Lacanian Review Online 261: Organized Solitude

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When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do

(Leonard Cohen, The Partisan)

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LRO 261
28th November 2020

 




Organized Solitude
Gustavo Dessal

Does anyone remember the golden age of confinement, when humanity believed itself to be One in universal love? Many saw the omen of redemption, the promise of a historic rectification: we would be reborn in a better condition. That dream did not last long, because very soon it changed into a nightmare and the zombies returned, the dismal creatures that slept in the same mud from which we came. If the virus is already a misfortune that spreads over the earth, each new wave brings with it outbreaks of evil. The pandemic and the ideologies of darkness have sealed a powerful alliance, bringing to life old symbols and rituals that celebrate hatred and death. Why does demonic repetition thrive in the pandemic, showing us once more the grimace of totalitarianism?

Perhaps the archaic cosmic fear that surrounds us has been agitated by the action of an invisible enemy that poisons bodies and nations. Hannah Arendt in “Ideology and Terror” formulated the thesis that the foundation of totalitarianism consists in the capacity of ideological thought to imprison individuals in an organized solitude. When existence breaks down in the face of an event that strips us of the little bit of meaning to which we had been clinging in order to go on, terror and vulnerability make us turn towards the black sun of ideological thought, looking there for an answer. For Arendt, totalitarianism is implanted through the calculated organization of solitude, destroying the ties that link subjects with each other and with the individual experience of reality. Totalitarianism replaces the individual framework of the fantasy, the scenario where each subject stages their unique experience of reality, with a mould where singularities are crushed under the weight of collective terror. Ideology is the horror even greater than the terror that takes hold of us when we have to confront the abyss of our unconscious. We thus prefer to take refuge in the solitude of the masses and to become savage automatons, devoid of all human solidarity, ready to follow the paths shown us by the prophets of salvation. Ideological thought introduces the idea that beyond the singular experience of each subject there is another reality, more real, that no one has been able to see, a reality hidden from perception but revealed to us by totalitarian discourse. “The ideal subject of the totalitarian mandate is not the convinced Nazi or Communist, but the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, the difference between true and false, no longer exists”, writes Arendt in the work cited.

The so-called “social networks” can become the perfect instrument for desocialization, the most suitable vehicle for sliding down the slope of paranoid fiction. In a remarkable essay on the distinction between solitude and isolation, Samantha Rose Hill points out that in one of her diaries the German philosopher wonders if there is a mode of thinking that would not be tyrannical, and why it is that human beings are such easy prey for the most horrendous formulas. She concludes that humans prefer slavery to the possibility of thinking for themselves. Surely psychoanalysis, by introducing the dimension of the unconscious, can take that terrible question and its possible answer even further. Language constitutes the first tyranny from which we cannot escape and it is probable that the germ of all subsequent injunctions emerges from this inevitable capture.

Unlike what the great Arendt believed, for psychoanalysis freedom does not consist only in the ability to think outside of ideology, but in the impossibility of speech to organize all of the singular experience of each subject. Something manages to escape the institution of language and its doctrinal power through that remainder that cannot be assimilated into the All, taking refuge in the symptom. It is for this reason that the symptom is the first thing that a totalitarian system would have to eliminate. The Germans understood this perfectly: the One can only reign over the ashes of symptoms. They did not have time to eliminate them all, but their new emulators distributed throughout the world, and better equipped to organize solitude, want to return to complete the task.

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