‘For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor’ by Slavoj Žižek

First published by Verso in 1991. Download link updated on 26. June 2021. Description updated on 23rd August 2021.

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Psychoanalysis is less merciful than Christianity. Where God the Father forgives our ignorance, psychoanalysis holds out no such hope. Ignorance is not a sufficient ground for forgiveness since it masks enjoyment; an enjoyment which erupts in those black holes in our symbolic universe that escape the Father’s prohibition.

With the disintegration of Yugoslav state socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we witnessed this eruption of enjoyment in the re-emergence of aggressive nationalism and racism. With the lid of repression lifted, the desires that have emerged are far from democratic. To explain this apparent paradox socialist critical thought must turn to psychoanalysis.

In ‘For They Know Not What They Do’, Slavoj Žižek seeks to understand the status of enjoyment within ideological discourse, from Hegel through Lacan to these political and ideological deadlocks. The author’s own enjoyment of “popular culture” makes this an engaging and lucid exposition, in which Hegel joins hands with Rossellini, Marx with Hitchcock, Lacan with Frankenstein, high theory with Hollywood melodrama.


Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include Pandemic! & Pandemic! 2, Hegel in a Wired Brain, Sex and the Failed Absolute, Like A Thief In Broad DaylightReading MarxIncontinence of the Void, and The Day After the Revolution.

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