A touch of separation— toward an ethics of anxiety in the age of the global contagion

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Jeffrey S. Librett


I examine the relation between anxiety and the COVID-19 pandemic.  For context, I begin by sketching the rise of anxiety as a theme from the 19th century to the post-World War II era, as a mood of the individual in a world without absolutes.  Then, I characterize the current moment as the age of the anxiety of the global contagion.  Next, I examine the most general effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the individual ego, as simultaneous radical separation from and connection with others.  I proceed to juxtapose this situation with Freud’s anxiety theory, which likewise involves simultaneous separation and connection.  The social ego today thus appears, from a Freudian perspective, as in an exacerbated anxiety-state.  I claim that this exacerbation helps us understand more clearly Freud’s anxiety theory, and vice versa.  I then consider where this anxiety takes place, and so I examine the Freudian “site” of anxiety—the ego. This examination clarifies two aspects of Freud’s ego-theory: both the sense in which the Freudian ego is (post)modern, and the sense in which Freud’s linkage of anxiety with the ego is not occasional, but constitutive.  That is, the ego is the site of anxiety, in that anxiety characterizes the ego as such, because the ego is a (post) modern liminal structure.  I suggest in conclusion that the affirmation and acceptance of anxiety as a fundamental experience of the ego, and of the psyche more generally, constitutes an ethical imperative for psychoanalysis in general, and especially in the contemporary age of the global contagion.

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How to Cite
Librett, J. S. . (2021). A touch of separation— toward an ethics of anxiety in the age of the global contagion . Metalepsis: Journal of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis, 1(1), 128-140. https://doi.org/10.52112/mtl.v1i1.10