In moral philosophy as in religious texts, anger is frowned upon. She is brought back to this loss of control and reason that disfigures and can lead to verbal and even physical violence. And yet, it is also a sign of resistance to domination, of a demand for justice and reparation, as the philosopher Sophie Galabru maintains. When fueling verbal conflict, anger can not only signal offense and injury to bodies, but also spark political revolutions. Denied or unheard, it can on the contrary lead to feelings of hatred and exclusion which can target both dominant and foreign figures.
You define anger as that “intelligent signal that reminds reason to look into its body’s message and its hurt emotions.”
I undertake, in this essay, a description of this phenomenon which can apply at any time. Anger is an emotion coming from the body which signals to the mind an imbalance, an offense, an injustice, an attack on one’s freedom. Anger is also a motor of revolutions: it has given rise to major revolutionary movements, even joyful, as during the strikes of 1936 in France. If it can mutate into hatred, it is because of its non-reception by those in power: when angry people are not heard, when they are despised, mocked and even abused, then the mutation intervenes here.
Would you say that we still suffer from our Stoic and Christian legacies relating to anger, which would be the two sources of our “difficulty in angering”, which would prevent our angers?
The rationalist heritage has identified reason with a faculty of calculation and has relegated the body to an instinctual and confused mass. Christian theological and institutional heritage has also seen in this emotion a guilty expression of pride. Today, we have swung into an erotic era where sex and desire are everywhere. It’s another way of not making room for anger, which is an affect that allows pride to impose itself. Anger remains made to feel guilty, as being an affect that diminishes erotic capital.
Doesn’t the impediment to anger primarily concern women, so willingly accused of hysteria when they oppose and lose their temper?
An angry woman tries to have her place recognized in society, in her family or in her relationship. His anger can help him to repel offenses, even abuses considered not serious by those who do not perceive sexist domination, even the residual traces of patriarchy. Pushing back an order that has been in place for a long time by contesting its naturalness, to assert its contingency, is a destabilizing movement. Angry women and perhaps even more so feminists, that is to say women who are fully aware of the imbalances linked to patriarchy, denounce this system at the same time as they demand a revolution in human relations. Their anger sounds like a double imperative: that men dare to appreciate a system other than dominance, that they open up to their emotions and dare to respect, even love women. Women must also accept the men thus changed and assume their full economic, affective and social autonomy.
What special relationship do you think childhood has with anger?
The most restrained anger is that of the child, because he needs the affection of his parents or those who take care of him. Self-defence in children is made very complex by their dependence and loyalty to their guardians. I distinguish anger from whims. Rousseau also talks about it in his “Émile”: these are attempts to start a balance of power, to test the limits of the other. And from this point of view, caprice is not unique to children. Anger is more related to an injustice and a hurt.
How is this book the fruit of your own existential journey?
This research is the product of an analysis of the notion as a lived experience. After a certain age, by dint of being confronted with power relations or injustices, and this is especially the case when one is a woman, one ends up being interested in the patterns that lead to explaining violence. The analysis makes it possible to understand that these phenomena are not personal anecdotes but the result of relations of domination, in particular of patriarchal domination. Certain readings also contributed to this research, in particular “The Second Sex”, by Simone de Beauvoir, or even “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, by Alice Miller.
Don’t bland psychology of well-being and development confuse denial of anger with resilience?
The concept of resilience is overexploited in the field of business and politics, including by Emmanuel Macron who talks about the resilience of capitalism in the face of climate drama in his “Climate and Resilience” law resulting from the great national debate organized in 2019. This encourages the defusing of struggles. This excessive use depoliticizes legitimate concerns and incites apathy and resignation.
What distinguishes anger from madness? What would be good and bad anger?
Anger is a form of grain of madness that comes to break social conventions, false peace. By daring to expose oneself, to be called crazy, anger does not refer to the absence of reason. Anger is not irrational. I think it’s always good and successful when it stays in verbal conflict or breaking up. The blows refer more to a desire to destroy the other and to a form of relational failure.
How is anger a social feeling, a political passion? Are those of demonstrators, insurgents, yellow vests or strikers driving political passions?
Anger is a political affect because it is a relational affect that aims to regulate one’s relationship with others when it hurts, dominates and offends. Aristotle perceives this passion as a possible virtue that can be linked to concern for one’s dignity. It is an affirmation of pride. It is an affect that often occurs within a power relationship. The fact remains that the anger of the yellow vests and that of the demonstrators against the pension reform in 2019, if they have federated opposition, are affects that do not guarantee the success of these struggles.
In politics, is it the expression of a demand for justice and the contestation of economic and social oppression?
As long as it does not fall into the stigmatization of a part of the population and seeks to resolve a situation of domination, anger is just. Anger that demands an end to precariousness and economic oppression, and a better distribution of wealth and consideration is always right.
How does anger show that the social contract is a fiction, and that it is in the nature of politics that angers meet?
The social contract as thought of in the 17th century by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wants to make people believe in the need for the State to regulate individual violence and economic flows. From this philosophy comes the idea that to revolt amounts to breaking the social contract. However, anger and demands are ways of regenerating this contract. But let’s go further. As Jacques Rancière maintains, what gives birth to the Democratic Republic is, on the contrary, the sometimes aggressive emergence of disagreements and anger. The French Republic is moreover founded on anger, and even more, on hatred. As long as society perpetuates relations of domination and finds itself hierarchical (instead of offering more complementarity between citizens), there will always be anger and violence.
Can this feeling make a program?
Anger is not enough to resist. It can degenerate into hatred or exhaustion of the militant. It must reconnect with joy or friendship so as not to make the discontented lose their vitality and their life. The individual must not allow himself to be exhausted by collective struggles. And then, angry citizens expose themselves to other risks: that their speech is captured to be redirected towards specific targets, as scapegoats. The anger of the yellow vests resisted this capture by refusing to give themselves spokespersons, for which they were criticized.
To what extent does forgiveness prevent the expression of anger and its reparations?
I seek to resituate anger and forgiveness vis-à-vis reason. It was important to me to challenge the sophism according to which forgiveness is rational and imperative, and anger impulsive and insane. Conversely, I maintain that forgiveness is an irrational and mysterious gesture. What is rational is the anger that demands justice and reparation. Forgiveness is a concept that must be returned to religion, like a grace that falls on us. Moreover, forgiveness has nothing to do with politics. Asking a President of the Republic to ask for “pardon” in the name of the past seems to me to be an undue moralization of political life. This moralization is also in constant progression. Instead of thinking in terms of good and bad, I invite us to resituate the scene of politics between the just and the unjust, between what can be repaired and what cannot.
You appeal to a vital anger in a democracy as between friends, that of argument and the search for agreements, by which “the possibility of outspokenness and a concern for the truth is played out”…
Friendship is also a form of struggle and resistance. It binds people who have in common the desire for freedom and justice and who are ready to speak frankly. In the film by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch, “Chronique d’unété” (1961), we clearly see an existence between friends that is more political, more conflictual and more joyful at the same time. Today, it seems more difficult to talk about politics among friends. We no longer have any ability to dialogue, or even to enter into conflict in a flexible, respectful and passionate way. In new friendships, political discussions refer to irreversible ruptures. They are based on the banishment of political discussions in favor of more entertaining relationships, which rather correspond to the desire to flee life in common, at the heart of our political city. This withdrawal from political conversation reinforces the fact that political life is increasingly entrusted to technocrats and experts.
What can be creative in anger? Do artists feel more what anger opens up to the future?
If you are a political artist, you run the risk of commercial recovery of your works, like Jean-Michel Basquiat or the street artist Banksy. The problem arises when gestures of revolt against the system become bankable. Big brands make any counterculture part of culture. What to do then to resist while creating? Perhaps by returning to the idea that all resistance is creative and that the gesture of refusing exploitation, enslavement, contempt is an artistic act.