Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation

Image: Mariana Tassinari


Commentary on the newly released book by Vladimir Safatle

The dominant ideological atmosphere in late capitalism was well described by the English writer Mark Fisher as “capitalist realism”: a dense immobilizing fog that prohibits collective action and radical thinking, degrading the capacity of the political imagination to conceive alternatives of social organization beyond the capitalism. In his latest studies in the fight against this “reality”, Fisher sought to develop a politics of desire, a practice of “libidinal engineering” that would drive emancipatory forms of desire and foster organization and collective agency. Deceased early in 2017, Fisher did not have the opportunity to develop these ideas further.

It is on this front of combat, of desire as a field of political dispute, that the most recent and, I anticipate without fear of making mistakes, the most important book by Vladimir Safatle, Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation. The text expresses, according to the author, the apex of his research cycle in recent years, which encompasses the rescue of various dialectical matrices as instruments of social criticism, from Friedrich Hegel, through Karl Marx to Theodor W. Adorno, and that now it culminates with a return to Jacques Lacan.

The work, although short, is extremely rich, dense, and within the limits of thematic complexity, clear and precise, dealing with human emancipation through a desire for rupture, as well as articulating subjects that are often difficult to address together, such as Marxism , feminism, identity, dialectic and psychoanalysis. These various objects are systematized based on four main axes: identification processes; structure of desire; transference and analytic act.

The identification concerns the so-called “theory of the self”, which involves the means by which the processes of subjectivation take place – that is, how subjects are constituted as such. Safatle starts from the Marxist conception that “production produces not only an object for the subject, but a subject for the object”. It is the application, in psychoanalytical quadrants, of the theories of social forms, which identify the commodity form as a core element of capitalist sociability, which constrains and shapes individuals.

the authoritarian germ

Still in this line, Safatle deals with another central problem of the politics of our time: the question of the authoritarian personality, which ultimately emerges as a strong defense of the Self in individuals who are psychically more fragile. The author deconstructs the more or less common conception that the authoritarianism observed today would be a reinforced response of the patriarchal authority. At the root of this reactivity would actually be just the opposite: the collapse of that same authority. There we must find an effective producer of the current authoritarian regimes, being the identification with these leaders who mix a figure with the performance of a “strong man” not an idealization of a father figure, but rather a process of horizontal identification, in a narcissistic structure, which , the more fragile it is, the more violent it becomes.

Safatle goes on to explain the Lacanian conception that the Self is a space of alienation, which develops from a process of overlapping dialectical layers of identification/alienation. Thus, in the core of the Self there would be only an emptiness, which is why the true emancipatory process does not involve the reinforcement of identifications, but rather the dissolution of the Self, which would finally make room for a new establishment. Therefore, the emancipatory policy demands the coordinates of this empty place, in which oppression, stereotypes and all sorts of exclusions could be fulminated, calling into question power relations. That would be a possible answer to fascism.

The emancipatory desire in capitalism

The second axis deals with the question of desire, jouissance and the structure of sexuation, including in the light of the debate involving certain feminist readings of Lacan's thought. This topic is crucial for all those who study the issue of desire as a field of political dispute. After all, to propose any type or form of desire that serves as a thrust beyond capitalist realism, it is first necessary to answer the following question: what is desire and how do you desire in capitalism?

Safatle departs from a counterpoint based on Deleuze-Guattari's theory of desire. From the perspective of schizoanalysis, capitalist society appears to be that of “managed dissatisfaction”, in which subjects would see in desire an expression of incompleteness and inadequacy. For Safatle, however, Lacan would go further, showing that dissatisfaction is not properly managed, but rather a causal element opening up another horizon, which reproduces these same relationships.

This way of desiring also translates into the field of political struggle, while dissatisfaction is not directed at the structure that organizes the positions, but at the occupant of each of the places. It would be in this sense that Lacan, in one of his seminars, criticized the revolt of May 68, when he uttered the well-known and controversial warning: “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will have it!” Thus, according to Lacan's warning, there would be an adherence by the rebels, at the level of desire, to capitalist sociability itself, with the demonstrations resulting in a merely performative and structurally preserving effect. For Safatle, therefore, overcoming these structures can only occur through the adoption of a new normative grammar, which will emerge when the present one is deposed.

Still on the issue of desire, but now seeking these possible new emancipatory grammars, the author, in a punctual way and attentive to his own subjective limits of perspective and place of speech, presents as essential the debate about phallic jouissance, identified as a base element of capitalist reproduction. Possible responses of Lacanian theory to the criticisms made by Judith Butler and Nancy Fraser are then articulated. Safatle evidently recognizes the relevance of feminist achievements in recent decades, advances in defense against historical violence, which date back to times much earlier than capitalism itself, but which are projected to the present day. Far from weakening the day-to-day feminist struggle, the emancipatory strategy outlined by Safatle, which encompasses human emancipation in its entirety, not exactly aiming at overcoming, but at the implosion of the social forms that sustain patriarchy, now reprocessed and reused under the aegis of capitalism. It is a libertarian path, which goes through the identification of a new form of desiring, “an impossible jouissance, a jouissance that makes us move from impotence to the impossible and that will not have the phallic structure that is a constituent of the forms of jouissance under capitalism. . A jouissance that feminizes all subjects [...] a jouissance that pushes us out of capitalism and its sexuation regimes”.

Legitimate revolutionary resistance

The third axis of the work concerns the transfer process. Safatle points out that this rite, inherent to the set psychoanalytical, actually has its origin in political demands, control and exercise of power, as outlined by Michael Foucault at the level of the microphysics of power. Thus, in its genesis, the transfer process is essentially political, with a parallel in larger structures, such as the populist plane, in which charismatic domination is exercised, as described by Max Weber. Safatle continues, recalling that these power relations define situations of existence as forms of subjection, which are causes of suffering, which stems from the introjection of a normativity embodied in its enunciators.

However, the effective handling of this power in the transfer, both by the analyst in the clinic and by the authority in politics, must be translated into the exercise of the position of power as a form of removal from the very place of power and not with the purpose of a mere inversion structural, of a simple exchange of roles, remembering that, after all, “killing masters was never a difficult task, but it was difficult to refuse to take their places”. Therefore, true emancipation would only be achieved, not when power is deposed, but when the determining agency that established it is dissolved, dismantling the respective normative grammar. This event, which concerns the last concept developed by Safatle, is what Lacan defines as an analytical act.

In his explanation of the analytical act, Safatle differentiates it from two other ways of acting, the acting out and the passage to the act. acting out concerns acting in a different way than what was reproduced until then, but whose difference is only apparent, something that does not affect the structures, embodying an eminently performative act that supposedly meets the desires of others, which occurs, for example, in the aforementioned manifestations. On the other hand, the passage to the act can be seen as a conduct of denial, generally embodied in self-sacrifice, often related to suicide or another form of radical rupture, but which also does not affect the structures.

Therefore, the analytical act remains as the one that truly matters in revolutionary, subversive movements that implode structures. In the way of explaining the concept, the same example adopted by Lacan is used, from the beautiful allegory by Arthur Rimbaud, from the poem “For a reason”, significantly written at the height of the events of the Paris Commune. In these terms, the analytic act is presented as something related to a repetition that precedes it, of other unrealized attempts at an act, which reverberate, join and condense, in something that could be represented as a supersonic boom. This is the effective word, which deposes and recreates the subject itself, transforming what until then was a symptom into a revolutionary act.

Safatle thus makes a call to political responsibility, well representing the best critical tradition of Brazilian psychoanalysis. In this way, just as Plato haunts the jurists, reminding them that there is no just person in an unjust society, Safatle exhorts not only mental health professionals, but all of us, that there is no healthy person in a sick society and that many sometimes the symptom reveals a refusal to adapt: ​​more than an anomaly, it is legitimate revolutionary resistance, a refusal to accept the unacceptable, capable of being a trigger for new forms of political organization and collective action.

That's why Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation stands out as one of the most important works of recent years and possibly the one that best articulates the themes of psychoanalysis, politics and Marxism. It is essential reading for all those who think of desire as a terrain of political struggle and seek a radical emancipatory strategy against capitalist realism, effectively exercised in conjunction with the various struggles for freedom, recognition and justice that are currently present in society. political arena

*Antonio Augusto Galvao of France He is a judge and member of the Association Judges for Democracy (AJD).

Originally published in the magazine Jacobin Brazil.



Vladimir Safatle. Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2020.




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