Cynicism vs. Kynicism

Posted: March 11, 2015 by abbyboynton in Uncategorized

In the “Cynicism as a Form of Ideology” section of The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek discusses the notion of cynicism and kynicism. He describes cynicism as a way of interpreting ideology which highlights the distance between the ideological mask and social reality without actually acknowledging it. He writes, “cynicism is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness,” which I understand as meaning the cynical subject understands the falsehood behind the particular ideology, but does not admit the falsehood of it. Zizek presents kynicism in opposition to cynicism, described as “the popular, plebeian rejection of the official culture by means of irony and sarcasm.” Kynicism is essentially the opposite of cynicism as it confronts those falsehoods of ideology that are masked by cynicism.

My interpretation of cynicism versus kynicism is that cynicism represents claims to power by those in power/those behind ideology while kynicism is a tool used by the multitudes to expose the lack of reality behind ideology. Cynicism is not a direct position of immorality but ignores the fact that there is a difference between ideology and reality. Kynicism, on the other hand, exposes and confronts the integrity of ideology. Zizek writes, “cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to this kynical subversion: it recognizes, it takes into account, the particular interest behind the ideological universality, the distance between the ideological mask and the reality, but it still finds reasons to retain the mask.” If we assume that ideology is a system which makes a claim to the truth, the cynical view masks those claims to truth while the kynical view aims to expose them.

  1. patterap says:

    This is a thoughtful distinction between these two ideas Zizek presents! I wonder if one can engange in kynicism while still promoting cynicism? Perhaps the hierarchy of the Baltimore Police Department can provide characters who understand that the chain of command and ideology of the police department is not one of fair reality, but they still practice it to maintain power anyway. The higher up one is in the Police Department hierarchy, the more reasons someone may have to “find reasons to retain the mask.” Do you think this could be applied to the Barksdale organization as well?


  2. faithebarter says:

    Abby, you’ve offered a wonderful summary and analysis of cynicism/kynicism! I wonder if you can think of any examples from popular culture that would help illustrate this model – how do genres like satire fit into the cynicism/kynicism structure that Zizek offers?


  3. This is a great analysis of this part of Zizek’s writing that definitely helped clear up this concept for me. I think it leads into an interesting discussion about the interaction between authority and the counterculture. The clearest example I can think of that reflects such an interaction is the conflict between the government and so-called “draft dodgers” during the Vietnam War. While the US government understood that their involvement in Vietnam had major moral implications, they nonetheless required compliance with those possibly dubious morals from those drafted. In contrast to the government’s “cynicism,” many Americans chose to avoid service due to their opposition to the morals at the crux of the war itself. Instead, these Americans exhibited “kynicism” by lampooning the government and ridiculing the war. I think that this example then raises questions about how and why this relationship may have changed since the 1960s.


  4. After discussing this in class I think that you were spot on with your analysis of cynicism/kynicism. This post succinctly clarifies what seems to be the key difference between the two forms of thinking. I also feel like a discussion of Zizek himself in terms of kynicism might be interesting here. I feel like Zizek would probably consider himself as one who practices kynicism, but I also wonder to what extend he (either consciously or subconsciously) practices in cynicism.


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