It would be tragic... if it weren't comic

Roger Hilton, Foliage with Orange Caterpillar, 1974


Commentary on Daniel Kupermann's book

There is no lack of jokes about psychoanalysis, both as a practice and as a theory. Even those of internal origin, authentically Freudian. Or that can be interpreted as such. Thus, for example, we cannot read, without containing laughter, the sentence where Freud claims, almost dramatically, that he does not know “what women want”…

After all the metapsychology? A mystery that not even Lacan's extraordinary intellectual gymnastics, in one of his most subtle and complicated feats, was able to completely dispel. For the time being, at least, if not forever, we will remain restless and undecided...

Em It would be tragic... if it weren't comic, precisely, we find an internal and rich reflection on the articulation between the tragic and the comic in psychoanalysis. Don't expect, dear reader, when leafing through these pages, to find some kind of anthology of jokes... Although these cannot be absent (as they could not be in any serious book).

The comic and the tragic are articulated within psychoanalysis like the faces (or the only face) of a Moebius ring. Could it be different? Remembering Erich Auerbach [1892-1957], Greek literature separated two literary genres as mirrors of characters from different social strata (kings and heroes on one side; humble people on the other). How could psychoanalysis make use of classic and modern tragedy (Oedipus e Hamlet), to understand the vulgar and modern man, without incurring in confusion?
There are historians of philosophy and philologists (such as the excellent Jean-Pierre Vernant) who criticize this short circuit between the classical past and our present, as the effect of an anachronism that would compromise the theoretical enterprise of metapsychology, if not the therapeutic initiative of psychoanalysis.

But doesn't our modern world force us into such a short circuit? In this world of “negative” individualism, are we not all tragicomic kings, condemned to “nonsense”?. Let's recognize: there are excellent anachronisms, as philology has taught us (with Pierre Hadot, for example) that there are richly productive errors. It should be noted that these social transformations that we are experiencing present us with a new problem: the discredit of a therapy, as if it were originally mythological and ineffective, replaceable by simple pharmacology (that element of the new “economic-military-pharmaceutical complex”) .

We do not, of course, want to deny any beneficial effects of chemotherapy: that would be foolish. But how can such a practice and its effectiveness be understood outside the clinical, interpretive and quasi-dialogical encounter?

Certainly there would be no lack of good jokes about it. Like the story of the patient who, struck by a profound ontological-metaphysical depression, is cured with a medication that allows him to achieve the desired goal "apatheia” (at least in Epicurus, the lack of suffering). Either in fact total apathy or the Greek counterpart of “idiocy” (the closing of the individual in himself, outside the “socius" It's from "cosmo”). In that case, the patient would have become a complete idiot, in the modern sense, like President George W. Bush.

The allusion to Foucault's enterprise, in his archeology of “care of the self”, would not be impertinent here.

Whatever the criticisms that this initiative deserves, it outlines, at least, a history of selfhood that has always been ignored and allows, beyond historical distances, a reflected approximation of subject (not body) therapies. And wouldn't humor or irony (which definitely don't coincide) be a constant feature of this story? Let us leave aside the romantic irony –which would take us too far afield– with German romanticism and its fate in philosophical idealism. Let us limit ourselves to thinking about the contemporary fate of the idea of ​​selfhood and how it involves a new perspective on theory and practice. The new "I think"implies a"De mecum rideo: sum”. But I also laugh and cry about the contemporary world.

Only jokes are not enough to face the "tide and amount” of alienation. Since the origin of Greek philosophy, rational knowledge was complemented in a “medicine of the soul”.

And philosophers were also therapists through Logos. Philosophy was essentially a way of trying to understand yourself and modify your own life towards the well-being or health of the soul. In a word: “Changing life”, given the growing difficulty of “transforming the world”. The philosophy taught today in universities seems to have completely lost this vital root that psychoanalysis, for better or for worse, has preserved.

The reader will benefit from reading this book on several levels. At least in the three statements in its preface: (a) “Witz” and humor; b) The mood on the couch; and c) Humor and laughter beyond the couch. Some of the best names in psychoanalysis (from Brazil and abroad) thus unfold the different levels of the “Witz”, which emerges at the heart of analytic theory and practice. A complete circuit is thus made, of the connection between psychoanalysis and humor, for the reader's greater illustration and enjoyment.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of Error, illusion, madness: essays (publisher 34).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, notebook more!, on January 11, 2006.



Daniel Kupermann. It would be tragic... if it weren't comic. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2005, 352 pages.


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