The start of the new year has seen the world flooded with images of the disastrous Australian bushfires distributed by the media all over the world. These scenes have evoked an equal measure of panic and philanthropy from as far away as Poland. The ‘Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity’ fundraiser, usually dedicated to health care projects in Poland, this year decided to allocate some of the 27 million euro raised to the Australian bushfires. Poles, following Lacan’s toying with Alfred Jarry’s Père Ubu in ‘Kant avec Sade’[i], dreaming of Poland because Poland doesn’t always exist: “Long live Poland, for if there were no Poland there would be no Poles”. A charitable nod of solidarity with the Polish diaspora in Australia who illustrate of how well the Poles can maintain themselves without Poland. These inhabitants without a country, who maintain the concept of their country only in their desire, can be juxtaposed with a country without inhabitants befitting the Kantian categorical imperative. Is Australia about to become uninhabitable, a country without inhabitants, as a result of climate change? The perfect terra nullius as the ground for the epistemic and moral dream of Kant’s imperative- evicted of the pathologies of the unconscious, banished of jouissance.
Hang on a minute. Haven’t we been here before?
Australia is a country that enjoys a lot. A little too much. The worst of the fires hit during the peak season of Australian enjoyment when holidays by the beach, beer and bbq replace the everyday work routine required to fund the Australian dream of re-mortgaging for the sake of renovating the house every couple of years, as is made imperative in order to keep up with lifestyle shows on TV.
At the same time as all this is going on, Bruce Pascoe, a prominent Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man who happens to live in one of the towns, on Yuin country, most dramatically affected by the fires, is interrogated as to the authenticity his aboriginality, leading the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, to refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. In response, Professor Pascoe, who happens to look whiter than your “average” Aboriginal, has said: “Our life isn’t an episode of My Kitchen Rules; we’re not here to kick people off the set or off the game-we should be trying to work together for a better country, not for a nastier country”[ii].
Australia with its dark history of colonisation and genocide of Aboriginal people in parts of the country, enjoys excessively according to the capitalist discourse’s imperative to enjoy without limit on the very back of this denial. Is it not a return of the real when our smoke encased cities reduce all visibility to a dense, eerie and foreboding haze-what we can’t see, returning in its very opacity? What we are given to see on our screens, these images of rural areas decimated by fire, charred wildlife and the rescue efforts of courageous firefighters (mainly unpaid volunteers), has led to a frenzy of donations of money and goods to fire affected areas. From celebrities trying to outdo each-others’ generosity, to the “average Joe Blow”, (who of course for psychoanalysis is a statistical fiction existing as little as the “average Aboriginal”) sending packs of toothpaste, underwear and tins of baked beans en masse to rural areas to the extent that the flood of goods began to hamper firefighting efforts, the fascination and fear for what was given to seen, alongside its charitable “belongs to me”[iii] aspect, is a response framed entirely by the same logic of the capitalist discourse and its foreclosure of castration. One more effort, Australians, and we can be philanthropists! The emphasis on the ‘more’ serving only to fuel the fire, the two sides-the Government with its lack of policy on climate change and the public demanding immediate action-locked in an imaginary duel. Meanwhile, in the background, the proposal for world’s largest coal mine, requiring enormous quantities of water from the world’s driest continent seems to be going ahead regardless, quashing all obstacles put in front of it.
The prime minister tells us we have to get used to it, to “adapt”. Humans have always been able to adapt to the bad Lacan says in a 1974 interview: “there are people who allow themselves to be eaten up, who even invent an interest for themselves in what they are seeing”[iv]. Of course, adaptation, along with guile, silence and accommodation, is an integral means for the management and administration of the ends that is the economy[v].
Psychoanalysis can’t provide reference points on this situation because it is without a point of view, point de vue heard only with the French negation, no view at all. But as Lacan described psychanalysis in 1974, it is a symptom, a practice that is concerned with whatever is not going right, “something that reveals the malaise of the society in which we live”[vi]. The malaise here is the difficulty in introducing the impossible and the imaginary as limits to enjoyment. We want reasons for why nothing was done to prevent these fires earlier and the government has blamed everyone from environmentalists to arsonists. The only real we can conceive is to have a reason, a meaning for why things go wrong and for science to provide solutions. Science doesn’t want to know anything about the impossible and the imaginary, only quantifiable “facts”. But could climate science mark the limit of science? In having to address the impossible, could climate science demonstrate the object of science that eluded Lacan in ‘Science and Truth’? Perhaps that is wishful thinking.
We wake up only to go on dreaming. Remaining in denial about the imperative to confront the real of trauma means the opportunity is lost. Growth continues to count one more, and the nightmare will only repeat itself, words increasingly choked by the smoke and mirrors as we put our blind faith in everything we see. Our appeal to the father is in vain-he cannot see we are burning. The remainder, the object, escapes his gaze. Jouissance rises up and accumulates in his blind spot.
[i] Lacan, Kant avec Sade, Ecrits.
[ii] The Australian, January 14, 2020. Reporter Matthew Denholm.
[iii] Discussing Berkley’s method, Lacan liken the way the world appears as a representation to the possession of property. Lacan, Seminar XI, p. 81.
[iv] Lacan interviewed by Emilio Granzotto in Panorama, 1974.
[v] See Marie-José Mondzain, 2005, ‘Image, Icon, Economy (1996, Image, Icône, Economie).
[vi] Lacan interviewed by Emilio Granzotto in Panorama, 1974.
Image: Residents of Eden, NSW, prepare to shelter from fires aboard a boat, January 2020. Photograph: Andrew Quilty/The Guardian