- 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: 1,149,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
The Sublime Object of Ideology (Phronesis) Paperback – 6 Oct 1989
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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 SupplementSee all Product Description
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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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That said, the book provides an invigorating handle on the notion of the Lacanian subject, the Real, and the Symbolic, as well as Hegelian dialectics (Zizek's "return to Hegel") as they apply to ideology.
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.
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.