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On The Political Implications Of Lacanian Theory: A Reply To Homer

The Letter, Issue 10, Summer 1997, Pages 111 - 120



Yannis Stavrakakis

Writing this article was stimulated by the argumentation put forward by Sean Homer in Issue 7 of The Letter[1] concerning the political implications of Lacanian theory. As I understand it Homer's argument presupposes the distinction between political theory and political praxis or politics, a distinction which I will not question but instead will take as granted. What I will also take as granted, and here I am in full agreement with Homer, is that the interventions in political theory that are inspired by Lacanian psychoanalysis - and, together with Homer, I am mainly referring to Zizek and Laclau - have introduced a series of innovative and extremely productive, if not groundbreaking, insights that are beginning to change the nature of our theoretical terrain. This is particularly true for the field of the theory of ideology since 'if psychoanalysis has anything to offer political theory in general or the politics of representation in particular it is [mainly but not solely] in the field of ideology'.[2] Here two points are crucial: first of all the Lacanian idea of a constitutive Real impossibility located at the heart of the socio-symbolic world - of a lack in the Other - which in Laclau's work assumes the form of the 'impossibility of society', that is to say of the irreducibility of social antagonism and the ultimate dislocation of all social constructions - discourses, ideologies, etc; secondly, the Lacanian conception of fantasy (as a screen that attempts to suture this constitutive lack in the Other) which in Zizek becomes the nodal point for the analysis of ideology as a fantasy construction that attempts to make the impossible society possible, to articulate the Utopian dream of bringing us back the part of ourselves (jouissance) which is sacrificed upon entering the socio-symbolic field. Homer does not seem to question the importance of all these insights. What he questions is the effect they have on politics.

The idea of the impossibility of society, for example, as Homer argues, 'may make for good theory but... does it make for good politics?'.[3] In other words Homer's fear is that Lacanian theory of ideology, although successful as a theoretical enterprise, leads to a dangerous no-way-out in terms of political praxis:

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