The Revolutionaries Who Show Heroism Against The Virus — Işık Barış Fidaner

In Turkish there’s a proverb: “There is no heroism against the cold.” We can generalize this phrase and say “There is no heroism against Nature.” Or we can adjust it to the order of the day and say “There is no heroism against the virus.” The proverb means that the gesture of sacrifice, the gesture of devoting your life to a cause, which is an important component of heroism, loses its meaning when it’s against natural challenges like the cold weather and the virus; because natural challenges do not rely on a will that can be defeated by showing heroic gestures; they are events entirely without will and without authority. Heroism against Nature is like the heroism of Don Quixote who fights windmills; it’s interesting and tragic, but ineffective, invalid and ridiculous.

After the coronavirus contagion hit Turkey, many people followed the prominent expert advices and tried to isolate themselves in their homes; also some leftist organizations, as a precaution against the contagion, postponed or cancelled the meetings and celebrations that were previously planned; these developments caused an interesting reaction and claim in some leftist revolutionary circles. The authors and spokesmen of some groups declared that it is bourgeois to worry about one’s life against the virus and that the communists who are devoted to the proletarian cause must not be afraid of the coronavirus.

Just an example: “A community that fears death is ready and deserving to become a material for those who do not succumb to the fear of death.” [1] This reminds of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic: Two persons engage in a fight to the death for pure prestige. As a result of this fight, one of the parties submits to his/her fear of death and surrenders; this party becomes the slave and begins to serve for the enjoyment of the master (the other party) who proved his/her potency by not fearing death. According to this myth, the ruling class has become hegemonic over the oppressed class by challenging death. And the oppressed class can only prove itself and become hegemonic by defeating its fear of death. This means that hegemony is “Heroism against Death”. Hegel calls death the “absolute master”.

But the “Heroism against Nature” that I mentioned in the beginning is different from the hegemonic gesture of challenging death, because dying in a fight is not a natural death. Death by the coronavirus, i.e. death by suffocating due to lung dysfunction because of infection, cannot be compared to dying in a class struggle. So, we must clearly distinguish the fear of death with which the slave surrenders, from the universal worry for one’s life against nature that is common to all people. To emphasize this distinction, I call those who challenge the coronavirus on behalf of the communist cause, the revolutionaries who show heroism against the virus.

An important intellectual ally of the revolutionaries that show heroism against the virus has been Giorgio Agamben. In a text where he criticizes how people are powerfully affected by a fear for the virus, Agamben says:

The first thing that the wave of panic that has paralyzed the country obviously shows is that our society no longer believes in anything but bare life. It is obvious that Italians are disposed to sacrifice practically everything — the normal conditions of life, social relationships, work, even friendships, affections, and religious and political convictions — to the danger of getting sick. Bare life — and the danger of losing it — is not something that unites people, but blinds and separates them. [2]

The great social transformation that is experienced with the contagion is related to death being the “absolute master”, in Hegel’s words. The global coronavirus contagion is real. What did Agamben expect? Would the people challenge the danger of getting sick for the sake of their symbolic engagements (relationships, work, friendship etc., in a word, their Ego)? One should see that the symbolic engagements that include positive relationships are always secondary, they are just defense mechanisms against real engagements that consist of negative factors [3]. The factor of the virus that suddenly entered our life with the contagion would surely lead to great changes in all relationships and it did. One shouldn’t be surprised. To pay attention to the humanity’s universal worry for life against death which is the “absolute master” is not irresponsible or blind, on the contrary, it is the way to see the realities and act responsibly. It is the way to protect not only yourself but also others. That’s why this worry is universal.

It’s also remarkable how Agamben takes refuge in the political cliché “uniting is good, separating is bad.” The ideal of unification is just a fantasy, an illusion of identification with an image or a symbol; psychoanalysis calls this “alienation”. The basic model of unification is oral unification, it’s to cling to the mother’s breast; the alienated person clings to the fetish object just like a baby that clings to its mother.

“Separation”, on the other hand, is the way out of alienation and fetishization, it’s the “line of flight” in Deleuze-Guattari’s terms [4]. So the model of “separation” is weaning. When the ideal of unification is disturbed, a symptom manifests and a need to interpret this symptom as a “problem” or “issue” comes to the fore. The true evidence of reality is not the imaginary-symbolic fetishes that alienate us in “unification”, it is the manifestation of symptoms that appear as “problems” or “issues” and our “separation” due to our interpretations on these symptoms. The coronavirus is such a symptom that manifests on the global level. Just like the climate crisis.

From such a psychoanalytic perspective, the precaution called “social distancing” against the coronavirus resembles Brecht’s famous dramatic procedure of “distancing” [5]. Of course, people had to re-consider all over again all of their daily acts that they took for granted, with respect to the reality of the contagion and the danger of virus infection. They had to re-authorize themselves and each other by relying on the will to protect themselves from the virus. What matters is how this process proceeds.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] “Can korkusu politikası!” [The politics of the fear of death!] Metin Kayaoğlu

[2] “Clarifications” Giorgio Agamben

[3] See “Symbolic Engagement and Real Engagement”

[4] See “Separation of Authorization from Embodiment”

[5] See “Coronavirus and Brecht”


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