The expression « Discourses that kill » can be understood as speeches that lead to a deadly, murderous act, but also as speeches that kill for themselves. Can a word kill? In any case, as Jacques Lacan¹ indicated, power is always linked to the word, also when it makes use of pure and simple force. And the first more or less covert violence is that which perpetrates a discourse when it numbs the speaker by stealing from him the power of the word, reducing it to an object without a possible word. And this is something that can also be done with words, with the violence of the word when it acts on the limits of the symbolic.
The principle can be very simple, so simple and so apparently « democratic »: « Minorities will have to adapt to the majority. » The phrase is from Jair Bolsonaro -in a speech in February 2017 at the João Suassuna Airport- but we can hear similar phrases in different places and moments of our so-called democratic societies. Also in Europe, and with the best arguments. It can even be the best argument used as « democratic » to impose an action with all sorts of behavior modification techniques, from the mildest to the most violent. Moving from this action, in the style of « TCC in mass », to the next step is a matter of degree: « Through voting you will not change anything in this country, right? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Unfortunately, it will only change the day we start a civil war in here. Moreover doing the work that the military regime did not do: kill thirty thousand! Starting with FHC [Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president at that time]! If some innocents die, well, in each war innocent people die ». The declaration is of the newly elected president in the Brazilian elections, but they also resonate very close, too close, at the place where I am now, on this side of the Atlantic.
That this threatening speech pass to the act, it is only a matter of following the consequences of the subjective certainty that animates it. For now, it just takes to feed itself with more words that kill, even if it present itself with the softness of love for the unity of the homeland that motivates hatred of the different.
As Gil Caroz pointed out in a recent text: « Brazil is not Europe, the Bolsonaro phenomenon is not equivalent to the Le Pen phenomenon, and the contexts are different. In spite of this, we can consider that the events in Brazil constitute the truth of a movement of civilization that is sweeping Europe like a fire. It is the height of a fall of vertical authority, which calls for putting the world in order through the massacre: either you are like me, or you die »². It is convenient to situate the discourses that have contributed to produce this deadly situation in Brazil which have sustained and fed a sense that is spread like wildfire. It is the combination of the religious discourse of Evangelism, that false « humanism » that also fueled Trump in the US, and the power of the military dictatorship that has gone through the last decades unharmed³, a fallen dictatorship of the representation of the power of the State, but that it had not disappeared from the political power. Thus, it is the favelas that have voted for Bolsonaro, but also illustrated layers of the population, not only the lobbies and the factual minority powers quantitatively. Without these two supports Bolsonaro would not have won the elections: religious sense – that is everywhere – and armed power of the army in the name of the Law.
How to respond to the speeches that kill without feeding their meaning, their deadly meaning? At this point, polarization prevents any equidistance in the name of an impossible universal harmony. The error in good faith will remain, even here, the most unforgivable when it comes to responding to this greater danger against humanity. It will not be in the name of a Humanism already perished, that « humaniterería » (humanitairerie) with which Lacan said that we do nothing but put on our own exactions, those of our own way of jouissance⁴. Rather, an in-humanism like psychoanalysis finds in the speaking being inhabited by the death drive.
Let’s conclude: there are poisoned speeches with a honey flavor, also in the name of love. Let’s say it with the words of the song. Remember: with his words, killing me softly with his song…
¹”It is, nevertheless, very demonstrative that power never rests entirely upon force, pure and simple. Power is always a power tied to speech”. Jacques Lacan (1975), « Conférence à Genève sur le symptôme », La Cause du désir nº 95, Paris 2017, p.9.
²Gil Caroz, “Nuestra verdad brasileña”, in the texts of preparation of the European Forum “Discourses that kills “of Brussels, on December 1, 2018.
³ For an analysis of this conjuncture, see Aldo Cordeiro Sauda and Benjamin Fogel: « Bolsonaro’s Most Dangerous Supporters », in the digital newspaper Jacobin of October 18, 2018.
⁴ Jacques Lacan, « Télevision ». Autres écrits, Éditions du Seuil, Paris 2001, p. 534.
Translated by Lorena Hojman Davis