The Coronavirus Crisis — Işık Barış Fidaner

Human is often called a thinking animal. Thinking and speaking, using language (and sometimes being used by the language through the unconscious) is the privilege of humans.

The basic function of the symbolic order constituted by thinking and language is authorization. So we have to also say: Human is an authorized animal. The common feature of all animals is to own a body as a living being, or to be that body itself; it is embodiment. For many animals, this includes the ability to move by carrying that body from one place to another. The symbolic order in humans adds authorization on top of embodiment [1]. This includes the authority to access certain places by moving, and the authority to speak and say certain things.

Human’s claim to authority is expressed by the concept of “right”. When there’s no crisis, in “unproblematic” situations “without issues” that are designated as being “natural” or “normal”, rightfulness is derived from embodiment: “I am human, therefore I can live.” “I am a citizen, therefore I can work.” Universal human rights and national citizen rights are like this. Let’s call this mode of authorization “a body wearing an authority”. (One should also consider more exceptional examples of the same thing, e.g. “I am the police, therefore I can detain people.”)

A body wearing an authority relies on the symbolic order and supports it. So this operation, even though it’s disguised in “naturality”, is in fact an artificial operation. To indicate this illusion of “naturality”, we should call the authority-body complex that is produced by this operation, a “fetish” [2]. What makes the fetish exist is the identification with the fetish, in other words, alienation.

So what is a crisis? Crisis, with the simplest definition, is the fall of the fetishes. It is the bodies getting stripped of their authority. It is the breaking of the identifications that were thought to be “natural” and “normal”. It is the tearing of the authority-body matchings. It is the revelation of the separation between authorization and embodiment. Crisis results in the emergence of the separate grounds of authorization and embodiment: The ground of embodiment is a system. The ground of authorization is a will.

For instance, with the coronavirus crisis, one can no longer say “I am human, therefore I can walk on the street.” The crisis tore off the right to walk on the street from being human. “Being human” is redefined: The risk of spreading the coronavirus must be calculated using systemic knowledge from biological and medical sciences. “The right to walk on the street” is redefined as well: The will of the one who wants to walk on the street must take into account the risk of catching the coronavirus.

When the authority-body complex is broken, the embodiment of the will that grounds the authority takes place: To be human is no longer a simple matter of having rights. To be human is now the embodiment of a will that takes into account the coronavirus risk. In parallel, an authorization takes place based on the system that grounds the body: The right and authority to walk on the street becomes dependent on certain statistical knowledge. The dimensions “system” and “will” exist as two separate and parallel grounds; the system cannot be reduced to the will (example of this reduction: the revolutionaries who show heroism against the virus), and the will cannot be reduced to the system (example of this reduction: people surrendering all rights and authorities to the experts).

The crisis suddenly left the people without authority. For many people, this means to remain isolated in one’s home. For those who don’t have the privilege to isolate themselves against the virus, this means the loss of other rights. The crisis has dropped the fetishes, and stripped the bodies of their authorities [3]. The only way to overcome this crisis is through people re-authorizing each other.


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] See “Separation of Authorization from Embodiment”

[2] See “Authorization and Embodiment in Fetish and Symptom”

[3] See “Coronavirus and Brecht”


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