The best books that explain politics using a psychoanalytic lens

Who am I?

I am a scholar of global politics, and I am drawn to psychoanalysis because it studies the unseen in politics, or rather, those things that are often in plain sight but remain unacknowledged. For example, why is it that, especially in this information economy, we are well aware of the inequality and environmental destruction that our current capitalist system is based on, but we still continue to invest in it (through shopping, taking out loans, using credit cards, etc.)? Psychoanalysis says that it's because we are unconsciously seduced by capitalism—we love shopping despite knowing about the socioeconomic and environmental dangers of doing it. I’m fascinated by that process of disavowal.

I wrote...

Global Libidinal Economy

By Ilan Kapoor, Gavin Fridell, Maureen Sioh , Pieter de Vries

Book cover of Global Libidinal Economy

What is my book about?

Ever wonder why our global capitalist system never rests still? Economic growth is never enough; there are always more profits to make, more markets to conquer. And crises such as climate change become not limits but opportunities for further profit-making, even though such crises are the very result of profit-making.

Psychoanalysis provides a key insight into this restlessness: it is unconscious “drive"—a fundamental compulsion to never stay satisfied, to always move from object to object and crisis to crisis—that helps explain why capital accumulation continues unabated, to the point of endangering life on this planet. Global Libidinal Economy is the first to examine global capitalism from a psychoanalytic perspective, helping to explain the system’s unconscious irrationalities and excesses.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Black Skin, White Masks

Ilan Kapoor Why did I love this book?

This is one of the first books that “blew my mind” when I was a young university student: it remains the one I constantly return to because it seeks to understand the psychoanalytic foundations of racism under French colonialism.

Fanon was only 27 when his book was first published in 1952, but his reflections provide a stunningly passionate and layered view on how anti-Black racism (de)forms the subjectivity of both white and Black people, locking them into constructions of whiteness/blackness that require constant questioning.

His arguments on the psychoanalytic and political underpinnings of racism remain as relevant today as they were in his time.

By Frantz Fanon, Richard Philcox (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Black Skin, White Masks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few modern voices have had as profound an impact on the black identity and critical race theory as Frantz Fanon, and Black Skin, White Masks  represents some of his most important work. Fanon’s masterwork is now available in a new translation that updates its language for a new generation of readers.
A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in 1952, the book remains a…

Book cover of The Sublime Object of Ideology

Ilan Kapoor Why did I love this book?

For me, Žižek is the most brilliant and insightful, even if controversial, philosopher of our times, and this work is largely considered his masterpiece.

Drawing on popular culture (movies, jokes, science fiction), it provides a psychoanalytic view of ideology, exploring the unconscious foundations of such phenomena as totalitarianism, capitalism, and racism.

Žižek beckons us to pay close attention to any ideology that attempts to present reality as unified or harmonious (e.g., “Make America Great Again,” or “happy shopping”), as it most often hides (“disavows,” in psychoanalysis) its many contradictions (e.g., how “greatness” is often built on a history of colonialism or slavery; or how consumerism most often depends on the exploitation of workers, many of whom are women and racialized people working under sweatshop conditions). 

By Slavoj Zizek,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sublime Object of Ideology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Slavoj Zizek, the maverick philosopher, author of over 30 books, acclaimed as the "Elvis of cultural theory", and today's most controversial public intellectual. His work traverses the fields of philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, history and political theory, taking in film, popular culture, literature and jokes-all to provide acute analyses of the complexities of contemporary ideology as well as a serious and sophisticated philosophy. His recent films The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema and Zizek! reveal a theorist at the peak of his powers and a skilled communicator. Now Verso is making his classic titles, each of which stand as a core…

Book cover of What is Sex?

Ilan Kapoor Why did I love this book?

This is one of the most intriguing books published in recent times, in my view, providing a lucid and beautifully written psychoanalytic account of both the strangeness and emancipatory potential of sexuality.

Sex for Zupančič is not about genital sexuality. Instead, it has an amorphous and undefinable quality to it; and this lack of meaning implies we can never get enough of it—e.g., the reason porn watchers get hooked on porn is because even the “full” view of sexual activity doesn’t quite satisfy, so one looks for more “fullness” (which one never finds) and watches more porn. And this elusiveness is what sex is about.

I love that Zupančič draws out the political potential of this viewpoint, seeing the excess and indefinability of sex as “trouble”/“troubling,” opening up ways for the subject to break out of the everyday status quo. 

By Alenka Zupancic,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What is Sex? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why sexuality is at the point of a “short circuit” between ontology and epistemology.

Consider sublimation—conventionally understood as a substitute satisfaction for missing sexual satisfaction. But what if, as Lacan claims, we can get exactly the same satisfaction that we get from sex from talking (or writing, painting, praying, or other activities)? The point is not to explain the satisfaction from talking by pointing to its sexual origin, but that the satisfaction from talking is itself sexual. The satisfaction from talking contains a key to sexual satisfaction (and not the other way around)—even a key to sexuality itself and its…

Book cover of Postcolonial Lack: Identity, Culture, Surplus

Ilan Kapoor Why did I love this book?

Relying on contemporary literary writing and films (e.g., Amitav Ghosh, Leila Aboulela, Black Panther, Gran Torino), Basu Thakur carries out a compelling psychoanalytic critique of postcoloniality (the study of global processes of exclusion and marginalization).

He reproaches it for focusing too much on questions of identity and difference (e.g., making political claims on the basis of gender, racialization, or sexual orientation). And feeding too easily into cultures of victimhood and neoliberal political economy (e.g., the commodification of women’s and racialized and LGBTQ+ people’s identities).

He stresses instead a psychoanalytic politics of lack and excess, whose negativity resists commodification and paves the way to postcolonial emancipation.

By Gautam Basu Thakur,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Postcolonial Lack as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Postcolonial Lack reconvenes dialogue between Lacanian psychoanalysis and postcolonial theory in order to expand the range of cultural analyses of the former and make the latter theoretically relevant to the demands of contemporary narratives of othering, exclusion, and cultural appropriation. Seeking to resolve the mutual suspicion between the disciplines, Gautam Basu Thakur draws out the connections existing between Lacan's teachings on subjectivity and otherness and writings of postcolonial and decolonial theorists such as Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, and Homi Bhabha. By developing new readings of the marginalized other as radical impasse and pushing the envelope on neoliberal identity politics, the…

Book cover of Capital: Volume I

Ilan Kapoor Why did I love this book?

It may seem odd for me to include this work, focusing on the economics and politics of the capitalist system, under the category “psychoanalysis and politics.” But one easily forgets that it is in this groundbreaking book that Marx makes his crucial argument on “commodity fetishism,” the (psychoanalytic) process by which we so fetishize—which is to say, love—a car or an iPhone, for example, that we disavow the labor and environmental conditions (i.e. the exploitation and domination of people and nature) under which they were produced.

No wonder that Jacques Lacan, the noted psychoanalytic thinker, saw Marx as the first to have invented the “symptom,” seeing exploited labor (and I would add, the domination of the environment) as symptomatic of the violence of capitalism.

By Karl Marx, Ben Fowkes (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Capital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A groundbreaking work of economic analysis. It is also a literary masterpice' Francis Wheen, Guardian

One of the most notorious and influential works of modern times, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis. Arguing that capitalism would cause an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production. Capital rapidly acquired readership throughout the world,…

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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…

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