‘The Ideological Unconscious’ by Slavoj Žižek | London Critical Theory Summer School 2021


Today our ideological space is more than ever caught between extremes: global cynicism and historicist relativism co-exist with new forms of fundamentalism, scientific rationalism co-exists with the revival of ancient wisdoms. To orient ourselves in this mess, we should not focus just on the explicit content of our ideological edifices; we should make a step back and raise four related questions: (1) how can an ideology function, structure our social reality, even if nobody takes it seriously and “really believes” in it; (2) how do our ideologies exist as social practices, how do we practice ideologies in our (economic, social, cultural) daily lives? (3) how are our ideologies sustained by their “ideological unconscious”, by claims which determine how we act although we are not ready to admit them publicly? (4) what changed in our societies so that obscenities can function in public space?

Our present is the best of times (think just about the explosion of scientific and technological discoveries) and the worst of times (pandemic, global warming, social protests…), the epoch of (fundamentalist) belief and of growing incredulity, of despair (that we are approaching some apocalypse) and of hope (that science or social protests will save us and give birth to a better world). What should philosophy do in such a time? When we live in such a messy and opaque situation of multiple crises, we feel the double need to orient ourselves, to acquire a cognitive mapping of our situation, and to intervene in the situation to make our world a better place. How, then, can the story of the present be told in an immanent way, while we are immersed into the madness of the present?

Run by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, the internationally renowned London Critical Theory Summer School enables graduate students and academics to engage in a two-week course of study with acclaimed critical thinkers. This is a recording of a Zoom discussion among various authors from 2021.

Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and Psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include ‘Hegel in a Wired Brain’, ‘Sex and the Failed Absolute’, ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’, ‘Reading Marx’, ‘Incontinence of the Void’, ‘The Day After the Revolution’, ‘Heaven in Disorder’, ‘Reading Hegel’ and ‘Surplus-Enjoyment’.

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