Opinion: Dunker’s Blog – Work from the 80s is basic for psychoanalysis to understand our current violence

The five essays that make up “Violence and Psychoanalysis”, re-released now by the publisher Zagodoni, constitute a historical landmark of Brazilian psychoanalysis. First published in 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, one year before the Direct now and from the Apertura, the same year before I entered the psychology course, the text became, for the future psychoanalysts of my generation, a beacon and an unavoidable precedent for everything that came after.

Let us remember that months before, in September 1983, the article by Hélio Pellegrino “Edipic Pact, Social Pact” appeared, in the Folhetim supplement, of Folha de S.Paulo, where we read, astonished, in the times of Diretas Já, and the political reopening:

“The migrants, the paus-de-arara, the boias-frias, the 40 million Brazilians reduced to absolute poverty, these have nothing —absolutely nothing— that leads them to respect and cherish Brazilian society. , as human beings and labor force. (…) The absolute poor have no reason to maintain the social pact with a society that reduces them to the condition of detritus, at the same time that, in their ruling strata, they surrender corruption and debauchery with impunity. He has every reason to hate and repel this society. By breaking with the social pact, insofar as he does not have a political-transforming – and liberating – alternative, he breaks, at the same time, and by retroaction, with the Culture Law.” [1]

If Pellegrino’s text was a kind of manifesto denunciation, an unexpected folding of psychoanalysis as a critical device, whose horizon was the Brazilian social process itself, Jurandir Freire Costa was its systematization, the first tangible chapter of a program that would impose itself on the psychoanalytic debate the next thirty years.

His five essays for a theory of Brazil address three crucial themes — identity, racism and violence — and two critical contexts — mental health and education—, all of them crossed by a metapsychological concept: narcissism.

We are here twelve years before Maria Rita Kehl’s “Displacements of the Feminine”, fourteen years before Joel Birman’s “Illness in the Present”, eighteen years before Cida Bento’s “Narcissistic Pacts in Racism: Whiteness and Power” .

For my generation Jurandir was always a kind of practical model of how psychoanalysis could become Brazilian without ever losing its rigor.

A formative lesson that it was necessary to learn, and quickly, to think like historians of our own objects and concepts, to think like anthropologists of our own culture, to renew psychoanalysis from the language sciences, to criticize psychiatry without mercy, but to know her much more than our vain psychopathology imagined.

When addressing homoeroticism [2], the history of psychiatry [3], to family norm [4], the epistemology of clinical practice [5], the processes of individualization in modernity [6], whether for the morality of consumption [7] or of romantic narratives [8], Jurandir corrupted a kind of descriptive cultural essayism, done by non-psychoanalysts like Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff (actually Susan Sontag) and then by Bauman, Sennett and Lipovetsky, introducing a type of consequential engagement typical of those who manage at the same time to attend the game of research and academia, without losing clinical experience and proximity as direct social suffering.

In this sense, Jurandir was, once again, a paradigmatic example. In this way, he managed to bring the novelties of Davidson’s philosophical pragmatism to the Brazilian psychoanalytic debate without losing sight of direct and forceful positions on the Brazilian anti-asylum reform process.

Another tortuous path that Jurandir expanded concerns its belonging to associations such as the Círculo Brasileiro de Psicânia and the Sexto Lobo project [9] at a time when those who had simultaneous links with the university and with the psychoanalytic training entities of civil society were strongly criticized.

A single big problem arose, therefore, as we enviously admired Jurandir’s understated elegance: his consistent and consistent non-Lacanism.

The seminal work on “Violence and Psychoanalysis” seems to be a synthesis of this ethical and critical, clinical and political program.

It begins with a critique of the concept of violence, which is still current. Violence should not be seen, as we still often see in psychoanalytic discourses, as a predicative concept, relegated to a more or less stable meaning, coinciding with itself.

For Jurandir, the notion of violence corresponds more to a movement, similar, in this sense, to the notion of passion or madness [10].

Now, the alternation system between the most extreme objectification of violence, as an aggressive concreteness and the subjectivation that generalizes it, as an interpretive meaning or inherent movement of the drive, sexuality or the unconscious, indicates the need to isolate causes, in order to offer antidotes from there .

Here, one can already sense the coming criticism against the abusive uses of the notion of structure, notably in this case mobilized to justify a kind of universal violence of human relations.

This effect would be obtained by synchronizing three arguments of heterogeneous origin in Freud [11]:

  1. The thesis that sexuality affects the child in a traumatic way, then involved in violence, as presented in “Three Essays for a Theory of Sexuality”.
  2. The hypothesis that the origin of the state of civilization depended on a violent act, the parricide described in “Totem and Taboo”.
  3. The inference that the origin of the drive is the death drive, as such enveloped in aggressiveness and violence, as can be seen from “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”.

Developmental psychology, anthropology and metaphysics are mobilized to justify a kind of immanent violence, placing culture as a kind of mitigation doomed to failure, always more or less insufficient, as will be seen from the synthetic moment represented by the correspondence with Einstein, in why war, where Freud disdains inventions to completely reduce war to a state of perpetual peace, leading to the habit enshrined by psychoanalysts of thinking that both culture and psyche only exist through the intercession of violence [12].

For inverse reasons, this will also be the result of those who, like Bourdieu and Passeron, think of culture as symbolic violence simply because it “selects arbitrarily, according to sociological needs that serve some dominant groups and classes [excluindo] certain meanings of the universe of cultural reproduction” [13].

The intuition of structural violence thus becomes accepted both by culturalism and by psychoanalytic naturalism, consolidated and prolonged in the idea, current in Lacanism, that violence would be structural, like trauma, grief, lack and got over it.

As if the universal law of prohibition of incest, in the difference between culture and nature, were identical to the historically individualized law in the sphere of the legal system, both gathered in the law of language and welded together by the superego.

Basically, the three basic narratives to justify constitutive violence in psychoanalysis reduce, in the first case, violence to aggressiveness, improperly apply the notion of violence in its association with death and destructiveness, and in the third case, they incur a logical error to attributing violence to a pre-civilizational state of nature, where by definition this term does not apply, as a connection to violation of the law.

This third error is known in political science and it is inherited from a certain type of reading by Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau who understand the notion of contract, there thematized as an anthropological and not eminently political notion. [14].

Freud, a colleague of Hans Kelsen, seemed aware of this difficulty when he explained in his response to Einstein that the end of wars would depend on the emergence of a central authority, endowed with the power to exert violence capable of arbitrating all conflicts of interest, but that nevertheless we should be aware of the difference in prevalence between individual violence and community violence [15].

In other words, anthropology does not only live from the opposition between culture and nature, but also from the opposition between the individual and the collective. Note well, the opposition between individual and society is the symptomatic solution to this system of oppositions, since it denies the gap between the anthropological and the historical plane, as well as between collective and individual history.

This should serve as a warning to those like Lacan who understand violence as a kind of imaginary remanence, a deadly force of the Real or a deficit in the Oedipal parental authority, which would not have sufficiently “worded” the irrationality of identifying emotions.

Now, the greatest usefulness of the notion of Real is precisely to show that there is a gap, not reducible, a non-reductive monism between the epistemology of the subject, as a provisional hypothesis of the individual who assumes his language through speech, and the cultural varieties of symbolic expression, in different languages.

That is, there is a gap between the symbolic-imaginary system in the subject and the imaginary-symbolic system of cultural values, kinship structures, types of myth, family modalities, local incidences of the rules of law.

To reduce this gap to pre-psychoanalytic oppositions, of the reason-unreason type, or affect and cognition, is precisely to refuse the non-identity between the notion, the concrete incidence and the uses of violence. Violence is an effect of real meaning, because:

“The violated subject perceives in the violent subject the desire for destruction that the aggressive action takes on the meaning of violence.” [16]

Such an understanding of violence seems at all compatible with the inversion of the “Totem in Taboo” argument, produced by Lévi-Strauss and Lacan. It is not the father that creates the law, but the law that creates the father, as “the empirical source of the law and not its transcendental place” [17].

In this way, equally reverse consequences arise for the concept of narcissism, notably the idea that the closer to the ideal social type, the more sexual pleasure approaches this feeling of identity, the greater the process of violence against oneself [18].

The Lacanian notion of jouissance as a concept capable of incorporating the two outstanding features of the Freudian theory of violence infiltrates here: the relationship between individual and community violence (enjoyment as a phantasmatic interpretation of the pleasure of others) and the antinomy between violence as an act against the violence against oneself in the processes of identification (jouissance as narcissistic difference).


[1] Pellegrino, H. (1983) Social Pact, Oedipal Pact. Leaflet of Folha de S.Paulo. September 11, 1983.

[2] Freire Costa, J. (1995) Face and Back: studies on homoeroticism II. Rio de Janeiro: Campus.
________ Innocence and Vice: studies on homoeroticism. Rio de Janeiro: Campus.

[3] Freire Costa, J. (1976) History of Psychiatry in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, Garamond, 2007.

[4] Freire Costa, J. (1983) Medical Order and Family Policy. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará.

[5] Freire Costa, J. (1994) Redescriptions of Psychoanalysis. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará.

[6] Freire Costa, J. (2007) The Risk of Each One and other essays on psychoanalysis and culture. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond.
________. (1999) Public Reasons, Private Emotions. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco.

[7] Freire Costa, J. (2004) The Vestige and the Aura: body and consumerism in the moral of the show. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond.

[8] Freire Costa, J. (1998) No Fraud or Favor: Studies on Romantic Love. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco.

[9] Aragão, LT, Calligaris, C.. Freire Costa, J. and Souza, O. (1991) Social Clinic. São Paulo: Listen.

[10] Freire Costa, J. (2020) Violence and Psychoanalysis. São Paulo: Zagodoni.

[11] Same thing as: 15

[12] The same thing: 17.

[13] The same thing: 19

[14] “A contract can only be made when the institution of the promise and the norms regarding the fulfillment of the promises are established. Therefore, the alleged primordial state is in no way pre-institutional, nor pre-legal, nor pre-moral. It is believed that this state cannot function in Freud’s narrative in the way he seeks to inculcate.” (quoting McIntire) Idem: 36.

[15] The same thing: 25

[16] The same thing: 31

[17] The same thing: 36

[18] The same thing: 33

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