The Politics of Contradiction

The Politics of Contradiction
Todd McGowan

Four Tuesdays, October 5-26, 6-8 PM EST.
Online via Zoom.

If Todd McGowan’s book on Hegel didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. McGowan is the giant of Vermont, the Bernie Sanders of the academy, the Larry David of Lacanian theory. ― Continental Thought and Theory 

Hegel was the first thinker to see the task of philosophy as one of reconciling itself with contradictions. For most thinkers before and after Hegel, the point of philosophy is to eliminate contradictions in order to construct coherency. Even Karl Marx, in the immediate aftermath of Hegel, locates the task of politics in acting to change society so as to get rid of existing contradictions. Hegel’s emphasis on the necessity of contradiction, however, points toward a different type of emancipatory politics, one that sees contradiction itself as an emancipatory site, not as what we must overcome for the sake of emancipation.

This refiguring of the relationship to contradiction represents a challenge not just to traditional logic but also to most leftist politics. The point is not to arrive at a harmonious social order but to reveal the political necessity of contradictions. The contradiction creates the possibility for freedom and equality through its constant disruption of any secure anchoring within the social order. Freedom and equality stem from the lack of any authority capable of eliminating contradiction.

This course will dive into the implicit politics of Hegel’s philosophy and attempt to make this political dimension explicit. In doing so, we will begin with Hegel’s own work, examine how Marx picks up and transforms this thought, and then move forward to the Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, who provide ways of thinking through the necessity of contradiction in a more contemporary situation.

Facilitator: 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, and other works. He is the coeditor of the Diaeresis series at Northwestern University Press with Slavoj Žižek and Adrian Johnston, and he is the editor of the Film Theory in Practice series at Bloomsbury. 


  • Emancipation After Hegel – Todd McGowan
  • Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit – G. W. F. Hegel
  • “The Commodity” from Capital Volume 1 – Karl Marx
  • “Subversion of the Subject” – Jacques Lacan
  • “Theorem III” from Sex and the Failed Absolute – Slavoj Žižek

Schedule with Readings:

Week 1: October 5
Emancipation After Hegel: “Introduction” and “Chapter 1”
Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit — G.W.F. Hegel

Week 2: October 12
Emancipation After Hegel: chapters 2-4
“The Commodity” from Capital Volume 1 — Karl Marx

Week 3: October 19
Emancipation After Hegel: chapters 5-7
“Subversion of the Subject” — Jacques Lacan

Week 4: October 26
Emancipation After Hegel: chapters 8-10
“Theorem III” from Sex and the Failed Absolute Slavoj Žižek

Seminar Cost:

  • $120 – Member Ticket
  • $180 – General Admission Ticket
  • $225 – Generous Supporter Ticket
  • Solidarity scholarships may be available for those who cannot afford any of the above tiers – please email us.


Please register by buying a ticket at our Eventbrite page. We are committed to making all our offerings accessible to those who are eager to learn, regardless of financial means. If you have any questions or concerns, please email

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