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Who Needs Yalom When We Have Žižek?



The great popularity of Slavoj Žižek’s work for most of his readers undeniably falls into one of two arenas. There are those who enjoy Žižek’s take on popular culture: films, books, music and the obscene joke, as well as the more ‘serious’ works of literature, plays and opera. This audience of Žižek’s, however, is not as critical of him as those who take issue with his politics. While some who are interested in the political aspect of Žižekian thought paint him in a positive light (e.g., Dean), it is far more common for commentators on Žižek’s politics and social theory to be highly critical of his effort: the collection of essays in The Truth of Žižek (Bowman et. al.) being only the most recent example. It is to this negative reception to Žižekian social, political and historical thought that this paper is addressed.

In direct contrast to the view that there is ‘no theoretical system as such in Žižek’s work’ (Parker, 115), this paper seeks to show that beneath the sheer enjoyment of reading Žižek’s writing on Western culture and his seemingly incongruent take on social, political and ideological questions, there lies a consistent, logical framework. Any incongruence one perceives in Žižek’s writing is the result of a deficient understanding of that logic and thus the key to understanding Žižek’s thought in these areas must be first undertaken at the theoretical level, but not exclusively so, since it is only through the example that the theory itself is properly articulated. We thus propose to show Žižek’s logical consistency and coherency of thought through a discussion and exposition of some of his major notions, while attempting to apply them to a ‘real world’ example of a social formation, that of group psychotherapy.1

In this way, we also aim to show that it is through the use of homology that Žižek is ultimately able to move from a psychoanalytic logic that ‘properly’ pertains to individual life experience to the social and political realm, and we attempt to do this via the application of this logic to the ‘controlled’ environment of the psychotherapeutic group which could be conceived of as a rudimentary approximation of society at large. This controlled environment, being much smaller and well-defined2, lends itself to the isolation and clarification of logical, constitutive moments more readily than if society as a whole were examined.3

The theoretical core of the Žižekian project lies in a Lacanian reading of Hegelian dialectical methodology, which Žižek ultimately uses as the basis for a critique of ideology, contributing to the Marxist tradition of thought. We find a sustained discussion of this theoretical core in his earliest works, specifically in the final chapter of The Sublime Object of Ideology, entitled ‘Not Only as Substance, but Also as Subject,’ and that book’s sequel, For They Know Not What They Do, the latter of which ‘is a book of theoretical work’ (For They, xi, italics in original). It is to these two works we now turn and to which will form the framework of our discussion throughout.

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