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Interpassivity is a state of passivity in the presence of the potential of interactivity.[1] The purpose of the concept is to "explain how works of art and media sometimes seem to provide for their own reception".[2] The term was coined by Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek, and combines the words "interactivity" and "passivity". The book Interpassivity: The Aesthetics of Delegated Enjoyment by Robert Pfaller[3] is the most authoritative source on the topic. Robert Pfaller has developed this theory since the 1990s,[4] accounting for diverse cultural phenomena where delegation of consumption and enjoyment stands central, answering questions such as "Why do people record TV programmes instead of watching them?" "Why are some recovering alcoholics pleased to let other people drink in their place?" and "Why can ritual machines pray in place of believers?"

An example of interpassivity, given by Žižek, in his book How To Read Lacan, uses the VCR to illustrate the concept. The VCR records a movie (presumably to be watched later). However, Žižek argues that since the VCR can record, people who own them watch fewer movies because they can record them and have them on hand. The VCR does the watching of the movie so the owner of the VCR can be free not to watch the movie. Žižek uses the VCR to demonstrate the big other's role in interpassivity. The VCR, like canned laughter in a show, functions as a tool interacting with itself so the viewer can not watch the show.

Pfaller, a professor of philosophy at the University of Art and Design Linz elaborated the theory of interpassivity within the fields of cultural studies and psychoanalysis.[5][better source needed]. He has also received an award for the best 2014 book in psychoanalysis by the American Psychoanalytic Association,[6] for his book On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions without Owners,[7] which also includes a discussion of the concept of interpassivity. Juha Suoranta and Tere Vadén, working on the basis of Pfaller's and Zizek's insights, stress interpassivity's potential of changing "into its negative when illusory interactivity produces passivity".[8]

In terms of social protest Slavoj Žižek explains in his book, In Defense of Lost Causes, how inaction can be more powerful than any action even critical action by causing disruptions with inaction or ineffectiveness and avoiding conflict resolution dialogue that results in half measures that are intended to provide the feeling of solving the issue while doing little or nothing to achieve it. Žižek says “Better to do nothing than to engage in localized acts whose ultimate function is to make the system run more smoothly. The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to "be active", to "participate", to mask the Nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time, "doing something"; academics participate in meaningless "debates," etc.; but the truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw from it all. Those in power often prefer even "critical" participation or a critical dialogue to silence, since to engage us in such a "dialogue" ensures that our ominous passivity is broken. The "Bartlebian act" I propose is violent precisely insofar as it entails ceasing this obsessive activity-in it, violence and non-violence overlap (non-violence appears as the highest violence), likewise activity and inactivity (the most radical thing is to do nothing).”

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Slavoj Žižek (1998). "Cyberspace, or, How to Traverse the Fantasy in the Age of the Retreat of the Big Other", Public Culture, volume 10 issue 3, p. 483
  2. ^ van Oenen, Gijs. "A Machine That Would Go of Itself: Interpassivity and Its Impact on Political Life". Project MUSE. Project MUSE. Retrieved Dec 24, 2014.
  3. ^ Pfaller, Robert (2017). Interpassivity: The Aesthetics of Delegated Enjoyment. Edinbourgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. ISBN 9781474422932.
  4. ^ Robert Pfaller personal website Retrieved 12 June 2017. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Robert Pfaller, Illusionen der Anderen, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 2003
  6. ^ Robert Pfaller personal website Retrieved 12 June 2017. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Pfaller, Robert (2014). On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions without Owners. London: Verso. ISBN 9781781681749. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  8. ^ Juha Suoranta and Tere Vadén (2010). Wikiworld, Pluto Press, p. 133

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