Make life persevere: Suely Rolnik’s micropolitical resistance

Rolnik's goal is clear: to think in a critical way in order to defend life from abuse, to make "desire" find a way to fulfill its duty, to make life persevere. This was stated on April 6th, the day she started the open sessions of the Independent Study Program of MACBA the current year. Her lecture was entitled: «Spheres of the insurrection. Notes for a life that resists abuse", and thus is also entitled, with a slight adaptation in the subtitle, her last book in the Spanish translation (Esferas de la insurrección. Apuntes para descolonizar el inconsciente, Editorial Traficantes de Sueños, 2019).

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n one of the most quoted propositions of his Ethics, published in 1677, Baruch Spinoza writes that “Everything strives, whatever is within its reach, to persevere in its being”. To the extent that the effort for conservation makes things remain what they are, such effort is essential in the things themselves. When this effort refers to the soul and the body at the same time, Spinoza calls it desire. Following this reasoning, the Dutch philosopher deduces that we judge “good” what we want, and not the other way around. Thus, we could say that life is good because we want it. For Suely Rolnik, Brazilian psychoanalyst, essayist and curator, these ideas have had a very important importance when it comes to raising her micro-political resistance project. They also had it for Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, with whom she maintained a fruitful intellectual relationship during her exile in Paris between 1970 and 1979.

«What it is always about, is to free life wherever it is captive, or to try to do so in an uncertain combat»

In What is philosophy? (1991), Deleuze and Guattari described thus the task of thinking: “What it is always about, is to free life wherever it is captive, or to try to do so in an uncertain combat”. Rolnik used this statement as the starting point of her conference, since it fits perfectly with the theoretical and practical development of her activism. To locate the place where life is “suffocated” one must ask how the subject relates to the world. Rolnik observes in the subject two simultaneous but opposed forms of experience: the “perceptive experience” and the “extra-personal experience.” The first is “structural” because it is guided by a cultural “distribution” to assess the present situation; the second one apprehends the affections -understood as “forces” that affect our body sowing seeds of emotional states- and forces the subject to appreciate the present as a singularity that requires a new response. These two opposing “logics” create a tension from which the more or less intense experience of the “destabilization of the repertoire” is born. And this discomfort can be answered actively or reactively.

Rolnik defines the activity of thought “from an ethical-aesthetic point of view”. Ethical, because it supposes the will to fulfil our essential desire (to conserve ourselves), and therefore the search for what is good. Aesthetic, because finding an answer to the discomfort of the present means creating.

As an example of active micropolitics, Rolnik brought up the case of the Guaraní people, a society in which she considers that there is a generalized awareness of the time that separates the affection from its outcrop in the subject. This period of patient waiting allows to pinpoint the cause of the suffocation of life. “Caring” for the process that follows the affect -“sustaining oneself in the state of destabilization”- is necessary in order to be able to say the cause of the discomfort and to imagine new possibilities of acting on the present and “transvalue” it establishing a new equilibrium, different from the one that has been originally problematized. Rolnik defines the activity of thought “from an ethical-aesthetic point of view”. Ethical, because it supposes the will to fulfil our essential desire (to conserve ourselves), and therefore the search for what is good. Aesthetic, because finding an answer to the discomfort of the present means creating.

Rolnik sees in the unconscious the place where desire is produced, so that ignoring it is equivalent to “not being able to live up to what life demands” (the effort to preserve it). The unconscious is the “factory of worlds” that can offer active responses to the reality that affects the subject. It happens that, according to Rolnik, advanced capitalism finds in the despoliation of desire its genuine form of capital accumulation. The «colonial-capitalist regime» has just dissociated the modern subject from «body-knowledge», from its capacity to deal with extra-personal experience. That does not mean that the contact of the affections disappears, nor does the discomfort caused by their tension with the perceptive experience. In fact, it is more intense, since the subject cannot recognize its cause. That’s why the answer to the discomfort can only be reactive: the subject tries to maintain that cultural distribution that has entered into crisis and that represents it and constitutes as such. The creative potential is nullified; only the shell remains: “creativity”, capable of giving rise to “new scenarios for new situations of consumption”.

Life, Rolnik repeated several times, one has to defend it lifelong.

Art is that “human activity destined to the creation of a body from the listening of the affections”. This was defined by Rolnik. Indeed, art can formalize the emotions that have germinated in the experience; art could perhaps be the most direct critical gesture against modern subjectivity, reduced to the subject in itself. However, the conference was not limited to the diagnosis of the micropolitical sickness of our society. Suely Rolnik proposed ten “notes to decolonize the unconscious”. The last, as an epilogue to this invitation to reconsider the most essential effort, read: “Exercise the mind in its full function: indissociably ethical, aesthetic, political, critical and clinical. That is, to re-imagine the world in each gesture, in each word, in each way of existing and in each relationship with the other (human and not human)». Life, Rolnik repeated several times, one has to defend it lifelong.