Shame, envy, impasse and hope: On the psychopolitics of violence in SA

Presented by Wahbie Long

Monday, 11 March, 2019 - 15:00

In this talk, I argue that the psychoanalytic concepts of shame and envy—when framed at the societal level—are not only among the principal drivers of violence in South Africa, they are also responses to violence in the broadest sense of the term, that is, violence understood as “the manifestation of power that denies people their humanity.” First, I contend that the poor and working classes respond to the shame inflicted on them by structural violence with a scarcely believable interpersonal violence of their own—directed against their own. Second, I argue that the black middle class—the intellectual elite specifically—responds to symbolic violence by means of a reaction formation, an unconscious ressentiment according to Max Scheler’s rendition of that term. Third—following Kojève—I suggest that white South Africans are mired in an existential impasse that blocks efforts at reciprocal recognition, and that they have settled for lives of alienated consumption instead. And finally, I consider the implications of widespread shame, envy and impasse in this land of terrible beauty—as Yeats might have put it—for the cultivation of life-giving hope.

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