Absolute fragility – essays on psychoanalysis and contemporaneity

Patrick Heron, Three Reds in Green and Magenta in Blue: April 1970, 1970


Excerpt selected by the author of the newly edited book

The fact is that, if we want to circumscribe postmodernity from the perspective of neoliberal globalization, it will not be difficult to identify it with the crisis of nation-states, with the weakening of borders, of distinctions between cultures, allied to an economic, geographic mobility and cultural. Add to this the characteristics of the general nature of war and peace at the end of the XNUMXth century – a dividing line that distinguishes internal conflicts from international ones that has disappeared or tends to disappear – and we will recognize in the contemporary the place of the absence of guarantees.

Indeed, our analysands confirm it: those who, born after the war, are productive, fear for their children and grandchildren. Those who are unproductive try to understand what went “wrong” through an experience of reframing their own lives. What is deeply surprising, however, is that the new generations do not believe, do not have the unshakable certainty – which most of us carried with us – that their projections of the future will come true.

In fact, the new generations have no expectations of the future. Participants in our globalized world, submitted to the contemporary demands of performance permanent, the subjects “make it happen” or, at least, make use of all the instruments at their disposal in order not to be left out, corroborating the promotion of the indistinction between “being” and “seeming”. As sociologists, historians and economists who have contemporaneity as their theme point out, subjects are asked to be agile, to be available for short-term changes, to continuously take risks, to be independent. Relegated to their own fate, their autonomy ends up being an illusion of freedom.

So it is that, immersed in the core of the psychological processes of normalization, to the detriment of the processes that are based on the permanent confrontation between the same and the other[I] – characteristic of democratic societies –, situated between the desire for normalization and the possibility of resistance in the face of renouncing any utopian plan or hope, we find, then, that the fragmentation of subjectivity has a fundamental place in the new configuration of the social constituted in the West . Self-centeredness thus conjugating with the value of exteriority – the destinies of desire assuming a self-centered and exhibitionist direction, resulting in a generalized shift from “having” to “seeming”.

Finally, in the face of the modified experience of time, the altered experience of space is added. Discomfort, symbolic violence and a feeling of insecurity are interrelated to the modified experiences of space and time, whose roots seem to lie in the processes of social fragmentation, insofar as we live a plurality of codes imposed by the process of globalization, verified, fundamentally, in the socializing institutions. Faced with the impossibility of responding to the demands for results and productivity that are imposed on them, the loss of ideals is added. With their restricted freedoms, the subjects bring with them a profound violence, the result of the decomposition of ideals.

It is to this extent, then, that if modernity brought to each subject the non-transferable task of self-constitution – by nurturing the ideology of a social dynamic based on permanent innovation and the belief that, through reason, it would be possible to act on nature and society in the construction of a satisfactory life for all – post-modernity has made this task excessive. Understood, here, in its historical conception as a moment of exacerbation of self-constitution, in which the imaginary and intimacy were incorporated into the universe of goods,[ii] giving way to the experience of the eternal present of an “I never finished”,[iii] it is, after all, about questioning ourselves about what we will be able to build, create, given this limit-place, edge-margin in which we find ourselves.

It is true, there is no denying it: in this historical-social context, psychoanalysis also entered a crisis, to the exact extent that it opposes itself to the ethical assumptions of postmodern culture. The condition of possibility for the emergence of the unconscious and drive fragmentation based precisely on the deconstruction of the subject's “official history” – in other words, the narcissistic record of the self.

It is also a fact that, without the Freudian reinterpretation of the founding narratives, Oedipus would be just a fictional character, and not a model of psychic functioning, with no Oedipal complex or organization in the Western family.[iv] Confronted, however, with the helplessness arising from the dilution of the great narratives of modernity, situated between the fear of disorder and the appreciation of competitiveness based on material success, characteristic of postmodernity, postmodern man would seem to be losing his your soul, without realizing it. The fundamental issue, however, being that, if the claim to the norm about valuing conflict – characteristic of democratic societies – were to prevail, psychoanalysis would also lose its subverting force. Thus, having its clinical competence called into question, the basic complaint seems to be that psychoanalysis has become inoperative in the current historical context.

If it is, then, a question of a historical change in the analysands or a change in the way analysts listen, whose previously neglected interpretations of symptomatologies would have been perfected, we have discussed, effectively and in a generalized way, crucial questions about the constitution of subjectivity in contemporary times.

Let us return to the question, now, with the vector inverted: what to do, however, when contemporary subjectivities and symptomatologies configure – beforehand and specifically – the tearing apart of the narcissistic register of the self, without this representing, as I understand it here, a psychosis or perversion, belonging to and remaining in the sphere of what we consider neurosis?[v] How to respond to this demand?

Perhaps, in fact, we can consider that, while we see such a malaise in psychoanalysis today, while, for example, the classic scenario of Oedipus - the child who desires the father of the opposite sex and identifies with the one of his own sex – goes into crisis, one of the most important discoveries of psychoanalysis, the non-adaptive character of human sexuality, has never been so true. It is to this extent that issues related to drive intensity and excess, since they are presented as striking characteristics of current suffering, are fundamental. Taken by the intensity and excess, the subject only has to carry out a work of connection, which constitutes possible destinations, by ordering drive circuits and inscribing the drive in the register of symbolization, thus enabling the work of creation, of production of meaning.[vi]

Thus, if it is precisely the psychic apparatus that registers the representations and their significant values ​​for the subject who finds himself “damaged”, insisting on the experience of loss, lack, symbolic castration as a condition of desire and pleasure, implies – in fact – a previous work: constituting limits between interiority and exteriority, between subject and object, between subject and other. This, indeed, is an indispensable condition for the psychic freedom of the subject to occur.

If we consider, then, the psychoanalytic experience as a “psychic place of constitution of subjectivity”[vii] – fundamentally for those subjects whose fate as subjects will always be that of an unfinished project, endlessly taking place –, the possibility of reappropriating the subversive essence of psychoanalysis will, in fact, be deposited in the possibility of reestablishing the variables that trigger psychic conflict , given exactly through the psychoanalytic experience itself.

*Giovanna Bartucci is a psychoanalyst. She is the author, among other books, of Where it all happens: culture and psychoanalysis in the XNUMXst century (Brazilian Civilization).



Giovanna Bartucci. Absolute Fragility. Essays on psychoanalysis and contemporaneity. 2nd. Edition. São Paulo, nVersos Editora, 2022.



[I] See Roudinesco, Elisabeth. (1999) Why psychoanalysis? Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2000.

[ii] See Jameson, Fredric. (1991) postmodernism: the cultural logic of late capitalism. Sao Paulo: Attica, 2002.

[iii] See Sennett, Richard. (1974) The Decline of the Public Man: the tyrannies of intimacy. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1988; (1980) Authority. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2001; (1988) The corrosion of character: personal consequences of work in the new capitalism. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2001.

[iv] Cf. Roudinesco, Elisabeth. (1999) Op. quote.; (Xnumx) The family in disarray. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2003.

[v] Cf. Bartucci, Giovanni. Psychoanalysis and contemporaneity: for a differential clinic of neuroses. Doctoral Thesis, Graduate Program in Psychoanalytic Theory, Institute of Psychology of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IP-UFRJ), 2004.    

[vi] Cf. Bartucci, Giovanni. (2000) Psychoanalysis and aesthetics of subjectivation. In: Bartucci, Giovanna (org.). Psychoanalysis, cinema and aesthetics of subjectivation. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 2000, pp. 13-17.

[vii] Cf. Bartucci, Giovanni. (1999) Freudian psychoanalysis, Borgian writing: space for the constitution of subjectivity. In: Cid, Marcelo; Montoto, Claudio (eds.). Centenary Borges. São Paulo: Educ, 1999, pp. 125-143; Between the same and the double, alterity is inscribed: Freudian psychoanalysis and Borgian writing, in this volume.

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