With the virus, which infiltrates the pulmonary interstices, without any warning or presentiment, we find ourselves caught up in the impact of a real without presence, certainly a bodily one. We give that corporeal presence to it unknowingly and without wishing to, we ourselves become the corporal presence of this real which wraps up our days like a sort of shirt of Nessus. Each of us becomes Nessus’s shirt for the other.
That is why there has been an outbreak of hyper-anxiety which traverses the social bond, preventing its functioning, at almost every level. And that raises in many ways the question of freedoms, those that are being denied us by the hygienic/sanitary/safety provisions imposed by the government of the State.
Psychoanalysis has had its say about civil liberties in various circumstances in the past, from taking positions with regard to actions against the individual in paradictatorial regimes, which strike at the freedom to work and/or study of colleagues, or in cases where the fulfillment of national political circumstances might have very negative repercussions at the level of the rule of law, the indispensable bastion for the exercise of our practice.
Even in this our time of great social anguish a debate has arisen about the freedoms that we have been denied, about the possibility that we could be transformed into an imprisoning society. Even Giorgio Agamben has intervened in this debate, at least twice, criticizing the restrictive provisions, which he thinks are incongruous, and yet put into the service of a segregative, disciplinary biopolitics, whose degenerative consequences will soon be felt in human relations. So it’s a question which is centred around what Heidegger called “negative liberty”, saying that it is a fundamental experience of the human being, and on the other hand it is very clear what it is, it is a freedom which is independent from everything, from the bond, from “powers which surround us” etc. That’s always there, ready to be felt in the most varied circumstances, in the past as well as in the present. And right now in fact it is being felt.
Something different is the freedom at play in the analytic experience, in so far as it is ethical, in so far as it is oriented by the Freudian principle: wo es war soll ich werden, an experience in which precisely a “soll ich” is at play, something stringently ethical, in which the margin of freedom of the subject appears, ‘the little bit of freedom’ as Lacan already defines it in “Function and Field…” An essential margin, but of a ‘little bit of’ freedom. A margin of discontinuity in which the cause is decided. Because in the analytic experience the ethical “soll ich” is the one which makes the subject confront that which causes him, dragging him away from thinking he is his own cause. Jacques-Alain Miller had said that faced with our cause, our margin is in our consenting, our following it or not, in saying yes or no to be caused, which is not a huge freedom to do this or that. It’s the result of a long traversal of a series of semblants which became laws, but whose real cause was not there.
Now, wanting to interest ourselves in the debate about the present limits of our freedoms, each of us might remember, based on the experience of psychoanalysis, just what that has taught us about individual liberty, after the “demystification of subjective camouflages” as Lacan defined it in 1953.
Undoubtedly we are now experiencing a restriction of our social and individual liberties, always bearing in mind that some people have even fewer of them than we do, doctors and nurses who are working 24 hour shifts to rescue as many as possible from dying. By remembering the little bit of freedom with respect to our real cause which psychoanalysis has made us realize, will we will be able to tolerate the limits of social liberties as an exceptional measure in order to face up to the new real which, at the moment, escapes scientific knowledge?
Jean Luc Nancy, a French philosopher friend of Agamben, well-known to us also for having intervened a few years ago at a conference organized by the ECF, replied to this question in his own way, when he took up a position in the present debate about freedom and the constrictions imposed by the virus. He did so while remembering that a few years ago he was faced with a decision about a very invasive surgical intervention, a transplant, which his doctors were pressing him to have. Many of his friends on the other hand were suggesting to him not to listen to them. He said that if he had followed then his friends’ advice he wouldn’t be here now to intervene in this interesting debate. And he concluded by referring to those suggestions: It is possible to make a mistake. Especially when the real is confused with the semblant.
SLP/WAP – Bologna – 18/03/2020
Translated by Pauline O’Callaghan