Issue #86 The Spheres of Insurrection: Suggestions for Combating the Pimping of Life

The Spheres of Insurrection: Suggestions for Combating the Pimping of Life

Suely Rolnik

Issue #86
November 2017

It is always a question of freeing life wherever it is imprisoned, or of tempting it into an uncertain combat.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 19911

The exhaustion of natural resources is probably much less advanced than the exhaustion of subjective resources, of vital resources, that is afflicting our contemporaries. If so much satisfaction is derived from surveying the devastation of the environment it’s largely because this veils the frightening ruin of subjectivities. Every oil spill, every sterile plain, every species extinction is an image of our souls in rags, a reflection of our lack of world, of our intimate impotence to inhabit it.
—The Invisible Committee, 20142

The world is in convulsion, and so are we. We are taken by a malaise, comprised of a mix of sensations. A dread in the face of the sinister landscape brought about by the rise of reactive forces everywhere, whose level of violence and barbarity reminds us of the worst moments in history. Along with fear, we are also taken by a perplexity in the face of another phenomenon, simultaneous with the first: the takeover of worldwide power by the capitalist system in its new version—financialized and neoliberal—which extends its colonial project to its ultimate limits, its globalitarian realization.

At first glance, the simultaneity of these two phenomena seems paradoxical, which blurs our comprehension and leaves us confused: the high degree of complexity and perverse refinement proper to the neoliberal way of life is light-years ahead of the narrow-minded archaism of the brute forces of this new conservatism. They are symptoms of radically different reactive forces, originating in distinct historical moments, coexisting in our contemporaneity. But after the initial shock, we understand that neoliberalism needs these rude subjectivities to do the dirty work of destroying all the achievements of democratic, republican culture, dissolving its imaginary and eradicating from the scene its protagonists—including the left in all its nuances, but not only. Lacking moral limits of any kind, reactive subjectivities fulfill their task at a dizzying speed and with intense violence—as soon as we recognize one of their coups, another has just happened. Carrying out this task gives them a perverse narcissistic juissance to the point of being pathetic. The ground is prepared for a frictionless and unencumbered free flow of transnational capital.

Added to the fear and astonishment, there is a deep frustration with the recent dissolution of several leftist governments throughout the world, especially in Latin America—which, not by chance, happens simultaneously with the rise of reactive forces of conservatism and neoliberalism, temporarily united. Such frustration mobilizes the traumatic memory of the unfortunate fate of twentieth-century revolutions. A state of alert settles into our subjectivity, as when the scarcity of essential resources exceeds a limit, putting life itself at risk. These are traumatic situations before which we either succumb (a pathological response that saps our vital potency) or widen the horizon of our gaze, which gives us more precision in deciphering the violence and inventing ways of fighting it (a response which preserves our vital potency, and even intensifies it, in certain cases). In the moments when, in the face of the trauma that we are experiencing, the second response wins, we can see an insurmountable limit against which left-wing projects stumble, especially institutional ones. Such a view imposes on us the task of problematizing this limit, in order to create the conditions of its overcoming.

First of all, we are forced to recognize that this barrier is not located only outside the territory of the left, imposed by adverse forces that are external to it. In fact, it is chiefly located inside the left’s own territory, whose horizon ends at the borders of the macropolitical sphere. This is the sphere of the shapes of a world, and its own modes of existance: the positions and functions set out in the social map, the modes of relation between them, as well as their codes and their representations. As the left-wing acts only in this sphere, its territory is confined to the dominant form of the world in which it has its origin and unfoldings: the colonial-capitalistic3 world. The perspective guiding the resistance of the left remains thus trapped inside the logic of the very regime that it (we) wants to overcome. Keeping this in mind, it is not surprising that left-wing actions are not only unable to fight the colonial-capitalistic regime, but also result in its dreary reproduction.

It is indisputable that within this regime, the left-wing positions are the fairest, because in different ways and to different degrees the left seeks a less asymmetrical distribution of places—not only in the political arena, but also in the social and economic ones—as well as a state that supports this extension of equality. If this fight is undoubtedly indispensable and has an undeniable value, the problem is that it leaves out the microsphere: the sphere of unconscious formations in the social field, to which corresponds a certain dominant politics of subjectivation and its respective politics of desire, with which any regime, of whatever kind, acquires its existential consistency, and without which it couldn’t be sustained.

Even when the left, especially the institutional left, talks about modes of existence, it tends to do so only from a macropolitical perspective. The left wing thinks of the oppressed as identitarian entities and tends to crystallize them, neutralizing the creating power (potency) of their subjectivity, thereby preventing this “creating power” from fulfilling its function: to respond to the need for change that emerges in the relational fabric of collective life. Worser still is when the focus is on groups of disadvantaged people who don’t fit into the category of the “worker”—the identitarian place where the oppressed are confined in the lefts imaginary, reduced to class relations. The lefts tend to fetishize these people or even to render them folkloric, giving to these figures turned into caricatures a lot in the official map of democracy, which will only allow access to civil rights. This is the central goal of the lefts resistence: what moves them in this operation is the an urge to promote the “inclusion” of such groups into the existing map, resulting in their submissive adaptation to the hegemonic mode of subjectivation. That is the case, for example, of the lefts approach towards indigenous peoples in Brazil. This focus on mere inclusion suggests us that left-wing not only assumes the dominant mode of existence as its reference, but also considers it as “the” sole and universal reference, denying any alterity. The consequence is that they lose the crucial opportunity to inhabit the relational fabric woven by these different modes of existence and, above all, to sustain its possible shifting effects that could render void the dominant cartography. More worryingly, when such effects happen and new modes of existence emerge within collective life, they are read by the left-wing through the same lens, and tend to be similarly confined to identitarian entities. This is the case, for example, with the current movements that disrupt dominant notions of gender, sexuality, race, etc. The singularization processes underway in these insurrections are ignored, thereby neutralizing their vital impulse for transmuting the dominant modes of subjectivation and the changes of the individual and collective forms of existence this impulse could unleash in such cartograpy. In short, what is ignored and neutralized is their strength for micropolitical resistance. Although some left-wing groups recognize these movements, their readings tend to reduce them to the issue of inequality, narrowing the focus of these uprisings to the class struggle. This persistent reduction of the vision and modes of action of the left to the macropolitical sphere is responsible for the left’s helplessness in the face of the challenges of the present, which keeps it (the left) imprisoned in sterile academic lucubrations on democracy. In such lucubrations the lefts insist on “demo” (people in Greek) in the notion of “democracy”, which they translate as “governement of the people”, denying a fondamental detail of its original sens in Greek which gives it the meaning of “self- governement” of the people. This leads to reduce the discussion on the current crisis of democracy to the question of how to reform the state machine in order to better represent the people.

The dreary fate of left resistance and the repeated frustration it provokes in us, added to the confusion and the fear mobilized by the current state of things, is what leads us today to become aware of the absolute limitations of the macropolitical horizon on the leftist territory. Here and there erupt insurrections with new strategies in response to the violence against life, in all its nuances, for which the pair right/left is no longer a sufficient operator to delineate the forces at stake and to hit the strugle target. Isn’t the presence of micropolitical insurrection what surprises us in the new resistance movements bursting everywhere mainly in the younger generations— especially in the metropolitan suburbs, in particular among the women, black, and LGBTQ people—, as in the indigenous comunities? Isn’t this precisely what fascinates us in these movements, despite the difficulty of deciphering and naming it? It is not exactly such movements that are preventing us from succumbing to the melancholic and fatalistic paralysis that would thrown us into the bleak landscape that surrounds us today? In these territories-in-formation which are gradually being populated, there is an effective change of the politics of subjectivation. Their horizon expands the reach of our vision, allowing us to foresee the micropolitical sphere. How does the violence of colonial capital operates in this sphere?

A frozen embryo of a Bark Anole (Anolis distichus), an arboreal lizard.

The Abuse of the Vital Force

What distinguishes the colonial-capitalistic system is the pimping of life as a force for creation and transmutation. This force is life’s essence and its condition for persistence, in which lies its greater goal, i.e., its ethical destiny. This profane rape of life is the matrix of the system in this sphere, to the point that we can designate it as pimping-capitalistic. The vital force of the entire biosphere is expropriated and corrupted by that system: the land, the air, the water, the sky, the plants, the animals, and the human species. In our species, such rape has particular characteristics, arising from the way the vital force is materialized, which depends on a process of creation that makes the options multiple, implying the need to make a choice. For this reason, Freud assigned the name “drive” to the human vital force, distinguishing it from instinct. On the one hand, this specificity of ours broadens the possibilities for the transmutation of world-forms when life asks for it; on the other, it makes our species the only one that can prevent the fulfillment of this ethical exigency. And when that happens, the effect is a disempowerment of life, interrupting its germinative process, destroying the vital energy sources of the biosphere—which, in humans, includes the subjective resources for its preservation.

If the Marxist tradition, originating in industrial capitalism, made us realize that the expropriation of the human vital force in its manifestation as labor is the source of capital accumulation, the new version of capitalism leads us to recognize that such expropriation is not confined to this domain. In its new fold, this regime feeds off the energy of the drive: the very impulse to create forms of existence and cooperation in which the claims of life materialize into new modes of existence, transforming present scenarios and transvaluing their values. Diverted by the regime from its ethical fate, the drive is channeled to build worlds according to the purposes of the dominant regime: the accumulation of economic, political, cultural, and narcissistic capital. In short, the violation of the vital force produces a trauma that makes subjectivity go deaf to the drive’s claims, which corrupts desire: it stops being guided by the impulse to preserve life, and can even act against it. The results of this politics of desire are scenarios in which life seems increasingly deteriorated, reaching thresholds today that threaten its own continuity. This is precisely the violence of the colonial-capitalistic regime in the micropolitical sphere: a cruelty typical of a perverse politics of desire—subtle, refined, invisible, unreachable by perception. It is a violence similar to that of the pimp who, in order to instrumentalize his prey, operates by means of seduction. Under his spell, the prostitute tends to not realize the pimp’s cruelty; on the contrary, she tends to idealize him, which leads her to surrender to the abuse of her own desire.

Strange-Familiar: The Inescapable Paradox of Subjective Experience

I propose the name “colonial-capitalistic unconscious” to designate the dynamics of the unconscious typical of the existing regime. The main feature of the colonial-capitalistic unconscious is the reduction of subjectivity to its subject’s experience. But what is this experience?

Intrinsic to the sociocultural condition of humans and shaped by their imaginary, the function of the subject is to enable us to decipher the forms of society we live in, its codes and its relational dynamics. Such deciphering is done by the practice of cognition, made possible by our abilities of perception and feeling (psychological emotion), which are marked by the sociocultural representation repertoires that structure the subject and its language. We associate what we perceive and feel with certain representations and we project these representations onto it, which allows us to classify and recognize it in order to produce meaning. In this sphere of experience, sensory and sentimental, the other is experienced as an external body, separated from the subject, which relates to the other through communication based on a shared language. It is in the experience of the subject that habits are constituted, giving us a sense of familiarity. This is the macropolitical sphere of human life; inhabiting it is essential in order to live in society. The problem of the colonial-capitalistic unconscious is the reduction of subjectivity to the subject, which excludes its immanent experience of our living condition: the outside-the-subject. This exclusion is extremely harmful to life.

In our living condition we are constituted by the effects of forces, with their diverse and mutable relationships that stir the vital flows of a world. These forces traverse all the bodies that compose the world, making them one sole body in continuous variation, whether or not we are conscious of it. We can designate these effects as affects. It is an experience that is extrapersonal (since there is no personal contour, since we are the variable effects of the forces of the world, which compose and recompose our bodies), extrasensory (since it happens via affect, distinct from perception), and extra-sentimental (since it happens via vital emotion, distinct from psychological emotion). We usually call “intuition” the extra-cognitive mode of decoding that is proper to affect’s power of assessment. However, this is a word so worn out in our culture—because of a neglect of what is not from the rational order proper to the subject—that I propose to replace it with “body-knowing” or “life-knowing,” an eco-ethological knowing.

Unlike communication, the means of relating with the other in this sphere is empathy, in which there is no distinction between the cognizant subject and external object. In the subjective experience outside-the-subject, the other lives effectively in our body; it dwells in us through its effects, the affects. It is with its living presence that empathy takes place. By inhabiting our body, the forces of the world impregnate us, creating embryos of other worlds. These produce in us a sense of strangeness, distinct from the familiarity provided by our experience as subjects.

The Malaise of the Paradox Calls Desire to Act

The subjective experiences of the subject (the personal) and of the outside-the-subject (the extrapersonal) therefore produce two totally different sensations: the familiar and the strange. These work simultaneously and inseparably, but according to distinct logics and temporalities. There is no possibility of synthesis or translation between them; their relationship is marked by an irreducible paradox that is unavoidable in principle. Attempting to germinate, the embryos of worlds trigger the movement of the drive, leading life to take shape in other forms of world that would result from their germination. These are not made in opposition to existing forms, but through the affirmation of a becoming that endangers their perpetuation. Destabilized by the paradoxical experience of strange-familiar, subjectivity experiences a tension between two movements. On the one hand, the movement that presses it toward the conservation of life in its essence as the power for germination, in order to be embodied in new modes of existence. On the other, the movement that presses it toward the conservation of existing modes in which life is temporarily embodied and subjectivity can recognize itself in its experience as a subject.

The malaise caused by the tension between the strange and the familiar, as well as between the two movements triggered by this paradoxical experience, functions as an alarm that summons desire to take action in order to recover a vital, emotional, and existential balance, a balance shaken by the emergence of a new world and the dissolution of the existing worlds. A constant negotiation between these two movements is imposed on desire. It is precisely at this point that the politics of desire are defined—from the most active to the most reactive. Action and reaction are distinguished by the results of a negotiation between those two movements, the kind of choice that desire will privilege. This choice is not neutral, because from it results distinct fates of the drive, which imply distinct unconscious formations in the social field, carriers of greater or smaller affirmation of life. Such is the battlefield in the sphere of micropolitics.

The second deepest indoor swimming pool in the world, Nemo 33, is located in Brussels, Belgium. 

The Colonial-Capitalistic Unconscious

In subjectivities under the control of the colonial-capitalistic unconscious and as such reduced to the experience of a subject, a reactive micropolitics prevails that tends to impose exclusively the movement of conservation of the forms in which life is embodied in the present. Dissociated from its condition of living and thus ignoring the ongoing process of change that characterizes the dynamics of the vital force (which in the human, corresponds to the dynamics of the drive), subjectivity experiences the pressure from embryos of other worlds as a threat of dissolution of the self and of its existential field, since “this world,” the one in which the subject dwells and which structures it, is lived as “the world,” sole and absolute. Under these conditions, to regain a balance, desire clings to established forms, which it seeks to preserve at any cost. The greater the destabilization, the more vehemently subjectivity encloses itself in what is established or received, defending it tooth and nail, and may even deploy high levels of violence to ensure its permanence.

It is this separation of subjectivity from its living condition that paves the way for desire to surrender (with juissance) to the pimping of the drive. Such surrender manifests itself in the conversion of the drive’s force for creation into mere creativity, which re-accommodates the established cartography, producing new scenarios for the accumulation of capital. In situations of crisis, surrender manifests itself in the investment of the drive in collective movements clamoring for the maintenance of the status quo, such as in the case of the vertiginous rise of conservatism today. The juissance of the subject, in both cases, comes from its illusion of belonging, a placebo for the fear of stigmatization and social shame that the destabilization of its world provokes, since it interprets it as a threat of collapse. This type of desiring action results in a hapless fate for the drive: the interruption of the process of germination of collective life. And if it is in the collective existence that this process is interrupted, it is because even if the germination is suspended only in the existence of an individual or group, it necessarily generates a necrosis point in the life of the social body as a whole.

The profane abuse of the drive is difficult to grasp since it happens in an invisible sphere covered by a spell of perverse seduction. However, its numerous manifestations in the social field are fully accessible to those who can tolerate seeing the process of degradation of life, present in all these symptoms of its violation. The most obvious are the relations with the environment that generate ecological disasters. Or the power relations based on classism, machismo, homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, chauvinism, nationalism, colonialism, etc. These relations confine the other in an imaginary place of inferiority or even subhumanity, leading to its total invisibility and nonexistence, and even its concrete elimination, which, in extreme cases, consists in the very disappearance of its body. These manifestations are not mere epiphenomena of the regime, but symptoms of its very “bone-marrow” in the sphere of the dominant politics of desire and subjectivation.

In the face of this, it is not enough to subvert the order of the places designated for each character at play in the scene of power relations (macropolitical insurrection); we must abandon those characters themselves and their politics of desire (micropolitical insurrection), which may render the continuity of the scene itself impracticable. The dissolution of the regime depends unavoidably on the insurrection against violence everywhere and in all human activities in both the macro and micro spheres, which operate with disparate and paradoxical logics and temporalities. This is the necessary condition to achieve an effective transmutation of the present. In its new version, the regime has managed to colonize the whole planet, affecting its macro- and micropolitical guts, to the point that no human activity can escape from it today.

If the left horizon is limited to the macropolitical sphere it is because the subjectivity which tends to predominate in its territories is also structured by the pimping-capitalistic unconscious, hence its inability to reach the micropolitical sphere. It is already a big step to recognize this fact, instead of remaining paralyzed in an endless melancholic lament over left impotency towards the new form of capitalism or frustration with left-wing governments. But it is not enough to realize it; we must take one step further, a step indispensable for creating adequate means of resistance to the actual state of things: we must explore the micropolitical sphere, its differences from the macropolitical one, and the inextricable connection between both. What follows are some notes in this direction.

I. Macropolitical Insurrection: A Programmatic Protest of Consciousness

Focus (visible and audible): the asymmetry of rights in the social relations established by the colonial-capitalistic regime. These consist in power relations that are manifested not only in the context of social classes, but also in the context of relations of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, coloniality, etc.

Agents (only humans): all those who occupy subordinate positions in the power relations that predominate in all fields of social life.

What moves its agents: the urge to “denounce” the injustices of the world in its current form, which tends to mobilize consciences.

Intent (empowering the subject): to free oneself from oppression and exploitation; to leave the state of invisibility and inaudibility in order to occupy affirmatively a place of speech and possess the right to a dignified existence. It is about dismantling the asymmetry in power relations, promoting a redistribution of positions that is more equal—not only in politics but also in social and economic fields.

Criteria for evaluating situations (moral): a certain system of values. It is this moral compass that orients our choices and actions in the macropolitical sphere.

Operating mode (by opposition): to oppose the oppressor, to subvert the distribution of positions within existing power relations. These are strategies to fight against oppression and the laws that support it in all its manifestations in individual and collective life.

Mode of cooperation (construction of organized movements and/or political parties via identity recognition): such construction is programmatic, departing from a previously defined action plan with goal related towards a common demand (a concrete demand, in this case) and based on a similar subordinate position in a particular segment of society. In this position, which belongs to the sphere of the “person” in subjective experience, is drawn an alleged identity contour, which facilitates the necessary grouping. The problem is when subjectivity confines and reduces itself to this contour, interrupting the subjectivation processes, which result from the tension between the personal and the extrapersonal. Several of these segments can be united in one movement (around the claims involving, for example, gender, race, and class), just as movements of different segments can get together around a cause that concerns all. This mode of cooperation generates pressure to force an effective reversal in power relations at the institutional level (which includes the state and its laws, but is not limited to it). This kind of work is finalized when such a reversal is effected in the particular field in which the struggle took place.

II. Micropolitical Insurrection: A Drive’s Protest of the Unconscious

Focus (invisible and inaudible):[footnote The idea of a “drive’s protest of the unconscious” is related to the notion of a “drive unconscious” proposed by the Brazilian psychoanalyst, João Perci Schiavon. See from this author: “Pragmatismo pulsional” (Drive Pragmatism), in Cadernos de Subjetividade (São Paulo, 2010), 124–31.] the perverse abuse of the vital force of the biosphere in all its elements, including the human, which is the very micropolitical matrix of the colonial-capitalistic regime. In sum, the focus here is the highly aggressive pathology of this regime and its serious consequences for the fate of the planet.

Agents (human and nonhuman): all the elements of the biosphere that rebel against violence towards life. However, the dynamics of response to this violence in human and nonhuman agents are different. The nonhuman instinctively recognizes the vital force anemia resulting from its abuse, and in the face of it produces transmutations that allow it to resume its course. For example, a river that dries out because of excess pimping-capitalistic trash may rebel, returning to flow now underground, where it is protected from these toxic effects;4 or a tree may bloom before spring, preventing the sterility that can result from excess pollution.

Nevertheless, in humans, as the response to this abuse depends on the dominant politics of desire, it varies according to different cultures. Under the colonial-capitalistic culture, the reduction of subjectivity to the experience as a subject, inseparable from the abuse of the drive, leads us to interpret the fragile state in which we find ourselves as a sign of collapse. Desire thus clings to the status quo, acting against the perseverance of life, and not in its favor: we become the walking dead, or zombies. The agents of micropolitical insurrection in the human field are therefore all those who seek to resist the rape of their vital drive and resume the power to decide its fate, thus regaining ethical responsibility towards life. Assuming that the decolonization of the unconscious necessarily implies the field of our relationships, from the most intimate to the most distant, the effects of any gesture in this direction are collective.

This kind of strugle traverses the whole of society, whether we are in a position of subordination or sovereignty—strange as this may seem when viewed from the macropolitical viewpoint and the habituated interpretation of reality typical of the left. Even stranger from this point of view is that nothing guarantees that all subalterns are, in principle, potential agents of this insurrection, for their subjectivity may be under the command of the unconscious typical of the dominant regime, even if they fight against it macropolitically. And vice versa: the sovereign may eventually become a micropolitical agent when it manages to move away from this dominant politics of subjectivation.

What moves its agents: the impulse for the perseveration of life, which, in humans, manifests as the impulse to “announce” worlds to come, which tend to awake the unconscious, aggregating new allies to the micropolitical insurgency.

Intent (potentializing life force): to reappropriate the life force and its power of creation, which in humans depends on the reappropriation of language so that the drive can find its utterance (in words, images, gestures, modes of existence, sexuality, etc.), in order to render sensible the worlds which announce themselves to life-knowing. This is the condition for the completion of the drive movement in its ethical destination, producing an event: the transfiguration of the reality of the self and of the world and a transvaluation of its respective values. In other words, combating the pimping of the drive implies building for oneself another body, leaving the shell of a body structured in the dynamics of abuse—as the locusts abandon their exoskeleton so another body, still embryonic, can germinate and take its place.

In short, the micropolitical insurgency is, in itself, a resurrection of the vital force. It is never given once and for all; to achieve it, it is necessary to remain alert about its movements. Producing the “potentialization” of life is thus distinct from “empowering” the subject, an idea belonging to the sphere of macropolitical insurrection. Both intentions are important; the problem is when the insurgency aims only for empowerment, causing us to remain captive to the logic of the very system we seek to combat. Differentiating potentialization and empowerment is especially indispensable for bodies considered of less value in the social imaginary—bodies of women, homosexuals, transsexuals, transgender people, black people, indigenous people, the poor, precarious workers, refugees, etc. When their insurrection embraces potentialization and refuses to restrict itself to the claim of empowerment, it is more likely that the drive’s movement will find its utterance and from it an effective transmutation of individual and collective reality will result.

Criteria for evaluating situations (ethical): what life demands in order to persevere every time it is weakened. An ethical drive-compass guiding desire’s choices and its actions toward a transvaluation of existing values, when these stop making sense and start to suffocate life.

Operating mode (by affirmation): affirming life in its germinative essence, to abandon power relations. Not giving in to the abuse of the drive, which depends on the long work of overcoming the trauma that such abuse necessarily provokes, the de-potentialization of life that sets the stage for its violation. Resisting abuse is the condition for dismantling the power of the colonial-capitalistic unconscious in our own subjectivity, which leaves us entangled in power relations, be it in the position of the subaltern—even when we rise up macropolitically against it—or in the position of the sovereign—even when we are the most macropolitically correct. An example: a woman who remains dependent on the male gaze to exist and, therefore, not only falls into the trap of chauvinist sexist abuse but feeds it with her own desire. This is also true for women trying to get out of this place, but only macropolitically, rising up against inequality. While this rising up is essential, by not incorporating the micropolitical sphere the struggle remains prisoner to the logic of opposition to the male character figure. The combat becomes a struggle for power that keeps the male character figure of the chauvinist sexist scene as the hegemonic reference, and thus maintains the very scene it aimed to combat, contributing to its perpetuation.

But if a woman, or any figure occupying the subaltern position in the script of power relations—as the oppressor’s victim, or as his mere opponent—abandons her role, transfiguring her character to a different one or simply deserting the scene, the oppressor is left talking to himself and the scene can’t go on. Facing the anguish provoked by the destabilization of the scene where he had a place, the oppressor has several possible responses. At best—which is already happening, but only for a minority—this experience can propel him to overcome his disconnect from extrapersonal experience as well as his inability to sustain himself in the tension between the personal and extrapersonal experiences. From then on, he will tend to recreate himself in order to interact with these new character(s)—which, in turn, tend to transmute with this interaction—becoming himself an agent of micropolitical insurrection as well. In this collaboration, a new script might emerge, in which the politics of desire that guides the characters and the relationship between them is no longer subjected to the pimping-capitalistic unconscious, leading to the constitution of new scenes in the social landscape. But it is also obvious that the impossibility of continuing to act as an oppressor can equally provoke a violent backlash, driven by its exasparated will to conserve the scene and its characters at any price. This is, unfortunately, the trend that is most prevalent today, due in part to the tsunami of increasingly narrow and violent conservatism plaguing the planet. One of its manifestations is the exponential increase of femicides in the regions of the world where feminism has intensified and expanded, as is the case in Latin America.

In the operational mode of the micropolitical sphere of insurrection, what is fought is the pathology of the colonial-capitalistic regime: resistance in this sphere is thus inseparably both political and clinical. It is about seeking to heal life of its impotence, which is the sequel from its captivity in the relational plot of abuse that alienates subjectivity from vital demands, holding it hostage to the current regime in its pimping essence. Such healing, on which depends the dissolution of the regime at a micropolitical level, involves a subtle and complex work interrupted only by death. But every time we take a step in this direction, it is a particle of the regime—within us and outside of us—that is dissolved.

Mode of cooperation (construction of the common, via empathy, through resonance between embryos of worlds): to cooperate here is about weaving multiple network connections from distinct situations, experiences, and languages, whose unifyng link is an ethical perspective: the affirmation of life in its transfiguring and transvaluating essence. Thus are created temporary relational territories, varied and variable, in which are produced collective synergies, providers of a reciprocal sheltering that facilitates the work of elaborating the trauma that results from the perverse operation of the colonial-capitalistic regime. This is the condition for success in composing an individual and collective body that is resistant to the pimping of life and capable of repelling it. From such collective reappropriations of the drive comes the potential constitution of fields for the emergence of events, in which other modes of existence and their respective cartographies take shape whenever the embryos of worlds require so in order to germinate. Such events, therefore, result from the processes of collective insurrection, unlike the macropolitical mode of cooperation, in which insurrectionary actions are preprogrammed.

We have to urgently address the challenge of improving our tools for the work involved in the decolonization of the unconscious, the matrix of micropolitical resistance. It is in this direction that I draft below some suggestions.

After the coup, President Temer refuses to live in his former residency as vice-president due to the alledged presence of ghosts. Trolls then assaulted the palace for a picture, a humorous reminder that Temer’s coup must indeed have left the house haunted. 

Ten Suggestions for Decolonizing the Unconscious

1. De-anesthetizing our vulnerability to the forces of the world in their variable diagrams; such vulnerability is the potency of subjectivity in its outside-of-the-subject experience;

2. Activating body-knowing: the experience of the world in its live condition, whose forces produce effects in our living condition;

3. Unblocking access to the tense and paradoxical experience of the strange-familiar;

4. Not denying the resulting fragility of destabilizing deterritorialization that the strange-familiar experience inevitably promotes;

5. Not interpreting the fragility and its malaise as a “bad thing” and not projecting on it phantasmatic readings (premature ejaculations of the ego provoked by its fear of abandonment and collapse and its imaginary consequences: repudiation, rejection, social exclusion, humiliation);

6. Not giving in to the will of conserving forms and to the pressure they exert against life’s will to power (potency) in its impulse towards differentiation. On the contrary, sustaining oneself on the tense line of this unstable state until the creating imagination succeeds in building a place of body-and-utterance, which, being the bearer of the strange-familiar’s pulsation, is capable of actualizing the virtual world announced by this experience, thus allowing the agonizing forms to die;

7. Not running over the creating imagination’s own temporality so that the process of germinating a world is not interrupted. Such an interruption would make the imagination vulnerable to letting itself be diverted towards its own expropriation by the pimping- capitalistic regime. In this expropriation, the creating imagination subjects itself to the imaginary that such a regime seductively imposes, thus becoming sterile;

8. Not renouncing desire in its ethics of life-affirmation, which implies keeping it fertile, flowing in its unlimited process of transfiguration and transvaluation;

9. Not negotiating the nonnegotiable: everything that would obstruct life-affirmation in its essence as a force of creation. Learning to distinguish the nonnegotiable from the negotiable: everything that could be accepted because it does not preclude the vital instituting force, but on the contrary creates the objective conditions for it to produce an event, fulfilling its ethical fate;

10. Practicing thinking in its full function: inextricably ethical, aesthetic, political, critical, and clinical. That is to say, reimagining the world in each gesture, each word, each relation, each mode of existence—whenever life requires so.

Obviously, this is not a prescription for a supposed “cure” for the pathological effects of our culture, in a sort of clinical-political messianism that would replace the debilitated macropolitical messianism contained in revolutionary utopia. This bricolage of the self, on which depends decolonization in the micropolitical sphere, never attains its full and final realization. Through our existence, in the face of new tensions, we oscillate between varied and variable positions in the wide range of possible micropolitics, from the most reactive to the most active. We are always faced with the challenge of combating the reactive tendency within ourselves (the dominant tendency in our culture), of combating the power of the ghosts that take us back to the character we are used to playing in the colonial-capitalistic scene—with which we participate in the abusive relations, whatever our position on it might be.

The decolonizing of the unconscious implies a constant effort to dismantle this character, reappropriating the drive and, guided by it, creating many others characters that live up to life, embodying its transfiguring strength. Facing this challenge requires the infinite work of each and many: it is in this horizon that the reflections shared here are situated.


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Percept, Affect, and Concept,” chap. 7 in What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 171.


Translation from the French by Suely Rolnik, based on the English version in The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, trans. Robert Hurley (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Semiotext(e), 2015), 33.


“Capitalistic” is a notion proposed by Félix Guattari. The French psychanalist takes as its starting point Marx’s idea that capital overcodifies exchange value, homogenizing and submitting all economic activity under its domination. Guattari extends this idea to the processes of subjectivation, which would be equally overcodified and homogenized under the capitalist regime. With this, such regime neutralizes singularities and, above all, it interrupts the processes of singularization that emerge from the encounters between them and the transmutations of reality that these processes would tend to unleash. Similarly to what occurs in economics with this operation, subjectivities tend to submit themselves to the regime’s purposes with their own desire, reproducing the status quo in their choices and actions. The suffix “istic” added by Guatttari to “capitalist” refers to this overcoding; according to him it is one of the main operations of this regime, impacting all the domains of human existence. This idea of Guattari’s has an important place in his thaught, and has been further resumed in his work with Gilles Deleuze, as one of the main axes of their collaboration, since The Anti-Oedipus, their first co-written book.


This actually happened to the Rio Doce (Sweet River), near a village named Krenak in the municipality of Resplendor. Some time after this part of the river was seemingly dead due to the devastating impact of its abuse by the multinational mining company Vale do Rio Doce, it was discovered that the river had started to flow again underground. See Ailton Krenak, “Em busca de uma terra sem tantos males,” in O lugar onde a terra descansa (Rio de Janeiro: Núcleo de Cultura Indígena, 2000).

Capitalism, Colonialism & Imperialism, Psychology & Psychoanalysis
Neoliberalism, Decolonization
Return to Issue #86

Translated from the Portuguese by Vivian Mocellin.

Suely Rolnik is a psychoanalyst, writer, art and cultural critic, founder of the Subjectivity Studies Centre, at the PHD Program on Clinical Psychologie at PUC-SP and was guest professor at the master Program of Independent Studies at the Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MacBa, 2008/2015). Her research focus the politics of subjectivation in different contexts, approached from a trans-disciplinary theoretical perspective, inseparable of a clinical-political pragmatic. She graduated in Sociology and Philosophy (Université Paris 8) and in Clinical Human Sciences at the Université Paris 7, where she obtained her Masters in Institutional Analysis and subsequently her D.E.S.S in Clinical Psychology); she has a PhD in Social Psychology at the Catholic University of São Paulo. She is author of A hora da Micropolítica (N-1, 2016); Anthropophagie Zombie (Black Jack édit, Peris, 2012); Archive mania, Serie 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts No. 022 (HatjCantz/Documenta 13, 2011); Cartografia Sentimental (Sulinas, Porto Alegre 1989; 7a ed. 2015) and with Félix Guattari: Micropolítica. Cartografias do desejo (Vozes, Rio de Janeiro, 1986, 13a ed. 2016), translated and published in many contries (in English with the title: Molecular Revolution in Brazil, by Semiotext/MIT, 2006). Creator of the Archive for a work-event. Project of activation of the body memory of Lygia Clark’s artistic propositons(65 film interviews and a booklet; 2002-2011). She was member of the jury of he Casa de las Americas Prize (Cuba, 2014) and, actually, from Prince Claus Award (2015-2017).


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