Current Position:Index-Is Reductionism a Western Plague?

Is Reductionism a Western Plague?

Author:Luigi Zoja       2014-04-11 Font:S M L


Is Reductionism a Western Plague?

Luigi Zoja


    Aghost is haunting globalization.  An evilwhich, little by little, can devour everything in its path, but which moves soquietly that it raises no alarm.  Thisspecter is not some kind of economic risk or mischance, which today’s world isalways in a position to overcome sooner or later.  Material lack is not what haunts us now, buta cultural and spiritual impoverishment that can go on for centuries, becomingdefinitive for us.

    Reductionismis poverty of thought, total understanding, and compassion.  Reductionism is not the extreme povertydescribed by economics, for economics, like science generally, builds on itsfindings and follows a step-by-step progression.  No, it is a wretchedness of the soul.  And in order to deal with psychic scarcitiesand indigence, every single person must start over again from scratch.  The task is a global affair, a responsibilityheld at large, which each and every inheritor, each son or daughter of thesituation, will have to hoist on their back and carry alone.

   The culture of the eras reflects itself in each one of us.  If that culture is unrefined and brutish,impoverishing our humanity, the individual finds himself inhabiting a tragictension.   Every society lays down a codeof norms, usually unwritten, to which we must pay attention because themajority demands them.  But on the otherhand, in order to avoid spiritual impoverishment, the individual for whomcomplaining is not enough must step out and walk point, being the first to makecorrective experiments.  This tragicdilemma is our own condition today.  Themalady called “reductionism,” which consists of a historical, gradualcontraction of conceptual approaches but also of an impoverishment of spiritand soul, appears to be an epoch-making tendency of Western society which,during the period of globalization, is becoming the civilization imposed oneveryone.

    One telling critiqueof contemporary reductionism turns up in the acceptance speech by Ricardo LagosEscobar, then president of Chile (as of October 2005), on the occasion of hisreceiving an honorary degree from the University of Salamanca.  According to Lagos, after the fall of theBerlin Wall, we have been treated to three kinds of reductionism, threecontractions in our conduct of public affairs (generally letting us speak ofnew forms of political and social philosophy).

    First among these three, democracyis gradually being reduced to governability.  Which is to say, to its more functionalaspect, immediate and normative or regulatory, but to the detriment of any moreprofound conceptions.  These concepts, Iwould add, usually link up with either foundational ideals (expressed invarious national constitutions) or in projects to be carried out throughtime. 

    As for the second major contraction, economicfreedom has become reduced, ever more so, to the freedom of the market, to thefree movement of prices, while for millions of people the first economicfreedom remains that of finding enough food. Only once freed from elemental need can people make use of theirsecondary liberty, to enter economic markets and devote themselves to gainfulactivities of their own choosing.

    Finally, according to Lagos, after September 11, 2001 international politics has restricted itselfto the struggle against terrorism.  And with respect to the developed world,permit me to add, also to the control ofimmigration.  In only a few years, infact, in countries like France or Italy, immigration has become the very coreof politics, at least for those popular movements which stir up primitiveemotions and momentary consensus.  As aresult, instead of helping those who fight against the backwardness thatsustains immigration, we strengthen the defenses that keep immigrants faraway:  that is, we harden the wealthdifferential, precisely that separation of rich from poor which causesmigrations.  In fact, outlays for internationalaid remain substantially the same in percentage, while funds for immigrationcontrol have exploded. In the USAthey have quintupled during the last twenty years, tripled in Germany over thelast ten, and doubled in Great Britain in the last three[1].In Italy, official figures from the Corte dei Conti (State Audit Court) showthat in 2002 government outlays for immigration were divided almost equallybetween activities restricting immigration (51%) and those which helpimmigrants (49%). But already by 2003 the budget for counteracting immigrationmore than doubled while immigrant aid was dramatically reduced, so that from2003 on the new ratio has remained approximately 80% for control and 20% foraid.

    In other words, global expansion makes the continents into commonpossessions of all humanity, whereas we, out of fear and paranoia, seek toreduce and constrict the world. While we claim to rediscover and protect local,traditional cultures, in fact our rediscovery of the local is very often aproduct of fear[2].

     Numbers like these, expressing the soaring cost of our fear ofimmigration, are always ruthless. (Inreality, most estimates concede that the global percentage of immigrants hasincreased only slightly during the last half-century, from 2.6 to 2.9%).Throughout history, paranoia has always been expensive.  There seems no better wayof saying how the West is reducing what the Christian tradition called the neighbor to the stranger; and then, ever so gradually, to the enemy.  We always believethat we ourselves are a bit more civilized than our predecessors, and sometimesthat is true.  But the facts now beforeus bespeak a gradual drying up of the wellsprings of feeling, tragicallysimilar to that which  Ulrich Beck in his article, Wie aus Nachbarn Juden werden [How Neighbors Were Turned into Jews][3]and Hazel Rosenstrauch has summarized in her book of 1988, Aus Nachbarn wurden Juden [How NeighborsBecame Jews][4],. Both studies analyze how the reduction of the neighbor to the foreign andthe odious led to the West’s most notorious crimes against humanity.

    When speaking of modern reductionism, therefore, we are also referringto the making of a moral desert —- to a spreadingpsychological aridity which corresponds inwardly to the desertificationnow overtaking the earth.

     To discussreductionism we must first of all define [and lay out] the concept. 

     By reductionism wemean a cognitive attitude that replaces different kinds of experience andpoints of view with one alone.  A relatedattitude seduces the observer with its functionality, but impoverishes theobject.  This helps technical andscientific forms of explanation, but to the detriment of both understanding andthe depth of experience.  Its cousin in apragmatic vein is specialization.

    It is no accident that this tendency has developed from within Westernthinking itself.  It is a constant ofWestern history that it attempts to govern the mental processes inside peopleas well as the world around them. Mystery gets replaced by clarity, and confusion by rationality.  There is no gainsaying the advantages of thisfunctionalism, which already stands out among the merits of early Greekthinking.  In this sense the earlyEleatic philosophers are precocious secularists and naturalists, beginning withDemocritus.

     Philosophy fostersscience, and that sponsorship then promotes the reduction of inquiry from thesupernatural to the natural, and the multiform and fluid to the uniform andrigid, from the magical to the causal. The most significant shift of this kind was achieved by Descartes.  In his Rulesfor the Direction of the Mind (1628, published in 1701), precisely“reduction” occurs as the fifth practical rule for the discovery of naturaltruths.  The Cartesian formula “I think,therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum)reduces psychic life  (sum) to the conscious ego (cogito). By the time Nietzsche wrote in 1886[5]that, in contrast to the I, “It thinks” (Esdenkt), and when Freud in 1926 [6]declaredthat “There was something in me that was . . . stronger than I was” (Es [the original German pronoun Es isrendered with the Latin Id in Freud’s English translations] war etwas in mir,was . . . stärker war als ich), already the restricted, reductiveconception of the psyche had been widespread for centuries.

    Something very like this, at bottom, also happens in theology.  Carried beyond the Roman Empire, the Westleft the shores of polytheism and found harbor in monotheism (in that form ofheretical Judaism called Christianity). The gods—theological agencies or “causes”—were reduced from an infinitenumber to a single one.  The mysteries,too, which at first were numberless, survive only in a few dogmas.  The powers and aims of divinity become morecomprehensible.  Christian preceptsreduce everything to love, along with purposes and motives, particularly inpolitics, that become more pleasant and more rational.  Coming down through the centuries to the eraof secularism, this tendency applies the same optimistic outlook to history aswell.  When they finally add it all up,however, and notice that Christians, Enlightenment types, the variousprogressivists, and the modernizers are all busy killing each other off, it isa bit too late to turn things around.

     For the sake of brevity, I will unify the reductionist cavalcade of ourWestern world under two headings:  the reduction of values  and  the reduction of time.

    Onseveral occasions[7] Ihave discussed the loss of the unity left to us by the classical world and theconsequences of that loss for the world in which we find ourselves living now. Greek tragedy was for everyone and for all time.  It was understood by the intellectuals andthe least literate of Athenians alike. It was packed with dramatic pleasure as well as with moral teaching forfuture generations.  It was a religiousritual (honoring Dionysos, it was no Broadway pastime as nowadays!) and acounsel for everyday living. 

    Virtue was unitary, bothethical and aesthetic.  Not by chance,the idea of beauty and the idea of justice came to convergence in a singleconcept, of kalós kai agathós, orthe-beautiful-and-the-good, out of which Greek formed the noun kalokagathéia, a virtue which is at oneand the same time beauty and justice.  Ittaught the Greeks to respect this pairing just as the [Hebrew] commandmentteaches an identical respect for one’s mother and father:  as if they are one and the same.  An ethical offense and an offense againstgood taste came down to the same thing. The elegance of a temple dedicated to one of the gods, and inspirationfor the conduct of life that came from cult worship of the god, at root werethe same thing.

    Christianity began toseparate these two virtues, rationalizing morality and also placing it on ahigher plane (that is: placing ethics over aesthetics).  None the less, as already noted, the practiceof Christian life until the time of the Reformation preserved many aspects ofthe classical world.

     Before the modern era,religious life was a total experience, whether in the communal sense or becauseit was integrally ethical and aesthetic. The religious ceremony of the Renaissance, not unlike a typical ritualin classical antiquity, is an immersion in a myth to which one cannot fail tolend credence, either through the elevation of its message or through thebeauty which communicates it, both being essential.  Once again, therefore, it is governed byunitary or integrative virtue (kalokagathéia).  In an epoch that lacked communications media,communal sharing took place through public ceremonies.  Those who could not read took part at noexpense in civic and religious rituals graced by musical accompaniment,painting, costume, and processional regalia that afforded experiences of beautythat remain among the finest of all time.

     In my recent Fay Lectures[8],I have developed one hypothesis about the relationships between ethics andaesthetics.  In building a truly moralsociety, the respect for justice and the good must not be separated fromrespect for the beautiful. In classical Athens or in Renaissance Florence the“quality of life” was high not only because it was constantly nourished bybeauty, but also because such societies, as well as being large and complex fortheir times, afforded places for harmonious conviviality that were not plaguedby crime.  In other words, refinedaesthetics fostered ethics.

A person could enjoy the emotion ofbeing fully satisfied without becoming obsessive.  Going together with that kind of aesthetics,the ethical experience repaid itself in the same way.  On ritual occasions it promoted socialbehaviors as being more than abstract rules, by melting or fusing thebeautiful-and-good, and thereby nourished a sense of belonging to a unified andideal community[9].

     The poles between whichthis harmonious society formed itself can be summarized in two ideas fromMachiavelli:  The Piazza or public squarewhere the masses congregate, and the Palazzo or palace in which the power-elitecould seclude itself.  In Florence andabove all in Athens (to oversimplify, of necessity), the public square is stillan area that is communal in every sense, in which the values of justice getdecided and the artistic laboratory carries out its experiments.

    Inexorably, throughcenturies, beauty was lured away from the public square and sequestered in thepalace.  This is a highly visible aspect of the reductionism that we are discussinghere. The shared life of the Renaissance Comunegave way to the Signoria.  With time, even the dukes who promoted thearts through patronage, like the Medici, dragged music and painting into theconfines of their private chambers.  Art,once the essential handmaiden of ritual and public expression, became, asWalter Benjamin has observed, a secular object of private ownership, acollector’s item. In the end art is reduced to an investment.

    One of Leonardo’s Madonnastoday could fetch one or several hundred million dollars.  And yet the better part of its value has beenlost down the centuries, because value itself has been reduced to economic value, to market price.  All that we feel from the original radianceof art is an invisible shadow cast by the commotion which lit the fire.  By contrast, see Antonietta Haddad’s 1995 studyof Freud en Itralie[10], andalso the account of “The Stendhal Syndrome” described by the Italian psychiatristGraziella Magherini[11].Just as with Marie-Henri Beyle (better known as Stendhal) duringhis trip to Florence in 1817, certain foreign visitors (not by accidentwell-educated, sensitive, and unmarried) may fall prey to uncontrollableemotions, trance-like states, and various psychosomatic disturbances in thepresence of the art there. These occurrences may be seen as the return oforiginal experiences repressed by reductionist approaches to art.  That is, once upon a time art acted; it wasthe subject.  It has been reduced now to an object, a passive thing, inert upon thewall. In spirit, the community bows down in grief.  In order to endure the conflict we haveinvented museums, and we carry the mummy inside.

     Much the same thing hashappened to a non-material treasure, the act of reading and listening.  Before printing multiplied books, readingremained tied to oral culture.  With onlya few texts available, reading was a public affair, carried on out loud.

    But one day, set down inMilan, Augustine stood transfixed by what he saw[12].Bishop Ambrose was reading from a book at top speed without making a sound,barely moving his eyes and lips.  Twogreat figures in Christianity meet at that moment, but two human needs divorcethemselves forever:  functionalismtriumphs over companionable ritual and also over the aesthetic experience thatgoes with it. Reading silently is much more practical and greatly speeds up theprocess of reading: from then on, the destiny of reading aloud stands marked asthat of a loser, just as does that of the handwritten letter with the coming ofe-mail.  Reading as an experience of thesacred text withdraws from the public square and reduces itself, enclosing itself within the walls of a new,metaphorical “palace,” the individual personality.

     Altogether, then, littleby little the two poles of society contract themselves into one, the palace. Inother words, through the course of history democracy has cultivated a widefield as far as ethics are concerned, but has narrowed the field foraesthetics. In a certain sense, the disappearance of the Piazza or the Agorà isone of several pre-conditions for making life senseless in the ways describedby critics of modern mass culture: the anomie of Durkheim, the alienation ofMarx, the existential suffering of Kierkegaard (and of  existentialists through the followingcentury), the exile of Camus, and so on.

    In a parallel fashion, values gradually strip themselves oftheir aesthetic quality, reducing themselves to ethics.  The idea of wholeness or totality of valuesdispenses with flesh and blood.  Whatremains is the skeleton of the moral law. And then ethics wither in turn, reducing itself to norms, regulationsthat invade every field.  Instead ofaesthetic value, originally shared by everyone, there is nothing more than thenecessary and the functional. It is impossible to stop the erosion ofaesthetics because no one has any interest in really counteracting it.

     Such aesthetic anorexiais all one with the materialistic and commercial reduction of values which MaxWeber characterized as a disenchantmentof the world.

      Meanwhile, the reductiveconversion of entire other worlds into functional appendages of the developedWest (colonialism) leaves behind a twisted sense of guilt.  To deal with this appalling residue, we haveinvented anthropology, the science which Octavio Paz has called “the remorse ofthe Occident.”[13]The new graveyard which serves as the repository for this conflict will beknown as the Museum of Ethnology, standing alongside the one dedicated to art.

     Myth feeds the very senseof being alive.  Science, which reducesmyth to a mummy, nourishes only those explanations spawned by reason.  People who possess myths also live fulllives.  But those who are fed a steadydiet of demonstrations can fall into depression, even suicide.

      The book, originallypublic and sacred, today has become a private commodity; and theater hasdevolved from a total ritual into an entertainment.  Everything has made its definitive exit fromthe public square, to hide itself away in numberless palace-apartments,sovereign one-room flats, where anxiety and solitude reign.

      But the reduction ofstorytelling—in which meaning goes on a quest—to a mere amusement, is also theloss of that perspective which brings human beings into solidarity and leadsthem to build a society.  We sorrowtogether over how humankind has had to lose its integral values, how immoralityhas become standardized, and how each succeeding decade brings forth newoutrages.  But what models can humanityturn to?   The unity of ethics andaesthetics has been dissolved by time, beauty has been barricaded withinmuseums, and story as the best-seller or the tabloid, and television withthese, have subjected the masses to aesthetic abuse.  Under this onslaught, people assume theposture of passivity rather than participation, and voyeurism instead of passion.  Storytelling, turned commercial and banal andanesthetized, has been reduced to pornography, indifferently sexual or violent.(By “pornography” I mean the reduction of some kind of pleasure to something issought in private, within a brief period of time and lacking any further goal.)  Analogously, the ideals made glamorousthrough media exposure make up well-defined status levels of what has beencalled wealth porn. Psychopathologytells us that victims of abuse tend to repeat or reconstitute the situation inwhich they were abused.  If the medium isalready is own message (and therefore has no purpose), the mass of people, ab-used by continuous messages, remainsimprisoned within them, and like them this mass functions without purpose oraim.  And people feel themselves aliveonly by remaining victims of abuse.

    In contrast to whathappened with the naked body presented by Michelangelo or the violencerecounted by Homer, numerous studies show that today a strict correspondenceholds between the quantity of violent shows or nudity scenes consumed in massculture and the frequency of violent acts and sexual assaults.  In the process, both love and war, thefull-bodied conditions of passion and combat, get uprooted from their texts—theintegral story or tale—and get reduced to items for sale.

    If storytelling haswithered in this way, something similar has happened to the members of itsaudience, or rather its spectators.  Oneanxiety reaction to the globalization which has done away with limits andborders everywhere has been anextreme reinforcement of the value of one’s own four walls.  The turning point comes in the Americansuburbs of the 1970s and 1980s, when it became “obligatory” to give childrentheir own rooms[14].And then also a personal stereo, a personal TV, a personal computer.  All of which, therefore, leave oneisolated in space.  

    But Western modernizationalso strands one in time—and cuts one off from time—in a pointilliste and lonely present. By thus closing off the present, one erases the temporal horizons ofpast and future.

     Dante’s treatise onpolitics[15]exhorts us to continue admiring the exemplars of our past and, at the sametime, to practice modesty.  The truehuman being does not labor for the present moment, but in order to become partof the past.

      All those who inclinetoward the love of truth because a

      higher nature leads themto, observe one thing above all;

      they work for those whowill come after them, so that

      their inheritors can usethe fruits of their labors,

      just as they themselveshave been served by the labors

      of those who went beforethem.

      The modern West, on thecontrary, has come ideologically to justify the eradication of the past.

      Let us call to mind twofamous manifestoes. John O’Sullivan’s article “The Great Nation of Futurity,”published during the most enthusiastic phase of American exapansion[16],already known to the wider public as the manifesto of Manifest Destiny (the play on words is not incidental), among otherthings proclaimed:

          Our national birth was the beginning of anew history….

          We may confidentlyassume that our country is destined

          to be the greatnation of futurity…. What friend

          of human liberty,civilization and refinement, can

          cast his view overthe past history of monarchies

          and aristocracies ofantiquity, and not deplore that

          they everexisted?...  We have no interest in thescenes

          of antiquity, onlyas lessons of avoidance of nearly

          all examples.     

    In1909, Filippo TommasoMarinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism, [17]whichsays, among other things:

          There is no greaterbeauty than that of battle.  A work

          of art that lacksthe aggressive thrust can never be a

          masterpiece…. Wemean to glorify war—the only health the

          worldknows—militarism,patriotism, the act of destruction.

          We shall smash themuseums, the libraries, schools of

          every kind….


In other passages, the Manifesto explicitly states that itstruths are reserved for people under thirty; on getting older they must bediscarded together with all remnants of antiquity. In this perspective, China’sCultural Revolution and the student movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s were lessoriginal than we might at first think.

    Our model ancestors are in fact quite diverse.  In order to crush them, these two manifestoesbegin by invoking ideology to reducehuman beings from the past to persons who do not matter.  And in so doing they mean to reject diversityand to settle its hash for all time.

    The first suchideology has fostered ethnocentrism, Social Darwinism, even racism, and theoppression or extermination of native peoples: nature and natives arecontinents which require conquest and civilization, and the same holds true forthe future.  This ideology is also fed bya mistaken American exceptionalism, according to which the USA would be exemptfrom any connections to the past, which can be ignored in enterprises of themoment (for example, considering as irrelevant why the British Iraq adventurefailed in the ‘twenties, when they tried to do the same thing)[18].

    The second ideology, whichbrought shame to my own country, was one of the ideological factors promoting thetwo world wars, the several Fascisms, and their genocidal racism.  When one begins climbing down the stairway ofdiscrimination—as Primo Levi has put it—one does well to remember that at theend stands Auschwitz.  The humiliation ordegradation of the past is a discrimination against time, and has its arrogantpartner in the political humiliation of other nations and races.

    To be sure, too much ofthe past can be lethal in the present: once again, Primo Levi’s life testifies to that fact.  But the negation of the past also kills.  Psychiatrists in Argentina know this all toowell, having discovered the “Malvinas Syndrome” (referring to the FalklandIslands).  Reduced to fighting England,its conscripts were promised military glory. With the collapse of the dictatorship and all its rhetoric, the onlyresult was the shamed silence of a whole society.  After more than two decades, the suicide rateamong veterans of the Falkland–Malvinas War is the highest for any veteransgroup in human history. The number of soldiers thus fallen topsthe number of those killed in battlein the islands.

    The fear of diversity,therefore, is also the fear of time, because time creates differences. 

    We acquire every kind ofobject, and we must get all of it right away, without really needing it,because we believe neither in our own happiness nor in our future.  As for that, we swallow more than we canuse.  One chocolate bar pleases me. Butif I have many, I want to eat them all, in a flash, even if they have been laidup for the days ahead.  As with the future, so with respect forlimits:  they have been lost in oureducation.

    I would also like toswallow up the pleasure reserved for the future; but that pleasure—like thehorizon that moves ahead of us as we advance—diminishes by that much what wecan eat.  We now consume the future, aswe do with our resources and the environment, just as Cronos devoured the fleshof his own sons.  Hidden within thepollution we make and the denatured foods that we eat, a Greek god chucklesover his proper vendetta.

    One confirmation of allthis comes from the progress of AIDS. After years of ameliorative measures, high-risk sexual behavior is onceagain on the rise.  This is no longer dueto a lack of information, however, but rather to a reduced perception of what time means.  Young people today are aware of therisks.  But the middle-aged persons theymight become are too far off for them; they do not give that possibility asecond thought, because it is something other,incapable of eliciting their concern.

    Today, television, cinema,blockbuster shows, and advertising campaigns habituate us to distractions andthe avoidance of thinking, because all of these are pas-times:  indeed,while we are “consuming” the show they help us avoid perceiving thelinearity of time. When theentertainment is over, this result carries over into the aftermath, where itremains substantially valid. Recharged, the mind can set the cogito back to work: to materiallyproductive work, which requires that the perception of time passing be reduced.Such perception, indeed, might produce wisdom, which either has no economicalvalue or is economically counterproductive. Entertainment, in conclusion, helpstrain one not to notice that time is passing. That each hour notices meandcalls out to me.

    Even economic life,necessarily organized in ever more complex sequences of time, tends to be seenand evaluated with reference only to the horizon of the present. The discounton performance is always asking what time it is, like the drug addict or thebulimic. Even the value identified as futurein reality reduces a future value to one in the present. Paradoxically, onlythe present exists, eliminating the future in spite of its proud name—just asthat thing called tele-vision reveals, on close inspection, the death ofvision.

    Continuity with the futureis under attack but has not been done away with completely.  It always gets back at us by breaking in withits own tragic outcomes. The discovery of a tumor cracks open the shell oftime, dividing it in two. The time before tests provide certainty transformsinto that non-time which psychiatry has called “waiting”[19]:  a chronology without life, becauseimagination transfers all livable time past the event. And in these few linesof ours we can barely indicate a fact has been the object of the most importantresearch[20]:namely, how the ill or the dying person—once the protagonist of solemnprocesses—has become reduced to theobject of technologies over which he has increasingly lost control; and thedying person, once a source ofphilosophical reflection, becomes so dehumanized or reduced that he becomestaboo, which in the 20th century has taken the place held by sex inthe 19th century[21]

      Jung has subjected Freudto criticism for his physiological and naturalistic view of the human psyche,through which a creative efforts (beit of Sophocles, Leonardo, or Goethe) can be reduced to expressions ofpathology[22].The ancient gods—as Jung has said more than once—at first were reduced to dryabstractions, but today have changed into illnesses[23].

     Turning the page into the21st century, psychoanalysis has been even further reduced to psychotherapy:  to an exclusive preoccupation with illness,and therefore restricted to the time necessary for its cure.  At bottom this approach expresses a fear ofintelligence, even of sympathy with oneself, which would demand that we embracethe human being in all of its temporal totality and depth.

      Therefore I would liketo remind you of an ancient Greek drama which already recognized theconvenience of reductivism, but with the aim of rejecting it.

      In Antigone, Sophocles set forth thedrama of the two sons and two daughters of Oedipus.  Polynices has died in the assault onThebes.  Eteocles has likewise dieddefending the city.  King Creon decreesthat the body of Polynices be left to be eaten by crows, while that of Eteocleswill be buried with military honors.  Thetwo sisters are quite different as well. Ismene dutifully obeys the laws, which in those days meant whatever theadamant king might decree:  “I ampowerless, she says, before thecity.” [line 79]   But Antigone remembersthat ever since human beings came into their proper humanity, the foundationalcustom has been the burial of one’s own dead. The royal decree amounts to no more than a capricious ruling, asecondary affair that reduces an eternal law to circumstances and takes accountof only one of the brothers.

      Antigone buriesPolynices secretly.  On discovering this,King Creon condemns her to be buried alive. Just as in her debate with Ismene, Antigone here stands irreconcilableagainst Creon.  Antigone respects “thelaws which are not for a day, nor for yesterday, but forever.” [line 452] And,if such respect is the same through time, then also the dead—people of thepast—must receive the same respect that one gives to the living.  For the king, as well as for Ismene,this attitude is incomprehensible.  Timefor them is merely the day at hand, and society is a village; they payattention only to what surrounds them.

     Confronted with the fateof Antigone, Creon’s son Haemon, who loves her, kills himself.  Then out of despair, Haemon’s motherEurydice, the king’s wife, also takes her own life.  Creon, who believed that he had won hisstruggle, remains alone and desperate. At the conclusion of the drama it is clear that the only real justice atwork was that of Antigone.

      The unconscious fantasyof the society in which Sophocles lived expresses itself here quite clearly. Anethics that reduces itself to rules (to governability,as Lagos would say) renders life false to itself from within.  The dead who surround the king symbolize whathas no future—what he gives birth to,his own son.  Antigone is buried alive,which is to say that justice, although shut away from sight, continues tobreathe.  When the good dwindles andwithers away, reducing itself to mere norms, the cure for such illness callsfor the autonomy of the ordinary citizen who confronts the ruler of the state,or of the woman who stands up to the man, or of inspiration taking its stand inthe face of unbending regulations.  Andof all those against Ismene, even at the risk of being buried alive withAntigone.


[1] F. Pastore, Dobbiamo temere le migrazioni? Bari: Laterza 2004.

[2] One of the important European banks dealing with  international relations has dedicated herlast report to the influence of immigration in Europe. In the last decade (1995– 2005) without immigration the pro-capita income of the European coutries using the Euro currency would haveactually declined by a 0,25% eachyear: immigrants, therefore, not only do not steal jobs (because they fillthose the Europeans themselves would not choose), they  also essentially contribute to the increaseof the average income. The most astonishing figure is the one of Germany, wherethe pro-capita  income would havedeclined by 1,52% yearly. (See: Caixa Catalunya Informe semestral sobre la economia española y el contexto internacional, 2006, I).

[3] In UlrichBeck Die feindlose DemokratieStuttgart: Reclam 1995.

[4] Quoted by Beck, ibidem.

[5] F. Nietzsche Jenseitsvom Gut und Böse (1886)Collected Works VI, ii.

[6] S. Freud TheProblem of Lay AnalysisGesammelte Werke 14, Standard Edition 20.

[7] L. Zoja Cultivatingthe Soul, London: Free Association 2005 (in Portuguese: forthcoming, Saõ Paulo: Axis Mundi Ed.)

[8] L.Zoja  Ethics and Analysis Texas A&MUniversity Press,currently in press.

[9] Jakob Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (The Civilizationof the Renaissance in Italy), 1860, and GriechischeKuturgeschicte, 1898-1902.

[10] A. Haddad Freud enItralie Paris: AlbinMichel 1995.

[11] G. Magherini La  sindrome di Stendhal  Firenze: Ponte alle Grazie 1979.

[12] Augustine Confessions VI.3.

[13] O. Paz Tiemponublado,  Barcelona: Seix Barral 1983,I, 1.

[14] G. Easterbrook, The ProgressParadox, New York: Random House 2003, I.

[15] Dante AlighieriMonarchia,  1559, I.

[16] J. o’Sullivan “TheGreat Nation of Futurity,” in Democratic Review 6, 23, 1839.

[17] F. T. Marinetti“Manifesto del futurismo” in Le FigaroFebruary 20, 1909.

[18] H.D.S. Greenway Heeding BritishGhosts in: International HeraldTribune, June 7, 2006.

[19] E. Minkowski, Le temps vécu, 1933, 1968, I.iv Ital. transl. Il tempo vissuto Torino: Einaudi 1971.

[20] Ph. Ariés, Essai sur l’histoire de la mort enOccidcent, Paris: Seuil 1975.

[21] G, Gorer, The Pornography of Death, (1955) in Death, Grief and Mourning, New York: Arno Press 1977.

[22] See: C. G. Jung On Psychological Understanding, 1914, CW3 para 391, and On Psychic Energy,1928, CW 8 para 94-95, etc.

[23] Idem, CW 13 para 54.