[Slavoj Zizek] Looking Awry

  • Title: Looking Awry – An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture
  • Author: Slavoj Zizek
  • Published: 1992
  • Publisher: The MIT Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-262-74015-9

Main Ideas

Desire/demand is a dialectic process of impossibility. We cannot fully satisfy our desire; it only recreates itself.

Object petit a is not what desire aims, but is the cause of desire. It is in real and not symbolized. Object a cannot be perceived through an objective perspective. Only by looking awry (distorted by desire) you can grasp real.

Drive is a perpetual (repetitive and obsessive) pursuit of a symbolic object that is arbitrary but found/accepted. Antigone is a pure example of drive.

In Psychoanalysis (Lacan), Real is lack, leftover from Imaginary and Symbolic (Both constitute reality) but, in Zizek, this lack or surplus is how we form an idea. A king is a crown, in image and in symbol; only fantasy (filled by real) makes him complete. Fantasy is not a surplus or a redundant space. So-called reality (Image + Symbol) is symbolically constructed, therefore alienated in itself from what is outside. Real fills the gap (rather not make a hole) to complete our whole idea of the world. It gives meaning to it and lets one’s life move on.

Zizek pointed out the Real can reveal what you are because it is not constructed intentionally. Fantasy or dream is a common tool in movies or novels to venture what is hidden inside us. It should be noticed that what is hidden can be more real than what is shown. The example of how real sticks out in reality is the Hitchcockian “spot”, the stain, the mysterious detail that does not fit into the symbolization of reality.

In classical detective novels, a murder case is not solved by a detective through scientific (empirical) analysis. A murder scene is symbolically constructed by a murderer. A detective completes the story not by the symbolic interpretation of the pieces of evidence but by the intuitive detection of the gap. Psychoanalysis reveals a patient’s desire with the price of irredeemable loss. In detective novels, all suspects (who have usually motives and chances of the murder and murderers in real) are guaranteed to be discharged of any guilt by externalizing their desire to a scapegoat(a murderer in reality) and will continue to desire. A detective remains outside of the case and suspects by accepting fees (a symbol of barring).

In hard-boiled detective novels, a detective is inside a case without distance. He is engaged in chase and fight (physical) rather than logic and deduction (intellectual). In so doing, there is no scapegoat. All that are involved (including a detective) will pay the price. That is why a detective is not paid.

There are three forms of the libidinal structure of the subject. The autonomous individual is with the ethic of personal responsibilities. The heteronomous organization man is oriented toward others. The ego-ideal becomes externalized to the social group. The subject looks at himself through the eyes of the group. The pathological narcissist follows the rules of the social game, rather than the integrated social law. He plays a role without symbolic commitment (identity). In previous stages, actions are prohibited and barred by the superego. But, for a pathological narcissist, a maternal superego imposes self-destructive punishment for any social failure. Ironically, he becomes an extreme conformist.

The perversion is defined as the coincidence of the subject’s view with the gaze of the Big Other. The pervert does not act for his own pleasure, but for the enjoyment of the Other.

Sinthome is the non-symbolic point that produces the enjoyment. This fantasy space lets ideology work as an effective social bond.

Modernism and Postmodernism cannot be separated as a simple dichotomy. Modernism shows the emptiness and tries to find an object to fill. It grasps the central emptiness and works without an object. Postmodernism works in a reverse way; the thing is shown directly in an indifferent and arbitrary way and then it fills the hole in the Other (symbolic). The postmodernist inconsistency is perceived as incompleteness by the modernist gaze. Modernism allows the interpretation but postmodernism blocks it and works in a fantasy space. In modernism, a subject perceives the object or an emptiness and tries to make sense of it. In postmodernism, a thing (an emptiness) is already there to the subject for an object of fantasy.

It is the very nature of fantasy to resist universalization. The problem of Kant’s imperatives is that the universal duty is not possible. Once duty and personal enjoyment conflict, the sublimated duty is not pure anymore.

The subject of Democracy is not a man, but an abstract symbol, emptied of all content. Just the name of the community of all people (nation-state), which is a totalitarian ideology. The modernistic solution of this problem is replacing the formal democracy with the more concrete one. The post-modernistic approach is to accept the current imbalance but to act as if democracy is possible.


Zizek expands the idea of the real from a personal level to a social one.

The real is what is left without symbolization and always returns in one form or another. Protection from the return of the real is our basic mechanism to survive. We usually make understatements or overstatements when we encounter problems. It is not a bad thing. Actually, it might help us to maintain our everyday life.

When the idea is extended to the social level, we can see the world differently. We have many issues or threats that we know they exist. The best example is the environment (greenhouse effect, air pollution, dumped garbage, etc.). Deep inside, we know the problem is critical, and we need to act right now. Instead, we tend to understate the issue – the issue is not symbolized and not registered into the symbolic order -. At least for now, we seem to escape from it. However, it will return with a price. That is what we need to pay.

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