How to Read Lacan
By Slavoj Zizek
He conveys this really hard idea and illustrates it with a joke or something thats otherwise simple or
ordinary or with popular culture. Lacan is exquisitely difficult to understand. Zizek has taken Lacan and
gives an interpretation of Lacan that is compelling because Lacan is hard to understand.
Weve had this odd balance between scholarly responsible and accessible. David Foster Wallace was
quite accessible unfortunately also misstated a point. Sarah Thornton was doing the best she could to do
the ethnography thing and she was talking about subcultures but doing it in a way that is accessible. The
Corporation went too far to be popular and didnt make a good scholarly argument. White Flight went in
the opposite direction, which made a strong scholarly argument. Obama is obvious a narrative, and it
was easier because there was characters, and we learned about race and community, etc. It is more
accessible because its a narrative. The simple explanation/things are most likely self-serving and too
easy and its a scholarly thing to back away and say what about thisthis is a gut instinct Obama has at
a very young age. Zizek takes stuff thats really hard and tries to make it accessible.
Normally we think about reality and fantasy. Fantasy like video games, stuff that isnt real. And indeed in
psychoanalysis we need to be in touch with reality, not fantasy. Lacan says its ALL FANTASY. You cant
access reality except in terms of fantasy (symbolic order). Suppose your life is meaningless and the
moment you try to construct a narrative that gives your life meaning, you are fantasizing. At some level,
Lacan feels like the job of psychoanalysis is not to make you all happy and well-adjusted, but to help deal
with the sheer meaningless of it all.
Lacan is difficult because he doesnt trust the symbolic order. Language is like a two-sided gift, that you
start using the language and then language in a way writes you. It becomes really hard to come up with
ideas that cant be expressed through that language, shuttles you in grooves and ways of thinking. The
problem with language is, you need get outside of them to study them (like a cell under a microscope.)
The problem is we cant get outside of language. Lacans concern is everything that seems to be ordered
or structured the way we look at the world is itself a fantasy by definition. The Real is not directly
accessible through language.
Zizek is using popular culture to explain Lacans ideas as Lacan uses mythology to explain his deas. Zizek
knows the danger of using popular culture, that it will produce a simplified notion even as he tries to
teach Lacan that using too much pop culture will give an oversimplified notion of what Lacan is trying to
say, which isnt what reality is.
Chapter 1 Empty Gestures and Performatives: Lacan Confronts the CIA Plot
Page 8 Mexican soap operas the big Other - There is nothing hard about this sentence
- The Mexican example is quite accessible
- Zizek is not saying, this is what Lacan means by the big Other because that would be
simplification. Its one way of looking at the big Other but its not even like that, its according
to the common perception.
- Zizek is using this as a way into Lacan
- The examples arent telling you exactly that the theory is. They are just ways in pointing you into
the direction of what the theory does.
- The symbolic order grasp it Again, the microscope thing.
Philosophy challenges common sense. It was common sense to think the world was flat but its wrong.
Sometimes common sense is wrong.
Zizek wants a third pill. In other words, we need to pay more attention to the fictions/fantasies whereby
where we structure reality. When you cut yourself you feel real for a moment but Zizek says you got it
exactly backwards. The truth you cant handle is the fact that your life doesnt mean anything. And to
escape that, you cut yourself, to make you feel as though you mean something, its the exact reverse of
what you think youre doing. Taken more broadly, this is the nature of fantasy for us. Lacan wants you to
comes to grips with the contingency of your fantasy. If we did not have fantasy, wed be crazy. Fantasy is
One of the crucial things we need to learn about Lacan is: Lacan is responding to Freud and Freud is the
founder of psychoanalysis. Lacan, however, does something complicated things with Freud. For Freud,
how does civilization happen? We have these primal urges which we have to learn to control (like potty
training.) The two primal urges we need to suppress is sexual and aggressive urges. Generally speaking
psychology imagines the mind like a computer (or a steam engine). You have these drives, and it builds
up pressure and that pressure has to go somewhere, and if it doesnt go into punching your friend, then
it will go into punching the stuffed doll. Repression pressure. Drives dont go away, they just find ways
of getting out. The only way the unconscious can pop up is in our dreams, jokes, art, literature, and
Freudian slips. The werewolf is sort of like a metaphor for puberty; you start getting hairy, and all these
urges that you cant control. Basic Freudian analysis. This is not how Lacan sees the unconscious. For
Lacan, the unconscious is structured like a language. It means its already out there. An example about
this is page 21.
Page 21 Recall the old story it is the wheelbarrow itself.
- The beginning was accessible, you think its going to be a story about wheelbarrows and it ends
up being about communication
- Zizek is talking about the language as it is a performative. In which you cant just talk about
language conveying meaning because it also does stuff (eg. Empty gesture) During a marriage,
when you say I do, you are literally saying something but also performing the marriage
ceremony. That kind of language is a performative. The act of saying it, the words themselves
are doing something, not just communicating. Lacan says every act of language does this.Page 18 This declarative dimension additional aggressive message.
- There is something going on with this communication that is independent of the content of the
communication. The very fact that youre saying it has this extra level to it. This is what Lacan
and Zizek wants us to think about language in general
Page 16 This reflexive moment of declaration to signal a certain attitude to life.
- If you say your clothes dont mean anything, Zizek says your clothes actually do mean
something. Even if you say you arent interested in fashion
Page 10 After having sex with him relies on anothers gaze.
- You are always performing for the big Other, as though there is a third person watching you.
Youre like performing a particular script for the big Other, who is watching stuff.
- Same thing for when you are studying for a test or exercising.
For Zizek, the big Other is telling us to have fun, buy stuff, etc. The big Other is not the superego, its just
an internal voice for our desires.
The symbolic gesture where if you and your friend both apply for the same job and you get the job, the
thing youre supposed to say is decline the job and offer it to your friend and your friend says, nono you
take the job. You made this gesture knowing full well your buddy better darn well refuse. Its a weird
gesture in which if the other person accepts the offer, it screws everything up. Instead its a symbolic