- Framing Issues Related to the Digital Unconscious:Interview with Alenka Zupančič
Aleks Wansbrough interviewed Alenka Zupančič on September 5, 2019, with input on questions from Stefan Popescu and Markela Panygeres to examine political issues surrounding online culture wars and the possibility of AI sexuality.
Thank you for joining us.
Thank you very much for inviting me to this conversation.
The first question is on what you are working on at the moment in terms of research, as there are lectures online where you allude to the alt-right.
My present project focuses on the question of the end, examining different ways in which this theme appears. From the "end of history" to the "end of the world," passing through the "end of art," the "end of ideology," the "end of grand narratives" … which do not suggest the same idea at all. Francis Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man actually marks the opposite of what it seems to suggest, namely, that we have finally reached the end. What it marks is, quite the contrary, the impossibility to end. Namely, the impossibility to end capitalism, or the impossibility for capitalism as we know it to come to an end. If capitalist liberal democracy, as [Fukuyama's] book suggested, constitutes the end of history, this end can last forever, it can go on forever, it is not the end of the world; it is not subjected to historical time but to its own temporality, in which there are no intrinsic reasons for it to end. It is an end that can go on endlessly, forever. The end itself doesn't end, we just get stuck in a weird immobility. And I claim that if we look at how the political and cultural landscape functions today, perhaps the shortest way of describing it would be to say that [End Page 93] this end (of history) has come to the end. It looks as if we are witnessing a paradoxical reactivation of history, the end of its end, and we seem to be moving in an accelerated mode—if only in the direction of catastrophe. This catastrophe has many faces: political, moral, economic, and of course ecological, which increase to appear as related.
Given the diversity of topics that you have covered in your books (Kant, Nietzsche, comedy, and psychoanalysis), we hope to use your insights frame issues that intersect with our digital condition. How do you draw on these frameworks to understand the alt-right—which has such a digital presence?
I think that a lot of the work that you mentioned, and that I have done on different subjects, has also helped me to see and appreciate what Angela Nagle has conveyed so brilliantly [in her book, Kill All Normies], namely, that this rising of the alt-right is a very complex phenomenon, impossible to understand simply within the old parameters and divides between the left and the right, subversive and conservative…. Most of the divides and tools that were traditionally used to analyze the political and ideological landscape in the West simply no longer work and apply. As the name suggest, alt-right is an alternative right, and it brings into the play some very different elements and parameters from those defining the traditional conservative right. This is why Trump, who is everything but a traditional rightist, enjoyed the support of the alt-right. Out of decencies of the (neo)liberal status quo, with the "left" losing almost all its social edge and significance, new and devastating social contradictions emerged, and the (alt)right was quicker to detect and capitalize on these contradictions.
These new configurations demand attentive analysis, which does not content itself with "recognizing" the familiar signs of right and left. I really like this one saying by Jacques Lacan, "On ne comprend que ses fantasmes," one doesn't understand, recognize anything that does not fit a certain preestablished scheme through which we relate to our reality. We recognize things that are familiar, but this familiarity can be very misleading. In other words, we must be...