Zizek’s Sublimicist Aesthetic of Enchanted Fantasy

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 65)


The remarkably rich contemporary burst of interest in theorizing the sublime received an important new impetus in 1989 when the Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek published his study The Sublime Object of Ideology.1 Unlike other major paradigms for the sublime, Zizek’s pivotal principle is the operation of a fantasy of enchantment. It is reasonable to speak of lower and higher enchantments, with the lower mode seen in something like Disney movies, and the higher mode seen in our more spiritual and intellectual enchantment with excellent poetry or music or art.


Universal Truth Fantasy World Objective Trait Abstract Universal Cosmic Vacuum 
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  1. 1.
    Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London AND New York: Verso, 1989). This work is offered as part of a series intended to speak to the new crisis in left-wing thought by reformulating socialism radically via the critique of essentialism, rationalism, and universalism. However, the series editor notes that there is a sharp disagreement between the leftist voices, some of them believing that “the current critique of rationalism and universalism puts into jeopardy the very basis of the democratic project”. In his preface, Ernesto Laclau notes that Zizek wants to alter Hegel so as to eliminate the domination by Reason, and to graft Hegel to Lacan. Laclau states, “This special combination of Hegelianism and Lacanian theory currently represents one of the most innovative and promising theoretical projects on the European intellectual scene” (p. xii).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., p. 204. Zizek should also be related to Vaihinger, since the “as if” social world of Vaihinger anticipates the “as if’ fantasy world of Zizek.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Zizek notes that mundane pieces from the Titanic (historic cruise ship) are now mundane objects functioning “as a sublime object: a positive material object elevated to the status of an impossible Thing” (p. 71). This is the basic pattern, and the big item is “impossible” as a super fantasy. There is a sense in which Zizek treats all culture as theatre of the absurd.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 230. Here Zizek notes that what once seemed real, a real self and a real Mysterious Other, is now seen as “utter, meaningless idiocy”.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Zizek’s priori fantasy form is somewhat like the a priori mental categories of Kant, without the ordering effect. The empty a priori space means that “The supersensible Holy is thus first an empty space” (p. 194).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Zizek accepts Lacan’s thesis that we bind enjoyment to fantasy symptoms in order to escape madness (p. 75). This is very close to Nietzsche.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 123.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 126.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p. 194. Zizek’s stress on joy leans heavily on Nietzsche and is both a comparison and contrast to C. S. Lewis’s Christian vision in his Surprised by Joy. Some theories of the sublime stress sheer joy and awe in response to beingness.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Zizek, pp. 74–75.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., p. 98.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 18.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., p. 126.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., p. 127.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid., p. 148. Zizek’s voting-booth example does not deconstruct democracy as well as Aristotle’s warning about excessive expansions of the idea of democracy. Zizek’s fantasy frame requires him to show the fatal flaw in every ideology. He breaks down bourgeois society on the grounds that its citizens celebrate freedom and equality but actually live in a servitude/ domination society (p. 26).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., p. 59.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Lyotard’s line of reasoning may be observed in his The Postmodern Explained,ed. Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas, trans. Don Bary and others (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), pp. 18, 20–21, 30, 41–42, 46–51.Google Scholar
  18. S See Nietzsche’s Will to Power,Book Three, Section 497. In my own studies of the sublime, which emphasize a jolt of astonished awe and the crossing of a threshold of transcendence, I have characterized the following modes of the sublime: Nietzschean, ideational, BurkeanGothic, moral, religious, Romantic, Jungian, Sartrean-existential, counter, comic, ironic, mock, and the sublime of light and color. The recent politicized models fall mostly under the ideational. Zizek would blend ideational, Nietzschean, and ironic, the irony resting on the illusion of a fantasy.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Zizek, p. 55.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ibid., p. 163. In this sense, the self does not really exist, but is a real causal force.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    For some of Steven’s best reasoning on this principle, see his essays “Imagination as Value” and “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet” in The Necessary Angel ( London: Faber AND Faber, 1942 ).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man,half of Husserl’s Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy,trans. Quentin Lauer (New York: Harper AND Row, 1965), pp. 154–55.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA

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