the autophagic society

Image: Lucio Fontana


Reflections on Anselm Jappe's Newly Edited Book

The autophagic society is a special book, not only because of its rigorous erudition in the issues of the modern subject, but because it does so by bringing together fetishism and narcissism, Marx and Freud, classical Marxist authors and hererodoxes, Frankfurtians Adorno and Horkheimer and neo-Freudians, such as Marcuse and Eric Fromm, with which he helps us in the intelligibility of the civilizational mutation of the present.

This is a “beyond” book. beyond Beyond the Pleasure Principle and beyond the Marxian theory of value. “Beyond” in the sense of an interpretation proper to the tradition of the Manifestos, the Laziness Manifesto: Oulipo manifesto: Surrealist Manifesto, analyzed by Anselm Jappe, as well as the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. It is not by chance that this affiliation is completed at the end of the book in his “theses”, new “Theses on Feuerbach”. Manifesto in an etymological and political sense: etymological – to take firmly by hand, in which nothing is presupposed or implicit, as the genealogy of contemporary malaise, capitalism and the anarchic nature of the world market is elaborated. Political: with his analyzes Anselm Jappe reinvents a form of intellectual and practical contestation and intervention.

The author develops his thinking based on the ideas of value in the scope of abstract work and the narcissistic subject, enclosed in his own “I”, without contact with exteriority and otherness and, thus, emptied of his rationalist statute and his ideals. emancipatory. Associated with fetishism and narcissism, the culture of excess and limitlessness is established – in violence, terrorism, drug use, extreme sports –, with the end of literate culture, the world literature of a Goethe and the Goethean Marx, who still maintained his nature as a barrier against barbarism.

Cultural impoverishment and advances in work automation, the proletarianization of workers and their deprivation of knowledge, new media and technologies are, due to their growing independence from human control, the new specter that haunts not only Europe, but the planet. , unified by them. Expanding also the analyzes of Max Weber and Georg Simmel, the author indicates the processes of intellectualization, formalization and rationalization of individual and collective life, covering the public, private and intimate spheres.

This is why the foundational moment of the Cartesian subject, the “I think, therefore I am” already reveals, as Anselm Jappe shows, an ideal of emancipation committed to alienation, because one thing is to think, another is to exist. However, it is not a question of revolutionizing the subject in the theoretical sense or of historical revolutions – of transforming the subject and the world, but of changing life. The capitalism of growth for growth's sake, of innovation for innovation's sake, goes towards the future like the angel of Klee's story in the reflections of Walter Benjamin: it is pushed backwards towards the future, towards which it goes blindly.

This book constitutes a new “dialectic of enlightenment”. No accident, autophagic capitalism begins with a reference to the myth of Erysichton, a figuration of violence, of unlimited desire, for which he is punished by the goddess Demeter who imposes an insatiable hunger on him, and the more he is fed, the hungrier. This bulimia, shows Anselm Jappe, is constitutive of capitalism that does not know measure and prohibitions, what is prohibited and what is consented to, the totem and the taboo. The myth of Erysichton plays the role of a maxim, containing exemplary wisdom, bringing with it advice, a “teaching” based on concepts.

If philosophers like Plato and Aristotle criticize mythology, it is not because the myth is fanciful and, therefore, devalued and unimportant for knowledge and existence; on the contrary, they considered that mythology continued to be the great source of understanding the meaning of things, and should be read allegorically and not literally. Thus Chronos, devourer of his children, destroyer of what he himself generates, who gives life and then destroys, is time. That is why Erysichton is the hero of excellence, of the pleonexy of contemporaneity, of alienated sexuality, of nihilism.

With the myth, Anselm Jappe resizes the thought of Aristotle – who considered poetry truer and superior to history – because the latter deals with what happened, and poetry with what is possible to happen, as well as that of Herodotus who, as a historian, makes the chronicling only what happened, the historian offers a series of data, but is not concerned with the core of human experience.

For this reason, the myth of Erysichton reviewed by Anselm Jappe unfolds its meanings, exposing the dysfunctions that narcissistic and autophagic capitalism creates and which it needs, such as the end of authority, the family, shared common values, the differentiations replaced by relativism of particular differences. How not The Manifest Communist, in this book the concepts are “combat words”.

* Olgaria Matos is a professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Philosophical palindromes: between myth and history (Unifesp).



Anselm Jappe. The autophagic society: capitalism, excess and self-destruction. São Paulo, Elephant, 2021, 336 pages.

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