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I In n D De eb ba at te e M Mo or re e T Th ha an n I It ts se el lf f: : A An n I In nt tr ro od du uc ct to or ry y D Di is sc cu us ss si io on n o of f

S Sl la av vo oj j i i e ek k a an nd d P Ps sy yc ch ho oa an na al ly yt ti ic c T Th ho ou ug gh ht t i in n C Co on nt te em mp po or ra ar ry y
D De eb ba at te e

Given the stature he has attained in Western academic culture, it was all but inevitable that policy debate
would begin to be inundated with the arguments of Slavoj iek. His writing is prolific and easily applicable to a
wide variety of topics: contemporary anti-capitalism, pop-culture philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis to
list just a few. In less than a decade, iek has become the largest name in the world of critical debate. The
psychoanalytic turn his scholarship precipitated has introduced countless new theorists to the vocabulary of
high school students and pushed competitors and judges to deeper understandings of traditionally debate
friendly writers.
It is not surprising, then, that so much material has so often engendered substantial confusion and
misunderstanding. At some level these confusions are par for the course during any transition as substantial as
the critical or psychoanalytic turn in debate.. At the same time, at least two related issues can frustrate even
sincere and thorough readings of this material. The first is ieks particular style; it is flamboyant but repetitive,
full of constant reference but never tied to any, it is evolving and contradictory. The second is the unfamiliarity
of many audiences to the neo-Freudian psychoanalytic thought of Jacques Lacan. Constantly wrought through
with puns and neologism, some all but entirely untranslatable from their original French, Lacans method is not
always amenable to simple classification or traditional logic. This accusation of difficulty, often leveled by even
graduate level students and educators, is all the more true given that most debaters do not have the
philosophical background in Marx, Freud, Hegel, Kant, Spinoza etc. that Zizek may at times seem to take for
While arguments will of course come and go, it is hard to imagine the multiple streams of ieks infusion
into debate drying up all at once. He will certainly remain a massive presence in capitalism files and general
kritik frontlines for years to come. It is no doubt worth examining, then, some of the most important and
ubiquitous cards, terms and arguments that have made their way into the debate landscape, along with some
discussion of the best way to utilize and respond to various arguments that make use of ieks writing. It may
be best to begin with some of the most common psychoanalytic terminology. This article will proceed from this
vocabulary to a review of how these concepts are deployed in debates within specific pieces of evidence, as
negative alternatives and defenses of the affirmative plan. Finally, the writing will conclude with some macro-
level suggestions for developing, articulating and answering Zizekian arguments in the policy debate context.

Basic Vocabulary: Fantasy, The Lack, The Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real
Lacans tripartite division of the worldinto the symbolic, imaginary and realis partially so easy to
misunderstand because of the false philosophical cognates involved in the terms themselves. For at least two
of these registers (imaginary and real) attempting to simply map the common English understanding onto a
Lacanian vocabulary is more likely to produce the complete opposite of what is being described than the
original intention.
The symbolic is the one of these three domains closest to what a plain-text reading might imply. The
symbolic is the domain of language, the world of signifiers and description. To some extent, the symbolic is
everything since, as countless language shapes reality cards have been telling us for years, there is nothing
that we encounter outside of our linguistic understanding of it. For Lacan, language is far more than a simple
phenomenon of the world, it is the literal condition of our subjectivity. We are not subjects simply because we
are born or when we learn to become rational agents. Rather it is when we make the forced choice to enter
into language that we become defined and understandable. We do not encounter objects, people or ideas in
some neutral value-free domain, but only via the medium of language; we are told what something is called,
what someone is named. Sometimes this process of discovering an objects name is an excellent example of
the differential character of language. Things are not simply what they are, but defined that way in contrast to
the range of currently existent terms and objects. Imagine a child seeing a cow for the first time. Perhaps s/he
would point and say dog! noting that it was a four legged non-human animal. Imagine trying to explain to the
child, beginning at this point, that the thing in question were in fact a cow. You might say no, this is a cow, its

PhD in Comparative Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo where he studied contemporary American literature and
Lacanian psychoanalysis, formerly the Director of Debate at Macalester College and currently coach at St Paul Central High School
bigger than a dog or no, cows live in barns and not with people in houses. There is no way that simply the
signifier cow would convey anything about the animal being seen in absence of its difference to all the other
potential signifiers.
The fact that the signifier has no inherent connection to the thing, that language is arbitrary, allows for what
Lacan calls the lack. The lack is what allows for misunderstandings, puns, jokes and the like, since there is
nothing that ensures that a speakers intention is the same as what is received by the listener. The lack is
responsible for the ultimate impossibility of fully understanding any subject, ones self or anyone else. We
encounter the lack not only in these moments of linguistic difficulty, but in any moment where we are ultimately
unable to find the meaning we desire in the world. Take for instance a famous joke from Douglas Adams
Hitchhikers Guide sci-fi comedy franchise. A massive supercomputer is constructed to find the answer to the
question of life, the universe and everything. After thinking for 7.5 million years, the computer announces that
it has calculated successfully and the answer is, in fact, 42. While still quite hilarious in context, the very form
of the joke emphasizes the structure of the lack: there is something that prevents us from fully understanding
even the precisely calculated answer. There is something structural that is missing; in the case of the story, we
are missing the form of the ultimate question itself. It is important to note however, that even in a world where
we were to obtain both the ultimate question and the ultimate answer we would not be in possession of total
and complete knowledge. There will always be another level (perhaps, why is this the ultimate question? or
Who made this the ultimate question?) which we cannot understand. And the same thing that is true at the
level of such big picture cosmological questions is true of relations between individual subjects. It is the reason
that our romantic and friendship relationships, even when fantastic and ultimately beneficial, are never simply
fulfilling. Our life is never quite what we expect it to be, it can never be perfect. iek and Lacan might say
this same thing in any number of other forms: there is no Other of the Other, the letter does not arrive at its
destination, there is no sexual relation and there is no metalanguage are just three such examples.
This domain of the symbolic order is intrinsically related to a number of other important concepts. The
numerous mythological elements often associated with Freud and Lacanthe Oedipus complex, narcissism,
castration and so onare typically symbolic phenomena. The symbolic is the domain of the Law, of morality of
rules and contracts. Maybe most importantly, the symbolic is the world of representations and hence, the most
immediate domain of what we do in debate. The speaking of the 1AC is the construction of a specific order, a
law tailored to the world outlined by the affirmative proposal. It simultaneously articulates, proposes, defines
and accepts a normative worldview that explains how and why people act and react. It makes statements
about how decisions are made and how they should be made. These constructions describe the foundation of
the bridge between the symbolic and the imaginary, primarily in the guise of fantasy.
Fantasy is another false Lacanian cognate, as it suggests the idea of a made up universe, something we
dont really believe in but enjoy in the sense of a fictional narrative. In the psychoanalytic sense the fantasy is
what covers over the lack, what provides a consistency to the fundamentally unexplainable character of the
world at large. Fantasy in this sense is a primarily defensive mechanism, since the alternative is to admit that
we are not complete subjects and that we do not know the world as a complete object. While it may not be
fictional, the fantasy is imaginary in the proper sense because it describes an image of our self. In keeping
with the failure of the symbolic order, it would be wrong to consider the imaginary to be somehow a deeper or
more true understanding of the ego or self. Instead, recognition at the level of the imaginary is always a
misrecognition (meconnaisance), the subject graps her/himself as more or less than s/he actually is.
The real is the final and most perplexing of these domains; it is also the one most distant from what its
name might suggest to a casual reader. Even within psychoanalytic circles, it is far from univocal how one can
define this category. For some, especially for those within the domain of traditional psychology, there is a
mutual exclusivity of the symbolic and the real. The real in these imaginations is functionally a stage in the
linear progression of a childs subjectivity.
We are born into the real and alienated from it once we are
captured by language itself. For others, including most notably for this writing, Slavoj iek, the real cannot be

In depth criticisms based on this idea can be difficult to find, but examples of such assumptions can be found in religious
studies (A Tailors Doctrine Three Orders of Existence, available at, commentaries on the mirror stage (a basic
classroom summary by Alfred Drake available at,
or feminist thought (Robyn Tamblyns Oedipus and Electra: Jacques Lacan and the feminist perspective in THE
online at
nailed down: What all this amounts to is that, for Lacan, the Real, at its most radical, has to be totally de-
substantialized. It is not an external thing that resists being caught in the symbolic network, but the crack within
the symbolic network itself.
Here the real somehow borders on or touches the symbolic, without ever being
reducible to or articulable within it. It represents the fact that the symbolic is not whole. ieks obsession with
the now iconic 1999 science fiction film The Matrix was largely based on its articulation of a clash between the
seemingly real world of the matrixs programs and the real world of Zion. Though an encounter with the real
can only occur within the symbolic (since we as symbolic creatures know nothing of a world without language),
this encounter is terrifying and traumatic, much as the discovery of the function of the matrix is even physically
disorienting for those individuals introduced to it.

Many of the traditional examples of encountering the real
are drawn from theology, especially in the context of mystical experience.
The moment wherein one seems
to be experiencing something extra-worldly, where the bounds and rules of the physical world and human
limitations no longer seem to operate, is in some ways the most precise formulation of this encounter.
Mysticism, especially the Catholic mystics so prevalent in the works of contemporary psychoanalytic authors, is
not as simple as the direct prophecy of the Old Testament which provides instructions or allows one to be
prepared for catastrophe. Instead, mystic experience is quite literally sensory, it involves feelings, colors and
sounds. It does not provide answers. As Lacan himself writes in Feminine Sexuality: "It is clear that the
essential testimony of the mystics is that they are experiencing it but know nothing about it.
The encounter
with the real is terrifying precisely because it enforces the massive gap between what we think we know and
what is actually there. This is again, not to say that the real is something which truly exists but is simply
beyond our status quo comprehension, but that it indicates the paucity of our attempts to understand the world
and/or the subjects within it.
It is simultaneously frustrating and revealing that one could spend countless pages providing examples and
discussion of such encounters without really giving the reader a much more thorough understanding of what
the real is. That is to say, the real, like the real world of The Matrix or the other-worldly experience of
mysticism, is not containable or describable. We can to some extent only grasp the real situationally, as it is
that which exceeds any given situation.
With this basic structure in place, we may turn to some of the most common iekian-isms that make their way
into the debate context.

More often than not overidentification will be invoked by a team running a psychoanalytically focused iek
argument, probably on the alternative level of a negative criticism. The classic example of overidentification
relies on the aesthetic and political strategies of the Slovenian avant-garde punk band Laibach. In the most
classic example, Laibach performed songs (often covers of popular mainstream leftist tracks) in an extremely
militarized fashion. They wore uniforms, transformed the tunes into fascist inspired marches and sang in an
aggressive and derisive tone. This strategy was confusing to many who were unable to determine if the band
was being sarcastic or truly was endorsing the surface level fascism that appeared in their videos and live
This is precisely what distinguishes this brand of overidentification from simple mockery.

iek, Slavoj. (2009) Troubles with the Real: Lacan as a Viewer of Alien. in How to Read Lacan. (online at

For ieks discussion of the Matrix see chapter 6.2 of the second edition of Zizek, Slavoj. (2001) Enjoy your symptom!:
Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out. New York: Verso Books or the more directly political essays in Zizek, Slavoj. (2002)
Welcome to the Desert of the Real. New York: Verso Books.
For an exceptionally clear and thorough explanation of the multiple dimensions of this relationship between the real and
the symbolic see Bruce Fink (1997) The Creative Function of the Word: The Symbolic and the Real in The Lacanian
Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

See for instance Hollywood, Amy M. (2002) Jacques Lacan, Encore: Feminine Jouissance, The Real and the Goal of
Psychoanalysis. Sensible ecstasy: mysticism, sexual difference, and the demands of history. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Lacan, Jacques. (1985) Feminine Sexuality. Eds. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose. New York: W.W. Norton and
Company. p. 147.
Youtube now contains a plethora of Laibach videos and performances, spanning the last several decades. Especially
notable are videos for War (, Life is Life
t=1&index=4) and a live performance of In the Army Now (
Whereas ridiculing something from an external position requires what is essentially a statement of superiority
(I as an enlightened observer, can mock your ridiculous jingoist militarism) overidentification does not allow
for such a safe space, free of ideological contamination or connection to that which is being criticized. Even the
most ardently anti-war or anti-fascist standpoint is nearly indistinguishable from that which it opposes. Not only
is this strategy far more sophisticated politically, according to many it is far more effective at undermining the
ruling ideology, since instead of subjecting it to bad pop-psychological critique (you want to conquer the world
because you could never make your mother love you) it takes it at the most extreme possible example of its
word (you really will destroy everything, there will be nothing left in the world but you.)

To conceptualize this idea in the terms introduced above, overidentification is a strategy aimed at the
attempt to suture (in this context, to close, unify or solidify) the symbolic order, to account for the lack. This can
be contrasted with a traditional version of ideological crititque, wherein criticism points to something above or
beyond the original meaning. But one must be careful to not think that overidentification points towards the
real; if anything, it points to the inability of the symbolic to access the real whatsoever. This is why the
articulations that form the heart of an overidentification strategy remain entirely within the symbolic economy of
the original discourse; there is no need to attempt to reveal something ethereal, since such attempts at
dominating the social arena contain in themselves the recipe for their defeat.
It is sometimes hard to understand precisely how the negative could really go about performing
overidentification as a political strategy to oppose the affirmative plan. It would seem most likely to be a
comparative question between a pseudo-leftist question that challenges state power. The negative suggestion
would be that instead of calling out state violence or oppression as violence and oppression, we should instead
align ourselves with that movement at its fullest. Rather than calling for the state to remove its troops from
occupied Iraq, perhaps we should instead embrace their presence as the fullest embodiment of what American
foreign policy in the middle east has always already been: a drive to domination and statecraft, rather than
democratic autonomy. iek seems to suggest something along these lines in What's Wrong with
Fundamentalism? in discussing Apocalypse Now and the Abu Ghraib torturers:
Therein resides the lesson of Coppola's Apocalypse Now: in the figure of Kurtz, the Freudian
"primordial father" - the obscene father-enjoyment subordinated to no symbolic Law, the total Master
who dares to confront face to face the Real of terrifying jouissance - is presented not as a remainder of
some barbaric past, but as the necessary outcome of the modern Western power Itself. Kurtz was a
perfect soldier - as such, through his over -identification with the military power system, he turned into
the excess which the system has to eliminate. The ultimate horizon ofApocalypse Now is this insight
into how Power generates its own excess which it has to annihilate in an operation which has to imitate
what it fights (Willard's mission to kill Kurtz is non-existent for the official record, "it never happened," as
the general who briefs Willard points out). We thereby enter the domain of secret operations, of what
the Power does without ever admitting it. This is where Christopher Hitchens missed the point when he
One of two things must necessarily be true. Either these goons were acting on someone's authority, in
which case there is a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws
and codes and standing orders. Or they were acting on their own authority, in which case they are the
equivalent of mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field. This is why one asks wistfully if there is no
provision in the procedures of military Justice for them to be taken out and shot. 5
The problem is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were NEITHER of those two options: while they cannot be reduced
to simplc evil acts of individual soldiers, they were of course also not directly ordered - they were legitimized by
a specific version of the obscene "Code Red" rules. To claim that they were the acts of "mutineers, deserters,
or traitors in the field" is the same nonsense like the claim that the Ku Klux Klan lynchings were the acts of the
traitors of Western Christian civilization and not the outburst of its own obscene underside, or that the child
abuses of children by Catholic priests are acts of "traitors" to Catholicism... Abu Ghrailb was not simply a case
of American arrogance towards a Third World people: in being submitted to the humiliating tortures, the Iraqi
prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture, they got the taste of its obscene underside which
forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy, and freedom.

Further discussion of overidentification as a strategy, especially in relation to Laibachs political stance, can be found in
Parker, Ian. "iek: Ambivalence and Oscillation" Psychology in Society, 30 (1) 22-34.
iek, Slavoj. (2005) Whats Wrong With Fundamentalism?- Part II (Online at:
Under this logic, the attempts to distance both Kurtz and the torturers at Abu Ghraib from the logic of the
military itself only sustains the idea that these could be separate and legitimate absent the particular
aberration in question. Overidentification instead reveals the fundamental complicity of military hegemony in
the emergence of such exceptional figures; they are intrinsic to the logic of American style freedom enforced
and supported by armed intervention.
In some other instances, affirmative teams will attempt to latch on to the logic of overidentification, typically
as a retroactive justification for the logics they cannot defend after the 1ACwe overidentify with militarism or
racism. While there may not be any statistics as to the success of such a strategy, it does not initially seem to
be a particularly powerful assertion, since it is functionally the same as a post-facto claim to irony or a
juxtaposition perm. To use the terms explained above, overidentification is a symbolic challenge to the ability of
the fantasy to successfully negotiate the lack. A traditional political strategy which did not rely on
overidentification would simply replace the terms of the specific fantasmatic construct, but leave the overall
structure in place. The affirmative claim in this sense may not even get this far, since it necessitates at least
an initial endorsement of the fantasy as successful, even if it ultimately attempts to conclude that the ideology
undermines itself. The fact that the 1AC, most likely, included impact evidence also undercuts such a strategy,
since it has made explicit claims to how and why the judge should make decisions and what reactions will be to
those decisions.

Read the Letter of the Law Against Itself
Pretty strongly connected to this affirmative attempt to utilize ieks controversial ideas of subversion is the
ever-present Letter of the law card. The opening paragraph of what seems to be the most prevalent version
of this evidence is below:
When, in the late eighteenth century, universal human rights were proclaimed, this universality, of
course,concealed the fact that they privilege white, men of property; however, this limitation was not
openly admitted, it was coded in apparently tautological supplementary qualifications like "all humans
have rights, insofar as they truly are. rational and free," " which then implicitly excludes the mentally ill,
"savages," criminals, children, women.'. . So, if, in this situation, a poor black woman disregards this
unwritten-implicit, qualification and demands human rights, also for herself, she just takes the letter of
the discourse of rights "more literally than it was meant" (and thereby redefines its universality,
inscribing it into a different hegemonic chain). "Fantasy" designates precisely this unwritten framework
that tells us how are we to understand the letter of Law. The lesson of this is that sometimes, at least-
the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of Law on behalf of the underlying
fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy that sustains it One could also approach this
deadlock via. Lacan's notion of the specifically symbolic mode of deception: ideology "cheats precisely
by letting us know that its propositions (say, on universal human rights)' arenot to be read a la lettre, but
against the background of a set of unwritten rules.

Undoubtedly an affirmative team could use this evidence as a human rights good argument without reading
much into it. At the same time, iek has routinely written extremely clear and explicit pieces strongly critical of
this discourse of universal human rights.
But what about the further claims that this is ieks endorsement of
working within the system, accepting the masters tools or focusing on incremental change? There
appears to be a clear difference between the claims made in this piece of evidence and the application that
might be made by most affirmative teams, each element of which should illustrate both ieks ultimate
pessimism regarding the question of human rights and his refusal of these compromise politics.
In the first place is the question of the agent. Reading the evidence above should make this question clear,
as this is not a human right abstractly demonstrated or legislated but one demanded by those to whom it would
be typically denied. That is to say, iek suggests that there is something distinct in the claim by the excluded
for their universality that does not exist when this universality is asserted by the dominant authority itself. The
agency or guarantor of human rights specifically dictating that one or the other group is worthy of rights
protections fundamentally does not present a challenge to the category of universality as a whole, but rather
just explicitly authorizes someones ability to access it. The demand for rights by the excluded individual
instead collapses that category of universal, since instead of modifying the universal it essentially overidentifies
(in the precise definition from above) with the term. What is consistent in virtually all ieks writing on the

iek, Slavoj. (1998) Why Does the Law Need an Obscene Supplement. In Law and the Postmodern Mind. Peter
Goodrich and David Gray Carlson, Eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press p. 92-93.
iek, Slavoj. (2005) The Obscenity of Human Rights: Violence as Symptom. (Online at
discourse of human rights is the claim that in none of these situations does the discourse of universal human
rights actually intend to be a true universal, it is always in support of the universal neutral, white male figure.
A paragraph only just beyond the one quoted above further emphasizes the question of agency, delineating
between a woman demanding her equality and the feminist man asserting that she can be so much more
than equal. Imagine the well known childrens trick of putting a piece of invisible tape on the surface of a
balloon and then pushing a pin through both the tape and the balloon. Instead of popping, the tape stabilizes
the structure of the balloon and prevents it from ripping apart. The affirmative gesture of inclusion is
fundamentally the addition of tape, a modification which leaves the fundamental structure intact and allows it to
accommodate an intrusion that would otherwise blow it apart.
Beyond the question of where this modification takes place, one should understand precisely what is at
stake in challenging the system. That is to say, the implosion of such a fantasy does not result in a simply more
tolerant multicultural, truly universal world. Only a few pages further in the chapter iek goes back to his
wheelhouse to reference David Lynchs Wild at Heart. The example of what it can look like to read the letter
against itself is far from the world the affirmative would want to portray:
In a lonely motel room, Willem Dafoe exerts a rude pressure on Laura Dern: he touches and squeezes
her, invading the space of her intimacy and repeating in a threatening way "Say fuck me!/' i.e., extorting from
her a word that would signal her consent to a sexual act. The ugly unpleasant scene drags itself on, and when,
finally, the exhausted Laura Dem utters a barely audible "Fuck me!," Dafoe abruptly steps away, assumes a
nice, friendly smile and cheerfully retorts: "No, thanks, I don't have time today; but on another occasion I would
do it gladly..." He has attained what he really wanted: not the act itself, just her consent to it, her symbolic
humiliation. What we have here is rape in fantasy which refuses its realization in reality and thus further
humiliates its victimthe fantasy is forced out, aroused, and then abandoned, thrown upon the victim.

All this is to say, the shattering of ones fantasy is not a Disneyland experience. Whether the challenge
offered is to someones refusal of a specific desire or to a problematic and exclusionary system, its collapse is
traumatic in the truest sense of the word. In it we are forced to acknowledge the fundamental incompatibility of
the world with what we know or even who we fundamentally believe ourselves to be. We are fundamentally
and even ontologically vulnerable, exposed and frightened. This does not imply that such refusals are always
the equivalent of the mental rape scene from Wild at Heart, but simply that the collapse of such a fantasy is a
violent and earth shattering moment wherein intentionality is crucial to the consequence of the terror. The
same thing that might be said of revolutionthat terrifying or no, it remains a necessity in opposition to the
otherwise completely unsustainable world of the status quocan be seen in this situation. And just like such a
revolution, the outcome can be either peaceful or the reign of terror. This should only go to show that despite
the affirmative claim to reading the letter of the law, it is probably the more specific link questions of the debate
that should decide the day.

Do Nothing!
This argument may be the most widely disseminated of all those mentioned here, since it is most associated
with the capitalism argument, an argument which in recent years has become nearly as ubiquitous and widely
accepted as the states counterplan. The only real confusion inherent in most understandings of this claim
probably stems from the association of this criticism with the negative advocacy of an earlier de-development
argument. But again, ieks text does not seem to be reducible to the conclusion that a simple endorsement
of the status quo is sufficient to end the all encompassing and overwhelming capitalist social order. While it is
certainly attractive because of its perceived simplicity or theoretical legitimacy, these interpretations of doing
nothing are extremely vulnerable to questions of solvency, since, of course, reforms and decisions in the
name of sustaining capitalism are inevitable as the crisis approaches, even absent the plan. If we are to give
iek any credit then, we must read his prohibition against the temptation to act in the more radical sense
that his critic Simon Critchley does in a review of Violence when he characterizes it (in a far more pessimistic
sense) as a decision to refuse all commitment, to be paralysed.
Doing nothing means doing NOTHING, it is
an alternative which cannot be successfully limited to the context of the plan or even the context of political

Traverse the Fantasy

iek, Why Does the Law, p. 95.
Critchley, Simon. (2008) A dream of divine violence. Review of Violence, by Slavoj iek. The Independent. January
(Online at
The OED definitions of traverse all center around the idea of moving through or across something. This can
include crossing a given space (to traverse the valley), to go against or across an accepted truth or way of
thinking (to traverse their designs), to break the law (to traverse an indictment) or even to run someone through
with a weapon (to traverse the intestine with a sword).
But some of the most applicable to the context which
iek intends are the less obvious definitions. Take for instance, To trace (a geometrical figure, or part of
one). Such a definition is far closer than the idea of moving across or through the valley, since traversing the
fantasy cannot get beyond it or leave it behind. In fact, traversing the fantasy is perhaps the most thorough way
to become acquainted with it, to understand it. Like someone continuously tracing the outline of a circle, the
process of a traversing the fantasy does not have a simple beginning or endpoint, but is an ongoing process; it
does not exhaust the totality of the domain, but calls attention to the empty space in the middle; it does not
create the form in question, but copies it and attempts to fully comprehend the outline.
Traversing the fantasy' thus does not mean that the subject somehow abandons its involvement with
fanciful caprices and accommodates itself to a pragmatic 'reality,' but precisely the opposite: the subject is
submitted to that effect of the symbolic lack that reveals the limit of everyday reality. To traverse the fantasy in
the Lacanian sense is to be more profoundly claimed by the fantasy than ever, in the sense of being brought
into an ever more intimate relation with that real core of the fantasy that transcends imaging.

But at the same time, it is not fair to say that the successfully traversed fantasy remains unchanged. Not
only do we understand it more thoroughly, but we prepare to abandon the possibility of ever treating the
fantasy as a map, a formula for successfully navigating ones life or the world of politics. Treating this
conception of the alternative as a simple almost fiat-able question doesnt give it the proper respect it
deserves, since the fantasy is deeply ingrained, literally foundational, to everything we know about the world.
This is why iek and Lacan cannot simply abandon the fantasy or rely on a CLS like trash the fantasy
claim. In its original manifestation, traversal is the outcome of a successful clinical psychoanalytic encounter,
its process requires a very fundamental interrogation of the ways we relate to the world and its
accomplishment depends upon commitment to a methodology. Traversing the fantasy gives us the opportunity
to organize the world around different questions and to admit that the symbolic and imaginary constructs we
have built up are constitutively fractured.

The Act
The true scope of what is entailed by ieks use of the act is far far beyond what can be accomplished in this
paper, as it has been the subject of many recent book length studies.
Fundamentally, the act is the core of
Lacans ethical thought, as elaborated in his masterful seventh seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. But we
can perhaps mention three characteristics of the act: its character is retroactive, it is impossible and it is
First, it is retroactive. Literally this is to say that the act establishes its own meaning after the fact. The
statement of the act changes its own meaning, such that the connotations cannot appear the same any longer.
The act intervenes into the symbolic system in such a way that our perception of previous events cannot
remain the same. The classical example of the act in the context of ethics is Sophocles Antigone: Antigone,
the daughter of Oedipus, buries her brother in direct defiance of the mandate that no one bury those who have
betrayed the state. Creon, the ruler and representative of state power, sentences her to be buried alive in a
cave, largely because she refuses to consent to his authority and the morality of his decree. The people of
Thebes, who until this point are caught in the grip of nationalist fervor for the war, are suddenly forced into
confrontation with what their preference for the state has put them into conflict with. The far from subtle series
of suicides and catastrophes that ends the play shows precisely how drastically Antigones refusal of Creons
edict has reshaped the morality of the world and the understanding of what constitutes valid ethical calculus.
While the play begins with an opposition between the generalized demands of social organization and the
particularized, seemingly lesser concerns of familial ties, This is related to the second criteria of the act, its
impossibility. Strictly speaking, the decision for the act is a decision that cannot legitimately be made in the
existing hegemonic social order. The system suggests that there are a limited number of possible avenues for
decision making, the act refuses this forced choice to expose the flaw of the system in the first place, the
decision it foreclosed in order to retain its authority. In the simplest possible sense, this choice has to be
impossible, since anything offered within the system is necessarily a tolerable decision. This is why it is not a

Oxford English Dictionary. (1989) Traverse, verb. Second Edition.
Boothby, Richard. (2001) Freud as Philosopher. New York: Routledge. p. 275-276.
For an exceptionally thorough and lucid examination of Lacanian ethics, see Zupancic, Alenka.(2000) Ethics of the
Real. New York: Verso Books.
challenge to shop at Whole Foods or Hot Topic, fundamentally the choice to operate within the constraints of
the system (capitalist consumption) is more important than the choices you make within that system
(where/what to consume). The act is not physically impossible, it is a choice which refuses to conform to the
logic it begins with and as such exposes the blind spot. A common piece of alternative evidence regarding the
act relies on numerous filmic representations to explain such a notion:
In Speed, when the hero (Keanu Reeves) is confronting the terrorist black- mailer partner who holds his
partner at gunpoint, he shoots not the blackmailer , but his own partner in the leg - this apparently senseless
act momentarily shocks the blackmailer; who lets go of the hostage and runs away...In Ransom, when the
media tycoon (Mel Gibson) goes on television to answer the kidnappers request for two million dollars as
a ransom for his son, he surprises everyone by saying that he will deliver two million dollars to anyone who will
give him any information about the kidnappers, and announces that he will pursue them to the end, with all his
resources, if they do not release his son immediately This radical ges- ture stuns not only the kidnappers -
immediately after accomplishing it, Gibson himself almost breaks down, aware of the risk he is courting~ And
finally, the supreme case: when, in the flashback scene from The Usual Suspects, the mysterious Keyser
Soeze (Kevin Spacey) returns home and finds his wife and small daughter held at gunpoint by the members of
a rival mob, he resorts to the radical gesture of shooting his wife and daughter themselves dead - this act
enables him mercilessly to pursue members of the rival gang, their families, parents, friends, killing them
What these three gestures have in common is that, in a situation of the forced choice, the subject makes the
`crazy', impossible choice of, in a way striking at himself at what is most precious to himself. This act, far from
amounting to a case of impotent aggressivity turned on oneself, rather changes the co-ordinates of the
situation in which the subject finds himself.

Finally, the act is violent. That is not to say that this violence is always the physical imposition of death or
bodily injury, but simply that it damages the ability of what is being acted against to maintain its integrity. It is
not coincidental that the examples cited in the alternative evidence above all seem to revolve around a violent
decision; the ethical moment is one that occurs in life or death moments, in situations of peril and disaster. This
characteristic of violence is one that is often confused by critics of ieks political vision, who see violence as
a necessarily negative trait. In the first place, these criticisms are fundamentally non-unique, since the system
entails a level of violence, but simply defines it as acceptable, as collateral damage (the defilement of
Antigones brother, the threat to Keyzer Soezes livelihood, etc.). The violence imposed by the act is not
accounted for by the logic of the status quo exclusions, but it is not one that is necessarily worse, either
qualitatively or quantitatively. More likely, it is, to use the oft-problematic phrase, a redemptive violence, one
that is the necessary prerequisite to having a relationship to the world defined by responsibility. This is a clear
delineation from the redemptive violence of political revolutionaries, whom externalize the failures of
contemporary life and execute those responsible. Instead, this is a self-directed violence, one that gives up our
ability to consider ourselves innocent and oppressed bystanders in the chaotic world we inhabit. In contrast to
the humanitarian compassion which enables us to retain our distance towards the other, the very violence of
the fight signals the abolition of this distance.
While redemptive violence in revolutionary movements like
Soviet Russia or post-colonial Africa ultimately begins from the assumption that one can assume power, that
things will be different afterwards, the violence of the act refuses the distance towards the other, the belief
that our own subjectivity is not implicated by the failure of current politics. In the world post the act, we take the
failures of that world onto ourselves (we shoot the hostage, kill our own family, etc.) and eradicate the
fundamental difference between the rulers and the revolutionaries that organizes the conflict in the first place. If
this violence is redemptive it is because it is violence not directed at others, but at the structure of violence
itself. That is to say, I can no longer conceive of the world as trying to keep me down, nor can I strike out
against those responsible, since this violence is my own.
The act in the context of debate can be a theoretically challenging alternative to defend, since its strength
and its ambiguity go hand in hand. It is impossible and categorically undesirable to focus on the co-ordinates of
the world set-up by the act, since within the world as we occupy it we literally cannot understand a world that
did not obey those same rules. Many teams have successfully used psychoanalysis as a methodological,
rather than fiatable alternative to get around this potential vagueness, but this provides a significant avenue
for the affirmative ability to defend certainty and prediction as political values as clearly competitive.

Metaphoric Condensation

iek,Slavoj. (2000) Contingency Hegemony Universality. New York: Verso Books. p. 122.
iek, Slavoj. (2002) Revolution at the Gates. New York: Verso Books. p. 252.
A final argument to mention is the concept of metaphoric condensation. The logic is originally rooted in Ernesto
Laclaus discussion of empty signifiers. As a quick summary: the strategy of hegemonic opposition relies on
every individual demand against the dominant hierarchy remaining simply an individual demand. As such the
overwhelming force that maintains the order is only ever opposed by localized minute resistance. Workers
rights, gay rights, womens rights, etc all remain single-issue movements, concerned primarily with their own
success. These movements seem inherently forced to play against one another, accepting minute gains for
their own agenda at significant costs for other struggles. Despite the fact that both are likely oppositional to the
goals of big business, environmental and labor movements, for example, are regularly in conflict over what
the goal of regulating business should be. The only possibility of general revolution occurs with the advent of
an empty signifier, a demand robbed of its particular content and hence able to become elevated to the level
of the universal demand against oppression.
No longer do these individualized moments have to conceive of
the world within the narrow confines of taking the morsels of piecemeal change that they can get, since the
empty signifier embodies the possibility of generalized progress beyond the constraints of the ruling ideology.
Imagine, for instance the concept of superheroes who unite their powers into one larger entity, such as the
Megazord (from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) or Voltron (from Voltron). In virtually every episode the
heroes of these shows encounter a monster or enemy so powerful that none of the individual protagonists can
defeat it, even all of them attacking at the same time are insufficient to ensure victory. The only option is to join
forces, but not as subordinate to any of the individual fighters, instead they unite into something distinct from
any of them by itself. In the same way, the empty signifier provides such a vehicle, a space in which the
various conceptions can unite to mass all their force against the enemy, the status quo order.
While affirmatives have repeatedly attempted to capitalize on this argument to claim that the 1AC can
become the metaphor around which such resistance can coalesce, this fails to recognize the most important
part of Laclaus original formulation: the emptiness. The demand does not take on its radically universal
character until it has been divorced from its original connotation, such that it can be seen not as promoting the
political aims of a specific group (say the anti-war movement). ieks example of the movement to provide
Justice for the four accused illustrates this well, since the conflict occurs only because the committee refuses
to simply accept the accommodation to which the government was more than willing to provide. While there
are potentially affirmatives which could access this level of demand, it is hard to imagine it as a defense of a
traditional 1AC against a psychoanalytically inspired criticism of security, multiculturalism or

Some Brief and Generic Reflections on the iek Debate
While this could easily be said of virtually every argument, critical, policy or other, perhaps the best advantage
anyone debating one of the arguments discussed herein could have is knowledge and understanding of the
literature. Unfortunately, as the background discussion hopefully conveys, this requires more than reading your
cards or even reading a couple basic articles. Thoroughly engaging in questions of the alternative (especially
on the negative) would become infinitely easier and more productive when one can explain the examples, the
seemingly contradictory phrasing and language. The explosion of Lacanian literature in American academia
has made finding well written and accessible introductions to contemporary psychoanalytic thought easier than
many would have thought possible only years ago. That said, let me highly recommend two texts: Slavoj
ieks Looking Awry and Bruce Finks The Lacanian Subject. Neither one will be simple, but both are
extraordinarily vivid descriptions of the basic concepts alongside those which will likely never be employed in
the context of a debate. Yannis Stavrakakis Lacan and the Political, while perhaps not as orthodox a
Lacanian (or Zizekian) text as the two above, has been extremely influential in policy debate and certainly
deserves interrogation both as a source of evidence and as one of the most ambitious attempts to make
Lacanian psychoanalysis contribute directly to mainstream politics
At the same time that one should be careful to understand as much as possible about the arguments they
make, iekian and psychoanalytic arguments do not lend themselves to stagnation. Of course iek can be
used to provide a new twist to traditional criticisms like capitalism and security. But one must be willing to push
into unknown territory, to experiment and revise, to abandon unsuccessful articulations and develop ones that
might not seem comfortable. This can be especially true against the most powerful arguments used against the
criticism, maybe most notably framework and impact comparisons. Creative and novel uses of dimensions of
ieks thought are the best way to prevent affirmative teams from successfully painting the alternative into an
argumentative corner. The great deal of recent work on questions of psychoanalytic ethics, for instance,

For a more substantial explanation see Laclau, Ernesto. (1996) Why Do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics? in
Emancipations. New York: Verso Books.
enables the negative to reframe the question of the round as one of subjective organization, rather than impact
articulation. While it has been attempted several times, there is likely still much that can be done using the
questions of perversion (sadism and masochism, most notably) as a discursive frame.
While these lessons may apply equally to the affirmative, this writing suggests that teams would be well
served by moving away from the attempt to read iek against himself and instead developing a robust
defense of their own particular methodology, epistemology or ethics. Why, for instance should we believe that
things we know to be true are in fact true? Empiricism, roughly defined as the philosophy which suggests that
experience is our primary mode of access to truth, has a long and robust history which has rarely been
explored in the context of debate. While most realism debates are simply descriptively derivative (this is how
people behave, so we should behave that way), a robust defense of why other subjects perceptions of
themselves should be the basis of our action could be deployed very effectively. Perhaps our engagement with
the world should begin from the world itself, rather than as an internal investigation of language and
subjectivity. Rather than trying to force the affirmative to be articulable within ieks politics, find the actual
basis of the impact evidence and explain why it is productive.
If iek and his compatriots have invaded academia with no sign of immanent departure, it is likely true that
they will continue to inhabit the world of debate for the indefinite future. This can remain simply an annoyance
or a fact, if one refuses to interrogate and understand the specificity and complexity introduced by these new
forms of thought. Willingness to adapt, to think in new and creative wayswhether running or answering
themcan transform these arguments into an opportunity for teams to stand out as innovators, critical thinkers
and (most importantly?) elimination round or speaker award winners.