structure of his own philosophy. Writing speeches also helped shape his later provoking speeches that could gather thousands of interested intellectuals and even entertain them as the academic rock star.
The occasional jobs gave Žižek proper time to become part of a significant influence in his life; to involve in a group of Slovenian scholars working on theories of by the time well-known French philosopher and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) with whom Žižek went on to found the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis in Ljubljana. He also got the editorial rights to a journal called Problemi and began publishing a series of books called Analecta.
In 1981, Žižek earned his first PhD (Doctor of Arts degree) in philosophy. The same year he traveled to Paris to meet some of the great thinkers he had so long been writing about. Although Lacan was the prime among his favorite thinkers, unfortunately he died in 1981 and it was Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, who played a decisive role in Žižek’s intellectual development. This was the time when Žižek worked hard on psychoanalysis, attended seminars at the École de la Cause Freudienneand, reviewed Lacan’s works line by line and built the founding pillars of his critical thought.
The second disappointment in Žižek’s professional career occurred when after completing his second PhD in psychoanalysis at the Université Paris-VIII in 1985, Miller with whom Žižek had defended his thesis, refused to publish Žižek’s dissertation in the publication inside the cycle of Lacanians where he was in charge. This second discontent made Žižek go back to Slovenia. By this time, Yugoslavia, in line with the Soviet Union was facing a growing political pluralism and increasing democratic opposition against communism which was gradually diminishing in the second half of the 1980s.
The very appetite for political pluralism forced Žižek to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate for presidency in 1990 at the first democratic elections held in Slovenia. Despite his failure in the vote, Žižek did not mind getting his hands dirty with politics. Instead, he devoted himself to his theory and his resistance against the dominant ideological institutions. Alienation from his country, its art and culture, and the institutions he worked for made him a stranger looking at the world from an alienated perspective with the wish produce fresh thought.
As stated before, Žižek’s philosophical focus is on three main theorists’ schools of thought; Hegel’s philosophical structure and method, Marx’s political philosophy and Lacan’s psychoanalysis. In order to shed light on Žižekian critical theory one should begin with his views on these philosophers and the Žižekian interpretations of their theories.
II. Žižek as a Hegelian Philosopher
Geographical, political and cultural affinities between Slovenia and Germany have made Žižek achieve a close understanding of the German philosophy in general and the German idealism in particular, of which the pillar is George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Žižek owes much of his theories to Hegel, but in fact the Hegelian philosophy is in debt to Žižek too. Žižek is not a philosophical apostle who accepts all the traditional perceptions of Hegelian tradition, but he intrudes Hegel’s philosophy and depicts fresh insights into Hegelian philosophical assumptions.
Hegel is welcomed in Žižekian philosophy through some gates; through Žižek’s translations of German philosophical texts mostly that of Sigmund Freud, through Lacan’s great insight into Hegel and through Karl Max (1818-1883) whom Žižek believes to be a true Hegelian. (Žižek, “The Return to Hegel”)
Ian Parker in his Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction (2004) best describes the process through which Hegel was carved on the tabula of Žižek’s critical theory. Hegel was transformed into a key French critical thinker of history and subjectivity in 1930’s through the critical lectures of the Russian émigré philosopher Alexandre Kojěve (1902-1968) in Paris. Many French intellectuals including Lacan used to attend these lectures. For Kojěve, Hegel was almost an ultra-leftist critic who rejects any taken-for-granted assumption about the world. A total rejection of the given truth, the irremediable separation between what we know about the world and the world itself, the ‘negativity’ between human subjects as a fight for recognition and the human subjectivity stripped of the relation with the other are some coral themes Kojěve’s Hegel was mainly concerned about. (Parker 39-46)
Žižek’s critical theory is also filled with this Hegelian negativity. He uses Hegelian negativity not only in commenting on global issues but also in defining Hegelian ideas. In traditional views Hegel was an idealist in the sense that he believed that reality is ultimately spiritual, and that it is developed through the process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (Pinkard xi). Believing in consciousness as the foundation of reality, the idealist system of philosophy maintains that the material world does not exist independently of the mind’s ideas (Myers 16). For Žižek, the real itself is a problematic issue (probably the title of his book Welcome to the Desert of Real (2002) well describes his controversial ideas on the real) and the basis of reality may reside in the realm of an unconventional unconscious rather than mere consciousness. Consequently, Žižek’s version of Hegel differs radically form the older perceptions and even merges with Lacanian psychoanalysis too.
Žižek argues that Hegel himself never used the so-called Hegelian abcs; the terms thesis, antithesis and synthesis. He totally opposes the way the ordinary academics believe Hegel to have theorized and calls this standardized version completely ‘anti-Hegelian.’ (Žižek, “The Return to Hegel”). Žižek is amazed by the extent to which these terms were created by some pupils of Hegel like Karl Rosenkranz (1805-1879) and were recited through well-known philosophers like Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) and formed a conventional version of Hegelian dialectics. Žižek on the contrary, suggests a more radical version of Hegel commenting that Hegelian dialectics does not produce reconciliation or a synthesized viewpoint, but it is the very contradiction itself that is the synthesis. As he points out it in his Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), “contradiction (is) an internal condition of every identity” (6).
The conventional version of Hegelian philosophy also believes in an Absolutist Hegel, who proposes that the individual bits and pieces of ideas can be joined together to shape one absolute idea. It even goes further in this totalitarian viewpoint to say “Hegel played an important role in the growth of German nationalism, authoritarianism and militarism with his quasi-mystical celebrations of what he pretentiously called the Absolute” (Pinkard ix).
But Žižek believes this Absolute to be remarkably fragile. In his The Fragile Absolute (2000) he comments:
What is the Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeting experiences -say, through the gentle sluile of a beautiful woman, or even through the warm, caring smile of a person who may otherwise seem ugly and rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile moments…the Absolute is easily corroded; it slips all too easily through our fingers, and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly. (128)
And this revolutionary understanding of Hegel has made Žižek a prominent Hegelian philosopher who sheds a different light on Hegelian philosophy. Žižek not only uses great ideas of the German philosopher as the structure for his own philosophy, but also employs Hegel’s ideas as a vast window through which he can testify different phenomena and comment on various subjects.
III. Žižek as a Lacanian Psychoanalyst
Considering Lacanian psychoanalysis and theory, many consider Freud to be the preliminary point and pillar. But for Žižek – as fully described in his Tarrying with the Negative – Lacan “repeats the move undertaken by earlier Western philosophers from Plato through to Kant” in which questions about the nature of truth are used to improve and supersede the old conceptions (a trend called Aufhebung in Hegelian term, which is part of a dialectical process wherein concepts are retained and appear again on a higher level) (Parker 58). Žižek elaborates that “I claim by reading them [Hegel or Kant] through Lacan you get another approach to Lacan himself. What you get this way is precisely the philosophical foundations of Lacan” (Long and McGann 133-7).
For Žižek, Lacan is not simply a Freudian psychoanalyst and theoretician but a philosopher who has elevated psychoanalysis at the level of one of the most advanced points of the history of human enlightenment. As stated in the previous section titled Žižek as a Hegelian philosopher, Lacan acquired a great understanding of Hegel by attending the revolutionary lectures of Alexandre Kojěve in Paris and this very interest in Hegel affected his philosophy gravely. Accordingly, what Žižek’s Lacan has successfully accomplished is to draw a link between the Hegelian structural philosophy (and idealism), and the Freudian individual psychoanalysis in order to reconfigure Hegel at the level of the individual subject, and to elevate Freud to the level of the universal too.
A rough categorization can divide psychoanalysis into two levels: the clinical and the social. In 1950s and early 60s psychoanalysis developed in France under the guidance of Freud’s early disciple and close associate, Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962) and her allies who aligned psychoanalysis closely to medicine and emphasized the biological and medical aspects of psychoanalysis. Lacan, on the contrary, (though practicing clinical treatment) was more interested in combining psychoanalysis with philosophy and art rather than