Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Julia Kristava: Interpreting radical evil

The war against radical evil requires us to take Nietzsche's project seriously: « Ask a big question rather than deliver a grand statement: » This means: instead of focusing on God, look to ideals, and their absence in order to make them known and reassessed

NB: As a reminder that love can persist in the midst of evil, here is a forgotten piece of history: The Christmas truce, 1914 - Steven Johns

The adolescent is a believer
The child king that lies dormant inside of all of us, according to Freud in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), would be a "laboratory scientist”:  all his senses awakened, he seeks to discover where babies come from. This insatiable curiosity is so attractive that it overshadows adolescent characteristics: precisely because there is no adolescent without the need to believe.

The adolescent is not a researcher in a laboratory, he is a believer. We all are adolescents when we are passionate about the absolute. Freud was not concerned with adolescence because he was, himself, the greatest non-believer, the most irreligious person that has ever existed. Within the meaning of faith, believing implies a passion for object relations: faith desires everything, it is potentially fundamentalist, as is the adolescent. Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet are the coat of arms of adolescence; we are all adolescents when we are in love.

However, since our impulses and desires are ambivalent and sadomasochistic, this belief that the Ideal Object exists is continuously threatened, if not frustrated and circumvented. So the passion in search of an object reverses into punishment and self-punishment. The trajectory of this reversal during adolescence is: disappointment-depression-suicide; when it does not take a more regressive and somatic form i.e. the anorexia; or, in a certain political context: the destructive thrust of self-with-the-other, which I call the kamikaze syndrome. Because the adolescent believes in the relation with the object, he experiences the impossibility of this relation as dreadful.

Transference meets the need to believe
Sharing the idealism syndrome specific to the adolescent, the psychoanalyst has a chance to lift resistance and to bring the adolescent to an analytical process where adolescence shows itself as restive. The need for religion, relayed throughout the Twentieth century by ideological enthusiasm, proposed and still proposes to authenticate the idealism syndrome: initiation rites, fasts and mortifications. It was also authenticated in the arts: ever since its origins in the Renaissance, the novel has chronicled initiatory adventures of adolescent characters.

Of course, adolescent discontent worries modern society:  we create "adolescent centers"; we developed adolescent psychiatry following the child psychiatry model. But secular morality seems unprepared to face the "return of religion", whether in the form of -"spiritual crafts" that one manufactures, according to his times and his tastes, by borrowing, via Internet, religious fragments, here and there; or in - bastardized forms (sects); or,  even more seriously, in the form of - fundamentalism (encouraging a great explosion of the death drive in the name of Ideal).

The Radicalized make their way back to Paris
The onslaught of jihadist horror in Paris suddenly shows us that, in the future, the religious treatment of the need to believe is itself discredited, because it does not fulfill the aspiration of this paradoxical believer to achieve paradise. This nihilistic believer, necessarily nihilistic because pathetically idealist, is the disintegrated adolescent, dissocialized in the ruthless global migration.

Gangster-type radicalized fundamentalism demonstrates a radical phase of nihilism, perhaps more radical than ever, looming below the "clash of religions". This phase captures in depth the springs of civilizations, highlighting the destruction of the pre-religious "need to believe", this universal constituent of psychic life with and for the other, which is present in adolescence as the idealism disorder.

Psychoanalysis concerns itself with this profound disorganization of the person – leading to desubjectivation (« "I" does not exist », which can be understood as « nothing but a desintricated drive ready for anything ») and the disorganization of the link to the other – to the point of deobjectalization (« the other has no meaning or value »), where only the death drive, the malice of evil, triumphs.

Radical evil
What is radical evil that Kant and Arendt once denounced? It is the declaration- and the realization—of the superfluity of human beings: their mechanical destructiveness.

Is radical evil without reason? In some ways, this is the claim of mysticism and literature. The political pact cannot stop there. With psychoanalytic experience, I am not satisfied only to rebel. In order to refine the transference-countertransference interpretation, I am looking for the extreme evil logic. We discover that following the family's failure and social disintegration, some people, especially adolescents, succumb to the idealism disorder: they literally explode, unable to distinguish between right and wrong, inside and outside, subject and object. Between the two impulses within us, that of life and that of death, it is the death drive that resolves psychic life and reduces it to blind destructiveness: in fine self-destruction, accompanied by a senseless pleasure, or inside the vacuum of apathy.

From this diagnosis grows the audacity of psychoanalytic accompaniment that wants to be more than a "comprehensive moralism". The accompaniment of adolescents experiencing radicalization places the analyst at the unsustainable junction where this disubjectivation/ deobjectalisation is exercised and threatens, but also may initiate a restructuring. That is our challenge, following the discovery of the death drive and the malignant potential of the psychic apparatus which is revealed in the idealism disorders, abolishing the need to believe and the desire to know, so that the human being, unable to invest and to establish links, deprived of "self" and devoid of the sense of the other, wanders in a "world" that is lacking, in a non-world, with no "good" or  "evil "nor any" value ".

Is it possible to push analytical listening to the borders of human nature, and still practice psychoanalysis in these conditions?

Reassessing "our values"
The Republic is facing a historic challenge: is it capable of facing this crisis of the need to believe and desire to know that the cover of religion no longer retains, and which touches the foundation of the link between humans? The anxiety that freezes the country in this time of carnage, against the backdrop of economic and social crisis, expresses our uncertainty in the face of this colossal challenge. Are we able to mobilize all means, police and economies, without forgetting those obtained by the knowledge of psyche? 

Are we able to address this poignant idealism disorder that is sweeping over us with the atrocity of the radicalized, with the delicacy of necessary listening, with the appropriate education and with the necessary generosity? Thus interpreted, the barbarism of the jihadists in the grip of the malignancy of evil, calls into question the "values" of secularism and challenges the capacity of psychoanalysis to grapple with the new discomforts of globalization.

The war against radical evil requires us to take Nietzsche's project seriously: « Ask a big question rather than deliver a grand statement: » This means: instead of focusing on God, look to ideals, and their absence in order to make them known and reassessed, problematized, endlessly rethought. To interpret horror, support those who are tempted by radical evil, rather than focusing on the deadly acts and severity that the killers deserve. In order not to bow-down before evil, or extreme evil, we must patiently continue researching, certainly not from some unknown utopian and safe balance, but from this fragile point which Pascal defines as "perpetual motion."  He wrote: « He who found the secret to rejoicing in  goodness without getting angry at evil, would have found the point. It is perpetual motion. » And what if the vision we lack today is precisely the "point", this "perpetual motion", towards the "secret of rejoicing goodness without getting angry at evil”? ... This is the particular inner experience that barbarians ignore, but which transference enables us to mobilise.

Julia Kristeva

(article courtesy the website of The International Psychoanalytical Association)

see also