Fearsome Lessons from the Corona Resurrection

Can we do a psychoanalysis of the covid-19 pandemic?  Will such an exercise open a new window to us to understand our world and ourselves? There is therapy in psychoanalysis. To tap these therapeutic resources, maybe be we have to learn from the work of Slavoj  Zizek.  Zizek has already done psychoanalysis of several films. One of his efforts is the psychoanalysis of the Steven Spielberg 1975 movie, Jaws. Zizek points out that the man-eating dangerous shark somehow united several fears of humanity.    A similar role is played by the iceberg in James Cameron’s Titanic.  We can find his analysis on the YouTube chain of videos titled, Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.  Before we, enter this analysis, we have to understand that Zizek disagrees with Karl Marx on the meaning of Ideology. Marx thought that ideology was a false consciousness that we construct to escape our reality while Zizek thinks that it is consciousness but its site of functioning is unconscious.  He suggests that one can trace ideology at work in communal rituals and unconscious social fantasies that conditions our enjoyment in our participation in their political community. 

Fidel Castro, the Cuban communist leader said that Jaws is the best Marxist film that exposes how ordinary Americans are exploited by capitalism.  He calls us to identify the dangerous shark as a symbolic representation of capitalism. Zizek agrees with him but also teaches that shark can be viewed as a symbolic unification of all our fears which then can explain how fascisms of all kinds and forms work.  He says that the symbolic order of a society assigns a place and role for an individual in a society.  Taking the example of Germans during the rise of Adolf Hitler, he states that symbolic order in Germany at that time told the simple persons of that time that they are German, workers, bankers, teachers, doctors, lawyers so on.  Of course, each of them was called into being by the symbolic apparatus of their society and they said ‘here I am’ and worked hard to take their assigned place and role. But when nothing seems to work for the individual as promised by the symbolic order.  He/she feels alienated and unhomed.  So the fascists invented a simplified narrative to unite all the fears. It simply told the Germans. Things were okay until the Jews entered the social body of their society. They have to get rid of this dangerous shark. This shows that every form of fascism has its own shark that has to be eliminated to resolve the crisis. 

Maybe in several ways, Covid-19 has succeeded in becoming a symbol that unifies all our fears.  It has become our ideology that filters our reality and thus fixated our imagination and we have become crusaders of humanity against Covid-19.  All other concerns can wait for another day. We are all mobilised to undergo the pain of lockdown that would also mean an economic slowdown. Maybe it invites us to consider how fear works in our society.  Fear has a great motivating power that is why Fascists of all shades use it to usurp power.   This dynamism can also be seen as working in racism and casteism where the other becomes the fearsome shark.  The other in this context is viewed as transgressive and unfaithful to the place and role assigned to it by our society.  This is why the other may be viewed as one who is trying to steal our enjoyment as he crosses the boundaries of our society and hence we have to put the other in his/her place to recover our way of life.  This is why we can see that the other then becomes a sublime object that we enjoy directing our fears and hate.  Maybe Covid-19 while unifying our fear is teaching us how fear works in our society. 

There is more to the psychoanalysis of the film Jaws.  It was identified by Fidel Castro. This has to do with capitalism. Capitalism is not a perfect system. It has inherent instabilities.  Again because of these inherent contradictions fear can also victimize capitalist society. It can lead to the identification of a dangerous shark that needs to be killed to make everything work smoothly.  It is a way of bargaining with society to buy time. Till the shark is killed, society can live in limbo and put up with lots of hardships.  Maybe this is how Hindutva in India is working.  It is on a mission to kill the shark and masses are waiting for the delayed ever eluding happy days to come.   This is why we can forgive monstrous riots, arsons, joblessness, and economic failures.  All this has to first happen. The shark has to be killed so as to usher in perfect happy days.  We in India are enjoying the killing of the shark. We are enjoying our ideology.  

But there is something powerful happening with Covid-19. It is threatening to rob our enjoyment of ideology. It is flattening all our hierarchies constructed by the symbolic order and maintained by our imaginaries that instil moral idealisms and destinies into it. The world is brought to a standstill and is put on its knees.  Covid-19 is an intruder that threatens all our freedoms by becoming an agent of death. It has opened several lacks. One of the gaps that it has opened up is the lack of business.  In the film Jaws, the closure of the beach warranted by the dangerous shark also meant the closure of the business. There are several other gaps. The lack of cure to the infection of Covid-19 exhibits the lack inherent in science and technology.  This lack is a necessary condition of its growth but often we put both science and technology on a higher pedestal of thinking that is  filtered by the fantasy of our ideology.  The lack of preparedness on the part of our Government is another important gap. Most of all it has opened the gaps in neo-liberalism that tend to dismantle our public healthcare, education, and democratic infrastructures. Maybe like Britain that put up a strong public healthcare system soon after the world war, we may have to learn our lessons to close some of the gaps opened by Covid-19.  

 The fear of another occurrence of a future pandemic will impact the world and what we do henceforth for quite some time.  But we have to be careful. Zizek teaches us that fantasy can work as a screen against these several lacks. It can distort our desire to do the right thing. It can fire up a desire to cover up this global tragedy. Maybe it is already at work. Governments may want to cover up their failures to manage this catastrophe. This is why there is a real possibility that we may subject ourselves to a rationalized and totalized ideological narrative that we may invest our enjoyment as we enter the post-Covid world. This is why we have to stay alert and become wakefully aware of our enjoyment as well as our fears of its theft. 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao