Guilt is the Mimesis of Psychic Death

Chris Crawford & Charlot N Maulibec

July 20, 2016

There is an archaic reserve of guilt embedded deep within our psychic life.  Psychoanalysis attempts to explain why this is, but the brute fact is often unsurmountable: for some reasons unknowable to us, we are bad. In this way, guilt comes to structure what we believe to be possible.  Guilt’s ability to bind one to the present state of things is a capacity that has not gone unnoticed by the forces of the status quo, and it has become, often unconsciously, integrated into their techniques.  Part of this ability derives from unverifiability. This is because guilt is fundamentally alien to reflection. It is irrational and destructive, and attempts to critically engage its claims are ineffectual precisely because it operates on the level of the unconscious.  It works like a spell.  Guilt hypnotizes, and in groups it is contagious. The hollowed-out psychological capacity for resistance within the modern individual is further weakened.  In a world where individuals are objectively powerless, guilt provides solace by making resistance seem absurd. The subject is made to feel unworthy and incapable of it in any case. Something has been done wrong by merely existing, and we deserve what we get. In this way it blocks thought and demands withdrawal from engagement with the world, two hallmarks of servile adaption. Every step falters since it just might be in the wrong, in the eyes of an vague yet powerful other over which reason, by fault of this vulnerability, loses its claims. Political tactics on the right, but also on the putative left, ceaselessly exploit this profound reserve of guilt to divide and weaken potential links of solidarity. What might be a community in formation is shattered and reduced to atoms.  Guilt has the sense of an inalterable curse, yet it is historical: capitalism is perhaps the first cult engineered exclusively for the production rather than expiation of guilt. Capitalism is the communism of guilt.  Guilt can thus be interpreted as the opposite of love, eros, which spreads like a contagion and dissolves boundaries between people, instead of erecting them.  That is why Bataille wrote, as the second point of his “Program for Acéphale”: “Lift the curse, the sentiment of guilt that strikes against humans, that sends them to wars they don’t want, that condemns them to a labor whose fruits escape them.” Guilt is the mimesis of psychic death.