What does Slavoj Zizek mean when he says "...too involved with who you think you are..." and quoting Lacan "a madman is not only a beggar who thinks he is a king but also a king who thinks he is a king"?

I recognise this structure in an extreme form in a person related to me.

I would like to understand more of this phenomenon. Which works by Lacan or others treat this?


  • Sounds like a polemic against narcissism ... – Mozibur Ullah Apr 2 '18 at 15:11
  • ...which has always been pretty much frowned upon; though it has had its advocates from time to time. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 2 '18 at 15:15
  • Narcissism is definitely an idea associated with mid century psychoanalysis — I might compare today’s so-called “selfie culture” – Joseph Weissman Apr 2 '18 at 15:29
  • Actually isn't this question about psychology? – rus9384 Apr 2 '18 at 15:30

Zizek seems to be reiterating a criticism made against the adoption of mostly subjective attitudes. Here the historical source of the polemic seems to point back to Sartre's existentialism and an early comment made by Lacan in 1946.

Sartre's elaborated views are difficult to sumarise and when he attempted to present them to a large public most often a kind a caricature replaced them. As he sought to present a Kantian self sustaining morality without external support and constraints, sincerity (as opposed to bad faith) and dedication became central for it. A popular exposition was given in his lecture L'existentialisme est un humanisme in 1945 and published the following year). In 1946 Lacan published a Propos sur la causalite psychique which pointed to an obvious weakness in Sartre's position: a madman is sincere and dedicated in his existence. Lacan's text begins with mentioning that

il convient de remarquer que si un homme qui se croit un roi est fou, un roi qui se croit un roi ne l'est pas moins. (..if a man, who believes that he is king, is mad this is just as true for a king who believes himself to be a king)

and a few lines later he writes a phrase with an easily recognizable sartrean wording and tone

le risque de la folie se mesure à l'attrait même des identifications où l'homme engage à la fois sa vérité et son être. (the risk of madness is measured by the attraction of identifications in which man engages both his truth and being)

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