Psychoanalyzing the World

September 10, 2008

There was a post of an old Badiou interview in which he makes a few general remarks on Zizek’s project, including:

That is, in my opinion, why Žižek is not exactly in the field of philosophy, but in the field of a new topology, a new topology for the interpretation of concrete facts in a situation, political events and so on. Though, here, I mean interpretation not in the hermeneutic sense, but in the psychoanalytic sense. Žižek offers us something like a general psychoanalysis, a psychoanalysis that exceeds the question of clinics and becomes an absolutely general psychoanalysis. This is the first time that anyone has proposed to psychoanalyze our whole world.



I’m in agreement with this statement, but find myself alternating between two readings in regards to his political writings:

1) We can read Zizek acting in his capacity as psychoanalyst, in a clinic with ‘the world’ on his couch, acting as his analysand, with Zizek writing down his interpretations in the form of these books we are reading & discussing each week.

2) Or ‘the world’ is already in a clinic. Through his books, he endeavors to specify the clinical elements. Here we might see that the cynical Left is the analysand, while the Party acts as its analyst. Or any other number of formulations: S1s (ideologies) shake out of the session, the Party in its resisting role of objet a …

Perhaps the proper place to find oneself, in as much as one is interested in being politically active in accordance with Zizek’s thought, is the gap between (1) & (2): where the first takes the (externally) reflective position (where one makes interpretations from a safe, priveleged, excluded position), the second endeavors to specify the split in the World-Substance itself, so that the overall ‘trick’ would be operate in the overlapping lacks of the two.

How do you read this: ‘Zizek psychoanalyzes the world?’

For all that I just wrote, I am at a loss on how to read this other than how I just did (& I find much fault with my thoughts on this), though I hold Badiou’s statements to be true.

Another way to ask this, if it is certain that Zizek has developed a new radical topography, is how, within his logic, does he conceive of its political usage?


One Response to “Psychoanalyzing the World”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    In terms of its political uses (and something I’d like to talk about as we get into discussions this year), I think it has to do with how Zizek perceives the social Real: class struggle.

    One thing I’m working on now is the relation between Freud’s interpretation of dreams and the concepts of condensation and displacement in dreamwork.

    As Zizek often repeats, “The easiest way to detect ideological surplus-enjoyment in an ideological formation is to read it as a dream, and analyse the displacement at work in it” (FTKNWTD: xci). This quote is repeated elsewhere (I think it’s in one of the articles in Universal Exception).

    Also, in Ticklish, there’s a section called (something like) “Why the ruling ideas aren’t always the ideas of those who rule” (or something to that effect).

    Here, Zizek talks about how every ideological formation has two contents: the authentic content of a group, and its ideological distortion or displacement.

    I think that what is key, here, and for Zizek’s psychoanalytic critique of ideology, is to look at and critique the ideological displacement in, what Badiou refers to as, ‘cultural facts’.

    So what gets displaced?

    Well, if we look at how Zizek talks about the Real in the first chapter of Sublime Object, it is clear that the Real represents the reality of desire (or wish fulfillment in Freud)… that is, if we consider it in terms of dream work.
    But that is how Zizek seems to be reading ideological displacement anyway… to read it as a dream.

    In politics, the Real, class struggle, gets displaced in order to represent society as a totality (which is why Zizek builds off of Laclau and Mouffe’s concept of antagonism to talk about the Real of society: politics is possible because society is impossible).

    The psychoanalysis of culture (or, of the world), therefore, aims at locating the ideological displacement of class struggle in ‘cultural facts’.

    Here, in opposition to the old base-superstructure model, I think that it is important to think of the relation between the two in terms of something like a moebius strip (spell check) – this is how Zizek talks about it… But I’m thinking of it in terms of the political-cultural level, and the social-economic level, as two sides of the same coin.
    In other words, the bourgeois individual is the political-cultural form of the capitalist, and the capitalist is the social-economic form of the bourgeoisie. By focusing on the pathological aspects of bourgeois society/culture – i.e. class struggle, divide between Inclusion/Exclusion – when he talks about what is problematic with ‘democracy’, etc. – Zizek seems to be attempting to locate the work of displacement at the political-cultural level.

    What I think is important, though, is that Zizek appears to view culture as pathological! That is one way of reading ‘the uneasiness of culture’ (civilization and its discontents).

    … I’m too tired to get into the three Reals, or the displacement of surplus-enjoyment and the Real and all that junk… lets keep this going at our live discusion.

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