Faced with a pandemic, a world (not all) governed by calculation and profit has the duty to protect human life at any cost, and to do so in the “general interest.” So much for the current discourse.

The price to be paid: hospitals in the throes of battle, all economic activity brutally stopped, state debt exploding, billions of people locked up without taking into account whether they are able to bear either the material or subjective conditions of such constraints and their share of disasters. As for civil rights and freedoms, well, just forget it.

We therefore accept losing “the accursed share” (Bataille, 1949), this excess of wealth that ecologists have condemned for many years, while no call for awareness has been able to stop the ideology of growth (ideology as fantasy) despite the protests of young people concerned about their future.

The loss demanded by this accursed share is highly symbolic for Bataille, but it does not imply any less of a real destruction of goods (the potlatch), an unproductive expenditure (the gift) or a sacrifice of men and things. War is the return of the accursed share in the form of catastrophe, when excess energy cannot be used.

For psychoanalysis, the loss is at the origin of the speaking being, the price to be paid for access to language. It is also a prerequisite for undertaking an analysis. Symbolic loss as much as real loss. Losing something so as not to lose oneself in the Other or in sacrifice, however tempting that may be.

Has the viral pandemic changed anything in our societies’ relationship with loss?

A virus appears in China, in a city that most of us have never heard of, and we find ourselves changed, in the blink of an eye, from distant observers to targets of this infection from elsewhere. This time we are living through is a time without the possibility of subjectivisation, an instantaneous time when the infection is spreading at an enormous speed. The dead are counted one by one. What is this infection? Certainly not the coronavirus infection, but this other, more insidious, imaginary flood of infection conveyed by the media and the social networks, as well as by governments and their cohorts of white-coated experts.

This accursed share that we did not want to spend elsewhere, in pure loss (reception of refugees, the fight against inequality and against global warming) is coming back to us in the form of a catastrophe, not that of the coronavirus, or that of the loss of a few thousand lives, but the one that is looming in the near future.

We will have to wait to find out a little more about the extent of what we decided to sacrifice in the emergency. The long queues for food distribution in France, the recourse to mafia aid for starving populations in Naples, the cry of alarm from the president of Caritas in the face of the distress of families in precarious situations in Switzerland––and we are only speaking about the rich countries. Not to mention the disappearance of fundamental rights in our “democratic” societies.

The virus did not wake us up, but if we do wake up quickly… it will be still there.




Translated by Viviana Premazzi, reviewed by Janet Janey


[1] Augusto Monterroso, “The Dinosaur”, in Complete Works and Other Stories (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995).