Writing this text began with a question that troubled me concerning a global phenomenon now taking place in dealing with the Corona crisis: How does it happen, in our capitalist world, that the belief in “infection” persuades so many people to accept far-reaching restrictions, in the name of “protecting” the sick and the elderly? Since when did they become such a “precious commodity”?
Freud calls a belief an illusion, “when a wish fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relation to reality.”(1) I argue that in the case of the Corona crisis, the fact that reality doesn’t contradict the belief in “infection”, actually obscures the strong hold that this belief has, in the desire to wish fulfillment. I will try to follow this assumption, and its consequences.
Nowadays, the use the authorities make of the “biological” signifier “infection”, exercises a “crowd effect” similar to what Freud designates as “the contagious effect which the individuals exercise upon one another, and by which the original suggestion is strengthened.”(2) Culture uses the crowd’s suggestive effect of “contagion” in favor of “moral values,” and motivates individuals to “infect” each other with anxiety, and avoid transmitting the corona virus through their bodies.
One of the reasons for cultures’ success may be the ambivalence, that underlies identification.(3) This ambivalence has an effect of deception, making it difficult for the individual to recognize and resist the suggestive power of “infection”.
Culture doesn’t stop in its role to protect the individual from the powers of nature, but rather continues its deeds by humanizing it.(4) On the one hand, it protects the individual, by subordinating the horror of nature to the human dimension of “infection”, thereby convincing us that we can “feel at home in the uncanny and can deal by psychical means with our senseless anxiety.”(5) But at the same time, it continues the act of nature. Healthy people are instructed to stop working, as if they are already sick, old people are instructed to isolate themselves, as if they have all the time in the world to live and be in touch with their dear ones.
On the individual’s side, one can explain identification with the illusion of “infection”, as steaming from an unfulfilled malice wish to infect others, to get rid of the sick and the elders, which drives a feeling of guilt. People all over the world cast isolation on themselves, in an act which can be seen, not only as an attempt to restrain the impulse, but also as self-inflicted punishment, under the illusion that their wish has actually realized.
Both healthy and sick individuals take part in this illusion. Freud demonstrates the ambivalent motive for claiming equality, through the syphilitic’s dread to infect others, that is rooted in an unconscious wish, to spread his infection and not be the only one infected and cut off from so much.(6)
Culture’s demand for uniformity and equality, through the body- signifier “infection,” reminded me what Lacan said on the final consequences of the arising fraternity of the body, as leading to racism.(7) Signs for this dangerous course, indicated by Lacan, could be detected in the early stages of the epidemic in Israel, when it seemed that the cultural suggestion didn’t have a similar effect on certain traditional groups. A feeling of rage arose amongst many members of the secular Jewish society, following photos of Jewish religious crowding, praying in a “Minyan,”* and arriving in big crowds to the funeral of a major rabbi. One could say that segregation, directed toward the minority’s jouissance, steamed from the threat it might create a rupture, that would weaken the power of the cultural hypnosis, and reveal the crowds rejected jouissance on the wish to “infect”.
A scene from family life had the effect of breaking the hypnotizing effect: The son told his mother, that if he would have high fever, he won’t allow her to take care of him, lest he was infected by the corona virus and would infect her too. Her words immediately extracted from her: “Are you crazy?”
This was a moment of rupture between the family and the larger group.(8) The suggestion activated by culture, through the signifier “infection”, brought the unconscious wish too close to the real, and threatened the subtle balance of sublimation within the family. Freud may have referred to this point, when he attributed the moment of resistance to hypnotic suggestion to the individual’s knowledge that it is “an untrue reproduction of another situation, of far more importance to life.”(9)
To conclude, the effect of the use culture makes of the crowd’s suggestive “infection” powers, has long exceeded reality, and got too close to the real. These days, Israeli Prime Minister “Binyamin Netanyahu” has come out with a slogan: “Love is remoteness”. The use of the signifier “infection”, which enforces rejection rather than remoteness, seems to bring us closer to what returns from the real, and to the abolition of the split, that which allows us to make use of the semblant, and not know, in a good way, about our wishes. This may be a moment, that reveals one version of what Freud sees, as an unavoidable rift between love and culture.(10)
* The quorum of 10 Jewish adults, required for certain religious obligations.
- Freud, S., “The Future of an Illusion”,1927, SE, Vol. XXI, p. 31.
- Freud, S., “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego”, 1921, SE, Vol. XVIII, p. 77.
- Ibid, p. 105.
- Freud, S., “The Future of an Illusion”, op. cit.
- Ibid, p. 17.
- Freud, S., “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego”, op. cit., p. 12.
- Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XIX, “…or Worse”, Ed. J.-A. Miller, Transl. A.R. Price, Polity Press, 2018.
- Freud, S., “Civilization and its Discontents”, 1930 , SE, Vol. XXI.
- Freud, S., “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego”, op. cit., p. 116.
- Freud, S., “Civilization and its Discontents”, 1930 , op. cit. p. 103.
[Image: By Sodabottle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Minyan waiting for the tenth]