Thinking extreme social violence: The model of the literary plague

Beatriz Priel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The author uses literary plagues as a model for thinking psychoanalytically about the basic anxieties activated among perpetrators of sanctioned massacres. The model of the plague allows abstracting an underlying primitive psychological organization characterized by syncretism and a powerful anxiety of de-differentiation and confusion, leading characteristically to imitative behavior within the in-group as well as to the disavowal of the out-group members similarities to oneself i.e. the disavowal of the other's humanity. Recognizing the historical and social foundations of discrimination and genocide, the author analyzes the interaction between group and individual processes that allow ordinary people to join daily acts of immoral violence. She dramatizes the model of the plague through a psychoanalytic reading of three literary plagues: Thebes' plague according to Sophocles, Camus's chronicle of the plague in Oran, and Saramago's meditation on the plague of white blindness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1457-1472
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Psychoanalysis
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2007


  • Disavowal
  • Mimicry
  • Plague
  • Scapegoating
  • Social violence
  • Undifferentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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