Diet Soap Podcast on Roderick and the Political Unconscious

Here’s an old podcast from 2014 conducted with me by Douglas Lain, talking about the late Rick Roderick and my book The Political Unconscious.

The guest this week is professor and philosopher Noelle McAfee and we discuss her friendship with the late Rick Roderick and her book Democracy and the Political Unconscious.

You’ll hear a lot of clips of Rick Roderick in this episode as well as music from the Art of Noise, the theme from the motion picture The Candyman, Charles Ives 3 Quarter Tone Pieces, and Luc Ferrari’s Societe II.


By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. I’ll leave a longer post after I finish listening to your discussion with Douglas Lain; I am about halfway through. Recently, I came across an interview from 1978 that Marcuse gave to the BBC*, in which he was asked to comment on how Marxist and Freudian explanations could be combined, and I have to go back and compare his answer to your comments. My initial impression is that your notion of the ‘political unconscious’ complements what he said.

    (1978, #3, roughly starting at min 15)

  2. After listening to your discussion with Douglas Lain, I clicked on the ‘interviews’ tab to see if I could hear more from you, but unfortunately the links to your interviews with Christopher Long and Brad Rourke don’t seem to work. I am sorry for that, as I would have liked to hear more about from you on how the notion of the ‘political unconscious’ can be used to perform a kind of ‘talk therapy’ using available and emerging modes of communication to allow society’s repressed members to participate more actively in democracy. Your book seems to an optimistic one, but I am not sure, after seeing strongly repression seems to pervade our discourse (‘repression’ in a population, rather than in an individual, seems to me to be a realization of ‘power’ – as Foucault described it), that your optimism is justified. The self-repressing that populations seem to do is perhaps my biggest reason for pessimism.

    1. Thanks for listening, Saeed. I will try to correct those broken links. I understand your wariness about the optimism I expressed in the Doug Lain interview. Things have definitely take a turn for the worse. I’ve got a new book coming out in the next six months, I hope, that has a more sober outlook but also provides ways for communities to work through their troubles. >

  3. Thanks Noelle: I have another question. I am trying to understand where you are coming from with this concept of political unconscious, in comparison to what Jameson wrote about. I was looking for a ‘pithy’ definition of this notion in his book to confirm my understanding, and couldn’t find it so I am posting this from the Oxford reference site:

    ‘A concept created by Fredric Jameson to articulate the implicit political dimension of creative works. First proposed in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981), the political unconscious draws on and adapts Freud’s notion of wish-fulfilment and Lévi-Strauss’s notion of the savage mind (‘pensée sauvage’) to construct the hypothesis that artistic works can be seen as symbolic solutions to real but unconsciously felt social and cultural problems. The task of the cultural critic is then to find the means of reconstructing the original problem for which the text as symbolic act is a solution. ‘

    I don’t know if you agree with this, but it seems to me that your project in ‘Democracy and the Political Unconscious’ seemed broader, in that your audience went beyond the cultural critic, who would try to reconstruct hidden meanings from artistic works and literary texts, to the engaged social media consumer, and perhaps the political activist.

    Am I getting you right?

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