The Symbolic, The Sublime, and Slavoj Žižek’s Theory of Film

(Palgrave Macmillan 2012)


Slavoj Žižek is one of the world’s most important contemporary public intellectuals. Much of his popularity stems from his constant and recurring references to popular culture and cinema, as well as his own appearances in films such as The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and Examined Life. Although Žižek refers to cinema in order to help explain difficult concepts in his theoretical writing, film scholars question whether Žižek has his own theory of film. This book argues that Žižek’s writing on film radically reorients the scope of contemporary film studies. Returning to questions about ideology and subjectivity, Flisfeder argues that Slavoj Žižek’s theory of film aims to re-politicize film studies and film theory, bringing cinema into the fold of twenty-first century politics.

“The Symbolic, the Sublime and Slavoj Žižek’s Theory of Film provides a most important contribution to film theory not only by reinvigorating our understanding of the viewing subject as integral to film theory, but also by insisting that Žižek’s return to and theory of ideology can play a crucial role in contemporary film analysis. Flisfeder’s book is skilfully and eloquently written for a diverse audience that includes students of film, society and culture, as well as scholars of Lacanian psychoanalysis and particularly of Žižek himself.” – TOPIA

“Taken in its entirety, Flisfeder’s book is a major step in film studies. Not only does it give accessibility to and frame the mission of Žižek’s work in the context of film scholarship, but it allows us to rethink the place of cinema in the present, a time where passivity and postmodern cynicism are raging at full throttle, and where general intellectual skepticism seems to be increasingly superseded by the quantifiable.” – Film International

“[Flisfeder’s] book insists on the need for a sophisticated and politically aware psychoanalytic film theory, and he makes an effort to answer the question about the relevance of Lacanian film theory today… This book may help to ignite an exciting new trend in film theory, and I welcome it.” – Canadian Journal of Communication

“Writing with concision, the author provides readers with clear illustrations and a thorough background into the key theoretical debates in film theory, especially between formalists and those of ideological persuasions. Flisfeder takes on a challenging topic and produces a clear, well-organized volume.” – CHOICE

“This is a wonderfully lucid and perceptive account of how the Žizekian approach to cinema provides the theoretical coordinates for our understanding of ideology. Via Žizek, Matthew Flisfeder makes a compelling case for a Lacanian reading of film which, once freed from old debates on spectatorship, has a chance to strike a formidable alliance with Marxism to invite us to rethink our world through the eyes of film.”
– Fabio Vighi, Reader in Film and Critical Theory, Cardiff University, UK
“Matthew Flisfeder’s The Symbolic, The Sublime, and Slavoj Žižek’s Theory of Film marks a decisive moment in film studies. It is the first book to take full account of Slavoj Žižek’s significance for the analysis of film, and it does so in an exhaustive and insightful way. Though there now exist many recent books on Lacanian film theory and on Slavoj Žižek’s thought, no books exist that explain Žižek’s intervention in the domain of film studies. Not only does Flisfeder open new ground in this way, but he also creates a work that is accessible and theoretically sophisticated at the same time, much like Žižek’s own thought. It will provide a point of entry into the implications of Žižek’s philosophy on the analysis of cinema for all levels, from undergraduate students to professors of film studies. Flisfeder’s book is a treasure for all.”
– Todd McGowan, Associate Professor of Film Studies, University of Vermont, USA