‘On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions Without Owners’ by Robert Pfaller

Published by Verso in 2014.

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Challenging the myth of the “post-belief society”

In this fascinating work of cultural theory and philosophy, Robert Pfaller explores the hidden cost of our contemporary approach to pleasure, belief and illusion.

Sports, design, eroticism, social intercourse and games—indeed, all those aspects of our culture commonly deemed “pleasurable”—seem to require beliefs that many regard as illusory. But in considering themselves above the self-deceptions of the crowd, those same sceptics are prone to dismissing a majority of the population as naive or misguided. In doing so, they create a false opposition between the ‘simple’ masses and their more enlightened rulers. And this dichotomy then functions as an ideological support for neoliberal government: citizens become irrational victims, to be ruled over by a protective security state. What initially appears to be a universal pleasure principle—the role of “anonymous illusions” in mass culture—in this way becomes a rationale for dismantling democracy.


Over the last decade, Robert Pfaller has thoroughly renovated the entire field of critical cultural studies. This book focuses on the notion of interpassivity, of the transferring onto others our innermost passive stances – others can cry, laugh or believe for us. This accounts for the strange beliefs which no subject assumes and which nonetheless operate as beliefs in a social field. It is only in this way that we can understand the persistence of ideology in our cynical era. This is why Pfaller’s book is indispensable, an instant classic.

– Slavoj Žižek

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