Love, artificiality and mass identification

13 May 2014

How are we to understand the phenomenon of mass identification, epitomised in recent exhibitions of national feeling such as that of South Africa’s 2010 Football World Cup celebrations? Rather than focusing on the concepts of discourse and nationalism, or advancing an analysis of empirical data, this paper outlines a conceptual response to the challenge at hand, drawing on the tools of psychoanalytic theory. Three explanatory perspectives come to the fore. Firstly, such exhibitions of mass emotion might be understood as demonstrations of love, as examples of the libidinal ties that constitute and consolidate mass identification. Secondly, the marked artificiality of such displays of emotion and the fact of the ‘externality’ they entail might be seen, paradoxically, to be essential rather than inauthentic or secondary features of the displays in question. Thirdly, we might advance, via Lacan, that many of our most powerful emotions require not only recourse to the field of the inter-subjective, but reference also to the anonymous, ‘fictional’ framework of available symbolic forms.