Psychoanalysis and ideology critique

Slavoj Žižek’s critical approach to ideology stems from the Lacanian insight that all social orders are stained by a self-generated libidinal excess which makes them inconsistent and subject to change.

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, enjoyment (jouissance) has a substantial status: it is the surplus produced by the signifier (language) the moment it comes into play, and henceforth it drives and simultaneously disturbs all human activity. Our basic problem as speaking beings is how to manage the libidinal surplus we produce the moment we enter the social link. From this perspective, the historical and epistemological novelty of capitalism is that it elevates enjoyment, its intrinsic structural limit, ‘into the very principle of social life, the speculative movement of money begetting more money’ (Žižek). Capitalist ideology functions by surreptitiously converting jouissance into value – into something which is valorised and exchanged. Through this conversion, the system’s limit is transformed into its main strength, literally its productive engine.

We believe that it is vitally important to retain the Lacanian focus on the historical shift in the function of jouissance caused by the advent of capitalism. Particularly with global capitalism, enjoyment has become a powerful ideological category because it feigns a non-ideological function, thus preventing the constitution of alternative political projects. In this respect, Žižek has inaugurated a fertile field of study within which we intend to elaborate not only a psychoanalytic critique of capitalism, but also, more urgently, a theory and practice of its reconfiguration into a different order.