Psychoanalysis “Post-truth”: US Election Special

Interdisciplinary online conference

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1 November, 2020, 2:00 pm - 8 November, 2020, 5:30 pm

£30 – £65

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Sundays 1 and 8 November, 14:00 – 17.30 GMT

Are we truly living in a post-truth era?

If so, how can psychoanalysis and other fields of thought help us illuminate the contours of this predicament?

Misinformation, misinterpretation and outright lies have been part of public discourse since the ancient world. However, what strikes us today is the imperviousness of falsehoods to correction through the presentation of facts. This phenomenon first caught public attention following the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump – and in the past months, has massively intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The poorly-defined term ‘post-truth’ indexes a series of contemporary political and psychic phenomena, including the collapse of traditional media and rise of social media; the ascendancy of extreme rightwing politicians; and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories including ‘anti-vaxxers’, ‘COVID-truthers’, and ‘Q-Anon’.

Moreover, contemporary political antagonisms in the field of gender (from #MeToo to men’s rights, and from non-binary to trans exclusionary feminism) and race (from BLM to the so-called refugee crisis) have put the question of social justice face to face with problems of libidinal enjoyment, identification, and the manipulability of meaning.

On the cusp of the US presidential election and deepening political uncertainty around the world, this interdisciplinary digital conference brings critical and psychoanalytic interventions to bear on the question of politics and public discourse in the midst of the apparent collapse of trust in scientific and authoritative knowledge.

This conference is organised with Dr Jordan OssermanDr Foivos Dousos and Dr Fil Ieropoulos in partnership with the Ministry of Post-Truth and Waiting Times.

Audience participation is highly encouraged and the event has been designed to maximise engagement across speakers and attendees.


Sunday 1 November

14:00 – 15:30 GMT

Jordan Osserman & Foivos Dousos

Todd McGowan
The Truth of Desire in a Post-Truth World

Aimee Le
The Social Hole: Fantasies of Social Partnership and Aporias of Bourgeois Thought

15:30 – 16:00 GMT

Break / Artists’ videos showcase

16:00 – 17:30 GMT

Jamieson Webster
Hysteria and #MeToo

Michael Bronski
It’s My Party and I’ll Die If I Want to: The Carnivalesque and the Inevitability of the Anti-Mask Movement

Carlton Jama Adams
“This ain’t that”: Black truths and White (dis)comfort

Sunday 8 November

14:00 – 15:30 GMT

Yannis Stavrakakis
Truth or Trust?

Jaice Sara Titus
Can’t say anything anymore?: Comedy, Alt-Right and Freedom

Brian Friedberg
We Are The News Now: Distrust and Distributed Amplification in the Qanon Movement

15:30 – 16:00 GMT

Break / Artists’ video showcase

16:00 – 17:30 GMT

Renata Salecl
Denial and Ignorance in Times of Covid-19

Richard Seymour
“Molecules of fascism”: the ‘Red Pill’ as Antidepressant.

Michael Flexer
The Frog is a Slur: Trolling Truth and the Semiotics of Dog-whistling

1 – 8 November

Artists’ video Showcase & Audio play

Video works by:

  • Oisin Byrne and Gary Farrelly – The Biscuit Tin
  • Contrapoints (Natalie Wynn)Incels
  • Disnovation  – The persuadables
  • Ed FornielesCel
  • Matt Goerzen & Ed FornielesBait watch
  • Gabriel MosesIn defense of the academic troll
  • Lykourgos PorfyrisCthulian prophecies
  • OPAForced pleasure
  • John SmithWho are we?
  • Eva StefaniAcropolis

Audio-play by:

  • Adam Donen – Nixon in Agony


Todd McGowan
The Truth of Desire in a Post-Truth World
The widespread acceptance that there are no longer shared facts has forced psychoanalytic interpretation on everyone. As a result, people are forced to become increasingly adept at interpreting the truth of desire in order to make sense of what facts are valid and what facts are not. This fosters the possibility of a collective recognition of the role of the unconscious in establishing truth.

Aimée Lê
The Social Hole: Fantasies of Social Partnership and Aporias of Bourgeois Thought
Drawing on Lukács and Lacan, I will discuss fantasies of social partnership as found in policy proposals aiming to rehabilitate the contemporary public sphere. These centrist proposals, while aiming to represent a ‘reasonable’ compromise between antagonistic interests, neglect a crucial vantage point: that of the economic system itself. I will discuss alternate possibilities through representations of totality through poetry, counterposing examples of fascist writing and Brecht’s political poems.

Jamieson Webster
Hysteria and #MeToo
In one of Freud’s last papers, “Constructions in Analysis,” he announces a new idea of truth, one that nearly collapses the distinction between psychosis and hysteria. With Freud in tow, I aim to consider whether we are more psychotic or hysterical in our post-truth world.

Michael Flexer
The Frog is a Slur: Trolling Truth and the Semiotics of Dog-whistling
‘Western’ culture is awash with troubling coded signs, redolent of fascism. To the un(der)initiated in the shibboleth, they prompt paranoia-infused thoughts: something is being said, but what? A humanised frog from an obscure comic book, the Fred Perry polo shirt and even the ‘ok’ hand gesture have all been co-opted and weaponized as far-right signs. We sense this to be the case, but we cannot articulate the message precisely. Despite the high visibility of the signifier, the signified is clouded in ambiguity. How does this idiolect of hate construct itself through irony, insinuation and bad faith manoeuvres of meta-reflexivity – such as plausible deniability, hiding in plain sight and trollish dishonest appeals to humour? Reading these signs can bring their penumbral signifieds – and their self-described ‘dark’ participatory communities constitutive of their meanings – out into the light, so that their arguments can unambiguously be seen and understood for what they are, and can be critically (as well as morally and politically) dismantled. This deliberate deployment of an exclusionary dog-whistle dialect is coupled to palpably disingenuous arguments for free speech, so we will interrogate what free speech means (and can be preserved as meaning) when cynically bound to a fascist, secret language steeped in irony. The analysis and argument throughout will be unashamedly and unapologetically anti-fascist. This weasely cant, and the so-called ‘edge lords’ who speak it, should be resisted at every moment and in every way.

Carlton Jama Adams
“This ain’t that”: Black truths and White (dis)comfort
Being Black comes to the individual unbidden and open to infinite interpretations A weak commonality to these differing constructions, is the necessity to struggle against attempts to marginalize Black subjectivities. Black truth-speaking is often devalued as it is a challenge to the disingenuous construction of truth that is necessary to maintain white comfort. One way of thinking of ‘post-truth’, is as providing an opening for ethically grounded truths, around which to construct nurturing and protective paradigms in the service of living good-enough lives. In that sense ethically and historically informed Black truths are an invaluable contribution.

Yannis Stavrakakis
Truth or Trust?
The limited value of truth from a psychoanalytic perspective and the importance of other dimensions.

Jaice Sara Titus
Can’t say anything anymore?: Comedy, Alt-Right and Freedom
If we take the notion of post-truth to be a liberal response to a resurgent populism, and to the idea that the populist will say anything and not care about the truth, then the response of the alt-right seems to be the opposite of this, which is to say, that you cannot say anything these days, particularly the truth, because of liberal political correctness. In this paper I will explore the bounded nature of contemporary politics and comedy through a psychoanalytic lens. Through a discussion of freedom and determinism pertaining to the unconscious, I will interrogate the concept of truth and establish how as Lacan suggests, “Saying it all is literally impossible [because] words fail”.

Michael Bronski
It’s My Party and I’ll Die If I Want to: The Carnivalesque and the Inevitability of the Anti-Mask Movement
The contemporary, growing. anti-mask movement in the United States has been reviled as dangerous and irrational. While it is certainly the former it is not irrational; its internal logic carefully predicated on countering accepted science and sense. These beliefs and behaviors may be best understood examined through the lens of, and in the context of, long standing traditions of the carnivalesque, misrule, and the biblical image of the “world turned upside down,” phenomenon often described in terms of, or located close, to Freud’s notion of the uncanny. What is behind the desire, experienced and enacted on a mass level, to turn considered judgments of science “upside down” even when the results may be fatal?

Richard Seymour
“Molecules of fascism”: the ‘Red Pill’ as Antidepressant.
The social industry and the far right today comprise a resonance machine. Fascist YouTube makes twice as much money from the superchat function as equivalent forces on the Left. Stefan Molyneux, Alex Jones, Gavin McInnes, Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson have made small fortunes from their contribution to fascist renewal. Donald Trump, at his zenith, was worth $2bn to Twitter: a fifth of the value. We blame the algorithms for ‘radicalising’ the users. But what, we might reasonably wonder, is so addictive about a three-hour long Prison Planet rant about ‘libtards’? What is so thrilling about ‘extreme’ content (cf, ‘extreme’ sport)? And why does fascist infotainment so efficiently turn depressed men into ‘lone wolf’ vigilantes?

Renata Salecl
Denial and Ignorance in times of Covid-19
Abstract TBC

Brian Friedberg
We Are The News Now: Distrust and Distributed Amplification in the Qanon Movement
Since it’s start in October 2017, the Qanon Movement has been a major amplifier of rumors, disinformation and conspiracy theories. Positioning themselves directly in opposition to so-called mainstream media, Qanon adherents fundamentally distrust the news, share both verified and unverified information, and interpret critical press as vindication. Through a critical examination of “We Are The News Now,” a viral Qanon slogan, we illustrate how the movement has used social media to iterate and evangelize, and identify the technique of “distributed amplification” in the spread of disinformation online.

Speakers’ Biographies

Todd McGowan teaches theory and film at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Universality and Identity Politics, Emancipation After Hegel, Only a Joke Can Save Us, Capitalism and Desire, and other works. He is the coeditor of the Diaeresis series at Northwestern University Press (with Slavoj Žižek and Adrian Johnston) and the editor of the Film Theory in Practice series at Bloomsbury.

Dr Aimée Lê is a Vietnamese American poet and critic. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at University of Exeter and an Associate Member of the Royal Holloway Poetics Research Centre.

Jamieson Webster is a psychoanalyst based in New York. She teaches at Princeton University and supervises graduate students at the City University of New York; Dr. Webster is a graduate of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and a founding member of Das Unbehagen, a collective that explores psychoanalysis outside of an institutional framework. She has written for ArtforumApology,The GuardianPlayGirlThe New York Review of Books and The New York Times. She is the author of Conversion Disorder: Listening to the Body in Psychoanalysis (Columbia University Press, 2018); Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrine, with Simon Critchley (Pantheon, 2013); and The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis (Karnac, 2011). With Marcus Coelen, she is currently working on a book about Jacques Lacan. 

Dr Michael J Flexer works at University of Exeter as the publicly engaged research fellow for the Wellcome-funded Waiting Times project. He previously taught medical semiotics and humanities at Imperial College, London and semio-linguistics and psycholinguistics at Sheffield Hallam University, and held a post-doc in medical humanities at King’s College, London. His PhD at University of Leeds was in medical, linguistic, pathographic and pop cultural representations of psychosis and was cross-supervised by Professor Stuart Murray in the School of English and Professor Allan House, a psychiatrist in the Institute of Health Sciences. Prior to academia, he ran a small political theatre company and worked as a semiotician.

Yannis Stavrakakis teaches discourse analysis and political theory at the School of Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Greece. He is author of Lacan and the Political (Routledge 1999) and The Lacanian Left (SUNY Press 2007) and editor of the newly published Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory (2020)
Jaice Sara Titus is a doctoral researcher exploring improvisational comedy, performance and psychoanalysis. She is also an editor at Everyday Analysis.

Michael Bronski is an independent scholar, journalist, and writer who has been involved in social justice movements since the 1960s. He has been active in gay liberation as a political organizer, writer, editor, publisher and theorist since 1969. He is the author of numerous award wining books including The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash and the Struggle for Gay Freedom (1998) and Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics (2015). His most recent is A Queer History of the United States for Young People (2019). He is Professor of the Practice in Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University.

Richard Seymour is a London-based writer and editor. He is the author of The Twittering Machine (Indigo Press, 2019), and a founding editor of Salvage magazine.

Renata Salecl is a philosopher, sociologist and legal theorist. She is Professor at the School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London and senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology at Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her book Tyranny of Choice has been published in 15 languages. Her last book is A Passion for Ignorance: What We Choose Not to Know and Why (Princeton University Press, 2020).

Brian Friedberg is the Senior Researcher of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Merging academic methods and Open Source Intelligence techniques, Brian is an investigative ethnographer, focusing on the impacts alternative media, anonymous communities and unpopular cultures have on political communication and organization.  Brian holds an MA in Cultural Production from Brandeis University.

C. Jama Adams, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, academic and Evertonian!. He is a child of empire who was born in Liverpool of Jamaican and Somali parents. He grew up in Liverpool, Guyana and Jamaica and has resided in New York for most of his adult life. Dr. Adams is Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City University of New York. He has published on psychological aspects of immigration, including a book on Africana workers in China. He has also published on Africana fatherhood and Africana identity issues.


Oisin Byrne and Gary Farrelly
The Biscuit Tin
In “The Biscuit Tin”, the deeply confessional story of an innocent childhood misconception is performed by Gary Farrelly to Oisin Byrne’s interrogative camera. The monologue deviates from ‘objective truth’ opening up space for a reflection on free will and its relation to enjoyment. Are the rules on how to enjoy things universal? Who makes these rules? What type of enjoyment does the transgression of narrative rules produce?

Contrapoints (Natalie Wynn)
In her most popular video, youtuber and political theorist Natalie Wynn presents a deep dive into the world of Incels. Incels, a portmanteau of ‘involuntary celibates’, are members of an online subculture infamous for its extreme misogyny, self-harming tendencies and adherence to conspiracies of a supposed anti-male existing propaganda of the left. In an attempt to truly understand this complex phenomenon, Wynn goes much further than describing the communities’ characteristics and dismissing them from the start; she engages seriously with their talking points, psychic realities and aesthetics. A true youtube masterpiece.

The Persuadables
DISNOVATION.ORG is a contemporary art duo of Maria Roszkowska and Nicolas Maigret based in Paris. Ubiquitous social networks gave rise to new types of practices, new forms of expression, and new means for collective organization of protest and discord. In this context, the manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms has emerged as a critical threat to public life. The video focuses on the political instrumentalization of the tools, techniques, and infrastructures of the web, with a particular attention to the social media influence ecosystem and online manipulation of opinion. It exposes some practices broadly used for online propaganda, as well as creative responses that they triggered in civil society.

Ed Fornieles
Ed Fornieles is a multimedia artist whose work focuses on the ways we construct our identities and relationships within an increasingly digitized world. In ‘Cel’, Fornieles devised a role-playing game focusing on questions around contemporary masculinities. Filmed on chest cams and CCTV, a group of people lived in a house for two days, acting out the story of an alt-right group and performing hierarchical roles, split into tiers of dominance and submission. The work invites us to reflect on the conditions that give rise to violence, the gendered dimensions of the phenomenon, and how online ideologies intersect with real life.

Matt Goerzen & Ed Fornieles
Bait Watch
Perched precariously over some hungry ocean dwellers, our friend Bait is here to teach us something he knows intimately—baiting. Investigating the tricks trolls play, Baitwatch, by media researcher Matt Goerzen and artist Ed Fornieles, arms us with the tools to survive in a world drenched with information—to try and stop us from falling hook, line, and sinker. Because as Bait tells us, hooks can scar, and sometimes even kill.

Gabriel Moses
In Defense of the Academic Troll
The 2016 US elections marked the rise of Internet trolls, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, and inflammatory news websites, such as Breitbart, in what could be described as a pivotal moment in the era of «post representation». But these events are merely indicative of a discourse which spans beyond American politics and has so far led artists, thinkers and activists to wonder: How is knowledge redefined when information and entertainment are rendered indistinguishable? Furthermore, could the same malicious strategies used by the far right be appreciated and even re-appropriated as a possible discourse of empowerment? This video is a think piece which tries to establish such a point of departure, in order to help redefine trolling, and even use it responsibly, to test, safeguard and help immunize the rhetorics of academia and the left.

Lykourgos Porfyris
Cthulian Prophecies
Cthulian Prophecies is a work produced by the artist Lykourgos Porfyris in 2016 as a response to the racist, homophobic transphobic, sexist and misogynistic videos of the British far-right wing vlogger Paul Joseph Watson. The project is a queer conspiracy theory/religion subversively affirming all the right-wing conspiracy theory accusations, while celebrating the degeneration of national pride, masculinity, patriarchy and normality. After the creation of the video, the artist has also used it as a web activist tool infiltrating various right-wing web pages and forums.

Forced Pleasure
OPA (Obsessive Possessive Aggression) are Slobodanka Stevceska and Denis Saraginovski. Their work is context-based and often involves parody, created reality, mockumentaries, tactical media, over-identification and subversive affirmation strategies. In Forced Pleasure, OPA falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by wax creatures and freshly made history paintings. Created between 2008-2011, the so-called “Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Sovereignty and Independence, Museum of VMRO, Museum of the Victims of the Communist Regime” was part of the propaganda machinery project titled Skopje 2014, which was conducted by the then-ruling nationalist party. In 2018, the Museum’s legitimacy was questioned in an evaluation. The museum was found to be an intrusion into the Macedonian identity corpus, under an ideological coloration that promotes the myths of a specific political party. At the same time, the Museum was described as an insult to professional museology standards.

John Smith
Who Are We?
On the 23rd of June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union. Who Are We? is a re-working of material from a BBC television debate transmitted a few weeks earlier. Using repetition, John Smith creates a linguistic metaphorical glitch to expose the normalisation of xenophobic and nationalistic discourse that has taken place in contemporary Britain and to remind us what this discourse actually stands for.

Eva Stefani
In the film Acropolis, Eva Stefani questions the usual (transcendental, heroic) perception of the famous Parthenon monument and puts forth a subversive and more complex narrative. Being a symbol not only of Greekness, but to an extent of ‘the West’, the monument’s history is still politically re-constructed, semi-told, skewed, often to serve white patriarchal supremacy. In an attempt to reappropriate the fragmental nature of the telling of Greek history, Stefani cuts-up a detournament of the Acropolis narrative, bringing together historical film footage, vintage pornography, super-8 and archival material and creating her own truth of this historically pertinent place.

Adam Donen
Nixon in Agony 
Nixon in Agony’ by Adam Donen is a fictional account of how Richard Nixon, the night before he resigned the presidency, sat alone, drunk, in the Oval Office. Through a one-hour audio drama/sound artwork produced for stereo headphones, audiences take a journey inside Nixon’s head, creating an immersive binaural experience of a man who knows his time is up. Steven Berkoff, revered British actor, author, playwright, director, plays Nixon with audio produced by LA-based producer Robert Harder, known for his Grammy nominated work with Brian Eno and Herbie Hancock. The work is being adapted from Donen’s existing script for a holographic drama, which was due to premiere in the US later this year, to coincide with the 2020 election.

Please Note

All tickets prices include the Eventbrite booking fee.

Recordings will be made available to attendees for 14 days after the event.

* A limited number of bursary tickets are available at £35 for young people under the age of 18, and people receiving UK benefits or accessing NHS mental health services. Please apply to Stefan Marianski ([email protected]) to request a bursary ticket.


1 November, 2020, 2:00 pm
8 November, 2020, 5:30 pm
£30 – £65
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