From mourning to fighting



Considerations on the need for continuous political mobilization of public universities

For Luís FS Nascimento

To introduce the theme of “mourning to struggle”,[1] I briefly present a distinction worked by Freud in an article published in 1917 entitled mourning and melancholy. The psychic states that give name to the aforementioned text coincide in many aspects, but differ in many others.

Mourning, like melancholy, “is the reaction to the loss of a loved one or of an abstraction that is in their place, such as homeland, freedom, ideal, etc. […] Deep mourning, the reaction to the loss of a loved one, contains the same painful state of mind, the loss of interest in the external world – insofar as it does not remind one of the dead person –, the loss of the ability to choose a new object of love – replacing the mourned one – and the removal of any and all activities that are not related to the memory of the deceased” (Freud, 2011, p. 47).

Melancholy is similar in many aspects to mourning, but it has striking characteristics that are not present in the latter: an extraordinary lowering of the feeling of self-esteem, an enormous impoverishment of the self, to whom fierce self-criticism is directed and, the point I would like to explore, however briefly: the fact that the loss is not clearly known to one who is in a melancholy state. Better said, unlike melancholy, mourning requires that one have in consciousness the clarity of the lost person or loved object or what was lost in them.

In it, “nothing related to loss is unconscious” (Freud, 2011, p. 51). Melancholy, on the other hand, is the consequence of the “unknown loss”, that is, of “a loss of object that was withdrawn from consciousness” (Freud, 2011, p. 51), which prevents the patient from knowing which object he has lost or lost. what lost in the object. This loss, which escapes memory, absorbs melancholy in such an enigmatic and complete way, and cannot be brought to consciousness except by a difficult and complex work of analysis.

In another article published a few years before mourning and melancholy, entitled Remember, repeat and elaborate (1914), Freud exposes the consequences of keeping an animic content blocked in its access to consciousness, that is, prevented from being remembered. Briefly said, the unremembered refers to impressions, scenes, experiences of something essential in our life, if not everything essential, which is blocked for our conscious self. This forgetfulness can fall, in many cases, on the content of the impressions, scenes, experiences, or on the existing connections between them, and, in this case, leads to the isolation of the contents of the memories, which become fragmentary, punctual.

Thus, the most essential facts of our experiences, when they succumb to oblivion, can disappear completely from consciousness, or be there, without, however, establishing relationships with each other. In both cases, the historical dimension of life is lost: history in the most banal sense, of being able to distinguish past, present and future, of placing events in the moments to which they belong and establishing links between them. It is only for and in consciousness that temporal and, if you like, causal links can exist.

When, due to individual or social psychic conditions that are imposed on us, we lose the historical dimension of the essential facts of life and become incapable of establishing connections between the core events that characterize us in a more intimate way, we are led back, without realizing it, to the past and keep it as a manifestation of our present life. I am referring to what intimately characterizes us, because to remember is to go to the intimate, to the heart, to the heart, to what we keep inside.

The impossibility of remembering prevents us from knowing our intimacy and knowing who we are. And this lack of knowledge often leads us to take non-essential or fallacious facts as characteristic of ourselves, simulacra of our intimacy. The inability to remember translates into a repetition of the past in the present. Something that should have been overcome remains as our manifest being. Repeat those who don't remember.

And what is the blocking of these contents due to? According to Freud, it is due to resistances that work in the opposite direction to consciousness, which undo the connections between the facts experienced and weaken them in the face of it. Against the memory of these facts, the depreciation of its content arises, taken as something meaningless, without value, of lesser importance in the face of the most urgent demands of life - demands that can be economic, legal, moral, juridical, truthful and that are created to divert attention from what is vital, which is finally lost in the void of oblivion.

Freud was well aware that retrograde forces do not show themselves only in analysis sessions. They are also manifested in the political, economic and social game against remembering our past and against what is revolutionary. Let us remember the almost seven hundred thousand lives that disappeared with the covid in Brazil, and for which an attempt was made to provide an economic argument to justify the lack of vaccines or the early reopening of work activities.

Let us also remember the repeated murders of women; the political disappeared, whose bodies could not be mourned and buried by their families; aggression against homoaffective couples; the black population insistently massacred on the outskirts of our cities and who have long since been banished from their place of origin; let us remember the indigenous populations, exterminated in land disputes and who are forced to live in exile within their own country; let us remember the functional illiteracy of our children; hunger, misery; the hatred of culture, intelligence and everything that lives.

A country that should protect life in its broadest spectrum, but that takes for itself, with the exception of rare historical moments, the right to kill; that kills the human, and also its fauna and flora; that annihilates its mineral wealth; which spreads obscurantism and idiocy, instead of promoting scientific knowledge and public life. Behold, in the last years of our history, these retrograde forces that act against life and civilization showed their naked face, without disguise.

Who cares about oblivion? In the context I have just enumerated, ignorance only benefits those who historically provoke it, who create very well-elaborated resistance so that the essential facts of our collective life do not come to consciousness, and that remain disconnected, clouded in their causal relationships. and effect, and that the past, which has long been repeated under different figurations, cannot be overcome, and that it is perpetually repeated for the benefit of those who manipulate a history that is ours.

Finally, I bring some elements from another text by Freud: Current considerations on war and death, 1915. Faced with the death of a loved one, it is natural in our mourning process to bury our hopes, ambitions, joys with them, even if for a certain period of time. Death impoverishes life, it paralyzes us. And with that, we tend to exclude death from the calculation of life. One death in particular seems something outside of life's designs, for which we seek exceptional justifications: it was old age, illness, an accident, and with that we put ourselves safe and distanced ourselves from the definitive interruption of life.

“It is inevitable”, writes Freud, “that we seek in the world of fiction, in literature, in the theater, a substitute for the losses of life” (p. 232). In fiction, we reconcile with death, as if “behind all the vicissitudes of life there was still an intact life left” (p. 233), which is ours and gives us the illusion of our own immortality. However, war removes any conventional treatment we give to death. The accumulation of bodies “puts an end to the impression of chance” of death (p. 233). Now, the numbers printed daily in our news are unavoidable: we are in the middle of a war – war against women, blacks, Indians, children, diversity, knowledge, good scientific practice, politics… The list is long and I don't feel able to enumerate all the wars that happen simultaneously in our country today.

The question that I would finally like to pose is how to act in such a way that, on the one hand, it does not feed the war machine that so much interests the messengers of death, and, on the other hand, it does not remain restricted to the domestic environment, of idiocy, just waiting for the news, with the relief that it's not mine, of the other's death. Faced with this question, a single answer appears to me: acting within the public university, as a scientist and educator, who work with the human, with the multiple productions of knowledge and ways of life.

That in this way it is possible to bring and keep in memory the essential facts of collective life, which are historically and historically determined. That in this activity, vital for those who exercise it, the other is not alien to me; that it is possible to talk about our losses and grieve, avoid paralysis and melancholy, and project a future that does not value death, but life. As in art, the expectation of the future has its share of fiction – a fiction that is constructed with the factual of the present, but that does not paralyze or obstruct.

For this, it is necessary to act without repeating the commitment with the past. Like Freud, I understand that “war cannot be eliminated […] as long as the conditions of existence […] are so different” (p. 246) and these differences will continue to exist as long as their roots are not exposed and we continue to see each other as different and more worthy of life than others, strangers to us. That we take a stand against barbarism and murder, and that, within our competence, we can act to value life – life seen in its truly democratic nature and that resists death.

*Ana Carolina Soliva Soria Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).


FREUD, Sigmund. mourning and melancholy. Translation, introduction and notes by Marilene Carone. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2011.

FREUD, Sigmund. Remember, repeat and elaborate. In: Psychoanalytic Observations on a Case of Paranoia Reported in an Autobiography: (“The Schreber Case”): Articles on Technique and Other Texts (1911-1913). Translation and notes by Paulo César de Souza. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2010, pp. 196 et seq.

FREUD, Sigmund. Current considerations on war and death. In: Introduction to Narcissism: Metapsychology Essays and Other Texts (1914-1916). Translation and notes by Paulo César de Souza. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2010.


[1] Raised by the final stretch of the 2022 elections, this text is the sharing of an experience against barbarism that we have experienced so strongly in recent years. After more than two years of remote work, face-to-face activities at the Federal University of São Carlos were resumed in early June of this year. The first week of classes was marked by the great joy of the reunion of professors, students and technicians, and by the promotion of numerous events to welcome the university community.

One of these events, organized by the Center for Education and Human Sciences, in which I had the privilege of participating alongside professors Ana Cristina Juvenal da Cruz, Douglas Verrangia, Adélcio Machado and student Raísa Cortez, director of the free DCE UFSCar, had as its theme mourning the multiple losses we have faced in recent years – of lives, as well as political, economic and social setbacks –, and the need to fight against these losses. The event was motto From Mourning to Struggle: Meeting of Art, Politics and Humanization.

I can say that the general conclusion we reached – reinforced by successive announcements of cuts to the Ministry of Education – was that public educational institutions need to mount permanent political mobilizations, with the aim of strengthening their unity and cohesion. Since then, with the help of the Center, we have started to organize periodic practical actions to recall the democratic history of our University, the anti-democratic moments imposed on it and to raise awareness of the importance of public educational institutions for society as a whole. I bring here, in written form, the reflections I presented on that occasion.


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