Žižek and the subject

I’ve recently had a great deal of Žižekianism imported into my home (initially most adamantly not invited by me). Yesterday, a moment of illumination appeared for me in Ernesto Laclau’s preface to one of Slavoj Žižek‘s earliest books, The Sublime Object of Ideology. The main thesis of this book (and, one could add, of his copious later writings) is, according to Laclau:

that the category of ‘subject’ cannot be reduced to the ‘positions of subject’, since before subjectivation the subject is the subject of lack (p. xii)

This assumption (the subject of lack) forms one of the fundamental differences between a Laclauian approach to discourse analysis, and approaches developing from Foucault or (critical) discourse analysis. Could we say it is the “why” question? Žižek later in the same book criticises those analyses which do not ask the why question. Althusser, for instance ‘never succeeeded in thinking out the link between Ideological State Apapratuses and ideological interpellation’ (p. 43). Why does the ISA produce subjectivation effects, why does it interpellate (hail/call) its subject into being, why does it produce the recognition of one’s subject position?

As a friend of mine said recently, if we knew the answer to the “why” question, we could control the world. So, first, perhaps it is not possible to answer it, and second, perhaps it is not necessary to ask it. But it is very tempting to speculate, and Lacanian psychoanalysis does offer one line of approach (as long as we are clear about its set of presuppositions) to exploring it. I think I’m softening towards the master…

Slavoj Žižek (1989) The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso (review)

Also on the houshold Christmas reading list:


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