Laughter amidst death and pain:


Bar Psychoanalisys rendering the

pandemic chaos in Brazil.





We've added more than 500 dead by covid-19 and I'm sad and confused, gathering the pieces of my everyday life amid trending topics of ′′Fora Bolsonaro". A meme, a shutdown, a new controversy if I don't stay in bed all day - I live like I'm saving myself from  drowning. A post that circled around said this was grief. Only that struggle for me was different.

I really sunk when my father died, I had support from family and friends, got license from work and slowly resumed life. But there's none of that right now. I write this text to ask myself what half-mouth grief we are doing - and I'm going to ask permission to use a little bit of bar table psychoanalysis and social sciences.

What intrigued me in this pandemic is the implicit idea that Brazil would somehow be immune to disgrace and tragedy. This was present in the President's speech, saying that brazilians should be studied because they ′′pulam no esgoto′′ (dive in the sewage) and nothing happens to them. I remember memes and gifs where Sars-CoV-2, covid-19 virus, fought dengue and zika virus and lost the battle. I kept thinking that the above cases seem to assume we have resilience accumulated - resulting from consecutive confrontation with our historic misfortunes. I also began to wonder what brings the idea that disgrace would not hit Brazil, and what humor has to do with it.

Freud claims that part of our malaise and our difficult decisions are the consequence of the duel locked between the principle of pleasure and reality; roughly, between the social sanctions imposed on us and the complex mathematics of postponing potentially bigger issues on the account of  momentary pleasures. As elemental as the equation is, it seems that not everyone makes this calculation until the end. Many people prefer to take a shortcut: stop in time and laugh. Subterfuge is so seductive that I don't want to finish this text.

Another curious element is that this mood is not the simple denial of what would happen (the new coronavirus pandemic), but a statement of what has already happened (arbovirosis, sewerage). The ego inherent to the brazilian collective unconsciously refuses to suffer from reality, but it's not about escape or denial, but about recognition: the affirmation of self. We can laugh because we know disgrace. We recognize ourselves in that. A “precocious” humour, if such a type of mood exists. There is no grief; and without it, there is neither construction nor desire.








The Freudian line tells us that grief is the work of being able to replace the lost object; and after a painful time, return to feeling pleasure and happiness by redirecting our libido to another object. But if we don't experience grief, if we don't recognize loss, where does our desire go? We seem to be trapped in a particular form of melancholy, in which we do not recognize the lost object. Actually, not even that feeling matters, since it doesn't carry any ideal with it - So we merely laugh… and process nothing.

It's not all Brazilians who have the luxury of using laughter as a shortcut because, for many, the lost object is quite concrete - the death toll from the coronavirus in Brazil is five times greater among black people. This changes the status of our analysis, with such laughter being almost an ideological category that renders the suffering of the majority invisible. It's like common sense says: ′′ the Brazilian knows how to be happy ". But do we now? What we do know is that death in Brazil, and much before now, are racial cutouts.

In current state politics, everyone is under a death target. Death is the powerhouse and the State has removed itself from its biopolitical function of eulogising life. There is no administration of the bodies, nor is there a clear public policy - we are still plagued by the falsehood of death toll. It is the extent of the necropower, where all bodies find their finitude, but some ′′survive′′ by others resources: either class, or educational level, or because they occupy territories ′′ within ′′ the State.

In the text ′′ Thoughts for the Time of War and Death′′ of 1915, Freud discusses how man's civilization project of avoiding war is illusory. War shouldn't surprise us because what we experienced previously was not her absence, but a situation where the State just monopolized her - and redirected her, I may add, to specific groups while others deceived themselves. Unconsciously, Freud says, each one is convinced of their immortality. Soon, it's not surprising that we partially pursue a state of affairs where death isn't a threat.

The problem is that we even deceive ourselves as we slow down such inclination. Our most selfish desires can be redirected - not by highly rationalized systems of punishment and reward (such as education or justice operate) -, but by offering love and recognition in a broader sense.

I don't need to go too far to say we failed. Encouraged by the momentary success of this meritocratic strategy of punishment and reward, we erase conflicts, inequalities, increase tensions and demands on individuals, maximize privileges. Result: War is always reality for some; and for others, a matter of time.

For psychoanalysis, civilization is essentially an experience of suffering; and above all, it doesn't just circulate facts, norms, punishments, but it circulates affections. Freud and Lacan, like many social scientists, work with the idea that there is a social genesis of individuality.

There is, however, a psychic story of the subject, as Lacan noted, in which the process of individualization from social is conflicted. Our individuality is forged by an identification (internalization of social ideal types) that alienates the self from the moment one has their thinking processes and desires shaped by the other. That means, in short, that all socialisation is alienation. Above all, there is no ′′ passive ′′ self that goes through these processes without pain - and this generates affections that perhaps social sciences are failing to look at.

This idea is particularly interesting when we think that often the other, in the digital network society, is liberated from their affective burden. Identification processes are then formed from shaped beings, deficient of deep psychic life. The anthropologist Allen Feldman rewrites the term ′′ cultural anesthesia ′′ coined by Adorno, in which current objectification and rationalism increase the possibility of causing pain in the other; with this pain being still unacceptable to cultural discourse. I believe our almost grief is also mediated by that anesthesia, but that doesn't mean the pain isn't there. It’s a type of negative dialectic, where one denies the very fact (death) that generates thesis (the need for overcoming), pain is therefore repressed.
Our pain is suffocated through this system of speeches that seems to enunciate, but quiets. If it's a fact that we don't get outraged by our dead, if it's a fact that these deaths don't shake the popularity of a president who strives to deny them, my hypothesis is that pain is even a collectively processed category. In melancholy, there is the impossibility of mourning the lost object. We live in a particular form of melancholy to the Brazilian, mood-mediated. An early laugh that numb us and may have worked for a while.

I don't know about you, but I feel like waking up in the middle of a surgery.

Monique Oliveira is a journalist and doctorate of the Faculty of Public Health of USP (University of São Paulo).