with medical treatments (Homer 4-5).
As Tony Myers states:
In the hands of Lacan, however, psychoanalysis assumes cosmic ambitions, vaulting over the boundaries of its own discipline and engaging with politics, philosophy, literature, science, religion and almost every other field of learning to form a vast theory that has a hand in analysing every arena of endeavour in which human beings take part. (20)
Being a Lacanian psychoanalyst, Žižek combines the two levels to draw fresh philosophical theories out of them, and also to demystify the ideological forms. In order to do so, he sometimes uses theories of psychoanalysis of the individual subjects as a model for his social critique. He also frequently uses cultural phenomena (shapes of the toilets, anecdotes, real stories, proverbs, films, literature etc.) in order to elaborate on his individual psychoanalytic assumptions (though finally this analysis of the individual psyche also ends up in a sort of generalization to the popular psyche).
Žižek does, one might claim, consider the society as an analytic session and a clinic: “the clinic of the world” (Parker 74). Himself an analyst, Žižek tries to run an analytic session in which the public is considered to be the analysand (Lacanian term for the person who has come to the psychoanalyst for treatment). Following a clinical tradition of psychoanalysis, Žižek starts by leading the analysis (trying to expose some social, cultural and political phenomena), and the analysand (the public) to better understand the nature of the symptoms which have bothered the analysand, and made him visit the analyst. Žižek guides the analysand himself to analyze, and tries “to open the possibilities for the analysand to interpret” (Parker 76).
He goes through a quasi-clinical process to get to a point when ‘identification with the symptom’ happens (Parker 76). This is a kind of awareness; a better reframed understanding of the public symptoms and the causes behind framing them, a questioning; questioning the questions again, and a self-questioning process with calls for action (that is mostly politically motivated). The call for political action can be counted as his cynical aim.
Practicing a Lacanian ritual, Žižek plays the role of an individual subject ‘supposed to know’. He makes “comments and allusions about the transference relationship, but these are usually ambiguous in order to open up possibilities for different positions to emerge” (Parker 71). And one might claim that the ambiguity is an innate characteristic of the Žižekian text. This ambiguous nature helps the analysis postpone the simplified and mostly the oversimplified outcome and give it a try to delve deeper into the analysis.
In this translation-like process of interpreting between socio-cultural phenomena and individual psychoanalytic theories, there exists some limitations. The peculiar one-by-one nature of the clinical analysis and the ‘transference’ between the analyst and the analysand makes many Lacanians to believe it impossible to wider apply the theory to people not in the analysis (Parker 69). Also one cannot relate all clinical psychoanalytic theories to every cultural phenomenon. But, here lies the art of the Slovenian philosopher.
Accordingly, it can be claimed that Žižek does something beyond a simple use of Lacanian application of psychoanalytic theories. Based on Lacan, what brings an analysand to an analyst is not a mere exploration of some disturbance and symptoms as a contagious organic disease and a try to eliminate the illness. But, the problem lies in the fact that the analysand cannot enjoy her/his symptoms anymore.
Symptom is defined as “a cipher or a message which returns to the subject the truth about his desire, a desire that was betrayed” (Myers 85). In fact, these symptoms or signs can be considered as the instances of remembrance of the subject’s unknown desire, which has been repressed. Consequently, once one decides to consult an analyst, s/he does not mean to eliminate the symptoms (Žižek suggests the idea of Enjoy your Symptom), but to repair it in order to function as before. Hence, Žižek considers the social symptoms as deeply rooted in an individual, living at a society contaminated by the very same personal-social symptoms. That is the very retroactive nature of the social and individual symptoms or ‘bonds’ that fascinate Žižek.
One may claim – in a quite brutal antagonistic manner – that Žižek not only generalizes but even occasionally over-generalizes Lacanian practices to fit them into his analysis of the socio-politico-cultural phenomena in order to force his logic on his audience. His particular interpretations of Lacanian ideas and his free way of leading and concluding the analysis can also lead to assumptions that consider Žižek an anti-Lacanian. But still, this all does not downgrade the invaluable bridge Žižek could construct between the social and the individual mechanisms of the unconscious and his subsequent use of this in his critique of ideology and commentary of the political institutions. This is something absolutely significant and unique about Žižek’s philosophy.
IV. Žižek as a Marxist Critic of Ideology
Žižek’s name is linked with politics, and wherever he is, his love affair with Marxism, his deep crave for communism, his ‘card-caring’ radical Leftism, and the ‘comic’ jest of nostalgia for Stalinist rule accompany him. But, a deeper delve into the philosopher’s political theories makes everything so complicated and contradictory that one might jump into the conclusion that he is only a true socialist with leftist plea, and that deep inside, he is some sort of a right-wing conservative. His sympathy with the US President, Barack Obama (born in 1961), his regret for the US Republicans not being able to offer a powerful candidate in the 2012 presidential elections (Žižek, “The Julian Assange Show”) and even his own claim that “Deep down I am very conservative; I just play at this subversive stuff” all fume conclusions of this kind (Boynton).
After all those contradictions, no one can claim that Žižek is not a radical critic of today’s politics. Almost all his theories, readings of different cultural phenomena, film and cartoon criticisms, Lacanian and Hegelian readings, his Jung-like studies of different societies and their popular behaviors, toilets, sexual tendencies, etc, all and all in one or another way contribute to his political views. The key to Žižek’s politics is probably a desire for finding the traces of ideology in everything.
The contradictions can also be traced to three levels of his theories: Žižek’s radical Marxist revolutionary assumptions, his characterizations of, and elaborations on the different forms of political organization, and finally his most important views on the concept and traces of ideology (Parker 82-4). The first two, though so important, due to their pure political use, do not help our discussion. Nevertheless, the Žižekian notion of ideology plays a key role in this dissertation and needs to be elaborated.
Žižek’s ideology radically differs from the traditional Marxist views on ideology in which considered ideology to be an illusory manipulation planned by the ruling system in order to put a fantastic/fantasmic veil on reality. He calls for a break with the past conceptions, and suggests a much more refined and developed version of ideology. He states that “Ideology has nothing to do with ‘illusion’, with a mistaken, distorted representation of its social content” (Žižek, Cultural Theory: An Anthology 231).
He even corrects the old perceptions that view ideology as some kind of a dark manipulation of the proletariats in order to enslave them. He offers some positive aspects of ideology and demonstrates that the application of some purely ideological issues can be quite accurate and even useful to the society. He says: “a political standpoint can be quite accurate (‘true’) as to its objective content, yet thoroughly ideological and vice versa” (Žižek, Cultural Theory: An Anthology 231). Žižek is after removing the black or white perceptions of ideology, and drawing a fresh revolutionary understanding of the social issues.
In order to elaborate on the concept of ideology, Žižek refers to almost all the critics of ideology from Marx to the Frankfort School critics, and even to the figure he ironically calls the most recent philosopher in the West; Donald Rumsfeld (born in 1932). The former US Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, in one of his news conferences on Iraq war, in order not to answer questions about some so-called classified information, said: “there are known knowns (things that we know that we know…), there are known unknowns (there are thing we know that we don’t know…), and then there are unknown unknowns (things that we even don’t know that we don’t know)” (Žižek, “[email protected]”). Here, Žižek asks for a little sense of structural analysis and comments that what is missing in this theorization is the realm of the “unknown knowns; things that we don’t know that we know”. This is the exact dominion of ideology for Žižek.
Žižek dedicates his analysis to the same ‘unknown knowns’, searches everything to find instances of these knowns, and to present a structural frame for these unknowns. If Louis Althusser (1918-1990) looked for the traces of his ISA in every institutions and governmental bases, Žižek does look for the traces of his own developed version of ideology in every social, cultural, political, artistic, economic, etc phenomena in order to “assert the existence of ideology qua generative matrix that regulates the relationship between visible and non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable, as well as the changes in this relationship” (Žižek, Cultural Theory: An Anthology 228).
The Slovenian philosopher