Authority, Body, Will, System, Desire, Malfunction and the Coronavirus — Işık Barış Fidaner

The international communist ideal expressed by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) is summarized by the following words: “Workers of the world unite! You have a world to win!” Australian thinker McKenzie Wark (2015) distorts this slogan to obtain another one: “Workings of the world untie! You have a win to world!” In order to world the wins, we should be able to articulate the subjective-objective structure of the workings of the world. My thesis in this text is as follows: Subjectivity-objectivity relies on two processes: Authorization and embodiment. The ground of authorization is will. The ground of embodiment is system [1].

Let’s begin with Lacan’s concept of “mirror stage”. Dylan Evans (2002) describes the mirror stage as follows:

The mirror stage shows that the ego is the product of misunderstanding (méconnaissance) and the site where the subject becomes alienated from himself. It represents the introduction of the subject into the imaginary order. However, the mirror stage also has an important symbolic dimension. The symbolic order is present in the figure of the adult who is carrying or supporting the infant. The moment after the subject has jubilantly assumed his image as his own, he turns his head round towards this adult, who represents the big Other, as if to call on him to ratify this image (Lacan, 1962–3: seminar of 28 November 1962).

So the mirror stage has two aspects: The imaginary aspect of the infant’s body image that is reflected on the mirror, and the symbolic aspect of getting the adult’s approval for the identification. I call these two aspects embodiment and authorization. The confusion of authority and body brings fetishization and alienation. The way out of this situation becomes possible with the recognition of the separate grounds of authority and body: In mirror stage, the ground of authorization is the will of the adult who approves the child’s identification, the ground of embodiment is the mirror system that reflects the child’s appearance [2].

We can find the same two processes in the Oedipal development stages. Verhaeghe (2008) tells the Oedipal development story through the roles of the “first Other” and the “second Other” which are traditionally played by the mother and the father respectively. In Vernaeghe’s story, the first Other (mother) helps the child’s embodiment, while the second Other (father) helps the child’s authorization. In Oedipal development, the way out of fetishization again requires the recognition of the separate grounds of authority and body: The ground of authorization is the lack that the first Other (mother) experiences and her desire and will towards the second Other (father). The ground of embodiment is the social system in which the child will be included [3].

The will-system relation conjoins authorization and embodiment, it forms the context between these two processes. Let’s exemplify this relation. In the mirror stage example, the will of the adult who approves the child’s identification with his/her reflection simultaneously approves the mirror system that is the medium of the child’s reflection. In the Oedipal development example, the will of the mother who turns the child towards the father’s phallus simultaneously makes way for the child’s inclusion into the capitalist system. Will-system is like a Möbius strip: The “other side” of will is system.

On the other hand, the couple will-system connects to each other through the symptom. Symptom is desire-malfunction: it’s the connection between the unconscious desires that disrupt the conscious will and the accidental malfunctions that disrupt the system. Let’s exemplify this connection. In the mirror stage example, the malfunction that disrupts the mirror system is the breaking of the mirror. The broken mirror, due to its unconscious connection to the desire to identify, has been a matter of superstition, it’s supposed to bring bad luck. In the Oedipal development example, the oscillations in the mother’s desire for the father is connected to the malfunctions that disturb the capitalist system. Therefore, the “underside” of will-system is desire-malfunction. Symptom as desire-malfunction is the subjectivity-objectivity connection [4].

Let us now examine an actual topic and test the conceptual framework that we have established with an application. The global Covid-19 pandemic that envelops the humanity has affected the flow of the present civilizations. At the center of the pandemic is the novel coronavirus that is a biological system that replicates itself. The novel coronavirus has infected a group of people and has marked their bodies as “sick”. But more importantly, the same replication system has also “infected” non-sick people as a probability and thus marked all human bodies on the earth as “can get sick and infect”.

Social “naturality” is established through authorities that people wear on their bodies, so it’s based on authority-body complexes. The most obvious example of the naturalization of authorities is an official uniform. On the other hand, daily clothing is a space where more free authorities like seeing, talking to and relating to people are naturalized. The marking of all human bodies with the coronavirus probability has disturbed this social naturality that consists of authority-body complexes. But the disturbing of the social naturality is also the disturbing of fetishization and alienation. By way of the coronavirus, people had to separate their authority-body complexes as authorities and bodies. Thus the will that grounds the authority and the system that grounds the body have separately drawn attention. The will that drew attention by the test of the coronavirus probability is the people’s will to have and maintain close relations with each other. In comparison with the times before the pandemic, people are much more careful about how close they want to get to others. The system that drew attention by the test of the global pandemic is the whole capitalist system that consists of personal, familial and institutional relations [5].

Slavoj Žižek has described the global Covid-19 pandemic as a fatal blow to capitalism [6]. If we want to examine the global Covid-19 pandemic that tests the will-system of capitalism as a symptom, we should draw attention to the dimension of desire-malfunction that underlies capitalism; this is in fact the political dimension. On the one hand, people’s will to relate to one another is divided by unconscious desires. Psychoanalysis draws attention to the sexual and aggressive drives that determine the subject. On the other hand, the systems that humans form are subject to malfunctions. There is no perfect system, every system goes through a variety of crises, either it gets over them or it gets subverted and gives way to another system. With regard to Marxism, which has left its mark on the last century, maybe the strongest expression of the symptom as the desire-malfunction connection were the acts of “general strike” in which the working class asserted its collective will and pointed to a systemic alternative. The politicization of the economic crises of capitalism became possible by getting hold of the Marxist symptom as the desire-malfunction connection. Since both systems and wills have changed shape in the 21st century, older political forms have been less consequential. To return to our example, the global pandemic crisis have dropped the fetishes and stripped the human bodies of their authorities. For each human, his/her body is a win that belongs to him/her. The only way of worlding these wins is through people re-authorizing each other.

(Turkish)

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

Notes:

[1] See “There are only embodiments and authorizations”

[2] See “Mirror Stage and Social Media: Authorization and Embodiment”

[3] See “Beyond the Abstract Fetish of the Phallus”

[4] See “Desire and Malfunction”

[5] See “The Coronavirus Crisis”

[6] See “Coronavirus is ‘Kill Bill’-esque blow to capitalism and could lead to reinvention of communism” Slavoj Žižek

References:

Evans, D. (2002). An introductory dictionary of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Routledge.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei.

Verhaeghe, P. (2008). On being normal and other disorders: A manual for clinical psychodiagnostics. Karnac Books.

Wark, M. (2015). Molecular red: Theory for the Anthropocene. Verso Books.

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