Lacanian Review Online: What COVID-19 Lays Bare

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LRO – COVID-19 2020 #25
28th March 2020

 




Corona – Eros is not the answer
Evi Verbeke

 

In different blogs, psychoanalysts attested that corona confronts us with a ravaging real that causes worldwide anxiety. This anxiety demands a symptomatic answer, to mask the lack in the symbolic and the painful nonsense of the real [1]. I think one of those symptoms is the ‘solidarity discourse’ that keeps popping up everywhere. Before corona, social media was full of little fights between left and right, now social media is like one big love fest. Every # is about love, appreciation and respect. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. It is comforting to see that people create symptoms that are helpful to others, like volunteers making mouth masks or neighbours doing groceries for each other. These acts show that human beings are as creative as ever when confronted with the real and that humanity always shows through.

However, this discourse remains a symptom and as it pacifies our anxiety, it also testifies of the failing to cover up the real of our body and our social interactions. How do we encounter this  in the solidarity discourse? Not in the day to day interactions between people helping each other out, but in the  testimonials that promise a brighter and better future. Now that we are all helping each other, we will see that this is a better way to live and we can finally abandon that dirty old capitalism and individualism – or so it goes. We will appreciate social relationships more, our health care will improve, we will become more environmentally aware now that we notice how clean our air and water can be, and we will all become vegetarians. One Belgian professor in economics even stated that the end of corona will open the beginning of a Golden Era [2]. So, all that was needed to stop capitalism was a simple virus? If only we had known before!

Precisely this is the problem of the solidarity discourse. Not so much that people help and support each other (which is necessary in times like these), but that a new world is promised. A world where the nasty real will finally be gone forever, a world where Eros will reign over Thanatos. At last! Understanding this from a psychoanalytical point of view, this is a problematic illusion. Plain and simple Eros has never been a smart solution, because Eros always entails Thanatos. These drives are not separated, and every new ethic based on Eros will have its own traces of Thanatos. We already see this problem arising. In the love and hope for a brighter future we show solidarity with nurses, police-men and all kinds of working people “going into war”. Yet – just like every discourse – the solidarity discourse leaves a lack, a group of misfits. The homeless and refugees all over Europe are precisely that lack: they do not get any applause, they cannot be heroic by ‘staying at home’ and they do not get any flashy # on social media. That is why it is so easy for right-winged ideologies to abuse the solidarity discourse. Some politicians fully endorse the solidarity discourse, applauding for every nurse worldwide. At the same time they state that corona shows us borders should be closed and refugees are dangerous because they spread the virus more easily and import additional diseases that give our brave nurses even more work.

Every crisis can be an opportunity to seek  alternatives and change the way we live. Corona could indeed be a terrific opportunity to do this, because it attacks us globally without differentiating in class, race, gender or education. We are all in the same boat, and this creates a momentum to change our way of living. And corona laid bare some of the power structures that inhabit us, like our over-reliance on economy and how much we do in fact pollute the air. In this sense, corona could cause little reservoirs of new forms of resistance in the power networks: it questions what was obvious before and can bring about change. Yet, if we think corona could render possible a revolution, we are very much mistaken. Corona will change our discourses and will cause shifts in how we try to cope with the real. But it will not do that by using Eros to lock up our old monsters and invent new saints. As long as we have a body, as long as we speak, the real will persist. We should not use corona to herald a Golden Era. We should use this crisis to understand how fragile the human being is and to look for ways to cope with this fragility. Not as a revolution, but as a subtle resistance against the power dynamics that have become obvious through corona.

 

 


[1] Lacan, J. (2014). The seminar of Jacques Lacan book X. Anxiety. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller. Cambridge/Malde: Polity Press.
[2] https://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20200319_04896040

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