Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction

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Hegel holds that everything is contextually determined, in other words, so to understand the world reasonably is to situate things in their larger context. Such totalities including political regimes, or even the global international order today are the widest network of interrelations between things, processes and actions within which every event, thing or person is located.

Placing these phenomena in their total context means seeing them as the result of internal contradictions. Because the authoritarian nation- alist movements in Serbia and Croatia that caused the conflict are a response to the rapid-fire globalisation of the former Yugoslavia after The truth articulated in this paradox. TN Fundamentalism is that phenomenon in which the West gets its own truth back from the non-capitalist world in an inverted, violent form.

He is an astute observer of the new types of political and social problems that liberal capitalist societies face today. The Western Enlightenment itself has yet to complete its own exposure of the unreason at the heart of modernity.

Zizek And Politics: A Critical Introduction

The specific claim is that, when Enlightenment rationality becomes the servant of capitalist domination, then it engenders irrational anti-Enlightenment forces. These Western Marxists also heavily indebted to Hegel turned to psychoanalysis to explain why the workers of Europe did not embrace socialist revolu- tion in the s, but turned in numbers to fascism. It can provide a theory of human motivation deep enough to explain the appeal to irrational sacrifice and the fatal attraction subjects seem to feel towards forms of political authoritarianism ME 16— The hope is that insight into these sources of motivation — and the way political regimes appeal to them — will allow us to counteract these reactionary political forces in future.

The Party claimed to rule in the name of the common good. But people knew that, behind the scenes, factional struggles raged, with different groups competing to capture power SO —8. In this situation, rational knowledge called for the replacement of the bureaucracy by popular sovereignty. But this very bureaucracy demanded that everybody conform in their actions to the latest official shift in the party line.

Yet this knowledge did not affect their loyalty to the status quo. They acted as if they did not know, as if there was no. It indicates the deep, even paradoxical ways that people can be convinced to support political parties, movements or regimes that betray their true interests. It also speaks powerfully to the political situation and lived experience of subjects in Western liberal-capitalist societies. Everybody knows that global capitalism involves shocking poverty and misery in the developing world, that the later modern state is largely captive to private interests and lobby groups, yet nobody does anything about this.

SI Ideological delusion, in other words, belongs to the peculiar class of things that people take. Althusser suggested that the way ideologies work was grasped by the seventeenth-century theologian Blaise Pascal in his provoca- tive description of religious conversion. For Pascal, religion was not. As a structuralist, Althusser argues that what is politically decisive is the structural places we each hold as fathers or mothers in kinship structures, workers or financiers in the economic structures, and so on. The paradox is, however, that people will perform these roles only if they think, in doing so, they are freely realising their subjective potential.

For Althusser, the autonomous individual is a result of ideological misrecognition. On it will pivot all his accounts of what is politically possible or desirable. This is the way the person would like others to see her. It corresponds in Lacanian theory to the imaginary register of human experience.


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By this technical term, Lacan means, most broadly, that this level of our identity is at first modelled on loved others we perceive around us, whose behaviour we strive to mirror in order to win their love, and stabilise our sense of who we are. This component of the ego involves symbolic identification. The Symbolic is the register of language and culture, and symbolic identification means the internalisation of cultural norms through identification with figures of symbolic authority — paradigmatically, the parents. SO Ego Ideal: Symbolic I O identification. But who does he think gazes lovingly on him when he does so?

Not poor old Diderot! By organising the entire family heritage, however, by lending some unity to the dispersed familial narrative, it seems to be saturated with meaning — especially for the subject, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. More precisely, what the family name does, for Rousseau, is to specify his place in society as a place of excellent achievements and the highest ideals. In other words, the Ego Ideal holds the place of the Symbolic Order in the psychic economy of the subject. It allocates the subject a position in society, a symbolic mandate with social authority that is defined as deriving from a socio- cultural totality: I O.

She was convinced that the street number of her house not the standard 13, but 23 was bringing her bad luck — the moment her house got this new number, due to some administrative reorganization, misfortunes started to afflict her burglars broke in, a storm tore the roof off, neighbours started to annoy her , so she asked the candidate to be so kind as to arrange with the municipal authorities for the number to be changed.

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It is worth emphasising that the Lacanian Other refers to the entire. Lacan emphasised how, if psychoanalysis is to work, the analysand must suppose that the analyst knows — or will be capable of knowing — the meaning of her symptoms, dreams and bungled actions. The analyst is in this way effectively supposed, by the analysand, to be like an external bearer of her innermost knowledge. Pfaller For Lacan, famously, desire is the desire of the Other. One step up into the Symbolic Order, we encounter the way what people desire is shaped by social expectations and conventions: I desire to be a doctor, because it is a prestigious position commanding respect, is well paid, and so on.

As we stated, the Ego Ideal concerns not.

Table of Contents: Slavoj Zizek :

The Ego Ideal, on behalf of the big Other, allocates the subject a place in the socio-political totality, and it gives the subject a social mandate, a definite role to play in worldly affairs. For the subject, as the example from Slovenia shows, the big Other, the socio-political totality, functions as if it were personified — for instance, classic instances of the big Other are God and Fate. The problem is that, in the unconscious, what the big Other enjoys might be something that the subject would deny if this were presented to them as a conscious proposition. For instance, it might be the case that, for a believer, God enjoys the extermination of unbelievers.

Equally, the subject unconsciously supposes that those with different Ego Ideals, with different social ideals, religious convictions and moral values, serve strange big Others, alien gods. The unconscious logic runs as follows. If God demands the extermination of the unbelievers, then these Others, these other gods, might well demand the annihilation of the believers in our, the true faith. The gods of the others seem to demand an obscene enjoyment that makes these others profoundly dangerous.

Repeating Lenin

When, for instance, non-Muslim Westerners begin speculating about the dangerous and fanatical beliefs of Muslims that they think that suicidal terrorist attacks will earn them a bevy of virgins in Heaven as a reward for killing unbelievers, for instance , this tells us a lot about the unconscious beliefs held by the non-Muslim Westerners see Chapter 6.

The vast majority of people of all political persuasions consider themselves to be fundamentally decent. Human beings overwhelm- ingly, if not universally, share a set of moral commitments: to their families, friends, local communities, and so on. Yet, for all the talk of our post-political age, people on the Left and Right continue to divide heatedly about issues such as immigration, national identity, abortion, and gay and minority rights.

It is this, apparently paradoxical, hypothesis. Let us explain why. Consider how beliefs per se, as opposed to the things we know, concern ideas the truth about which we may have reasons for doubt: for example, the existence of God or an afterlife. If certainty was available about such things, belief would not be required. The average believer does not know the deep theological meanings of the sacraments. But this is no problem: the Church provides a group of people, the priests, who do know the meaning of these things, and so can in this sense believe for the ordinary believers.


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The vast majority of these people could not have understood more than a few words of the Latin tongue in which the Church services were carried out. What politi- cally matters is only that each individual supposes that Other s , or at least the political or group leaders, know the meaning of these terms and of the political Cause.

RL Nor does it speak to the issue of what might draw us to identify with them in the first place. His explana- tion involves this hypothesis concerning the decentred nature of our beliefs. These Others are the dupes; I keep my inner distance. The paradox is not simply that I act as if I did not keep such a distance. It is that these others also maintain this position regarding me.

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Strauss, despite his conscious distance to the great monotheisms, believed through the vulgar Others whom he supposed needed to believe IBK — Croat, Slovenian, Albanian — that emerged after in the former Yugoslavia, to fuel the war of the s. The sublime objects referred to by these master signifiers are of a different kind from the types of objects you might physically meet or bump your head against.

But here again it will not surprise you! On the other hand, however, ideological fantasy typically positions these sublime objects of ideology as under threat from the outside, as if they were only too alienable. Ideologies do not simply shape the commitments of loyal subjects, and their internal solidarity to the group or regime.

The late Yugoslavia offers a case study. Each nationality has built its own mythology narrating how other nations deprive it of the vital part of enjoyment and possession of that which would allow it to love fully. The Slovenes themselves, on the other hand, are supposed to rob Serbs because of their unnatural diligence, stiffness and selfish calcula- tion; instead of yielding to simple life pleasures, Slovenes perversely enjoy constantly devising means of depriving Serbs of the results of their hard labour, by commercial profiteering, by reselling what they bought cheaply in Serbia.

Yet political theory hitherto has largely overlooked or misunder- stood it. In the background, then, we all unconsciously imagine some Other s devoted to thieving this sublime object of ideology from us, enjoy- ing our hardships. This direc- tion, as we will now see, was shaped by his earlier commitments to Kant and Hegel, and his brilliant rereading of their work through a Lacanian lens.

Although politics and the psyche are not the same, they are linked by the ideologies that form personal and public subjectivities. So this is what we turn to now. Where is the academic orientation that has not been accused by its opponents of not yet properly disowning the Cartesian heritage? TS 1 There is a lot here. In particular, there is his capacity to condense into one or two passages more conceptual content than other authors struggle to re produce in entire chapters. It is possible to feel at times that you have suddenly gained a clear perspective on an entire field that might otherwise have taken weeks, months or years to master.

There is a romance to this self- presentation. The modern enlighteners and scientists are supposedly the last, consummate representatives of a much deeper set of Western prejudices. The positive side of this new reformism or conservatism is praise of local, minoritarian, strategic, reformist political movements. Grand political projects to build a better society are out of the question. Importantly, however, there is a serious philosophical position behind the polem- ics. The aim of Enlightenment thought is to free the subject from that pseudo-knowledge, which merely serves the interests of the powerful, and to enlighten the subject as to its real interests.

The ambition of the Enlightenment radicals was a society composed of individuals who obeyed only those governments and laws in accord with their free exercise of reason. The subject supposes that the Other guarantees the social order and assigns the subject a social identity. So, even when subjects resist power, they fear shaking this Other too totally, lest they lose the bases for their own identity. This means that a political regime is never a fully self-consistent, independent whole, into which people are born but about which they can do nothing. The opening of The Ticklish Subject, with which we began this chapter, declares the philosophical basis of this Enlightenment posi- tion.

Descartes intended to reconstruct philosophy on this basis — doing away with reliance on superstition, tradition, common sense and the dogmas of the powerful.