Ideology and Psychoanalysis
I. jAmigos, que confusion, II. Ahora la iglesia es la “onda”
que confusion hay formada! y hay navidades felices;
Yo no entiendo nada, nada si ya hay hasta quien dice
de “Santa Revolucion” que la tierra no es redonda;
Patriotismo . . . Religion . . . y que aunque Cristo se esconda
Ya aqui no se sabe bien el lider maximo es “el”
si aplaudir a Dios o a quien y asi en este enredo cruel
y ya no se de esta suerte yo no sabre en adelante
si hay que decir “Patria o Muerte” si Fidel es comandante o
o debo decir “Amen” si es el “Padre Fidel.”10
This popular song became one of the most widespread melodies in 1998 as people were anxiously awaiting the first papal visit to Cuba. The ironic song pointed out the government’s ideological contradictions. After so many years of state-imposed atheism, the Cuban government invited Pope John Paul II, the highest authority of one of the most conservative religious institutions, to the island. The lyrics refer to the state’s political double standard by making clear that the population cannot be duped, since they are aware that the new alliance between church and state responds to mutual economic and political interests. They know that as a result of these new relations, for which Fidel is willing to abandon his principles and even his place as the most powerful leader, the Catholic Church may become an important ally: “yo no sabre en adelante / si Fidel es el comandante o / si es el ‘Padre Fidel.’ ” This example shows both what Peter Sloterdijk calls kynicism, and what he defines as political cynicism. Ideologically speaking, kynicism refers to the ironic dismissal of official culture by the popular classes, which is what the song clearly shows. But it also shows the people’s cynicism: in spite of having informed suspicions, people still celebrate the pope’s arrival in large numbers.
How can one best understand this contradiction? It seems, as Zizek claims, that psychoanalysis represents the best theoretical and practical approach to analyze authoritarian populism (1994, 29). Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes interpellate citizens through emotional rather than political principles. Purely emotional notions devoid of political rationale— such as “cult of personality,” “mass,” “sacrifice,” or “fatherland”—are best explained as what they are. This indicates that, while not pretending to unveil any hidden “truth”—a psychological or psychoanalytical explanation could at least guide us to understand their mechanics. Understanding the libidinal economies of these regimes is tantamount to explaining their ideological dynamics, as I will explain shortly. I am, however, not claiming that psychoanalysis will reveal a truth nor simply posit a false truth. To claim that a psychoanalytical perspective could reveal the truth, would actually go against the postulates of Lacanian or even of Freudian theory. In addition, we would be also accepting the idea that we can still think in ideological terms, and, as I will discuss, ideology does not constitute an adequate category to describe our contemporary world.
It is, above all, necessary to define the notion of ideology that I use throughout this book, because I use it in two different senses. The first sense refers to the broader notion of ideology as a group of political or spiritual ideas or the beliefs shared by a group, an individual, a class, or a culture. The second sense of ideology refers to a sort of theoretical matrix that I use to analyze a body of works. Let me then explain what I understand by this notion of ideology and how I can see it applied for the analysis of cultural production. From a Marxist perspective, ideology is the set of beliefs or perceptions that make us see the world in a “mystified” way. The “mystification” of commodities is a process inherent to the capitalist mode of production, and it has to do with the value of commodities. Commodities are “mystified” when they are not valued according to the labor put into their production, but rather through market exchange (Marx 1990a, 126). When confronted with this reality, subjects can recognize the “truth” and struggle to change it, but they can also act with false consciousness by disregarding this truth in such a way that their own interests are served. False consciousness is a term coined by Georg Lukacs to define a subordinate class that subjectively accepts its situation as “true” (i.e., according to the historical time period), but cannot express the objective essence of society. In other words, he is alluding to the misrepresentation of dominant social relations in the consciousness of the working class. The mental representations of society in the consciousness of the subordinate classes conceal the realities of exploitation. It is important to note that Lukacs insists on the necessity of bypassing the true/false dichotomy since the goal is to understand the relations of society as a whole: he notes, “However, the dialectical method does not permit us simply to proclaim the ‘falseness’ of this consciousness and to persist in an inflexible confrontation of true and false” (1968, 50). I am emphasizing this point because this is also the interpretation of ideology that I will privilege: namely, as a set of strategic maneuvers that nevertheless do not permit of a facile resolution into the terms of “truth” and “falsehood.”
Given the dedifferentiation between culture and economy that characterizes postmodernism, Zizek is right to wonder if “this concept of ideology as a naive consciousness still applies today” (Zizek 1989, 29). Glossing Sloterdijk, Zizek argues that in our contemporary society, we are all aware of the Marxian notions of value and exchange, and therefore, we can no longer speak about a perspective holding a naive conception of the world. For this reason, Sloterdijk claims that ideology operates in a cynical mode. The cynical subject is aware of the “mystification,” but still insists on acting as if it did not exist. Contrary to “false consciousness,” cynicism is usually the prerogative of the ruling class, who is aware of “the distance between the ideological mask and the reality, but it still finds reasons to retain the mask” (ibid., 29). In the opposite realm, there exists what he calls kynicism, which refers to the ironic and sardonic rejection of official culture by the popular classes, as we can observe in the epigraph above.
To sum up, the traditional concept of ideology as a naive perception of reality is no longer valid, but that does not mean that unequal social relations have disappeared. The difference is that now we as a society know about this fundamental inequality, but have decided not to act upon it. Given this state of affairs, it remains clear that we can no longer study social reality as a mere textual symptom.
Let us now return to the subject of this book, namely, how ideology as defined above provides a critical tool for an understanding of Cuban cultural production. As we have observed in the epigraph, subjects in general are not duped by state rhetoric. That is, they recognize the cynicism of a ruling class that is aware of the distance between the socialist system as a universal source of normativity and the inadequate or immoral application of these norms, and yet, they still impose this system on the population. On the other hand, the people respond with an ironic popular culture—or through other forms of representation, such as conceptual poetry, as we will see in this book. As I have argued, the naive concept of ideology no longer applies to this situation, but once more, following Zizek, I think that ideology could be replaced with fantasy in its Lacanian sense as a “construction which enables us to mask the Real of our desire” (Lacan, qtd. in Zizek 1994, 323).
Above all, when we examine authoritarian societies such as Cuba, it may be useful to go back to Althusser’s notion of interpellation and his analysis of Ideological State Apparatuses. Ideology, like culture, becomes part of our belief system up to the point where it is no longer distinguishable from the reality we inhabit. This is precisely what we need to unravel. What Zizek adds to this scheme is a framework that allows us to analyze the dynamic of desire played out in this process by deploying the concept of the Lacanian Real. To put it in broad terms, the Real is what holds desires and fears that resist symbolization. From an Althusserian point of view, ideology is a dreamlike construction that does not allow us to see the “real” state of things, as I was arguing before. In idealist relativism this argument means that there is not one reality; there are various realities. At this point, psychoanalysis becomes useful, allowing Lacan to conceptualize the space that separates the Real from our dreamlike construction of the world by bypassing the distinction between materialist realism and idealist relativism. Zizek argues that the reason we are trapped in our ideological prejudices or dreamlike realities is that we do not dare face our genuine fears and desires. Thus, the Real is what we need to confront if we want to break away from our ideological prejudices.
To summarize, Zizek argues that even if we try to break free by opening our eyes and see reality as it is, as subjects of a postideological world free of all the ideological prejudices, we still remain in the “consciousness of our ideological dream,” and the only way to break its power is to confront the Real of our desire which appears in this dream (Zizek 1994, 325-26). Precisely this process may be illustrated in the case of Cuba. For example, Chinese culture is a regular topic in the works of Carlos A. Aguilera, Rolando Sanchez Mejias, and Pedro Marques de Armas, and it has a double valence. On the one hand, they seek to reveal Asian culture in Cuba, and on the other hand, their goal is to construct an ironic parallelism between the Marxist Chinese legacy and the Cuban Revolution with all its flaws.
Aguilera’s “Viaje a China [Trip to China]” is a travel journal written from the point of view of the “Westerner” observing the “Oriental” in postcommunist China. The text produces an ironic critique of the false consciousness of the “Westerner,” something that becomes apparent as he describes Beijing: “From a tall building one can see almost all the buildings, and seen in this way it appears like some cities in Northern Europe. This appearance is misleading. Beijing is a caricature and seems to be less a city than a mockery machine” (Aguilera 1999, 14). That is, the text offers a critique of the foreigner who can only make a description of otherness by applying his own ideological framework to this otherness. The implications of this limitation are also political, since the foreigner cannot understand the absurdity of an ideology turned into derision, a “mockery machine [maquina de burla].” The text thus advances a traditional Marxist interpretation of ideology, especially because it is trying to emphasize the false consciousness of the “Westerner.” The reference to the traditional concept of ideology is extremely important to take into account, as it is this detail that gives away the fantasy upon which the text is constructed. We observe in this story an ironic and critical look at orientalist constructions: Beijing is described as a “trompe l’reil,” whose orientalist description by the Westerner is then replaced with yet another Orientalism. In other words, it is our vision of Beijing which is a “mockery machine,” and not the city itself. The critique is actually targeting the reader who identifies himself or herself with the narrator, who in turn makes an ironic description of the city. As Zizek would put it, the ideological description of the city as a “mockery machine” covers up the inconsistency of our own ideological system. Such inconsistency is the dreamlike fantasy that allows us to avoid a confrontation with the Real, which in this case might refer to the fear of an otherness that inhabits one’s own space (i.e., Cuban Chinese culture).
Let me add one more note. What interests me in this study is not to gauge whether or not these figures speak the truth. Rather, I’m interested in “the way this content is related to the subjective position implied by its own process of enunciation” (Zizek 1994, 8; italics in original). Ultimately, I think that the generation under investigation in this study cannot simply divest themselves of the burden of the revolutionary struggle that was imposed upon them. If at all, one should begin by asking first if their poetics have established the conditions of possibility to confront the Real of revolutionary politics. In other words, can the political confront its own failure? The same could be said about literature, although it seems that the last generation of poets has already abandoned literature as the only mode of representation. In “Persistent Matrioshkas,” Jacqueline Loss looks at hybrid representations by Cuban-Soviet female authors who live in between two different imaginaries. For poets such as Polina Martinez Shvietsova (1976) or those in the Omni Zona Franca group, these two different spaces also collide in experimental modes of representation that combine written word with visual and musical elements and performance.
The reality, however, is that the discursive construction of intellectuals as New Men already exhausted its political and aesthetic symbolic value in the cultural production of the past two decades. While the works from the eighties and nineties were in dialogue with revolutionary politics, the aesthetics of younger generations, however, do not have similar ideological intentions. They were raised in the hardest years of the Special Period, and most became disenchanted intellectuals with no sense of any debt toward the revolution. In contrast, their predecessors were still haunted by a sense of indebtedness to the revolution, and therefore plagued by a sort of guilty conscience that had been inculcated in them by revolutionary culture— whether or not they chose to recognize this debt.
As a result of the refusal of these intellectuals to act as revolutionary artists, the state put forward a biopolitical cultural politics whose goal was to give momentum to the revolutionary imaginary by reviving the ideology of the New Man. What emerged then was a spectral appearance from past generations, which ended up being a return of the Real in terms that have been articulated by Zizek, and “it is this real, foreclosed from the symbolic fiction that returns in the guise of spectral apparitions” (Zizek 1994, 26). These specters that returned from a site of repression resurfaced as a positionless nonsubject, a bare life turned into a rhetorical figure. It is in fact this figure that Diaspora(s) combats with the schizo as a trope, which in turn ends up embodying a metaphor as ambiguous as the state-sanctioned biopolitical ideology itself.
In the eighties, there were also humanist cultural groups with emancipatory ideas like Paideia, but their political failure showed the limits of the humanistic approach to civil society, approaches characterized primarily by a Habermasian interpretation of the public sphere. The group both enabled the emergence of a civil movement that posited itself as a new hegemonic bloc and simultaneously was able to expand (or perhaps even transcend) its utilitarian political nature with an even stronger intellectual agenda. Proyecto Diaspora(s), on the contrary, developed an antihumanist perspective that derided both the state and emancipatory politics, advocating instead a disengagement with the political. Yet, as Morejon Arnaiz shows, their critique of totalitarianism is a political gesture. What is more, their ideological attitude is still articulated by the desire to demythologize the main symbols of revolutionary struggle. Might it not be the case, after all, that this radical negation of revolutionary ideology generates a negative dialectic of sorts, that is, an act whose refusal attempts to construct a space of alterity and thereby gains weight as an alternative political gesture? Or is this form of poetics indeed simply a radical negation of the political as such?
This group perhaps embraces irony as an aesthetic recourse to avoid a prolonged confrontation with a traumatic Real—a haunting of the present that is, for example, the main subject of the poetry of Juan Carlos Flores. In the work of Proyecto Diaspora(s), however, writing and aesthetics risks a sublation into a mere detached and ironic mode, and thereby might be regarded as simply another expression of “choteo.”11 In contrast to this ironic and ludic idiom, in Juan Carlos Flores’s writing, the trauma of the repressed emerges through words, which is, as was the case for Pinera, the only medium through which one could effectively confront a horror that goes beyond political oppression. Thus, for Flores, writing, more than ever, becomes absolutely necessary. Such a form of poetry has neither any relationship with civil society, nor with resistance as such, and therefore represents a rhetorical gesture that is, strictly speaking, neither negative nor affirmative, neither ironic nor utopian. Indeed, this poetry is not even redemptive in the sense of trying to recuperate memories that have been lost. Instead, it circles around what might perhaps be the most terrifying prospect that can be faced: the horror of the void, or of a world in which all struggles, be they political or personal, confront an even more primordial nothingness.