Psychopolitics and Bewilderment: The Facialization of Identity
Illustration from The Origins and Use of the Royston Cave, Joseph Beldam, 1884
by Claudia Landolfi
I lost a few goddesses while moving south to north,
and also some gods while moving east to west.
I let several stars go out for good, they can’t be traced.
An island or two sank on me, they’re lost at sea.
I’m not even sure exactly where I left my claws,
who’s got my fur coat, who’s living in my shell.
My siblings died the day I left for dry land
and only one small bone recalls that anniversary in me.
I’ve shed my skin, squandered vertebrae and legs,
taken leave of my senses time and again.
I’ve long since closed my third eye to all that,
washed my fins of it and shrugged my branches.
Gone, lost, scattered to the four winds. It still surprises me
how little now remains, one first person sing, temporarily
declined in human form, just now making such a fuss
about a blue umbrella left yesterday on a bus.
— “A speech at the lost and found”, Could Have, by Wisława Szymborska, 1972
In “A speech at the lost and found” eminent polish poet Wisława Szymborska depicted the loss of an umbrella as a metaphor of the loss of awareness and of the difficulty to produce a public discourse which can be related to the psychodrama that occurs to people in the contemporary world. The connection between things, people and words, which produces a sense of life, has been totally disrupted, and thus people have become disoriented. This lack of meaning has been faced by Slavoj Žižek who analyzed the function of media discourses (and of cinema) into the reparation of this existential condition of loss by reconstructing the meanings and the connections, and providing a new imaginary. Such imaginary, rebuilt by media, produces passive subjects who are not able to achieve a psychological level of critical elaboration about what they see and receive into the ‘cave’ in which they live, or in other words, the projection of a capitalist identity which they desire to imitate. Peter Sloterdijk theorized the issue of the passivity of people who are not able to affirm a strong identity and only consume the images produced by the dominant media. Sloterdijk claimed the need of the return of tiumè, the Homeric rage from The Iliad, which is the source of the conflicts in politics and of affirmation of the identity.
This article is focused on authors from post-communist Europe, where in recent years a psychoanalytic approach to the psychic involvement of people in the public discourse has stressed the absence of identity – represented through metaphor – about the passivity of subjects confronted with the passivity of the objects.
The aftermath of a violent act or after a sharp change of political horizons is also a crisis of imagination and language. The rupture of certainties in everyday life corresponds to the break of meanings and of discourses. The rest is silence. After violence, the first question which arises is: is it still possible to speak, to say something? As happens after every laceration, what lies in tatters runs to shelter under the umbrella of words, word-images whose meaning is gone and everything is to be reinvented. They are the connections between words that keep the language, and create the foundations for new buildings. What seems to be so prevalent is the rhetorical power of icons – figurative language – over the possibility of questioning the existing and giving answers to it. Although changing and fleeting, it is the only basis from which to start another path. Fragmented words and the mythic telling of the absence – or even the absence of nostalgia – reappear as a fragile guidance in the re-understanding of plural and contradictory forms of the political world today. This is especially the case where internal conflicts have overturned a common sense of ‘individuals’ to perceive themselves as part of something, as a moment of a broader discourse, and practice with it in memberships, through different ways of living together.
When we talk of the ‘Soviet bloc’, it seems like a long time has passed. As if the problematic nature of that historical phenomenon had dissolved. And yet the consequences of the explosion continue to act on the effects of other processes – large and small – on a political and economic global scale. From the neighboring Balkans, from which migration flows ceaselessly roam from country to country pressing at the limits, to the paths of death from the Mediterranean sea, upsetting the social composition of countries. There are many questions about forms of coexistence, social and institutional cohesion, too often taken for granted by the Europeans. In fact, migrant flows from the east supports labor sectors in a consistent and often tacit manner. The hidden presence here is the intermediator between the refusal and the sectorialization-ghettoization.
The aftermath of communism toppled in its exact opposite, at least compared to the basic intentions, the chalking of the great Russia and its power survived as support of the liberal right-wing European Union, the former communist countries crossed by waves of neoliberal broken identities and political subjects in search of an Author, spells of the doomsday for millions of people: a complex and dramatic scenario in which you can see, however, a signal of processing, taking the distances towards such a ‘huge’ history, from individual points of view that cross several fields as bundles of acting and thinking.
Western experiments of overcoming of old structures, in the name of globalization and supra-national sovereignty, imitated by countries where these ideas have been in a long incubation and gestation, are causing, in a sort of hetero-genesis, political projects of national sovereignty, as outbreaks on turf, on which any discourse over a ‘minimum claim’ to universality is shifted and is refused. Such narrow identity reappears even if it seemed to be the residue of a modernity that he could not find a place into late-modern era, virtual and accelerated, intransigent for a happy ending in complete satisfaction, and this just at the exact moment in which the laces that held in check the economy on a global scale (governmental, legal, social) are skipped, ushering in unprecedented territorial and political reconfigurations.
But this is just a story, or rather, it is only part of a story, as we can tell ourselves: there is still everything to say, to tell all of those involved. How do we perceive the singularity in the post-Communist steam?
In other words, how do we overthrow the imagination of liberal-democratic countries with respect to their ‘other’ (cast away as such even in their internal), to listen to the own-language – or what remains of it – of the countries ex-orbiting from the hegemonic Russian center? A minority language and stuttering, which is now just beginning to develop itself and to formulate hypotheses outwards texture and surface, as well beyond the intense and proud iconicity of the period of the regime? A speech at the ‘lost and found’?
Maybe by just taking part, taking on a part as its own, becoming partisans (Mouffe, 2005) we can regain a position that allows the recovery of speech: this implies concealment, disguise, the game ahead of time, immersing ourselves in the ravines, for example in Sloterdijk’s ‘underground’ (2006). Welcoming his scenic and theatrical metaphors, some authors will act like persons (Sloterdijk, Szymborska, Žižek): to speak of the places un/explored: the tunnel, a ‘lost and found’, the sea, the sky gods. Listen to these voices also means a journey, from south to north, Albania to Poland and Germany, from east to west, like an aster, like a destiny.
A psychodrama (and not just a psycholinguistics: a psychomanagement of the motions of the virtual and cybernetic plan) thought from the call of Sloterdijk, it’s what we are trying to collect here, to think of the events involving these countries as a great ‘psychopolitical issue’ of which we will discuss the subject and, at the same time, its possibilities.
On the Loss
Lost and found: an umbrella, the gods, the anger, the subject and its Other, the attention, the existing symbolic order, the antagonist.
An umbrella on a train (Szymborska, 2004). A poor object, which adapts to its circumstances, which is spoken in the language of everyday life, one that has a meaning, a use due by the cause-and-effect connection (pluie-parapluie), that we can bring with ease, into the dimension of a time made of forecasts, foreboding of small certainties, projects; an object the result of an artisan layered over the centuries and in the spaces of the world, done by other hands and handed down, perfected. Something for shelter, consists of the link between different lines in balance (open to the outside and then again collected at the center). The very act of forgetting it on a train it does mean it won’t be handled any more, it won’t open up any more, which no longer performs its protective function, a ‘second heaven’, roof, or who no longer has a relationship with the owner: the object loses sense and it goes without saying, elsewhere, in a world of other objects untied. ‘The firmament is no more’ cried Artaud. It is a loss, a fact uneconomical, wasteful, which occurs apparently without a reason or – at least – it is not ‘seen it’, it’s understandable. What happens to the old owner? Will never be the same, cannot shelter from the rain, will become amphibian, a cold-blooded animal with no questions on his future.
This, in part, is the voice on her floating world crafted by Szymborska, a Polish intensive world crossed by currents, flows and alienating foreigners who left little behind it (“nothing I can testify to that garbage, old stuff, peels, paper, crumbs, chips, shavings, shards, scrap, junk “). On the contrary, rather, it has upset the same spatial-temporal perception of its inhabitants. A voice not being captured from aphasia, even if strongly broken, but as a train passes through the tunnel, which at times reminds us Durenmatt’s tunnel (Durenmatt,1952) as the underground criticized by Sloterdijk (Sloterdijk , 2006) but that is not easily avoidable, since you speak of imaginary and psychopolitics which are possible only in the cave or in the foundations of the city (Zambrano, 1967).
In this context it can be read even the loss of the gods, which occurred on a road that has some precise coordinates in space, which is also the time spent in travel from south to north, from east to west (and not the opposite), in a movement of translation-betrayal of known territories which becomes more and more something else, and in this journey, the leftovers of this arduous task linguistics remain dispersed and scattered. The translation is impossible and requires the oversight of the previous sense, toward the new that, however, betrays every expectation.
Sloterdijk also narrates the event of the ‘death of God’ as an opening, a crack in the ground of communism, beloved heir of messianism (Taubes, 1947), the second Catholicism, spiritual translation of God’s kingdom idea: Communism as an earthly agency of the divine functions, including the universal judgment. As recalled, in fact, there are many similarities with the ecclesia pressa, also despised and persecuted, which has a propaganda animated by zeal for the faith and gloomy spirit of destruction. Once again, however, the betrayal: Communism becomes spectral, betrays the led threatening inherent in the revolution.
The dispersion of the wrath in the middle-age. On a psycho level, assuming Sloterdijk’s theories, the anger has been lost, the engine power of the human being, which is also broken up, and not accumulated, dispersed, lacking collection points in heaven and on earth with global perspective. Nothing really starts because we have lost the “righteous anger of the people.” Marat the agitator that stirs waves of anger for the creation of a new society, it seems, has been incarnated only into the eternal icon of Bin Laden – the mediatic spectre[i] that draws upon himself the paranoid reflections of his opponents.
Nowadays, no one teaches that the Odyssey is the story of hatred (odiussomai: hate). It is an odyssey: it tells a blatant and seemingly endless, excessive and foolish, story of where we challenge the capacity of human survival – beyond good and evil. The odyssey is always caused by hatred and is crossed by it. In front of the continuous crashing of boats with desperate escape into the Mediterranean Sea where desperate fugitives find death in the hope of reaching Italy, and then from there, go further, there is nothing of ‘fatal’. It is the odyssey of unfortunate Africans driven by hatred from side to side like the waves. The waves of hatred as those of the sea tragically sign the earth and everything is forgotten. As in the most notorious tragedies, then, there are commanders who hate, guiding floating vessels equipped with full of contemporary slaves. It would be good to return at the meaning of the odyssey to understand that hatred is not finished: it accumulates in different places, without a country, in no man’s land as the seas.
Here the problem is the possibility of a revolutionary hatred, not only a destructive one but also a constructive one. In Žižek (1989, 2001), a revolutionary subject moved by hatred seems not to be at stake. The new character of anger is mediatic aggression: Žižek takes up the notion of inter-passivity and fold it, adapting it to what happens today in cyberspace. The anger was lost and dispersed, chopped into many small forms of aggression that flow through the media, establishing new rules in the psychodrama show. The belief, or enjoy the suffering through the suffering of others while you watch on television is a new approach to aggression. This is what happens when Western multiculturalist watched the spectacle of Bosnian violence on television. The networking of the world through the media then disperses the forces. Returning to the demand by Sloterdijk: it is only a not organized weakness? If you are unable to organize the forces, the psychic energies and the ethnic and subcultural history took over the local buildings ‘us Vs them’, or the escape in the media images of violence, to provide a momentary satisfaction.
Loss of the subject; the Other as a ghost. In sign of the loss, we encounter in the lost and found. Žižek descends into the depths of the tracks by Lacan. He recognizes that something happens. As you go down, you lose something, as in the myth of the seven veils: the first Lacan, in fact, you can hear the sounds of the struggle for intersubjective recognition and love, mediated and supported by an object (reduced to insignificant symbol in itself) in which intersect the wishes of the people involved in the relationship. In the last Lacan, the object that mediates the relationship (the object small a) – that is ‘something’ that is in the subject rather than the subject itself, what I imagine that the Other (fascinated by me) sees in me – disappears. It is no longer the small ‘object a’ to act as a mediator between my desire and the desire of the Other; it is rather the desire of the Other itself to act as a mediator. Here, too, the shadows appear, and the more disturbing is that of the identity of the subject, phantasmal identity: the object which the Other sees in me is nothing more than a ghost of his desire. To exorcise the mourning of discovery, Žižek takes refuge in a cave, in a movie theater, where you can enjoy inter-passively (including him) of the shadows cast. The subject lost and decentralized, the object that wanders elsewhere on a train-cinema, literally “laugh and cry through the others.” As a memory of what was lost, presents himself in the ‘single person’: “It still surprises me how little now remains, one first person sing, temporarily declined in human form.” (Szymborska)
Continuing with the classification of mental losses, there is still something else that collapses: the new scarce resource to discover in the depths of singular being is its ability to focus on the things and events, on itself. Loss of attention, as a basic assumption for interactivity, interest, involvement, stimuli-response, the ability to focus on an event, a position and hold it in an era that seems to accept any situation with indifference, the missing points of collection for a stable interest and the compass to define priorities of attention. Loss-dispersion, activity-passivity, disorientation: these are uneconomical gestures that the economy tries to recapture, to re-enter into the production cycle. The information economy is struggling to manage the flow of interplanetary communication: the production of meaning seems to happen exactly as in the case of the production of an object. You take an intelligence unit, a data, you transform it into information that can change our perception of the world, it creates the value of information in the form of a message.
In the information age this cycle seems to be in question: the surplus of information poses enormous difficulties to the process of value creation and the messages do not seem to reach anyone, since the attention of the subject is limited. In addition, in cyberspace, there are no divisions in cities, nations, organizations and society, but there are in audiences, entourages and communities, whose “boundaries” and “membership” take on a much more nuanced shape. Languages are complicated, the same possibility of mutual recognition and identification, but also conflict and political assumptions, are saturated. Even Žižek and Sloterdijk, in the end, attach to the lack of management (Žižek: of the interactivity), (Sloterdijk: the τιμή feelings), a waste that does not allow you to maximize the available resources in view of an end ‘higher’ so that you live fitting in the wake of a government-mesh more and more narrow. So the marketing, advertising, new rhetoric, now fully entered at the communication level political, economic and social, are set to become ever more important. In the era of attention, advertising in cyberspace probably not takes place only in the role of “creative” but, to paraphrase Chuck Martin, that of “creative combinations without borders” will be a great challenge to reorganize the attention, and so communication is ‘effective’, in view of redefinitions of political subjects. If we think of Italy, last year, the public favored a political movement which has been able to manage the most popular blog on the web (Movimento 5 stelle), capturing the attention of an impressive number of supporters.
Does this have anything to do with the way in which individuals orient themselves and acting in the world, with their political demands, with psychic states which aggregates the look of terrible tragedies which happen, or the slow decay of entire countries?
The perception of loss, the mournful song of the order, which runs through the plans, has the strength to play a new order but it is not in the easy and immediate reversal (weak / strong, etc.) that can be glimpsed an innovative line constituent over the political (as in Lévy, 1994): Deleuze and Guattari (Deleuze and Guattari,1980), who strongly and critically argued with the power apparatuses which tend to the introjection of the law of the loss, pointed out that it is precisely in modern technological forms of ‘liberation’ of thought and subjectivity that lurks the danger (the media, internet). One is to communicate, another is to inform. The order of the communication does not guarantee the creation of the new reply, but the order has already been said like a mantra that imprisons the automatic subjectivity. Drunkenness in European and post-communist neoliberal financial bubbles…
The symbolic order. The disaster, the loss of reality, is the “secret” revealed, the accessible fantasy, the experience of the internal states of the subject; is precisely what happens in totalitarian regimes that directly manipulate the obscene impulses of the subject, avoiding the mediation autonomous and rational ego. There is no sublimation, there is no symbolic order if you cannot summon an absence, a lack, a void, if the Thing is absent rather than present, hence the psychotic collapse characteristic of the Twentieth Century. In economics, the excess of things, the bombardment of new products to be consumed with the consequent production of piles of garbage, open to an experience that threatens to be real, in fact, it is already realized. The symbolic order that provides definitive identification of the subject vanishes. The element of fantasy, at the community level, it is the law that night is the background to daylight, the public, acting as glue. What holds a community together is not the identification with the public law that regulates the daily life, but the identification with a specific form of transgression of the law, suspension of the law (in psychoanalytic terms of jouissance). Beneath the liberal, civilized, open surface, there is another world of brutal power relations, unwritten rules, humiliating rituals. It is a substrate of obscene fantasy through which you can enjoy.
Existence lost itself by hunting dreams. Yet Sloterdijk asks to what remains of the Eastern bloc. To coming out, to give up the ghosts, the shadows, the ghosts, the metaphor of the subsoil, its incubation times of future unhappy, the atomic bunker, to dissociate themselves from a dormant waiting for the day of activation, from the depths of society, from the cellars of one of its new version, renewed, classless.
It also invites you to climb on the stage of this psychodrama of the same deconstruction, as long as you do not dive hermeneutically in texts and then leave ‘everything as it is’. Deconstruction is also a spectrum, weakened in its threatening ability to undermine the foundations of the institutions, to take the mask iridescent ambiguity: with caution calls attention to the fragility and ambiguity of the structures apparently more solid; shows the blurring of binary oppositions that are supposed to be more robust; makes it obvious self-contradictions of the discourse more coherent. This mask is akin, at this point, with the American mass culture, which also pledged not to touch the existing one. The existing it disappears in the imploration of the dream of a worse world.
So far it was a game, but the game of the parts is only possible provided you have the right theatrical masks: there is the capitalist, beyond the communist, then the priest and his powerful economy, then the oppressed. It may happen that it creates a lot of confusion: the characters jump, exchange and mingle, but they always have the opportunity to put on a face. But what happens if it falls on its face? Falls to the ground, you lose, do you not find yourself further, did you forget it somewhere? Countries which were once highly centralized through communist economies, in which the desires of the subjects worked in the production of an imaginary bigger and bigger, more and more far-fetched and, sometimes going well beyond the grotesque, they find time to keep their balance on financial boards which apparently everyone participates, as in a lottery, magnetically attracted by a sort of fate, from a story that ‘runs’, incredibly. Albanian capitalists who invest in financial goods, Croat capitalists that open glittering casinos, Polish governments that approve neoliberal policies: nothing has happened, it all happened. And you cannot say ‘the wrath of the oppressed will stimulate the joy in the multitude’, because this presupposes continuity, a sense, but also a willingness to change and there is not, because it translates into another. It’s a question of translatability of erotic impulses (desire, want to have, want to annexation) in money, but also of guilt in monetary debts, in this very idea of ‘truth’. Instead, for the advent of a trans-capitalistic economy are excess essential gestures, which are committed to the future, blasting the law of money equivalence, anticipating the debt-default mechanism. In other words, it is the search for the imbalance in – projected future – through which you recognize an injured party finding freedom.
The imbalance also means difference, risking even a collision of bias that is clouded, unseen but not vanished, recovering a face as long as you do not take it for granted, or not closed into static categories. The more the world loses measures, the more it becomes disproportionate and vast, global, much smaller and fragmented become his stories. Little stories for little partisans.
The antagonist. In this constellation of scenes, in the multiverse inter-paranoids, where are the antagonists? Are they still possible? What place has got the resentment, anger’s brother driven by τιμή that stirs the riots? Or do ‘other’ cultures manage to be regional sources of democracy, a project of democratic universalism, like in Sen (Sen, 2011)? To what extent?
For Sloterdijk there is a thread that unites intelligence and resentment in the so-called ‘movement of reproach’ (post-colonialism, feminism, socialism). The question that arises here, and we will endeavor to collect, if it can still be useful the rebuke (assuming that it is this) by instances of theoretical and social conflict rooted in the late-modern politician. The answer he gives is that the claim moved by wrongs, even when it comes to respectable causes, should be cut. Otherwise we have a return to destructive patterns. In return, we should work for a ‘healthy’ psychopolitics, detoxified by antagonisms and conflicts, which are references to the founding principles of liberal thought: a return to Locke clarifies ideas at all on what matters, namely the rights to life, liberty, and property. In short, it is a ‘hygienic’ program to free the spirit of resentment, recovering an ambition without revenge. At stake is a meritocracy in an inter-cultural and trans-cultural nexus, in a moral balance with an anti-authoritarian conscience aware of norms and of the inalienable rights of the person. A change of emphasis from the instincts of appropriation to the virtue of giving could make the room, if not vanish, to every ‘reproach’. It is a training program for all purposes, of civilization, in the context of a culture of rationality, to maintain balance in relations strength to strength, nothing more, no ideal synthesis from above, avoiding unnecessary battles.
We deduce that with the speech about the “rebuke” Sloterdijk intends to force a critical opposition, but it is powerless and ineffective. We could say that maybe the partiality of the movements which he recalls represents the appearance of weakness, dispersing the inherent potential for change in the projects of large of τιμή agglomerate. But this is not his way. His is a balanced program of rationality, which should include, as part of the most powerful – sort of self-restrained – respect for differences however insurmountable and accepted as such, as long as you maintain at that limit, which prevents abuses. In short, a moral atmosphere. In contrast, the “controversial people” do not contribute to achieving a balance between realistic and peaceful social forces. It seems, however, that perhaps the lesson of the so-called movements of reproach in somewhat diminished result, or at least hastily wound up, given to the importance of the role they have played so that the differences were seen, identified and recognized as such, in a culture with strong vocation universalist and egalitarian. It would not be possible today, probably not even think of balance between different subjects. But there’s more.
The conflict would be the result of an uneconomic behavior of a flaw in the management of passions, as if the interests at stake are rooted in biology, as if the bodies were easily overcome with a culture of rationality. Sloterdijk calls us not look for what we have lost, but to look with ‘concrete’ eyes at the existing, trying to find rational solutions to common life, and at the same time consciously address the difficulties inherent in this coexistence: when he cites Agamben, who says that hell on Earth is the proximity among men. The educational project that leads to cool the passions is complex and fragile, even risky, because it can fall into the disavowal of what is valuable – even partial – for individuals. It was precisely the ‘movements of reproach’ to highlight the shortcomings of the rational project of civilization.
It would be desirable to achieve a certain social and political peace, but peace may be the effect of something else, not the source: how do we get to the lost serenity for dispersed singularities, in a few years, if all of us are desperately seeking a sense, albeit fleeting and momentary, or a belief, essential to survival?
[i] Here ‘spectrum’ is not used to the way Derrida, but to that of Sloterdijk, for which the spectral character derives not so much from the disembodiment of a rational plan, but by the inability to draw to itself the reflections paranoid opponents and threaten the revolution of the existing situation. When you lose the ability to threat then it becomes a ‘spectrum’.
Sloterdijk, Peter, Zorn und Zeit. Politisch-psychologischer Versuch, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2006
Žižek, Slavoj, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso,1989
Žižek, Slavoj, Il godimento come fattore politico, Cortina, 2001
Taubes, Jacob, Occidental Eschatology (1947), Stanford University, 2009
Mouffe, Chantal, On the political. Thinking in action, Routledge, Abingdon, UK. 2005
Mouffe, Chantal, Democratic politics and the dynamics of passions. In: Palonen, Kari and Pulkkinen, Tuija and Rosales, José María, (eds.) 2008
Wisława Szymborska, Poems new and collected, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York 2004
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich, Der Tunnel. Erzählung, Zurigo, Arche, 1952.
Zambrano, Maria, La tumba de Antigona, Catedra 2012
Lévy, Pierre, L’Intelligence collective. Pour une anthropologie du cyberespace, La Découverte, Paris, 1994
Deleuze and Guattari, Mille plateaux, Minuit, Paris, 1980
Sen, Amartya, Peace and democratic society. Cambridge, 2011
About the Author:
Claudia Landolfi is a philosopher and author of books and essays on modern and contemporary Western philosophy. She focuses on the subjectivation processes in neoliberal apparatuses which rearticulate the relation between nature and culture, desire and power. She is elaborating a theory on the ‘governamentalization’ of the emotions in digital media, focusing on the concept of what she calls ‘psychic enclosure’. Her aim is to propose an Ethics of affects on Empiricist basis, stressing the concepts of imagination, indetermination and invention, criticizing the anthropological paradigm which she calls ‘the legal subject’.