Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

Populist Resentment and the Enjoyment of (Not-)Knowing

Hannah Richter, KWI International Fellow

Online (Zoom) & Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Gartensaal, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

In the face of a resurgent political right that draws heavily on conspiracy theories, misinformation and obvious lies, the political theory scholarship has engaged both with right-wing populism and with post-truth, albeit largely as separate phenomena. This paper argues that linking Nietzsche’s theory of ressentiment to Lacan’s concept of jouissance (enjoyment) can provide insight to the particular political appeal of the contemporary post-truth populism. In Lacan, enjoyment is the motor of a subjective striving fuelled by impasse and lack of fulfilment. Lacanian lack allows us to explore right-wing xenophobia and ‘anti-wokeness’ as the violent turn against an Other perceived to have stolen enjoyment, hate speech and excessive misogyny as enjoyable transgressions. But beyond this, the paper explores the appeal of conspiracy theories, anti-expert stances and (obviously) fabricated news stories via Lacan’s enjoyment. The insecurities of the present, globalisation, climate change and technological acceleration mean that today’s political subjects find themselves confronted with the failure of the politically imposed rational will to know. At this juncture, post-truth populism offers a way out. The anti-experts stances and factual blunders of populist leaders end the disavowal of drawing enjoyment from lacking knowledge, and allow subjects to enjoy not-knowing.