Kristeva, abjection, psychoanalysis and the alt right …confronting the inner Fascist
Brexit,Trump the alt right and Farage. The creation of the other. The denial of the monster within but the promotion of the monster without. I look into the abyss and the monsters look back. I fight with the monsters of the abyss and they fight back. The inner fascist that lurks within us all, prejudicial, denying , The exorcism that cannot be because there is a bit of him in all of us. I sneer and move on and yet…..
Personally psychoanalysis has always been more compelling as a meta-narrative of criticism rather than any kind of cohesive therapeutic method. That said, there’s something about the recent outburst of neurosis in our political classes that causes me to invite politics upon the metaphorical chaise-longue. This isn’t just me either, I should hasten to add – the rise of the alt right has been met with a mix of bafflement, outrage and confusion from the professional class that exists to explain and decode our political discourse to the general public. To use the appropriate academic vernacular Ukip and the alt right are problematic and thus must be, in some way explained.Now, all of these pieces as they appear online also come with the ubiquitous comment section, and it’s here that things get interesting
As a rapidly emergent cultural space its striking to see just how quickly certain sociological rules have codified themselves in relation to the internet. The most famous rule, ‘Don’t read the comments.’ I did. Frequently. I wish I hadn’t but as an anthropological exercise in digital politics some good might come of it.
Comments on articles or blogs about Ukip aren’t interested in the merit of argument – there is no need for an engagement on the discursive ground set by the author of the blog, what matters is the message they pass on. Vote trump. Vote trump or Vote Ukip.
Taken as a whole, these articles with their stream of mesmeric comments are extremely psychoanalytically revealing. On the surface the reasonable, the well argued, the textually and politically cohesive; it attempts reason and obeys the rules of the form in which it appears. Underneath, literally the sub-text is the comments. The disjointed, the fanatical and the deeply unpleasant exist just there, on the limit of our accepted discursive practise
The editorials, the columns, the blogs have all circled around the problem – of the alt right are not necessarily an earthquake, not a political revolution, not “on the march” but something more troubling still.The alt right is the return of the abject in politics.
The concept of the abject was developed by the French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, drawing on Lacanian notions of the subject grounded in filth. The “abject” is that which is rejected by, or more subtlety, disturbs the established social order. Kristeva also maintains that the abject exists somewhere between the concept of the object and the concept of a subject. Or, to phrase this is more appropriate context, between the concepts of Ukip the political earthquake and the suited former banker torn apart here.
The alt right are not a political party, they are a mode, a neurosis, a collection of every no longer acceptable discourse, every unsayable prejudice in British politics. Ukip represent everything abjected from British politics in the modern, post Thatcher age. To quote Kristeva’s aphorism, “To each ego its object, to each superego it’s abject”.
We believed we had moved beyond the racist, beyond the xenophobic, the casually misogynistic and homophobic – all had been cast out of our mainstream political discourse. We thought we were OK. Clearly we were wrong – what should be profoundly discomforting about the re-emergence of the abject into politics is the death of the assumption that these ideas are, and were, rare. If anything has been proven by the streak of gaffes and racism that make up the alt rights campaign it is that we cannot argue these views are the minority. The return of the abject is the end to the liberal ideal that these kind of ideas are rare, or in the minority. Ukip and alt right supporters are not an endangered few espied by political anthropologists but neighbours, colleagues and family.
Kristeva states that a confrontation with the abject is always traumatic, as the abject matter always exists outside the symbolic order. Ukip, the self-styled political mavericks, the populist rabble-rousers consciously and explicitly attempt to place themselves outside the political symbolic order – thus hardly a surprise that confronting them has proven to be so traumatic for all concerned – from the worried columnists to the bewildered political classes.
So, how do we resolve this? How do we confront the abject in our politics? Kristeva stated that we use rituals in an attempt to maintain clear distinctions between the abject and the social and symbolic orders. Paradoxically these rituals allow us both expel and maintain our contact with the abject and fortunately one such ritual can be enacted tomorrow. The alt right is not new, they are simply the most visible representation of strains of thought, of neuroses contained within our political process. We may have to maintain contact with them, but through the ritual of the ballot box the abject can be consigned to the outside of the social and political order.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Jung on Farage, Trump and Brexit……
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an irruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world. A whole nation, as well as countless millions belonging to other nations, were swept into the blood-drenched madness of a war of extermination.
The European, or rather the white man in general, is scarcely in a position to judge of his own state of mind. He is too deeply involved. I had always wanted to see Europeans through other eyes, and eventually I was able, on my many journeys, to establish sufficiently close relationships with non-Europeans to see the European through their eyes. The white man is nervous, restless, hurried, unstable, and (in the eyes of non-Europeans ) possessed by the craziest ideas, in spite of his energy and gifts which give him the feeling of being infinitely superior. The crimes he has committed against the coloured races are legion…
Questions are being asked on all sides about the meaning of the whole tragedy. […] I am only too well aware that ‘German’ presents an immense problem, and that the subjective views of a medical psychologists can touch only a few aspects of this gigantic tangle of questions.
Living as we do in the middle of Europe, we Swiss feel comfortably far removed from the foul vapours that arise from the morass of German guilt. But all this changes the moment we set foot, as Europeans, on another continent or come into contact with an Oriental people. What are we to say to an Indian who asks us: ‘You are anxious to bring us your Christian culture, are you not? May I ask if Auschwitz and Buchenwald are examples of European civilization?’ […] The world sees Europe as the continent on whose soil the shameful concentration camps grew… .
On the psychology of kippers trolls, the alt-right, Brexit, Farage and Trump (from After The Catastrophe, 1945)
“all hysterical people are compelled to torment others, because they are unwilling to hurt themselves by admitting their own inferiority… All these pathological features — complete lack of insight into one’s own character, auto-erotic self-admiration and self-extenuation, denigration and terrorisation of one’s own fellow men… lying, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing…
“A more accurate diagnosis… would be pseudologia phantastica, that form of hysteria which is characterised by a peculiar talent for believing one’s own lies. For a short time, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous. Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident… Hitler’s theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous… It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches… could have made such an impression. His gesticulations were all put on, devised by an hysterical mind intent only on making an impression. He behaved in public like a man living in his own biography”
On whether it’s worth engaging with individuals to try and change their minds (from Psychotherapy Today, 1941)
“Even if our voice is too weak to make itself heard above the tumult of political strife and fades away ineffectively, we may yet comfort ourselves with the saying of the Chinese master: ‘When the enlightened man is alone and thinks rightly, it can be heard a thousand miles away’.
“All beginnings are small. Therefore we must not mind doing tedious but conscientious work on obscure individuals, even though the goal towards which we strive seems unattainably far off… inasmuch as we are convinced that the individual is the carrier of life, we have served life’s purpose if one tree at least succeeds in bearing fruit, though a thousand others remain barren.”
On the appeal of nationalism and racism (from The Fight With The Shadow, 1946)
“the tide that rose in the unconscious after the first World War was reflected in individual dreams, in the form of collective, mythological symbols which expressed primitivity, violence, cruelty… When such symbols occur in a large number of individuals and are not understood, they begin to draw the individuals together as if by magnetic force, and thus a mob is formed. Its leader will soon be found in the individual who has the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and, because of his inferiority, the greatest will to power. He will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth, and the mob will follow with the irresistible force of an avalanche.
“The individual’s feeling of weakness, indeed of non-existence, was thus compensated by the eruption of hitherto unknown desires for power. It was the revolt of the powerless, the insatiable greed of the ‘have nots’.”
On blaming the other for the actions of one’s group and leaders, and the trap of feeling righteous rage towards those you disagree with (from After The Catastrophe, 1945)
“Naturally no reasonable and conscientious person will lightly turn collective into individual guilt by holding the individual responsible without giving him a hearing. He will know enough to distinguish between the individually guilty and the merely collectively guilty. But how many people are either reasonable or conscientious, and how many take the time to be so?…If the German intends to live on good terms with Europe, he must be conscious that in the eyes of Europeans he is a guilty man… The German can hardly expect other Europeans to resort to such niceties as to enquire at every step whether the criminal’s name was Muller or Meier. Neither will he be deemed worthy of being treated as a gentleman until the contrary is proved. Unfortunately, for twelve long years it has been proved that the official German was no gentleman.
“It may be objected that the whole concept of psychological collective guilt is a prejudice and a sweepingly unfair condemnation. Of course it is… It is a psychic phenomenon, and it is therefore no condemnation of the German people to say that they are collectively guilty, but simply a statement of fact…
“Long before 1933 there was a smell of burning in the air, and people were passionately interested in discovering the locus of the fire and in tracking down the incendiary. And when denser clouds of smoke were seen over Germany, and the burning of the Reichstag gave the signal, then at last there was no mistake where the incendiary, evil in person, dwelt. Terrifying as this discovery was, in time it brought a sense of relief: now we knew for certain where all the unrighteousness was to be found, whereas we ourselves were securely entrenched in the opposite camp, among respectable people whose moral indignation could be trusted to rise higher and higher with every fresh sign of guilt on the other side. Even the call for mass executions no longer offended the ears of the righteous, and the saturation bombing of German cities was looked upon as the judgement of God. Hate had found respectable motives… And all the time the esteemed public had not the faintest idea how closely they themselves were living to evil.”
A warning for the year 2019 (from After The Catastrophe, 1945)
“The man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing, and everyone who promises too much is in danger of using evil means in order to carry out his promises, and is already on the road to perdition.”