Slavoj Žižek

Philosophy, Ideology, and Jokes: an Introduction to Slavoj Žižek

Instructor: Artemy Magun
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Slavoj Žižek is among the most influential, prolific, and provocative European philosophers of his generation. Amidst a period of tectonic changes, as Soviet socialism came to an end and neoliberalism spread across Europe, Žižek’s thought developed against the grain—due in no small part to his formative experiences of Yugoslavia’s unique system of self-managed market socialism. He levied a fierce defense of communism in the face of liberal triumphalism in the 1990s, making a case for the continued necessity of the Marxist tradition of ideological critique, yet bolstered with precepts borrowed from psychoanalysis. In response to the relativist trends of what is often called “postmodernity,” he remained staunchly committed to dialectical thinking in a Hegelian key. His “low” Gothic style and predilection for jokes, profanity, and pop culture set him apart from his Western European contemporaries—and lent him a notoriety and cross-over appeal seldom achieved among serious philosophers. But, if Žižek’s jokes enable him to bypass taboos and reveal the elephants sitting in the room, we should never lose sight of the serious, even dark and tragic core, of his teaching. What comprises the very serious, if unconventional, system of Žižek’s thought? What has his unique synthesis of Marxism, Kantian critique, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian dialectics, and cultural criticism contributed to our understanding of the logics—of ideology, capitalism, and fantasy—that shape contemporary life, and the ethics that these imply?

In this course, we will trace the evolution of Slavoj Žižek’s thought across several distinctly politically oriented stages: from his early radical democratic period, focused on the transferential, passionate character of ideology; to his Marxist-Leninist period, in which he interprets the Real as class struggle and seeks a decisionist way out; to his current social-democratic period, where we’ll find his critique of the commodity form sliding into a defense of cultural and political forms. Throughout, we’ll explore the origins and applications of the key concepts he intercepts, reinterprets, and renders his own, among them fetishism, the Real,, the object, and parallax. Readings will be drawn from his majors works, including, among others, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, The Parallax View, and Less Than Nothing, which we will pair with secondary readings by Sean Sheehan, Kelsey Wood, and Adrian Johnston. Throughout, we will ask: how does psychoanalysis square with socio-political critique? How does dialectics operate without sublation, Spirit, or the end of history? Why is truth structured as an illusion? And, can a subject make a difference in a world of irreconcilable perspectives and all-powerful objects?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 04 — March 25, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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