About “Animism Revisited”: an introduction

(August 2017)

Nurit Bird-David’s article Animism Revisited (Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology), deserves our attention. After this little introduction,  the entire article… Bird- David is a senior professor of social anthropology at the University of Haifa, Israel — and a teacher in Tel Aviv.

Bird-David, in the first part of her article, re-visits animism through E. B. Tylor, first anthropologist to deal with the topic in 1871, when he published Primitive Culture. The genealogy of the debates goes back to that book which allowed him to be appointed Professor of Anthropology at Oxford University. A typical nineteenth-century thinker, Tylor assigned to science the “true” knowledge of the world, and according to him “animists” apprehended the world in a puerile, erroneous way and, under the influence of nineteenth-century evolutionism, he saw cognitive underdevelopment in this kind of worldview. Bird-David’s article also goes through Durkheim (who, by introducing the dualistic model, read animism as erroneous and childish mental operation), Levi-Strauss (who, also sharing the dualistic model, did not study animism but animistic aspects in totemism) and Guthrie (who saw animism as a universal biological category, present even in animals). Bird-David makes clear the limits of these anthropological discourses and how the positivist ideas in them (“nature,” “life,” “personality”) prevented a critical understanding of local concepts as those scholars attributed their own modern ideas of self to “primitive peoples” while claiming that “primitive peoples” read their idea of self in others! Thus, they explained the animated nature!

nayaka
Nayaka

In the second part of the article, Bird-David reports her ethnographic study of the hunter-gatherer peoples of southern India and the kind of animism they practice, electing the devarus (superpersons) as objectifications of the shared relations between them, the nayakas, and aspects of the environment. The secret of this re-visitation lies in the notion of a person who in no way resembles the modern notion of the individual: a single, irreducible entity. Inspired by Strathern (1988) and the Melanesian person: a set of relations, a microcosm analogous to society in general. “Person’ is “dividual” in contrast to “individual” and, as “dividual”, it is a relational person. Dividual people are those who share with one another, and by sharing they become related — regardless of blood, biology, lineage, myths. And this sharing occurs not only among the nayakas, but with members of other species: stones, elephants, hills, become devarus, and also, of course, become relatives. These are events involving the mutual participation of the agent-perceiver, nayaka, and the environment, or details of the environment. And the devarus, as we have seen, are superpersons, people with extra powers, grandfathers and grandmothers, great mother and great father… who, in this condition, can help the nayakas in an extraordinary way.

In the third part, Bird-David proposes a relational epistemology which is present in these hunter-gatherer people. Unlike the Cartesian motto “I think, therefore I am”, for the hunter-gatherer peoples it is “I relate, therefore I exist” and “I know, as I relate.” These people do not enhance the representations of the things they want to know, they do not “cut down the trees” to know them better; rather, they “talk to the trees” and develop the ability to be in the world with other beings, becoming aware of the environment and of the self. Better than that, impossible! Bird-David’s article made me feel an immense joy. From this point on, however, Bird put everything to a loss by comparing the paradigms: “both conceptions — modern and animist — are real and valid”, “each has its own strengths and weaknesses” (p.21). For her, in the West, where modern ontology enjoys an authority, animism also works and I present the reader the examples she gives: “when we relate to plants, when we connect — and animate — computers and cars”! Impossible to end an article with such a greater anticlimax. She goes on, however, completely oblivious to common sense and criticism!

In the fourth part of the article, anthropologists are invited to appreciate the article by Bird-David, among them Tim Ingold and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. The author agrees with Ingold who reads animism as universal, after all, we too, Bird-David tells us, talk to our cats, and (sic) animate the computer and our cars! This is what animism consists of in the West. The author wants to give continuity to this universal aspect and relies on a formulation by Tim Ingold: “…everywhere, humans perceive their environment responsively, not because of an innate cognitive predisposition, but because, in order to perceive, they must already be situated in a world and committed to the relations that this implies” (p.43). It is a pity that the author did not dwell on the kind of response the West has provided to what she calls the “environment,” if she had come to think of it, perhaps she could have seen that the answer given by the Western ontology — and epistemology — is destruction, and depletion of what we Westerners call “natural resources” and, thereby, we threaten our survival and Gaia also threatens us, becoming the main political character of this sad beginning of the twenty-first century.

Not by chance, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro is relentless with Bird-David: she does not claim, he says, that hunter-gatherer peoples have another ontology and transforms what reads these peoples into epistemology! Viveiros de Castro’s ruthless criticism focuses on the “massive conversion of ontological questions to epistemological ones” and this conversion, says the anthropologist is a pervasive feature of modern philosophy. Even when the author discusses the West and the “miraculous concatenation of circumstances” that allowed cognitive change in the seventeenth century, she does so from the scientific knowledge. And the answer that he finds, the solution that she sees, taking into account the relational cogito of the nayakas, also occurs in the plane of scientific knowledge. Cito Viveiros de Castro: “… animism is certainly an ontology and is concerned with the Being and not with the form that we come to know it.” It is all that Bird-David avoids doing, because like Taylor she feels compelled to evaluate this epistemology and to justify it based on its cognitive naturalness. She can only validate this epistemology by supporting the idea of a “natural human attitude”: she naturalizes and universalizes the animist position. And let us bear in mind that the concept of human nature is firmly rooted in the modern project!

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s critique is precise, it’s to the point and airs again the anthropological environment. Bird-David is still arm in arm with Tylor! When she formulates the difference in ontological and non-epistemological terms. By his turn, Viveiros de Castro defends a radical political position!

Link: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Mail/xmcamail.2012_08.dir/pdfFNa83UDbvD.pdf

 

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Rethinking Metapsychology – Introducing the Cultural Self

 

Amnéris Maroni

 

Tales_Ab_Saber
Tales Ab`Saber

The psychoanalytical essay Cultural Self, written by Tales Ab’Sáber is rare piece, especially if we take contemporary psychoanalysis into account, for it is a critical exercise in thinking, weaving clinical symptoms with cultural and political symptoms. The author resonates, and gives life to the thinking of the Frankfurtians. It’s a nice bet.

With the suggestive title “Stored Romanticism”, the opening chapter in the essay is fundamental in order to enable us to better understand the scope of the author’s thinking, and we will comment on it next. In three other chapters—The Anorexia, The Kidnapping, False Self: Exchange Value—insightful clinical cases are displayed. And then, Tales returns, certainly on another level of reflection, to the theoretical and dialectical considerations in three other precious chapters: Reflective Metapsychology, Cultural Self: dialectical self, Psychoanalysis and dialectics.

The essay Self Cultural (Subject of the Unconscious and History) as a whole is pure fruition of a dizzying thinking process that does not allow us to leave the book for tomorrow. We are called for sticking to it because we are infected by the meanders of the reasoning moves in it, for we come across real thought operations, and not a nauseating succession of concepts and definitions; they are thoughts that challenge us, run through us, touch us, and we can no longer give it up until we travel through the entire piece. Tales’s operations of the tessitura between personal and cultural symptoms will go with us to the clinic practice.

Through an enlightening reading of S. Freud’s work, “Stored Romanticism,” as the name implies, draws forgotten, lost thought threads that could not then flourish or were simply abandoned; Tales pulls these threads from a tradition that preceded psychoanalysis, German Romanticism. It is from this that emerges a poetic pulsion, as well as a strongly historical and dialectical pulsation, always to be renewed, between the subject and the world, inscribing itself into subjective life.

These threads are there in the Freudian framework and Tales’s elegant writing recovers them as if they were of the realm of dreaming and reveal the repressed, the forgotten and what simply cannot unfold due to the historical moment. I quote a passage that seems to me to be essential, one that makes explicit what it means to evoke, once more, something that cannot be heard of one day: “… Freud can think of the plethora of possibilities that would be the polymorphous power of human sexuality, but he dared not think, for example, that his most radical modulation might be in accordance with the course of history: for example, he did not notice the historical pulsations in the dream and in the form of human dreaming.”

Bringing back to light the hysteric ladies of the late nineteenth century, listened to by Freud, Tales allows us to understand that the symptoms revealed by the Swiss master can and should be understood in the face of the specific spirit of that historical moment. That is to say, there is an encrypted communication between the symptoms developed by those hysteric patients and the symptoms inscribed in history and culture. There is, therefore, a deep connection between symptom and its time, and thus, like human symptoms, the symptoms inscribed in the cultural order also revolve around a secret of its own and require, like dreams, to be interpreted.

 

Clinical Cases: psychically sharing the culture

 

Three insightful chapters of this essay offer us clinical cases and weave the dialectic thread of the subject to the world and it is through them that the Psychoanalytic Clinic asserts all its rights without fracturing itself in relation to cultural time and politics. Read them, and you will see the work of a master. And yet, this link differs, of course, from the questions of origin of the psychic apparatus, questions which are also dialectical, and the dearest ones to psychoanalysis. It is, Tales’s understanding, a place—the bond of the subject with the world—more advanced in the economy and in the psychic dynamics, for it resonates with that dynamics, sublimated and open to culture, and then reverberates the secondary principle of the psyche either in regard to thought, or to the test of reality.

I comment on the clinical cases (The Anorexia, The Kidnapping, False Self: exchange value) so valuable that they will allow us to understand more deeply the dialectic link of the subject with the world in the clinic, and in it, how the interpretations are made. We will also access, through clinical cases, the main contribution of the author: the creation of the concept of Cultural Self or Dialectical Self: a human psychic region capable of sheltering in itself both the analyst and the analysand—what makes this region a place of cultural sharing. It is a tense region, since it mobilizes and questions identifications and superegoical pressures of archaic psychic origin between the self and the world. It is by mobilizing this shared psychic space that the interpretations are woven, removing the clinical symptoms of their familiar enclosure.

The chapter The Anorexia is exemplary for understanding the Cultural Self. One of Tales’s patients had stopped eating at the end of her teenage years. Her mother, a controlling one, kept the girl emotionally regressed, denying her any emotional autonomy and also denying her the food that would give her the possibility of meaning: the presence and love of her father. Having separated from her father, her mother deconstructed him always and always, without any possible reparation order. The mother, ambivalent, at the same time that forced the teenager girl to eat, terrified her by telling her that she would be fat. Now, this hallucinatory ideal present in the mother’s psyche was also concretely staged in social life through the perfect image of the ubiquitous and fashionable women-goods.

This was one of the patients who taught Tales Ab’ Sáber the dialectical paths between the personal symptom and the shared culture. The search for the perfect image of the ideal body was also, paradoxically, for the patient to seek freedom, the power to self-determine, the autonomy dreamed and denied by the mother. Reversely, of course, the patient was fed on the body she had never had and that no one else would have. Fixed, fetishized images—which we cannot humanly experience—have, in fact, become her ‘food’. And yet, Tales can “give back” to the patient all these threads intertwined: submission to the hallucinatory ideal present in the mother’s psyche, but also present in the culture, and the patient’s attempt to break with this world and have autonomy and freedom of being by the negative. This sought rupture—the deidentification to this world—was also the attempt to create an empty space, that became pregnant of the being itself in search of constitution; and yet, instead of empty space, the patient only rediscovered the concrete presence of the world: the fetish image of the woman turned into a commodity. During the analysis, the patient was in danger of ever falling again into the world of fixed images and, once again, Tales tells us: “…we reconciled in our session this communication to our general humanity, its concept and its specific horror…”

In the The kidnapping, Tales reports the analytical work he did with a female patient who had been kidnapped in Brazil, at the end of the 20th century. What to do in such a case? The repetitive character of trauma, in this case, was not intrapsychic, described as thanatological, in the same way that the trauma of World War I concerned not only metapsychology, but the condition of human life so well perceived by Walter Benjamin. I quote Tales: “…The trauma to my patient who was abducted, strongly concerned the harsh social conscience that the symptom, the kidnapping and its horror, in a society immensely hijacked of itself, is there. Or rather, it’s there on any corner. To overcome the melancholic evils of trauma was to become aware of the status of this social symbolic reality…” and in it the abducted kidnappers—those economically, socially and culturally excluded by neoliberalism—would continue to kidnap their kidnapping abducted—part of the upper middle class and of the dominant class—the other class, in Brazil.

It is worth mentioning, in conclusion, that Tales worked and thought with his patient about the conditions of class and social exclusion that provided, during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration and the Real (currency) era, not isolated abductions, but a kidnapping industry. Economic stagnation and inflation, and behold, national things enter into the rhythm of ‘Earth in trance’ and perhaps the main social symptom of such dissolution has been the organization of the mass criminal life of those excluded from culture, wealth and human interest. Having only the horizon of culture to dream, the excluded individuals preferred to organize themselves for high-performance, almost technical, rationalized and positive work in the cultural industry market, kidnapping.

False self: exchange value is the account of another analysis by Tales: patient ‘false self’, everything in him is collective from the staggering work in his travels between Brazil and the United States to the type of tie, the car and the kind of music he listens to. In the company in which that patient works, apparently a multinational, the slightest difference is cause for adverse reaction, it is cause for a malaise. Everybody preaches equality, everybody is equal, always the same: the same gestures, the same jargon, the same words. And when the patient is finally able to stop working, he does not know what to do with his time, does not know his son, does not know what the child means to him, he cannot think of anything and, feeling anguish, says he wants to find the “qualities of the world.”

Now, Tales summons us to a dialectical connection between the symptoms of culture and the symptoms produced from the family relationship: a depressed, impotent and disenchanted father does not provide his son with a creative passage to culture. Rather, the son escapes from the father and the family situation and defends himself from him, from the father, manically inserting himself into a society and a culture in which money is a radical and universal abstraction, a world that by definition is without experience and, then “without qualities.” The patient’s maniacal defense is confused with the maniacal aspect of the financial market, as a single psychic force of power, almost annihilating the subject’s truth. During the time he was in analysis, Tales helped the patient recover lost qualities: the enjoyment of time, the discovery of narratives, human experience, encounter with other cultures, the time and the psychic space of affection.

In the first clinical case (The anorexia) the massive presence of the mother in the daughter’s psyche coincides with the fixed images of the culture. In the second clinical case (The kidnapping), the lived trauma, markedly a sociocultural one, could only be dealt with through a certain strategy and then Tales and his patient together think about the economic, social and cultural conditions of those years. In the third clinical case (False Self: exchange value) the “absence” of a disenchanted and depressed father allows a massive capture of the subjectivity of the child by the collective.

 

Capturing subjectivity: a step beyond

 

The short chapters are easy to read and can even be read in one sitting, and yet they demanded from the author a dense knowledge in distinct areas: psychoanalysis, to begin with, but also studies of culture and of society, of politics, of imagination, and so on. Moreover, they demanded that Tales learned to weave them, without exchanging one for the other, that is, maintaining the specificity of the different areas, the world of culture and individual subjectivity that, after all, were closer, much closer than we would expect. Tales’s achievement is such an intricate one, but we can learn a lot from it. What we cannot afford to do any longer is to remain indifferent to culture, to civilization, to politics which, of course, captures the subjectivity of individuals to a great extent, and, why not to say, to a great extent they structure our subjectivity, signifying once again so well, inclusively, as shown by the author, what we understand by the Oedipus.

Many authors have walked through similar paths—philosophers, psychoanalysts, sociologists—and yet it is difficult to find in them a fabric with the quality of these essays by Tales Ab’Sáber. The primacy of the clinic from which all the chapters derives and the delicacy and intelligence with which the author interweaves all the themes is—I am obliged to use a word already mentioned at the beginning of this review—rare, very rare in psychoanalysis.

THE ONTOLOGY OF OTHERS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPPE DESCOLA

 

(July 2017)

descola
Philippe Descola

The following interview with Philippe Descola, titled “The Ontology of Others”, was published in the Journal of Philosophy, Aurora/2016, Curitiba. Descola is interviewed by Davide Scarso from PUC-PR. The interview is from 2012, and it had already been partially published both in French and English.

Descola criticizes the distinction between nature and culture, as do other anthropologists such as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Tim Ingold, Marylin Strathern. The interview deals with the book Par-delá nature et culture (2005). The distinction between nature and culture—is not an intrinsic attribute of being—but one among the possible modalities of ontological organization. The anthropologist brings forth, in a vast and erudite research, four ontologies. At the core of each one of the different ontological systems, there is a human characteristic that Descola considers universal: the distinction between “inner” experience and “outer” world. This original differentiation is accompanied by another fundamental cognitive mechanism: the types of relationships which are established between the internal and the external, that is, the “modalities of identification.”

Therefore, the author outlines four ontologies: (1) the naturalistic ontology of the modern West, which has guided the whole understanding in a radical distinction between nature and culture, the inner experience—the soul, subjectivity—is associated with the human—to all other beings this possibility is denied; 2) the animistic ontology—native peoples of the Americas—internal experience is a potentially universal and common attribute to all entities; all beings are animated and maintains among themselves, let us say, intense dialogues, a world of connections; 3) the totemistic ontology—Aboriginal peoples from Australia—the entities and places of the Earth from which it comes (human beings, animals, localities, objects) are distributed in different clusters, with sui generis properties, from a same totemic principle and there is an intimate correspondence, almost a coincidence between the inner and outer experience; 4) the analogical ontology (ancient China, Mexico at the time of conquest), entities differ both from the internal and external points of view, and the relations between them must be built and reconstructed incessantly.

Each of these ontologies has a particular regime of temporality, and only the ontology of the West is marked by an “onward” arrow of time, an endless progress! These ontologies are never found in pure state. Predominant types have distinctly structured and keeps structuring the different areas of the globe and different historical epochs. The dominant ontologies coexist—and sometimes conflict—with the smaller ones.

What’s new about Descola’s thesis? Western modern ontology is sinking all over, it is in crisis. That’s the big news! This novelty is present, nowadays, in our relationship with animals: a certain extension of the protection of  the rights of the animals; the Constitution of Ecuador recognizes nature as a subject of law, with specific and intrinsic rights; the struggle of the Andean analogical collectors against mining companies not so much because of the environmental damages “but rather by the disturbances mining brings to the lakes and the mountains and by the fears of the negative reactions that this aggression can provoke”. What is posited, then, as a new possibility, is a much more pluralistic cosmopolitics.

Despite this amazing novelty presented by Descola, his political positioning very little aggressive. Unlike Tim Ingold and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Descola refuses the conflict between ontologies. And the interview ends by establishing merits for the ontologies, especially the naturalist ontology of the West. Ontological differences will be at the service—in his understanding—of thought, of philosophy and not of politics. I missed so much Eduardo Viveiros de Castro!

 

 

Interview with Philippe Descola1

Philippe Descola: Collège de France, Paris, France

Davide Scarso: PUCPR, Curitiba, PR, Brazil

 

The possibility of unequivocally tracing the boundary between the human world and the non-human world is one of the essential principles of the modern image of knowing. Some even go so far as to regard this separation as the pillar of the entire Western metaphysics2. This principle finds perhaps its most concrete form in the traditional distinction between the sciences of man and the sciences of nature, the first being, at its core, those disciplines that study all that we generally consider to distinguish the human from the nonhuman and that mark the transition from nature to culture: mind, language, history, artistic activities, etc. However, it has been a long time that this distinction is being disputed, and the dividing line separating human and non-human seems, today, to be much less solid and impermeable3.

In spite of, or perhaps even because of its intimate connection with the distinction between culture and nature—its domain is defined precisely in opposition to that of physical anthropology—cultural anthropology is today among the scientific areas currently most committed to a critical deconstruction of this binomial conceptual. In the preface to the second edition of The Elementary Structures of Kinship, published in 1967 (almost twenty years after the first), Claude Lévi-Strauss recognized the “methodological” value of the nature-culture opposition4. The one who had brought it to its fullest expression, turning it into the cornerstone of an imposing theoretical edifice, somehow heralded it imminent decline. In 1980, British anthropologist Marylin Strathern went much further with her famous essay “No Nature, no Culture: the Hagen Case” where she denounced the “ethnocentric” character of the distinction between nature and culture5. However, the critique of this dichotomy has reached its full articulation in the last two decades, and I am referring in particular to the works of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Tim Ingold and Philippe Descola6. These are the thinkers who, following very different paths and theoretical attitudes, have problematized the nature-culture binomial in the most radical and consequential way.

It is worth putting before the interview with Philippe Descola, which is presented here for the first time in its entirety, a few short words of introduction. The fundamental idea is that the nature-culture dualism (that is, the principle according to which the possibility of distinguishing between what belongs to the natural world and what, on the contrary, must be attributed to a sphere of culture would be an attribute intrinsic of the being) represents, in fact, only one among the many possible modalities of ontological organization. So far, this is a starting point which, roughly speaking, is shared by all those who criticize or even reject the dualism of nature and culture.

However, Descola’s ambitious anthropological theory, developed in its most finished form in his book Par-delà nature et culture7, adds to this principle some distinctive corollaries.

Firstly, the different ontologies—that is, from the perspective of the anthropologist, the different ways in which it is possible to differentiate entities by assigning them certain characteristics and not others—do not result exclusively from historical or geographical contingencies, but rather respond to pressing internal coherence requirements. They are not, then, indeterminate in their forms, nor are they in their number, and, as a matter of fact, they are distributed around four basic types.

We might ask why such number is four, not five or three. It is so because in the origin of the different ontological systems, according to Descola, there is a human characteristic that, by its pervasiveness and its determining role, can very well be considered universal. This peculiarity is the recognition of a fundamental distinction between “inner” experience and “external” world (distinction that the dualism of soul and body would represent not the truth, but only a local variant)8 and, apparently, history and ethnography have made it evident, in diverse epochs and latitudes. Hence the possible relations are precisely four, and consequently, there are also four corresponding ontological distributions.

We can assume that the entities that populate the world all possess an analogous material existence, ultimately founded on the same processes and laws, but that they differ in respect to the inner experience, which in certain classes of entities would be completely absent. It is, as it’s easily to hint, the essential attitude of the modern West, which Descola calls the “naturalistic attitude”. Nevertheless, it has been considered in other epochs of history and it still is considered today in some regions of the globe that, on the contrary, the inner experience, which in the West is invariably associated with the sphere of the human, such kind of experience is a potentially universal and common attribute to all beings. They would share, though not always permanently and in the same degree, an analogous inner life, being then differentiated only by their external conformation. Descola defines this ontological attitude as “animism”, thus bringing back to circulation, duly revised and corrected, an ethnographic term that many have previously considered to be already worn out9.

But we may also think that there is a very intimate correspondence, almost a coincidence, between inner experience and outer form. In these cases, then, the entities eventually distribute themselves in different blocks between them, but, despite their internal heterogeneity (being composed of human beings, animals, inanimate objects, localities, etc.), they are based on participation in the same principle “totemism”, and it is precisely “totemism” the denomination chosen by the French anthropologist. Finally, we can consider that all the entities of the world differ both from the internal and external points of view, and that the different relations between them, as well as between the different elements that make up each one of them, must be incessantly constructed and reconstructed through complex operations of analogy. Hence the definition, for this ontological modality, of “analogism”.

Although they can never be observed in their pure form, which then belongs only to the “type”, these four ontologies represent poles of attraction that have distinctly structured different areas of the globe, at different points in history. On the basis of an immense bibliography, which goes beyond ethnography, extending itself into the history of civilizations, arts and ideas, Descola seeks to show that, if naturalism characterizes Western modernity, animism has spread over the native peoples of the Americas, while totemism had its privileged ground in Aboriginal Australia and, finally, analogism was found in places such as Mexico at the time of the Conquest, the ancient China, and in Europe at the time of the Renaissance period.

In addition to the extensive systematization proposed in this kind of global ontological mapping, of which these notes offer a necessarily succinct synthesis, Descola explains, with equal care and similar erudition, how each major ontological attitude produces distinct outcomes in all kinds of areas: in the composition of collectivities, in knowledge models, in relations between different groups or in figurative regimes10. It would be unfair to try to summarize an anthropological project as ambitious as subtle in just a few lines, so we refer and highly recommend the reading of Par-delà nature et culture for the necessary deepening in this issue. However, we are convinced that the following interview may represent a great introduction to the work of Philippe Descola and at the same time the occasion to emphasize some of its more intriguing theoretical implications.

DS: You defended your doctoral thesis under the guidance of Claude Lévi-Strauss, and in fact, after decades in which any attempt at generalization was suspiciously looked upon, your work reintroduced in the anthropological thought a theoretical ambition that, from several points of view, comes close to that of structuralism.

PD: I am convinced that the distinction already stressed by Lévi-Strauss and which for a long time was recognized in anthropology, between, on the one hand ethnography and ethnology, and on the other hand anthropology, remains valid. Ethnography consists of the description of social and cultural realities through participant observation, by immersing the observer in a given environment, which usually ends up in a monographic work; ethnology constitutes a first attempt of inductive generalization based on the results of ethnography and allows generalization, whether relative to a class of phenomena (a certain form of marriage or the transmission of goods), or at the level of cultural area, a set of neighboring societies. Anthropology is a different undertaking in the sense that it is not based on an inductive generalization of direct knowledge, but rather on a hypothetical-deductive itinerary: we formulate some hypotheses and then examine how these hypotheses are validated or not by ethnographic data. It must be added, at once, that this division between ethnography and ethnology, on the one hand, and anthropology, on the other, is not as marked as we might think insofar as the data on which anthropologists work is not neutral. These are materials that have already been filtered, purified, recomposed by the implicit or explicit theoretical dispositions of the ethnographers who collected them. So, and that’s where I wanted to get at, it seems to me that over the past thirty years, due to the progressive domination in anthropology of an approach that is more of American culturalism, and there, the most prominent figure is undoubtedly Clifford Geertz (whose talents are immense, this is not what is in question here), ethnography, as an intellectual undertaking of generalization from data collected on the ground by an ethnographer, has taken center stage, to the detriment of anthropology as a hypothetical-deductive scientific path.

I think both paths are necessary, that we cannot privilege one over the other. I myself was an ethnographer in the Amazon, and I did it with great pleasure, but the ethnographic description, despite being able to bring to the surface some concepts, does not represent a course analogous to the construction of anthropological models. Why do I bring this up? To emphasize that, if we assume that anthropology requires a hypothetical-deductive course, this means that achieving generality from ethnography is not appropriate to address the kind of questions posed by an anthropologist working at another level of generality. These are questions concerning the formal properties of social life, which cannot be approached from a particular ethnographic point of view: it is, in essence, to contribute to making intelligible the way in which human beings, bodies with singular faculties, fit into the world, select these or those of its properties for their fruition and compete to modify them by weaving, with the world and with others, constant or occasional relations, certainly very different among them, but from which a well-founded systematics can be sketched. It won’t be by embracing generalizing inductions from local situations, however extremely interesting and suggestive they might be, that we can come to answer this kind of questions.

Allow me a little digression to dispel a possible misunderstanding. Ethnography, as a study of local realities in non-modern societies, undoubtedly makes it possible to emphasize originality and fecundity for the thought of certain autochthonous concepts and institutions that have no equivalent in Western thought and which possess an eminent philosophical dignity.

“Mana”, “Totem”, “Taboo”, “Hau”, “Potlatch”, all these concepts of which we retain the native names in anthropology are very complex and polysemic notions whose effects on thought have not yet been exhausted. Moreover, almost 25 years ago, at the invitation of André Jacob, I myself wrote a few entries related to Amazonian concepts for the second volume of his Encyclopedie philosophique universelle11, so that “Wakan” or “Yvy maran ey” are found side by side with “Conatus” or “Transcendental Deduction”. Having said that, interpreting the philosophical reach of such concepts is not the same as doing anthropology in the way I have tried to do in Par-delà nature et culture.

DS: In the context of an anthropological work that somewhat rehabilitates Lévi-Strauss’s heritage of structuralism, your frequent references to the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty may surprise some people. Whence comes your interest in Merleau-Ponty’s thought?

PD: Like many French anthropologists, I graduated in philosophy. I studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Saint-Cloud, with one of the great figures of the philosophy of the time, Jean-Toussaint Desanti, a philosopher of mathematics, and other great masters who were specialists in classical philosophy, such as Martial Guéroult, of whom we know the influence in Foucault, or even Alexandre Matheron who is undoubtedly the greatest specialist of Espinosa. And I must say that I had never heard the name of Merleau-Ponty during my studies of philosophy! It was within a small group of friends with whom we formed a reading group (very eclectic indeed, because we read both Marx and Levi-Strauss or Hegel), where somebody told me: “It’s necessary to read the Phenomenology of Perception12, which I did. The situation of the seventies was very peculiar in the sense that Merleau-Ponty seemed to have disappeared in a kind of low tide, when in fact his influence was remarkable in some contemporary philosophers who we admired a lot, like Foucault or Deleuze. But the very source, perhaps because it disappeared too soon, was over for our generation. I then discovered it on my own in the Phenomenology of Perception and later in The Structure of Behavior13. In particular, this last book had surprised me, because I was already interested in anthropology, which is a behavioral science. I was impressed to see a philosopher who presented a solid knowledge and who was saying interesting things about animal ethology, form psychology, developmental psychology, domains which at the time had been abandoned by the other philosophers (although Deleuze later became interested in such matters), without ceasing to be a full philosopher. Of all post-war philosophers, Merleau-Ponty was ultimately the only one who proposed a philosophical anthropology that was compatible not only with the empirical data provided by social and cultural anthropology but also with what the other sciences taught us about human behavior; we certainly could not say the same thing about Sartre.

Nevertheless, at the moment that I started on the project of Par-delà nature et culture, my initial inspiration did not come from philosophy, but from my ethnographic experience. This may seem to contradict everything I said just now, but it turns out that the questions that an anthropologist poses regarding the more general properties of social life often spring up from a philosophical jolt, if you like, or a questioning or an astonishment, which are the result of a certain ethnographic work. In my case, it was my long stay among the Achuar Indians in the equatorial Amazon that convinced me of the notions of nature and culture, or of a cosmological architecture in which there is a separation between, on the one hand, natural phenomena and, on the other, cultural or symbolic appropriation of these phenomena, would make no sense in a description of that society. And, to the extent that this made no sense in describing that society, the next question was whether that distinction would make any sense in describing other societies of the same sort, and the result was equally negative.

This consequence of my ethnographic work led me to question this opposition—or the universality of this opposition—between nature and culture, an undertaking that was not easy for me because of my dual formation— philosophical and structuralist—in which this double contrast had played a considerable role.

Then, I began by being interested, as an amateur, because I am neither a historian of ideas nor a philosopher by profession, in the way in which the division between nature and society, its epistemological and political effects, and then all those who rejected this division, the so-called “heretics”, ranging from Montaigne, that is, just before naturalistic cosmology begins to be theorized, to Merleau-Ponty, one of those who questioned it in a radical way. Consequently, Merleau-Ponty was to me, not so much a propelling element (or perhaps unconsciously), but rather as a kind of additional philosophical assurance that it was legitimate to question, as I was doing, the universality of the distinction between nature and culture. In particular, his course The Nature, which I read much later, at the time of its publication in the 1990s, it was extremely valuable for me, because in it he shows very well, with an expression that I like very much to quote because it seems to me that it perfectly expresses my own path, such as “It was not the scientific discoveries that provoked the change of the idea of Nature. It was the change of the idea of Nature that allowed these discoveries”14. Coming from an important philosopher like Merleau-Ponty, this gave me comfort in my intellectual project, because I could only legitimize an enterprise of anthropological reform like the one I pursued, which consisted in saying that at the core of all social life there are ontological choices, and, as these choices change, as they have changed so many times throughout human history, these turnings have consequences in all other spheres, including and firstly in the scope of scientific activity, in the event that it is already constituted.

DS: This form of relativization of what you call the “great divide” between nature and culture, which suppresses its quality of universal template, for you, however, it is not equivalent to rejecting the concept of nature as the result of a social construction, right?

PD: Not at all, because it would make no sense, from an anthropological or philosophical point of view, to “reject” the concept of nature. To speak of “social construction” of nature is a naïveté because it is equivalent to falling into an infinite analytic recursivity: if there is a social construction of something, it is because there is something pre-existent to the construction, perhaps a pre-predicative, pre-social nature existing in itself etc. But this something is still a nature whose profile and characteristics are very similar to the nature of the Moderns. Speaking of the social construction of nature, we have finally reintroduced the distinction between nature and culture, the idea of a universal nature of which there would be multiple particular visions. This is not the perspective I adopted at all. In an article I published in the Interdisciplinary Science Review15 I tried to clarify my approach to the theory of knowledge that my positions imply and which I define as “rustically Humean”: the idea is “I perceive and make inferences”, that is, the world is a package of qualities and relationships, which human beings may come to actualize or not. The conditions of this actualizing or non-actualizing depend on the type of environment in which they were socialized and, therefore, on the kind of ontological inferences that they have the habit of doing that were recognized as valid in the environment or in the collective in which they formed their judgment. Therefore, there is not only a nature destined to be unveiled and whose characteristics the peoples would discover more or less perfect in accordance to their degree of rationality and scientific improvement, but on the contrary, it is my hypothesis, there is a mass of existing features, of qualities, of relationships—and the notion of quality is very important, and it is undoubtedly equally fundamental in Merleau-Ponty—that will be discerned, organized, systematized, or otherwise ignored, so that each world is made up of properties, but whose nature and combination are different. Anthropology, for me, is the study of the different ways we make up the world.

The crucial principle in the model I propose is that any human is able to make inferences that belong to one or another of the four great ontological systems that I present in my work.

Anyone, in certain circumstances, can attribute intentionality to a nonhuman, thus making an animistic inference, or on the contrary, choosing to radically mark the difference between they and a nonhuman from the point of view of interiority and then do a naturalistic inference. Or, to understand that the beings and places of the earth from which they come have totally different sui generis properties and thus make a totemistic inference, or finally to think that the state of the cosmos—an astral conjunction, for example— influences his personal destiny, and then make an analogical inference.

But it is only in certain circumstances that these inferences become systematic and result in the formation of ontologies—in which the other types of inferences are considered as abnormal or harmful and eventually inhibited. If you want to behave normally in a naturalistic ontology, you will need to contain your tendency to infer that machines have a soul or that the mass of an electron depends on the color of the sky at dusk. If we want to think in terms of conventional epistemology, at bottom, the only element of relativism that I ask is allowed is that if we admit that each human being is capable of making very diverse ontological inferences, naturalistic cosmology, resulting from one of these inferences only, it is not the only possible or legitimate one. My criticism of the traditional philosophy of knowledge is, then, more of the kind of anthropologists once made of evolutionism, that is, of that implicit: that it continues to be very present in the history of philosophy or to certain sociologists, according to which naturalistic cosmology is, like Victorian bourgeois society to the anthropologists of the late nineteenth century, the term of progress and perfection in the true understanding of the world. On this subject, I’ve had very lively discussions with fellow philosophers!

DS: According to their position, there are fundamental modalities from which derive a whole series of consequences, and certain ontological premises encourage certain “arrangements” excluding others. Nevertheless, you do not necessarily accept the hypothesis that there is something like universal cognitive attitudes, where does your coercive power come from?

PD: Yes, I think there will certainly be universal cognitive attitudes, but, with some caution because some of them, which we think are universal, are in reality the result of the use of experimental devices that are more or less exclusively based on the study of Euro-American populations.

It is, therefore, too early to assert that these attitudes are universal. I am referring in particular to the work in developmental psychology whose progress I follow very closely, as do other anthropologists such as Maurice Bloch or Rita Astuti.

For my part, I have tried to instigate some students to carry out typical experiments in developmental psychology in non-modern populations, but it is not easy to adapt experimental protocols developed in a school context, or even for babies, that have been developed in a very different cultural context and where the technical conditions are not always favorable. On the other hand, I am talking to a developmental psychologist in Paris to see if it would not be possible to create some experiments with French children to try to understand the psychic mechanisms that inhibit non-standard inferences. In fact, I assume that every human being is capable of making the inferences that are at the basis of any of the four great ontologies, but education ends up making impossible ontological inferences that do not correspond to the model in which we were socialized. We can then suppose that there are mechanisms of inhibition of these inferences and it is the study of these mechanisms that would allow a better understanding of the inferences themselves. So, I do not reject the idea of such universality of cognitive attitudes, I simply say that this universality must be based on empirical works conducted in very different cultural contexts, and this is far from happening. As a matter of fact, anthropologists can participate in an experiment of this kind: I refer, for instance, to Edwin Hutchins’ research, precisely on inferential reasoning, particularly on syllogistic reasoning. In a magnificent book on the traditional courts dealing with territorial disputes on the Trobriand Islands in Melanesia, he studied how people defend their cases before a chief in charge of justice16. It is then an ethnography of the argument in which he shows how the litigants resort to the whole range of syllogistic reasoning that Aristotle presented in his Organon. From this point of view, therefore, it is evident that there is a psychical unity of the human race. Quite simply, Hutchins notes, for example, that in these syllogistic reasoning the conclusion is never explicitly formulated: the premises are presented, but it is up to the person to whom the complaint is directed to draw the conclusion.

I have no doubt concerning the unity of human cognition, but before I know what the real universals are, there is still much empirical work to be done, and I think, moreover, that it is a work that must be based on a collaboration between psychologists and anthropologists. The work of anthropologists is not to look for universals, the work of anthropologists is to bring to light some invariants. By no means an invariant is the same thing, an invariant is a structure—here I return to Levi-Strauss’s analysis—which allows us to understand how the variations of a given phenomenon are at the same time transformations of one another. These are not universals in the philosophical or psychological senses.

DS: In your analysis of Lévi-Strauss’s Gildersleeve Lecture, you say you have found “some echoes of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology”17. For Claude Imbert, your theoretical undertaking stands, in a certain way, at the intersection between the perspectives of these two thinkers. Do you recognize yourself in this description?

PD: What I find most interesting in the attempts that some anthropologists have made in the last thirty or forty years is precisely that, I mean, they have tried to reconcile structuralism and phenomenology, understood in a broad sense (like many philosophers of my generation, I started with phenomenology by reading Husserl’s books, and not, as I have already said, Merleau-Ponty’s, of whom no one ever spoke).

To reconcile phenomenology with structuralism implies giving the study of structures a philosophical foundation founded on Merleau-Ponty’s admirable work of deconstruction of “cognitive realism”: the idea that there would be, on the one hand, a central command post placed in the brain and another part the rest of the world that would be perceived and dealt with by this central command post (a perspective which, unfortunately, becomes even stronger thanks to the development of neurosciences, whereas cognitive realism is undoubtedly the simplest kind of explanation in neurosciences). The point is to reconcile, on the one hand, this criticism, this deconstruction of cognitive realism whoever is interested in human experience—first of all, the anthropologists—recognizes as incapable of accounting for the complexity of situations encountered by humans and, on the other hand, the idea that there are stabilized forms, transmitted as schemata, that will structure and give systematicity to the experience of the world. In fact, this tension between the constriction of forms and truth originating from experience is one of the most productive engines of contemporary philosophical and anthropological research.

In this regard, a very interesting thing is happening today: as Merleau-Ponty was undoubtedly translated very late in the Anglophone world, the Phenomenology of Perception appeared almost twenty years after its publication in French, and it took even more time for some American philosophers to take him seriously (eclipsed by other French philosophers who were the object of an authentic passion overseas, such as Derrida and Foucault—after Merleau-Ponty—but, as they called themselves, debtors of his thought). This very late discovery accounts for the fact that English or American anthropologists, who reject cognitive realism, have recently adopted Merleau-Ponty as an ally in their critique. And they tend to oppose Merleau-Ponty to Levi-Strauss, who they consider as Kantian, absurd: on the one hand, there would be the truth of the experience of the world and on the other hand, a-historical structures that would be like filters of that experience and belong to a spirit abstracted from all worldly reality. What these anthropologists do not see is that in his work The Savage Mind18, Levi-Strauss explores something like a logic of sensible qualities in the sense of Merleau-Ponty—and it will not be by chance that the book which best illustrates this affinity is dedicated precisely to Merleau-Ponty.  When Levi-Strauss says that there is so much of savage in civilized and scientific thought as in magical thinking, these are extremely heterodox things, and he also seeks support in philosophy to shake off the distinction between savage and civilized, a distinction that implicitly remains an important frontier for many philosophers.

DS: Merleau-Ponty speaks on a number of occasions of “symbolic matrices”, moments in history in which certain events and certain institutions cluster around a kind of elective affinity and give rise to new segments of meaning, opening new lines of development. He insisted heavily on the historical and transitory character of these structures, but your rather emphasize their internal coherence. Despite this, even their ontological matrices are not immobile and rigid, many changes take place throughout history. As far as naturalism is concerned, you show that the movement has not ended: after a phase in which interiority and exteriority reaches a certain balance, there is a “historical dynamism” that takes things further. The exhibition “The Image Factory”, which you organized at the Musée du Quai Branly, showed this very clearly.

PD: Yes, indeed. Working on the images was an interesting experience for me, because Par-delà nature et culture, as indeed all that I had done up until then, was based on discursive systems, both of the Western tradition and reconstructed and recomposed by the ethnographers who transmit us the statements and the texts of oral literature that they collected. Then, I again came across Merleau-Ponty, in particular, in the analyzes of his latest text on the visual thinking of painters, Cézanne in particular19. In the case of the images of naturalism, I had the confirmation of something I had already sensed, namely that the ontological propositions of naturalism—if we can speak of propositions in the case of an image— have settled in Europe perhaps already since the end of the fourteenth century, this is well before taking a discursive philosophical form in the seventeenth century; and that naturalism dissolved earlier in the images than in philosophical texts, say, from Cubism. Then, there is a temporal lag between images and speech, something perfectly normal, because they are different modes of expression. This is the first finding that was important to me, because I believe that systematic research would probably lead to the same conclusion regarding other modes of identification, to other ontologies. The second realization is that there is a historical dynamism in naturalism that, in effect—if we take as central axis the idea that the images reveal the principles of the construction of the world, as I did—results in the control of the physical dimension over the dimension of interiority, and that inwardness becomes increasingly a function of the physical dimension. And this is seen in the images well before taking a philosophical or discursive form in the materialism or physicalism of Dennet, of Davidson, or of neurobiologists like Changeaux or Edelmann, in the sixties of the twentieth century. The question that arises here is whether there is anything specific about naturalism in this historical tension, and I am more likely to think so, because it seems to me plausible that just as there are figurative regimes which are characteristic of each of these ontologies, there are also temporal regimes specific to each of these. And the temporal regime par excellence of naturalism is that of the arrow of time—a cumulative, irreversible temporality oriented to the future, marked by progress—and it is easy to understand that, from this point of view, this ontology is animated by a transformational dynamism which we did not find elsewhere. It is also true that in relation to naturalism we have the greatest mass of existing documentation, textual and iconographic, because the history of art has been occupied almost exclusively in this period. Hence, we have a very large amount of data attesting to this movement of subordination of moral to physics, which makes me see the premises in Dutch painting of the seventeenth century, but, once again, it will be palpable in the texts only several centuries later.

DS: In your book, you show that the transformations our relationships with animality have undergone over the last few decades represent a challenge to naturalism, to its inner movement.

PD: Yes, it means that two paths are being drawn. The first, very characteristic of naturalism, is the utilitarian course and consists in extending to certain species of nonhuman, primate rule superiors (apes in English) the qualities, and therefore the rights, which are generally recognized to humans. This does not change anything; the border moves a little and deep down it just means letting some nonhuman animals into the human club.

Then there is another more interesting route, but it is much more difficult to put into practice, which is to try to think about new forms of non-human representation, in the sphere or rights, for example, of the legal rights. This is what Jean-Pierre Marguénaud20, a French jurist, an expert on animal rights, who proposes to read, in the new French penal code, the rights that are recognized to animals under the dependence of humans as collective rights, of the kind of rights recognized to moral people. This introduces a new personification of the animal because it can be represented as such before the courts, but in a totally different sense of the extent of human qualities.

There are other interesting developments in law, such as the one recently proposed by a young jurist, Sarah Vanuxem, to go beyond the legal summa divisio between things and people to conceive things as the environments in which people live, the latter being no longer the representatives of things, as it happens now, but those who reside among things and can therefore speak from them21. It is a very original suggestion and, on the other hand, it goes in the direction of the environmental philosophies that I consider to be most interesting because they are ecocentric or biocentric (as in the case of Callicott, for example22), that is, they are based on the idea of that what must be protected are networks of interaction in certain environments, not individuals themselves, so that the elements of a complex ecosystem that play the most important role in their disturbance become the primary responsible for maintaining their equilibrium (and, these elements are, of course, humans).

Then there is a third legal-political framework in which there are stimulating things to happen, and I am referring to everything that is done in South America for natural objects to have some form of political representation. There is the exemplary case of the new Constitution of Ecuador in which specific rights are assigned to Nature as a moral person, the text speaks more precisely of “nature or Pachamama,” the name of the Andean goddess, which is an interesting way of hypostasizing a modern concept, nature, in a premodern entity, a divinity responsible for fertility. It is the first time that, in a modern constitution, nature is conceived as having intrinsic rights. We may think it is something folkloric, old-fashioned or New Age, but in my opinion, it is an interesting symptom because it manifests a desire to give back to nonhuman beings of various kinds the place they formerly occupied in collective Andean analogues (and that in certain cases still occupy, but not to the scale of a nation). The same trend is also present in the forms of public protest by the Indians of the Andes who struggle against mining companies, not so much because of environmental damage, but rather because of the disruption that mining brings to lakes and mountains and fears of negative reactions that this aggression can provoke. In the case of a collective analogue, mountains, springs, rivers, lakes, cliffs, lands, herds, are constitutive elements in a very broad set (which also includes celestial bodies and their movements).

Each of them participates in the balance of the system, as a member of a segment of the collective, called ayllu in the Andes. The discussions that led to the definition of nature as a subject of law in the Ecuadorian constitution did indeed seek to transform, within the rather embarrassing picture of the European institutions that crossed the Atlantic with the independences (and characteristics of the possessive individualism typical of naturalism), the place of the nonhumans in order to reintroduce the status they have in analogical collectives. A whole series of phenomena of this kind are happening and they point to a much more pluralistic cosmopolitics.

I believe that the present century will experience a profound shaking of the naturalistic model of management of public affairs that came to impose itself after the last world war, but which is being called into question in many regions of the world.

DS: Is it correct to say that you yourself include your work in this moment of change in naturalism?

PD: Absolutely. This theoretical work I was able to do was possible only because the whole thing has begun to move. There are no intellectual heroes who suddenly clap their heads saying “now I get it!”. There are simply people who anticipate a little faster the consequences of a change of situation, nothing more. I believe that if Bruno Latour, in another area, or Tim Ingold (with whom I have both points of proximity and divergence), and a few others, we were able to raise some questions in the field of social sciences, it is precisely because naturalism is not so obvious anymore. The fundamental thing now is, what political consequences to draw from it, and it is not about consequences that can be taken individually, but we are awaiting a huge collective construction site. When we see what is happening in Europe, the debates between political parties as in the case of the presidential election in France, we realize that there is a considerable gap between political models, arguments, etc. (perhaps even more extraordinary in the United States) and the fact that the ontological boundaries themselves have already moved a great deal. Most of the concepts by which politicians think the present are largely inadequate because they originate either from the classic liberal thought of the nineteenth century or from one or another variant of Marxist thought. In fact, these two thoughts respond to each other because they were constituted observing the problems of European industrial society in the second half of the nineteenth century, but offered opposite solutions.

Well, this world has disappeared, but the necessary aggiornamento on the part of the political thought did not happen.

DS: There is a relation that you admit and problematize at the same time, the relation between naturalistic ontology and ethno-anthropological work. Anthropology is in a position…

PD: … very particular, because no one else did anthropology elsewhere. There is a naturalistic anthropology of animism or totemism, but there is no animistic or totemistic anthropology of naturalism. Lévi-Strauss had already understood this well: the West (he speaks of the West, I would speak before the naturalism that begins to establish progressively at the end of the Renaissance) has the peculiarity of keeping strictly connected the desire to submit the other with the desire of to know this other. It is something very new, very typical of modernity. Todorov showed this very well in The Conquest of America: Europeans advance the domination over Amerindians while studying their languages and their institutions, and the first goal becomes partly possible thanks to the achievement of the second23. I am convinced that it is quite typical of the first wave of colonialism, of course, the moment of the expansion of the limits of the sixteenth-century world, but also of the later colonialism of the nineteenth century. I think that we have made a great mistake in considering that the colonialism of the European nations, starting from the 1850s, was exclusively instrumental and economic, based on a desire to acquire new markets, products, cheap labor, and so on. These dimensions are not absent, of course, especially in the mercantilist colonialism of the British or the Dutch, but the European expansion movement, at least in its exploitation phase, is also dominated by the desire to know better the peoples whose customs are considered primitive and foreign, therefore, worthy of interest. Not to mention the fact that colonialism, at least in France, was partly promoted by leftist republicans (Gambetta in the first place) in a spirit of emancipation and progress. Here, too, political and military domination is founded on knowledge, and it is preliminary to the eradication of superstitions.

DS: You wrote, and I think it’s quite interesting, that, although science and technology are eminent products of naturalistic ontology, they can be exported and integrated by other civilizations without…

PD: …bring with it the underlying ontology. Yes, I was quite surprised when, during a stay in China for some conferences, my Chinese colleagues at the Academy of Social Sciences or those from the University of Beijing told me that they did not recognize my description of the naturalist ontology and that they were closer to what I called of analogue ontology. Nonetheless, they make good physics, good chemistry (and getting better because today they allocate more resources to it than in Europe). We can say precisely the same thing about India, South Korea, Singapore, etc. Once the scientific procedures have been exported we can develop them if the technical context is appropriate, with the interesting result that those who put them into practice are as if split: some of them work in a naturalistic regime, another part in an analogue regime. But this also happens in Europe, because one can be both a great physicist and a fervent Catholic. Theology has never stopped dealing with this question for centuries, ending both by decreeing the difference in nature between the realm of faith and the realm of physical reality (Descartes’ choice), and by attempting an improbable conciliation. So, I do not believe that the globalization of the technique will call into question the great ontological distributions. This is very clear, in fact, in the political sphere: the political model the Chinese are building, a combination of Marxism-Leninism (well muted) and neo-Confucianism, has been presented by Party and State theorists as an alternative to Naturalistic model. It is very curious how all this is close to the way collective analogists are organized, based on the principle of harmony, the balance of the parts, the fact that each has its place, fulfills the activities that are the best for the set, etc. It is a model considered as alternative to the democratic model of the isonomic value of the citizens, of the rights of the man, of the possessive individualism, etc. We can find many examples of this kind!

DS: With a certain frequency, anthropologists openly use ethnography— and especially, it seems to me, certain characteristics of societies that you define as “animist”—to elaborate a harsh and direct criticism of Western naturalism. For what reason do you, on the contrary, despite admitting the desire to be able to somehow contribute to the invention of another way of living together, seems to avert any value judgment?

PD: It is common to say that astonishment is the first virtue of philosophers. I admire people who, like Socrates, is all the time creating confusion by questioning the evidence and bringing to light truths that are not the ones his interlocutor had at the beginning.

Less skilled, anthropologists need a lever to arouse their astonishment, and this leverage is the back-and-forth with which they constantly operate, on the ground, between experience in a very different way from living the human condition and that which they themselves have a habit of practicing in their home environment. This back-and-forth is a constant of ethnographic work and has a critical, but also epistemological and moral function, very important. Perhaps we can even say that most anthropologists enter this profession (one of the few “vocations” according to Levi-Strauss) because they are already partially unadapted to the world in which they grew up and that they observe from a critical distance. This does not mean that they seek elsewhere in an environment where they can flourish, but they are already in a situation of reflective restlessness that becomes manifest in anthropological work. As I said earlier, the ‘non-existence’ of the opposition between nature and culture, I discovered it first on the fieldwork, before exploring it, for example, in philosophical texts. It seems to me, anyway, that there is no ontology that is better than another, they are different ways of living the human condition and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

This is, in fact, a criticism that we can address to Tim Ingold when, using Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, he asserts that those he calls “hunter-gatherers” have a much truer being-in-the-world than modern individuals have, because they are not being constrained by all these objectivist filters. This seems to me a rather naïve way of seeing things and also means pretending to ignore the merits of naturalism. Because naturalism had its merits, starting with the stimulus that it gave to the development of the sciences, but also, with the idea that humans are civilizing more and more, and controlling nature (its own and that which surrounds them), the advantages, notably policies that the idea of progress can bring. We can then see this apology of “wild life” as a form of political romanticism, which has its antecedents. I am referring to Robert Jaulin, an author who was very successful in France twenty or thirty years ago24. He was an ethnologist who denounced ethnocide, the massacre and the destruction of native peoples—and he was right, we were all in solidarity with this fight—but at the same time he tended to brand the values of these cultures as if they were the only ones worthy of respect, in contrast to Western values.

Yes, the domination of mercantilism, the reification of human beings, the unbridled depredation of the environment, are not very recommendable, but the equality of rights, especially for women, the principle of education for all or international cooperation to discover the Higgs boson, for instance, are not so bad. The most important lesson we can draw from non-modern peoples is less political than philosophical: it is a question of reflecting on the philosophical value of some concepts that societies very different from ours invented to think about their existence, and about which teaching We can remove from there. This does not mean that we reform ourselves to become like them and think like them, it would be absurd and, in any case, impossible.

I think of a very simple example (without taking up again all these very fertile concepts such as “potlatch”, “mana”, or even cannibalism, which greatly stimulated the imagination of intellectuals in Europe): temporality. For a long time, there was a tendency to counterpose two forms of temporality: on the one hand, the modernist’s arrow of the time, on the other, the primitive peoples’ cyclical time, the time of the “eternal return” in the sense popularized by Mircea Eliade. In fact, there are many ways of conceptualizing the duration, which are of incredible complexity, ranging from the depthless time of the Amazonian Indians to the spacialized time of Australian aborigines, through the catastrophic time of the Andean and Mesoamerican.

The immense enrichment that the reflection on these different forms of temporality constitutes a philosophical inheritance common to all the humanity that becomes accessible thanks to the ethnology, although with the severe limitations that the translation of a discursive system may impose on another.

 

____________

REFERENCES

  1. This interview was held in January 2012 in the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale of the Collège de France where Philippe Descola is the director, having succeeded in this function to its founder Claude Lévi-Strauss.
  2. See, for example, BENOIST, J.-M. La révolution structurale, Paris: Grasset, 1975, p. 103.
  3. The last decades have witnessed the rise of an ample literature on this subject, we limit ourselves here to refer to MARCHESINI, R. Post-human. Verso nuovi modelli di esistenza, Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2002.
  4. LÉVI-STRAUSS, C. Preface to the Second Edition. In LÉVI-STRAUSS, C. The elementary structures of kinship.
  5. STRATHERN, M. No nature, no culture: the Hagen case. In MACCORMACK, C.; STRATHERN, M. (ed.). Nature, culture and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, p. 174-222.
  6. The production of these anthropologists continues, of course, but the essays that most contributed to open the debate are INGOLD, T. The perception of the environment. Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London and New York: Routledge, 2000; VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, E. The inconstancy of the wild soul. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2002 and DESCOLA, P. Par-delà nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard, 2005.
  7. Cit. For an introductory reading, see DESCOLA, P. In addition to Nature and Culture. Tessitures, v. 3, n. 1, p. 7-33, Jan./jun. 2015.
  8. On this subject, in a certain decisive way, see in particular the fifth chapter of Par-delà nature et culture (cit., Pp. 163-180).
  9. The renewed debate on animism, to which the aforementioned writers also contributed decisively, is developed in parallel with the discussion of the dualism of nature and culture. In addition to the texts already cited, see also BIRD-DAVID, N. “Animism” Revisited: Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology. Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, p. S67-S91, Feb. 1999 (with comments by E. Viveiros de Castro, A. Hornborg, T. Ingold, B, Morris, G. Pálsson, L. M. Rival, A. R. Sandstrom and replicas of the author).
  10. It is, however, necessary to add at least that in Descola’s perspective these four “ontological matrices” are later declined by combining with the six relational schemes outlined therein: exchange, predation, gift, and still production, Protection and transmission (not to mention the fact that not all combinations are possible). On this aspect, see chapters 13 and 14 of Par-delà nature et culture (cit., Pp. 420-496).
  11. JACOB, A. (org.). Encyclopédie philosophique universelle, vol. II, Les notions philosophiques, t. 2. Paris: PUF, 1990.
  12. MERLEAU-PONTY, M. Phenomenology of perception.
  13. MERLEAU-PONTY, M. The structure of behavior.
  14. MERLEAU-PONTY, M. The Nature. Courses in the Collège de France (Text established and annotated by Dominique Séglard).
  15. DESCOLA, P. Cognition, Perception and Worlding. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, vol. 35, n. 3-4, p. 334-340, December 2010.
  16. HUTCHINS, E. Culture and Inference: A Trobriand Case Study. Cambridge (USA): Harvard University Press, 1980.
  17. DESCOLA, P. Les deux natures de Lévi-Strauss. In IZARD M. (ed.). Cahiers de l’Herne: Claude Lévi-Strauss. Paris: Éd. De l’Herne, 2004, p. 298.
  18. LÉVI-STRAUSS, C. The savage thought.
  19. Descola refers here to MERLEAU-PONTY, M. The eye and the spirit.
  20. MARGUENAUD, J.-P. L’animal dans le nouveau code pénal. Recueil Dalloz Sirey, vol. 25, p. 187-191, 1995.
  21. VANUXEM, S. Les choses saisies par la propriété. De la chose-objet aux choses-milieux. Revue Interdisciplinaire d’Etudes Juridiques, vol. 64, p. 123-182, 2010.
  22. CALLICOTT, J. B. In Defense of the Land Ethics: Essays in environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
  23. TODOROV, T. The Conquest of America. The question of the other.

24 Cf. JAULIN, R. La Paix blanche, Introduction à l’ethnocide. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970.

 

Trad. Lirácio Jr.

 

Link: https://periodicos.pucpr.br/index.php/aurora/article/view/aurora.28.043.EN01/274

Reclaiming Animism (June, 2017).

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Isabelle Stengers

Isabelle Stengers’s essay “Reclaiming Animism” is fulminating from several aspects, and I’ll highlight five of them here. The reader can have access to this excerpt, both in Portuguese and in English, on my blog Ponto de Vista, whose link I put below.

  1. Isabelle Stengers makes a point of situating herself: she speaks/writes from the Western philosophy standpoint, or else, shall we say, from a shortcut in that evocative, animated philosophy. It’s a scientist’s speech, a scientist of many “scientific achievements” who doesn’t mistake herself with the Science with capital S: hegemonic scientific rationality, capable of translating everything that there is into scientific and objective knowledge, and who asserts: only scientist enjoy a privileged access to the real! From the “scientific achievements” to the philosophy: this is the Stengers’s formal trajectory. She occupies a place from which one says that the “other” is animist; a place, in the West, which has devised for the “other” that theoretical proposition. A philosophical construal whose concepts are used to justify the colonization “and the divide across some felt free to study and categorize others—a divide that still exists today. “We”, conversely, “we” Westerners inhabit a mute, blind, but knowable world: a world we’re expected to appropriate. That’s precisely there where Stengers situates herself, though she doesn’t identify herself with that “we” in a world that is marked by an epic narrative and by a moral imperative: “thou shall not regress”! That is to say, we are not animists, we won’t never be, nor the author is inviting us to be! Why is that point crucial? Because, henceforth, we have to deal with the fact that there are multiple ontologies, and, being that the case, we’re asked to clarify the ontological stances from which we speaking, what we aim at and how we read the other ontologies, past and present. However, there’s another reason why we have to situate ourselves: there’s a lot of work to do on this side of the divide, on the Western side–it’s necessary, in Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s expression, “a decolonization the thought”.
  2. How does the Western ontology reads the other ontologies? The witches, for example? It reads them as beliefs, superstitions. And the Virgin Mary or the pilgrims? If we intend to give room for the other ontologies, other than the scientific one, Stengers urges us to start, as said Gilles Deleuze, “to think by the millieu”, which I summarize by using her explanation: “never separating something from the milieu that it requires in order to exist”. Moreover, as the philosopher teaches, let’s get rid of the “powerful image of a treelike progress, with Science as its trunk”, which we call progress and we should try out what Deleuze and Guattari “called rhizome, connecting practices, concerns, and heterogenous modes of giving sense to us, without any of those modes being privileged, and all of them were able to connect to one another”. Then, we’ll be able to make “rhizomatic connections to other practices that likewise explore a metamorphic (rather than a representational) relation to the world”.
  3. Reclaiming the animism doesn’t imply in our becoming animists, but in making connections, in refusing the general models, in suspecting generalities. To reclaim animism is to recover from the very separation, to regenerate what the separation itself has poisoned, to learn what is necessary in order to inhabit once again what was destroyed, to restore life on what it had been infected, to strive and heal. Stengers uses this polysemic word inspired by the way it was mobilized by a witch community founded in 1979, in San Francisco. Animism and rhizome refuse, by propounding transversal connections, any kind of generality, and they may be the (sic) not general answer to generality! Generality denies the metamorphic dimension in our potentials to affect and to be affected, as well as to feel, think, and imagine. As Stengers says: “no mode of realization may be taken as a model, only as calling for pragmatic reinvention”… To honor the creation of connections, to protect them against models and norms, Stengers has named it, as we’ve seen, animism. Animism, thus, is the name assigned to the rhizomatic art. Finally, Stengers says: “…it affirms that which they all require in order not to enslave us: that we are not alone in the world.
  4. In order for us to do that, we have to tackle the “moral imperative” of regression. It’s forbidden, by the law of progress, to regress! The law of progress tells us that we should keep on advancing. Now, it’s exactly this “moral imperative” that allows us to smell, here and there, the smoke of burning witches and… thanks to such imperative, we don’t react. Smell the smoke, says Stengers, is “is to acknowledge that we have learned the codes of our respective milieus: derisive remarks, knowing smiles, offhand judgments (…) gifted with the power to pervade and infect—to shape us as those who sneer and not among those who are sneered at”. The witches are pragmatic, radically pragmatic and their empirical art probes what’s good or bad—an art which our addiction to the truth has too often despised as superstition.

5. Henceforth, the strength derives from our noses. We’re not allowed, whenever we smell the smoke of burning witches’ flesh, to abstain ourselves, and we won’t do that because the smell of burning flesh is an indicative of ontological violence. Today, we don’t hunt witches any longer, we don’t set them on fire anymore, but we still say, with imperialist certainty: it’s a knowledge which doesn’t know anything, it’s belief! It’s enough, isn’t it?! It’s necessary to reclaim other configurations of the real, other statutes of reality—without judgement, as the Western ontology usually does, when it’s led by Science with capital C—providing it with ontological dignity, taking into account the real which constitute them, and learn with these several possibilities “what is needed in order to inhabit again what has been destroyed”.

 

Link: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/

Heretical Annotations

Manifesto 2017

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Amnéris Maroni

(JANUARY, 2017)

2017 has just started, and I’m going to write a Manifesto for this new year. I open my Manifest with two issues: first, the shame I feel due to the fact that I belong to the human species, the most deadly and terrifying species ever created by Nature. How ashamed am I! That’s why I’m begging my friends to introduce me to an animal, a plant, a rock, an invisible being, so that I can escape this overwhelming loneliness that surrounds me. I want to get married to any being which doesn’t belong to my own species, my shameful human species. Schizophrenic people know better about these inter-species marriages, because they’re able to marry the moon, the stars, the cosmos. Just the Oedipal folks, the normalized ones, they don’t know a thing about such kind of marriage. Oh, God, please, give me courage to cope with them!

It’s discouraging to say that, but I’m not original in putting this idea forward. Carl Jung predates me in more than a hundred years. In the foregone second decade of the twentieth century, he proposed the marriage of “the moth (animal)” to the “Yucca (plant)”. An absolutely happy marriage, absurdly tuned. Nature co-creating itself in pure happiness. Deleuze and Guattari propounded — and I believe they were inspired by Jung, even though they never admitted that — the inter-species marriage between the Wasp (animal) and the Orchid (plant), which they contended to be pure happiness, pure harmony. I don’t know if you’ve already read it, if you haven’t I urge you to read it as a recommendation from this Manifest/2017 that I’m writing right now: China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (published in Brazil by Boitempo/2016). China is a British left-wing anthropologist. He opens his novel by sensually describing an inter-species marriage: a college professor, infamous in the academy, and a gorgeous artist-grasshopper-woman. The grasshopper-woman’s little legs turn on the professor, through and through. Oh, those little legs swinging, opening and closing!!! Oh, I want that too, please, an animal, another species! I would hate anybody from my species—especially a man!

Don’t joke with me, please…

Now, the second issue in my present Manifesto: I feel so much embarrassed for having approached Psychoanalysis! It has done me good, indeed, so I’m residually grateful to it. However, psychoanalysis provides fine contours, tries to cure and reconstruct, offers a new narrative, and guess whom for? For the human species! A species that today, on the first day of 2017, embarrasses me so much. If you don’t believe me, just read Davi Kopenawa’s book The Falling Sky. That book has made me kneel ashamed of the human race — mostly the white European — and also of the discipline called psychoanalysis. So, I just want to make use of this occasion and seek forgiveness from all my patients, from all my readers, and from all my students because I offered them, year after year, the theory and the practice extremely pretentious in relation to the most disgraceful species on the planet, the human species.

In conclusion, in 2017 I intend to let psychoanalysis go, at least partially; I intend to open myself more and more to the Indians’ shamanism, and to the healing processes that assume the inter-species connections — those connections that don’t bet on man as the king of creation! Because it helps us endure, psychoanalysis turns out to be very interesting for this embarrassing species who we are. Despite this fact, we need to walk, very quickly, towards another direction, for it isn’t just the human species that’s matter, it’s life as a whole! What do you think? Those who are also ashamed of belonging to the human species, send me some response, please…

 

SIMONDONIAN CROSSINGS

(JANUARY/2017)

Many of us are experiencing some crossings to which only Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy/ontology might offer some appreciation. For his ontology, it is from the pre-individual order that emerge all the individuals—and, be it clear, not only the human individuals!

Such crossings, which Simondon called individuations, are long, and last years, many years, and the best metaphor for them is the metaphor of death and rebirth of that thing our ancestors used to call soul, but something that we can relate to the psyche, to the emotions, to the mental and, above all, to the body, as well.

One world comes to its end as another, slowly, looms on the horizon.

I’ve already tried to think of it, of the signs of a world that’s coming to the end, a kind of entropy translated into a stiffening of the defenses, into petrification, lack of vitality. Existence becomes a heavy burden: the metaphor of the Nietzschean camel is necessary right now. Today, I want to describe the dawning time of a new day, when the child — another Nietzschean metaphor — announces herself.

Before the first chords of a new morning, the whole comprehension trove that once embodied us and allowed for our living, stops displaying any vitality. It is as if, suddenly, we were reduced to an endless misery; our narratives, about ourselves and about the world, start losing force in the/to the action. We become apophatic. The words fail us, and all that’s left is the silence and an enigmatic contemplation of life. Miserable, poor, empty, insufficient…reduced to a meaningless state.

The only chance of envisioning the other, an existing field, the Simondonian pre-individual reality, another unsuspected order, something that strongly constitute us, but also something that was hidden behind sense and meaning; hitherto, that something, which constituted us and we used to call “the true reality”, because it was shared, we had the confidence, and the guarantee of its unbreakable strength. Just then, the identity monad splits itself, revealing its weakness. This nothingness of ours is going to go through a long time, before the emergence of a child who, hopefully, we’ll come back into being, once again.

 

DAMAGE

(JANUARY/2017)

The exception and the absurd have become normal. There isn’t any more reason for amazement, there isn’t any feeling of the tragic in the contemporary world. People from my generation, as well as a few young people, still get amazed, and still are able to keep a sense of indignity, but the majority behaves as if we weren’t living a tragic time, and there seems to be no more place for wonder. In the majority, predominates a suffocating normalcy. I think that is the reason why I’ve come back to my favorite film this week, Louis Malle’s Damage (1992), featuring Jeremy Irons as Stephen, and Julliete Binoche as Anna.

Damage is a tragic film, in the Greek sense. From such tragic perspective, we don’t control our lives — maybe the gods do — and then we live the absolute opposite of our egoic aspirations. However, it isn’t just the tragic flavor in Damage that draws me to it, for the film also preserves a touch of amazement towards the lived experiences. The genuine tragic carries awe. Could that be different?

Stephen is a happy, married man, with two children. He is a government minister for the environment, and loves his family. Martyn, one of his children, meets Anna. Once Stephen catches a first glimpse of Anna, something happens, an unconscious communication, without words, then he is irresistibly attracted to the girl. Stephen, indeed, is drawn by Anna’s pulsating drama: her brother, Aston, had fallen in love with her, and one day, when she was at a party, he killed himself. In her bloodstained nightgown, Anna asks Peter, with whom he had been that whole night, to make love to her. Since then, she had gone on her way, with a “pulsating trauma” in her soul, seeking a reenactment. Stephen (father) and Martyn (son) are sufficiently naïve so that they’re going to stage, once again, Anna’s trauma. They know her story, but they’re unable to connect the dots, they know without knowing, or they know not knowing. As a matter of fact, that’s typical of tragic drama. On the eve of his wedding ceremony, Martyn kills himself when he catches his father and Anna having sex.

What’s interesting in the film is the silent and unconscious communication that makes Stephen get entangled in a game not of his own design. Possibly, he might be somehow implicated in Anna’s drama, but the pulsating trauma is definitely hers. First question: why, not infrequently, do we accept to take part in somebody else’s traumas?! Stephen loses everything: his position as a state minister, his marriage because his wife leaves him, Martyn kills himself, and Anna because she goes back to Peter. That was the outcome of the trauma, which Anna had lived in the bizarre love triangle with her brother and Peter. As the biblical Job, left without anything else, Stephen, nonetheless, keeps his dignity and takes responsibility for what crossed his life. Then he goes to a little town, lost in the world, from where he contemplates, on a big poster, Martyn, who is beside Anna, who is beside Peter. And, of course, he contemplates without representation, his silent and invisible drama among Anna, Martyn, and Peter. There, Stephen tells himself, then us: “What makes what we are is unattainable, inconceivable”. The tragic allows him to contemplate and to experiment awe. We have lost these two feelings in late modernity, at a banally neck-breaking speed.

 

WILD THINKERS:

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU AND DAVI KOPENAWA

(JANUARY/2017)

Lévi-Strauss, on his book Totemism Today, says that Rousseau is one of the avatars of the wild thinking in the West. The anthropologist always made clear that the Genevan philosopher was one of his major affective and intellectual influences. Nowadays, the largest star in the indigenous thinking, in the wild thinking, is Davi Kopenawa. As a matter of fact, there are some affinities between the Swiss philosopher and the Yanomami thinker. Both of them think the world before its separation between nature and culture.

Rousseau thought that there was an identification of the man with the cosmos, through passions, self-love, and pitié. Rousseau’s good man is dissolved in nature, in the natural environment, and identifies himself with his surroundings and with every and each being. Because it happened before the cleavage nature/culture, the man may come to think of everything that exists in function of the identification that predated his thinking.

By his turn, Kopenawa states that, before such separation, in the myth, there was a super-communication going on between the man and every and each one of the all the other beings, and that it is replaced, from time to time by a diplomat-shaman, once the shaman can have access to the humanity of the non-humans, so he can join once again what was separated.

It is precisely because both Rousseau and Kopenawa are able to take their thinking to the point in time that was previous to the separation nature/culture that they can function as a sort of thermometer for the present culture and, in a visionary fashion, they can warn us. Both of them are pessimist and prophetic. Rousseau felt, step by step, the being’s loss of what we now translate as progressive loss of the cosmic identification of man with nature and with the other beings. In the place of the that identification, the appearance gained relevance in the modern society, which is immersed in a sinister narcissism. The virtual has replaced the real. Modern society, over time, would head to destruction, and that’s why Rousseau said, around 1950, “unfortunate are those who will come after me!”.

The Golden Age, when men were happy, had long gone and was irrecoverable. As the statue of the god-sea Glaucus, on the coast, the man’s soul turns into an unrecognizable monster. Kopenawa, drinking from the myth, is aware of the loss in the relation between man and the environment, a relation that should be thought of as a possible communication between all and every being. He also calls our attention to the fall of the sky when the shaman disappears, making impossible the mediation between men and spirits, consequently stopping the essential invigorating of the integration of all the things. With the destruction of the forests, and the Earth’s entrails being totally devastated by the ore-devouring machines, the cosmos’ foundations will collapse and the sky will terribly fall down over all the living beings. That has already happened before, says Kopenawa, and it’s going to happen again.

The few, but great “avatars” of the wild thinking, grant us with acute perceptions of what is about to come.

 

PROJECTION AND SYNCHRONICITY IN CARL GUSTAV JUNG

(JANUARY/2017)

For Jung, modern man is collective in two senses: he loses himself and mimics a modern culture, mechanized by a sort of calculus-reason and by an extroversion-merchandise-of-buying. But, man is also collective because he is undifferentiated from the collective’s unconscious fantasies. In the process of individuation, the task implies differentiating oneself from both collectives in order to conquer the singularity. This task is quite hard.

From the Jungian point of view, all of us — human and non-humans —are born and remain enmeshed in the collective unconscious, a kind of placenta, which surely nourishes us, but can also suffocate us. That is the reason why the word Jung uses most is differentiation. To differentiate oneself means to disconnect from the placenta: that’s the Jungian challenge.

Over the entire life, we are overpassed by the collective unconscious’ contents (Jung’s expression), whether it is in the form of projections, or in the form of synchronicities. This key for the understanding I’ve got from reading Marie Louise von Franz’s book Reflections of the Soul: Projections and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology.

What “reaches us”, what overpasses us is something untamed, something foreign in relation to our psychic fabric. If our emotions are insufficiently matured, those contents, oftentimes, will be unbearable. We are prone to project them on other people, on the society, on politics, etc. So, we have very little capability to choose, almost none. Let me mention some possibilities of such contents overpassing us: our trajectory may change suddenly because we come across a significant other, a teacher, an analyst, a perverse political leader, and so on.

When we are more familiarized with our emotional psychic processes, the contents that “reach us” are experienced as synchronicities. Or else, it’s not necessary to cast away the contents/images, because we’ve already conquered the ability to wait the right moment when that content will find something corresponding to it in the external world. Jung named such meaningful coincidence as synchronicity. With that emotional conquest, be become more human, so we learn how to take responsibility for the contents overpassing us. When there is synchronicity, there’s also numinousity: the numinous emotion is the “emotional proof” of the synchronicity!

 

POST-TRUTH IN THE COTIDIAN

(JANUARY/2017)

The word post-truth came up in the end of the twentieth century. More or less a decade ago it started to be used frequently, and there was a peak in its usage in 2016, to the point that the word has become a defining one to describe our time. Mainstream media, Facebook, Twitter, and others, have been considered responsible for that practice which is defining us.

The press, which is traditionally responsible for checking the facts and building narratives based on the reality, started to act, here and everywhere, as a reality creator. Let’s not forget Saddam Hussein and the Iraq War. Before the USA attacks, the media persuaded many people of the need to hit first, otherwise that country, with its weapons of mass destruction, would wreak a havoc in the world. The attacks took place, but the deposits of WMD were never found. In Brazil, we counted with an elected president, with a popular government, but the big economic groups weren’t satisfied with that, and since a long time they started preparing — together with the mainstream media — an extremely antipopular coup. The elected president was ousted because she was found guilty of fiscal frauds, something that’s practiced by any administration. However, that’s not important because the denunciations and the factual objectivities don’t change the bets. Words don’t have density any longer, and they can’t sustain a true conversation. This is the new game! In it, the failure of words and of dialogue lead us to horror, and to an unexpected Babel Tower.

Donald Trump, naturally, represents the apex of post-truth in its more perverse facet: the outright lie. With him, we can clearly see how the appeal to emotion, to the personal bizarre creeds, weigh more, shaping the so-called public opinion, than objective facts, the reality and/or what we could call truth.

Well, if things stop right there, all that would be very sad, but still bearable, because the power elites, neither today nor ever, base themselves on the truth, according to Florentine Niccolo Machiavelli in his book The Prince. On the “Commentaries”, the acute master cites the tyrant Lorenzo de Medici: “People always look at their rulers—your example is for them a law”. That’s precise there where the catastrophe resides, because the post-truth is contaminating in a viral way all the relations, it’s entrenching itself a new way of sociability where the predominance of personal pre-concepts is upstaging the objective reality.

Words don’t uphold the objective facts anymore, conversely, they mask and overturn the game. I have witnessed that more and more in my relations more or less intimate and even in my clinic!

 

SIGNS AND SYMBOLS

(JANUARY/2017)

I want think over a taboo issue in the territory of psychoanalysis, and one that is much more tolerable for the Jungian psychology.

I’m going to start off by the psychoanalysis and by W. R. Bion, the British psychoanalyst born in India and a disciple of Melanie Klein. In one of his monumental books Second Thoughts: Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis, he writes: the mind, in person, has two parts, one neurotic part which seeks the principle of reality and expresses itself through symbolic language, and another part, psychotic, which seeks the principle of pleasure and expresses itself by means of signs, the famous Bionian ideograms.

Creativity is the product of the circularity between two parts of the mind. When we are in a situation of intense tension, the psychotic part of the mind communicates through an ideogram, then several signs come together generating communication. At this point, we feel relieved because we found a solution to a problem that was vexing us.

Previously, I said that that is a taboo in psychoanalysis because, excepting Bion, the language of signs is a psychotic thing, so that the psychoanalysts neither think about it nor try to develop it theoretically. They simply don’t get interested about that.

Carl Jung and his followers, by their turn, value the language of signs which expresses itself through synchronicities. Synchronicities, here, are the product of “deadlock” and highly tensional situations. In this same fashion, for the Jungian school, a synchronicity yields a relief in relation to an “unsolvable” problem. Jung also sees the language of signs as a communication that reaches us deriving from the collective unconscious. Jungian psychoanalysts think a lot about synchronicities, they delight in this sort of happening, and they keep trying to develop the concept.

For both schools, the Bionian and the Jungian, once the communication takes place through and ideogram and/or a synchronicity, the next step is to relate them to the life trajectory of the person who lives such experience, then symbolize that communication, harvesting and assigning sense and meaning to it.

Which is my contribution to this debate? To value more and more the language of signs. Perhaps our cultural solution depends on that, because the symbolic language, from the neurotic part of the mind, in Bion’s expression, is largely captive and domesticated!

 

READING THE SIGNS

(JANUARY/2017)

As it has already been said elsewhere, communication through signs—ideograms and synchronicities—can’t be made by the neurotic part of the mind, which makes uses of language as a mere symbol. The reading signs is, so to speak, the Nature’s language. In humans, the reading of the signs, currently, has been dismissed and relegated to divination practices. In ancient times, those practices were a sort of guidance, since the dangers were huge and people needed to continuously resort to oracles and signs. Nowadays, such practices are seen as superstitious, and anyone who claims to have the ability to read the signs is, almost always, ridiculed.

However, all it takes is to have a clinic in the psy area in order to find out how many people still make use of the reading of signs!

Most theories always downplay the signs, like the language of animals, because they consider such language to be the lowest degree of knowledge. Language of psychotic people, of the animals, of the ignoramus, of the superstitious people.

I think in a very different way. As I already wrote somewhere else, we need to revalue the reading of signs. I’m going to suggest three ways: see the documentary Where have the swallows gone to? directed by Mari Corrêa, which shows how the climate changes are interfering with the everyday life of the Xiguan Indians. Pay attention to the extremely rich reading of the signs that those people can achieve.

Their reading, however, starts to fail with the growing process of deforestation, the soy plantation, and livestock farming. The sign of singing cigars — which heralded the rain — no longer exists, because the heat has cooked those little insect’s eggs. The swallows don’t get together to signal the coming rain any longer, and the butterflies — which were so plentiful that they enter the Indians’ mouths — are also gone, making it impossible for the Indians to recognize a coming period of drought. Park Xingu has 6.500 Indians, and 16 different ethnicities. There, the reading of signs was, and still is, a master’s skill. In the absence of signs, the Indians anticipate the worst scenario: hunger. A hammering question unsettles all of them: where are we going to go once the whites finally destroy the forest?

Let’s go back to one of Jung’s most beautiful teachings and his valuation of religere, not of religare. Religere is a pagan practice, religare is a Christian one. For Jung, individuation comes about through religere; if we’re attentive to the signs, we keep going on the mystery of individuation, because we go on obeying to the numen sent by them. Individuation takes place in and with life, that’s why reading the signs turns out being so essential for the being that individuates.

Everyone who has experienced the “dark night of the soul” — Saint John of Cross’ precious metaphor — knows that in the crossing, they are obliged to develop certain psychic possibilities of an unusual sort. In deep attention, they await a sign, motionless. They listen, see, touch, smell, waiting. Attention focused on the detail, on the miniscule, an uttered word, a book, a dream, an unexpected encounter. The numen inhabits the detail. Sniffer dogs know that.

We need to read once again the controversial and extemporaneous Carlos Castañeda, writer and anthropologist, and the teaching of his master, Don Juan Del Peiote, the Yaqui shaman, who lived in the Sonora desert, in Mexico. In 1968, Castañeda published his master’s dissertation titled The Teaching of Don Juan: a Yaqui way of knowledge. Castañeda and Don Juan taught my generation the importance of reading the signs in order to reach the fundamental: the nagual. We need to go back to the instinctive, intuitive and animal language, which is the language of Life. Right away!

 

CHRISTMAS, AND EASTER, AND THE FAMILY LIFE

(DECEMBER/2016)

The worst days in my clinic are those subsequent to both Christmas and Easter days. My patients get there simply overwhelmed. They feel aversion at what has been experienced, and, once again, filled or guilt, a lot of guilt. Not everyone, because there are family who get along well and don’t lead, in the next day, to a feeling of abyss. I have a very good-humored patient who says: “I doubt, you’re making that up. Happy family just don’t exist!”. In fact, they exist, they’re rare, but they do exist.

I persuaded that most of my patients, the overwhelmed by the “following day”, they love their parents, their siblings, their very boring aunts and uncles. Then I ask myself: how to explain the “following day”? How to apprehend this feeling of abyss? How to explain the aversion and the guilt? I have a guess which I’ve been mentally condensing throughout my years as a clinician, and over my life experiencing my family life.

Have you ever performed something that’s currently fashionable called “family constellation”? Well, I did that with a psychoanalyst who lives in the neighborhood, and I got very impressed. I left the session with my chakras happily singing. In that “family constellation”, we have an experience of family structure, and of the place we fit in such structure; besides, something that struck me as very curious, we act and make gestures, we live affections related to the spot we fill in the family structure. The creator of such technique learnt them from the African Zulus, and I’m sure they knew pretty well what they were talking about.

The Lacanian school also taught me a lot about the family structure and about the place we occupy in it. They are very good at this thing. In a summary, what I got from them is: who owns the phallus in the family structure, etc.? But, shouldn’t the phallus be returned to the culture? It should be so, but, in most families, the phallus is withheld, and somebody takes possession of it. Ok, but, what does that has to do with the “following day”, after Christmas and Easter? I’m trying to say that we love our parents and our siblings as people, but we dislike the places that they and we occupy in the family structure! That’s there where lies the secret of the aversion to the “following day”.

Oftentimes, the phallus has been retained by the mother, in alliance with the older son, or by the despotic father, and to the other children, especially the females, was assigned, since their first day of existence, “narcissistic collapses” after “narcissistic collapses”. The son, or the daughter, occupies a place of the helplessness in the structure: they don’t have voice, they don’t raise any interest, and they’re summoned to serve the who owns the phallus—mother, father, brother, sometimes a grandfather, sometimes the grandmother. Therefore, that feeling of aversion and guilt derive from the position ones occupies in the family structure.

How to solve that? Developing the immense courage necessary not to belong to that structure and to that place of affection anymore. Giving up the position in the structure is the only way to keep loving the people. Believe it or not, that’s how things can work out better!

 

THE SOUTH KOREAN FILM-MAKER NA HONG-JIN’ THE WAILING

(DECEMBER/2016)

Recently, I’ve seen a film that deserves a commentary. The Wailing is a film directed by the South Korean film-maker Na Hon-Jin. It’s one of the best metaphors for the contemporary world, and for our country, if not the best of all. Once the director didn’t make that film for the “sick Brazilian people”, there’s an indication that we are “planetarily sick”.

The Wailing is horror film that exceeds in bizarreness. It’s a long play (2h30min), but it’s breathtaking throughout. The plot is very impressive, woven from genres and narratives juxtapositions. The rhythm moves ruthlessly, and it doesn’t provide any key to understanding what’s really going on, not even at the end.

The film is a political and social — as well as a family and supernatural — that points to a world’s crackling in an exquisite and intelligent way, aesthetically different, featuring “characters” who don’t belong to the Western imagery.

Let me provide a few tentative tips: in a little town, people lead happily their simple lives, represented retroactively by a family, a father-policeman (Jong-Goo), and an eight-year-old girl, who worships her father-hero, the city protector, her protector, the order keeper. At once, people in the community start to go mad, triggering a series of chilling murders. The police—the State and its law-enforcers agents—start an investigation.

There’s something very curious and comparable to what’s going on in Brazil nowadays, for the representatives of the public order and the people from the community don’t think of anything, they aren’t able to articulate any kind of thinking. In place of the thinking process, there’s a sort of “sobbing idea” about what’s happening and, invariably, the person who has the “sobbing idea” is blatantly ignored by those who hear her.

The killings and the horror goes on. Science is called for: lab tests indicate that a tonic, sold in the village, contains hallucinogenic mushrooms, which are driving people crazy. Doctors try to cure the “possessed crazy people”, but to no avail. The Catholic Church associate with medicine and the laboratories—and they blame the hallucinogenic mushrooms used by the population as a tonic of life!

That is to say, reason is a stupid and impotent calculus; add to that the inexistence of thinking, the science and the religion which acts pathetically and aren’t capable of coping with what’s happening.

We’re left with the “odd characters”, likely responsible for the slaughtering in the small community. However, the characters—and that’s the single clue provided by the director, according to a suggestive understanding of a friend of mine who saw the film with me—in a very strange relation of alterity towards us, and may perceptible in Viveiros de Castro’s works, those characters have morphed themselves in what the people in the community projectively imagine they are. If that’s the case, the director withdraws any possibility of betting.

While I was trying to pay close attention to the film, my mind was incessantly crossed by Bruno Latour’s book We Have Never Been Modern. Perhaps we might say of the present moment in world: we’re progressively failing to be modern!

The only way out is the thinking, different from the reason-calculus, and the director offers us that all along. The Wailing is a powerhouse of “unthought thoughts”, beta-thoughts, which demand to be thought over, as Bion would say. There lies the grandiosity of this wonderful horror film, a creative mirror of our time.

 

POLITICAL HAPPENINGS:

MAY 1978’S STRIKES AND 2016’S SCHOOLS OCCUPATIONS

(DECEMBER/2016)

I’m almost sure you won’t recall, but I have these memories quite clear in my mind, and I’m going to tell you them. We lived, then, in plain military dictatorship. It was 1978. At that time, I lived close to the entrance of a slum, between Parque Bristol and Jardim São Savério, in São Paulo city. In May of the year, all at once, my friends, something very unprecedented started to take place. The workers “spontaneously” started to occupy the factories: the big car-maker companies, the metallurgical companies in general, all of them in the Great São Paulo metropolitan area, in the ABCD area.

In the first days, a couple dozen factories went on strike; the workers occupied them, hundreds of them, then thousands. The movement kept on, multiplying itself. Everyone, baffled, experienced surprise after surprise. Unions and political parties were left aside the strike movement, including the São Bernardo do Campo main union, which was led by Lula, who would become a Brazilian president years later. The Workers Party didn’t exist yet.

The strikes hatched as the results of the São Paulo’s union “ant’s work”, together with base ecclesial communities, the working districts. Add to that what was called “union’s base work”. None of that, however, explains the year 1978. In order for the occupying movement could spread, there was a leap of sensitiveness—as Michel Foucault would say. The strikes, the occupations, nothing was stuck to some specific person. There were numerous and strong factory commissions—neither connected to political parties nor to unions.

I plunged into what seemed to be a delightful ocean wave; a pouring movement, one that multiplied itself with the multiplication of desires. Many factories went on strike without even presenting a list of claims. Shining faces, cheer, pure joy in acting, in living a movement that only knew how to open new roads, without knowing exactly where to go. All the order of the capital—spaces and times—passed to other hands, the worker’s hands.

Less than two years later, the “spontaneous” strikes disappeared, and with them, the factory commissions. São Bernardo metallurgic worker’s union got stronger, centralized the movement, once it was restricted, it withered. The Worker’s Party was born. Many people, actually the majority of people saw in that outcome a “worker’s advance”. I didn’t go with the majority and I released a short book about the strike movement of May 1978 called The Refusal Strategy (A Estratégia da Recusa, in Portuguese), by Brasiliense publishing house. The book edition is sold out for a long time now. In that book, I told the story of that wave, the force of the stream of desires in their connections which don’t comply with authorities or representations. I described the shining faces, the existential excitement of “being together”, thinking and acting. Since then I’ve never been the same person again, and the death of that “spontaneous” movement also put an end to my career as a social scientist. I moved on to a new adventure.

I told all that story because I want say that the recent movement of occupation of state schools and federal universities, which we could gladly experience, had antecedents almost four decades ago! I also told the story because it seems unreal to me those lives who aren’t could appreciate the joy of being together, alive, happy, in an overflowing stream of desires.

Out Temer — Direct Election Now!

 

BURSTING THE SUBJECTIVE CHAINS:

DREAMING, INTUITING, ALLOWING ONESELF TO BE TOUCHED BY CROSSINGS

(DECEMBER/2016)

We’re all global prisoners, despite the fact that there aren’t any chains keeping us captive. Well, we know that it isn’t just so, don’t we? The chains do exist, but they’re invisible ones. It is our own subjectivity itself that has turned into chains, tool of the global capture. Let me give one example: our functioning depends on reason and calculus, and we aim at efficacy and productivity. In order for us to run free, we have to enable the blossoming of other subjective qualities such as the dreaming and the intuition. We have to forsake this normalized way of living, allowing for the event of crossings, which will pluck us out of sameness.

Since I was very young, I started to experience a certain discomfort as to my psychic functioning. Dreams and intuition were my action drivers. I would make up my mind about something as soon as a dream inspired me to do so. If it wasn’t the case, I would stay put, o wouldn’t do or decide anything, sometimes for very long periods. Efficacy and productivity were never my companions in this adventure. No doubt all of that has brought me much suffering; my singularity seemed to deserve fixing. Indeed, I admit to be somehow awkward. Bottom-line: I’ve valued so much my intuition that I’ve become a little visionary.

My dreams have become richer and richer, to the extent that everything I live is derived from a previous dreaming experience. Everything! Important things, not so important things, traumatic things, joyful things… every single thing I live my dreams tell me in advance. I have an internal companion, very friendly, who cares about me with a superior intelligence, infinitely superior to my conscience! Fascinated by that, I’ve learnt to follow my dreams, as if they were my gifts.

I’ve lost the interest in making money, in pursuing a winning career, in intellectual reputation. If something of the kind happened to me, it wasn’t sought for, because the only thing that really interests me is to keep on building mine, and help the other build theirs, hardly capturable subjectivities.

The distinctiveness of the intuitions, the dreams, and the crossings I’ve been experiencing not only have enchanted my world, but they also allowed a deeper critical outlook, before the emotional misery of the world and its unshackled prisoners.

 

SLAVERY DOESN’T GET ALONG WELL WITH PSYCHOANALYSIS!

(DECEMBER/2016)

Some years ago, during a lecture, a psychoanalyst who has a deep knowledge concerning the cultural and political Brazilian roots, asked a question that has never stopped resounding in my mind. He asked: “what if Sigmund Freud was Brazilian, in the turning of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, would he have developed his psychoanalytical theory?” The question hit me hard, and the answer even harder: “No, he said, there wouldn’t be psychoanalysis because the Brazilian elite is slavery-based and perverse!”.

A simple and very truthful reasoning: in a slavery-based country, where, instead of recognizing the other as other, we tend to turn her into an object, there wouldn’t have any base for the emergence of psychoanalysis! I was tantalized by such discussion.

When we witness, currently in our country, the perverse and slave-based elite reappearing, disguised as neoliberals, we understand how deep is the question formulated by the astute psychoanalyst.

Slave-owing and perverse people don’t think and don’t talk, they only know how to manipulate others, as they do with things. Isn’t precisely that what is taking place around here?

Well, the problem is that that question didn’t stop reverberating until the moment when something became audible, and this time around I take full responsibility: “but, would Freud, surely someone who’s known worldwide as one of the brightest genius in the twentieth century, escape such trap?!” The question stayed silent during a long time, without enough strength to come to light, and then it glared. Belonging to the European world, would Freud have managed to escape eurocentrism, or imperialism? It doesn’t seem so, because Oedipus was thought and told as universal for Freud in Totem and Taboo — published in 1914.

I want to point out that Totem and Taboo is a fabulous book, and the myth told by Freud could’ve worked as a regulative fiction in/for psychoanalysis. A regulative, thought-provoking fiction. Rousseau had also taken advantage of another regulative fiction to think the transition from nature to culture.

More than a century after the publication of Freud’s book, another one recalling the same theme was published: One Hundred Years of Totem and Taboo (2014), and the several authors who wrote it, insisted vehemently on Oedipus’ universality! The psychic imperialism was turned into law! The nuclear bourgeois family — European —, for the Post-Freud Freudian, is and will continue to be dominant, until (sic) the end of history! And all that after the civilizational criticism engendered by Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich, Carl Jung, Nietzsche, Simondon, Deleuze and Guattari!

That last book — One Hundred… — is delusional and, after having realized that, I revisited it countless times in order to, once more, make sure: yes, it really is a delusion! Taking into account other supporting references, I would modestly suggest the “Oedipus is a sort of particular subjectivity, temporarily limited, which is rooted in certain economic, social, and political conditions”. Anyway, this discussion is imperative, and if it doesn’t take place, we’ll die, all of us tied to the navel string of the Western civilization!

 

RELATION ANALYST-ANALYSAND

(DECEMBER/2016)

The other day I attended a lecture delivered by a good-humored Lacanian psychoanalyst. He wasn’t afraid of playing with the “sacred” in his own school, and following Giorgio Agamben approach, he enjoyed desecrating! The lecturer said: “If a patient doesn’t get along well with a Lacanian psychoanalyst, the psychoanalyst think it over and tell his peers: this one didn’t get along well with me because he is perverse, and perverse people don’t have any condition to make analysis! Naked truth, no mediations.

Owing to these and other reasons, I fell in love with Sandor Fereczi. In one of his famous articles, Confusion of Tongues, he makes clear the way psychoanalysis may drive us crazy as a consequence of the asymmetry imposed by the relation analyst-analysand. It happens because in the classic psychoanalysis, that is, the Freudian psychoanalysis, the psychoanalyst imbued of authority—no one knows who would have given him that—is always right and doesn’t have to talk with the patient over his interpretations when they’re mistaken. If the psychoanalyst makes a mistake, and he is vulnerable to make quite a lot of mistakes, still he’ll be right in his art and he’ll say: it’s just an interpretation. There’s no way out!

Well, I just said all that because I want to recall the Ferenczi apologized for his patient and tried not to traumatize him again, during the analysis sessions. Ferenczian humility in itself is healing. Christopher Bollas is very much Ferenczian and he maintains a symmetric setting, insisting on that and, whenever he provides wrong interpretations, he apologizes. I would say the same about Jung, whose setting is symmetrical, a one-to-one conversation, dialectics without synthesis, and very much respectful towards the patient. Donald Winnicott would say, at the end of his journey: I performed many interesting interpretations, and I regret them all! Quite reliable this psychoanalyst called Winnicott.

 

DANIEL PAUL SHREBER: LOUCO OU VISIONÁRIO?!

(DEZEMBRO DE 2016)

Daniel Paul Shreber (1942-1911) is considered the most important madman in the history of Psychiatry. The whole psy area has been scrutinized him and his ingenious book Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903). In that book, the distinguished German legal expert, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, defended himself before the court and left the madhouse, as he managed to demonstrate that his reason had been kept intact throughout, although he devised a formidable delirium.

The main point of the delirium was: the end of the world had already happened and he, Shreber, would copulate with god to originate a new humankind. What was left of the world that had finished was just an illusion — “hastily-made” men, who occupied a position, for instance, in the madhouse, but shortly unmade themselves.

Suddenly, it seems to me, Shreber is the major contemporary political scientist! It’s a fact, we’re living the end of the world, and I, at least, hope that Shreber manages to copulate with god and generate a new humankind. It also seems to me that the jurist was right: there are only “hastily-made” men! Men whose words don’t mean anything anymore — inactive words. For the “hastily-made” men the facts don’t sustain themselves, and they undo themselves incessantly, as if they had never ever existed.

I’m convinced that this isn’t taking place just among the ruling and slave-owing classes. Words and facts, which aren’t sustained by “hastily made” men, are present all over the social fabric. I have a proposal: let’s go out with the Shreberian splitter, and let’s differentiate those “hastily-made” men, who unmake facts with their sandy words, from those “true men”, who still manage to sustain the facts and whose words still generate action. Let’s do that in our neighborhood, on our street, in our family, with our colleagues. I did that in the psy area and was taken aback: I virtually could only find “hastily-made” men—including women, lesbian, gays, transsexuals, do not leave anybody out, please.

Let’s hope that Schreber eventually manage to copulate with god and give rise to a new humankind, and that such newly-created humankind might compose with the few “true men” who still sustain facts and whose words still act. Men who don’t withdraw from all and any scenarios saying, as the slave-owing men who rules us: “It isn’t my business”, “I have nothing to do with that”, ‘I’m going to stay out because it doesn’t concern me”.

Long life to the Schreberian deliriums, which are still capable of providing us some hope!

 

ENVY, PROJECTIONS, AND INVERSIONS.

(DECEMBER/2016)

As everybody knows, we are experiencing a dark time, and the national as well as the international political arena echoes on the personal interactions. People don’t hesitate to lie, slander, defame, take advantage of the other, remain indifferent when you need help or solidarity. Envying wasn’t ever so fashionable, and two mechanisms we identify on the macro level keep repeating themselves on the micro level: projections and inversions. If someone commits an awful act against you today, on the following day things get turned over and you’re accountable precisely for the same act that victimized you, and you end up being responsible for the emotional misery of the other!

That’s quite maddening.

The anomy embeds itself in the social and cultural fabric, and I deem it very unsettling. I recall that, at the time of the military dictatorship, we used to mention a “we”, a collective that was worthwhile living. There were solidarity and good humor. Sure, it wasn’t so all the time, but… We’re not living this division anymore; they: the politics, the corruption, the manipulation, the inversions—and “we” with some quality, with a different emotional atmosphere. We are all suffering from the same anomie.

 

THE GENERAL UBERIZATION OF SOCIETY

(NOVEMBER/2016)

There’s a marriage between two conceptions, two practices: the neoliberal minimum state and the self-made entrepreneur. The State discharges itself from providing health, education, social rights, pension rights, and does it by creating a new capitalistic figure, a new way of managing the affections: the self-made entrepreneur who works as a company. Lord and slave in the same person. We don’t need anybody to watch us anymore, we exert relentless surveillance over ourselves. We compete with ourselves, and every one competes more and more with oneself. The subjectivity is anchored on the impotency and on the insufficiency—always underperforming. Indebted subjects.

With that new figure came along the craze of apps. The self-made entrepreneur now and on has a growing range of apps available. It’s the uberization of the society as a whole. For instance, an unemployed person with a car in her garage is a potential self-made entrepreneur once she registers on Uber. From then on, the Uber driver will relate only to the app, not to the client/passenger.

Last week, when I was leaving Tomie Otake Institute, a friend of mine offered me a ride and called an Uber taxi. He provided his address in Vila Madalena. At certain point in the short itinerary, my friend asked the driver to turn away one block to leave me at my doorstep, in Pinheiros. The driver stopped the car and said: “I can’t. I’ll be downgraded by the app. I must follow the route indicated by the app”. Punch line: the Uber driver only relate do the app, not to the client. He doesn’t look around; his eyes are glued to the route preset by the app. A downgrade might cause the driver to lose his fabulous right to be self-made entrepreneur!

In the university, the professors relate with another app: Lattes*. Everyone has their eyes glued to Lattes, increasing their academic output, after all, that’s all that matters. The meaning of knowing and of being a teacher doesn’t interest much, what is interesting is production, production, production, and, once one fails to reach the desirable production, the app—by means of its inquisitorial and impersonal commissions—will dismiss you.

Last week I heard about an app for psychoanalysts. The advertising line for the app was: “Do therapy wherever you are”. The therapy is done through the mobile phone and the client pays $100 per month, and the psychoanalyst, self-made entrepreneur, rejoices at the horizon of limitless possibilities…

What does self-made entrepreneurship promote?

Tiredness, fatigue, because the person work more and more, usually without any social/labor rights, at a price more and more deplorable.

It’s empowering with radical impoverishment.

The social relations disorganize and cease to exist, because all of us, entrepreneurs, relate to impersonal, vertical, and above all, rating apps. It’s no accident that the neoliberals love to say: “There isn’t this thing called society anymore”.

*Lattes is a Brazilian virtual platform that integrates academic data from institutions, curriculum vitae, research group, etc.

 

JOAN OF ARC AND JESUS FROM NAZARETH

(NOVEMBER/2016)

I have had many meaningful encounter throughout my life, and two of them were essential. The first encounter was too early, too precocious and infinitely incisive: when I was five years old my mother sent me to study in a Christian school named Externato Joana D’Arc. Arriving there, I came across Joan, riding her horse, leading armies. It was the most epiphanic moment in my life, and due to its earliness, it totally pervaded myself.

I like to joke that I “left my parents’ nest” when I was five, and that’s somewhat true: in a way or another, the petit bourgeois and conservative family project, with its oedipal identifications, laboriously woven for me, by my family, started to be experimented with increasingly resistance from my part.

Between the motherly fate and the adventure in the world generously offered by Joan of Arc, I didn’t hesitate. The virgin of Orleans abducted me, psychically and emotionally. I started to live, to dream, and have as a partner, this woman who was the biggest hybrid in history: masculine? Feminine? Bisexual? Transsexual? Visionary or crazy? Witch or an authentic Christian leader? Warrior or mystic? Feminist? All of that at the same time? Queer? Yes, a queer militant from several aspects.

The encounter with Joan of Arc was a kind of happening in my life which reverberates until today. Her multiple possibilities of being attracted me in very compelling way, for they revealed that any one of us can be multiple, can exercise oneself in the multiplicity. Joan not at us from the future!

The second encounter was with Jesus from Nazareth. I read the interpretation of Jesus undertaken by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s Jesus simply dazzled me. Archetype of the human, Jesus incorporates in himself two natural passions: the self-love and the pitié. These were his mysteries and the strength of his personality. Jesus taught me that all of us can take away our civilizational masks, which deform us, and re-propose on different bases the “living together”.

Rousseau has kept me company and inspired me for decades now. Humble and miserable, if we compare him to the civilizational masks, Jesus knew what happiness really is by reintegrating himself with the Cosmos! There’s a cosmopolitics in Rousseau that call as back again. This calling doesn’t aim at the harmonious reintegration through cosmic places any longer, but a different sort of cosmopolitics. Jesus not at us from the future!

I’ve understood, with them, that a bonfire and a crucifixion are trifles comparing to the cosmic realization of the self. Jung and Bollas taught me that the self is multiple; and it is cosmic, I believe, with the help of the authors mentioned, because we arrive to this planet Earth already in a mould—the multiple self—without knowing neither where we’ve come from, nor where we’re heading to, without having chosen that potential and, even though, we are summoned to realize it…My two friend, Jesus and Joan, have done that, and the realization in the was stronger than death!

Once again, such cosmopolitics comes to the foreground.

 

CREATIVITY AND ADAPTATION:

TALKATIVE AND CHEEFUL BODY

(NOVEMBER/2016)

There are several conditions to make a body “talk”. The body only “talks” if and when the person is creative and integrated. Donald Winnicott believes that creativity takes place in life.

To be creative is to have a meaningful existence, a functional and actual life: to be a “world-maker”. The opposite of that is the submission, the adaptation to a certain state of affair: genitors, family, university, company, State, etc.

It isn’t hard to notice that in the contemporary culture people more adapt themselves than create new worlds.

Now, it has relevant political consequences. Who has creativity has a talking body; who is adapted and subjected has a sick body. It isn’t always like that, but, believe me, it is the possible gamble for us to understand our present reality.

In the “world-maker”, occasionally embarrassed due to the adaptations and submissions, the body withers, loses strength, and gets very, very sorrowful.

If you, reader, mainly you from the psy area, come across a “world-maker” with a withered body, read her on the reverse—once she knew potency and joy. As soon as she minimally recovers from the “bout of submission”, her body will reclaim its potency and joy.

This is a way of reading Spinoza’s maxim “what a body can”. An adapted and subjected person is a survivor, she has survived by adapting herself, her body also talks, but its voice is inaudible, for it speaks through illness/depression, impotency and sorrow. This is a political issue and I’ll come back to it.

Creative people — as understood by Winnicott and Spinoza — defend their bodies, with the bodily existence; it’s a liberated life, multiple, diversified.

 

ENVY AND GRATITUDE IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES.

(NOVEMBER/2016)

One of the major contemporary source of suffering is the envy. People experience too much envy; we’re kept captive by it. On the list of the “numberless celebrities”, the envious person is outside, doesn’t belong, hasn’t make it yet, stayed below the average. Our inferiorities become huge. Melanie Klein, in one of her most precious books, Envy and Gratitude, provides us an essential key to grasp the feeling of envy. Which is this key that she grants us? The envious person always attacks! There we have the precious key.

If you, dear reader, compare yourself to somebody, and think that it would be nice to be on her shoes, but the comparison stops there, there is to say, you don’t attack the person, it means that you admire her, not envy her! The envy, for Klein, comes together with the attack: the envious person attacks what is good in the other, what constitutes — in André Green’s perception — the narcissism of life of the envied one. Everything that’s prime on you, dear reader, will be targeted by the envious person, in case you run into one. That’s why it’s so painful such attack, because it focuses precisely on the best part of the person who is victimized.

Let’s forget about Iago, in the Shakespearean play: he poisoned so much the relationship between Othello and Desdemona that led the Moorish to kill him. And what was it the Iago, whose actions are so paradigmatic of the envy, wanted from Othello? From Desdemona? Was he in love with her? No, he wasn’t. He, Iago, didn’t want anything neither from Othello nor from Othello’s loved fiancée Desdemona. He just wanted to attack what there was of prime in their relationship: the love!

  1. R. Bion wove a sentence that’s now and then taken up by his followers: “This thing you’re feeling, sir, is called ENVY”. It is necessary, as advises Bion, to name the feeling to the envious person, since she is very unaware of herself while feeling this emotion. She’s so unconscious of herself that she doesn’t know about her own feelings. Only the one who feels gratitude is able to think, suggests Klein. The envious individual doesn’t think at all. To think is to thank—as once put Martin Heidegger, but also Melanie Klein!

 

THE TYPICAL IN THE PSYCHOANALYSIS MAN: TRIEB X INSTINCT

(NOVEMBER/2016)

During thirty years spent in college courses and psychoanalytical colloquiums I was obliged to listen to a distinction reckoned by the psychoanalysts as a definitive one: between trieb — pulsion, related to human beings — and instinct — related to animals. Psychoanalysis has always been the most anthropocentric of all the human sciences! That distinction, arrogantly stated in every meeting, embittered me so much, but nobody was ever allowed to raise any slightest objection.

Now, then, the psychoanalysts, at least the Lacanian ones, are trying to cope with this shocking reality and they want to change the pulsion into some sort of “cosmic drive”.

Of course, I think it interesting to witness, the problem is that they couldn’t give up, until very recently, the difference—precious for them—between men and animals; they couldn’t give up seeking what was “unique of the man”. And, surely, they didn’t apologize, because one of their foibles is exactly their inability to ask forgiveness. By the way, the only thing that’s lacking now is their claiming to be the owners of ideas that, definitely, they never had!

I’m going to cite a passage by Vladimir Safatle, philosopher, but also a Lacanian, in his pamphlet When the streets burn: a manifesto for the emergence: “…Pulsion is this impulse which drives my actions without my controlling of it, that’s what takes me out of my own jurisdiction, by making resonate the history of the wished desires that don’t reduce themselves to my history. To accept the existence of the pulsion is to accept that something in myself, which deprives me of the condition of uniqueness, of carrier of unique interests, of enunciator of a unique identity (…) I’m caused by something that is more than the sum of individual interests, something that doesn’t calculate with one individual, that has another time, that makes resonate multiple voices and that, being an ongoing resonance of multiplicities, configures subjects in infinite resonance, as if such subjects would carry in themselves a pulsion that compose and decompose them in a perpetual rhythm, that cast them into processes of continuous reconfiguration (…) Against that continuous composing and decomposing, modern politics invented the representation…”

When we finish reading this passage, we start to celebrate: to celebrate Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, to celebrate Gilbert Simondon, to celebrate Gilles Deleuze, to celebrate Carl Gustave Jung… because, definitely, such “cosmic pulsion” is so much more linked to these authors than to the authors who cares so much about the division between men and animals, as well as about the endless search for what was/is “unique of the man” in psychoanalysis!

 

GILBERT SIMONDON AND THE PRE-INDIVIDUAL REALITY

(NOVEMBER/2016)

As far as I know, the entire modern thinking derives from the individuated reality. Only the already-constituted individuals may cause some interest in science, no matter if it’s the biology, the sociology, the medicine, the education, the psychology, and so on. Gilbert Simondon propounds a change from thinking the individuated reality to thinking the pre-individual reality. And that makes a huge difference. If my thinking, instead of approaching the individuals — no matter who or what they are — approaches the pre-individual, I’ll be focusing on the genesis of the individual, on what he calls the Apeiron, the Unlimited, the Infinite, as proposed by Anaximander, the pre-Socratic philosopher. Simondon sees the Apeiron as a synonym of Nature, then the Man doesn’t separate from nature, otherwise, he is the carrier of Apeiron, the Unlimited, and differs from himself, because he brings with him something that surpasses himself. He is continuously crossed by such field, by such placenta — forgive me the word — which goes from the tiniest to the cosmos.

A sort of — forgive-me, again — cosmic placenta, without neither time nor space delimitation. Or, as Peter Pál Pelbart puts it, we carry with us a reservoir of possibilities, a reservoir of future figurations.

That’s the way Simondon seems to understand the transitions, the individuations that are imposed on us every time we get routinized, or petrified. Moments like those allow us to figure out that we bring inside us the pre-individual, a Nature that, being Apeiron, enforces deaths and rebirths. It’s as if this stage — the pre-individual — would foreshadow the individual, and it’s only possible to explain individuation if one takes into account that pre-individual stage.

Peter Pál Pelbart says: “…the individual doesn’t exist as such, the individual that each of us is, is the precarious and provisional result of the process of individuation…” This is the case because, with a precarious and provisional individual, there aren’t fixed identities, nor the identifications are fundamental, for the individuals’ transformations derive from the pre-individual stage, and that’s why the subjectivity — my term — emergent from such process, is multiple, open to becomings that take it and cross it.

If you’re still with me, I suggest that one of the possible figurations of that precarious and provisional individual is what I called personality-source, and that’s also the reason why the strong point of the personality-source isn’t the production of territories. Territories belong to fixed individuals, finished ones, who transform themselves in a well-behaved fashion, by means of identifications, and only experience identifications.

 

MY FRIENDS FROM FACEBOOK

(OCTOBER/2016)

This morning I woke up asking myself: who are my friend from/in Facebook? Some of them, surely, I know. Most, certainly not. Who are they? I hardly invite someone to be “my friend” on Facebook. Usually I receive such friendship requests. Then it brought to my mind Goethe’ precious book, Elective Affinities. That book is markedly Spinozian. If we could bring Baruch Spinoza to our daily life, our experiences could easily be called “elective affinities”.

Carl Gustav Jung had a conception of synchronicity which reverberates Spinoza’s influence, and anchors itself on the Goethe’s book.

In this morning sequence of (free) associations of ideas, it dawned on me that my Facebook friends call me due to elective affinities, that is, I assume that they, unconsciously, look for people who merge with them, what will somehow contribute to increasing their potency. I believe I follow the same trend. Let’s all of us increase our potency together!

I wish everyone a productive and joyful morning!

 

INDIVIDUATION AND THE BORDERING BEINGS

(OCTOBER/2016)

Emilia Marty’s article on Gilbert Simondon’s philosophical thinking was published on Revista Multitudes, number 18, in October 2014. The article was titled “Simondon, a space to come”, and summons us to the future by reinterpreting the process of individuation and bringing up another figure: the bordering being, the inhabitant of the “generative source”. There’s an opening linking one space to the next, still to come, an opening that is inscribed in the very act of knowing, beyond the cleavage subject-object.

The Simondonian revolution comes about through a deviation in the thinking process: from the individuated reality to the pre-individual reality, Apeiron, the Unlimited. It has to do with deviating the individuals’ thought and redirect it to the pre-individual, at the service of the individuation. Simondon uses the words Nature and Apeiron interchangeably, in the sense of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. According to Anaximander, it is from the Apeiron that springs up all and every individuated form, and then, nature isn’t the opposite of Man, indeed it is the first phase of a being.

Following Simondon, Marty values the anguish as a “possible way for individuation”. However, Marty is radical and advances that, at the end of the deindividuation, boosted by anguish, there’s no re-individuation. There is, in her view, “the other who isn’t and individual”, the bordering being, which doesn’t make any transitions, or gain any new form. Hereinafter, what characterizes the being is the starting point—not any form, any individuation, or new individuation. Marty interprets Simondon’s: “It, the anguish, is the being’s starting point”. For Marty, “the being has become departure” through anguish. The being as departure is a being of the starting point. Inhabiting the border, angled toward the pre-individuated reality, he lives close to the “living source”, a point at which new worlds are created.

Thus, the nature of knowledge transforms itself. To know no longer presupposes just a subject and an object, rather, the knowledge equalizes with the artistic creation. Marty writes: “the thinking process here isn’t a means of dominion anymore, or of domination over the objects it studies. Thinking becomes an act of co-creation of the living being, followed by stages of individuation”. How does the thinking process/knowledge comes true in relation to what is external to us? It’s a thinking that goes together with the genesis of everything that there is, of the individuals as a whole, be they man, plant, rock, or thought.

At the end of her article, Marty renders a beautiful homage to Simondon: “…this work goes with us in our individuation path and, reciprocally, all of us, living beings from the present that we are in the path of co-individuation, let’s keep on individuating this thinking.”

 

PERSONALITY-NOBODY I

(OCTOBER/2016)

I three big clashes since the beginning of October. Three friends told me: “your existential territory is this one!”. Oh, god, how that made me sick. If anybody understands what’s going on with me, please, help me. I can’t stand any professional, much less existential, naming. I am not a Jungian analyst, I am not a psychoanalyst, I am not an anthropologist, I am not a sociologist. I am NOBODY. I have a vocation to be NOBODY. People closer to me know that, but, now and then, someone comes close and territorializes me. I get very sick, claustrophobic, unhappy, tight, stagnated, imprisoned. It has always been like that. I always lived and felt like that. Nomadism is in the base of my personal idiom. It doesn’t take place just because I read Deleuze and Guattari; mu body and my soul are like that: nomads. Only in nomadic mode I enjoy what’s dearest to me: the freedom. I delight in knowing that I always ready to leave, once more. The hardest part for me is to understand how and why people appreciate affirming themselves, naming themselves, from a certain territory! As a matter of fact, they defend their territory fighting tooth and nail. How and why does that give them pleasure?

 

PERSONALITY- NOBODY II

(OCTOBER/2016)

I want to talk a little about the personality-nobody, which I also call personality-source. The basic trait in this type of personality is that it doesn’t territorialize itself, it neither arranges territories nor manages to fit others’ territories. The personality-source experienced a harsh life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, because those centuries were identity ones, fond of the identity processes.

The personality-source didn’t succeed; it was displaced, it experienced failure and developed the ugliest of the passions: the envy. It envied the territorialized people, it envied those who had — or just seemed to have — steel-forged identities, without any chinks, tight, strong, self-assured in the defense of their incredible specialized territories. No matter what sort of territories.

The personality-source, as the very name reveals, can only be happy if it is close to the source, it’s only happy where the world emerges, and it has an artistic soul, loves the new beginnings, loves to play with the uncountable possibilities coming out of the Source.

The personality-source exercises itself in the multiplicity, because its interests are multiple, and multiple is its playing. If the personality-nobody tries to structure itself in its own territory, but, if feeling envy, it moves into someone else’s territory, quite rapidly it petrifies, withers, loses its cheerfulness and rushes back to the source.

The personality-source only manages to feel comfortable when it embraces the way of functioning that best suits it, finally figuring out that it is the Guardian of the Source.

I have many patients like that, people with an artistic soul—because they’re multiple, bold, open to new beginnings. These people coming to my clinic have taught me a lot about the incredible possibilities that life has provided them to be Nobody.

In literature, Emily Marty is an author that frequently celebrates the personality-source. She celebrates the “bordering beings”, open to the pre-individual mode of life, as proposed by Simondon, whose work Marty comments on Magazine Multitudes, number 18.

Now the times are changing, and they’re changing in favor of the personality-nobody! It seems that the twenty-first century is much more moderate with the personality-source and no more disapproves of it. On the contrary, those in hot seats now are the carriers of rigid, petrified personalities, because they’ve forgotten what it takes to reach the Source.

Standard diving gears walking along the avenue, they only know how to dream of butterflies! The dreams tell the truth about the standstills.

Nowadays, the excessively territorialized ones tend to suffer the most because they believe too much in the collective, in the foundation of territories, in the identities, and in the identifying processes.

Now what? How are the divers going to get rid of their standard diving dresses?

 

WHICH IS THE DIVERGENCE BETWEEN FREUD AND JUNG?

(OCTOBER/2016)

Quite often I read three texts by Carl Gustav Jung: The divergence between Freud and Jung (CW, IV), The I and the unconscious (CW, VII/2) and Adaptation, individuation, and value creation (CW, XVIII). These texts are vital for us to apprehend the concept of individuation. I’m going to comment on one of them: which is the divergence between Freud and Jung.

From the Swiss psychologist’s view, one of the disagreements refers to Nicodemus’ question (John 3:4): “Can anyone returns to his mother’s womb and be born again?” (pr. 782) Jung hosts the question, and Freud succumbs to it. I think that here we got the core of the disagreement between these two geniuses of the area psy.

To be born again, I mean, to die and to be reborn, to individuate oneself is necessary to “return to the mother’s womb”: a metaphor of the collective unconscious or of the mode of pre-individual existence (Simondon), which, in a way of another, contains the individual, or the individuals, all of them: men, animals, rocks, plants, meteorological phenomena, etc. Just so, we will be able to think of the landscapes and deep transitions where the death and revival metaphor have some meaning.

It is necessary to “return” to the register from which we experience our first individuation. The register from where we have emerged. That is the difference between Freud and Jung. Freud thinks that what’s really important is the constituted individual. An already-constituted individual, thought as such, doesn’t have where to “return”! I mean, Freud and psychoanalysis don’t provide an answer to Nicodemus’ question, then, psychoanalysis can’t cope with the passages, transitions, in which the metaphor of death and rebirth might make any sense.

 

1) THE LISTENING IN THE PSY LAB+ORATORY

(SEPTEMBER/2016)

In the psy labor-plus-oratory very sensitive psychic processes come about. It is necessary to fine tune the listening skill so that one can welcome them and do not let them escape as if they were elusive light rays. It is absolutely essential to echo the patient on those moments, as Freud taught us.

Recently I had one of these experiences: a very smart patient-client, a winner in the collective, is going through a deep transition. For some time now she has experimented a process, unknown to her and to many people: she de-invest all her loved objects in the collective. More and more in a deeper way! The profession she used to enjoy, started to slip through her fingers like sand grains. Since she never considered the possibility of giving up her profession, this unwanted de-investment scares her. Of course, all that coincides with a loss of meaning that such dream used to represent. What does all that mean? Sometimes I say it is the “dark night of soul”. But, isn’t this night never going to end? A transition like that might be very long, might last years. Without faith in life, nobody can accomplish that.

In that desert, in that radical indetermination, something I call “self’s rehearsals” start to come up. The self, or multiple unborn parts of the self, look for new objects to express themselves. Jung believes that in the deep transitions the self begins to control the ego and give a new direction to life. Simondon is more radical and states that there isn’t ego to support us, there is just a germ/crystal/information, a form and action that sustain us; however, it is still necessary to afford the indetermination inscribed in the transition: after the de-investment, a new (re)configuration deriving from the pre-individual mode of existence.

In that session, my patient-client started to hear the first chords of a new existential sensibility: a new profession. “Amnéris,” she told me “I feel I have the right emotion for that profession”. Then, my patient, taken by this recent finding, inaugural emotion of a new beginning, added: “In this new profession I’m not going to write ten books about the subject and win all the prizes; I want to serve this emotion, I want to serve this thing that is coming to life!” This is the way a very special form of spirituality arises: the desire to serve an emerging emotion.

 

2) THE LISTENING IN THE PSY LAB+ORATORY

(SEPTEMBER/2016)

A psy clinic is a laboratory (lab+oratory, as the old alchemists used to call it) of the contemporary temporality, and we’re living passing times: individuals and collectives are engaging in disruptive, deconstructive, breath-taking passages.

My clinic has always sheltered those who are experiencing passages, transitions, ineffable happenings, but I swear, it has never, ever, been as it is nowadays!

Yesterday, during a session, I was quite affected by a patient’s speech. He is undergoing a deep transition: professional, emotional, intellectual. His attitudes, his way of loving, his way of being in the world, all that is changing. He is going through an individuation, and he’s springing up again, as Simondon would say. The patient told me: “Later on I’ll have to tell my children all that’s going on with me, they need to know everything.” After listening to him and thinking in a dreamlike way, I told him: “You don’t need to tell them anything. This transition you’re going through is going is to show off on your face, in your mind, in your emotions, in you psyche. From now on, each word you say, each attitude, each gesture, each encounter is going to resonate this transition. It’s going to pervade you”.

This is true for anyone who dares to live a big transition in life: it gets impregnated if it’s emotionally thought.

I appreciated that session very much. My patients teach me more and more, and more than individuate, we can also flourish, yet again.

 

NEON CUNHA AND THE CHALLENGES OF CONTEMPORANEITY.

(AGOSTO DE 2016)

The designer Neon Cunha, 44-years-old — 35 years working at São Bernardo do Campo city hall — demands, judicially, the rectification of her birth register. She demands that the baptismal name (Neumir) and the gender (male), which were assigned her, to be changed.

Neon is the third oldest child in a total of ten children of a humble family who has live in São Bernardo do Campo for many years. When Neon was two-and-half-year-old, her mother, a cleaning lady, says that she recognized herself as a girl. She has struggled with fear since then, but it has never paralyzed her. She decides to implant breasts. “But, if you have a penis, you’re not a woman” — the LGBT movement told her. However, she doesn’t flinch: “I’m a woman with penis”.

Neon’s demands could not be different from the other transsexuals’ ones, which, without surgical amputation of their male genitalia, they achieve, legally, the modification in their documents—but all of them underwent medical diagnose that attested their gender dysphoria, that is to say, they submitted themselves to a pathologization process.

According to the DSM-V, gender dysphoria implies: a) an incongruence between an individual’s anatomical sex and the gender to which one feels to belong to; b) anguish and discomfort, clinically meaningful as a consequence of such incongruence.

Now, Neon doesn’t want to undergo any surgery or be pathologized, because she says that she doesn’t feels any incongruence or anguish. Neon’s fight is a fight against power, because what makes her suffer is the social and cultural rejection.

More than that, Neon, by assuming a feminine gender despite having a penis, questions one of our thought categories: the dichotomy between nature (sex male x female) and the culture (gender masculine x feminine). This dichotomy, which is pivotal in our thinking process, used to find its “fate” through the notion of adequacy, something also deconstructed by Neon.

What does it have to do with analysis? What if it becomes fashionable? How many people feel boys in girl’s body? Or vice-versa? What if it is created, through Neon’s case, a favorable jurisprudence? Neon is questioning the adequacy between sex and gender. It is difficult to understand her position through psychoanalysis, which is binary, and thinks in terms of an adequacy between sex and gender. Only Judith Butler help us apprehend non-intelligible genders such as Neon’s!

The post “Neon and the challenges of contemporaneity” deals exactly with this topic and can be read in http://www.porquebollas.wordpress.com

I must say that I was fascinated with Neon Cunha because, concurrently, I was reading China Miéville’s novel Perdido Street Station. The first chapters in the book present us a very unusual couple: a scientist who’s expelled from the local university and a woman who’s an artist with a beetle’s head. Her little upward legs profoundly arouse her partner. It’s an insect-woman! It’s the first monstrous marriage, something akin to what Deleuze and Guattari once proposed, between a wasp and an orchid.

From that astonishing chapter on, we come across other hybridizations: birdmen, cactus-men, beings made out of different material pieces, being-gears. A whole range of hybrids that Miéville’s prodigious imagination presents us. In New Crozubon, in the planet Bas-Lag, the worlds interpenetrate themselves in weird marriages. There aren’t walls among the divine, the humans, and the hybrid beings. The author is an anthropologist and belong to the British New Left.

While I was reading that extraordinary scientific fiction, I fantasied that New Crozubon was inspired by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s anthropology and by the Amerindian perspectivism, and in it the interspecies marriages, where everyone is human as in New Crozubon.

It was in that context that I came across Neon Cunha’s story. She is our first hybrid, and with her a new world of hybrid announces itself. I liked the idea! Psychoanalysis works, since Freud, with a classic and modern ontology, in which the dichotomy nature x culture is central. Totem and Taboo explains such dichotomy.

Neon, as I said before, doesn’t want to amputate her penis and doesn’t admit to be pathologized. This position leads to a questioning of all the discourses, including the psychoanalytical one, which is anchored in the classical ontology to comprehend the gender considering the sexual difference—deriving from there a comprehension and interpretation of the making up of a subjectivity.

Judith Butler, the main representative of queer theory, discusses sex, gender, identity, and subjectivity from the perspective of the performativity, and this approach allows for the subversion of the binary description of gender, and comprehend the non-intelligible genders. Butler discusses and opposes the feminists—as well as the feminist psychoanalysts—once they cannot include the non-intelligible genders, and she also polemizes with psychoanalysis, especially the Lacanian school, questioning the notions of symbolic and the sexual difference in Jacques Lacan.

Going through the ontological questions, in the light of several authors, what Butler intends is “(…) find out a notion of subject and a notion of body which are tied by the language, which allow the integration in the culture, in a nonpathological way, the human beings who don’t fit the regular gender standard.” (Cult Magazine, 185).

 

NIETZSCHE, SIMONDON AND JUNG

(AUGUST/2016)

Some metaphors translate thought schools, as well as a certain fraternity among authors who, not by chance, propose related ways. It’s the case of the figure of the tightrope walker narrated by Zarathustra, in the preamble of the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Such metaphor, central to Nietzsche, will be retaken by Gilbert Simondon, in the book The Individuation, and by Carl Gustav Jung, in an article titled Adaptation, individuation, and value creation (CW, 18).

Nietzsche tells that the tightrope walker falls during a performance and dies in front of the audience, who soon leaves the place. The crowd only respected the equilibrist in his social and artistic function. Contrary to the multitude, Zarathustra fraternizes with the dead artist precisely when he defects his social function—when he’s died, de-individuated, disconnected of his social role. Then, Zarathustra carries him on his back and provides him a burial.

Anyone who knows the Nietzschean thought will immediately recognize the metaphor in Jung’s article, published in 1916, already cited. For the Swiss psychologist, individuation “charges a price” from whom dares to undertake the transition: the loss of her social function—a sort of rupture with the energy that links the individuals to that function. The one who engages in the passage get absent, lives in solitude, and will only be able to “return” and insert herself in the social energy current when, and if, she is able to offer it a new value. That’s the way Jung reads the Nietzschean metaphor.

Gilbert Simondon revisits that metaphor in the book above mentioned, in the end of the 50s of the twentieth century: “…the trans-individual relation is the one between Zarathustra with the tightrope walker who squashed himself on the ground, in his front, and was left behind by the crowd; the crowd not only just considered him for this social function, but also abandons him when, dead, he stops performing it” (…) “it is with solitude, in the presence of Zarathustra, to a dead friend, forsaken by the multitude, that starts the proof of trans-individuality…” (p. 416)

It not casual that the author who, nowadays, try to build a bridge between Jung and Simondon, for instance, Pascal Chabot, in the book The Philosophy of Simondon, goes straight to Jung’s article, also previously cited here. As I already said, a (spiritual) school of thought ends up finding its peers because they have similar paths.

 

FATIGUE SOCIETY, BY BYUNG-CHUL HAN

(AGUST/2016)

Fatigue Society (2015) is a little extraordinary essay-book written by the South Korean author Byung-Chul Han. It is indispensable to read in the psy area, for it describes, in an acute way, the contemporary subjectivity and suffering. Han’s main interlocutor is Michel Foucault, and he studies the transition from the disciplinary society to the performance society, and, within that transition, the change in the individuals’ psychic structure. The transition was brought about by the rapid breakdown of three matrixes — alterity, interiority, negativity—in the subjects of obedience, who could still count on the external instance of control, which forced them to work, exploiting them; as an outcome of that transition, the performing subjects, who internalized both the figure of the lord and of the slave, indulge themselves to the free coercion of themselves!

There isn’t a clear distinction between perpetrator and victim any longer. Performing subjects wage wars against themselves in their attempt to conquer the impossible, and pathologies ensue—depression, feeling of failure, burnout syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and so on.

More performance is the new mandate in the post-modern labor society: to invent more, to create more, to deliver more productivity, more speed. More, more, more… It’s the violence of positivity that we can translate into super-communication, super-performance. The hyperactivity represents the massification of the positive. “Yes, we can,” is a kind of password in the performance society.

The performance society generates a tiredness that is synonymous with fatigue, and in it we redo ourselves in an isolated, autistic fashion. Tiredness leads, in the author’s intuitive expression, to “soul’s attack”. Tiredness without world, tiredness destroyers of worlds.

Han has an obvious Heideggerian influence, and he summons us to do anything possible to stop the war machine and, then… the performance machine in which we have changed ourselves into: the intermediary times, the intersperses, the interruptions, the pauses, the hesitation, the no, the deep boredom, the anguish, the fury, the mourning.

Everything that can contribute to delay the acceleration is well-come. Everything that invites us to a serene-not-doing. It’s also well-come what allow us to recompose the alterity, the being-together-with-the-other: the community, place of the true rest and relaxation.

 

WHERE HAVE THE SWALLOWS GONE TO?

(AUGUST/2016)

Where have the swallows gone to? is an impressive documentary directed by Mari Corrêa, and it shows how the climate changes are messing the everyday life of Xinguan Indians. The film was exhibited in COP 21 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, and awarded as the best short film in the 18th International Environmental Film Festival of Canary Islands, Spain.

After seeing the documentary, I left the theater room asking myself how is it possible for us to go on indifferent towards what’s happening? How is it possible to lead our daily lives with such a catastrophe under our heels?

The film shows the Xingu Park from high above, and it looks like a green stain surrounded by deforestation, by soy plantations, and livestock farming. The vicinity is desert. In the park, there a few thousand Indians—6,500 individuals from 16 different ethnicities—who witness with sadness and suffering the coming tragedy.

We, in the cities, completely blind, surrounded by technology and by science don’t see anything, we don’t intuit or realize anything. But the Indians see the fire spreading and burning the forest; they see the trees that no longer blossom, the cigars that no longer sing and announces the rain, because the heat has boiled their eggs. The Indians notice that the butterflies, which used to harbinger the drought and until some decades ago they were so many that they entered the Indians’ mouths, disappeared. They remember that the swallow used to get together to announce the rain, and they realize that it doesn’t happen anymore… Where have the swallow gone to?

The celebration in which the children’s ear were pierced used to happen at the same time when the pequi fruit ripened, but now the pequi trees are dry and ready to start a fire, as much of the surrounding forest.

The fruits on the field are decaying and burning even before they grow up. Plagues keep coming from the soy plantation and devastating the forest all around. Xinguan Indians, sadly, ask themselves: how will be the future? Where are we going to go, when the whites destroy the whole forest? What will my grandchildren eat?

The documentary is a true alert. And a question cannot be silenced: are we going to remain insensitive to this catastrophe? Buy the documentary on ISA store and let’s share the Indians’ anguish, gaining with them a little bit of dignity.

And the gang who has taken control of Brazil in 2016 wants to deprive the Indians from the very little they were left with: Romero Jucá, in the Senate, debates a law bill that deals with the mining regulation on indigenous lands!

 

CHOCOLAT, BY FRENCH DIRECTOR ROSCHDY ZEM

(JULY/2016)

Yesterday I went to the movie theater to see Chocolat, directed by the Roschdy Zem. The film deals with racism and Rafael Padilla’s (played by Omar Sy) failure, the first black clown in France. Padilla, ex-slave of Cuban origin, fled to France in the end of the nineteenth century. He gained popularity after forming a partnership with Tony Grice, another clown known as Footit (played by James Thiérrée, Charles Chaplin’s grandson). As a clown, Padilla conquered fame and wealth. Popularity, however, has a price tag: Chocolat gets kicks and slaps on the face, hit by the white clown, what amuses the white, rich and prejudiced Parisian elite. After being unjustly arrested, Chocolat eventually figures out the trap in which he was kept, and he terminates the partnership with Foottit, refusing to foster racism through laughter. On his last stage appearance, he is the one who beats the partner. From then on, Chocolat’s decadence and failure predominates.

I like to think about the theme of failure, and Chocolat’s is absolutely terrorizing. His failure isn’t just the result of discrimination in the French society when he refuses to serve the elite through laughter. Chocolat’s failure gain, step by step, contour, and is due to what I call “inner lock”—psychic and emotional—much present in those people called by an “fixed ideal” in a society — in Chocolat’s case, by the ideals of the French Revolution, namely, equality and freedom — find themselves trapped, unconsciously and trans-generationally, by another covenant: obedience and submission.

Let me explain myself: Chocolat’s “inner lock” responded to what was permitted and to what was forbidden by the black people in relation to the white people in slavery-based societies. Chocolat responded to the urges of the past, to that covenant, which many previous generations had respected before him: the place of the black isn’t the place of the white!

Being a bold man, Chocolat risked trespassing the “dividing line”, and, increasingly, his “inner block” restrained him, and he threw himself in binges, gambling, millionaire bets. Such behavior led him to spend and squander his fortune and fame. And he found himself ensnared in a cruel paradox: the “fixed ideal” of the French society, underpinned on equality and freedom, was, at least for him, a deceptive fiction. The “inner lock”, the “imaginary line”, the “trans-generational covenant” was, however, pretty real and, unaware of it, Chocolat managed to accomplish his self-destruction.

Many resounding failures are the “byproducts” of that “inner lock” and “imaginary line” that stablishes what we can or cannot do or cross… and the only way out for those who experience this—and there are many people—is to become conscious, then think the unheard-of power of that “imaginary line”.

 

DON’T CALL ME SON, DIRECTED BY ANNA MUYLAERT

(JULY/2016)

I’ve just seen Don’t Call Me Son, directed by Anna Muylaert (she also directed The Second Mother, a film about a mother “who isn’t there” whenever her children most need her). This one is about a mother “who is there, too often”, an invasive mother. The film is based on a true story, the story of Pedrinho, who was stolen from the maternity clinic, a case widely covered by Brazilian media. The inspiration ends there, because the portrays Muylaert’s special view on that fact.

Dani Nefussi has two parts: as Aracy, the mother who steals children, and as Gloria, the stolen mother. Dani is very well in both roles: she’s the double invader, however, her mild and loving presence disguises the potential invader and these characteristics—surely, a signal of Anna’s skillful directing—are decisive to make up the figure of the “true” invader. An invader who shows herself as such, is easily demasked, but a mild, loving invader, this will steal our soul without our realizing.

As Aracy, the mother who steals children: it is the invader who steals identities, who causes an immense pain in the stolen parents, but as a mother, she, curiously, isn’t invasive at all. She’s a good mother, and the stolen children live rather well in a humble home, in a popular neighborhood. The children are left in peace by that mother. There is silence in the house and the children’s individuality is preserved to the maximum! Gloria, the mother, and the father (Mateus Nachtergaele) are the stolen parents, but they’re invasive to the limit, and then it is they who steal Felipe’s (hitherto Pierre’s) peace and identity (Naomi Nero). These parents are too invasive, they don’t respect the individuality, they don’t respect the most important thing: the silence. They’re noisy. Pierre/Felipe, tears himself in his problematic sexual identity.

Two more things about the film:

1) I loved the camera in Muylaert’s hand: she goes on portraying, in a slant way, there’s to say, she doesn’t invade, she suggests all the time, and that’s fantastic, because it retakes one of the characteristics of Second Mother; in Don’t Call Me Mother, there’s this “leering camera”, suggestive, that puts again the unsaid, that seems to qualify Muylaert’s direction. The camera doesn’t invade, just suggest; doesn’t denounce, just proposes. If I were to play with this issue, I’d say that the director is “the mother sufficiently good” in the film, a kind of third margin, or third mother who doesn’t invade;

2) Anna Muylaert is extensively fine-tuned with the social and cultural moment we’re living, and, I would say that this moment brings the invasion and the capture as some of her brands/characteristics, also in this moment the refusal of the tragic and the stultifying cheerfulness is the tonic. Now, this director deals with the invasion and the capture as silent protagonists, and enunciates the tragedy through the averse, that is to say, by making the characters refuse to realize the tragic in their lives — and in our — existences.

 

MURIEL COMBES AT THE COLLOQUIUM COLÓQUIO G. SIMONDON

(JUNHO DE 2016)

Muriel Combes, one of the most brilliant commentators on Gilbert Simondon’s works, as present at the Colloquium Simondon in UNICAMP, in 2012. In 1999, Combes published a book in French titled Simondon, Individu et Collectivité—translated into English in 2013 with the title Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual. Isabelle Stengers, in the Preface of Muriel Combes’ last book, La Vie Inseparée (2012), presents a very positive assessment of the author as to the rank of the Simondonian studies.

Combes comments on Simondon’s major work, The Individuation in the Light of the Notions of Form and Information, and in it, the third part that is dedicated to the psychic individuation—centered on the affective-emotivity—because that’s precisely there where one locates a criticism to the anthropology. She writes: “…the base of the Simondon’s criticism to anthropology aims at the fact that it, the anthropology, assumes an essence of man by subtracting him from the vital; there where exists the whole vital, including the man”. No one single living being is deprived of affective-emotivity, then, the psychic individuation cannot be conceived of as something specifically human.

However, there is, indeed, a problematic character in/of the human individual, since he, the individual, according to Simondon, is at the same time “individual and more than individual”, proving something—the pre-individual, the Apeiron—which exceeds his individuated being. This experience of excess is what would provide a distance in relation to the nonhuman forms of life, and, simultaneously, would be the very mark of spirituality.

Combes’s “speech” in the Colloquium invites us to think that the man doesn’t have anything of unique in comparison to the other living beings, contrary to what we assumed throughout the history of philosophy. Thus, her position adds up to the criticism of what Giorgio Agamben called “anthropological machine”. For that purpose, she revisits various authors, among them, Baruch Spinoza, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

 

PROF. LAYMERT GARCIA AND TALES AB´SABER:

ON THE COUP IN 2016

(JUNE/2016)

I read two interviews this week and I would like to quickly comment on them. The first one was granted by Prof. Laymert Garcia to Revista Caros Amigos, whose cover is black and is entitled After the Coup: What will be? The second interview was given by the psychoanalyst Tales Ab’Saber for Revista Brasileiros. Both interviews represent unmissable and true documents of our political moment, but not only of it, because twenty years from now, they’ll still be essential to explain our astonishment…

I start by Professor Laymert’s interview, The end of the world: 1) a disruption in the democratization process is nourished “due to a very strong desire for regression, on the part of the elites”; 2) this “desire for regression” was already inscribed in the public demonstrations in 2013; 3) Laymert shows an extensive pessimism with the (in)evolution in such disruption process and with that desire for regression; 4) because the legal system, the media, and the political class are well articulated, the quality of the coup is different nowadays; 5) the total inversion and corrosion of the values we’re living today; 6) a new human configuration starting from the reading of Simondon’s works, and in it, the possibility that the human individual and the technical individual relate to one another, deriving from the individuation of them both.

This is a lucid, courageous, visionary interview. However, professor Laymert’s grasp of the current political crisis doesn’t touch on the thorny topic faced by Tales Ab’Saber: the Workers Party’s and the leftist governments’ responsibility for the current crisis — they were 14 years in power.

The Workers Party (PT) used the very same elites’ strategies as soon as it reached the central power. The party insulated itself in the entrails of power with the same virulence showed by the elites and oligarchies during centuries. When the party was strong enough, it didn’t face a necessary political reform. The major communication companies remained on the hands of the elites, which, as long as they benefited from an alliance with the party, and with the leftist administrations, they didn’t attack, however, as soon as the alliance was broken, they became coup perpetrators.

If that elites’ “desire for regression” — denounced by Professor Laymert — is a reason for worries and disturbances, it is necessary to insist on the Workers Party’s administrations’ responsibility in everything that’s going on. Tales is very shrewd and courageous when talking about such thorny topic for the Left. I agree with Tales: to face that is hurtful, we feel even more distraught, but only following this way we will be able to face a truth, our truth, deeply indigested.

 

PAULO EMÍLIO AND THE PERVERSITY OF SÃO PAULO’S ELITE

(MAY/2016)

Recently I put my hands on a unique book — fictional? — by Paulo Emílio Sales Gomes, Three Women of Three PPPs, first published in 1977 by Perspectiva publishing house, and republished in 2007 by Cosac Naify, and lately by Companhia das Letras, in 2015. The book was written in 1973 and published four years later, in the same year when the author died.

At that time, Paulo Emílio experienced a worsening of social tensions wherever he worked. José Pasta’s afterword is extremely valuable in the book because it shed newer light not only on the author, but also on the work. After the Institutional Act number 5, in 1968, a kind of coup inside the coup, Paulo Emílio became a target for the dictatorship. His name was on the black list of heads to be cut. Persecuted, he had his activities, both on the press and in the academy, closely watched and restrained. As a reaction, he becomes more and more communist — and not only in a partisan sense.

Now, in 2015, Paulo Emilio’s book is republished, and it doesn’t look like a coincidence to me, for, once again, we’re living gloomy days, with our thought categories insufficient to think, and again, the nameless horror with an even more perverse elite. All of that going on with a terrible background: a planetary crisis, where Gaia sending frightening and threatening signs.

On another time, when the historical background wasn’t a dictatorship — it was slavery — Machado de Assis undertook an equally hard task by writing Dom Casmurro. Three Women in one way or another pick up on Machado de Assis’ perspective on the Brazilian elite.

One of the things I’ve learnt in life, and relearnt by reading Paulo Emilio’s essay, is the psychic place we inhabit, and with it, the psychic place we compel the other to inhabit.

The elite, the three women, they inhabit a psychic place, one that they never doubt about. They feel entitled and they can do whatever they want with the other. They can shape him, kill him, trample on him, make any use of him as they wish. It explains why they’re able to behave so perversely. From this elite point of view, the other only exists to satisfy their hunger for a psychic place that makes the world available for them, as if the world was their private backyard.

Therefore, it’s quite meaningful that such debate, involving São Paulo’s elite, resurfaces nowadays.

 

English textual version: Liracio Jr.

Simondon, a space still to come

simondon

Emilia M. O. Marty, Multitudes 18 – Outono de 2014

We can only individuate, individuate ourselves, and individuate within ourselves.1

Gilbert Simondon’s thinking disturbs. It’s a thinking of totality, one that cannot be nicely fit into any of the current disciplinary contours. The avatars of the editions keep pace with their fluctuations. The publication, not in three tomes, but in three independent books, has allowed for its wider diffusion, although it has also contributed to segment it. For a long time, Simondon was best known for his approach to the technical object, rather than for his thinking concerning individuation. These days, the tome that deals with “Physical and Collective Individuation” has brought about a new wave of interest. There, the author is treated in a disciplinary way, as well2. Simondon is used as a new “toolkit”, thus enabling the fostering and renewal especially of the concepts related to the individual and the medium. Such practice denaturalizes the thinking on individuation and hides its milieu, the milieu that’s unlike the one of the human sciences.

~Beyond the human sciences

Alongside the thinking about the man who’s dominated by the human sciences, there’s a widespread movement going on, which seeks in the cultures of traditional societies, concomitantly, a wisdom for living by and another conception of man, of one’s relation with the other, with nature, and with the invisible. Long before such movement, Gilbert Durand had already put in evidence the figure of the traditional man, the primordial man, in contrast to the objective and fragmented man of the human sciences3. He champions the idea of the need for a departure from the human sciences, which, as a matter of fact, have become “social sciences” in order to address a science of the man. Simondon goes with this search for another way of thinking the man. On the one hand, his theory of individuation reconciles the different sciences and the human. On the other hand, his approach to man, thinking inseparably the individual and the collective—at a time when these two notions were cautiously separated—disintegrates the notion of human sciences.

Here, I would like to defend the idea that this work should not be referred back to the past, be it the past of human sciences, of the Encyclopedia, of the traditions or of the esotericisms, but, rather, it should be referred to the future. Gilbert Simondon opens the door for a knowledge of a different kind. A space for the thinking process and for the man, one that would individuate (and not relink or reunify) sciences and tradition. A beyond space. A still to come space. But that beyond is not constituted by a change in the object. It is the opening of distinct sort of space, beyond the splitting subject-object. Henceforth, it would be impertinent to think in terms of that splitting and its multiple bridges, instead, one should think on the act of knowledge itself.

~The pre-individuated reality, the apeiron.

This change of space comes true by means of a deviation in the thinking process, from the individuated reality to the pre-individuated reality. The thinking of the individuation, and not of the individuated being, lies on the notion of the apeiron, from which Simondon designs the pre-individual. Departing from the individual as field of thinking and addressing the thinking of individuation, he introduces the idea of the pre-individuated reality, but serving, we could say, the individuation. On Simondon’s text about Anguish, we have, as a revenge, an inversion of perspective, once the text is less centered on the individuation than on the individuated getting in touch with the effects of the pre-individual reality.

The difficulty in addressing the notion of apeiron, the Unlimited, is the same that we have when we take into consideration the nature of the “pre-individual”. Simondon uses indistinctly the word nature, in the pre-Socratic sense, and the word apeiron. “We could define as nature the pre-individual reality that the individual carries within herself, trying to regain in the word nature the meaning, which the pre-Socratic assigned to it: the Ionian physiologists located there the origin of all the species of beings, prior to individuation: nature is the reality of the possible, under the species of that apeiron from which Anaximander sees the emergence of all sort of individuated form; nature is not the contrary of the Man, rather, it is the being’s first phase.”4

“Anaximander […] said that the principle—i.e. the element—of the living beings is the infinite (apeiron) […] He says that it isn’t neither water, nor any of those things one calls the “elements”, but a certain infinite nature, from which all the heavens, and the worlds within them, come into being: however, from the same source of generation—for the living beings—also comes the destruction, in accordance to what has to happen; because they grant, one another, justice and reparation, of their mutual injustice, in accordance to Time’s design.”5

Perhaps Anaximander derives from his contemplation of the Aegean Sea, from the spectacle he beholds every day, the essence of the sea, that is, the Unlimited. Or, maybe, the sea is inhabited by such a particular Greek light, which gives it so much intensity and depth. However, that unlimited is not the character of some natural element, water, earth, air, fire. It does not open itself, due to that naturality, over the abysses of the Earth. It opens itself over a totally different space, “the deep sky”, says Marcel Conche. The sky, nonetheless, for the Greeks of that time, is a closed dome, laid on the horizon: it has nothing of unlimited. Only the flow of its gaseous aspect can create that sensation of indetermination, by the way, an indetermination that typically defines the apeiron.

The confusion of apeiron with matter, in the Aristotelian sense, has become easy due to the predominance of some common features: it is undetermined, unknowable, unengendered, indestructible. The apeiron, however, is a potency of determination, while the matter, undetermined, receives its determination. This dimension of genesis opens for the creative character of apeiron that is potency. It is the cause of an eternal movement, which generates the living beings through the separation of opposites.

The apeiron is not an intermediary substance between the elements, between worlds, or, still, within the worlds, between living beings—as the primordial nature will be seen later, defined as air by Anaximenes, Anaximander’s successor. That air would create the living beings through rarefaction and condensation. The apeiron engender the things by means of a phenomenon of ejection from the origin. The apeiron is not a reservoir of original confusion, as if the substances, in their undifferentiated state, were merged in a sort of materia prima, a kind of primordial magma. Let’s keep in mind that the apeiron belongs to the domain of the “deep sky”, not to the domain of the abysses of the Earth. That is to say, it does not belong to the world of chaos. Nor is it the reservoir of potential beings, which are not determined yet, by their emergence as worlds. There are not living beings in potency “inside” the apeiron. At last, it is not a reservoir of opposites that would rest on it, undetermined and non-conflictual, before they venture in the world.

The apeiron is the infinite. In the qualitative sense, that infinite is indetermination. However, as the origin of the determined beings, determination is not a transformation of that undetermined. There is a cleavage between the principle and the forms that it engenders. The apeiron is immense, once it does not have temporal boundaries, and it also does not have spatial boundaries. Besides, it engenders “innumerable worlds”. Its potency is exerted far beyond all the boundaries, both temporal and spatial.

Despite the convenience of the images, apeiron isn’t a body, it doesn’t take part in the sensitive reality, it cannot be caught by the eye, it can only be conceived of. Marcel Conche asserts that “the conceptual rigor with which Anaximander argues may imply that he conceives of the infinite, not limiting himself just to imagine it. He certainly thought of the infinite in the wholeness of its significance.” Nonetheless, if apeiron is limitless in time, and limitless in space, it isn’t neither the limitless space nor the limitless time. “It opens the space and the time: through the same act it unfolds the space and the time and unfolds itself in the space and in the time.”  Thus, it is undetermined not only as to the essence, but also in magnitude. This infinity in magnitude isn’t the one concerning with spatiality, instead it is one concerning with a generator force.

This source isn’t the passage of the potency to the act. “It is the actualization, of what takes part in that actualization. The generation is the becoming of the form, not the coming-to-light of a preexisting form, but the generation process of a form that nature is subsequently bound to bring to light.”6 The source is fountain of life, it isn’t the place where occurs the passage of an undetermined form of being to a determined form while it is being. There isn’t any decay of the source—source of every birth—it is itself coming to life incessantly. However, despite all, there isn’t an independency from the Unlimited. The model of sovereignty, entailing majesty and distance, is also excluded here as well: the source is linked to the fact that there are “becomings”; “it is only in as much as it makes to be… It is the gesture of giving birth to what is called physis (…) act of rendering the turning from non-being to the being.”7

~The other who’s non-individual~, the bordering being

We said that the becoming space beyond the human sciences and the traditions needed a deviation in the thought guided towards the individuated reality and the individuation, towards the pre-individuated reality. But that deviation isn’t only a deviation in thinking: it is a deviation in the whole being.

Simondon asserts that the human beings experience a second kind of individuation, which goes through the collective, that is, through the sharing and exchange of the pre-individual “parts” of every one. That can only happen after an experience that enables the exit, by oneself and in the relation with the others, from the forms of identity, fixed in the roles, in the functions, in the dominant social functioning, and that enforces identity affectations. Such exit comes about by the experience of the lonely passage by means of the dismantling of those forms.

“The anguish” is a different sort of individuation. Simondon presents the anguish as a possible way of individuation, but a way that is rare and reserved to few beings. Commenting those pages, I tried to show that, on the contrary, anguish allows for an individuation, of a new kind, a third individuation. I argued that only the fear and the catastrophic representation of that work of metamorphosis, which is operated by the pre-individual in the individual in the form of an endless and intense deindividuation, hinder and block that way mentioned by Simondon.8

In the process of individuation, generator of individuals, in Simondon’s sense (that is, generator of the individual-more-than-one, of the individual who’s the carrier of potentials of transformation), the glance and the intention moves towards that form of the individuated—with the transition of one form to the other being just a medium. At the end of the individuation, there isn’t re-individuation. There is the “other who’s non-individual”. I proposed the idea that there isn’t neither transition nor forms, but just a bordering being. Simondon finishes his text with this surprising phrase: “It, the anguish, is starting of the being.”9 As if, since then, the exit, and not the individual anymore, characterized the being.

But then, what is the border? The border doesn’t designate a frontier that would set the limit between two spaces: that of the created reality, of the segmented reality—as Simondon would put it—and that of the pre-individuated reality, once it is the Unlimited. It doesn’t delineate the fluctuating identity of a being who’s immersed in the chaos of some sort of materia prima. The pre-individual reality isn’t telluric, it belongs to “the deep sky”. As we’ve seen, the deep sky isn’t a far-away space, it is here, in the familiarity of the things and beings.

The border is there where there is the starting of the being. “The other who’s non-individual is the being as starting”. The term of anguish isn’t a spot that would work as the starting point of the being. It is where the being has become starting, once it (the being) has definitely left individuation. The being as starting is a being of the beginning. It inhabits the border, leaning toward the pre-individual reality, living in the proximity with the “fountain of life”. The source isn’t the Unlimited. It is there where the worlds are created. When one speaks, here, of “world”, one is speaking of that other space, of that other reality, the one that Simondon sees as “a form of organized communication”. How could we think of this space, this space-world, this still to come space?

In Miletus, at the time when philosophy appears with the Ionian School, and afterwards in Italy and in Athens, what was born together with the pre-Socratics isn’t just a form of organized thinking in accordance with Reason. What is born, indeed—and inseparably from that phenomenon—is a character: the philosopher. The character is the mediator between the men submersed in the “visible” reality, in which they have to live and act, and the “invisible” reality, no longer that one of the gods and their tricks and whims, but a reality of nature and of the cosmos, an invisible “laicized”, as Jean-Pierre Vernant puts it, but an invisible that must be unveiled. The dislocation of the philosophy towards the human sciences will break up that character into a multitude of different figures. Each philosophical system, and then each disciplinary system, will distinguish between the two orders of reality. However, the invariant will be a scenario where every objective knowledge is inseparable from that position of mediation.

The individuation transforms that scenario at the same time that it changes the nature of knowledge of the subject, but the individuation of the beings can only be captured by the individuation of the knowledge of the subject.”10 The knowledge no longer takes places by a position of retreat and by a mediator’s lofty look. To know is an act similar to the artistic creation. Thinking, here, isn’t the means of domain or domination over the studied objects anymore. Knowledge is a living being’s act of co-creation, accompanying the stages of individuation. Through the act of the cognizant being, the creation in-herself (the being), the creation that is she, remains alive, and comes true. But, inseparably, also remains alive the creation that is exterior to the being: “Just as the reflexive thinking starts, it has the force to make up the thinking of the genesis, which didn’t fully realize itself, thus becoming conscious of the meaning of the very genetic process.”11

That co-individuation, of the known, of the congnizant, and of knowledge, is hard to think of because our language belongs to the scientific phase and to objective knowledge. To live in this space implies a transformation of the relation with the current language, and a transformation of the language itself.

However, above all, to live and to know, in that space, only becomes possible at the cost of a transmutation of the being’s relation with the world. In Rainer Maria Rilke, the being who can live in the Opening is the creature. This creature, the eighth elegy, is mysterious, half-animal, half-vegetal. It designates a certain state of the being that is abandoned, dispossessed of itself, and for that reason, it is in continuous contact and alive, breathing, with this continuum that is the Opening. “The other who’s non-individual” looks like that creature, always in touch with the reticular continuum. But he trajectory of individuation, in the anguish, which has likewise changed the being, has also turned it into a particular conscience, a conscience that is its be-in-the-world, a conscience as body. The creature is, in the Opening, bathed in continuum of the Opening; the bordering being is the acquiescense of all its being to what is.

Gilbert Simondon in the living world

According to the design of Time, Simondon left us, but he remains a living being from the past. “In the moment when an individual dies, his activity becomes unfinished, and we can say that it will stay on unfinished as long as that individual subsists in the individual beings able to refresh the active absence, seed of conscience and action. (…) The subconscience in the living beings is wholly woven by this charge of maintaining the being the individuals that exist as absence, as symbols from which the living beings are reciprocal.”12

Every being, woven in its affective ties, friendly and familiar, and in its genealogic fabric, continues, even after death, to take part in its world, by the words, by the thoughts, acts, emotions and feelings that it set into motion and that, linked to the other’s moves, constitute the world. Furthermore, every work remains, with the active presence of its creator, in the collective space. Active presence of an active absence as long as there are living beings that allow themselves to be nurished and inspired, by such absence, in their actions and in its conscience, or, still, to find it and appreciate that encounter. Nonetheless, the History’s labor, actualized by the works, comes about in a secret manner, and in the shadows.

Gilbert Simondon’s active absence partakes in this secret labor in a very particular manner: it contributes less to participate in the present world than to individuate a world to come. With many others, but in an essencial milieu, the place of thinking that individuate itself.

This work has followed us in our path of individuation and all of us, living beings from the present, who are in the path of co-individuation, lets continue to individuate that thinking.

_________________

NOTES

[1] Gilbert Simondon, L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique. L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information, p. 34.

[2] Cf. edição italiana.

[3] Science de l’homme et tradition, Berg international, 1979.

[4] Gilbert Simondon, La Physique et l’individuation collective, p. 196.

[5] Cited and Translated by Marcel Conche, Anaximandre. Fragments et témoignages, Puf 1991.

[6] Ibid, p. 75.

[7] Ibid, p. 126.

[8] Emilia Marty, “~Celui autre qu’individu~ le voyage de l’angoisse ou l’art de la lisière” in collectif Gilbert Simondon, une pensée operative, Paris, Puf 2002, p. 35-38.

[9] “The subject depart itself from the individuation still felt as possible; it runs through the being’s inverse ways (…). It (the anguish) is departed from the Being.” IPC, p. 114.

[10] IGPB, p. 34.

[11] Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques, p. 162

[12] IPC, p. 102.

English version: Liracio Jr.

Neon Cunha and the challenges of contemporaneity

Neon

“Believe it or not, only now, at the age of 52, I found out who I really am. I was conceived in a woman’s womb as any other human life in this era. But, now, I’m sure that I belong to another condition that isn’t only human, I’m somebody who has been fed and brought up by this other condition. I’m at the same time human and I am, because I feel in myself the wild condition, the most beautiful and most despised one. I feel this moment in which I am a river, a bird, and a ferocious animal. That’s why I hate those who assault us, those who want to destroy us (…) Now I know who I am, I’m sorry for myself because I’m sure that they’re destroying me. And, do you know why? Because I am all of it: I’m the wind, I’m the woods, I’m the bird, I’m the fish, I’m hunting game, I’m the rain, I’m the Sun. I’m all of it, and that’s why I love and I hate. That’s why I’m kind and sweet, but also aggressive and, above all, I’m strong.” (Dona Iraci)[1]

Neon Cunha is the third daughter in a total of ten siblings, plus two foster children, from a humble family of migrants from Minas Gerais who currently lives in São Bernardo do Campo, in the ABC metropolitan area. When she was 2 years-old, her mother, a cleaning lady, tells us that the child recognized herself as a girl. When she was 8 years-old, the started to experience intense bullying and was called “little fagot”. One day, her penis got stuck in the zipper of her pants and, with the help of her father, an ironmaster; she realized that she had a penis! Since then, fear has followed her. However, never to the point that it can stop her: she decided to undergo breasts implant. “But, if you have a penis, you’re not a woman” — the LGBT movement told her. However, she does not hesitate: “I’m a woman with a penis”. Neon is a name of both masculine and feminine gender, from Greek origin and it means ‘new’, ‘recent'”.

The designer Neon Cunha, 44, — who has been working in São Bernardo do Campo prefecture for 35 years — is judicially reclaiming the adjustment of her civil register. She wants her baptismal name — Neumir —, and the gender assigned to her in the legal document, to be changed. In this sense, Neon does not differ that much from so many other transsexuals who, without the male anatomic sex amputation, have been successful through legal means to change their birth registers — but all of them have also been through a medical diagnosis that testifies for their gender dysphoria, that is, they have been submitted to a pathologization process and classification. According to DSM-5, gender dysphoria implies: 1) an incongruence between the individual’s anatomic sex and the gender to which he/she feels to belong to; 2) anguish and discomfort clinically intense as a result of such incongruence. Still in accordance to DSM-5, gender dysphoria is not in the list of mental disorders. Now, Neon does not want to undergo surgery and she does not want to be pathologized, for she asserts that she does not feel neither incongruence nor anguish. She feel quite well with herself, even though she has a penis. In case her appeal to the court is denied, she petitions “assisted death” because she understands that her right to life is being restrained whereas she is a woman, and feels like a woman, but her birth certificate assures that she is a man, with a man’s name, male sex. Her identity is female, and she fights for the right to life. She is not sick. She would rather die than continue to live this way — according to a statement collected by Chico Felitti for Folha de São Paulo, last July, 30th. Neon’s distress stems from the social rejection and society’s violence. That violence — as it was squarely qualified by Contardo Calligaris on August 4th, 2016 — is obviously a violence shared by the science of psychiatry, which shapes behaviours by evoking an alleged neutrality.

Neon’s struggle is, then, a struggle against power, or else, she has made her individual battle, a battle against the political power. More than that, Neon — by assuming a feminine gender having a penis — she questions one of our thinking categories: the dichotomy between nature (male/female sex) and culture (masculine/feminine gender). This dichotomy, rudimentary in our way of thinking, (used to) find its “destiny” through the notion of adequacy, a notion that Neon also repudiates.

[I] AND, WHAT DOES PSYCHOANALYSIS HAS TO DO WITH ALL THAT?

Sigmund Freud (basing on Darwin’s theory) wrote Totem and Taboo in 1914. In that book, human desire repeats, through the Oedipus Complex, the very same dead-locks which gave origin to the change from the state of nature to the state of culture: the killing of the father in the stage of primeval horde, a cannibalistic assimilation of his body, the choosing of a totem to represent it, the transference of attack to the totem as taboo, and applying over the taboo the rule that proscribes incest in all the known societies. The Freudian construal already showed itself, then, quite mistaken if we take into account the anthropology of the time. Nonetheless, such book, valuable to psychoanalysis in many aspects, keeps itself without scrapes, seeing the celebrations it received from psychoanalysts in Hundred Years of Totem and Taboo, published in 2014.

In this moment, however, it is relevant to emphasize that psychoanalysis works, since Freud, with a classic ontology, and modern, and in it, the dichotomy between nature and culture is pivotal. Totem and Taboo deals with and explain that dichotomy.

In the 50s, Lévi-Strauss reclaimed totemism, by giving a new interpretation to it. For the anthropologist, the main point in the law of incest was not the specific kinship system in which it was practiced, but the very existence of a universal kinship rule, one that regulates the marriages in general, taking into account the way people were named inside and outside their lineage. It was such reformulation that led Lacan, in the sixties, to speak of a fatherly function and of a motherly function, making them relatively independent from the real character who performs them. For instance, a motherly function might be performed by a man, and a fatherly function might be performed by a transgender. Lacan remakes, at least in relation to the family, and following the places stablished in the structures, the motherly function and the fatherly function independent from sexuality. It seems to me that the  “opening” accomplished by the Lacanians left them in a more comfortable relation with the transgenders.

However, would it be possible for Lacan and the Lacanians to understand the non-intelligible genders, those without a sexual base, which provide them support? Would the Lacanian be able to leave a binary dynamics (man/woman; masculine/feminine) to a multiple one? The notions of symbol and the sexual difference in Lacan would allow us to understand the non-intelligible genders?—both the symbol and the sexual difference are normative regulators of the so-called acknowledged sexualities.

If we have difficulties when facing these questions from the psychoanalysis point of view, considering the Lacanian opening, how could we understand Neon Cunha and the thousands of others who face social and cultural structures, which do not welcome them? Neon, as I insisted earlier, does not want to extirpate her penis or to be pathologized, and, by acting in this fashion, she questions all the discourses, including the psychoanalytical ones, those which anchor themselves in the classical ontology in order to understand the gender departing from the sexual difference—and that is from there that they intend to understand and interpret the makeup of the subjectivity. Now, Neon Cunha assures that what brings her suffering is the social and cultural rejection, never an alleged incongruence between her sexuality and her gender, which the discourses, among others those of psychiatry, insists upon!

Judith Butler, the most vocal representative of the queer theory, discusses sex, gender, identity and subjectivity from the perspective of performativity, and this approach allows her to subvert the binarism of gender and to understand the non-intelligible genders. Butler debates and puts herself in opposition to the feminists—as well as to the feminist psychoanalysts—once they cannot include the non-intelligible genders, and she also polemizes with psychoanalysis, especially with the Lacanians, by questioning the notions of symbol and sexual difference in Jacques Lacan. While she scans the approaches used by many authors when they deal with the ontological issues, Butler intends to “[…] find a notion of subject and a notion of body, tied to language, which allows the embodiment in the culture, through a non-pathological approach, of all the human beings who do not fit in the normal standards of gender” (PORCHAT, 2014:82).

[II] THE ABJECT BODIES

For the American philosopher Judith Butler, gender is one of the main themes throughout her work. She does not see it, however, as an issue in the field of sexuality, but especially as a political issue, and more dangerously, as an ontological problem. The ontological aspect appears quite often in the anthropological and philosophical debate, linked to the modes of existence. To exist in a certain way and not in another one, to be free to exist and, therefore, to name oneself—independently of the political, legal, scientific powers which monopolizes the naming process, the categorization process, from an invariable classical ontology that is, in modern times, anchored in the dichotomy nature/culture, and in some other dichotomies, all of them coming from this major root that provides intelligibility to our Western modern thought.

Each one of those ontologies, sometimes divergent among themselves and sometimes in sheer war, all of them count on existing facticities, which enliven them and make possible the apprehension of a certain field. When such ontologies engage in war, however, the ability to listening among the several interlocutors becomes very difficult, precisely because their constituting existing facticities are radically different[2]. That is the case of Neon Cunha, for instance, when she deals with the legal system. She seeks a non-binary ontology (man/woman; masculine/feminine), a gender that does not fits itself to sex, a non-intelligible gender. These are her existing facticities, which are in opposition to the existing facticities of the classical ontology, those we already know quite well. They are also warring ontologies: the deconstruction, implemented by Butler, of the genders, of the established and name-giving modern discourses. Butler engages in a war against psychoanalysis, polemizing it, provoking it to the limit, and waging an ontological war against it, as well.

Being a feminist, Butler seriously takes into account the critical potentialities of feminism itself, once she recognizes that feminism is, surely, a fight for women’s right, but it is also an opportunity for the philosopher to expand what she understands as feminism and engages in an disassemble of the concepts of “women”, “men”, “feminine”, “masculine”, and, at the extreme, in an disassemble of the whole concept of gender. That is to say, that Butler is a critic of feminism because it works with the gender “binarism”, with the idea that “man” and “woman”, “masculine” and “feminine” are the whole truth of sexuality. Departing from such perspective, the gender, and the way Butler conceives of it, does not belong only to the political activism, but also questions the identities and the very principle that rules its logic. At the extreme, it questions the very idea of adequacy! Thus, one may theoretically infer from any assumption of sex as “natural truth” as being a “kind of fate” which would end up establishing gender. Through the dismantling all kind of gender identity, one opens the doors of thinking to whatever oppress the human singularities, which do not fit, which are not “convenient” or “correct” in the scenario of bipolarity. With Judith Butler, Neon Cunha gains the right to exist! Neon also brings up what Butler means by “ontological effects”: the classical ontological privilege that guarantees that a single mode of existence is correct, that anchored in the adequacy between sex and gender, in the binarism masculine and feminine; that privilege imposes itself over the individual who, being on the opposite way of the ontological “norm”, is treated as aberration or anomaly. Being treated in such way is to suffer discourses that constitute them: abject bodies, not subjects, less than human.

The dismantlement of sex and gender is achieved through what Butler calls performativity: words elicit actions and acting. All the existing theories—including hers, but she does not hide it!—cause something in concrete subjects. Performativity follows, among others, the tracks set up by Michel Foucault—History of Sexuality: sex and sexuality would not be essential truths, but historical construals. Butler denaturalizes sex and gender, which have been treated, so far, as fate, and she sees both of them as discursive construals. Precisely because of that, the difference between sex and gender would not be the direction of the feminist fight any longer. Butler not only questions the identities “man” and “woman” (hetero and homosexual), but she also questions the very meaning of the verb to be: when someone says that they “are” this or that.

The fundamental idea here is that the discourse—patriarchal, judicial, scientific, mediatic—inhabits the body, and, somehow, makes up this body, confuses itself with the body, and in the cases of the abject bodies, such discourse excludes them. The body is fully determined by language; part of the body escape language and are guided by pulsion: that is to say, they are guided by something we do not know, and it neither reduces itself to biology nor to culture.

It is necessary, then, to insist on the thesis that the discourses are not impersonal, they are not homogenous too, but they are the outcome of historical and political tensions that engender them. They were in the past, and remain to be in the present, libidinally vested; they were, and remain to be, consequences of the desire, desires that become politically domineering and, when they are not related to that Cultural Superego, they appear marked by impersonality. As a matter of fact, such impersonality is also a strategy used by the prevailing power; it hovers over society and culture as if it was Nobody, a sort of “fate” inherent in the experience of social living! All it needs is a conservative and regressive moment such as the one we are currently living in Brazil, and in the world, so that we can notice how these “impersonal norms” gain concretude, and are once more libidinally vested: gay people killings, collective rapes, prejudices of all kinds against minorities and against those who assume their singularities.

The exclusion of the abject bodies is experienced in silence, in the injustice of not being possible to fully exist. The freedom of the bodies passes, then, according to Butler, through the questioning and suspension, and the “effects of the classical ontology” of the discourses which constitute them. A freedom to exist as one is, out of the classifications, so the dismantling of those classifications to give place to the expression of singularities, and of a whole scope of silenced experiences, experiences that are forbiden to exist, and sentenced to death. That is Neon Cunha’s vindication: to exist as she really is, and that is not possible, to have the right to die because somehow she is already dead if she cannot fully exist—that makes clear, then, why her fight is both political and ontological.

Without distorting, in any way, Judith Butler’s thinking, her expanded feminism may defend all those who do not fit squarely in the prevailing discourses, those who do not fit squarely the white, European, anthropocentric man. Besides, playing with this issue, Butler’s feminism gives place to that “speech” by Dona Iraci, which opens this text: “I’m the wind, I’m the woods, I’m bird, I’m fish, I’m hunting game, I’m the rain, I’m the Sun”. She says that she belongs to a condition that is not only human. To seek what is “proper of man”, secluding him from nature as a whole, would not be a discursive “production”, as well? Would not the true human condition be one such as that of Dona Iraci’s, and then an emotional achievement?

[III] HOW TO FACE THE ABJECT BODIES, PSYCHOANALYTICALLY?

One of the ways to stand up to the abject bodies is to probe the categories that have guided us through the whole twentieth century in the “psy area”, and some of them need to be immediately left behind, such as the dichotomy nature/culture, which is a universal Oedipus, a binarism that sustains the masculine and the feminine and the issues of identities. The abject bodies that Judith Butler defends, by widening her grasp of feminism, blur, since the still modern Western, the dichotomy nature/culture. In addition, the Amerindian ontologies studied by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro—and many other anthropologists—they somehow relativize and ressignify that dichotomy, a key-point in modernity. The abject bodies exposes the concrete singularities of the bodies, and their potentialities.

It seems that we are trying to escape the cocoon of the classical ontological “norms” which support the several scientific discourses, and we are trying to become butterflies—just to use a metaphor I personally enjoy very much[3]. By means of such transgression, the identities of the modern subject also collapses themselves, and so crumbles a fundamental element of our apprehension of the world, as well. At this point, the notions of multiple identities and/or flexible identities do not suffice any longer: it is necessary to query the verb to be, when someone says that they “are”  this or that; we need to learn how to read ourselves in the gerund—”being”. “Being” opens the closed identities—and all the identities are closed—to the crossings and fluxes of existence.

To be the analyst of an abject body, such as Neon Cunha’s, for instance, is to listen to her as somebody who is “being” who she is, a girl-woman, and do not worry in the least to the congruence imposed by the DSM—or by psychiatry, or by the idea of adequacy between natural sex and gender, defended by psychoanalysis. Put differently, we should not buy what the Collective Psychoanalytic Subject can sell us, including the very theorist Judith Butler herself! If it is true that we can allow ourselves to be easily seduced by the idea of a non-adequacy between sex and gender in psychoanalysis, it is important to bear in mind that it was Freud who firstly posit the notion that sex and gender do not mix up—he did that, obviously, without using the word gender that would only be uttered in the sixties. To Freud, there are not guaranties that a male child will become a man, as well as there are not guaranties that a female child will become a woman.

In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Freud understands the child sexuality as being perverse polymorphous. The first of the Three Essays, let’s not forget, is called The sexual aberrations: the human sexuality is, in itself, aberrant and perverse, given the inexistence of a fix and invariable standard for the sexual behaviour. The pulsions do not have adequate objects, much less predetermined ones. The object is the most variable detail in a pulsion, which seeks satisfaction, once the rule is the principle of pleasure—and does not aim neither reproduction nor species conservation. A pulsional simmering that meets the taste of the abject bodies. The pulsions would be unified via oedipal identifications, and if Oedipus triumphs in psychoanalysis, we insist that a simmering sexuality is also inscribed in it, and it would be important for us not to forget that.

It is up to us to listen to Neon Cunha from the point of view of who she claims to be, and to treat her from the perspective of the verb to be: “being”; thus, we can help her unmake the identities and the identifications which were imposed on her. That is so because it is the starting project of psychoanalysis to listen to and to bring to light the singularities of each one of us; and that does mean we are putting forward anything new. However, it is always important to remember! To listen to, and to invite Neon, and each one of us, to leave the cocoon and to become a butterfly!

To proceed in this way, we, analysts in the “psy area”, have to start by ourselves: by deconstructing our primary identifications, which obligate us to be faithful to certain schools of psychoanalysis and scientific and discursive viewpoints, of biopower. We have to get along the flux of a new world that do not refrain itself from questioning the division between nature and culture, by engaging in blurring these borders. Assuming and defending an identity may strategically important in certain moments, but it also implies a risk to get stuck to it, a risk of oppression and slavery inscribed in the body itself. Assuming an identity and getting stuck to it is the same as thinking that the cocoon—great for protection for a while and deadly in the long term—is the body. Staying on at it prevents one from becoming a butterfly!

More than that, we have to widen our minds so that we may live with the multiple ontologies which are competing among themselves nowadays, and that represent valid modes of existence of our patients/clients. Sometimes, women-becoming-nature come to our offices: they value everything that is nature in their children’s upbringing, since natural birthing, at home and with the help of a midwife, to the breast-feeding, to organic food and even their children’s home-schooling, and why not in a forest?! And it is not up to us, as analysts, to question what they call “natural”, but to respect an ontology whose existing facticities insist on showing up and prospering. Sometimes, also arrive at our offices some feminine identities which are shaped in accordance to the classical ontology, worried about being good mothers, good wives, and good professionals, creative, etc. Rarely, though, come to our offices some abject bodies, some non-intelligible genders, as Judith Butler call them, some hybrids becomings, which partake in a new ontology, one that does not feed itself in the seclusion—and, afterwards, in the adequacy—between nature and culture. I mean, they look for a dialectics, a blend of masculine and feminine. If we truely want help these patients—instead of torturing them and driving them crazy—, we have to open ourselves to listen and to apprehend the multiple becomings that tend to blow up our thoughts categories.

What I propose, then, is that we, in the “psy area”, enlarge our minds to the point on which we may live together with diverse ontologies, and even with those ontologies that are waging war among themselves. The world—the planet, the culture—is creasing, and today that means a multiplication of modes of existence, and that is up to us to embrace them, not to belittle ourselves in the well-designed identities that used to give us a false safety and a false sensation of power. That is exactly what this acute period of civilizational transition demands from us, for, as once said the old Marx in the modernity: “all that is solid melts into air”.

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NOTES

[1] See bibliography.

[2] The anthropologist Mauro de Almeida in a fabulous article—Caipora and the ontological conflicts, set the ground for this debate. See bibliography.

[3] The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a touching book written by Jean Dominique Bauby. See bibliography.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

ALMEIDA. Mauro W. B. de. “Caipora and the ontological conflicts”. Magazine of Anthropology of the UFSCAR, v. 5, number 1, January-June, p. 7-28, 2013.

BAUBY. Jean Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. S.P., Martins Fontes, 2013.

TÍBURI. Márcia. “Judith Butler. Feminism as a provocation”. Revista Cult, 185.

DUNKER. C.I.L. Perspectivism and Psychoanalysis. Revista Cult 208— december, 2015

PORCHAT. Patricia. Psychoanalysis and e Trans-sexuality: deconstructing genders and pathologies with Judith Butler. Curitiba. Juruá, 2014.

SALIH, Sara. Judith Butler and the Queer Theory. Autêntica, 2012.

SANTOS, Iraci. In: SANTOS, Luiz Fernando de Souza. The Green Panopticon: Manaus: Editora Valer and Fapeam, 2014.

SZTUTMAN. Renato. Nature & Culture, Americanistic version—an overview. Pontourbe 4—Magazine of the Department of Urban Anthropology of USP—Laboratory of the Department of Urban Anthropology of USP—NAU.

NEWS ON THE END OF THE WORLD

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

I have just seen two recent lectures, in video, delivered by Professor Eduardo Viveiro de Castro, and I want to recommend them to my readers. The first video — this lecture is titled ”Philosophy, Anthropology, and the End of the World” (http://vimeo.com/78892524); the second lecture has the title ”III Conference Curt Nimuendajú” (http://vimeo.com/81488754).

In this post, I will make a brief calling to these two lectures and, to begin with, I confess that I am faithful to Mr. de Castro’s ideas and I am, in practice, going to re-enact most of his own words. However, I am going to engage in some editing of the lectures so that I can emphasize some points as we go along. For this reason, those readers who intend to have a tighter grasp of the anthropologist’s thinking, should really watch the videos.

I am also going to make one observation concerning the dialogue — or the lack of dialogue — between the psychoanalysis and the new anthropology, keeping in mind the dramatic situation we are going through, from the civilizational standpoint.

In particular, I want to call my readers’ attention to the new battlefield, a war de facto, which the anthropology — via Bruno Latour and Viveiros de Castro — catch a glimpse of, a war between the Terranos and the Humans; they tell us who are the participants in the fight, and how the ‘alliances’ have been forged so far. Besides, what is fundamental: how the classical psychoanalysis has positioned itself in this new battlefield, facing this war that — in Latour’s words — we are already experiencing.

Before starting our journey, however, I want to give my testimony of the experience I had while I was watching these videos. I think that the most striking virtues of these anthropologists are their courage and lucidity, and I feel that, by watching their lectures both these virtues were mobilized in myself. Listening to de Castro, we come to understand the importance of G. Deleuze and F. Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and of the Thousand Plateaus. There is a new sensibility going on, and the anthropology, propounded by this anthropologist, grasps and changes into a political project.[1]

 

I. PHILOSOPHY, ANTHROPOLOGY, AND THE END OF THE WORLD.

Davi kopenawa

 

Viveiros de Castro begins with two observations: what is our condition, on the moment, in the Western culture, and how the inhabitants of the indigenous America understand this tradition.

Let us start by the first question: there were successive deaths of the great transcendences in the last centuries. Emmanuel Kant departed from God/Man and from the World. These three instances died successively and their deaths define the present condition: 1) God died; 2) the modern Man died, and now 3) we have to face the death of the World, the end of the world. Without God, without Man, without World. Three centuries. Three deaths.

Today, there is this extensive unrest; those deaths bring about crises. We could live without God, we could live without Man; can we live without World? How do the philosophical and the anthropological thinking reorganize itself in relation to these deaths?

Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami’s chief, has a book published in French and English titled “The fall of the sky” — the anthropologist Bruce Albert[2] took part in this writing. In the book, Kopenawa asserts that ”the white sleep too much, but can only dream of themselves”. For Viveiros de Castro, that sentence has image of thought, it contains a theory and a criticism of the western philosophy: a criticism of our civilizational project. The sentence calls our attention to the idea that the Yanomamis ‘don’t dream only of themselves’. It is crucial, though, to point out that we see them differently, since we say that the Indians are animists, narcissists, primitive people who can only read themselves in the whole world! Davi thinks exactly the opposite and says ”the Westerners can’t see anything; they just stay drowsing away and don’t see anything”.

The thinking process is essentially the dreaming process for the Yanomamis: to dream of what is not human, to have the ability to dream and to leave from humanity. Davi Kopenawa withholds such ability in us, the white people, because for us, the whites, the thinking is focused in the ‘world of merchandise’, because we can only see ourselves. Once the white people only think of merchandises, they only dream of themselves — then cannot leave themselves, they cannot leave from humanity. For Kopenawa, being unable to dream of oneself means to be able to dream of the beings from the forest, the invisible beings, the souls, the animals.

The western thinking has a trajectory and in it, the thinking process was introjected and became a narcissist contemplation of itself: the western thinker probe the cognition, the imagination, the understanding of the man. The white people only think of themselves.

Kopenawa is denouncing what Freud said: everything dreamed of by the man is projection — plants, animals, etc. It always of ourselves that we dream. Is it possible to think of something else and then leave oneself? The white people cannot do it anymore.

Kopenawa belongs to a shamanic culture, and in this kind of culture, the access to the reality come about through dreaming, with the use of drugs and hallucinogens — this is very different from the white’s learning process of reading and writing. That is why the white are like an ‘axe on the ground’ when they are sleeping. They behave as if they were objects or as if they were dead — just dreaming of themselves. Conversely, for a shamanic culture, dreaming is a condition to find outwardness, out-ward space, and the white people have an inability to reach this out-ward space, an exterior space reached through thinking.

Add to that the fact that the white people are devastating the Earth in order to extract oil, ore, and, because of this, the sky is going to fall and the humankind is going to go underneath the ground and become spook! Those who keep all this mess standing — the Earth and the Sky — are the Shamans. The fall of the sky has happened many times before, and the reason has always been the same: that is what we, the white people, call ecological/environmental crisis.

The indigenous cosmologies tell us of successive cycles of destruction and creation — successive collapses of the Earth. Today, the white people promote, without restraint, the mineral exploration, deforestation, what is going to cause the end of the world. Kopenawa presents two issues: 1) the white people can only think of themselves; 2) the world is going to end. Kopenawa’s accusation that ‘we only think of ourselves’ demands an answer. How to respond to this? How to respond to the immanence? To the exteriority? In the West, this is reserved to the Art, not to the Science and to the Technique.

For the indigenous people we do prodigious objects and machines, but, in our sociological interactions, we are stupid, aggressive, scandalous, primitive, and clumsy. We, the white people, are seduced by the western technical portent and we are tempted to separate the technique from the society. Is it possible to achieve such separation? To the Yanomamis, it is useless: they just refuse the white culture in totum. We are, says Viveiros de Castro, pressed against ourselves and against the other people, once the three cornerstones of our civilization — God, Man, and the World — are in crisis. Our narcissism is incurable! The other peoples cannot help us and we are threatening to take everyone to the abyss.

What response can we provide for the other peoples who accuse us of ‘only dream of ourselves’? What can we do in this situation? The white ‘only dream of themselves’, and they do not include the ‘non-humans’ in their political universe. According to Viveiros de Castro, the end of the world is a fruitful topic from the philosophical and political perspective. By the way, the whites have destroyed the indigenous world consecutive times and, for this reason, only them, the Indians, know how to think about such topic, not, by all means, the whites.

Now, with the expectation of an environmental crisis, on a global scale, has put us on position similar to that of the Indians. However, it runs the risk of being annihilated by ourselves!

How will it be like to live after the end of the world? It is necessary to resume the question of the end of the world in the thinking. What is ending is the world that began in 1500. The end of the modern era has come.

 

II. THE COLLOQUIUM CURT NIMUENDAJÚ

Bruno Latour

 

This colloquium, delivered by Viveiros de Castro, in the end of 2013, is quite lengthy, and it took place at the CESTA/USP (Centre for Amerindians Studies). The event was an homage to the anthropologist Curt Nimuendajú, who did the first modern research of ethnology, a hundred years ago, in 1914. Nimuendajú’s research was on the legends of creation and destruction, mainly, on the world destruction, as the basis for the shamanic religion of the Apopukuvas-Guarani.

Nimuendajú had followers in his anthropology, for example, the works of Pierre and Helena Clastres, and several other ethnologists; today, his perspective is resumed in academic dissertations and theses. For Nimuendajú, as well as for these contemporary researchers, the Guarani had and still have an ample thinking, and speculative thinking, eschatological and cosmological, full of rights.

Now, we, the white Westerners, are also speculating and turning around the issue of the end of the world. The scientific legends, and others in the West, increasingly hypothesize on this topic, and such hypothesis has become everybody’s plight.

Many subjects were debated during that lengthy lecture and I am going to stick to two of them: a) the catastrophe that stalks us, and b) the political proposal, in course, brought by Bruno Latour and Viveiros de Castro.

THE CATASTROPHE THAT STALKS US.

We make a big mistake when we label as ‘environmental crisis’ the danger that stalks us, and it becomes crystal clear when Viveiros de Castro shows how grave is our issue.

Viveiros de Castro thinks that the major problem we face now is the fact that the planet is going into the Anthropocene — the third geological era of the quaternary period, an event that is going to last much longer than the species who named it! That is to say, the effects of the human action on the Earth system is going to outlast Homo sapiens. The Anthropocene — the era of man — is related to a new thermodynamic regime. This is a new world and nobody has any clue about what is going to happen next. Surely, we have a couple of speculations and projections — as accurate as those made by the Guarani — or else, we just have guesstimations on how the world is going to end. Our scenario is as much disquieting, today, as that of the Guarani.

The climate change is, indeed, one of the standards by which we understand the current crisis. There are many other parameters that trace many other changes in order to better measure what is going on.

Anthropocene, although it carries our name, does not praise us! What is meant by this term is that the humankind has become a geophysical force. Some argue that it is not the whole humankind that has become a geophysical force, but the capitalism, the ruling classes, the privileged societies and, mainly, the countries that use fossil fuels and energies in general, what causes disastrous effects on the population of the entire planet.

The problem is that the whole population on Earth tends to embrace the same standard of energetic consumption, which are modelled by those countries that lead the “anthropogenic locomotives”, those countries that bring forward the climate changes.

Then, what we are left with is some sort of figure-background inversion between the humankind and the environment! Let us go back to the argumentation: the Anthropocene designates the fact that the humankind has become a geophysical force. The name Gaia is also correlated to the notion of Anthropocene, however it happens in reverse. Earth has become a character, a political interlocutor, at the same time that man has become a geopolitical force, as if, we, the men, had gone to the background while the Earth had come to the foreground. This is a sudden inversion between figure and background that is doomed to go wrong!

It is a ghostly and ghastly inversion. In it, the notion of scale is gone: a geological time scale and an anthropological time scale — such scales had both an order and a magnitude very different. As a result, because of this inversion, we witness the breakdown of those scales to the point when there are striking changes in the atmospheric structure, in the movement of the winds, which alters the weather faster than the social systems! All this is, at least, ironic, and, at last, terrifying.

Considerations like these lead to another implication: to the idea of the end of Nature as a stationary or a very slow-moving background against which we have evolved, against which we could measure and gauge our actions. Instead, what we are experiencing nowadays is the inversion, the collapse of the scales.

Put in other words, what is really going on is the very destruction of the environment. From a certain viewpoint, the notion of environment has disappeared whereas there was an internalisation — an introspection — by the human side, and the plants and animals began to be seen as internal to the human environment and no longer the man as part of this same environment.

Isabella Stengers, a Belgian philosopher, refuses the idea of an environmental crisis, or even the very idea of a crisis. The idea of a crisis derives from the assumption that one can overcome it, and we are not going to overcome what is going on because it has already happened. We are living the aftermath of destructive human actions that have been carried out a while ago. Stengers prefers the expression ‘environmental catastrophe’. Many people believe such view is rather catastrophic, melancholic, and pessimistic— but this view was shared, according to Nimuendajú, by the Guarani in the figure of the shaman Apokokuvas-Guarani, between 1905 and 1912, when the anthropologist’s research was done.

This pessimism, said Nimuendajú, in the beginning of the twentieth century, was typical of a race, of a people tired of fighting, tired of being oppressed. For the Guarani, the land itself was tired. However, as we will soon see, those Indians are not just pessimistic, for they also imagine a world’s regeneration.

THE POLITICAL PROPOSAL

Bruno Latour thinks that today we live on a state of war. He also says that there is a crucial difference between state of war and police state, because in a war there is not an arbitrator, there is no third term. War is decided between two parts, without arbiter. In this war, on one side are the Humans, and he says this with manifest irony. The Humans, for Latour, is we, the modern man who intend to conquer the planet to the American consumption pattern. To the Humans, Latour oppose the Earthians — the Earth’s inhabitants.

It is necessary to decide on which side we are on that war. Latour also says that the decision cannot be made having as a base the scientific arguments once, on the one hand, the scientific consensus is massively biased toward the existence of a huge environmental crisis whose origin is anthropic, anthropogenic; on the other hand, that consensus does not prevent contestations! Some people say: it is not so serious; others say: it is not anthropogenic.

Thus, even though science can present incontrovertible facts, it cannot stop and will not stop the controversy and the endurance of the current existing order. That is true because the controversy does not take place between science and non-science, but because it is political; it is a contention over the kind of World, the kind of Earth that we want to live on. It is about a contest of values. The Indians are a kind of living answer: they are trying to show us that there is another way of life, other worlds beyond that of the whites!

Also, let us not forget that, for Viveiros de Castro, climate change sceptics are denialists, by analogy, with those historians who say that there was not a massive annihilation of Jewish people, there was not a shoah, and all this is just some Zionist conspiration! These people are simply denialists. People who are worried with the environmental catastrophe also call denialists those who cast a doubt on the current crisis — they deny obvious facts and through denial, they tell on which world they want to live, after all!

At the end of his last conference on Gaia and the Anthropocene, in February 2013, in Edinburgh, Bruno Latour said that there is a war between Humans and Earthians. For him, the Humans are the modern men. That is, for Latour, the Humans is not the Homo sapiens. The Humans are all those beings that belong to modernity, belong to the modern project, and it includes among the Humans the computers, the pets, the chemical weapons, the police dogs. All these entities are parts of the Humans’ army.

As to the Earthians, well, nobody knows for sure who he or she are. Who would be the Earthians? asks Latour. They would be counted among all the endangered species — seeds, animals, water, air, humans, North Pole, earth — all natural Human’s enemies, all ontologically jeopardized.

Nonetheless, there are humans among the Earthians. These are the “people of Gaia”, in a positive fiction of the term. The “people of Gaia” is in opposition to the ”people of Nature”, who are the modern people, individuals who believe on a transcendent nature, something with its own laws, something absolutely rational, surmountable, controllable — a negative fiction of the term.

Latour keeps asking: is it possible to accept as “people of Gaia” the pachamama, the Nature goddess, of whom the Amerindians speak and other non-modern people? For Latour, these peoples have adjusted themselves to the western environmentalist rhetoric in order to be heard by the domineering societies of the north hemisphere, and they have done this by making compatible their cosmologies and their existential projects. He does not believe that these peoples may belong to the “army of the Earthians”. It seems that there is some respect for the Earth in those peoples, but it is only appearance, for they are powerless inasmuch as their technology is weak and their population is tiny. According to Latour, these peoples, named traditional without technology, in a small number, do not have a way of life that could qualify them to be part of the “Earthians’ army”.

For Viveiros de Castro, such details seen by Latour as signs of impotency are precisely the details, which can become a crucial resource for a post-catastrophic future, something, by the way, that the French scholar believes that is going to happen. For the Brazilian anthropologist, we are the industrialized whites, in network, pharmacologically stabilized, beings who shall ‘descend’ — “lose the gigantic life’s proportions” — and this will be verified over and again.

Viveiros de Castro still inquires: are they really minorities and the small demographic number should not be taken into account, as proposed by Latour? The UN officially estimates in 370 million people the number of indigenous minorities on the planet — they would encapsulated in the nation-states, but they would not with such nation-states. That means, Viveiros de Castro points out, this minority is not so much of a minority. It is, therefore, a considerable “army of Earthians”.

III. WHAT DOES THE PSYCHOANALYSIS HAVE TO DO WITH ALL THIS?

I have some hints on this connection between psychoanalysis and the anthropological perspective discussed so far. To begin with, however, let me warn that the following ideas are of my own responsibility, neither Latour nor Viveiros de Castro have any part on them. I want also make it clear that we are going to deal here with a serious jest, a very serious one. For example, if both Latour and Viveiros de Castro would subject themselves to classic psychoanalysis, and if they would offer to a zealous psychoanalyst, in the very first session, the ideas above mentioned — news on the end of the world and a new political alliance between Earthians and Humans — and if they, the anthropologists, insisted, as showed above, on the idea that there is a planetary war going on, I believe they would be seen as demented, delirious fellows, with odd and dangerous fantasies. If the eminent psychoanalyst were a fearful person, I suspect that, beyond providing such diagnose, he would sneakily and immediately call an ambulance, and our heroes would be kindly but surely taken from the analyst’s office, in straightjackets, being medicated straightaway.

It might be funny and tragic to think about it, but I am afraid to say, such possibility would be very likely. Why would the “science of listening” consider these anthropologists’ acute perceptions as delirious and psychotic fantasies?

Sticking to this argumentative line, I would assert that the anthropologists’ perceptions are based on some data provided by the climate science itself, and their perceptions are based on a gargantuan deconstruction of the modern subjectivity.

Both issues above debated involve several emotional transferences, endless other deconstructions. Now, the psychoanalysis deconstructs the modern subjectivity as well. It is done by the articulation of a double subject — conscious and unconscious — and it is on this element that lies the psychoanalysis critical potential.

Nevertheless, the emotional and subjective deconstruction of the “people of Gaia” has gone too far and has been destroying the very psychoanalytical subjectivity! The “people of Gaia” is leaving its anthropocentric condition and starting to overcome the boundaries between-worlds, including its political universe, on the Earth they want live with other beings: Gaia, the plants, the animals, the invisible beings, the air, the weather, the seeds…

Those who have deconstructed themselves emotionally and cognitively, towards the “people of Gaia” can only listen to the two issues discussed in Viveiros de Castro’s lecture. The anthropocentric people cannot listen to and understand the proposals made above. Let me exemplify: Viveiros de Castro gave, in 2010, a lecture titled “The Anti-Narcissus: the place and function of anthropology in contemporary world”, at the SBPSP (Brazilian Psychoanalysis Society of São Paulo). The lecture was published on the Brazilian Journal of Psychoanalysis”, volume 44[3]. On the same edition, two commentators were cautiously chosen among the analysts from the Institution. To my astonishment, they did not get anything right from the anthropologist’s lecture! I engaged myself in this debate on a previous post and until now I’m traumatized with that incident since the psychoanalysts/commentators could surely argue and disagree even a radical way with the ideas displayed on the Amerindian and the new anthropology; nonetheless, could not — as was the case — misunderstand so miserably what was said! They did not get even the jokes!

What happened was traumatic, but, for me, it was also revealing of the fact that the new sensibilities are not liable to be apprehended by the classic psychoanalysis. By classic psychoanalysis I am thinking of all those living under the auspices of “Civilisation and its Discontents”, “Totem and Taboo”, and “The Future of an Illusion”, all books by Mr Freud. So much so, as the ‘spirit of politics’ is Machiavelli and the PT (Worker’s Party) is around to demonstrate how true is the presence of that Founding father in the current politics, the psychoanalysis which I call classic lives under the aegis of Civilisation and its Discontents, and there is no way out of the ‘one-way’ civilisation proposed by Freud; in it, the notion of instinctual repression is unequivocal, even if the price to be paid for it are the wars, the world wars, by the way.

Let us not forget how much Herbert Marcuse, in Eros and Civilisation, tried to discontinue this one-way civilisation. The problem is that the world has changed and, nowadays, the price to be paid is not just the world wars (as if it was not enough!), a greater problem today is the end of the world!

Despite all this, between the reality and the Founding Father operating in this closed premises, the classic psychoanalysts give hands to the Founding Father rather than to the reality in front of their eyes!

On the centennial anniversary of Totem and Taboo, written by Sigmund Freud in 1913, the book deserved a reedition and some debates around Brazil. Freud aimed, as we now know, at formulating a new ”cosmology”, a new thought on the human condition and the world. In this cosmology, he tells the origin of the hominization starting with an initial move which threw man inside a society, a society henceforth managed by rules (taboos) and no longer by the sheer force of a despotic patriarch — a figure whose force was expressed through totems[4].

Now, at the core of our culture, we have, out of Totem and Taboo, a new killing and a new anthropophagic feast. Behold, we have become humans after a children’s insurrection, members of the primitive herds, who, once rebelled against the father’s despotism, rendered him powerless, killed him and devoured him. A columnist from Folha de São Paulo wrote, “This history would be forgotten, buried in the origin of humankind”[5], but it would be updated in the individuals through the Oedipus’ complex — thus, the social drama would re-enact itself repeatedly! In addition, he concludes: this narrative synthesized an anthropological, ethnological, philosophical, historical, social and psychoanalytical knowledge.

Is there any importance to the “psychoanalytical knowledge” that Freud, when treating the so-called ‘primitive people’, he had not freed himself from the linear, evolutionary, and Eurocentric view[6]? I am sorry to say that, but for psychoanalysis, it does not matter, because, as Freud’s followers say: “his conclusions are totally defensible even today”[7].

I will give an example, from my personal experience: I have connections with some classic psychoanalysts — there is no shortage of debates and clinic supervisions in São Paulo — but I do not have a conversation with them about the Viveiros de Castro’s lecture. I rarely talk about the “people of Gaia” or the “army of the Earthians”, none the less, I keep fighting the universalism, I keep fighting the idea that Oedipus and castration give rise to the only available reality principle, and eventually, to my amazement, they cannot understand what I am talking about! At the beginning, I thought it could be just unwillingness, now I know it is not the case, it is something more serious, because, it is, indeed, an emotional and mental construction which do not allow them to cast any doubt on the world they inhabit, the modern world (when, if it consciously taken, such world is under accelerated deconstruction). It turns out to have its funny facet once nobody else has ever worried more about the reality, about the reality principle, about the acceptance of reality, than the classical psychoanalysts have!

The problem, the unexpected and unpredictable problem, for those classical psychoanalysts, is that the reality is changing! Again, it is surprising that it works that way, but it is so! The classical psychoanalysis is the most anthropogenic of all the human disciplines[8] and, borrowing the Yanomami Davi Kopenawa’s lucid words, psychoanalysis has put the men to “dream of themselves”. As the major ally of the modern Humans, psychoanalysis does not see, and will not see, with good eyes, the Earthians, and it will not let be touched by the “people of Gaia”. Then, there — at the Brazilian Psychoanalysis Society — the discerning voice of Professor Viveiros de Castro cannot be neither heard nor understood.

The emotional and cognitive construction — having Oedipus at its core — prevent us from engaging in that hearing because the reality principle to which one has access is Oedipal what makes even more rigid the border between worlds. Oedipus rules sovereignly with the Humans — the modern humans and their endlessly lethal devices. For me, it discloses the fact that it is not only the denialism referred to by Viveiros de Castro, but, even more grave, what is at stake is a certain emotional and cognitive construction — modern and Oedipal.

Therefore, the ongoing war does not entail only persuasion and conviction; this war engages two opposing worldviews.

________________________

NOTES

[1] With the impact I had when listening and understanding Professor Viveiros de Castro’s words in those two videos, I could not resist and I drew the anthropologist’s natal chart and its transits in the following years. Eduardo’s sign is Aries. He was born on April 19th, 1951, in Rio de Janeiro. He is an Arian and that is easily identifiable by astrologer who would listen to him. I do not know what his birth hour is, and that is why I cannot know his ascendant. However, just with the available data about him I am able to find out some information about him. His Sun is 28 degree and 43 minutes and the image Sabeu (traditional astrological symbol) says: a large audience confronts the performer who disappointed its expectations. How do I interpret this image? The Arian starts new worlds; this is his making, for he is an originator. By starting a new world, of course, he always frustrates many people’s expectations! It is unavoidable.

Viveiros de Castro’s Venus is at 5 degrees from Gemini, and his corresponding symbol sabeu says: a revolutionary magazine asking for action. Since 2011, Neptune in Pisces, one of the greatest gods of change, is squaring the anthropologist’s Venus, meaning that he has opened himself to the “unity of life”. Put differently, his way of loving and creating worlds since a couple of years now have changed, because the borders between worlds have collapsed. Neptune dissolve the borders between worlds and opens for all of us, when is passes by Venus or by the Sun, the ”unity of life”. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Neptune has been squaring Gemini to 5 degrees — and it will go on for some years to come — so that Viveiros de Castro is and will be at the apex of this appropriation: world creation from the ‘unity of life’. Besides, that allows us to read poetically the symbol sabeu, which corresponds, to Venus: revolutionary writings that demand actions!

This transit of Neptune squaring Venus is, then, what’s up to give the special tonality to the two large transits over the anthropologist’s Sun. Uranus in Aries, the unpredictable, and Pluto in Capricorn, the transformer, they will respectively conjunct and square with the anthropologist’s Sun. Uranus, from 2015 on, will be in conjunction with the Sun and will be in exact conjunction in 2017 and 2018 — staying in conjunction for a couple of years ahead. Pluto will square Eduardo’s Sun starting in 2018, and such square will be full in 2022 — continuing for some years after that date. What does it mean? It means that these two transpersonal planets will bring up the genuine seeds of the anthropologist’s individuality, and with that, he will originate — since this is his best skill — new worlds from his maxim singularity. He who lives will see!

[2] “The Fall of the Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman” is the unique account of the life story of Davi Kopenawa. The book tells us about Kopenawa’s initiation as a shaman and about his first encounters with the white outsiders. It describes the rich culture, history, and ways of life of these inhabitants of the forest; besides, it does not shy away from presenting their impressions of the Western culture. This book was published in English and French and in Portuguese in 2014.

[3] Vol. 44, number 4, 15-26, whose topic is Alterity.

[4] Freud and the new origin of species. Márcio Selman-Silva, Folha de São Paulo, 29/12/2013.

[5] idem, ibidem.

[6] idem. Ibidem.

[7] idem. Ibidem.

[8] Maybe Bionians (W. R. Bion’s followers) are able to open themselves up to such listening because of their notion of unconscious with limitless potentiality. The primordial mind, the first reality of mentality, to Bion, could be thought of as transpersonal and even trans-speciesism — it is possible to think of it beyond the species Homo sapiens. Bion’s primordial mind belong to the very history of the cosmos and the future of it: it is the O, unnameable, infinite, formless, and it is towards the O that the mind expands itself. Bion, who was Melanie Klein’s disciple and analysant, starts from the Oedipal personality, but he tends to something beyond, to the infinite, to the O.

IS THERE A WORLD TO COME ?

 

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

It took me months to make up my mind to write this review. In September 2014, I was at Casa Rui Barbosa, in Rio de Janeiro, attending an international seminar titled “The Thousand Names of Gaia” — a meeting in which thinkers from different countries reflected on the climate changes and on the global environmental crisis. I confess that I left the event so changed in my way of thinking that I could not write, immediately, as I had planned, a commentary on the book “Is there a world to come?” which was released during the colloquium.

What was lacking was not any skill to understand, indeed, I could not muster the proper affection to comment on the book; also, I lacked a better grasp of Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiro de Castro’s critical pessimism. It was something quite vexing for me to accept that we live a devastating planetary crisis, and to tread definitely on this theoretical ground. I believe that it is in and from such acceptance, that something new can come up, at least at the level of thinking.

For this reason, since then, two issues have stolen my sleep:

1) The great difficult we have of thinking about what is going on not only in Brazil, but also around the world. There are not many articles and books which try to figure out, from a transdisciplinary standpoint, what we are living nowadays — since all the “pundit’s words” turn out to be straightforwardly limited. These pundits spot the ‘scapegoat’ now on the politics, now in the economy, or in the corruption, or in the inflation, and so on, as if all the disciplines, and all the specialisations of which we have been proud for so long, suddenly they had become the real obstacle.

2) The second issue is the existence of a collective dream, a shareable utopia that could allow us to canalize the creative energies to a tomorrow, a coming future. How to live without dreaming collectively? Or else, is it precisely due to our inability to think and dream that the new possibilities are making themselves known? What can come about out of this pessimism? A new way of exercising oneself politically? Anyway, this is a rather contemporary uneasiness, a discontentment that cannot be apprehended via Sigmund Freud (FREUD, 1983) or Zigmunt Bauman (FREUD, 1983).

The uneasiness in the civilisation goes on, but the extension of its concept is pressing and I found this extension in a book recently released by Christian I. Dunker. There, the author presents the idea that such ‘uneasiness’ is a sort of black hole in our practices of naming, that is, the uneasiness (Unbehagen) is, at the same time, a counter-attraction trying to find a name for our precarious position in the world and a name for the recurring failure in this very practice of naming. It is on this pervasive uneasiness that we are going to focus bellow[1].

The issues that have stolen my sleep will work as a sort of reading guideline for the interviews, articles, and for the book by Déborah Danowski and Viveiros de Castro, “Is there a world to come?” — a difficult book that is paradigmatic of a new thinking. By reading it, I could, surprisingly, understand a little bit more of the two first issues I mentioned earlier, and I was able to see not only the danger but also the opportunity implied when we stop thinking with the categories proposed by modernity, and when we stop engaging in the utopic dream of a new society — at least not in the same way we used to dream until then.

Let me explain myself: Viveiros de Castro is an anthropologist and Danowski is a philosopher, and that makes things harder when it comes to qualifying this book. I read as an ethnographic register of the West, interwoven with a myriad of disciplines — literature, cinema, philosophy, physics, chemistry, climatology, geophysics. Nonetheless, this gigantic mass of knowledge presented to us is safe in the hands of both authors, who are familiarized with the several manners through which the diverse human cultures imagined the disarticulation of the space-time scales from and in History.

Philosophy has such familiarity, and anthropology, as well. Then, the impressive amount of knowledge the authors provide us with is under the aegis of the philosophy, of the anthropology, and of the ‘ethnographic present’ as they define this concept that I hope to make clear throughout this post[2]. As we go on, let us keep in mind that, starting around the 1990’s, thermodynamics changes brought to surface current discourses about the ‘end of the world’ — and the authors take those discourses as thought experiments. As says Bruno Latour, it is necessary to read Is there a world to come? as if we were taking a freezing shower so that we could get used and get ready for the worst.

I present the reader an image that might account for part of what I said above: many thinkers read the world from the beach, others read it from the seabed, and Viveiros de Castro and Danowski read the world from the standpoint of the breaking waves. Moreover, let us bear in mind that some waves do not break: they recede and the undulation regain its calmness. The place where the waves break is an absolutely uncomfortable one, a nowhere, the end of a world and the bits of meaning of a new world. For these authors, however, this nowhere looks like a very comfortable standpoint.

It took me months to review that book, precisely because I could not fathom the subjective place the authors were talking about. Besides, when I managed to name it metaphorically, I had tremendous difficulties to calibrate myself to this impossible spot. The authors are visionaries and that is why, contrary to those who are on the beach, or in the seabed, both Viveiros de Castro and Danowski devise new possibilities to read, experience, and think of the world.

If we intend to think a new thinking, we have to learn with Viveiros de Castro and Danowski, not only about the contents — far from it! –, but also about the subjective place they inhabit, a nowhere, a point where the waves break and, sometimes, ”don’t go for broke”. It is from this viewpoint that we let go all those disciplinary fields and we let ourselves be impregnated by multiple prospects. It is in this subjective standing that, maybe, a new perspective, still in incubation, inhabits. This subjective place shall become our new standing!

  1. THE CATASTROPHE ALREADY HAPPENED: INTRODUCING THE BOOK.

In 2000, the American biologist Eugene Stoermer and the Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize winner in 1995, proposed an alteration change in the timeline on which the scientists measure the aeons, eras, and geological periods, so that they would allow for the transformations the planet has undergone due to human activities.

Stoermer and Crutzen called the period Anthropocene — this would take us from the Holocene, which started twelve thousand years ago, at time of the last glaciations. In the Anthropocene, Homo Sapiens is no longer just a mere biological agent, it is ‘upgraded’ (or downgrade?) to the status of a geological force whose actions will be visible for millennia: abrupt variations in the atmospheric composition, tons of plastic, radioactive waste, and other traces of our devastating passage over the Earth.

Even though the Anthropocene had started with us, it is high probable that it will come to an end without our presence. In this sense, the Anthropocene “is an epoch, in the geological sense of the word, but it points to the closing of an ‘epochality’, as such, in relation to the species” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.16). One questions when the Anthropocene would have begun: in the Industrial Revolution? Has it been intensified after World War II? There is no consensus.

Danowski and Viveiros de Castro starts by the end: the catastrophe has already taken place, and with it, the suspension of all the ways as the time used to go by. There is no reason, scientifically speaking, to ask ourselves if the climate changes are real or not, if they are anthropogenic or not, nor if these consequences are disastrous or not. All this is widely accepted by the scientific community, or else, at least by most of it. What is open to debate is the dimension of such phenomenon, the speed in the temperature increase, the melting glaciers speed, the rising of sea level, and what will be the effects on food production and its implications on social and political issues. Nowadays, what really matters is to try, and figure out, if there are ways out of the catastrophe — and where we can find them.

With the Anthropocene, other issues come to the forefront, once this period promotes a collapse of scales, and both the history of the planet and of the human species, which were previously dealt by diverse disciplines, now they merge, in Viveiros de Castro words: “capitalism turns into a paleontological episode”[3]. That is to say, if we understand to the end that the human species has become a geological force, our conceptual bases will crumble, and they are already crumbling down, among them, the fundamental distinction of the episteme, which has ever — at least since modernity! — distinguished the cosmological and anthropological orders, as well as the human history from the natural history.

Danowski and Viveiros de Castro write: “…the first name (they refer to the ‘Anthropocene’) designates a “new time”, or rather, a new time of time — a new concept and a new experience of historicity — in which the difference has drastically decreased when it comes to the magnitude between the human history scale and the chronological scales of biology and of geophysics. The environment has been changing faster than the society, and, as a result, the near future becomes, not only increasingly unpredictable, but perhaps even more impossible” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.107).

 

The Belgian Isabelle Stengers coined the expression “Intrusion of Gaia”, retaking Lovelock, in order to characterize the irreversible irruption of the planet in our lives’ foreground: “Gaia is the event that put our world in danger, the only world we have, though” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.143)”. Again, Danowski and Viveiros: “…the second name (they refer to Gaia) defines a new form of experiencing the ”space”, drawing attention to the fact that our world, the Earth, turned, on the one hand, suddenly exiguous and fragile, and, on the other hand, susceptible and relentless, it has assumed the appearance of a menacing potency which evokes those nonchalant, unpredictable, and incomprehensible deities from our archaic past. Unpredictability, incomprehensibility, a feeling of panic before the loss of control, if not the loss of hope: these are the newest challenges, unprecedented challenges for our haughty intellectual safety of the modernity” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.143). In the view of Bruno Latour, the System Earth, hereafter, threaten us as a historical subject, a political agent, a moral person.

Connected to these two concepts-experiences, time-space, there is a diffuse and growing feeling in the contemporary culture, a feeling that the elements of our myth-anthropology, the ”humankind”, the ”world” (the species and the planet, the societies and their environments, the subject and the object, the thought and the being, etc.) they have — the authors tell us — got into a nefarious cosmological conjunction associated to the names of Anthropocene and Gaia.

FIRST APPROACH

The first chapters in the book focus on the ongoing philosophical, literary, and cinematographic abnormalities — some we know, others we do not, but all of them are shocking and they are symptomatic of the present state of alarm and unrest. The empirical sciences — climatology, geophysics, oceanography, biochemistry, etc. they are invited to give their frightening testimony of the “upcoming barbarities” (Stengers). The philosophy — even the metaphysics — go about probing and thinking over the ends of the world, the incompatibility between the humans and the world, and what comes up as the likeliest winner is a “world without us” — a world subsequent to the end of the human species existence.

The entire imaginative arsenal from several areas of knowledge concerned with the perspective of the end of the world, which are brought up by the authors, coincides with what they call “ontological turning” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.32). As Gunther Anders said, whilst referring to the “metaphysics metamorphosis” after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “the absence of future has already started”. Having passed a couple of decades now since Anders’ proposition, we can say that, if the Anthropocene is our time, it is a time without future, and that the way time used to go by has been entirely changed.

Part of the book is devoted to the Amerindian myth cosmologies, and with their multiple imaginaries of the end of the world. In the Amerindian cosmogonies, the human is empirically precedent to world itself, as in the Aikewara Myth: “When the Sun was too close to Earth, there wasn’t anything on the world, just people and land tortoises.” The mythical action elapses along a time in which “there wasn’t anything, but there were people already”. Everything was human at the beginning. The authors write: “…a considerable number of Amerindian myths, and, maybe, a little less common, of many other ethnographic regions, they imagine the existence of a primeval humankind (whether it is simply presupposed, whether it is fabricated by a demiurge) as a substance or matter out of which they would have been made up” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.87). By a spontaneous manner, that original human race start to change into a becoming-other: into the geographical accidents (landform), into the meteorological phenomena, into the heavenly bodies, into the biological and vegetal species. It is “the time of transformations”, always unfinished, though.

The part of the primeval substance/matter that did not transform itself is the historical or contemporary humankind. The Amerindian people has necessarily other notions of ”nature” and of human race/”culture”. As most people who could never be ‘modern’, the correlation between those two terms does not make any sense for them. By not dealing with such opposition (nature x culture), we have a very much special access to the difference with which we equate the world, and to the reason why we destroy it. At the very core of this debate, we find an important philosophical distinction: the Amerindian anthropomorphic principle and the western anthropocentric principle. In the last part of this post, we will come back to this discussion.

The Amerindian cosmologies foresee the end of the world, too. It is done by either “the fall of the sky” (according to Kopenawa, the Yanomami chief) or by fire or even the water: there are several cycles of destruction and recreation of humankind and of the world. Suddenly, we curiously find out that the disquietudes of the ancient cosmologies already do not appear to be so baseless![4]

However, in the indigenous mythologies of the end of the world, it is simple unthinkable a world without people, without a human race no matter how much different it maybe from ours: “…The destruction of the world is the destruction of mankind and vice-versa; the recreation of the world is the recreation of some sort of life, that is, the recreation of some kind of experience, and as seen earlier, the form of all life is human…” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.102). They, the Amerindian people, who faced ends of worlds carried out by westerners, since the discovery of the Americas, they allow us to understand, at last, a ”us without the world” — a humankind without world or environment, from whom the basic existential conditions would have been subtracted.

In the book’s following chapters, the authors move on to politics, and with as well for it, they evoke a burning mobilisation of all the collectives who are already aware of their lack of time.

III. THE HYPER-OBJECTS AND IMPOSSIBILITY OF THINKING

An abrupt and blunt “intrusion of Gaia” in the human horizon means that the catastrophe has already occurred, and with it, the hyper-objects which are impossible of been thought of.

The hyper-objects are special objects, new objects which challenge us, rather, they challenge the perceptions we have, or that the common sense has, of the time and space ”because they are distributed in such a way around the globe that they cannot be directly apprehended by us, or because they last or produce effects whose duration goes extremely beyond the known scale of human life”, says Déborah Danowski[5], having as reference Timothy Morton (The Ecological Thought, 2010). To Danowski, the hyper-objects are the climate change, the global warming, the use and the effects of plutonium, the nuclear war. Another example given would be the radioactive materials, plutonium 239, whose average lifespan can reach 24.100 years, that is, its use and effect last longer the history of human writing.

The effects are slow, scattered, and disconnect among them. Gunter Anders and Hans Jonas had already envisaged the radical disproportion between cause and consequence, made possible by the mightiness of modern technology. The hyper-objects take such disproportion to the last consequences — and, because of it, for sure, we are already not able to think them over, any longer. Add to that the so-called tipping points: points of no return, once certain alterations feedback others. That is precisely what Isabelle Stengers call, as we saw earlier, the intrusion of Gaia!

A hyper-object such is the case of the global warming, or of the climate changes, has slow effects. Large populations are obliged to leave their land, their countries, before; finally, one says, “well, the climate changes are already here”. A hyper-object is better understood as something tangible long time after it is already placed. Just the same, we are all in suspense: the scientists who know and foresee the catastrophe and the average Joe who even feeling the contemporary uneasiness — as defined by C.I. Dunker — only long after the happenings might figure, out and give a name to what is going on. It is a fact, notwithstanding, that before the hyper-objects we no longer can think in the same fashion as the western culture has thought during millennia, especially in the modernity!

Following Danowski’s trail, I am going to juxtapose two hyper-objects: the nuclear war and the global warming/climate crisis. By doing this, I not only introduce the difficulty to think over hyper-objects, but I also show the deconstruction of the western thought categories, particularly the modern thought category which is just a derivation, mainly if we keep in mind the second hyper-object. Such exercise turns explicit the radical change we are going through.

In 1955, Russell, Einstein, and other, subscribed to a Manifest that contained a warn to the world on the dangers of a nuclear war, because, for the first time in history the human species had made available the technological means to destroy itself. Now, the warning was made public because a world war with the generalised use of nuclear bombs could only lead to an outcome: the end of human race. The Manifest did not mention nature, nor any other forms of life beyond humankind — except the contamination of water and people after Hiroshima!

Let us consider the fact that nowadays we inhabit another world, just seventy years after that! “Today, when one talks about environmental crisis, one cannot leave aside the detail that, without other forms of life, the human species would even exist […] and that the massive extinction of other species very likely would mean, by itself, our own extinction”[6]. That is to say, in less than seventy years, with the emergence of the hyper-objects such as the climate changes, our utter abandonment is exposed!

We, who used to be everything, I refer to the humankind, the thinking species, the only one to have access to the spirituality and to transcendence, with the right to rule over all the other species as well as over the Earth — that, instead of being just a dwelling place became a fountain of “natural resources” ready to be voraciously explored; we, who was everything, I was saying, at once we’ve become vulnerable beings, dependent on the other species, and threatened by the destruction we’ve been bringing about.

There was an unforeseen discovery, something hidden behind the anthropocentric idea guide: the man at the centre of the creation since the biblical Genesis, with the right to everything, to make use of nature as better pleases him. An idea guide which is also held by both Philosophy and by Metaphysics, so that it isn’t by chance that Nietzsche, and after him, Heidegger, located modernity philosophically in the ancient Greece, with Socrates and Plato.

The zenith of this historical and philosophical route took place in the modern era, when God ”died”, according to Nietzsche — and the modern man, somehow, took on the position. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, multiple criticisms towards modernity were staged; nonetheless, anthropocentrism seemed to be an immovable stone of the modern philosophical apparatus. At any rate, the climate crisis and its impending threat calls into question, definitely, the place occupied by man in the Western history and shows a living web, which makes our life possible, the outright humankind’s dependence on the other species.

  1. HARD TO THINK: THE DECONSTRUCTION OF OUR CATEGORIES OF THOUGHT.

The “global system”, which is the result of the techno-scientific revolution — was already overturning our grasping of the modern world. Zigmunt Bauman, in many of his books, insisted — in the end of the last century and beginning of this one — on the transformation of time and space. That “escape” of time and space has only stepped up even more at every day. The experience we have been doing with time is one of uncontrolled acceleration. “Time is off-axis and moving faster and faster” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.19).

The time as the manifestation of change which seems to be not only accelerating, but also changing itself qualitatively, “the whole time” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.19). For the authors of “There is a world to come” there is a blend of meta-temporal instability with a sudden insufficiency of world (…) generating on all of us something similar to an experience of decomposition of time (the end) and of space (the world) (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.20). One of the ways to say that our world is becoming less Kantian. Isabelle Stengers called, as we’ve seen, this new reality ”intrusion of Gaia” and with we can no longer keep none of our references — at least if we keep in mind that historical period that cannot be called Modernity anymore. At once, all those concepts with which we used to equate the world, such as ‘nature’ — a cold, everlasting, removed figure able to dictate its laws to all and every human actions — well, those concepts pale once we try to grasp something of what is happening, we have to let they go, once it does avail us any longer to equate the world starting with the man, the Man (with a big M), this “ontological exception” capable of reducing the whole world to himself in a narcissistic hallucination.

The modern subject translated what he calls nature, society, culture, and psyche into law (scientific) and this order (scientific) mirrored him, silencing the world with the stamp of its authorship. Silently, the entire world responded to that imposition let itself be shaped, fabricated, produced. This production widened the domains of what we call “human creation”: making of it, of such creation, a mere narcissistic exercise of the will to control, which changes all the things in its mirror, and him-self on the reflex of his objects of consumption. As said Kopenawa, the whites “fell in love” with their own merchandises and they are “imprisoned” in them and by them.

The anthropocentrism, whose apex was reached during modernity, is at stake. When the Anthropocene and Gaia come into play, it is needed a reconfiguration of the notion of humankind — whilst it is seen as a single and universal essence — and of world. With the intrusion of Gaia without our planning, as well as the experience that the intrusion has imposed on us henceforth — an inexorable and mute experience — our modern thought references are rolling downstream. The intrusion of Gaia do not allow us to think in the same way as we have been thinking for, at least, the last two and a half millennia.

  1. IS THERE A WORLD TO COME?

The most interesting detail in the book which keep prompting me is to how to take into account the “turning of the Western anthropological adventure towards its decline” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.17) — and together with it, the multiple current discourses about the end of the world — considering its potency! Let me explain: we destroy the planet and the life on it just because our imaginary is guided by the science and the technique at disposal of a ravenous impulse: the economic growth and the productivity — in short, the progress. The humanist optimism had promised us unlimited growth in the last four centuries.

Now, all that we saw, in the previous items in this post, bring up what seemed to be excluded from the horizon in our history: “…the downfall of our global civilisation, due to its undisputed hegemony, stages a fall that might drag with itself considerable parts of the human population” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.12). Even the entire human species — the very idea of human species is being touched by the crisis! — peoples, cultures, and societies which are in the origin of the crisis, and many thousands of other lineages of living beings, all endangered by the environmental changes caused by the hegemony of the “world system”.

This wonderful book Is there a world to come? is the harbinger of a paradox: the techno-scientific imaginary read as potency has also become the lieu of denounce: it is the scientists, as we saw, who give us the base to the comprehension that the catastrophe has already happened. However, the scientific consensus did not result in a consensus, or, at least, it has not brought forth an awareness of the actual gravity in the situation we are experiencing right now[7]. At the grocery store, at the market, here and there I hear: “the scientists will figure it out, nowadays there is technology to turn sea water into drinkable water, we aren’t in danger, Israel has been doing that for years now and the ocean is vast, there are so much water!”

The idea of a hyper-progress, of the colonisation of other planets — an extra planetary expansion that will render the species independent of any world and will “set us free” from the boundaries of nature/Gaia, it is something very popular currently — and does not limit itself to the trans-humanist scientists — it is highly common to hear it from the average people on the streets. We do not stop believing in our civilizational potentiality. This is our crossroad: stuck to the imaginary we keep the faith that the poison is our cure and we do not wake up!

Otherwise, and in the best scenario, when the scientific researchers speak of an increase in the planet’s temperature, down here we debate recycling garbage and other insignificant measures[8] — compared to the inertia and indifference of governments, corporations, and civil societies. What about the Left? There, the Left is one of the big disasters we have been through, for it sees the preoccupation with the environment as a typically bourgeois luxury, or the Left ‘tames’ the environmental issue in order to make it fit its classic cosmological schemes, with strongly anthropocentric content. [9]

In different moments, throughout the book, we get in touch with the guerrillas, the unexpected resistance: “slow science” of Isabelle Stengers — the only thing that it’s necessary to accelerate in the “barbarity to come” is precisely “the process of de-acceleration of the sciences and of the civilisation which, in more than one sense, lives at its expense” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.119).

It’s likely that “…it’s us, the peoples of the Centre, with our societies of ‘advanced’ technology, inhabited by obese automata, mediatically guided, psychopharmacologically stabilised, dependents on the monumental consumption (or waste) of energy (…) it might be us, in short, who will have downsize our lifestyle, decrease the scales of our comfortable living standards “. (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.127). On this account, we are living an inscrutable nightmare: we were invaded by ourselves — or by a part of us — we are the invaders and the colonizers who carry out the end of the world.

If the very notion of anthropos, as a universal subject (species, class, crowd) is in check, it follows that the intensive and extensive multiplicity of people and its diversity of political alignments — of the peoples, of the world cultures, and of the nonhuman peoples — all and everything is implicated in the crisis of the Anthropocene. That is the origin of the war of worlds or wars of “Humans” (the Modern people who believe they will be able to continue to live in the unified and indifferent nature of the Holocene) against the Earthians (the people of Gaia) described by Bruno Latour. We are not dealing here with two blocks, because the authors’ proposals are much more nuanced than my presentation here.

Still, according to Latour, whom do Danowski and Viveiro de Castro cite “…to speak straightforwardly, some of us are preparing ourselves to live as Earthians in the Anthropocene; others opted for continuing us Humans in the Holocene…” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.123). The problems for many people is to bring the “Humans” to the side of the Earthians. Moreover, I want conclude this part with the authors’ propositions in relation to whom are the Earthians: the people to come, able to set up a “resistance to the present”, thereby creating “a new Earth”, a world to come[10].

All the criticism and the new perceptions are made possible because, as I said earlier, the authors put themselves, subjectively, where the waves break. Moreover, as we already noted, some waves do not break, they do not ‘go for a broke’, and they recede and give up their will to be waves, going back placidly to the calmness of the ocean. This subjective place, where the “waves don’t go for a broke” is also occupied by the authors and it correspond to the “ethnographic present”, which we alluded to in the opening of this text.

Danowski and Viveiros de Castro make use of the concept — “ethnographic present” — in a new and surprising way[11], once they use it to designate the attitude of the “societies against the State” before historicity. They write: “… the ethnographic present is the time of Levi-Strauss’ ‘cold societies’, “societies against the accelerationism” or slow societies (as in ‘slow food’ and ‘slow science’ — Stengers), societies which understand that the all the cosmopolitical changes needed for the human existence have already taken place, and this is a task for the etnos to make sure and reproduce such ‘always-now’ (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.91).

Put differently, what matters is to assert the ethnographic present, preserving it, or recovering it, not to “grow”, “progress”, or “evolve” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.103). Calm down, calm down with a “technology of braking, a dis-economy freed from the continuous growth hallucination, and a cultural insurrection against the zombification of the citizen-consumer” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.130). That is to say, as the Andean people preach: “vivir bien, no mejor”.

There we have the subjective place which the authors occupy in the undertow: the “waves that don’t go for a broker” — the ethnographic present — and there staying, they open the really new perceptions of this book, bring to the surface the huge minority of peoples who never were modern, among them, the Amerindians, and with them, their ways of being and of living together, their Earthians techniques, not the state-of-the-art of the technology yielded by the Big Science; their philosophy, the anthropomorphism, and not the triumphant anthropocentrism. That is to say, with the ethnographic present, the authors set forth a strange — and until not too long ago, whimsical — “…continuity to come from the modern present with a non-modern past…” (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.30).

If philosophy and anthropology have offered us, since modernity has come into play, a vast array of discourses against themselves, deconstructing ones to the extreme, not even so they managed to open a window which would definitely make possible a new landscape. Now, keeping their eyes where “the waves don’t go for a broke”, and taking advantage of the earthian peoples’ philosophy, especially from the Amerindians (I refer to anthropomorphism here) the window so much pursued gets wide open, and really, just to joke around with the authors, we don’t know if the most excited demonstrators on the streets of Spain, United States, Brazil, if they’re ready for so much openness!

I cannot resist any longer and I am going to conclude by using a passage from the book concerning the Amerindian philosophy, which asserts, “everything is already alive”: “In this sense, the anthropomorphism is a complete (dialectic) and ironic inversion of the anthropocentrism. To say that everything is human is to say that the human species is not a special one, an exceptional event that came up in order to interrupt magnificently or tragically the monotonous trajectory of the matter in the universe. Conversely, anthropocentrism makes of the man an animal species gifted with a transfiguring supplement; he take it from the beings pierced by transcendence as if by an supernatural arrow, marked with a stigma, an openness or a privileged fault (felix culpa) which indelibly differentiate him in the core, in the centre of Nature. When Western philosophy criticizes itself, and engage itself against anthropocentrism, its usual form to deny the human exceptionalism is by affirming that we are on a fundamental level, animals, living beings, or material systems as all the rest — a ‘materialist’ reduction or elimination is the favourite method to compare the human with the pre-existing world. The anthropomorphic principle, by its turn, asserts that it is the animals and the other entities that are humans just like us — a “panpsychist’ generalisation or expansion is the basic method of comparison of the world to the pre-existing human (DANOWSKI; CASTRO, 2014, p.97).

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REFERENCES

BAUMAN. Z. Postmodernity and its discontents. R.J. Jorge Zahar, 1998.

DANOWSKI. Déborah. “The hyperrealism of Climate Changes and the various faces of denialism”. In:   Sopro, April 2012.

DUNKER. C. I. L. Discontentment, suffering, and symptom — a psychopathology of inside walls Brazil. S.P. Boitempo, 2015.

FREUD. S. “Civilisation and its Discontents”. In: The Thinkers. S.P. Abril Cultural, 1983.

MORTON, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge. Massachusetts: Havard University Press, 2010.

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NOTES

[1] See also Revista Cult 200, April 2015. Interview with Christian Dunker “The Brazilian culture cannot be thought over with psychoanalysis!”

[2] DANOWSKI. D. CASTRO. Eduardo Viveiros. Is there a world to come? Op. cit. p. 91, note 100.

[3] Revista Piauí 97 — October 2014. This world is over. How to live in the Anthropocene, written by Bernardo Esteves.

[4] We could cite several convergences between the Amerindians’ scatologies and the West, but the best of them all is surely the book we are talking about in this post Is there a world to come?

[5] DANOWSKI. Déborah. “The hyperrealism of Climate Changes and the various faces of denialism”. In:   Sopro, April 2012.

[6] DANOWSKI. Déborah. “The hyperrealism of Climate Changes and the various faces of denialism”. In:   Sopro, April 2012.

[7] DANOWSKI. D. Sopro 70. Op. cit. April/2012.

[8] Idem. Ibidem. Sopro 70. April/2012.

[9] Idem. Ibidem.

[10] Both concepts borrowed from G. Deleuze e F. Guattari.

[11] DANOWSKI. D. CASTRO. E. V. Is there a world to come? Op. cit. p. 91, note 100. “Ethnographic present” is the definition given by some anthropologists, today it’s almost always with an censory intention, […] the discipline’s classical narrative style which lays the descriptions in the monographies at an atemporal present, more or less coeval with the observer’s testimony, or the style which ‘pretends’ to ignore the ‘historical changes’ (colonialism, etc.)