n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Geweld in Suid-Afrika : 'n psigoanalitiese perspektief

Supplement 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Violence and crime are ubiquitous in South Africa today. Nevertheless, few of the many discussion programmes or media commentaries succeed in providing an illuminating perspective on it.
By contrast, Johann Rossouw's use of the three structuring societal spheres - the religious, political and economic - which occupy different positions of dominance and subordination in different historical eras, is illuminating. He observes that the religious sphere was dominant in the pre-modern Middle Ages, the political sphere in the modern era, and that the economic sphere occupies the dominant position in the postmodern era. The centre of power in the contemporary world is therefore global neoliberal economics. Rossouw's explanation of the sources of crime in South Africa depends crucially on this.
His illuminating analysis notwithstanding, however, a psychoanalytical conceptual framework would contribute substantially to the clarification of the virtually incomprehensibly violent nature of crime in South Africa since 1994. To this end, Lacan's three "registers", namely the imaginary, the symbolic and the "real", are eminently suitable. Each person has, firstly, an imaginary side to her or his personality - one's "self" or ego. Secondly, every person has a symbolic (linguistic) side - a name through which you fit into family structures, which, in turn, fit into society in a specific way. Thirdly, one has a "real" side to one's personality - not in the ordinary sense of "real", but in the sense of that which cannot be expressed in language: the "thing" within you that resists comprehension.
Another psychoanalytical concept that has to be utilized here is "trauma". In Lacanian terms, "trauma" means the disintegration of the symbolic and imaginary horizon (conceptual framework) by means of which people understand their world. A parent who loses a child in a car accident, or a hijacking incident, experiences the full impact of trauma - an initial, paralyzing condition of shock, followed (or accompanied) by a kind of blind "repetition" or re-living of the event. This paves the way for the difficult symbolic "integration" of the traumatic event into one's life. Trauma, whether personal or collective, therefore forces one to search, via language and imagination, for meaning in something experienced as senseless - something that could occur in the sphere of the religious, the political or the economic.
Collectively, South Africans have experienced two successive traumas. First there was the imposition of apartheid on black people, something that was manifested in a symbolic framework of its own, no matter how morally deplorable it may have been. Then, in 1994, South Africans had to face another "trauma" in the sense of an inescapable transition to a radically different socio-political symbolic framework, in the guise of a democratic constitution. This required of citizens to leave the old "order" of apartheid behind and henceforth to think and act in terms of the newly sanctioned democratic symbolic order. Here the present priority accorded to the economic sphere plays a crucial role. With the embrace of global, neoliberal economic principles in South Africa, those people who possess the fewest economically marketable skills are also the most vulnerable. In the course of reconfiguring the symbolic social order, doing so in economic terms is prioritized, the accompanying political noises concerning the "rainbow nation" notwithstanding. Moreover, a relatively small percentage of the population is (and can be) actively engaged in economic activities that are susceptible to the economy of globalization, which typically requires information- and communication-technology skills. The rest - mainly illiterate and unskilled workers - fall through the cracks.
This is the crux of the matter: with the "normal" connection between the psychic structures of the imaginary, the symbolic and the "real" they are separate, yet interdependent and necessarily connected. This is indispensable for normal, "healthy" interpersonal social relations. But under the social conditions sketched here, where the economic predominates ruthlessly, a short-circuit occurs among the three registers, in so far as the symbolic sphere cannot fulfil its indispensable function, of mediating in a comprehensive, community-creating manner between the imaginary and the "real". Why?
The imaginary order refers to the particular ego or self, which has as its counterpart the "other ego" (one's "neighbour"). The "real" aspect of one's psyche pertains to the ineffable "thing" in each person - that which cannot be symbolised, and which is therefore not susceptible to "the law" as it is inscribed in the symbolic order. The symbolic order refers to the "universal" domain of language and concepts, which is simultaneously the sphere of norms and of the "moral law". Without the symbolic no sense of community or society is possible. In South Africa the register of the symbolic (in conjunction with the other two) is indispensable for the cultivation of a new sense of community. Failing this, a short-circuit occurs between the other two - that of the ego (imaginary) and of the "thing" (the "real"). Consequently, instead of being able to see the "other ego" as my counterpart who is, just like myself (ego), subject to the moral law (symbolic), thus preventing the "thing" and the imaginary from "fusing", this is precisely what happens. Symbolic mediation disappears, and the other ego is experienced as mere, inhuman "thing", corresponding to the "thing" in the self, which manifests itself in the shape of "monstrous" acts. Under such conditions people become desensitised to the imperative, to treat others as moral beings.
This explains why criminal acts in South Africa are inhumanly horrific and brutal - why parents burn or mutilate their children or each other, and why hijackers kill, maim or burn their victims. As long as the severely limited, "exclusive" economic sphere is prioritized in an effort to secure a new symbolic sphere in South Africa, the present slaughter will continue. The attempts made in several other places to contribute to the construction of a new symbolic sphere are not sufficient to counteract the necessarily fragmenting nature of neoliberal economics, which is a process conducive to fragmentation, not community-formation. A concerted effort at the construction of an inclusive symbolic sphere (a "shared vocabulary") is the only possible solution, as long as this is not construed as an all-encompassing ideology.

In hierdie artikel word geargumenteer dat 'n psigoanalitiese perspektief op die verstommende omvang en brutaliteit van geweld en misdaad in hedendaagse Suid-Afrika belangrike insigte na vore bring waarvoor ander teoretiese raamwerke blind is, vanweë die kwasi-transendentale, psigostrukturele moment wat eie is aan die psigoanalise. Daar word kortliks aandag geskenk aan Rossouw se benadering, wat die onderskeid tussen drie samelewingsfere - die religieuse, politieke en ekonomiese - asook hul afwisselende posisie van historiese dominansie, benut om die kwessie van geweld aan te spreek. In weerwil van die heuristiese waarde van Rossouw se analise, moet dit uiteindelik uitgebrei word om die probleem van agentskap toereikend te akkommodeer. Daarom word 'n Lacaniaanse raamwerk gebruik om aan te toon dat mense as agente van handeling alleenlik toereikend begryp kan word indien die verskillende vlakke waarop hul subjektiwiteit geartikuleer is - die imaginêre, die simboliese en die "reële" - in aanmerking geneem word. So gesien, blyk dit dat naamlose geweld in die huidige Suid-Afrika verstaan kan word as die manifestasie van 'n mislukking op die vlak van die simboliese: waar mense as ego's op die imaginêre vlak mekaar weliswaar as onderskeibare individue ("bure") ervaar, word die onuitspreeklike "ding" in individue met gewelddadige gevolge geaktiveer, aangesien die bemiddelende universaliserende funksie van die simboliese orde, wat die ervaring van die gemeenskaplik-menslike moontlik maak, gefragmenteer word deur die oormatige konsentrasie van simboliese aktiwiteit in die neoliberale ekonomiese sfeer. Alleenlik via omvattende, inklusiewe taalaktiwiteit kan 'n simboliese orde geskep word waarin alle Suid-Afrikaners kan deel, en kan die slagting gestuit word.

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