‘The Fantasy of the End’ by Alenka Zupančič

Video recording of a paper delivered on 17th December 2016 in Mumbai, India as part of “Fantasies of Capital: Alienation, Enjoyment, Psychoanalysis” Conference.

Inspired by Karl Marx’s critique of political economy and Jacques Lacan’s late theory linking surplus enjoyment to surplus value, the conference aimed to introduce a Lacanian interpretation of Marx’s analysis of capital and to propose ways of traversing the fantasies of capitalist society.

Wealth disparity, dismantling the welfare state, privatization, precarization, corruption, environmental degradation, growing nationalism, racism, xenophobia – these are some of the accomplishments of neoliberal capitalism and its political forms. If Sigmund Freud wondered about the “future of an illusion,” the continued existence of religion after its rational critique, today we are confronted by “the illusion of a future,” the crumbling of the future once promised by neoliberalism, our contemporary religion.

What sustains the current (dis)order? Fantasy is a primary medium of enjoyment in capitalism: for the system to function and renew itself, we must enjoy wanting new commodities, work, children, and lifestyles by imagining ourselves in relation to these desirable objects. What is the relationship between lack and fantasy, desire and enjoyment, and what images of fulfillment does society propose? How does capitalism rely on fantasy and to what social, political, and economic ends? What does the Marxian critique of political economy and the continental tradition of psychoanalysis have to say about the strange coupling of alienation and enjoyment, as well as the possibility of its overcoming?

If in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis we have witnessed a certain return to Marx, we are equally in need of a return to psychoanalysis, a discourse uniquely suited to analyzing the conflictual desires and unconscious fantasies that bind subjects to the social-political order. How does capital fantasize its subjects – to vary another phrase of Freud, “Was will das Geld?” (“What does money want?”) – and what dreams support and undo the contemporary capitalist subject?


Alenka Zupančič is a Slovene philosopher and psychoanalytic social theorist. She works as Senior Researcher at the Graduate School of Philosophy, Scientific Research Center for the Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciences (ZRC SAZU) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is also Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. She is the author of numerous articles and books on psychoanalysis and philosophy, including What is Sex?Why Psychoanalysis?, The Odd One In: On ComedyThe Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two and Ethics of the Real: Kant and Lacan. Her books have been translated into many languages.

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