I just finished reading chapter 1 of Slavoj Zizek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, titled, “How Did Marx Invent the Symptom?” He compares the work of Lacan (psychoanalyst) to the work of Marx (political scientist) in effort to provide comprehensive insight into the significance of ideology in social relations. Personally, I find it imperative that I come to a deeper understanding of the complexity of ideology, as I have experienced, first hand, the disconnect between my experience of reality and the ideology to which I subscribe(d) on multiple tiers of my personal existence.

Fantasy and desire drive human behavior on an unconscious level. For this reason, Zizek asserts that fantasy serves as a “support” for reality. I have to consider the meaning of the word, support, in order to fully comprehend this idea. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a support is “a thing that bears the weight of something, or keeps it upright.” Therefore, Zizek is saying that reality could not exist without the pillar of fantasy, which stabilizes and props up real existence. We can observe fantasy, actively bracing reality, through the vehicle of the dream. During a dream, our repressed desires attach themselves to content from our conscious life. During our waking existence, these desires propel behavior, without our knowledge, but the mechanism of the dream serves to reveal the unconscious drives that shape reality. Zizek states, “It was only in the dream that we approached the fantasy-framework which determines our activity, our mode of acting in reality itself.” He says fantasy constructs reality, “which enables us to mask the ‘Real’ of our desire.” That ‘Real’ of desire is what drives us in daily life, so why cover over the very thing that shapes our existence? Our ‘Real’ desire remains deeply embedded in the unconscious because within the real contains what Zizek refers to as a “traumatic kernel,” a truth of our existence which is too painful to bear.

While on a personal level, we diminish the significance of our dreams, so as to contain the traumatic truth of ourselves within the subconscious, on a cultural level, we diminish the significance of our ideology, so as to contain the traumatic truth of our social relations within the subconscious.

“The function of ideology is not to offer us a point of escape from our reality but to offer us the social reality itself as an escape from some traumatic, real kernel.”

Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Thus, the fantasy of ideology constructs social reality. We mistake the fantasy for truth. We adhere to the tenants of prescribed ideology, but what happens when subjective experience contradicts those tenants? Zizek maintains, “Any ideology really succeeds when even the facts which at first sight contradict it start to function as arguments in its favor.” We find ourselves at a fork in the road, one path leading us to question the ideology, the other leading us to force alignment. To question is to confront the “traumatic kernel of the Real.” To align is to repress it.

Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

Personally, I find the substance of ideological form to be significant because I feel I have found myself at the cross-roads of rejection of/adherence to ideology on numerous occasions. I suppose, in truth, we have all been there, but I find that in my life, I often choose to question–to confront the “traumatic kernel of the Real.” Zizek says “An ideology is really ‘holding us’ only when we do not feel any opposition between it and reality– that is, when the ideology succeeds in determining the mode of our everyday experience of reality itself.” I would say that a Christian ideology held me for the entirety of my youth–until experience controverted belief. This happened in stages, but it began when I left my abusive boyfriend (at age 18) and embraced the grace of Christ, which I believed would cleanse me of all unrighteousness and enable a peaceful future. I first experienced the contradiction of this belief when a young man with whom I was infatuated abruptly halted his courtship of me without any explanation. I later found out that he felt he would be settling by pursuing a relationship with me because I was not sexually pure. My heart shattered. My impurity was a direct result of assault and abuse, and my profession of faith in Christ was supposed to have washed it all away. This was the initial fissure–the symptom–which called into question that within which I placed my faith. Nevertheless, ideology hooked its talons in my flesh because rather than face the trauma–the truth that no one actually knows where we go when we die–I believed I was condemned to an eternity in hell, and unworthy to be chosen as a helpmate for a respectable man.

Much has transpired since that first heartbreak–the first fault lines in the bedrock of belief. Unfortunately, further life experience conflicted with the ideology to which I wanted to conform. Again. And again. And again. I find myself on a different realm of understanding now. I cannot say I have rejected Christianity altogether, but I have rejected the form of Christianity to which I once adhered.

The story of my religious evolution is not the only example of how I have identified the fissures in a given ideology–felt the throbbing of the symptoms–and chosen to rebel. Other examples in my life include the ideology of accountability through assessment in the public school classroom, the ideology of authoritative parenting, attachment parenting, respectful parenting, and any formula for parenting that claims to produce empathic, respectful children. What lies ahead for me? Do I truly live a post-ideological life? That is unlikely because so much of what constitutes ideology is embedded into our human existence. Will I continue to question myself and look for the breaches/the inconsistencies between my beliefs/beliefs others attempt to impose on me, and the reality of my experience?

Damn straight, I will.

About Author

Standing ground for desire through self-study of philosophy and psychoanalysis, self-reflection, and creative sublimation through the work of literary fiction.

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