Was Tahrir Square an Act?

Did the revolutionaries in Egypt that toppled Mubarak perform an act in the purely Lacanian sense of the term?

Although it is too early to tell if authentic fidelity can be maintained to the event of the Egyptian revolution, did not the coordinated collaboration of Christian and Muslim Egyptians in toppling Mubarak’s regime in 2011 represent an act in the psychoanalytic sense, as in; it fundamentally defied the neoliberal multiculturalist paradigm, and set in motion a new relation to the big Other of western neoliberal tolerance and multiculturalism?

In other work, I have developed the notion of the governmentality of tolerance that we find in the discourse of UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and other “tolerance promoting” NGO’s. This discourse is premised upon the view that the subjects of despotic and totalitarian Muslim countries somehow lack the proper agency and autonomy to establish proper modalities of proximity to the Other without the onset of violence breaking out; hence the continual explosion of cross-religious and cross-ethnic violence in under-developed countries.

In this narrative, following the cold war, religion and culture represent a sort of return of the repressed, and must be controlled and pacified. The west is after all faced with daily reminders of this libidinal orgy of violence through stories in the media that show the outbreak of unruly mobs into violent confrontation over seemingly trivial issues such as the burning of a Qur’an, suggesting that the subjects of underdeveloped Muslim countries not only lack a proper rationalism to control their rage, but that they require the development of institutional levers to more adequately control this wild jouissance of rage.

Political philosopher Wendy Brown in Regulating Aversion has thoroughly documents this ideology of tolerance that depoliticizes civic life under the banner of a promotion of neoliberal state interests. In a Foucauldian form of governmentality that promotes a wholesale collaboration between the state, NGO’s, and private citizens, these tolerance promotion projects, for example in Palestine will bring together Muslims and Jews into dialogues to de-fuse this presupposed cross-religious hatred. By participation in a neutralized space regulated by the liberal state’s “value-less” sphere, where all absolute truths can co-exist, the participants in the dialogue recognize a kind of relativism of their culture and its truths to the Other’s are taken out of their fundamental dimension and the Other is over time humanized, thereby repairing the divisions that stem from ongoing ethno-religious conflict, and thus a pacifying of the ugly jouissance that colors the subject’s of pre-tolerant societies are slowly integrated back into society with an enlightened respect for the Other.

Alongside the west’s tolerance projects that seek to suppress the unruly jouissance at the core of Muslim subjectivity, there is of course the provoking of cross-religious violence by the Mubarak regime itself for various political reasons. In this version, the Egyptian Christian and Muslim subjects are encouraged to act as an instrument of the big Other and embrace the hidden core of the Law’s destructive jouissance, but yet unlike the western version of tolerance, the subject is now faced with the real of the traumatic Other and are encouraged to follow their core desire and destroy it.

Both of these circuits, the western and the totalitarian perversity of Mubarak present two different big Other socio-symbolic coordinates, rooted in a fantasy. At least in the moment of the over throwing of Mubarak, the Tahrir revolutionaries were able to traverse through an act in the psychoanalytic sense of the term. The act has a number of components; the most basic of all is that it must redefine the rules of the game. A proper political act unleashes the power of negativity that shatters the very foundations of our being. The act for Lacan involves a full acceptance of one’s “second death” and remains authorized not by any big Other, only by itself, and thus it precludes any self instrumentalization. Unlike the worst elements of Occupy Wall Street, the so-called Black Box anarchists who over-identify with the system’s lack and stage the fiction of the big Other through violence and destruction, the Tahrir Square Egyptian went beyond self-instrumentalization and overidentification with the event. As Žižek points out in The Ticklish Subject:

“If there is a lesson from psychoanalysis, it is that direct overidentification and self-instrumentalization ultimately coincide: perverse self-instrumentalization (positing oneself as the instrument of the big-Other) necessarily becomes violence as an end-in-itself – to put it in Hegelian terms, the truth of the big Other is its exact opposite: he is staging the fiction of the big Other in order to conceal the jouissance he derives from the destructive orgy of his acts” (Pg. 355)

Is not this ability to resist both overidentification and self-instrumentalization amidst the act of a revolution a form of Paulinian unplugging and radical love? A perfect example of this unplugging from the big Other circuitry was when Egyptian Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square came together despite their supposed hatred and animosity towards one another in solidarity during the revolution.

Their solidarity invoked a certain shrugging off of the dual fantasy as described above, that of neoliberal western multiculturalism and oppressive totalitarianism as evidenced in one of the most iconic images over the course of the entire protests; that of Coptic Christians protecting fellow Muslim revolutionaries by forming a human chain around the Muslims during their prayer time to fend off the military police. What this image showed to a western audience under the proviso that unruly Muslim mobs are prone to violence is the sheer effectiveness of the ethical act. Their act was not dependent on either of the big Other systems, bringing the revolutionaries into confrontation with a new relation to their very being, a true facing of the radical love that comes with passing through the “night of the world,” and thus entering into a totally new zone of possibility.

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