to the severe criticisms induced by co-located peers! The narcissistic image remains idealized. The teenagers will not quit their bedrooms and will remain dependent on their parents, because this context does not offer a way to move physically away from the family house.
Communication technologies modified our relationship to space and time and this cannot be left without consequences on the development of thoughts. Instead of confronting peers using a verbal exchange, communication is now guided with icons that one needs to only “clic” in order to be projected in the other side of the globe. The relationship to speech in which the exchange is contrary to the magical icon formula, is a relationship of time.
This modification of the general relationship to space/time can explain the modification of our potential to take time to share thoughts. Language is more and more stereotypical and univocal (close to the marketing discourse) which appears in the political speech today (Chomsky, 1986, 1998).
The dialog with the computer is a series of keywords and reveal the transformation of the structure and use of language in our occidental society. Harry Potter is truly a hero of our time!
To separate themselves from their parents, children need to be a minimum aggressive to distant themselves. At the same time, children need to identify to their parents.
However, parents are questioning their role models and hesitate to propose them as references to their children. So the entire reproduction of behavior and models is questioned. Speed, technological progress and the fact that children possess higher skills in tech fields such as IT, all contributed to this change in the parental role. Harry Potter and his adventures confront us to tendencies and forces, that are modified both in the parental and social space.
The hunting land and the exploration space are restricted. It is now rather difficult to find resources outside of the parental home, parental home from which one of the two parent is usually absent. Grand parents are usually distant geographically. Living conditions have changed so much that there is an unbalanced between our human potentials and the environment in which we evolve. This can explain largely the developmental difficulties of the children. The authors question how socially we can address the educational needs of children considering that we cannot go back in time!
The conditions for education have changed because parents have changed. It happened before, but this time it happened extremely rapidly and the educational methods have not evolved as much. Harry Potter raises interesting questions on how the individual maturation of a teenager is a complex and uncertain process, because of the uncertainties that rest on the transmission mechanism across generations.
Most probably the teenagers need to rediscover the joy of living in a group, the values of solidarity and the belonging to a group of peers. Wouldn’t that be what these novels of youth are demanding from adults?