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Slavoj Žižek and Renata Salecl

Lacan in Slovenia
An Interview with
Slavoj Zizek and Renata Salecl
One notable result of the recent politicalferment in Central and
Eastern Europe has been the emergence of new theoretical
currents, often combining strands of thought which – to West
European eyes – appear as starkly incompatible . Nowadays, one
can meet young Soviet philosophers whose interest in the Frankfurt School, and in deconstruction, is matched by their keen
advocacy ofneo-liberal economics, and East European sociologists whose Foucauldian critique of Marxism and the one-party
state is tempered by deep scepticism about the politics of privatisation.

One ofthe most complex and intriguing ofthese new syntheses
is the ‘Lacanian-Hegelian-Marxism’ which has been developed
by Slavoj Zizek and his colleagues at the University of Ljubljana
in Slovenia, the westernmost republic of Yugoslavia. In his two
full-length books published to date (Le plus sublimes des
hysteriques – Hegel passe, Paris, Point Hors Ligne, 1988, and
The Sublime Object of Ideology, London, Verso, 1989 – reviewed by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in RP 57), Zizek has sought to
develop a novel psychoanalytical interpretation of Hegel which
stresses the dimension of contingency, and – against fashionable
‘postmodernist’ views – the subjective resistance to closure, in
Hegelian dialectic. He has also applied this approach in a series
of studies of contemporary political, ideological and aesthetic
phenomena. (See, for example, ‘Eastern Europe’s Republics of
Gilead’, New Left Review 183, September/October 1990, and
‘The Undergrowth ofEnjoyment: How popular culture can serve
as an introduction to Lacan’, New Formations 9, Winter 1989.)
He has a particular interest in popular culture, and has edited an
anthology of Lacanian interpretations of the films of Alfred
Hitchcock, forthcoming from Verso in an updated English edition.

The following interview with Ziiek and his colleague Renata
Salecl, who also teaches at the University of Ljubljana, on the
origins and politics of Lacanianism in Slovenia, was recorded in
London in July 1990. The interview is complemented by an article
by Ziiek which condenses many of the distinctive features of his
reading of Hegel (pp. 3-9, this issue). RP hopes to continue this
coverage ofphilosophical developments in the ‘post-communist’

states infuture issues. A good source of general information on
recent developments in Yugoslavia is Misha Glenny’s The ReBirth of History, London, Penguin, 1990.

RP: Perhaps you could begin by saying something about the
history of Lacanian theory in Ljubljana, Slovenia. How did it
come to develop? And what role has it played?

Zizek: It was contingent, an absolute exception. In each of the big

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

Republics of Yugoslavia – Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia – there is an
entirely different theoretical tradition which predominates. In
Serbia, it is a kind of analytical philosophy, but not a good one not one that I have found interesting – but rather the most boring
kind of philosophy of science, now linked to some kind of new
liberalism – Hayek, that kind of thing. In Croatia, it is the old
Praxis School which predominates. In Slovenia since the beginning of the 1970s the big conflict, the big philosophical struggle,
was between some kind of Western Marxism, which was more or
less official philosophy, and Heideggerianism and phenomenology as the main form of philosophical dissidence. This was the
struggle. And then we, the younger generation, precisely as a third
option – to be a dissident but not a Heideggerian – we were a
reaction to both of these.

In Slovenia, this opposition – Critical Theory versus
Heideggerianism – had a totally different investment from that in
Croatia. In Croatia, Western Marxism was the great dissidence of
the 1960s. So the Heideggerians, who were their opponents there
too, were the official philosophers. In Croatia, people would lose
their jobs during the 1970s for dissidence, but their dismissal
would be articulated in Heideggerian terms. There were extreme
obscenities, such as a Party official saying that, for example, some
Praxis philosopher does not understand some Heideggerian twist
– that the essence of self-management is the self-management of
essence – that kind of thing. There were extremely perverse
things: a pragmatic political power structure of self-management
legitimised in purely Heideggerian terms. There was even a
general who became chief of staff who had been under the
influence of Heideggerians as a student who wrote an article (you
know that the Yugoslav notion is the self-defence of the people)
saying that the essence of self-defence was the self-defence ofthe
essence of our society. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, you had people
being dismissed because they hadn’t grasped Adorno’ s Negative
Dialectics. The two positions which usually in Eastern Europe are
associated with opposition to existing power structures
(Heideggerianism and Western Marxism) were the two official
positions in different parts of Yugoslavia.

RP: So there was no Soviet-style dialectical materialism in

Zizek: No, it doesn’t exist in Yugoslavia. You can mark the point,
1960, at some great philosophical event, when there was a last
stand. But the idea of dialectical materialism was defeated. There
are some pockets of resistance, but even the power structure itself
does not rely on them. They are marginalised, although not in
opposition. During the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a deideologisation of power, and Marxists have usually been more


dissident than non-Marxists. What was never reported in the West
was that the people who benefited from this were the analytical
philosophers in Belgrade, who were definitely not Marxists. You
had a Communist regime openly supporting analytical philosophy of science. Their message to the power structure was clear:

‘We are doing instrumental scientific research. We are no danger
to you. You leave us alone and we will leave you alone.’

Salecl: But the Lacanian movement in Slovenia was always on
the side of the opposition. In the early 1980s when new social
movements began to develop in Slovenia, it was really only
Lacanians who gave theoretical support to these groups.

Zizek: What you need to understand, to understand the philosophical background to the different dissidences, is that the split
which is now becoming visible in, for example, Poland, between
the populist right-wing nationalism of Walesa and the market
liberalism of Michnik – this split was present from the very
beginning in Slovenia. The opposition movement in Slovenia has
two quite distinct origins. On the one hand you have a nationalist
intelligentsia, nationalist poets writing about national roots, etc.

Their philosophical reference is Heidegger. On the other hand,
you have the remnants of an old New Left connected to new social
movements – peace, human rights movements, etc., – and, extremely important, a punk movement. (The band Laibach, for
example.) It is precisely through punk that the pluralist opposition
reached the masses. It was a kind of political mass education, and
we supported it.

RP: But how did Lacanianism come to have this resonance
within Slovenian political culture in the first place? After all,
to a lot of people, Lacan’s theory doesn’t look like an emancipatory theory at all. It is a theory of perpetual lack, of
inescapeable alienation in the signifier, and so forth.

Zizek: Here, you have already produced an answer. For this was
precisely the point with respect to self-management. In Yugoslavia, it was an extreme form of alienation, a totally non-transparent
system that nobody, including those in the power structure, could
comprehend. There were almost two million laws in operation.

No one could master it. This was the paradox: this is what you get
when you want total disalienation or pure transparency. This was
how we experienced Laibach, for example. I Their fundamental
cry, for us, was ‘We want more alienation.’ The paradox in
Yugoslavia was that we had a Communist Party bureaucracy
which ruled in the name of an ideology the basic premise of which
was that the greatest danger to socialism was the rule of an
alienated Party bureaucracy. It saw itself as the main enemy. This
worked very nicely. They even succeeded in integrating the
Praxis philosophers, up to a certain point. The trick was that if you
wanted to criticise the system …

Zizek: On this point, we agree with Habermas: the price of
modernity is that you must accept a certain division, alienation,
etc. But I disagree with the way in which Habermas understands
this in relation to the postmodernism debate. For me, it is modernism which insists on the utopian idea of disalienation, while
postmodernism is precisely the recognition that you accept a
certain division as the price of freedom. In this specific sense,
Habermas is a postmodernist without knowing it.

RP: A certain strand of post modern thought – one thinks of
Foucault in the seventies, for example – wants to reach the
ultimate equation: emancipation =non-emancipation, emancipation = repression, without qualification. But you, via
Lacan, seem to want to do something rather more complex. In
your book, The Sublime Object ojldeology, you describe Lacan
as a thinker of the Enlightenment. It seems that for you the
project of emancipation doesn’t always equal repression, but
somehow we do have to reassess the project. By repudiating
a certain conception of what the project of emancipation
should lead to we somehow preserve the project. Is that a fair
description of your position?

Zizek: Absolutely. This is why I insist so much on the split
between Foucault and Derrida, on the one hand (despite all their
differences), and Lacan. If we understand modernism in terms of
the urge to demask an illusion, etc., then deconstruction is itself
a most extreme form of modernism. At this general level, despite
all their differences, Habermas and Lacan move in the same
direction in accepting certain limits and renouncing certain utopian conditions on the possibility of freedom. The way these
divisions have been made should be reformulated.

RP: The question of the limits of enlightenment is already
there is Kant’s essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in the distinction between the public and private use of reason. To the
extent to which you agree with Habermas, aren’t you just
reinstituting a more classically Kantian notion? Isn’t your
‘postmodernism’ just a pragmatic enlightenment?

Zizek: In a sense, yes. Let’s look at the process that Lacan calls
‘la passe’: how as an analysand you become an analyst. The basic
idea is that you choose two of your colleagues, not analysts, and
you tell them about the experience of your analysis, and they must
be able to retell it to someone else. At this point, at which you are
able to make your experience totally transmissible to a third by the
intermediary of the second, this is the sign of success. Here, in the
heart of Lacan, you can see the idea of making it public. This is
enlightenment. You must be able to externalise your innermost


Salecl: … it was already all the time criticising itself.

RP: It sounds like Marcuse’s old notion of repressive tolerance.

Zizek: Yes, but a special version of it.

RP: Perhaps we could turn to your interest in Hegel. You
combine an interest in Hegel with one in Lacan in a rather
unusual way. Is there not a basic irreconcilability between
Hegel and Lacan that your reading covers over? After all,
there would seem to be some kind of telos of reconciliation in
Hegel. You seem to read Hegel very much through the Phe-

Salecl: It produced a special kind of Newspeak. They changed


‘business’ to ‘organisation of associated labour’. ‘Workers’ became ‘direct producers’. Directors were called ‘individual business organs’. The idea was that with this demystification of
language self-management could be portrayed as a form of direct

Zizek: No, it is through the Logic. I think that Hegel wrote a book
called Logic of the Signifier, and that by historical accident the
second part of the title fell out. More seriously, take the category
of reconciliation. People talk of a telos of reconciliation in Hegel


Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991


as if this meant some kind of radical transparency. Look at the
place in the Phenomenology where Hegel introduces the term:

towards the end of the chapter on spirit, just before the chapter on
religion. Reconciliation comes about from the break -down of the
condition of the beautiful soul. It means that the beautiful soul
must recognise the irrationality of the world as a kind of positive
position. It must accept it. There is no freedom, no acting in the
world, without renouncing your narcissistic self, without accepting some basic ‘irreconcilability’. When you want to actualise
your non-alienated project and you are confronted with some
limit, disalienation does not consist in annihilating the limit, but
in seeing how this limit is the positive condition of your very



RP: But is this Lacan really Freudian? There is a whole
philosophical background in Lacan – the interest in
intersubjectivity, the theory of the subject – which is missing
in Freud. The concept of the subject doesn’t really occur in
Freud’s work, does it? Is Lacan explicating what is implicit in
Freud or is he establishing a new theory?

Ziiek: Lacan only interprets Freud if you conceive the idea of
interpretation the way Lacan does. In the early seminars, he is
close to some phenomenological approaches when he says that
interpretation is not just the rediscovery of something that already
exists. You are confronted in interpretation with a lot of inconsistent traces – Lacan’ s notion of the unconscious is a kind of
creationist one – and you construct what retroactively will have
been. Freud was an inconsistent author. Lacan showed one way to
retroactively construct a consistency. There was a certain fundamental theoretical traumatism, an impossibility, ultimate contradiction, which generated Freud’s inconsistencies. The point is not
to flatten Freud out.

RP: So it’s in Freud’s texts, it’s not in Freud?

Zizek: If you like. You can put it that way, yes. It is what’s in the
text which could not be written there.

RP: Perhaps we could return to the reception of Lacan in
Slovenia. You spoke earlier of Slovenian Lacanians giving
theoretical support to new social movements. Is there any
particular articulation of Lacanianism with gender issues
involved here? As you probably know, in England, the reception of Lacan has been very closely tied up with feminism.

There is a certain type of feminist theory which is very
Lacanian. It articulates its sexual politics through Lacan. Is
there any equivalent to this in Slovenia?

It is the same at all crucial points of Hegelian theory. For
example, in the logic of judgement where after the judgement of
necessity you get the notional judgement (Begriffsurteil). You
would expect a triad, but there is a fourth type of judgement. This
one reintroduces contingency.

It is interesting that even poststurcturalist critics, such as
Gasche in The Tain of the Mirror, when they criticise Hegel come
up with positions which are already within Hegel. Take the idea
of reflection. It is not the simple idea that I reflect myself, I am a
property of the object, etc. Reflection is always redoubled with
Hegel. There is a certain point in the object where the subject
cannot recognise itself – a blind spot. But it is precisely this blind
spot where the subject is inscribed. What the Derrideans, with
such effort, try to produce as the blind spot of Hegelian dialectic:

this is the fundamental mechanism of Hegel. The monarch in the
Philosophy of Right, for example. If you want the state to be a
rational totality, it must have a certain totally irrational excess or
surplus, a totally idiotic presence – the King. Without it, totality
cannot exist.

It is these dimensions of Hegel’s thought which were opened
up for me by Lacanian notions oflack in the Other, of how the final
moment in analysis is your acknowledgement of your lack as the
correlate of the lack of the Other, etc.

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

Ziiek: There are two issues here: the reception of Lacan in
England, and the question of feminism in Slovenia. On the first
one, I must make some comradely criticisms. The Lacan received
in England in film theory and women’s studies was already a
reduced version of Lacan, mediated in part by Foucault and
Kristeva. Let us take two central notions: ‘suture’ and the gaze.

The way the idea of suture operates here is incredible. It is
precisely the reverse of Lac an. It is used to mean the bad thing, the
representation, the closure. Lacan’s point is much more dialectically refined. For him suture is not just the moment of closure but
also that which sustains openness. Take the phallic signifier, for
example. For Lacan this is not just the signifier which closes the
field of unlimited polymorphous perversity, it is the signifier that
opens the field of plurality. The p”aradox of Lacan is that to have
a certain field open there must be a certain closure (it is like Hegel
on reconcilation). To de-suture a field you must always have
another mega-suture. Take the notion of nation. The nation
functions to de-suture traditional societies, but it de-sutures them
by finding another central point.

The problem of the gaze is, I think, an even bigger one. The
way the Lacanian problematic of the gaze works here in England
is mediated through Foucault’s work on the panopticon: for the
male gaze, the woman is reduced to an object, etc. Whereas for
Lacan it is the opposite: the gaze is the object, it is not on the side
of the subject. In this way, for Lacan, it is woman who occupies
the place of the gaze. If there is something totally alien to Lacan
it is the idea that the male position is that of the gaze that
objectifies woman.


Salecl: With regard to the other side of your
question, it is important to note first of all that
there is no women’s movement in Slovenia. As
elsewhere in Eastern Europe, this lack of a
feminist movement is very problematic. With
the emergence of a new ‘moral majority’ in the
opposition movement – on questions of abortion
rights, for example. We do have some small
groups that call themselves feminist, and their
view is that psychoanalysis is very anti -feminist.

But it was the Lacanian movement in Slovenia
that first raised the issue of the newly emerging
moral majority there. The small feminist groups
which exist are dealing with the question in a
very old-fashioned way, saying that all is male
chauvinism, etc. They are not locating the issue
properly; they are not connecting it up to the
nationalist threat, for example, which we think is
behind the obsession with ‘morality’. The main
struggle for feminists in Croatia and Slovenia,
we believe, is an anti-nationalist one.



Zizek: It is a fight for the very fonnulation of the
problems. The nationalist parties in government
in Slovenia and Croatia don’t accept contraception and abortion as women’s problems. All that
exists for them are problems of the family and
low birth rates. For us, on the other hand, the
‘problem of the family’ doesn’t exist as such. The problems are
those of women’s rights, rights of children, etc.

Salecl: When they say we must prohibit abortion, they do not say

Zizek: Our aim is to promote pluralism, and an awareness of
ecological issues, and to defend the rights of minorities. This is the
kind of liberal tradition we represent. Not the purely capitalist
values of the free market, not Friedrich von Hayek.

it for Christian moral reasons. They openly say that it is to
preserve the nation. And you must not forget that they were very
much a part of the old opposition movement, anti -totalitarian, etc.

So they present their new morality as part of the fight against
communism: freedom to abort as a brutal totalitarian intervention
by the state into private life! We want to keep the old legislation
on abortion.

Salecl: We took the name’ liberal’ as a symbol of opposition to the
national-organic populist tradition. In order to defend the rights of
minorities, one has to reject emphatically this notion of the
primacy of the nation, of the need for self-sacrifice for the sake of
the nation, the idea that you can only find your place as an
individual within the organic community of the nation.

Zizek: To put it in tenns of Ernesto Laclau’ s theory of hegemony ,

RP: Slavoj, you recently stood as a candidate for the five-man
presidency of Slovenia as a member of the newly-formed
Liberal Party. Could you explain the current layout of the
political parties in Slovenia, and in particular the nature of
the Liberal Party to which you belong?

Zizek: Along with the old Communist Party, the Liberal Party is
now part of the opposition bloc. But what defines the distinctive
role of the Liberal Party is our opposition to the rise of this
national-organic populism in Slovenia, of which we have already

RP: For people used to the ideological distinctions of West
European politics, it may appear strange that the Liberal
Party emerged from the youth wing of the Slovenian League
of Communists. Especially since, in the information bulletins
of the Ljubljana Press Centre, your party is described as
affiliating to the classical traditions of liberalism. Could you
explain more precisely where the Liberal Party stands ideologically?


we were engaged in a struggle for the re-articulation of this
floating signifier, ‘liberalism’. The tenn was associated, throughout Slovenia, with the idea of freeing ourselves from Communist
domination. It was extremely important who should succeed in
occupying this ideological terrain, and in fact the right-wingers
were furious. We managed to force them onto the defensive,
because they were then obliged to explain why they were also in
favour of liberties, individual human rights, and so on. I think it
was the proper mode of attack, which – to use the Leninist phrase
– accorded with the concrete analysis of the concrete situation. It
was the right gesture to make.

RP: The Liberal Party is the second biggest party in the
Slovenian parliament. But what about the Party of Democratic Renewal, the former League of Communists?

Zizek: Personally, they are quite nice guys. There are a lot of
younger people, and fonner Party dissidents. So you might ask, if
they are such nice guys why didn’t we in the youth wing simply
stay with them? The problem was – and here I think that Foucault’ s
analysis of ‘micro-powers’ has some bearing – that the general
power of the Party remains intimately linked to the extremely
corrupt local power structures. This was simply too much for us.

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

Salecl: Our crucial failing was connected with the role of the
Green Party, which is rather strong. The Green Party is part of
‘DEMOS, the ruling centre-right coalition, but this catastrophic
development was purely the result of personal struggles and
animosities. Formerly, the Greens were linked with the youth
organization of the Communist Party. About five months ago they
started moving towards DEMOS – three months before the
election. The leading members ofthe Greens are ex-communists,
and in many cases ex-hard-liners.

Zizek: They are all personal enemies of mine. They attacked me
about ten years ago – they threw me out for not being enough of
a Marxist. It was these long-standing personal enmities which
were crucial in the decision of Greens to join DEMOS. To use
Ernesto Laclau’ s jargon again, the Green problematic – as you
know – has a peculiarly floating status within the ideological
field. You can inscribe it into the field of pluralism, of new social
movements and so on; or you can inscribe it into the chain of
equivalences: ‘pollution ofthe environment’ equals ‘pollution of
our minds through cultural degeneration’ and so on. This ideological shift of the Greens was a real tragedy, because without
them DEMOS would not have an absolute majority – in other
words, they would not have been able to form a government
without us, and there would be a much stronger leftist and pluralist
influence in current Slovenian politics.

Salecl: It should be remembered that the Greens allied themselves
with the nationalists when it came to reopening the questions of
abortion, women’s rights and so on.

RP: This seems an appropriate point to move on to the
national question in Yugoslavia in general. In your view, will
the Federation be able to hold together?

Zizek: I think the maximum that can be hoped for is a confederation. In Slovenia, this is not such a great problem because – to use
a rather racist them – we are’ ethnically pure’. The real problem
is not only Albania, but in Bosnia also. This is because, if a new
confederation were established, the Serbs would want to change
borders. They would want to incorporate parts of Bosnia and
possibly also Croatia, where there are two to three million Serbs.

However, I do not believe that there is any real danger of a
restoration of Serbian domination, of the kind which characterized Yugoslavia before the revolution – it is too late for that.

Slovenia and Croatia – the two richest republics – have now held
democratic elections, and in order to reverse this situation half of
Yugoslavia would have to occupy the other half – it’s simply not

Salecl: In my view, the chance for Yugoslavia to survive will
depend on the outcome of the free elections which will be held in
every republic before the end of this year. Strong republican
governments will have to be formed, and then, hopefully, these
governments will be able to agree on a new type of confederation.

The problem is, however, that in republics such as Serbia and
Montenegro, the left and liberal opposition hasn’t really had time
to organise. This opposition is based in small groups centred on
the universities. The real opposition consists of far right-wing
nationalists – without too much exaggeration they could be
described as ‘Chetniks’. 2

Zizek: However, those who now form the Liberal Party also bear
some responsibility for the current situation, because we didn’t
take DEMOS seriously enough – I would say that even DEMOS
didn’t take itself seriously enough! Until the fall of the regimes in
East Germany and Romania towards the end of 1989, the aspiration of DEMOS was to be strong enough to be taken seriously as
an opposition. It was only after these events that they themselves
saw that there was a real possibility of winning power. Neither
ourselves, nor the Communist Party, foresaw that this might
happen – and now the real political problem is simply to stay alive.

What I mean by this is that up till now there has been some kind
of state support for all political parties. But DEMOS – arguing
demagogically that we are a small, poor country – have radically
reduced this money. And although they promised that being a
member of parliament would become a profesional occupation,
they have not professionalised it. For example, even the general
secretary of the Communist Party of Slovenia has a post in a
university. What this means is that there are ten or fifteen
professional ideologists of DEMOS, who have ministerial posts,
and nothing in between them and the common people – all the
intermediary structures are being dissolved. So maybe eight or ten
people get together at somebody’s house and they make all the
crucial decisions.

Salecl: So we have the same system as we had before!

Zizek: Furthermore, about half a year ago the nationalists began
to make a great noise about how Slovenians were in danger of
becoming an extinct race. They tried to calculate the date when
there would be no more Slovenians! Very cleverly, they reckoned
around 2040 to 2050 – not so far away as to appear unrealistic, and
not so near as to make people feel insecure. Other calculations
claim that by around 2050, half of Yugoslavia will be populated
by Albanians.

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

Zizek: The miracle of Milosevic, the populist leader of the
Communist Party in Serbia, was that he managed to synthesise
some unthinkable combination of fascism and Stalinism. He
promoted typically Stalinist values, but with elements which up
till now were considered to be typically fascist, such as the settingup of a violent vigilante movement, the obsession with the
nationalist enemy …

RP: You suggest these are not characteristic of communist
dictatorships, but what about Romania under Ceausescu?

ZiZek: Romania was a totally ‘closed’ society, to use the categories of the unfortunate Karl Popper, whereas Serbia under Milosevic
is more reminisc~nt of fascist Italy, where there was a certain
degree of freedom, but if you dissented from the regime you were
excluded, marginalised …

Salecl: I would say that Milosevic’ s success consisted in being
able to play in two ideological registers at the same time – on the
one hand defending a strong federal Yugoslavia, with a democratised and market-oriented society, but, on the other hand, behind
this, always aiming – for example – to crush the Albanians in
Kosovo province, and to promote the Serbian domination of
Yugoslavia, without ever openly renouncing the legacy of Tito.

People knew what he was aiming at, there were whole series of
fantasies which he didn’t have to spell out. But now there are
parties of the nationalist right operating openly, and Milosevic is
branded as the guy who doesn’t go far enough.

Zizek: As Fred Jameson would say, a vanishing mediator …

Salecl: Milosevic is now under attack from both sides – from the
right-wing ‘Chetnik’ movement which we have been describing,
and from the small, emergent democratic parties. What is unify-


ing these two blocs is that they are both anti-communist Milosevic still has that albatross round his neck. His charisma is
already broken. 3

Zizek: But what is also fascinating here is what we Marxists call
the ‘material force of ideology’. For example, according to the
official statistics, which as we know always present an upbeat
picture, purchasing power in Yugoslavia has declined by between
40 and 50 percent over the last decade. But despite all this, the
dominating issues in the elections in Croatia and Slovenia, and
this will also apply to the elections in Serbia, have not been
economic but nationalistic.

RP: This raises the question of the relation between these
nationalist movements and the new liberal economics of

some kind of pri vate psychological state. For Lacan ‘discourse’ is
not simply another fashionable term – you know how people refer
to the’ discourse’ of Foucault, Derrida, etc., when all they really
mean is their books or their texts. For Lacan ‘discourse’ refers to
the social bond – ‘le lien social’. In order for someone to be a
hysteric, the whole intersubjective space must be structured in a
certain way – it is in this sense that one can say that capitalism is
‘hysterical’ .

RP: But this raises a whole series of problems – because
psychoanalytical terms derive their primary semantic charge
from their role within a certain therapeutic relation between
individuals. But what would the political correlate of the
practice of analysis be? How could one ‘psychoanalyse’ the
hysteria of capitalism in general?

Zizek: My reply would be that for Lacan the relation between

Zizek: The way it works is that the general economic crisis is
reinterpreted through a nationalistic perspective. All would be
well at home on the economic front, if we didn’t have to help to
support the other republics, and so on.

‘hysteria’ and ‘historia’ is not just a play on words. Hysteria is an
eminently historical notion. Let us suppose that an Althusserian

RP: But what about concrete policies for economic restructuring?

Zizek: People are not yet thinking on that level. Even for the
Communist Party, the main economic points of reference are
Thatcher, the Chicago school. Personally, I’m a pragmatist in this
area. If it works, why not try a dose of it? But one should at least
recognise that neo-liberal economics is not a neutral technical
instrument – to use Lacan’ s terms, there are certain subject
positions inscribed within it. We Liberals are the only political
force opposed to this – the supposed ‘de-ideologising’ of the
economy through the application of ‘neutral’, technically efficient measures. The tragedy is that even the communists perceive
this kind of Thatcherite or Friedmanesque economics as something ideologically neutral, as not involving any class- or subjectpositions.

Salecl: Now we are facing the issue of the privatisation of
publicly owned property. Overnight, managers, who were formerly connected with the Communist regime and the secret
police, are becoming owners. So you have this problem of former
Communists who are becoming capitalists.

RP: We would like to conclude by shifting back from concrete
politics towards theory. More specifically, we would like to
raise some epistemological issues about your use of psychoanalytic categories in social and political analysis. For exam ..

pie, you have described the basic structure of capital accumulation as ‘hysterical’, because it is characterised by insatiable
demand, irrecuperable excess. But what is the status of this
description? Is it analogical? It often looks as though you are
simply projecting psychoanalytic categories on the social
level, without paying sufficient attention to the specificity of
social, as opposed to psychological, processes.

Zizek: I am definitely not using these categories merely analogically, because Lacan is always talking about structures of discourse. I would try to avoid the very terms of your question. For
me hysteria is always already a structure of discourse, in other
words, a certain structuring of the social bond. Hysteria is not


notion of interpellation gives us the main form of subjectification
– we must see that this form is always historically specified, even
though Althusser didn’t stress this himself. Hysteria just means
that the identification which should be produced through
interpellation fails. What Americans now call a ‘borderline case’

is not something radically new – it is just another form of the
failure of identification, that is to say of hysteria. To say that the
structure of capitalism is hysterical is just to say that this failure
of identification is built into it, as was first perceived by Max
Weber in his study of the ‘Protestant ethic’ .

RP: But doesn’t this mean that you fall into the same kinds of
difficulties that one finds in the work of some contemporary
discourse theorists – discourse becomes an undifferentiated
category which is supposed to exhaust the ontology of the
social. From a more traditional Marxist perspective, one
might object that, although we may talk about the ‘material
force of ideology’ ,it is necessary to distinguish different levels
of materiality within the social. There seems to be a kind of
hypertrophy of ideological analysis implied by the concept of
discourse. If one can’t make a distinction between different
levels of the social, for example in an Althusserian way, the

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

relation of such discourse analysis to political practice becomes seriously problematic. Political practice, surely, is not
just a matter of ideological struggle.

as what is essential. But this retroactive standpoint is never fully
available in the present – it is always the standpoint of the future

Zizek: My reply would be that the most classical forms of
Marxism, indeed in Das Kapitai itself, notions such as ‘classstruggle’ occupy precisely such an unspecified place. As you
know, after three volumes, the manuscript ends with the promise
of a chapter on ‘classes’. If you read Das Kapital retrospectively
from this point you can see that it is not simply an objective theory
of production. It becomes apparent that in concepts such as that of
‘surplus-value’ class struggle is already at work. The whole point
is to retain this refined dialectic: not to reduce everything to class
struggle, but at the same time not to reduce class-struggle simply
to one of the’ instances’, to say we have objective relationships,
and then class struggle.

Interviewed by Peter Dews and Peter Osborne
London, July 1990

RP: This is a persuasive account. But could we press you again
on the affinities between your work and that of the contemporary discourse-analysts, for whom politics often seems to be
reduced to a matter of transforming personal identities, or of
finding the right ideological ‘chain of equivalences’? After all,
you have written a sympathetic review ofLaclau and Mouffe’s
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.

Zizek: I cannot emphasise enough my admiration for Laclau and
Mouffe, but I do perceive a danger in the idea of radical democracy. It seems like a slip into commonsense wisdom: ‘you must
not be unilateral, you must listen to as many viewpoints as
possible, etc … ‘ I think the condition of being active politically is
precisely to be unilateral: the structure of the political act as such
is ‘essentialist’. Furthermore, to say that we must not give centrality to any particular site of struggle represents a kind oflegerdemain,
since the real upshot of Lacalu and Mouffe’s book is an interpretation of all struggles, social, economic, and so on, as extensions
of democratic struggles.

RP: Could we perhaps put our basic question in one final
form. For Marx, there are certain institutions and processes
– money for example – which are constituted sheerly through
social recognition. However, there are also for Marx other
processes, such as capitalist production itself, which are not
simply constituted through such recognition. Do you acknowledge the existence of this distinction?

Zizek: On this point, I think I would be willing to describe myself
as a ‘post-modernist’. I would say that as soon as you are within
a spoken language, within a certain universe of meaning, you are
automatically caught within a certain ideology. There is a certain
basic misrecognition. This makes possible – on the social levelcertain experiences which Lacan describes as ‘traversing the
phantasy’, ‘identifying with the symbol’. For example, the kind
of discourse which emerged after Chernobyl, in which various
leftist groups began proclaiming that ‘we all live in Chernobyl’.

This is a kind of phenomenon which the ruling ideology would
like to dismiss as some marginal misadventure – the fact that
people recognise something as a symptom, as precisely the
exception where the repressed truth of the totality emerges.

But, to return to your point, I would say that my type of
analysis doesn’t exclude, but rather requires a concrete social and
economic analysis. Let’s return to Marx’s notion of class-struggle. A direct attempt to explain everything in terms of class
struggle would end up explaining nothing. But neither is it enough
to say that class struggle is simply a result of objective conditions.

We might say that – retroactively – class struggle comes to be seen

Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991

‘Laibach’ is the German word for Ljubljana. The band sought to
provoke the regime through the wearing of fascist insignia, etc.


‘Chetniks’ was the name applied to ‘members of the Second
World War resistance group in Yugoslavia which was led by
General Mihailovic, Minister of War in King Peter’s government in exile. It found its main support in Serbia. Soon after its
formation it came into conflict with Tito’s predominantly communist Partisans, and a three-way struggle developed between
the Germans, the Chetniks and the Partisans. The Allies supported Tito. Mihailovic was executed by the new Yugoslav
regime in July 1946, on a charge of treason.


This turned out to be a serious under-estimation of Milosevic’ s
capacity for survival. In the elections of 9 December 1990, he
secured a substantial majority, bucking the trend in Eastern
Europe for former Communist Party bosses to lose their credibility in the new political climate. The old Serbian Communist
Party has renamed itself the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS).

Luis Talamantez, Dannie Martin. A prison visit to Norma Jean Croy interview with Bia De Ocampo by Kathy Goss; DISPARn~IES AND
PRESS by Martin Sprouse (with contributions by John Yates, Scth Tobocman, Peter Plate, Lydia Ely, etc.); TRUMAN NELSON’S REVOLUTIONARY MORALITY by Shaun McNiff, A REQUIEM FOR HIROSHIMA: text by Lee Baxandall, music by Leonard Lchnnan; LEFT &
CULTURE OFTHE INTIFADA by Jay Murphy, Culture Behind Bars by
PEERY, Introductory Note by Jack Hirschman; ANANDA K.

ETC.: The Photojournalist and the Orange Card by Bertha Husband (Critique of Ed Kashi’s Photo’s) with response by Ed Kashi; Free Market
Designer Chains (Graphic) by Doug Minkler; Letter About Cuh~, The State
of the World, and Things by Margot Pepper; poem ~y Efral~ Hucrta,
trarnlated by Jim Normington; The Structure and Functums ofElue Art and
Various Underground Movements by Geza Perneczky; Las Veg~ – Enter Now
by Victoria Jaye; poem by HM; Extended Resume by Richard Olscn;
“Building a Paradigm” (review) by Mat Schwarzman & Mark O’Bricn.

112 pp.

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