Critical Psychology: A Conversation with Slavoj Žižek

ViceZizekInterviewThis conversation between Ian Parker and Slavoj Žižek took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in September 2003. Žižek is one of the leading Lacanian theorists, one of the few figures combining Lacan and Marx, and is unique in blending these two figures with Hegel to provide social and political critique. These extracts focus on critical psychology and some of the points of intersection with Lacanian theory. Žižek comments on problems with using the work of Foucault in critical psychology, the role of Lacan and psychoanalysis inside and outside the clinic. He also makes the point that critical psychology needs some minimal theory in order to function. The footnotes indicate key texts referred to in the course of the discussion.

IAN PARKER: What I want to do is just, well, I’ll briefly describe the context for it because there are some people in psychology and critical psychology who are starting to get

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: How is this critical psychology related to Holzkamp?[1]

Holzkamp is just one of the resources that we use, we have some contact with Holzkamp, but some of the critical psychologists now don’t even know about Holzkamp

This critical psychology, this is a code word for Marxist Psychology?

For some it is a mixture of those things, and I wanted to ask you about the mixture of things that it is

How does it locate itself in relation to psychoanalysis and cognitivism?

Again, it depends

Oh, you don’t have a party line, my goodness, this is anarchism

It took off from a movement in the 1970s which was in social psychology initially, drawing on semiotic ideas and looking at accounts

Ah, I saw this from the book you sent me on semiotics. Who are the original references here, all that stuff? Bakhtin? Freudianism?[2]

Initially it would be people like Rom Harré who is a philosopher of science who then got interested in psychology at the end of the 1960s[3]

I heard about him, but I did not know he was critical. Was he leftist?

No, he is not a leftist. It’s a conceptual critique using mainly by Austin to produce some kind of performative account of the way in which cognitive structure is produced in interaction[4]

But isn’t John Searle,[5] the model of how you turn performative theory, speech act theory into a boring academic, so boring, he’s so boring. He is the model for me of what shouldn’t be done. Do you know that he pretty much writes right of the centre

It doesn’t surprise me

No, no, no. Let me give you two nice anecdotes. When there was the Gulf War ten years ago; his students, when I was in Berkeley ten years ago, they told me that he was showing students photos of his son on the tank in Iraq, ‘See, this is my son’, point to it. You know that he and his wife, who is a right-wing lawyer, led a whole tax revolt because they own houses and they wanted to lower the taxes on property. They led this typical lower taxes right-wing revolt. No, he is disgusting. He is so arrogant

The main trends of psychology that we pit ourselves against are the standard rubbish work on sex differences, something that is easy to critique, personality development, cognitive processing, developmental psychology. That’s the standard psychology, and critical psychology has developed as an attempt to historically and politically situate psychology as a discipline. Many critical psychologists are interested in Foucault, because of course Foucault gives an account of discipline and surveillance, the discipline of psychology as part of the ‘psy complex’ connected with psychiatry, and psychoanalysis is a part of that[6]

But don’t you think there is something basically false about Foucault?

He has been useful for critical psychology because he gives an account of surveillance and observation, which psychology is obviously part of and he gives an account of how the subjects of the ‘psy complex’ are incited to confess to the professional, are incited to talk about themselves in a therapeutic way

Sorry, who is the ‘subject’ subject to this, not just patients?

The people who are subjects of psychological tests, subjects of therapy, counselling

It’s even counselling, it’s even outside the clinic

Exactly. So there are some people who see critical psychology simply as the study of language and social construction of everything that is psychological including emotions and so on, the liberals in the critical psychology. And then there are critical psychologists who try and disrupt the expertise of psychologists and treat psychology as an historically produced discipline which reduces things to an individual level, that essentialises personality characteristics, and they try to disrupt the expertise of the psychologist and to make alliances with people who use psychological services. So, in Britain for example, there is a quite a strong anti-psychiatry movement

Yes, this is my youth, I know all of this. I still like, do you remember the early, the early Ken Loach film, what was it called, Family Life? Ok, you can say it’s just a kind of Stalinist propaganda for anti-psychiatry, but it’s very effective propaganda

Exactly, so the groups we work with now in Britain are kind of the latest manifestation of the anti-psychiatry movement. There is, for example, a group called the Hearing Voices Network, people who hear voices. Literally they hear voices.[7] Now, if they go to a psychiatrist then they are told they are schizophrenic and they might be put in a hospital. But they are a network that produces different explanations of why they hear voices, like their mind is like a computer, or there is telepathy, or it might be that they are specially gifted, or it might be that everyone hears voices, but some people suppress the voices

Isn’t there a danger that you fall into their game

As far as I am concerned I don’t care. It opens up a space for them to be able to find different ways to cope with their voices which are outside psychiatry and outside the psychological system

That’s good, I see that, ok

It’s a radical movement. Some of those people in the hearing voices network, they are interested in Foucault, of course. It is not surprising, they are not stupid, and they are reading theory

Within this network, how are positions within this network, how shall I put it. There are people that hear voices themselves, and what about, how should I call them, psychiatrists, psychologists, in the network? Are only people that hear voices part of this network?

There are some psychiatrists who are part of this network, they support them

How do psychiatrists avoid being patronizing?

By not speaking much and sometimes by just providing legitimacy to the network. Giving some support to them, financial support or speaking at conferences. It is one of the paradoxes of the anti-psychiatry movement that the anti-psychiatry movement was always led by psychiatrists; R.D. Laing was a psychiatrist, Basaglia was a psychiatrist, and there you can see the limits of it[8]

You know that he was in Trieste, Trieste has a long Slovene presence, and many Slovenes were around Basaglia. But nonetheless, you know that radical move that he made already twenty years ago of practically emptying, how do you call them?


Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Nonetheless, up to a point, it inspired, in a sense that they were thrown back into their families who weren’t ready to accept them. Then often families hired guards to have a private institution. I see the limits of these matters

Yes, yes, I visited Trieste in the 1980s and I saw that there were community mental health centres, but of course people were being thrown back into their families, mainly

If you have relatively enlightened mental institution, it is much better for them then being thrown into

The issue is how to make asylum into a genuine place of refuge, so that people have support instead of incarceration and that gives people drugs

For this, here we are back, for this at least you need some money, some support, otherwise it’s a game the rich play where they have their experiments. No, no, I totally agree with you. Ok, now you described the project. Apart from semiotics, what would be the theoretical references?

For some, Marxism, with the notion that a person is an ensemble of social relations, notions taken straight from Marx. And some ideas from the Holzkamp critical psychology, which would be Ilyenkov, activity theory.

This is the Ilyenkov who is also a philosopher, wrote something called abstract concrete? This is a wonderful book[9]

Yes, there are those who would use some of those ideas

What a tragic person he was, I read this in a history of Soviet philosophy, Ilyenkov. You know what his problem was? He was a kind of honest Marxist, he really believed it, and he killed himself, he was so desperate, because it was too much. The point is that he had more difficulties with the nomenklatura than those that just played the hypocritical game. Ok, sorry, let’s go on. I didn’t know this, I just identified Ilyenkov as a good Hegelian scholar, I did not know he was

He is used as a critique of cognitive psychology; he is used as a resource to describe individualised notions of thought, cognition treated as a collection of modules

Let me tell you another thing. Do you know of a book which, I am not saying it is a great book but it’s interesting, by one of, I invent now ironically the term, ‘left Dennettians’? Do you know a guy called Bo Dahlbom who edited a book, called Dennett and His Critics, and there he has a wonderful essay, which is a critique of Dennett.[10] It’s ok, all this idea that the mind is always embedded in something, but why not go to the end and say ‘You know this formula of society of minds, why not minds in society?’, and the idea is that if you take Dennett to the end you should get out of this individualist approach, and you get that it’s the social field in which you are materialized. It’s a very nice leftist critique of Dennett, and they go very much in this type of direction, so that this is very much a leftist appropriation of Dennett. Again, they take one of Dennett's ideas that there is no individual, that there are multiple rationalities, and also this good idea of Dennett how the mind only functions through external machines. Dennett has this nice idea, that a human being without all the apparatuses, it’s like a shaven chicken, a goose without feathers. It’s really organic, but and then Dahlbom just takes precisely this step toward this Marx, to social relations and so on. And so he tries in a very intelligent way to criticize Dennett

So, what we do is borrow

No, but what I wanted to say is that it is potentially progressive. There is a possibility to appropriate some parts of cognitivism. I wouldn’t dismiss it generally

I agree, but the question is what political functions does psychology serve? This is the thing that interests me, how to take those resources and to come back to psychology and to do some conceptual work in psychology with them. That’s what people are doing in critical psychology, borrowing ideas from Foucault, or Derrida, or Lacan

What do they get from Derrida?

What they get from Derrida is deconstruction, deconstruction reconfigured as a kind of, well really in two ways. One way is to reduce everything to differences in language and the play of signification and

I don’t agree with this

No, I don’t agree with this. But that’s one approach with liberal, the liberal critical psychology

I like this, you have the distinction

And, for some of us, we have used the notion of deconstruction to make it into a sharper political distinction between ideas that are privileged and ideas that they, the psychologists, require as a necessary part of their architecture, and ideas that you can turn around. It is deconstruction. It’s a trick, it’s a political trick to use the notion of deconstruction to subvert hierarchies and the privileging of concepts in psychology

But you know what my obsession is?

It is exactly like hearing voices. You take the notion of hearing voices and you say, what is thinking if it is not hearing voices. How is it possible to be a human being and to think unless you have some kind of dialogical relationship with others, that is what thinking is

Do you know what is one of my primordial fears? I know you are not going in this direction, but some Deleuzians do.[11] I am very allergic to this kind of pathetic fake celebration of madmen, that they are the only true, and so on. I mean, so-called mad people do suffer terribly, some of them, and one shouldn’t play with that. I don’t buy this, that you simply reinterpret that they are the truly free ones. This is what I, ok, I get all this, how it is social constructed and so on, but nonetheless you should have a minimal positive theory, how it is constructed, what is human mind and so on


I am an old fashioned philosopher. I am saying that you automatically have it. Even if you say it is socially constructed or whatever. In this sense, what would be good to do along the lines that you suggested would be to look at, even in a crass way, how Lacanian theory has a different social function. For example, I was told that there is already a gap between Brazil and Argentina. In Argentina it is middle class with even leftist credentials, but in Brazil it is high class. I was told that for historical reasons there is a tradition that in a rich family the first, oldest son inherits the wealth, the second one is a lawyer or goes into politics and the third one becomes a doctor and it was fashionable at some point for the doctor to go into psychoanalysis. Almost, I was told, one of the key class origins in a very vulgar sense of Brazilian Lacanians, is the third son or daughter of a very rich family. This was my only encounter with true wealth. I was invited to a reception in Buenos Aires, and there was a guy from a Lacanian group from Rio, the boss of Brazilian Volkswagen and, now you can see, there were ten servants. And then we talk about political revolution and how they are Marxists and so on

In Brazil, the Lacanians told me everyone was Marxist!

And then I had a horrible experience. This same Marxist was taking me to a lecture and there was a traffic jam ahead of us, a car hit some homeless kid who was trying to cross the street and we could see the boy covered, and he said they breed like rabbits and they cannot even drive cars. So we have people who can be Marxists at a personal level, and you can see how absolutely they are identified. Another example was being in the house of a rich Lacanian analyst in Mexico, and he was talking about his servant. This poor girl did vaguely understand English, which is crucial here. He was complaining about how difficult it was to get servants, how badly they behave and so on. He was saying this to me while the girl was there, as if she was a non-person. I was horrified, so wait a minute

Ok, so to come back to psychology. Why would we need any positive psychology to replace old psychology? Some critical psychologists would say we don’t need any psychology at all. What we simply need is deconstruction of psychology and to turn it into a series of language games, in a Wittgensteinian kind of way, not even replacing it with anything else

But, think of political economy. Of course it is nonsensical to say that there is a positive Marxist theory of political economy. It is fundamentally a critique. So the point is not to do a special particular science as a positive one. What I am only saying is that you cannot drop it in such an easy way, in the sense that nonetheless a criticism that you make does have some epistemological commitments. Like, you do claim that it is not essential, that it is socially constructed. The only thing I wanted to say is that although Marx didn’t do political economy as a positive science, nonetheless his critique does, to put it very naively, imply certain premises about how society functions and so on. This is all I was talking about. Not to build an alternative positive system, but you cannot escape commitments because then precisely you are a relativist. You have a whole series of commitments, usually they are this sort of, you know, Ernesto Laclau,[12] Judith Butler,[13] contingent social construction and so on and so on. So this is what interests me, what would be the commitments. You say ‘Why not turn it into language?’ My god, this is very strong commitment. You say our identity is just a fetishised effect of performative language games, but, my god, these are firm commitments, and this is what is of interest. What distinguishes your non-liberal critical psychology from this postmodern notion, you know, that everything is language games and the point is not to reify them, to see how everything is socially constructed?

I think two things. One is working with people who use psychology services, that is, a grass roots political organisation, and secondly to engage in historical political critique of the functions of psychology and to unmask psychology as part of the state apparatus. To unmask the way psychology as a discipline reinforces individualisation of personality in its practice in the schools, in the prisons and the clinics

This would be precious

When I went into psychology I was already a Marxist and my comrades told me that I should not go into psychology because it is a bourgeois discipline, but I wanted to go into it precisely because it was a bourgeois discipline. I wanted to know how it works, how it is practised, how it functions as part of the ideological work of capitalism, and not only ideological but operating in a material sense, giving people drugs subjecting people to behavioural treatments, normalising certain kinds of behaviour and so on and so forth

This is what interests me. Is it true, and this is a very general question, that there is a big shift in the last years, even in upper classes, towards pharmaceutics and so on? For example, I was shocked, when with friends, sitting after a talk at a stupid reception – I hate them – there were twenty people, and spontaneously someone asked about these drugs, ‘Ok, how many people are taking Prozac, Zoloft, any of them’, and apart from two of them, like eighty percent of them, all practically, all my friends they said yes they did. It’s really, now aren’t people aware, the American academia, ok maybe I live among madmen, my friends, but at least this critical academia, who, how should call them, deconstruction, post modernism, it’s totally, totally supported, sustained by drugs, and what is, this would be a nice thing to study, of how this nonetheless, coexists in a very weird way which is theoretically, very inconsistent with psychoanalytic culture. Officially, the very same persons, who if you talk with them, officially, they are against this naturalization, biologization, absolutely for psychoanalysis, and then they 'Oh, sorry, I have to take my Prozac’. It’s absolutely incredible, the silent victory of pharmacopoeia, pharmopsychology, total victory

Of course, even now children who are diagnosed with hyperactivity are medicated.

That would be another thing that would interest me. This would, I think, be a wonderful Foucauldian description, these new illnesses, I think they are totally ideologically constructed. You know, these new illnesses being practically invented all the time. These attention illnesses or whatever they are. This is why I was too sympathetic to that woman teacher who seduced her student, and the, isn’t this one, bi-polar, disorder. This is the big thing, basically often it simply means sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. Who isn’t you know? This becomes simply stigmatised and then they point to, yes, something wrong with the chemical fluids in your brain and so on, and so on. I mean it is absolutely incredible that in a way. I was tempted to play with the idea, maybe along the lines with your ‘hearing voices’ no, that maybe the subversive thing would be to play this game to the end and claim that whatever you are, it should be stigmatised. If you are normal, its normality is pathologised because you are pathologically identified to normality. So that would be the kind of perversity, that whatever you are, it’s pathology

That’s why Lacan is so good, no?

Yeah, yeah, this is his thesis in a way, yeah, yeah. Because it is really horrible, and you know what’s my psychological, I had panic attacks, very strong, much stronger than one’s four years ago, when I was for two months in Ann Arbor. And, ok, I went to a doctor, because they did that scanning which costs too much here. Maybe they do it now but, ok, not to get lost again, and then they sent me, told me to go visit a psychiatrist. And I went to the worst kind of behavioral cognitivist and I thought. What I thought, I heard about how they function and I thought, ok they must be a little bit better, like this must be a caricature, No! it was a caricature. This guy told me ‘Listen, you publish books, you are very well-known; why don’t you tell yourself “I am good, people love me”’’. I told him, ‘What if I am not good! What are you talking about? I cannot do this’. You know, he went into this most primitive ‘tell yourself you are good, people should you love you’, ‘but what if I am not?’ I told him. I mean, it is absolutely ridiculous. What naivety, what total epistemological naivety, how shall I put it, I was shocked, I mean, at how this operates

That is the mainstream psychotherapeutic training for psychologists, clinical psychologists in Britain, in a cognitive behavioural approach. That is what they are taught.

And the more they go into behaviour, they think in this, how do you call it, ‘interactional patterns’, that’s as far as they go. ‘Why do you identify in that direction to that subordinate role?’ and so on

So they borrowed some ideas from psychoanalysis there; ideas from psychoanalysis about family patterns are absorbed into a cognitive model. So the big thing now in Britain among clinical psychologists is called cognitive analytic therapy. It’s a mixture of cognitive and analytic, and they like the analytic part cause it gives a little bit of prestige, a little bit of status because they are using analytic ideas but the cognitive part is the scientific part which ties it all down

I have suspicions that he is a fake, the big analytic figure … Adam Phillips[14]

Adam Phillips, he’s popular

I hate people who play the role of wisdom

In these little books he writes a little sentence on each page

My reaction is that if I would be in power he would get ten years of Gulag re-education, work shifting earth ten hours a day and in the evening writing confessions. Because, I don’t know, on the other hand if that is psychoanalysis

It is a popular version of psychoanalysis

But he’s a big name

He is, yes. This is a case of the spread of therapeutic ideas in the culture

People accuse me of being, simply popular, but the guy who wrote, how is it called, Dylan Evans who wrote the dictionary of Lacanian analysis?[15] He gave an unprincipled analysis of Princess Diana

Yes, it was, but he is now out, he decided he is not a Lacanian, he is working in evolutionary psychology

Yes, somebody referred, I saw a reference to

He’s written a little book about evolutionary psychology, he is completely out of psychoanalysis, he doesn’t believe

Yeah, but here I am a Stalinist, and the conclusion to make is, he never was

But his dictionary is very good

Up to a point. When you are looking for a definition of a really difficult point

Another question is this. Some of us in critical psychology are interested in psychoanalysis, ok, but the problem is that psychoanalysis is also part of the ‘psy-complex’

Is it?

Yes, psychoanalysis normalizes behaviours, encourages people to talk about their internal feelings, subjects them to a kind of apparatus of control in which they kind of come along and pay their money and spill their guts to professionals. In pure Foucauldian terms, it’s part of the ‘psy-complex’

Yeah, ok

But the question is whether psychoanalysis does other things as well. So this is the question; how can psychoanalysis be a progressive alternative to psychology and not be caught up into psychology?

Oh, my goodness, this is a difficult question, for reason of personal panic already. I have almost a phobic relationship to psychoanalytic practice. I was never even tempted to do it and so on, and so on

But you went into analysis with Miller?

Yeah, but it was very perverted, strange analysis. I went into analysis because I was for private reasons, unfortunate love affair, into deep, deep, deep crisis. And then it worked in a purely bureaucratic way. He told me, come next week, come tomorrow at 5 pm. I was really in a suicidal mood for about a month and the idea was, wait a minute, I can not kill myself because I have to be tomorrow at five with Miller. The purely formally bureaucratic structure of obligation allowed me to survive the worst crisis, and then it went on for years. Not all the time, only when I was in Paris, but absolutely nothing happened. Altogether maybe he said a couple of words, and so then I simply stopped coming. I did it in a very non-ethical way even. I simply started to avoid him when I came to Paris. I didn’t tell him that I’m in Paris, and so on, and then finally after a couple of years I gathered the courage and sent him a letter with 2,000 francs, which was the price of a session, informing him that I considered this the last session, its over. My point being that nothing happened afterwards, just that I wanted to retain my psychological distance in the sense that, I know this doesn’t work but none the less, as a matter of principle, I don’t think this is naive when you invent it, you betray yourself even more. But all symptoms were fake. I invented my dreams, and so on, and so on. I wanted to control him because I noticed when I mentioned certain topics he reacted not with interpretation, but with ‘oh, really’, so for me analysis with him was this kind of, ok, like, lets make this experiment, will he react to this one, and so on. I wanted to be, in a sense, in control, and then after a couple of years, I finally told myself, wait a minute, why should I spend money for this no? So again, if anything, it was a total failure. In the long term I sabotaged it, I sabotaged it thoroughly. But you know my point would have been, how shall I put it, do you think, I don’t, on one hand even Lacan acknowledges this, psychoanalysis only is possible within a certain individualist bourgeois, even Lacan goes into saying this, I think. Commodity, money, economy, money is crucial, it must hurt, you must pay and so on, and so on. But on the other hand, what I do believe, and Lacan is clear that it is a specific social link, here I go seriously into this theory of four discourses, and for me it is not so much a question of does it work as a practice.[16] For me the big problem, and again I am open here, I don’t have an answer, is what Lacan describes as the specific analytic link. Where somebody in an interpersonal link assumes that place of the analyst, that is to say, you occupy the place of the master, but you sabotage it, you are the object, just frustrating blah blah blah. Is it possible to have that as a model outside psychiatric clinic? And on the one hand, the last time I met him, I had a long conversation along these lines with Badiou who also plays with this idea, because, shifting his position, that of course was the ideal conclusion, but maybe it was too fast.[17] Which would be, that for me is what I would long for is to prove how revolutionary practice is also, that there is a certain revolutionary moment that is structured like the analytic discourse. That the Leninist leader is not a master but the one who presents the split subject with a deadlock, this is the Leninist point of knowledge. That you have knowledge at the place of truth, and you produce, but produce precisely in the sense that you get rid of it in the sense that you disclose the master signifier. And on the other hand I am well aware that we can play these games but then you ask yourself, so what is the big deal if you somehow squeeze a certain Leninist practice into the analytic discourse. And you know Badiou told me that even he oscillates here. Badiou is tempted by this. At the same time Badiou has this long tendency to assert, for him the typically French totalitarian discourse of the master, but also to say why should the discourse of the master be bad? Isn’t this what we should strive for, but again my point would have been more than this clinical problem in the sense that. I think two things. I think that nonetheless, I still think that at the level of working with how shall I call them, what would be the term, the correct term, people who have psychological problems, what are they, it is a politically correct problem here, I don’t know. Ok, whatever we call them

Clients, analysands?

I still think there is a certain role that can be done only by somebody occupying the analyst’s place, which is precisely that you don’t have any ethical demands and so on and you occupy the place of the frustrating object. I think that every process of emancipation, the trap of normativising whatever, education, has to go through this stage; that the figure who is trying to educate you whatever – now in the good sense of the term – has to function. And I don’t know how this would clinically look, but I don’t think other modes of psychiatry, where you collaborate with clients or whatever with the client or whatever can replace this. But for me a more crucial point is what we were already talking about yesterday, is there something like an analytic link possibly outside the clinic? This is the big problem we talked about yesterday, how, in Freudian terms, can we conceive of, let’s say, the revolutionary collective, Badiou here is very clear again. For him a collective is precisely not a community or a liberal group or whatever. It’s neither society not community, because – Badiou has written some good ideas, he hasn’t yet published them that – he says that collective precisely undermines this standard bourgeois opposition of Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft. The collective of course is not closed community. But it’s also not this atomized, just society or what. So, what, how shall I put it, this what interests me also more, these are serious problems in the workers’ movement, like all, you know, all this necessity of how the figure of the master re-emerges, Stalinism, blah, blah, and of course what I want to avoid is precisely this standard reactionary psychoanalysis that says ‘ooh, you think you can do the emancipation, but we know that the master always returns and so on and so on Yes More and more what interests me is precisely again what Lacan was struggling with at the end with those, all those propositions of society, to invent a society which again, it ridiculously misfired.[18] But, that would be my problem. Again I don’t have answers here

This is precisely what interests me as well, how to connect these theories and practices. I think the account of four discourses is very useful, very useful in thinking about limitations of ‘democratic’ therapies as being part of the discourse of the university for example Yes But also how to connect that with political practice. And I don’t know how to do that either, you know I also live a split life, you know, I do, I do Lacanian clinical work and it’s not revolutionary, it’s not revolutionary, and I’m Marxist but

But wait a minute, my naïve hope, very naïve hope is this one

It would be easier if I was Reichian of course[19]

Yeah, but Lacan still says that, Lacan still explicitly says that the level of social identification, ego ideal and social identification, that that’s where ideology enters, and so in this sense let’s forget about the actuality, if we are allowed to, of Lacanian clinics, but isn’t it that nonetheless the stuff of psychoanalysis, and if you do insist as Lacan does that you know the ego constructs itself through identification, blah blah blah, then ideology is the stuff of analysis. And, as I tried to do somewhere, you can interpret hysteria as basically questioning ideological interpellation, to put it in Althusserian terms.[20] So in this sense isn’t it that nonetheless that the analyst’s position is something which should at least at some abstract level be one that undermines ideological identifications?

Yes, but do you think that in analysis an analysand is doing their own ideology critique?

Yes, it should be, if it’s properly done don’t you think that Yes, yes

Because otherwise you are quoting those normative statements, this is, otherwise you are quoting those normative statements that already, the analyst is already giving you. The problem that I see

Some analysts are very reactionary


But the analyst may be doing ideology critique without knowing it?

No, it’s even worse. I think that this very formula of object and so on, the problem I see is when analysts, in a quick move, identify every social identification as imaginary, alienating and so and so on and so that you can say, should, then you interpret this position of the analyst as meaning that you have to step out of social links. You know, this dismissing of the political as such, collective identification as such as based on some kind of misrecognition or, I have even a further problem here – this will be self-critical, I had a long talk with Badiou about it, and I accept this criticism of me – Is it true that this kind of, what Lacan calls only once and it’s very mysterious, this ‘traversing the fantasy’, encountering the like in the other, is this truly, isn’t it an implicit presupposition of Lacanian theory and practice that this is, to use the traditional terms, the most ‘authentic’ experience that you have made, but is it truly? Should we really say that the ultimate authentic experience is this momentary enlightenment and then that every social identification, collective struggle is already. That there is something untruthful in the pathetic sense about it. I doubt that also, I doubt that. I doubt that, I’m very afraid of this idea of this I think deeply reactionary that because then you are one step towards Leo Strauss almost, you know that truth is something which cannot be sustained by the masses[21]

One more question about the role of psychoanalysis then. Psychoanalysis is, it seems to me, an anti-psychology. It gives specification of subjectivity which is just so different from psychology that it works as a corrosive force in psychology. It can be used as critique, this is why

Yeah but even Lacan oscillates here. The big problem is does it simply replace psychology, or – Lacan oscillates here – sometimes Lacan claims that psychology has a legitimate domain of its own, and psychoanalysis is just specific

Yes, yes, in that he’s wrong I think

But, it’s wrong in the sense that psychology should be acknowledged as a science with it’s own proper object, but maybe he’s not wrong in the sense that psychoanalysis can occupy all the field, you know what I mean?


All those problems which psychology was dealing with, I mean, you should give some account of them. But, do you think that psychoanalysis can do the job? Like you do have cognitive processes, my god, they do take place, they do take place

Yes, maybe

I mean this was what Holzkamp was doing, in a slightly primitive way

Yes, exactly, yes, that’s what

In a slightly primitive way, his idea was that since people do function, he – it was some kind of a Marxist approach of how cognition develops through work and so on and so on – he had, if anything, he was very, too strongly for me, he wanted a simple positive science

Yeah, exactly, that’s one of the problems with Holzkamp, that it was a positive psychology that seems, that was very carefully building up the elements of an alternative system. Sorry, the question really is about psychoanalysis, is that psychoanalysis itself is still the product of a certain kind of a social formation

Ok, but everything is. I don’t think there should be any Marxist problem with that

So, as we struggle against capitalism, we should be looking forward to the time when psychoanalysis itself disappears, no?

Yeah, but at the same time isn’t this the same point as to saying that the same goes for Marx, I mean where is the difference here?

Yes, I agree, but in the process of political struggle you do that kind of performative self-disintegration of the state apparatus in your own practice, don’t you?

Yeah, but it’s stronger in the case of Marx, it’s even also that you would no longer need Marxism as a theory

Yes I agree, but psychoanalysis talks about itself as if it is a self-contained theoretical system that has discovered the truth about human subjectivity and does not think about it’s end, does it?

It is true, yes, although I have here some marginal problems in the sense that I still think the

It’s like in your book here, when you say that, the gaze is operative in eastern cultures, but how can that be if they are not bourgeois subjects?[22]

But why do you think that the gaze is specific to bourgeois culture. Here, ok, my answer would have been the following one

Or but you say also in the case of Adam and Eve, that the gaze was important for Adam and Eve

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You find statements like that all the time which would be the perfect example of this one, you find them all the time in Marx. My reply would be not the famous ‘the anatomy of man is the key to the anatomy of the ape’. This is my argument, that through the Freudian discovery of Oedipus complex the past became retroactively readable. I mean, I would say that I don’t have any problems with these universal claims of psychoanalysis, I think that in the same way as Marx is claiming, I mean in Marx you all the time find these oscillations. You know, on the one hand capitalists, bourgeoisies, the first class, on the other hand the entire history was this idea that universal claims and specific situations do not exclude each other. But I agree with you, but, if you ask a more radical question in the sense of, but nonetheless, these basic claims, alienation in the signifier, representation, fantasy, real, is this a universal structure? Are they more fundamental? Well I would say, show me one theory which it doesn’t. What about Marx’s statements about work-productive process and so on. He clearly has more, how shall I put it, a more radical statement. So again we are coming back to the point that I tried to make before. I don’t think you can fully escape, how should I call them, more, some kind of ontological commitments, even if the theory wants to be radically historicizing, which is why I think that for example in Foucault, precisely in Foucault, you can operating, you can discern this tension at its purest. On the one hand, Foucault appears to be this pure historian, of different epistemes and so on and so on.[23] But wait a minute, when towards the end, here this is the only moment of truth I claim, in the otherwise horrible book, it should be burned, twenty years of Gulag, Habermas is one of the worst books written. Habermas’s Philosophical Discourse of Modernity.[24] I mean, can you imagine making a simple mental experiment, imagine let’s say a chapter on Derrida there, or on Bataille, and copying it anonymously as a seminar paper and imagine a student bringing it to a professor, it would be turned down as unserious, it’s so superficial, it’s a little bit better with Habermas’ critique of Foucault where he says, you know, this sudden shift of how in late Foucault all these statements about power, they are definitely formulated as kind of general ontological statements. It’s no longer power in this discourse for example, it’s simply when the late Foucault speaks about power, micro-power, subjectivity, for example, subjectivity as the plea, all that stuff, Sorry, these are general statements. So, this is what interests me, this middle, and again as we talked yesterday all

But that’s exactly the difference between some of us who use Foucault tactically to talk about power and confession and others, the liberals, who then take the later Foucault and say yes, there is always power, where there’s power there’s resistance, it’s simply Yes.

but you cannot see this out so simply, because my first problem with even the historicist Foucault, is that isn’t it that what I object to is, I am always automatically suspicious of this idea that at a certain point in history things went wrong and then, old Greece was still ok and so on, you know to looking, or like Barthes Japan, you know that you construct some other where it wasn’t yet. Here I am a Marxist, no, my God, the best term is alienation, alienation is the good thing, it’s the only possibility of freedom or whatever that we have. But nonetheless my point would have been that you cannot simply take the good historicizing Foucault against this bad one. There was a certain urgency which was pushing him in this direction, in a way. On the other hand, Lacan is productively inconsistent in the same way. For example, you know that in Lacan, on the one hand yes, you have these statements which at least appear as universal statements – on the subject of the signifier and so on – but on the other hand you have surprising historicizing statements in Lacan like when he says, you know, the Freudian subject is the Cartesian cogito, is the subject of the unconscious, and you have many of these statements which very clearly locate psychoanalysis at a certain moment of bourgeois individualism, with money relations and so on and so on. So, how shall I put it, the problem with me is just that your historicism doesn’t come out, you get involved in this same way, and here I was furiously angry at Ernesto as I already told you, and Judith in that book.[25] They don’t answer this basic approach which is, let’s take Judith and not Ernesto, isn’t it that nonetheless in her Gender Trouble there’s a certain underlying it a very naïve narrative which is at the zero point they were stupid essentialists and slowly they were getting better, now we know gender is totally constructed in a contingent way, but isn’t there lacking in her a kind of a metanarrative. Why were people so stupid hundreds of years ago? Like how is, because when she speaks about

And why are they so smart now, when this is still capitalism?

Yeah, because when she speaks about this contingent, discursive, performative construction of gender again, she is not describing only a certain moment, she is obviously making a universal claim. To be ironic already but, a tribal guy raped his wife, this was already a discursive contract. So, again why do we know it today? Something is, as in Ernesto. You know once I attacked her, in a friendly debate, personally when we were just two of us at dinner somewhere and her answer was typically Foucauldian, her answer was this is a wrong question to ask, where does my theory stand, Foucault said this is a wrong question, this is, he even, she even accused me of being repressive in a controlling way, you know like you want to pin me down, identify me, you talk as a policeman here. My God, she prohibited the fundamental question of how can she say what, and I, as I draw her attention to, she is even contradicting the opposite Foucault which is, you know, every theory is th-, you know his famous, every theory even if it’s about history, every history is the ontology of the present. What about this other Foucault. So, again, my other conflict with at least her fundamentalist followers, of Judith, is that they really think, and here I violently disagree, that their struggle is not just one among the struggles, but the paradigmatic struggle today, the model of all oppression. I don’t agree with it, at a very naïve level, first because, eh, I see ways of how, gay struggle can be reappropriated by the liberal ideology to dismiss third world countries as primitive, and there are so many arguments against this that you can simply elevate it into the model, into the very model, the very model of oppression and so on and so on

[1] Holzkamp, K. (1992). ‘On doing psychology critically’, Theory & Psychology, 2 (2), pp. 193–204.

[2] Bakhtin, M. (1981) The Dialogical Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[3] Harré, R. (1979) Social Being: A theory for social psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.

[4] Austin, J. L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[5] Searle, J.R. (1969) Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Foucault, M (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Harmondsworth: Penguin; Foucault, M. (1981) The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction. Harmondsworth: Pelican.

[7] Blackman, L. (2001) Hearing Voices: Contesting the Voice of Reason. London: Free Association Books.; James, A. (2001) Raising Our Voices: An Account of the Hearing Voices Movement. Gloucester: Handsell.

[8] Laing, R. D. (1965) The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Harmondsworth: Penguin.; Basaglia, F. (1987) Psychiatry Inside Out: Selected writings of Franco Basaglia. New York: Columbia University Press.

[9] Ilyenkov, E. V. (1982) The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

[10] Dahlbom, B. (ed) (1994) Dennett and His Critics: Demystifying Mind (Revised Edn. Chichester: Wiley.

[11] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1977) Anti‑Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. New York: Viking.

[12] Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

[13] Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London and New York: Routledge.

[14] Phillips, A. (1994) On Kissing, Tickling & Being Bored - Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life. London: Faber & Faber.

[15] Evans, D. (1996) An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.

[16] Lacan, J. (2007) The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII (translated with notes by R. Grigg, originally published 1991). New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

[17] Badiou, A. (2005) Democratic materialism and the materialist dialectic, Radical Philosophy, 130, pp. 20-24.

[18] Lacan, J. (1995) ‘Proposition of 9 October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School’, Analysis, 6, pp. 1-13.

[19] Reich, W. (1972) Sex‑Pol: Essays, 1929‑1934. New York: Random House.

[20] Althusser, L. (1971) Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, London: New Left Books.

[21] Strauss, L. (2000) On Tyranny (Revised Edn). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[22] Žižek, S. (2003) The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[23] Foucault, M. (1970) The Order of Things. London: Tavistock.

[24] Habermas, J. (1990) The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[25] Butler, J., Laclau, E. and Žižek, S. (2000) Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. London: Verso.

Courtesy: ISIDORE DUCAN, Zizek Studies Group on Facebook


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