Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989).

First of all, the experience of reading this book. While conscious that I might be generalizing my own reading style, I would still say that this is not a book for which it is necessary to understand every sentence. I plowed through it. I think the book is designed for this sort of reading, because the major themes are repeated, speak to one another at nearly every point. Further, nearly every point is made first in highly specialized terminology, lacanian, hegelian, whatever, and then those nice whacky examples, Hitchcock, Jewish, Stalinist or otherwise obscene jokes...I, at least, followed doggedly and began to have moments of clarity. Here and there I came to see how the descriptions made sense. Lacanian formulations which were at first nonsensical began to take on not just specific, but, I think, useful meaning.

I am hesitant to summarize conclusions of the book in a conventional way. However, Zizek is explicit in the introduction about what he wants to do. First, he intends to introduce the reader to Lacanian psychoanalysis. Zizek’s Lacan, rather than post-structuralist is “perhaps the most radical contemporary version of the Enlightenment” (9). Although there seems to me no natural opposition between the two terms, Zizek also claims Lacan as a rationalist rather than an obscurantist. Second, he wants to “reactualize Hegelian dialectics by giving it a new reading on the basis of Lacanian psychoanalysis.” Finally, Zizek wants “to contribute to a theory of ideology via a new reading of some well-known classical motifs...and of some crucial Lacanian concepts.” Naturally, these three objectives are related.

Being familiar neither with common versions of Lacan as post-structuralist or Hegel as monist-idealist, I am not necessarily well equipped to evaluate Zizek. I am hardly better off when it comes to the theory of ideology, which I take to be more or less the same thing that Laclau and Mouffe do—Hegemony and Socialist Strategy pops up frequently in the text, and Laclau wrote the preface—a sort of althuserian post-marxism. I’ve looked at Hegemony, though only really in passing. Certainly, Zizek’s application (if so vulgar a word is acceptable) of Lacanian procedures to political/social analysis is more fluid, enjoyable, and condensed than Laclau and Mouffe’s. He seems less concerned than they are with ‘political’ questions, focusing rather on theoretical, philosophical issues.

What I appreciate about Zizek, and which I didn’t find in Hegemony, is the strong effort to have it both ways. Indeed, he presents Lacan as someone who is in full control of the conceptual apparatus of ‘structuralism’ and ‘post-structuralism,’ and who wants, none the less, to describe lived human experience. Or, rather, who insists on the reality of this experience, “Lacan always insists on psychoanalysis as a truth-experience: his thesis that truth is structured like a fiction has nothing at all to do with a post-structuralist reduction of the truth-dimension to a textual ‘truth-effect.’” (154). The contortions of Lacanian psychoanalysis are, among other things, attempts to explain the profound interpenetration of so called subject and so called language. These contortions are not so dissimilar, I think, to Sartre’s in the Critique of Dialectical Reason—hammering together the existential individual and marxist historical materialism. It is curious, I suppose, that Lacan seems more useful, more relevant today. Still, at several points in Zizek’s book, I felt strongly that the Lacan he was explaining had a great deal in common with the Sartre I’m aware of. Perhaps this feeling is the result of drinking at the Jamesonian trough about Sartre, and hearing him drop dark hints about the Sartrean interstices of Lacan. I’ll have to read Jameson’s Lacan essay.

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