Steffen Krüger_ Abstract – UGC_interpassivity_ideology

Steffen Krüger, Dept. of Media and Communication, University of Oslo


UGC[1] – interpassivity – ideology

In his How to read Lacan (2007), Slavoj Zizek inserts Robert Pfaller’s notion of “interpassivity” (2002) into Lacan’s conceptual universe in order to work out the quasi-hysterical position of the “ideologically interpellated” (Althusser) subject of contemporary Western society. Inspired by the works of Zizek and Lacan, Pfaller’s notion of interpassivity is best exemplified by Zizek’s well-known description of watching a sit-com with ‘canned laughter’: “even if I do not laugh, but simply stare at the screen, tired after a hard days [sic] work, I nonetheless feel relieved after the show, as if the TV did the laughing for me” (Zizek, 2007, no page numbers).

Juxtaposing interpassivity with the buzz-creating notion of interactivity, the former is granted a decisively less positive, optimistic socio-cultural impact. “In the case of interpassivity,” writes Zizek, “I am passive through the other: I concede to the other the passive aspect (enjoying) of my experience, while I can remain actively engaged” (ibid.). Not only do we not enjoy ourselves, we delegate (Pfaller) our enjoyment elsewhere so that we can keep on working with other, decisively less pleasurable things.

According to Pfaller and Zizek, the central problem with such an unconscious arrangement lies in the kinds of activities that we uphold in this way. In a parallel to the Marxist definition of ideology as “false consciousness”, Zizek introduces the notion of “false activity”: “people not only act in order to change something, they can also act in order to prevent something from happening, so that nothing will change” (ibid.). The dynamic of interpassivity is such that we keep ourselves in motion, constantly delegating new possibilities of being passive to a big Other, an “imagined audience” (boyd, 2007), in the silent hope that, in so doing, we will find out what it really is we are after.

As regards this train of thought, it does not seem incidental that Zizek, in introducing interpassivity, immediately turns to “new media” and “cyberspace”; after all his argument offers a provocative possibility to interpret the way in which a substantial part of user-generated content on online social network sites – especially visual content – is being produced, packaged, and published. In my paper I will thus critically apply the concept of interpassivity as basis for an inquiry into the practices of capturing and uploading that which is commonly identified as personal proof of enjoyment but might indeed turn out to be unconsciously intended as a defence against the paramount task of truly believing.

[1] i.e. “user-generated content”.