‘The Real as a Virtual Prosopopeia’ by Slavoj Žižek

Audio recording from the first day of Jacques Lacan: A Lateral Introduction four-week masterclass course by Slavoj Žižek titled The Real as a Virtual Prosopopeia delivered at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London on 25th May 2006.

The course focused on the singular question: Is psychoanalysis outdated? It appears that it is, on three interconnected levels: (1) that of scientific knowledge, where the cognitivist-neurobiologist model of human mind seems to supersede the Freudian model; (2) that of psychiatric clinic, where psychoanalytic treatment is rapidly losing ground against chemotherapy and behavioural therapy; (3) that of the social context, where the image of society, of social norms, which “repress” individual’s sexual drives, no longer appears valid with regard to today’s predominant hedonistic permissiveness.

It contrast to these “evident” truths, the aim of the course was to demonstrate the exact opposite: not only is psychoanalysis not veraltet – it is only today that its time has arrived, that Freud’s key insights gain their full value – on condition that one reads Freud through Lacan, through his “return to Freud” which is not the return to Freud as he was, but to what was “in Freud more than himself”, the traumatic core of the Freudian discovery of which he himself was not fully aware.

The course followed the fundamental rule of excluding the clinic. Lacan was first and foremost a clinician, and clinical details permeate everything he wrote and did: even when Lacan reads Plato, Aquinas, Hegel, or Kierkegaard, it is always in order to deal with a precise clinical problem (Plato for transference, Aquinas for symptom, Hegel for the dialectic of the progress of treatment, Kierkegaard for repetition). Our wager is that this very all-pervasiveness of clinic allows us to exclude it: precisely because clinic is everywhere, one can erase it and limit oneself to its effects, to the way it colours everything that appears non-clinical—this is the true test of its central place.

The four weeks course thus provided a Lacanian reading of four domains of humanities and social sciences: philosophy and theology (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger); science (contemporary cognitivists and evolutionists, from Daniel Dennet to Steven Pinker); theories of ideology (from Marx to analysing today’s “fundamentalism”); theories of art (cinema and literature: Henry James, Samuel Beckett, David Lynch and Lars von Trier). The overall aim of the course was to demonstrate the strength of the Lacanian approach, through polemical confrontations with other predominant trends, from cognitivism to deconstructionism.

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.

DISCLAIMER: Because the original titles of these nine courses have been lost since they have been delivered, I have decided to make up my own titles for each individual lecture. The titles of these talks are thus my own work and copyright. – Simon Gros, 2021

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