Slavoj Žižek is a famous Slovenian cultural theorist and philosopher.
He’s on the Marxist left but is known for being contrarian and even supported Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential election.
Žižek’s work draws on a number of theories from psychoanalysis and the psychoanalytic field, which is why his relation to Swiss psychological pioneer Carl Jung is worth exploring.
What does Slavoj Žižek really think of Carl Jung?
Žižek is well known for championing the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and applying his ideas to economic and political theory.
But what about an individual like Jung who is far more often championed by those more on the traditional side such as Jordan Peterson?
Lacan basically advanced a new way of understanding the human mind and society using the language and theories of psychoanalysis. He proposed that much of what we consider real or grounded is just a linguistically constructed illusion.
Jung, by contrast, taught that humans are tied by a collective consciousness, archetypes and shared universal truths. Our experiences aren’t just subjective delusions, according to Jung, but reflections of greater truths and eternal progressions.
Žižek believes that Jung is incorrect about this and is basically just a knock-off version of Sigmund Freud.
According to Žižek, “Jung is a New Age obscurantist reinscription of Freud” who advances inaccurate and unhelpful views about the human condition and society.
Essentially, Žižek considers Jung to be overly influenced by the work of Georg Hegel, the German Idealist philosopher who posited a kind of journey to synthesis and wholeness known as the Hegelian dialectic.
Žižek sees this as misguided and unhelpful thought that leads us to become trapped in ideology and believing in our own illusions about ourselves and society.
Why does Žižek dislike Jung?
Žižek basically dislikes Jung because he considers Jung too idealistic and optimistic.
In Žižek’s view, Jung is just basically telling people what they want to hear, about a shared human journey to improvement and self-realization.
By contrast, Žižek believes we’re trapped on a hamster wheel of suffering and futile struggle.
Žižek doesn’t want us to be reassured or grounded, he wants us to embrace the reality of our own situation and how lost and unreal we are in so many ways.
As I said, this also gets at the root of some of the disagreements between Žižek and people more on the right like Jordan Peterson.
As Cole Chretien notes at the Sheaf:
“Peterson is an advocate of Jung’s theories of archetypes and the collective unconsciousness.
“This essentially amounts to a sincerely held belief that the human race shares a thought realm where idealized exemplars of human perfection — and countless other perfect objects — actually exist.
“In contrast, Žižek presents a Lacanian analysis that theorizes that everything we perceive as real is actually a mixture of subjective fantasy and symbolic interpretation. Žižek has expanded this to a critique of society and ideology.”
In his book Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, Jung writes about his belief that our persona is just an illusion: a mask.
“When we analyse the persona we strip off the mask, and discover that what seemed to be individual is at bottom collective; in other words, that the persona was only a mask of the collective psyche.
“Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be.”
Žižek emphasizes frequently that there isn’t a “real us” hiding underneath our outer persona. Our truest form is actually the best disguise for who we really are because even we ourselves are not ourselves in any real or non-constructed sense.
As Žižek says, “a thing is its own best mask. What one encounters in tautology is thus pure difference, not the difference between the element and other elements, but the difference of the element from itself.”
Žižek also believes that Jung is very wrong about transgression and irregular behavior, which Jung saw as forms of internalized rebellion against injustice and conformity.
Far from being a challenge to the domineering power structure, things like perversion and sexual violence are its secret armies according to Žižek.
“As any Žižekian knows, the idea that perverts are the opposite of radicals is fundamental in Žižek’s philosophy, so this would represent yet another, insurmountable divide between Jung and himself,” writes Mike Bulajewski.
Žižek vs. Jung
At the end of the day, thinkers like Lacan and Jung are just not compatible. This is also part of why figures like Peterson and Žižek aren’t able to agree on much either.
They simply disagree about the fundamentals of the human experience and reality.
Žižek maintains that Jung is overly simplistic and idealistic in believing in a harmonious whole, but Jung’s thought is actually quite a bit more complex.
Jung believes that polarity and opposites create a variety of experiences of all shades, not that we are just yin-and-yang creatures.
“Everything human is relative, because everything rests on an inner polarity; for everything is a phenomenon of energy. Energy necessarily depends on a pre-existing polarity, without which there could be no energy.
“There must always be high and low, hot and cold, etc., so that the equilibrating process—which is energy—can take place.”
When it comes down to Žižek versus Jung I would have to say that both make some good points, but Žižek has two unfair advantages:
One: he’s still alive, and Jung is dead. Žižek has the ability to reformulate ideas and discuss, Jung’s work can only speak for itself.
Two: Žižek’s adherence to the work of Lacan gives him a huge arsenal of confusing words and terms he can use to sound smarter than Jung, who tended to speak more plainly.
Although Žižek is popular for his pop culture references and down-to-earth speaking style, his more in-depth work and references to Lacan are highly obscure and hard to understand unless you are a specialist or academic.
Ultimately, one can only say that both Žižek and Jung are worth studying in order to gain a greater diversity of insights into the reality of society and our own existence.