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The Sublime Object of Ideology (Phronesis) Paperback – 6 Oct 1989

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (6 Oct. 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0860919714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0860919711
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"a brilliant book.... If Zizek is out of touch with contemporary philosophy, I am the bishop of Ulan Bator.... Pedagogic clarity and a gift for entertainment are two of the many excellences." - Radical Philosophy "Slavoj Zizek, the Giant of Ljubljana,... provides the best intellectual high since Anti-Oedipus" - Voice Literary Supplement

From the Back Cover

In this provocative and original work, Slavoj Zizek takes a look at the question of human agency in a postmodern world. From the sinking of the Titanic to Hitchcock's Rear Window, from the operas of Wagner to science fiction, from Alien to the Jewish Joke, the author's acute analyses explore the ideological fantasies of wholeness and exclusion which make up human society.

Linking key psychoanalytical and philosophical concepts to social phenomena such as totalitarianism and racism, the book explores the political significance of these fantasies of control. In so doing, The Sublime Object of Ideology represents a powerful contribution to a psychoanalytical theory of ideology, as well as offering persuasive interpretations of a number of contemporary cultural formations.

'a brilliant book ... If Zizek is out of touch with contemporary philosophy, I am the Bishop of Ulan Bator ... Pedagogic clarity and a gift for entertainment are two of the many excellences.' Radical Philosophy

'Slavoj Zizek, the Giant of Ljubljana, ... provides the best intellectual high since Anti-Oedipus.' Voice Literary Supplement


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of Zizek's most systematic works in which he uses the lacanian categories in the philosophical and political analysis. The main development is through the concept of 'fantasy' which will be crucial in his understanding of the fundamental mechanism of ideology. He aims to understand contemporary ideological phenomena such as cynicism, the fragil status of democracy or totalitarianism according to his well-earned reputation as a searing social critic. He links the lacanian real on the one hand with Hegel and on the other with Hichcock and Woody Allen. The book calls for the participation of the reader which makes it very dynamic. No previous reading of Lacan is required since the book contains a brief exposition of the concepts deployed. The antagonisms around which identities are considered establish the bases for a theory of the subject. For those interested in the most recent elaborations of pos-structuralist readings it is no doubt, a must.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By ldxar1 on 28 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of the earliest Zizek books available in Britain, and in my view one of the heaviest in terms of his deployment of technical Lacanian terminology. Unlike some of his more recent work, it is structured in quite a systematic way, with each chapter providing a discussion of a self-contained topic - although readers should expect a certain amount of flitting between subjects as Zizek attempts to write about Lacan, philosophy, politics and popular culture all in one go.
Having read a number of Zizek's texts, I would say that this is a formative work - important in demonstrating some of the elements which are later to become Zizek's hallmarks, but not yet providing the full-scale original theorising to be found in texts such as A Plague of Fantasies. What is original here is (if anything) mainly the deployment of Lacanian ideas to such a diverse range of phenomena. Zizek's political position in this book basically echoes the "radical democracy" of Laclau and Mouffe, with a heavier deployment of Lacanian concepts added; this is in distinction to the revolutionary posturing of his later works. I found his tendency to naturalise the phenomena he examines (the "inevitable" degeneration of revolution into Stalinism, the "necessary" supplementing of consent with an imposed gesture of "forced choice", etc.) annoying and misleading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Zizek's most sustained argument 24 July 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Those who know Zizek's work--and chances are you wouldn't be reading this otherwise--are familiar with the author's striking, off-the-cuff applications of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to pop culture (e.g., Aliens, Bladerunner, Forrest Gump). While this text also contains numerous examples, it is much more theoretically oriented than "Looking Awry" or "Enjoy Your Symptom!" and as such is perhaps the best place to go if you're wondering if there is really a coherent system beneath Zizek's pyrotechnics. Contained in the book are: a (partial) synthesis of Lacan and Marx; an explication of Lacan's diagram for desire, and an insightful rectification of Hegel's commonly misunderstood dialectics
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
THE best introduction to hegel, marx, freud, and lacan 9 Aug. 2006
By Matheme - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While it is undoubtedly true that to read most recent critical theorists one wants acquaintance with the philosophical and anti-philosophical canons, Zizek is a different story. This is because he excels at giving coherent and surprisingly entertaining expositions of some of the most difficult thinkers in western thought (especially lacan, hegel, and kant). Reading Zizek will make you want to read these other writers, and Zizek's interpretations are as original as they are accurate, in both cases impeccably so.

The aim of the book is manifold. Among other things it:

1. Rehabilitates Lacan's thinking against charges of obscurantism (sokal, gallop, noel carrol, et al). This is particularly true of the chapters entitled "che vuoi?" (what do you want?) and "you only die twice." The former chapter is a tour du force reading of Lacan's infamous semiotic diagrams on the dialetic of desire (see last chapter of "Ecrits" (short edition)). Improbably, this reading is built up as a response to one of the most "mainstream" debates in all of analytic philosophy: Kripke vs. Searle, anti-deescriptivism v descriptivism. Ultimately the claim is that Lacan represents the Enlightenment ideals more than anyone else today.

2. It challenges the prevailing determinist interpretation of hegel and makes an exceptionally persuasive case that hegel is THE thinker of contingency and indeterminacy and "the opened", so to speak. This is the task the conclusion of the book takes up, starting with a close-reading of the difference between Kant and Hegel's thinking on the sublime. The thing above all in Hegel's legacy is the format of hegel's reasoning, the often misunderstood dialectical triad. Read the last chapter for a definition and application of this mode of logic.

3. Begins by making the case that it was Marx and not Freud who "invented the symptom." Another original and persuasive argument, not to be missed. In edition to a new notion of ideology and how to critique it, this chapter includes one of the best short introductions Freud's theory of dreams I know of.

People often deride Zizek as a "comedian/philosopher" who makes too much light of serious matters (see the new yorker profile of 2003 for such a take). And this book certainly has its share of dirty and/or political jokes. What this view forgets, however, is that while Zizek is perfectly capable of turning serious matters into jokes, it his ability to look awry at the most trivial matters, to take the big Other's jokes seriously, that is perhaps his most enduring quality as a thinker.
Zizek and "(Post-)Structuralism": "Where is the Beef?" 12 Feb. 2012
By Jean Nezmars - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The back cover of my 1989 Verso paperback edition of the Sublime Object of Ideology announces (see post-script) that "Zizek takes issue with analysts of the postmodern condition from Habermas to Sloterdijk, showing that the idea of a post-ideological world ignores the fact that `even if we do not take things seriously, we are still doing them.'" Between Sloterdijk and Habermas? What (intellectual) space is there to accommodate such `analysts' as Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, or even the ab-original apologist of the postmodern, Jean-Francois Lyotard? Perhaps only the infinitesimal (and infinite) quantum space between subatomic particles, would allow room for debate. But there is no there (space) there (in the argument).

I am reminded here of the joke where a man (perhaps if I use an ethnic minority it would resonate more Zizekean), a man at a football stadium hears a voice coming from the lower seats. The voice calls out "Hey Fred!" The man stands up, surveys the horizon but cannot locate the voice and sits down. This process repeats itself a few times, as the interpellation "Hey Fred!" gets louder and more persistent. Finally the man stands up, furious, and yells back to the place of the voice: "My name is not Fred!" Perhaps we can imagine Zizek in the place of the voice yelling "Hey, (Post)-Structuralist" with Habermas replying, after much frustration "Ich bin kein Poststruktralist."

In fact we are warned at the onset, that this book, according to Laclau's prefatory notes, is not a book (recall Magritte, or perhaps Freud), but a collage or essays (in the French sense of attempts). What follows consists, we are told, of the "reiteration... of theoretical interventions... in different discursive context," to parse a phrase from the preface (xii - Laclau): "No systematic argument is developed according to a predetermined plan." Un homme averti !

In the Introduction, Zizek chides Habermas for not confronting Lacan directly in his Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1987). Yet Zizek repeats the very gesture by not confronting "(Post)-Structuralism" directly (whatever and whoever the term encapsulates). For this reason, I have placed the term "(Post)-Structuralism" (with its multiple decompositions-hyphenations and brackets) in suspension since I use the term here as a label, not as a field of thought or historical conjuncture. These are the terms of engagement with Zizek's narrative.

For this is the Big Other, the foil and false prophets (we should include here Althusser as well) that Zizek summons or channels to counterpoint his position: psychoanalysis meets/meats dialectical materialism, mediated by German idealism and peppered with cultural/media references-films, novels, and jokes. I use the infamous Wendy's commercial inquiry "Where is the beef?" here in its dual meaning: where is the substantive argument with "(Post)-Structuralism" and where is the point of contention (the beef) articulated? Neither question can be answered simply. For neither the substance of the argument nor the point of articulation is explicitly developed in this book. No point de caption in this capitulation. Although there are plenty of allusions, innuendos, and parallel universes established in films, ethnic jokes, and other cultural artifacts that would allow us (despite the author) to reconstruct the frame/form of a contention. We would in fact be reading the margins, scavenging the surplus and mining the exaggerations, but as such we might be labeled a sophist and be dismissed by Zizek out of hand, a priori.

Zizek dedicates but very few pages to the (directed) critique of "(Post)-Structuralism" (Part 3, Chapter 5), with Derrida (and a passing reference to Foucault) as the foil of his criticism. There is no frontal attack, no full Monty. The man is naked under all his clothing (of ideology) p29. In fact the argument or contention (against) is often articulated around the "But(t)." Of course the butt of jokes and the grammatical "but" are in play. Here are but a few examples: regarding the postmodern effects of subjectivity "But with Lacan..." (p175); on the postmodernist abandon in the ludic we have "In contrast to... (p154), and again "In Lacan's lectures, however..." In the final analysis, Zizek's confrontation with Postmodernism and/or (Post)-Structuralism, like the Quixotean struggle against the wind, merely reveals that the postmodern "Other is in Paris" (to parody Lenin is in Warsaw p159).

Post-script - I am not passing judgment on the Zizekean enterprise (a reading of Lacanian psychoanalysis). That is to say, I have nothing here to say about this juncture. I am only reflecting on the "back panel" (now removed) and its presumed reflection to the narrative. I could have erred/aired following two trajectories (or world-histories): The first is the assumption that these "blurbs" were scribed by an other academic, a reader who simply got it wrong. The second alternative misinterpretation (on my part) is if this was written by Zizek himself, as such, I would have to overlay another psychodynamic dimension to my reading (delusion). But since I have no basis for these interpretations, I must assume the lowest possible motive/motif: This "avertissement" is simply a thinly veiled attempt to market the book during a time when the term Postmodernism was "overdetermined" with exchange-value. So, you may ask, if that is the case, why invest (time and libidinal energy) in a reading, in a review? Well, like a jilted lover I did not attain the object of my desire (an articulated critique of postmodernism), and yet I had a good time.
Zizek Before Zizek 29 April 2010
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek's first book in English, has been republished in The Essential Zizek collection at Verso. As I posted a review of this new version on Amazon, I am only reviewing the first edition for reference. It includes a bibliography as well as an original preface by Ernesto Laclau that were dropped out of the new edition. The dedication "For Renata" was also abandoned, and the book cover with a picture by Max Ernst bereft of its erotic charge.

It is perfectly legitimate for an author to try to cover his tracks and to give new coloration to the past. The missing elements of this second edition nonetheless provide important information about the Zizek project. The bibliography of the original edition is evenly distributed into titles in English, in French and in German, bearing witness to the origins of a thought for which the English language was only derivative. Only in continental Europe, and in Slovenia of all places, could a project blending Lacan, Marx, and Hegel develop into such a powerful mix. The Zizek brew was long in the making, and it borrowed heavily from the convergence of Freudism, Marxism, and German philosophy that characterized the French intellectual landscape at the end of the 1970s. English only came as an afterthought to Zizek, and his interventions, especially his spoken ones, are still marked by the accent and proclivities of his native Southern Central Europe.

Ernesto Laclau's preface begins by describing the variegated reception given to Lacan's thought from country to country at the time of his writing. In France, and in Latin countries in general, he notes that the influence of Lacan has been mainly clinical and has therefore been closely linked with psychoanalytic practice. In Anglo-Saxon countries this centrality of the clinical aspect has, to a large extent, been absent and the influence of Lacan has revolved almost exclusively around the literature-cinema-feminism triangle.

The most valuable part of Laclau's preface is that it provides information on Lacan's reception in Slovenia, where Zizek was by no means an isolated case. "Today, he notes, Lacanian theory is the main philosophical orientation in Slovenia. It has also been one of the principal reference points of the so-called 'Slovenian Spring'". The production of this Slovenian school is already considerable: apart from two books in French, Laclau refers to more than twenty volumes published in Slovenian. He also lists ten authors, including Mladen Dolar and Renata Salecl, as close associates to Zizek.

The Slovenian Lacanian School possesses highly original features. In contrast with the Latin and Anglo-Saxon world, Lacanian categories have been used in a reflection which is essentially philosophical and political. And while the Slovenian theoreticians make some efforts to extend their analysis to the domain of literature and film, the clinical dimension is totally absent. A distinctive feature of the Slovenian school is the use of Lacanian categories in the analysis of classical philosophical texts: Plato, Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant, Marx, Heidegger, the Anglo-Saxon analytical tradition and, above all, Hegel. Indeed, the specific flavor of the Slovenian theorists is given by their Hegelian orientation. As Laclau writes in the 1989 preface, "Its special combination of Hegelianism and Lacanian theory currently represents one of the most innovative and promising theoretical projects on the European intellectual scene".

As Laclau notes, The Sublime Object is "a series of intellectual interventions, which shed mutual light on each other, not in terms of the progression of an argument, but in terms of what we could call the reiteration of the latter in different discursive contexts". Zizek puts in place what Barthes has called a 'writerly text', a textual machine that invites the reader to pursue the discursive proliferation in which the author has been engaged. This is why reading one of Zizek's book is equivalent to reading them all, while at the same time the reader is caught by the addictive power of Zizek's prose and constantly demands more. This first edition will fulfill the needs of the Zizek collector, while providing important information on the context in which the Zizek project originated.
Thumbs up 16 July 2014
By Tom Hebing - Published on Amazon.com
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