To Sergio Benvenuto, March 1, 2022
Please, excuse me in advance if some of my thoughts are not clear enough. My head hasn’t been working well these last days, and also, I cannot follow the psychoanalytic tradition of the free chain of thoughts.
Humans speak, humans think. Kant was dreaming about such a time when people would be able to think independently.
The great Russian thinker, the grandfather of cosmonautics, Nikolai Fedorov in the end of XIX c. predicted that in the future the world will be divided between people who possess knowledge and the those who don’t. Intelligent people, people who could read and think understand the disasters of war. People who watch TV (and there is not one non-state channel left in Russia today) support war. At the moment the number of TV-zombies, as they are called in Russia, is no doubt the majority. For me this is an important point to understand the situation.
The thing is that the Soviet Union, a country where I was born, was a country of the dominance of university discourse (Lacan, I believe was right; Lenin’s slogan “learn, learn and learn” survived through Stalin’s efforts to annihilate culture). The new order which came with the new century was focused on killing education (a weird politician Zhirinovsky claimed during the Arab Spring: “See the results of the education? Revolution. Do we need it? No. We don’t need students.”). All these years the most important activity in my life was to teach people to think, and in the end, it doesn’t matter what you study – Freud and Lacan, or Adorno and Hannah Arendt, or Fritz Lang and Dziga Vertov.
The passion of ignorance, interpassive existence in front of the very aggressive TV-weapon is a very important factor in what we have nowadays. Freud’s thoughts about hypnosis as a minimal mass organization are very much relevant. As for me, I know only two humans who support madness (one of them, Sergio, you know, too). All people I know are students, psychoanalysts, artists, musicians, architects, curators, etc., and all of them are shocked, terrified and, of course, don’t want any war. They say though there is no any war on the TV, no killings, no bombs, no victims. Now, the word “war” is prohibited to use (if this were not my private letter to you, if it were a public space in here, I wouldn’t be allowed to use it). Actually, it seems like the word “peace” is also prohibited, at least I saw this word on the wall of a house already painted over. The incredibly high level of aggressivity in society at least for the last ten years is also symptomatic. Hate speech on TV is the most ordinary and banal thing. Mass aggressivity and its narcissistic sources is a problem to be analyzed, too.
For many joyful years I was teaching in Kiev, the mother of the Russian cities, as we used to call this city (I really don’t know if this name still exists – the industrialization of the memory in the time of endless rewriting of the history destroys everything like mental napalm), and then I had to stop, there was no more communication, only internet… Today I still have many friends, students, colleagues in Kiev, and relatives in Dnepr. My parents are from that Ukrainian city, the city where I spent the happiest years of my childhood. And there are very many families like mine. So, I can’t call what’s happening with the war between countries. Hopefully many people around the globe understand it: this is not a Russian-Ukrainian war. Not at all. It is more – I’m sorry for this expression – a “one-man show” (supported of course by masses and his organization) fighting the reality, which looks like the return of the real (in the Lacanian sense).
My father was a WWII veteran. He didn’t like to tell stories about those five darkest years of his life, he and other veterans, his friends taught us one thing – to cherish and to keep peace. And also, a very important lesson from my father – internationalism (one of the very first songs I remember from my childhood was “Bella Ciao”, the song of Italian partisans fighting against fascism). When I asked him about WWII, he always emphasized that in the trenches he was together with Russians, Tatars, Jews, and Ukrainians. And one more thing, my father never mentioned Stalin as someone who got the victory and brought peace on earth. On the contrary.
The craziest thing in the events of the last few days for me is the crash of one of the fundamental Soviet-Russian myths (in the psychoanalytic sense of the word). According to that myth Russians never attack first. This national principle was the red line. And this line was crossed. In one day, this fundamental myth was broken. This is one of the reasons why instead of the word “war” according to the new legislation we have to say “operation of liberation” or some other euphemisms. But again, the most horrible thing is that people who were proud yesterday to be the most peaceful today are very proud to scream kill the enemy. Even if I remember the end of Chaplin’s Great Dictator, where we see that for people it doesn’t actually matter whom to applaud, it is difficult for me to accept this radical change in one day.
There are lots of protests here against the “operation of liberation”. The brave people want peace. And on the other side there are enormous forces against them. Here’s the place to say that all throughout the last years we were watching an incredible growth of the paramilitary apparatuses. To be a member of the forces is to have a job, money and career in a rather poor country. Usually, it is easy to see when protests take place, the balance is unbalanced: the protestors are outnumbered.
Part of the population at the moment is so to say neutral, not interested. But of course, there is no neutrality, especially when we deal with the discourse of paranoia. Elias Canetti said that paranoia is the disease of power. My reading in recent years on that subject is Schreber’s Memoirs, of course. His breakdown was for him the breakdown of the Weltordnung (world order). And he was in the center of the Weltuntergang (world downfall). Schreber was a knight to restore the order (hopefully in his mind). It is still paradigmatic if we speak about someone who is in question.
15-20 years ago, there was a question in here: what would be a national idea to unite people? In the end this national discourse was established not on one but on two basic ideas: the special path of Russia as a chosen people and that their enemies are everywhere.
Some years ago, the man in question, speaking about Us/Them, said: “I’ll take all of you to heaven, and they will simply die”. It is possible to interpret it as we will die for the right cause, and they will be left unburied, “liegen lassen”, if we can use Schreber’s words. Here we are also approaching the question of immortality (the immortal is one of the nicknames of the man in question). Schreber logically explains his not being mortal. And we hear the voice of the immortal without argumentation.
It obviously started from the official annulation of time. Time is again out of joint. No law – no time, and there is no law. The important thing is that we deal here not with the confrontation of the East/West as socialism vs. capitalism. There are two forms of capitalism.
The British artist Jake Chapman – after the problems with his and his brother Dinos’s exhibition in the State Hermitage – called this form of capitalism the vengeful one. Here we come to the question of the dominance of the criminal discourse. Let me not go deeper into this matter. I just want to emphasize that it is not philosophical or historical or ideological hatred. It has almost nothing to do with the SU/US cold war.
The paranoiac hatred, as we know, doesn’t simply address outside enemies. There is no border between outside and inside. The number of inside foreign agents, extremists and terrorists is in constant multiplication. And here comes the most horrible and possible (I hope not) scenario: from crossing the red line to approaching to the red button. I believe you remember Kubrick’s Brigadier general Jack D. Ripper in Dr Strangelove. We attack first so that we are ourselves ourselves are not attacked. Imaginary construction has nothing to do with symbolic ideological constructions. According Deleuze and Guattari, the paranoiac machine goes to its end, that is to suicide. If this is the end then the question is how big a part of the globe might he take with him. Or do we have a hope? I hope we have a hope, but still, we deal not just in the last days, but the last years with the crash of the symbolic matrix, when the words are losing their meaning, when the binary oppositions are turning around in the lethal mirror, when there is no longer any correspondence between les mots et les choses.
I still hope there will be peace on our earth and to meet with you and talk,
***** (name of author withheld, so as to forestall any act of political repression by Russian state authorities)