“[…] because I want to go out someday to the street, and soon, without dying.”
The kiss of the spider woman, Manuel Puig
Martin wrote two letters to his father in October 1918, from the battlefield of World War I. An apocalyptic war, contemporary with the pandemic of “Spanish influenza”.
Both events caused thousands of deaths that produced, in the young man, a deep sadness and a strong pessimism about the future. He also felt a great anxiety because his family was in Vienna, where tragic events were about to happen.
At the end of the War, Martin was missing; it was unknown whether he was alive or dead.
The young man, in the midst of the tragedy he was living, could congratulate his father on the event of the Congress of Psychoanalysis, held in Budapest after several years.
Sigmund Freud, Martin’s father, sent a letter to his son after the Congress, where he had presented his brilliant paper: “Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy” send a letter to his son. Martin answers:
“[…] You are right to say that I have become a hardened person, that I no longer need so much to live on and that I have enough will to take on any job that feeds me and a woman who wants to be entrusted to me.”
In the paper mentioned, Freud had already located with precision, at least two years before the great turn of 1920, the question of the self-destruction and satisfaction that it implied.
But he had already saved the father and the phallic limit was an obstacle for taking the feminine into account. For this, the two moments of Totem and Taboo had to be inverted. The second is logically the first, and the first is an effect of this. Saving the father at the price of sacrificing the son, as Lacan states.
Martin said no to sacrifice. He replies to the father that this supposedly superior strength would be possible, but to do so:
“[…] Only that for this there is the need that I return home with all four limbs, all five senses and a serene mind, plus a good portion of health, all things that I would not count on if in the meantime someone, whoever it was, hanged me, shot me, massacred me or imprisoned me.”
In effect, he added “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?” Two years later, Freud produced his “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. Every war is the murder of the sons.
Martin addresses himself to Freud’s denegation. Denegation in the perspective of the famous dream “please close your eyes”. Shock of vision and the object gaze. Return of the object to the body as manifestation of the traumatic anxiety, in the same perspective that the denegation highlighted before.
The current pandemic implies, among other things, a fall of identifications and thus of the conceptualisation of the unconscious as political, veiling the structural hole that causes the subject.
The governors of several important countries call for the restoration of working conditions, denying the risk of death, not only on account of the accumulation of surplus value, but also to restore the identifications proper to the ordering of the neoliberal culture.
Neoliberalism is a project for the organisation of human beings on a planetary scale. It’s not only an atrocious mode of capitalist accumulation, but also a totalitarian operation for the domination of subjectivities.
The fall of totalitarian regimes in the middle of the last century did not open onto a genuinely democratic future. Neoliberalism simply shed the precautions and semblants that gave body to the old liberalism.
The concentration of wealth, the domination of justice and the means of communication, generate neofascist societies with postmodern language. The emergence of this lawless real produces both what Freud called traumatic anxiety and also a profound disturbance of identifications.
If we know how to position ourselves, this could represent a great opportunity to promote the human dignity that was always on the horizon of psychoanalysis, as demonstrated by Freud in “Civilization and Its Discontents”.
Translated by Ana Inés Bertón
I thank Viviana Mozzi for bringing me the letters of Martin Freud and Denise Siciliana for the reference of Manuel Puig. (*) Published in DISPAR. Bulletin of the EOL (Argentina), Issue 6, May 2020.