Subversive affirmation

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Subversive affirmation is an artistic performance that overemphasizes prevailing ideologies and thereby calls them into question.[1][2][3] Simultaneously with affirmation, the affirmed concepts are revealed, and artists distance themselves from those concepts. Strategies of subversive affirmation include over-identification, over-affirmation, yes revolution and paradoxical intervention.

According to Inke Arns and Sylvia Sasse[3] the methods of subversive affirmation have been developing in Eastern European art since the 1960s. Subversive affirmation was initially chosen because of the necessity to conform to socialist ideology, which is then adopted deliberately. In the late 80s these tactics were carried over to Western art and activism. The term "affirmation" was introduced by Moscow conceptualists to describe Vladimir Sorokin's novels. Sorokin exaggerated serious realism in the style of the 19th century novel or in the style of socialist realism.

The concept of subversive affirmation is often credited to the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in his 1993 essay 'Why Are Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst Not Fascists?' [4] In his essay Žižek made use of the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan to argue that in its musical and artistic performance, Laibach (band) was not providing an ironic imitation of official communist state ideology, but was frustrating the system by over-identifying with its obscene superego underside and manipulating the process of transference with the totalitarian state. The term was used earlier, however, in Marry Ann Doane's seminal essay "Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator," where she considers how female spectators identify, overidentify, and counteridentify with women on screen who are seldom ascribed interiorities.

Žižek's psychoanalytic approach to subversive affirmation and over-identification is applied to the study of the work of Michael Moore, IRWIN, The Yes Men, Atelier Van Lieshout, and Christoph Schlingensief in a book edited by the Dutch collective BAVO in 2007.[5] In Brave New Avant Garde, Marc James Léger develops Žižek's theory in relation to Lacan's concept of the Sinthome and the Discourse of the Analyst (Four discourses), arguing that Social practice (art) can in some cases be understood in its connection to the Avant-garde.[6][7]


  1. ^ Inke Arns & Sylvia Sasse. Subversive Affirmation. On Mimesis as Strategy of Resistance. Editorial, spring 2006 issue of Maska, Ljubljana
  2. ^ Sylvia Sasse and Caroline Schramm. Totalitäre Literatur und subversive Affirmation. Welt der Slaven, 42, 1997, p. 306-327
  3. ^ a b Inke Arns and Sylvia Sasse. Subversive Affirmation. On Mimesis as Strategy of Resistance. In: IRWIN: East Art Map, London / Ljubljana 2005
  4. ^ Slavoj Žižek, 'Why Are Laibach and Neue Slowenische Kunst Not Fascists?' in The Universal Exception: Selected Writings, Volume Two (London: Continuum, [1993] 2006) 63-66.
  5. ^ BAVO, ed. Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-Identification (Rotterdam: Episode, 2007); see,
  6. ^
  7. ^ Marc James Léger, Brave New Avant Garde: Essays on Contemporary Art and Politics (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012)