We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Enjoying What We Don't Have

The Political Project of Psychoanalysis

Todd McGowan

Publication Year: 2013

Although there have been many attempts to apply the ideas of psychoanalysis to political thought, this book is the first to identify the political project inherent in the fundamental tenets of psychoanalysis. And this political project, Todd McGowan contends, provides an avenue for emancipatory politics after the failure of Marxism in the twentieth century.

Where others seeking the political import of psychoanalysis have looked to Freud’s early work on sexuality, McGowan focuses on Freud’s discovery of the death drive and Jacques Lacan’s elaboration of this concept. He argues that the self-destruction occurring as a result of the death drive is the foundational act of emancipation around which we should construct our political philosophy. Psychoanalysis offers the possibility for thinking about emancipation not as an act of overcoming loss but as the embrace of loss. It is only through the embrace of loss, McGowan suggests, that we find the path to enjoyment, and enjoyment is the determinative factor in all political struggles—and only in a political project that embraces the centrality of loss will we find a viable alternative to global capitalism.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (221.1 KB)
pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (59.8 KB)
pp. 4-7


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.2 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (93.0 KB)
pp. ix-13

This book developed over a number of years, and many people helped with Chapters 10 and 11 contain work revised from earlier publications. Thanks to the International Journal of Žižek Studies for permission to publish material that appeared as “The Necessity of Belief, Or, the Trouble with Atheism,” ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (163.3 KB)
pp. 1-22

Psychoanalysis begins with individual subjects and their suffering. By allowing subjects to speak freely in the analytic session and by offering an interpretative intervention in this speech, psychoanalysis aims to reduce the impairment that their psychic disorder creates in their lives. In contrast to Marxism, which also attempts to ameliorate human suffering, psycho-...

Part I: Subjectivity

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.6 KB)
pp. 23-37

read more

1. The Formation of Subjectivit

pdf iconDownload PDF (184.4 KB)
pp. 25-51

The politics of the death drive begins with the revolutionary idea of subjectivity that Freud uncovers: his understanding that the subject doesn’t seek knowledge but instead desires. Following from this idea, the traditional notion of progress becomes untenable, and the subject becomes self-destructive. On the one hand, earlier thinkers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich ...

read more

2. The Economics of the Drive

pdf iconDownload PDF (181.5 KB)
pp. 52-78

The political dimension of psychoanalysis comes into bett er focus when we understand it as an economic theory. Though Freud at times puts ideas in economic terms, he doesn’t make the economics of psychoanalytic thought fully explicit. But economics is nonetheless present and awaiting explication in the fundamental tenets of psychoanalysis. The economics of psycho-...

read more

3. Class Status and Enjoyment

pdf iconDownload PDF (160.2 KB)
pp. 79-98

Almost all criticism of class society and capitalism from the left centers around the injustice perpetuated by the continued existence of social classes. This focus on injustice is the ethical basis of Marxism and its fundamental point of departure. In the preface to Transcritique on Kant and Marx, Kojin Karatani affi rms the inseparability of Marxism and ethics when he links ...

read more

4. Sustaining Anxiety

pdf iconDownload PDF (165.0 KB)
pp. 99-120

Though recognition leaves the subject dependent on social authority and bereft of enjoyment, it nonetheless serves as the means through which subjects invest themselves in the social bond. When the subject seeks the recognition of others, this action bespeaks the rejection of the psychotic alternative, which involves the foreclosure of the social bond and the refusal ...

read more

5. Changing the World

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.2 KB)
pp. 121-140

If an ethical subjectivity is possible, it would seem that this subjectivity would have positioned itself outside the straitjacket of normality. Normality represents, according to our usual way of thinking about it, a flight away from ethical and political responsibility with an embrace of mass unthinking passivity. Much of the energy of modern thought, art, and politics has ...

Part II: Society

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.6 KB)
pp. 141-155

read more

6. The Appeal of Sacrifice

pdf iconDownload PDF (171.5 KB)
pp. 143-166

It is impossible to divorce the question of subjectivity from the question of the structure of the social order. How one understands the relationship between the individual subject and society definitively marks one’s theoretical position. This is true for psychoanalytic thought no less than for other theories. The understanding of this relationship almost inevitably exists ...

read more

7. Against Knowledge

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.2 KB)
pp. 167-195

Psychoanalytic thought provides a way of understanding the role that enjoyment plays in structuring individual subjectivity and the social order. But it also allows us to see how enjoyment shapes the field of political contestaion, which has undergone a fundamental historical shift in parallel with a similar shift in the location of authority. The onset of capitalism inaugurates ...

read more

8. The Politics of Fantasy

pdf iconDownload PDF (182.2 KB)
pp. 196-222

Shifting the emphasis of politics from the question of knowledge to the question of enjoyment requires a rethinking of the role that fantasy plays in political struggle. Fantasy is how subjects and societies organize their enjoyment. Even if fantasy tends to promise more enjoyment than it ultimately delivers, it provides the frame through which subjects locate the experiences ...

read more

9. Beyond Bare Life

pdf iconDownload PDF (160.5 KB)
pp. 223-242

The contemporary geopolitical landscape is largely divided between those who privilege life and those who privilege death. This struggle pits the advocates of modernization and global capitalism against the fundamentalist alternative that seeks to resist the effects of modernization (if not modernization itself). The central idea of psychoanalysis — the death drive — reveals a ...

read more

10. The Necessity of Belief

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.0 KB)
pp. 243-262

The question of the politics of life and death is inseparable from the question of God’s existence. God’s role in political struggle today is as pronounced as it ever has been. Contemporary fundamentalists of all stripes around the world fight for different forms of theocracy, and their secular opponents, the inheritors of the Enlightenment, argue vehemently for the necessity ...

read more

11. The Case of the Missing Signifier

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.4 KB)
pp. 263-282

Perhaps the most important political problem of the last century concerns lifting repression. Even more than the obstacle of religious belief, repression represents a rigid barrier that has often been the focus of emancipatory politics. But as the history especially of the last half of the twentieth century has shown, lifting repression doesn’t necessarily lead to political liberation. It can ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (92.9 KB)
pp. 283-286

There is no path leading from the death drive to utopia. The death drive undermines every attempt to construct a utopia; it is the enemy of the good society. It is thus not surprising that political thought from Plato onward has largely ignored this psychic force of repetition and negation. But this does not mean that psychoanalytic thought concerning the death drive has ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (310.8 KB)
pp. 287-338


pdf iconDownload PDF (125.5 KB)
pp. 339-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246232
E-ISBN-10: 0803246234
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803245112

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2013