The Slovene Lacanian School

kenneth.mackendrick at kenneth.mackendrick at
Sat Mar 25 16:39:11 PST 2000

On Sat, 25 Mar 2000 14:21:17 -0500 Charles Brown <CharlesB at> wrote:

> Zizek seems pretty superficial from the discussions of him on this list.

Whether one agrees with him or not, Zizek *is* a brilliant theorist, informally dubbed "the turbo thinker of Ljubljana." Without a doubt, he and his colleagues in the Slovene Lacanian School (Salecl, Bozovic, Zupancic, Kobe, Dolar and others) have opened up an innovative and frankly stunning analysis of culture. Their approach, in some respects, seems to me to be reactive - reacting against the domination of eastern European politics by Heideggerian destructionism and the dogmatic application of the Frankfurt School (Zizek talks about a student failing for not having a sufficient grasp of Negative Dialectics). One does not need to agree with their analysis to respect their incredible accomplishments, still incomplete and continuing to be written - both political and theoretical (together or individually they edit Problemi [Slovene], Analecta [Slovene], Wo Es War [German and English], SIC [English] and a few other journals. They've started up a psychoanalytic institute (non-clinical) in Ljubljana and in the US. The school works in several principle areas (each examined through a Lacanian lens): theories of ideology and power, readings of classical and modern philosophy (particularly the German Idealists), and culture and art (especially film and literature). In the late 1980's and early 1990's, the Slovene Lacanian School actively supported the Liberal-Democratic Party in Slovenia which developed out of the civil rights moment. It also maintained particular interests in feminist and environmental issues, and held to the tactical aim of preventing the seizure of power by right wing nationalists. During this period Zizek was a columnist for the popular newspaper Mladina and ran as a presidential candidate for the first elected political body in 1990 (I think he came in fourth or fifth).

The writings of the school are well understood as a series of Lacanian interventions into specific domains of ongoing theoretical, cultural, and ideological-political contention. Significantly, the Slovene Lacanian School locates Lacan in the lineage of rationalism and presents Lacanian theory as a radical version of the Enlightenment. Central to many of the analyses put forth by members of the school is a political and philosophical reading of Lacan's understanding of fantasy and its entwinement with ideology. Fantasy is understood as a constitutive element of desire and as an ineliminable support for "reality." As such, fantasy is an imaginary scenario concealing a fundamental antagonism around which social fields are structured. Insight regarding this fundamental antagonism is derived from Lacan's essay "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I" wherein the "I" is conceived of as a site of imaginary blinding. This blinding serves to reconcile a split within the subject, understood as a distinction between the I (the ego) and the subject, and illustrated provocatively with the phrase "I am not where I think." The antagonism is generative in the sense that affirms an irreducible plurality of particular struggles. The interests of the Slovene Lacanian School in ideological and political fields include the theorization of the fundamental mechanisms of ideology, the dynamics of 'totalitarianism' and its different forms, and the characteristics of radical democratic struggles in Eastern European societies. Also of note is the consistent way in which Hegel is given a new reading on the basis of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Hegel's dialectic is understood to be one of the strongest affirmations of difference and contingency and, in this way, presents a new way of approaching ideology without falling prey to the postmodern illusion of living in a "post-ideological" condition. These interventions are supported by and often illustrated with examples from the commodities of popular culture. Of particular importance is the way in which film, literature, and performance art are used to demonstrate a break between 'incomprehensible' modernist works of art and postmodern products of mass appeal. In general, the Slovene Lacanian School is critical of postmodernism as such - also arguing against Habermas, that the traditional opposition between modernism and postmodernism is actually the immanent tension that has defined modernism from the beginning. He further notes that deconstructionism is a modernist procedure par excellence presenting, perhaps, the most radical version of the logic of "unmasking" whereby the unity of experience is conceived as the effect of signifying mechanisms, an effect which can only take place insofar as it ignores the movement that produced it. Postmodernism, therefore, is then understood as consisting of a radical change in the subject's identification with the symbolic order. Typically this is given representation in the widespread and mass appeal of its objects. This radical shift marks a turning away from the ironic and cynical distance of modernism to a pre- modern "enchanted universe" wherein which one does not really need to believe that the universe is enchanted. In other words, postmodernism imagines politics without fantasy. And, as Salecl notes, this illusion not only liquidates the possibility of a democratic politics based upon notions of freedom and solidarity, but also levels the fundamental antagonisms which characterize the positive condition of reality itself.

Leave 'em, like 'em, lump 'em - some of the most brilliant and insighful analyses of ideology and culture will emerge, and have emerged, in and through their work. Despite the fact that Lacan remains dogmatically inherent to their analysis - anyone interested in cultural criticism will, at some point, have to come to terms with their growing body of literature: hermeneutics, critical theory, linguistics, Marxism, psychoanalysis, postcolonialism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, pragmatism... each area is seriously compromised after the Lacanian intervention. One could continue to ignore their work only to suffer substantial disadvantage. Theorists such as Laclau and Mouffe, MacCannell, Copjec, Hewitt, Jameson, Fink, Butler, Dews, Eagleton and others have incorporated or continued to explore the work of the Slovene Lacanian School. Easy to dismiss, like any theoretical orientation of salt, but extraordinarily challenging to take seriously.

unabashedly, ken

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