Spoust1's Reviews > The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology

The Ticklish Subject by Slavoj Žižek
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Jul 30, 10

bookshelves: psychoanalysis, marx-and-marxism

Below are summaries of the book's chapters. If any of the summaries are appealing, read the book. Otherwise, do not. Zizek's theory of the subject amounts to him theorizing all over the place...

1) looking at Kant's concept of "transcendental imagination" through Heidegger's reading of Kant. He argues that the "transcendental imagination," the source of creativity, is also something terrifying - a sort of madness constitutive of the subject. See: Jacques Derrida's "Cogito and the History of Madness" in "Writing and Difference."

2) explaining some basic Hegel - negation of the negation, identity of substance and subject, concrete universality. Zizek is the best interpreter of Hegel I've read - some of what is in this chapter is essential.

3) on the philosophy of Alain Badiou - The Event, The Act, etc. This is a fairly subtle critique of Badiou, so it won't be of much interest to those not already familiar with his philosophy. It also goes into Zizek's Hegelian reading of Christianity - but this is something he develops more fully in other books, I think. See: "The Puppet and the Dwarf," "The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?"

4) undertaking a sophisticated multi-part critique of Ranciere, Balibar, Badiou, and Laclau, using them as examples of ways approaching politics today - that is, politics in "the post-political age." This is Zizek doing what I think he does better than anyone else: arguing that any attempt to avoid the topic of capitalism in political or philosophical debate is doomed to fail, for capitalism is the Real, the ultimate horizon of our existence today. He undermines postmodern identity politics and liberalism from within, showing how they are determined and limited by that which they refuse to see: the specter of Capital. With regard to the four theorists he uses to provide a certain context for his argument, Zizek gives them some credit; ultimately, his critique does not undermine their theoretical enterprises as much as it shows that they are incomplete if not supplemented with various Lacanian and Hegelian twists, which he of course provides. This chapter reminded me the most of "Violence," one of Zizek's more recent books - and also one of my favorites.

5) engaging in a dialogue with Judith Butler and Michel Foucault. I know Foucault better than I know some of the other theorists Zizek is critiquing; I cannot fully endorse his critique of Foucault, which in my mind does not afford the latter enough credit. I cannot put my finger on why I'm suspicious - but I always trust my suspicion. Regardless, this is the best chapter in the book. Zizek focuses not on "Gender Trouble" but on Butler's "The Psychic Life of Power," which is about how we are constituted as subjects in relation to certain norms, institutions, etc. While Zizek agrees with Butler (and Foucault) on some points, where he differs is on their account of resistance. Makes you want to read Butler's book, too.

6) rambling about whatever he couldn't talk about in the rest of the book. There are some good bits in here - about ecology as ideology, about how we are controlled by our symbolic identities. This chapter doesn't really fit with the rest of the book. It has some great insights, though. This can be read separately, and maybe it should be.
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