The melancholy of the Brazilian left

Clara Figueiredo, quarantine records series, house, São Paulo, 2020


The negativity of the left and the need to cure it of the symptoms that we imagined to be typical of fascism

for Luke.

In the elaboration of my article “Sigmund Freud [Rabbi Freud: the discoverer of the bisexuality inherent in men]: Socialist, Heretic and Revolutionary”, what caught my attention the most was how in socialist psychoanalyst circles, concretely and clinically, the working-class neuroses and how to treat them.

As an orthodox Kelsenian, aware that the Pure Theory of Law is nothing more than a political psychoanalysis of authoritarian and fascist power, I was shocked by the descriptions of the melancholy of leftist movements that bear hope and the utopia of redemption.

Melancholy is not only in the Middle Ages, as Panofsky says in Saturn and Melancholy. Although even in the Middle Ages, based on Aristotle, with all the illnesses associated with melancholy and Saturn, there was always the possibility of transformative genius.

In my reading of melancholy, taught at Casa do Saber, I always emphasized this creative, transformative and utopian element, and left aside the disease of creative geniuses. But how can someone in the circle of happiness be stricken with depression/melancholy/black bile/aggression?

Kafka knew this well when he described the circus scene. The ballerinas, the lion tamers, the magicians, all unhappy and unsuccessful in this arena of freedom.

This allows us to understand the failure of the Brazilian left and its militancy as melancholic as the fascists that govern us. How to cure this childhood disease of right-wing movements in Brazil?

Adorno, spokesperson for a melancholy utopia, helps to perceive such evidence based on Walter Benjamin. To combat fascism, Schönberg wrote a sacred opera of redemption, Moses and Aaron. The theme of Exodus, the theme of freedom, the theme that, despite the ban on images, you manage to free a people through art, music and prayer.

But, according to Adorno, this which should be a sacred opera, like all opera, was nothing more than a bourgeois opera, therefore decadent. As a sacred fragment in which the prophet speaks directly to the creator, even if he stutters or has no voice, he manages to communicate with the creator of the world and the one who will redeem him fails?

Adorno says: sacred opera fails because it mimics the conservatism of traditionalist opera. Macaqueia Wagner, in The Parsifal, fails to make an evolution from tribal gods to the spiritual purity of monotheism. Such are the libertarian movements in Brazil, as they replicate fascism in their social militancy. All the fascist stereotypes: the homophobia, the racism, the bigotry. They, in deliverance, repress their brethren.

In 1931, Walter Benjamin attacked the melancholy of the left, in the person of the poet Erich Kästner, because the radicalism of New Objectivity was seen by Walter Benjamin as having a childish and playful facade, but which behind it was easily recognizable the tastes of a fascinated bourgeois elite by the modernist aesthetics of avant-garde. In this sense, constipation and melancholy went together, and unlike Sigfried Kracauer, who pointed to “Geistige Obdachlosigkeit" of the intellectuals of New Objectivity, Walter Benjamin considered them as the embodiment of melancholy, based on the category taken from the history of art, through which he asserts that melancholy means, above all, the political impotence of a king incapable of commanding and deciding, as Hamlet was seen by him as the paradigm of the melancholic man.

There is indeed a tradition of left-wing melancholy. It's undeniable. And, for authors such as Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl, the melancholic spirit of Albrecht Dürer's images arise from the awareness of the limits of human knowledge incapable of subjugating nature. In the Renaissance, melancholy gains a new characteristic, that is, self-reflection, which is no longer limited to contemplation or feeling; it becomes introspection, a frame of mind, a use of reason, and the symbol of Saturn.

The left therefore defeated my optimistic interpretation and confirmed Panofsky's and Adorno's reservations about social utopia.

In Freud's “Mourning and Melancholia”, the description of the symptoms of melancholia does not change the classic representation inherited from the Middle Ages, but there is an emphasis on the pathological aspects: “The distinguished mental features of melancholia are a pro-foundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-reviling, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment”.

In World War I, Freud defined melancholy as the inability to love, and similarly Walter Benjamin proposed the following about melancholic individuals” “is precisely the attitude to which there is no longer in general any corresponding political action. (…) For from the beginning all it has in mind is to enjoy itself in a negativistic quiet”.

Soon, we are faced with the need to cure the left of the symptoms that we imagined to be typical of fascism – homophobia, racism, etc.

*Ari Marcelo Solon is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (Prisms).


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