Totalitarian Laughter: Zizek and Ideology

Gavin Armitage-Ackerman

Saturday, Concordia – 11h à 11h45

In this lecture, my aim is to provide a concise and accessible outline of Slavoj Zizek’s theory of ideology, as presented in his work « The Sublime Object of Ideology. » Given the density of the text and the innumerable references Zizek makes to other complex works of philosophy, my goal is to make his ideas more accessible and to contextualize them within philosophy as a discipline. I hope to answer several questions in this lecture such as « what is ideology? », « how has ideology been seen historically? », « how does ideology function » and « what is the significance of Zizek’s contribution? ». I will begin by providing some historical context to theories of ideology by looking mainly at the classical Marxist views of ideology and their 20th century developments, alongside more mainstream contemporary liberal conceptions of ideology (such as Fukuyama’s « End of History » thesis.) I will then discuss how Zizek’s own theory developed in response to these streams of thought, and look to distinguish several key aspects of his theory of « ideology as cynicism, » such as his strict philosophical materialism, his use of psychoanalysis and terms such as « symptom » and « big Other », his conceptions of « belief » and « fantasy, » and more. Throughout the discussion I will look at how Zizek is influenced by thinkers such as Lacan, Althusser, Pascal, Marx, and Sloterdijk. In addition, I will be drawing heavily on the book « Capitalist Realism » by Mark Fisher, in which Zizek’s theories are heavily applied, in order to provide real world insight and examples of how we can practically use Zizek’s theories to interpret politics, media, culture, etc. By the end of this presentation, my goal is to not only provide a proper exegesis of his theory, but as well to explain it in a way that is practical to both philosophy and non-philosophy students alike.