‘The Real of the Capitalist Illusion‘ by Slavoj Žižek


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.

Lacan began the eleventh week of his seminar Les non-dupes errent (1973-4) with a straight question directed back at himself: “what was it that Lacan, who is here present, invented?” He answered the question with “like that, to get things going: objet a.

Objet a has a long history in Lacan’s teaching, it precedes for decades Lacan’s systematic references to the analysis of commodities in Marx’s Capital. But it is undoubtedly this reference to Marx, especially to Marx’s notion of surplus-value/Mehrwert/, that enabled Lacan to deploy his »mature« notion of objet a as surplus-enjoyment (plus-de-jouir, Mehrlust): the predominant motif which permeates all Lacan’s references to Marx’s analysis of commodities is the structural homology between Marx’s surplus-value and what Lacan’s baptized surplus-enjoyment, the phenomenon called by Freud Lustgewinn, a “gain of pleasure,” which does not designate a simple stepping up of pleasure but the additional pleasure provided by the very formal detours in the subject’s effort to attain pleasure.

The point of this homology is not to search in Marx for the origins of Lacan’s theory, but to explore how reading Marx’s critique of political economy through Lacan enables us to reactualize Marx, to conceive the structure of the self-propelling circulation of capital (“money which begets more money”) as the fundamental fantasy of capitalism, fantasy not in the sense of subjective illusion but in a much more radical sense of a fiction which structures our social reality itself.


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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