Financial crisis, social pathologies and ‘generalised perversion’: questioning Zi≈æek’s diagnosis of the times (New Formations 72, Winter 2010)
Author: Geoff Boucher, Matthew Sharpe
Geoff Boucher, Matthew Sharpe
Slavoj ≈Ωi≈æek‚Äôs work has been highly influential in the formulation of an emerging consensus among Lacanian social researchers, that we live in a society of ‚Äògeneralised perversion‚Äô whose initial fruits are the corrosion of democracy and the recent financial crisis. This position rests upon a notion of modern subjectivity that connects ‚Äòcommodity fetishism‚Äô with clinical perversion in a pathological configuration, so that social theoretical identification of crisis tendencies, evaluative language about moral problems and diagnostic categories from the Lacanian clinic can be combined in a single figure. In this article, we question the series of conceptual links that constitute this position, tracing them from ≈Ωi≈æek‚Äôs critique in his short work on the global financial crisis and his broader restatement of this analysis in the recent Living in the End Times, through the moment of his announcement of the notion of ‚Äògeneralised perversion‚Äô in The Ticklish Subject, all the way back to fundamental propositions outlined in his earliest work. Our argument progresses through three claims. First, we show in the evolution of this position that it leads ≈Ωi≈æek to equivocate in his diagnosis of contemporary society between two mutually exclusive categories (‚Äòpsychosis‚Äô and ‚Äòperversion‚Äô), indicating an antinomy in his work that is resolved in favour of ‚Äògeneralised perversion‚Äô on empirical, not logical, grounds. Secondly, we offer a critical resolution of the antinomy through a critique of what we argue is ≈Ωi≈æek‚Äôs mistaken over-extension of psychoanalytic reason beyond its legitimate scope of application. Finally, we point to some of the political implications of the way that ≈Ωi≈æek speculatively resolves his logical difficulties, by analysing the consequences of his claim that generalised social perversion – the problem to be solved – involves a dethroning of the communal ego ideal. A communitarian streak, implicit in the potential conflation of moral denunciation with psychoanalytic diagnosis that the rhetoric of ‚Äòperversion‚Äô invokes, runs through ≈Ωi≈æek‚Äôs work on capitalism, we propose in¬†conclusion.