In late 2019, a new unknown coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has emerged in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, and is now causing an outbreak of respiratory illness worldwide, with serious health and economic consequences. As this paper is written (19.02.20, 08:20 AM) 75,216 cases were reported thus far, out of which 2,012 had died [1] and the toll is rising. Up until now, 29 countries and territories around the world have been affected along with one international conveyance – the “Diamond Princess” cruise ship, which currently harbors and remains under quarantine in Yokohoma, Japan. Panic, anxiety, catastrophic scenarios and paranoid speculations of secret plots and conspirations were not late to follow. It seems that the real, once again, returns, bursting into our communal lives, instigating a rupture in civilization.

Lacan defined the real as “that which always returns to the same place” [2]. In psychoanalytic experience we find only bits, traces, and fragments of the real [3], yet in the realm of the planet and of culture, of technology and of politics, we may encounter the real in large scale striking happenings such as the multitudes of work-immigrants and war-refugees crossing borders and sailing sees, the on-going and anticipated devastating climate change and also the viral outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, Zika-virus and now Coronavirus. These are all but diverse modalities embodying the return of the real. The real of what? The real of the epoch. The real of the 21st century, essentially of capitalism.

China, the once-poor country, is now on paper the world’s second-largest economy. It accounts for more than 14$ trillion in annual output and holds a GDP value which represents approximately 22 percent of the world economy. Today, China is the most important manufacturer and industrial producer in the world as well as the largest exporter of the world’s production, as it sells more manufacturing goods than any other country. Surely, and why not, Coronavirus is but one more Made-In-China product, exported to the world along with electrical and electronic parts and devices, auto and motorcycle parts and equipment, apparel and clothing accessories and many more other merchandises. It is as if Coronaviruses now become circulating objects of capitalistic production, returning from the Real of our time and perforating the delicate embroidery of civilization. Surplus-jouissance (a) at its purest.

“In the 21st Century it is a question of psychoanalysis exploring another dimension, that of the defense against the real without law and without meaning”, said Jacques-Alain Miller [4]. Up until our time, he suggested, the real was called nature, and nature was the name of the real when there was no disorder in it. The real was itself the guarantee of the symbolic order. Thus, one could rely on the annual return of the seasons and trust the spectacle of the skies and the heavenly bodies.

In opposition to that, Jacques-Alain Miller proposed to think of a great disorder in the real in the 21st Century – a real emancipated from nature which is so much worse that it becomes more and more unbearable. This real has to do with trauma, more than it has to do with nature. Seemingly, as we encounter the eruption of the current coronavirus pandemic, we may once more experience this great disorder in the real of our time.



[2] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, text established Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Alan Sheridan, Penguin, London, 1979.

[3] Neus Carbonell, “Failed Encounters with the Real”, LCEXPRESS, Vol. 2, Issue 13 December 9, 2014.

[4] Jacques-Alain Miller, “A Real for the 21st century”, Scilicet, NLS, Paris, 2014.