The seizure of globalitarian power by capitalism in its financialised form, a mixture of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, has generated a new outbreak of the political pandemic intrinsic to this regime, distinct from those produced by its previous strains. To this context was added a serious viral pandemic.
There are many responses to this dystopian scenario; they vary in different shades between two poles. On the one hand, the eruption of the most pathological conservatism, encouraged by the new mode of power inherent to this fold of the regime, as one of its main strategies. On the other, the effervescence of social resistance movements, some of which, besides the traditional struggle in the institutional sphere of politics, have been promoting displacements in the subterranean layers of this state of things, the micro-political sphere. I am referring to the intensified and expanded modernising of the black, indigenous and LGBTQIA+ movements, the new generation of feminists and the uprisings of entire societies in South American countries such as Chile, Paraguay and Colombia, in which other modes of existence are being experienced.
It is in the scope of this collective work that I will bring, here, some ideas about micropolitics; they are recent adjustments in this conceptual cartography that I have been tracing for several decades. Such adjustments come from the effects in my body of the current state of affairs, but also from good encounters – especially, with the movements highlighted above, with a certain know-how of spiders and with some words of the Guarani language, into which I have been initiated by Tício Escobar and Derlis Esquivel.
The effects of these encounters in my body have been compounded with the traces that already constituted it, especially those of a certain strand of European thinkers and of a psychoanalysis transformd by the activation of its micropolitical force, by the work of two of these thinkers, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
I will begin by briefly presenting the know-how of the spiders and a first word of the Guarani language. Two conceptual characters, with which we inaugurate the scene of speculative story-telling in which this cartography in process will be drawn
Character 1: the spiders
As we know, the spider throws a silk thread to the environment with which it weaves its webs and the function of which is to supply its needs: to shelter, to court, to capture preys, to flee from predators, etc. This thread, produced in its body, has the property of tuning into the vibration frequencies of the vital forces of the elements that make up the ecosystem of that environment. The thread vibrates such forces propagating waves until it reaches the animal’s body. The effects of the vibrations of these elements on its body are the living presence of these others which become part of its constitution. At this first moment, the spider feels them passively.
But it does not stop at this passivity: with two of its legs, the spider touches the thread and deciphers the vibrations. Whatever name is given to this way of knowing – body-knowledge, living-knowledge, ecological-knowledge or others – what is important is that it constitutes the compass which guides it in choosing where, how and with what architecture to weave its web.
A world emerges in the web that is created in the spider’s interaction with the environment; the introduction of this world into the ecosystem transforms it, just as it transforms the spider itself. The touch of its legs on the thread makes the spider an active agent of the ecosystem.
Character 2: a first word in the Guarani language
Ñe’ê means word, but its literal translation is “wordsoul”. This indicates that for the Guarani, word and soul are potentially inseparable, which is true for all kinds of language, not only verbal.
For the Guarani, the soul is the vital force that animates the body (not only the human body) in interaction with the forces that animate the other bodies that make up the ecosystem, whose vibrations are incorporated into its constitution and generate changes. As the soul is embodied in language, in principle, this too suffers alterations.
For this reason, for the Guarani, soul and language are inseparable. And if they are potentially so, it is because their union may not happen, which for them has serious consequences. All the illnesses of the living (whether physical or mental, in the case of humans) stem from the separation between language and soul and, in view of this, all healing processes consist in re-establishing their link. From this perspective, what is the nature of the relationship between the form of the word and its soul (vital force)? In what does the potential character of their inseparability consist? The answer to these questions comes from the resonance that the effects of these two characters (the spider and the ñe’ê) on my body find in the traces of the thinking of those Europeans who already composed it, which expands its reach.
Form and force (soul): the two sides of language, potentially inseparable
What will serve as a guiding image to consider this relationship is the Möbius strip, a surface model created at the end of the 19th century, in the context of Topology research, by the German astronomer and mathematician that bears this name. Since then, this figure has been taken up by artists and theoreticians from various fields, including psychoanalysis.
To describe a Möbius strip, I suggest we imagine a strip of paper in which one of the ends is glued to the reverse of the other, forming a single-sided surface. The reverse side continues on the right side and vice-versa, which means that, although distinct, its two sides become inseparable. There is a reversibility between them, in which one becomes the other, in an uninterrupted process. From this it follows that they cannot be determined, just as they become equally indeterminable inside and outside, above and below, before and after, beginning and end.
Let us now imagine that we peel off its ends, making the strip biface again. The two faces separate and become determinable, just like inside and outside, beginning and end, etc. The relationship between the faces then becomes static and the process is interrupted.
I take this image of the Möbius strip to think of the relationship between the form of language and its soul (in the Guarani sense) as corresponding to each of its faces. A relationship in which, although distinct, they are potentially inseparable, which makes life and language place themselves on the same plane. When the two faces are separated, it is sickness, as the Guarani teach us. Separated, they become static: language loses its soul or the soul does not find its language.
In the human subject this indiscernibility between language and life has the name pulsion. In these two faces of the pulsional Möbius strip that constitutes him, he interacts with the world respectively as form and as force – the two faces of the world, equally distinct and inseparable. I will dwell especially on this approach to the subject because it is an essential element of the micropolitical sphere.
The individual and the trans-individual: the two potentially inseparable faces of the subject
On one of its faces, which I will call “individual”, the subject in its form of expression interacts with the forms of expression and their codes that make up “a” world (a sociocultural mesh represented in the image by a checkered surface). It is what allows him to exist socially.
Such interaction occurs through perception, which is not a tabula rasa: what the subject captures through perception automatically associates it with images that he extracts from his sociocultural repertoire to project them onto what he perceives, so as to attribute meaning to it. With this, the subject situates the other and himself before him, in the context of the language they share. Thus, in the individual face of the subject, he conceives himself and the other as individualised beings, with their contours delimited and separated from each other – the other is an object outside him.
Now on its other face, which I will call “trans-individual”, the subject interacts as a vital force with the vital forces that nourish the bodies of the other elements that make up an environmental, social and mental ecosystem in constant variation, of which he is part (represented in the image by an ocean, a surface with undulating movements provoked by the varied and variable relationship between the vectors of force that compose it). This is what makes him a living being among the other living beings.
On this face, the interaction does not happen through perception, but through affections: the effects on the subject’s body of the forces that come to him in waves through his vibrations in his vital thread immersed in the environment; effects that he feels passively. Here, therefore, the other is not an object that lies outside the subject, but a living presence in his body that is integrated into his constitution. Thus, in this face of interaction with the world there are no individuals – that is, there are no contours that individualise the bodies, nor separation between them.
When the reversibility between the individual and the trans-individual loses rhythm in its flow, the movement of the subject in its pulsional Möbius strip is halted. Thrown into a scene of suspense in which something has already happened, but which the subject is still unaware of, it becomes a question mark.
The subject is seized by a strangeness that generates uneasiness. The discomfort of this state is an alarm signal that life triggers when it sees itself asphyxiated in the forms of the present, because they do not embrace the affections that need to find their language. It is desire that will respond to this call: it is summoned to act so that life can regain the rhythm of its flow and the subject finds itself in a new design. These are two processes, also distinct and inseparable, whose objective will or will not be achieved depending on the type of response given by desire.
A second word from the Guarani language
I turn again to the Guarani, introducing a second word from their language: Ñe‘raity which means the throat, but whose literal translation is “nest of wordsouls”. This indicates that for the Guarani words begin as embryos (which is true for language in general). And if they are embryos, it is because the body is fertilised by the forces that animate the life of the ecosystem of which it is part. So, what the alarm signal announces is that there are germs of the future nestled in the throat.
Starting from this second contribution of the Guarani and its resonance in the traces in my body of those European thinkers, the notion of soul gains a more precise outline. The affections – effects of the vibrations of the components of the environmental, social and mental ecosystem that incorporate themselves into the soul, generating alterations – are small souls of futures in germ that nestle in the body of the subject.
When this process intensifies, pulsion is tensioned by the friction between these two fields of forces: the small souls of embryonic worlds that press to be born (unknown languages in germ) and the soul moulded in its current language that presses to remain. Such friction drives a movement of creation to give body to the larval words and it is in this movement that changes of language are generated. However, such a movement is not given; it has to be exercised.
Subject: equilibrist between a world that is no longer and others that are to come
From then on, the definition of the subject and the dynamics that constitute him gain more precise contours. The subject is an equilibrist who seeks to support himself in his motion in the topological pulsional strip that constitutes him, tensioned between the form of a world and of a “self” in which life has ceased to pulsate (a form in which the subject recognises himself in the present on its individual face) and the forces of another world and of another self, which pulsate in an embryonic state (which the subject passively experiences in its trans-individual face).
But how to assess whether a world still makes sense or has already lost to other worlds to come? Again, it is in the Guarani that we find a clue to answer this question.
Two more words from the Guarani language
The first word from which this response can be drawn is Tekoporã, translated in the Latin languages as “good living”, a term that entered their lexicon almost always confused with social well-being, when not converted into the hedonism of the bon vivant. In both senses the Guarani word was emptied of its soul, because its[MOU1] literal translation is much more subtle and complex. It is a combination of teko and porã.
Teko is the way of being of a body (not only human) in its current language-soul. Porã is what qualifies this way of being as beautiful and good, inextricably linked, just like several other words of the Guarani language that are formed by the immanence between two terms. The second word is tekovai, in which teko, a body’s way of being, is qualified as vai, which means, inseparably, ugly and bad.
Good” does not refer here to goodness or good in the moral sense; just as “beautiful” does not refer to beauty in the formal sense. For the Guarani, both terms have a vital meaning – that is, it is an ethical perspective that guides them in their evaluations. Good or bad and beautiful or ugly refer to the vital quality of a given body or situation, inseparable from its language, from which its pulsation emanates.
The criterion of evaluation is, therefore, whether the way of being in which that body expresses itself in a certain moment (whether in words or in other languages) allows or not life to affirm itself in its potency. When such a mode is the bearer of high pulsional potency, from life’s point of view it is good and therefore beautiful; and when it is the bearer of low potency, from life’s point of view it is bad and therefore ugly.
In short, the Guarani’s answer to the question of how to evaluate whether a world still has meaning or has already lost it consists in considering the degree of vital pulsation of the soul in its current language, that is, whether it remains a bearer of soul, or whether it has separated from it.
Affections and their evaluative power
Starting from the ethical perspective that the Guarani teach us to evaluate the state of affairs and its resonances in the traces on my body of those European thinkers, I would say that such a perspective is that of affections.
The notion of affection, here, corresponds to the sensation of the vital potency that emanates from a body, according to the degree of pulsation of the soul in the language in which it expresses itself. The potency suffers the impact of the affections, those little souls of embryonic futures that press to find their language. With this impact, language is emptied of its soul and only regains it if the conditions for germination are given to those germ worlds, which then come to integrate it. With this integration there is a transfiguration of language, as well as of the subject.
In summary, affection is the sensation of the impact on the vital potency of a body caused by the friction between the individual and the trans-individual, the driving force of the processes of subjectivation. Such processes may happen or not, according to the response of desire to the effects of this impact on the subject.
Affections vary from the most joyful (those that generate tekoporã) to the saddest (those that generate tekovai). Their decipherment occurs through the touch of the spirit (our spider legs) on the vital thread immersed in the environment. The way of knowing the world through its effects on vital potency, generated by this touch, constitutes primordial knowledge, which I have given various names in the case of spiders: body-knowledge, living-knowledge, ecological-knowledge. In the case of the human species, we can give it other names, such as knowledge-of-affections, or simply intuition.
And if this is the primordial knowledge, it is because what guides it is life in its will to persevere, which imposes on the subject the requirement to create a language guided by the affections, every time this becomes necessary. It is, therefore, with this knowledge that the transition from one world to another is constructed. It is distinct from archive-knowledge, guided by pre-established knowledge in the sociocultural conditions of a world, which the subject accumulates in his individual face; a knowledge that is specific to this world and which perpetuates it.
The knowledge-of-affections is, then, what allows us to evaluate whether a world still makes sense or has already lost to other worlds to come. It is that which must lead desire in its responses to the vital alarm signal so that its actions create the conditions for the germination of embryonic futures. In short, the affections are the ethical compass that guides the spirit to promote duties of the current form of a subject and his world whose soul has been emptied, so as to rescue his procedures and to return his potency to life.
And if this can happen or not, depending on the type of desire response, it is because these vary according to the degree to which the knowledge-of-affections orients them: from the most active to the most reactive. The different desire responses to the vital alarm signal constitute the micropolitical sphere. On them depend the destinies of individual life, and on the clashes between them depend the destinies of collective life.
The unconscious is this factory of worlds, which constitutes the micro-political sphere, responsible for the production and reproduction of individual and collective modes of existence in a given society. From different micro-politics in the management of this factory, characteristic of different regimes of the unconscious, result different formations in the social field and the modes of subjectivation that are intrinsic to it.
The production of worlds under the colonial-racialising-capitalist unconscious regime is managed by an exclusively reactive micropolitics, which even feeds on active movements to put them in its favour. In view of this, it is urgent that we investigate the workings of this factory in order to undo its cogs, without which there is no possibility of effectively dislocating ourselves from the current state of affairs.
I intend to contribute to this investigation in the second part of this essay.
Suely Rolnik – Biography
Psychoanalyst, Full Professor at PUC-SP and guest professor on the Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Living Arts at the National University of Colombia. Author of essays and books published in several countries, her most recent book being Esferas da insurreição. Notas para uma vida não cafetinada (N-1, 2018). She is dedicated to articulating the decolonisation of the unconscious, theoretically and pragmatically, from a clinical-political and transdisciplinary perspective.
Illustrations: Rodrigo Araujo.