Desire as Geopolitics: Reading The Glass Room as Central European Fantasy

Desire as Geopolitics: Reading The Glass Room as Central European Fantasy Abstract The concept of Central Europe emerges from the tension between the aspiration for a Western identity and the failure to achieve it. This article analyzes The Glass Room, a novel by the British author Simon Mawer set in Brno, Czech Republic, as an artefact that sheds light on the affective dimension of this tension, as captured in the way the book speaks to the Central European desire for “Westernness.” Adopting a Lacanian perspective, I argue that The Glass Room functions as a geopolitical fantasy, bringing its Czech audiences the promise that the desired Western identity is within reach. However, this promise can never be fulfilled, since the substance of “Westernness” is too elusive to ever be possessed and is always dependent on the recognition of a Western audience. This oscillation between desire and its disappointment leads to the self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority, which is so often seen in the region. The article makes a broader contribution by showing how desire sustains and reproduces particular conceptions of space and what role pop-culture plays in this process. In this argument, the reproduction of a geopolitical imagination depends on its ability to capture subjects’ desire for a full and stable identity. First, we hear the dreamlike piano and see clouds reflecting on a glass surface. The video then shows a man sitting on a lonely chair inside an anonymous space reading aloud from a book and proceeds to slide over a number of black and white images of a distinctly modernist house. The man is the British author Simon Mawer, and the video was made on the occasion of the shortlisting of his novel The Glass Room for the Man Booker Prize in 2009. “The Glass Room is about a house in Central Europe,” Mawer starts, describing the novel (Man Booker Prize 2009), which became an international bestseller and gained both popular and critical acclaim in a number of different countries, including the Czech Republic, where most of the plot takes place. While the story is fictional, the actual house is modeled on the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, the second largest town in the Czech Republic. A famous example of the interwar “International Style,” the building was constructed by the superstar architect Mies van der Rohe in 1928–30 and served its original purpose only briefly as its owners, the Jewish-German entrepreneur family Tugendhat, fled Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazi occupation. The first half of The Glass Room focuses on the marriage of the two main characters, Viktor and Liesel Landauer, and is set in the 1920s and 1930s in “Město” (Czech for “city”), a name used by the author to fictionalize Brno. This veiling, however, is a very thin one, as the novel otherwise sticks to real street names and offers well-researched depictions of social and political life in interwar Czechoslovakia. In other words, there is no doubt that Město really is Brno, as Mawer's Landauer House “makes no attempt not to be the Tugendhat Villa, which really does stand in Brno” (Vaughan 2010). In the latter part of the novel, which takes place in 1939–90, Mawer switches between the parallel lives of the Landauers in their Swiss, Cuban, and American exiles, and the house and its inhabitants in Město/Brno. The novel is simultaneously a story about love and loss, hope and aspiration, art and architecture, and even modernity in general. For this article, however, it is most important that The Glass Room also offers a particular reading of Czech history, constructing political subjects and endowing them with power, agency, responsibility, or guilt. As such, it presents potent material for a political analysis as a “popular artefact [that] may reveal key dynamics underpinning contemporary politics” (Grayson 2013, 380)—in this case, the dynamics of Czech geopolitical identities. Locating the novel within a Czech discursive context and reading it through the perspective of a Czech audience, a move that is justified by the book's focus on the history of the country, this article looks at how The Glass Room reflects and reproduces the geopolitical desire present in the way Czechs imagine their belonging to the West.1 I will show that the narrative of the novel is grounded in a geopolitical imagination based on the familiar East/West binary, in which modernity, progress, and rationality are coded as Western, while the East is presented as backward, violent, and irrational. The Glass Room represents a distinctly Central European version of this imagination, in which history becomes a struggle between the supposedly Western character of local societies and the recurring Eastern influence that endangers it (Kundera 1984). The Glass Room is thus analyzed as an instance of a broader geopolitical imagination, through which shared visions of global politics are reproduced. In making this argument, I engage with the prolific literature on critical geopolitics in general and popular geopolitics in particular (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992; Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). I speak also to international relations’ (IR’s) growing interest in popular culture, especially to the works that see popular culture as an important part of the “popular culture-world politics continuum,” in which “significant political battles are fought” (Grayson, Davies, and Philpott 2009, 157). The broader contribution of this article, which makes it relevant beyond debates on Central Europe, lies in its incorporation of desire into the analysis of geopolitical imagination. I argue that the power of imaginary geographies depends and relies on desire for identity and recognition. Following the call for “emotional geopolitics” (Pain 2009) and the affects/emotions turn in IR (for reviews see Bleiker and Hutchison 2014; Hutchison 2016; Koschut 2017), I present a framework that integrates affective aspects into the study of (popular) geopolitics. The argument is based on the theories of Jacques Lacan, which provide an explicit conceptualization of the links between identity, desire, imagination, and language. Despite its notable potential, as highlighted by Slater (1994, 236), Dittmer (2010, 49), and Kingsbury and Pile (2014, 215), the use of Lacanian approaches has been “rather rare” in critical geopolitics (Klinke 2016, 91). The article develops this potential, building on a range of Lacanian scholarship from social and political theory, geography, cultural studies, psychology, and IR, where the interest in Lacan seems to be in the ascendant (e.g., Edkins 2000, 2003; Epstein 2011; Solomon 2015; Zevnik 2016). The Lacanian perspective allows us to move beyond the standard work on critical geopolitics in general, and the role of “the West” in Central European imagination in particular (Neumann 1999; Drulák 2006a; Kuus 2007), by focusing on the affective economy of desire that underpins it. In more general terms, the article addresses the question of how desire sustains and reproduces particular conceptions of space and what role pop-culture plays in this process. Therefore, the contribution of this article lies also in connecting different debates in international political sociology (IPS). It brings together Lacanian IR, on the one hand, and work on popular culture in IR and critical geopolitics, on the other, an encounter that is strangely missing given the key importance of Slavoj Žižek's work for both Lacanian political theory and the wider field of cultural studies. It also contributes to broader debates about identity by utilizing Lacan's concept of the “mirror stage” to show how the subject's fixation with an idealized image of themselves produces the unfulfillable desire for a perfect identity, eventually fueling the vicious circle of oscillation between feelings of equally excessive inferiority and superiority. In the following analysis, The Glass Room is read together with its reception in Czech reviews and situated against the intertextual background of a dominant Czech geopolitical imagination, which conceives the Czechs as essentially Western yet still failing to achieve a full degree of “Westernness.” The Glass Room fills the concept of “Westernness” with a strongly positive—desirable—content based on an idealized narrative of interwar Czechoslovakia and its juxtaposition with the horrific alternatives of German National Socialism or Soviet Communism. By portraying the Czechoslovak First Republic of 1918–38 as an essentially Western state, it further fuels the desire for “Westernness” by showing its apparent accessibility: if the Czechs were Western once, they can recapture this lost identity and become Western again. I argue that The Glass Room also functions as a particularly interesting site of this otherwise widespread imagination, as it offers the Czech audience a story that builds on familiar local narratives but is, at the same time, being told by an acclaimed Western author. Not only does the novel present a story of Czech “Westernness” and its subsequent loss but through The Glass Room, the West can also speak back and authorize the Czech identity narrative from a Western perspective. In other words, the novel functions as a mirror that is able to absorb and reflect the Czech desire and gratify it with recognition. As the analysis of book reviews demonstrates, this Western recognition presents a particularly important interpretive frame for its Czech readers. By playing into the desire for “Westernness” and for recognition, The Glass Room provides the dominant geopolitical imagination with an affective appeal, which helps to stabilize and reproduce it. The argument proceeds in four steps. In the first section, I show how Lacanian theory develops the central themes of critical geopolitics, namely the construction of geopolitical identities and the reproduction of a particular geopolitical imagination. Second, I outline the notion of “a kidnapped West” as a focal point of a dominant Central European geopolitical imagination. In the third part, I offer an interpretive Lacanian reading of The Glass Room and its reviews, showing how the novel functions as a fantasy that supports and sustains the Czech geopolitical imagination. Fourth, I draw out the problematic political consequences of this desire-driven geopolitics, demonstrating how it contributes to the ultimately self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority. The conclusion then summarizes and qualifies the argument. Geopolitical Imagination, Geopolitical Desire Critical geopolitics, an essentially interdisciplinary project borrowing from geography, IR, and social and political theory, has been digging into the constructed nature of the spatial dimension of world politics since the late 1980s. Distancing itself from the environmental determinism of classical geopolitics, critical geopolitics defines its subject as “the study of socio-cultural resources and rules by which geographies of international politics get written” (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992, 193). Geography is no longer seen as immutable or given. The central question moves from what geography does to world politics to how we conceive of world politics in geographic terms. The key argument of critical geopolitics is that our spatial conception of the world is the result of hegemonic discourses that define the “common sense” in a particular social setting. Consequently, “a group of people can be said to have similar (if ultimately unique) visions of the world” (Dittmer and Dodds 2008, 447). Different concepts are used to capture these intersubjective understandings, of which the most common are “imagined geography” (Said 1978), “geographical imaginary” (Kuus 2007), and “geopolitical imagination” (Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). For reasons of consistency, I use geopolitical imagination throughout the article and understand it as a shared constellation of meanings that produces a particular vision of world politics with reference to geographic categories. Geopolitical imagination is constitutive not only of the world as a political arena but also of the identities of different subjects within it (Ó Tuathail 1996). People define their very selves through references to geography, for example as Europeans, Germans, and Bavarians. This is where Lacanian theory brings added value, since it is precisely the questions of subjectivity and identity that are the central concern of Lacan's version of psychoanalysis (Lacan 1977). Lacanians agree with the more established discourse-theoretical work in critical geopolitics that identity is constituted only within and through language and practice (Müller 2008). However, they also move beyond it in their explicit focus on the affective economy of desire, which underlies the process of identity construction (Stavrakakis 2007; Solomon 2015). A Lacanian approach thus offers a specific perspective on the “affective turn” in IPS and the social sciences in general, one that is especially strong in its explicit theorization of the relationship between discourse, affect, and identity (for detailed discussions see Stavrakakis 2007; Solomon 2015; Holland and Solomon 2014). In this view, affect and discourse are ontologically separate, yet intimately intertwined. Affect is itself nondiscursive, it is an amorphous and largely unconscious bodily intensity (Holland and Solomon 2014, 264), or a “quantum of libidinal energy” that circulates through bodies (Glynos and Stavrakakis 2008, 267). However, to gain social and political relevance, affect needs to be translated into discourse and transformed into already socially constructed phenomena such as emotions or desires.2 Thereby, the symbolic form of a discourse, for example all the narratives, images, and ideas that constitute a particular geopolitical imagination, is supported and reproduced by the affective force that is translated into the discourse in the form of desire for a particular identity (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 148–50; Stavrakakis 2007, 87, 192–96). Identity is thus dependent not only on the discursive tropes of a geopolitical imagination as standard critical geopolitics would have it but also on the affective element—mediated by desire—which binds subjects to a particular geopolitical imagination. In Lacanian theory, identities are inevitably insecure and unstable. There is no biological or spiritual essence that would guarantee our identity from “inside-out.” Instead of a static property of collectives and individuals, identity is conceptualized as a dynamic process of repetitive, ultimately failing identifications with socially available resources that are adopted “outside-in” and through which subjects attempt to escape the anxiety of the absence of a stable sense of self (Hook 2013, 40; Solomon 2015, 16). First, people identify in relation to an imaginary “ideal-ego,” a projection of an idealized version of themselves. Lacan discusses this in his famous “mirror stage,” where a child first gains a coherent sense of personhood when they recognize themselves in a mirror. Unlike their experience of fragmented limbs, the mirror presents them with a complete and whole image of a body (Lacan 2002). This experience is also a source of fundamental alienation, as the conception of self as a whole person is correlative with the acknowledgment of the gap between the body and its always more perfect version in the mirror. At a later stage of life, the actual mirror is replaced with an imaginary reflection of ourselves in the gaze of others. Our identity becomes grounded in recognition by an audience: “we behave to be observed: to produce ourselves as subjects within the social or symbolic order. Without the audience, we are nothing” (Edkins 2003, 368, emphasis in original). Therefore, as the gap between the self and the literal or metaphorical mirror shows, the search for identity is accompanied by the frustrating experience of its fundamental impossibility. Identity is always beyond reach and control. This is further exacerbated by our step into the symbolic system of language, which then starts structuring our social world. Our own identity becomes dependent on the acceptance of certain signifiers—our given name and predicates such as “mother,” “teacher,” “American” (Epstein 2011; Solomon 2015). The distance from the ideal image of ourselves becomes further complicated by the role of language in defining the expectations about who we are supposed to be, for example as specified in narratives associated with particular identities (how one has to look and act to be recognized as a “proper” mother, teacher, American). Thereby, the particular and empirically existing significant others—other people—are accompanied by the anonymous Other of the symbolic order, the impersonal system of rules that organizes the structure of language and society (Hook 2013). The externality of our identity is thus twofold, as it not only depends on intersubjective recognition by a significant other but also has to be mediated through a symbolic system, of which geopolitical imagination is one particular example. Identification is therefore an ongoing search for recognition, fueled by our desire for a stable identity, which always occurs within a particular symbolic system. This desire is reproduced in fantasies, defined as intersubjective, imaginary or narrative scenarios, which stage the fulfilment of this identity-searching by presenting it in terms of the achievement of a certain “object” (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 1999; Glynos 2008; Arfi 2010; Eberle 2017). Thereby, the desire for identity is refocused onto an apparently available “thing,” which can be a literal object (iPhone, luxury car), a quality or a state (coolness, health), or even a political concept (justice, freedom). In fantasies, the capturing of this “object” promises the satisfaction of our desire and the achievement of a stable identity, which is supposed to trigger the intense affective experience of what Lacan calls enjoyment (jouissance); “a satisfaction so excessive that it becomes painful” (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 148–50). For example, in his pioneering elaboration of a geopolitical fantasy, Klinke (2016) shows how the Western male fantasy of the online-orderable “Russian bride” constructs “the slippery substance of Easternness” as the object of desire. The “Russian bride” is fantasized as possessing an intrinsic quality—understood in terms of a controllable and sexually available housewife—which promises Western men the recapturing of their supposedly “traditional” identity, which was dislocated by the emancipation of Western women, and, indeed, experiencing the enjoyment that is supposed to come with it. The basic pattern of a fantasy can have many different variations, which have been outlined and explored especially in the work of Slavoj Žižek (1997) and Yannis Stavrakakis (1999, 2007). For the purposes of this article, two fantasy tropes are of particular relevance. First, political fantasies often rely on the notion of a lost “golden age,” a mythical period when a political community (typically a nation) was able to realize and enjoy itself in its “true” identity (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 153). This imaginary past is then used as a resource for current political projects, which promise the recapturing of this “golden age.” This idea of returning to a time “when things were still right” is clearly visible in the fantasy of the “Russian bride” but also in the nostalgic discourses of the Brexiteers or Donald Trump. In this way, the “object” of a fantasy is pictured as something that already was in “our” possession “back then”: all we need to do is get it back. Second, apart from projecting the desired state, fantasies often also offer a justification why we are not able to achieve it. This is typically done by blaming an antagonistic other, who is painted as having “stolen” the object of desire (and with it also our enjoyment) and thereby compromised our very identity (Žižek 1997). Desire is thereby transformed into a combination of anger, hate, awe, or fear and directed toward the other, who is often portrayed with obsessive focus on the body, hygiene, and sexuality. For Žižek, the classical examples are Jews in anti-Semite discourses and immigrants in current nativist narratives. Both are constructed as corrupting the national purity, as barbaric, dirty and yearning to seduce or even rape “our” women (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 2007). In this way, the desire for the “object” is easily transformed into hating those who are supposed to have stolen it. As will become clear, both of these tropes are prominent in the Czech geopolitical imagination. To sum up, the Lacanian theory of identification thus revolves around the triangular interplay between the subject in search of an identity, the symbolic “object” that promises its achievement, and the imaginary audience that is the ultimate source of recognition. Geopolitical imagination provides the stage and the resources for this desire-infused play of identification by coding in geographical terms both the identities of the self and the audience, and the “substances” that constitute the fantasized “object.” Geopolitical imagination thus makes particular fantasies possible by providing a culturally recognizable content for the construction of identities and “objects.” In turn, these fantasies stabilize and reproduce the given geopolitical imagination by infusing it with desire and forcing subjects to identify with symbolic resources that are part of it. In short, while fantasy needs imagination for its content, imagination needs fantasy to “grip” subjects affectively, thereby imposing itself as “common sense” (Glynos 2001). Therefore, Lacanian theory shows us how the power of common-sense geography of the world depends on our desire for identity and recognition and thereby brings new theoretical insights into how geopolitical imaginations are imposed, stabilized, and reproduced. The interplay of geopolitical knowledge-production and the desire-infused economy of identification takes place in various locales. Critical geopolitics traditionally distinguishes between formal (systematic theorizing), practical (political argumentation), and popular geopolitics (pop-culture), arguing that while geographies are written at different sites, there are intertextual linkages connecting all of them (Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). From a Lacanian perspective, popular culture is a particularly important site for identification, as it is precisely here that collective desires are best reproduced and circulated. Popular culture does not merely imitate politics but presents an arena in which political battles are fought (Grayson et al. 2009). Through its appeal to imagination and employment of aesthetic techniques, popular culture functions as a social “dream factory” and provides particularly attractive resources to identify with. By identifying with a hero, a plot, or a general context of a novel or a film, we are able to “experience”—and, subsequently, accept—particular geopolitics as “natural.” “A Kidnapped West”: Czech Geopolitical Imagination A popular artefact can be productively analyzed on its own, but it is often only when juxtaposed within broader contexts that the most interesting political aspects become visible. This is also the case with The Glass Room, which intertextually draws upon and, in turn, speaks to a Czech geopolitical imagination, which portrays the Czechs as a “kidnapped West” (Kundera 1984). Such self-conception is part of a broader, well-analyzed notion of Central Europe as a region defined by its position on “an East-West slope of Eastness and Europeanness” (Kuus 2007, 22; similarly also Neumann 1999; Moisio 2002; Todorova 2009). This divides the world into the West proper and a series of Easts, differentiated from one another according to their level of similarity/difference with the Western core. Importantly, “East” and “West” are constructed in cultural, rather than physical-geographical terms (Kuus 2007, x; Neumann 1999, 146; Todorova 2009, 48). Central Europe thus becomes a “moral language” (Moisio 2002, 102), in which geography serves above all as a canvass for the projection of civilizational arguments. In this imagination, “Central Europe is not a state: it is a culture or a fate” (Kundera 1984, 35). Crucially, this classification is not merely an alien Orientalist discourse imposed by the West. On the contrary, it is negotiated, internalized, and even strategically used also by those inscribed as Central Europeans (Kuus 2007, 22).3 While “center” implies in-betweenness, the Czech imagination of Central Europe is turned unequivocally toward the West. The Czech historian Jan Křen argues that the persuasion that the Czechs belong to the West was dominant already in the nineteenth century (Křen 2005, 20). The geopolitical projects of two leading intellectuals and politicians, the founder of the interwar Czechoslovak state, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and his self-styled successor, Václav Havel, were both based on the notion that “Czechoslovakia belongs to the democratic West” (Drulák 2006a, 428). For Milan Kundera, Central Europeans “had always considered themselves to be Western”—until they were “kidnapped” by the Russian East (Kundera 1984, 33). As was already foreshadowed, the West obtains a very distinct meaning in this geopolitical imagination. While still a “geographically delimited territory,” “it is of equal, if not greater, importance to define the West in terms of its values and culture . . . [such as] the rule of law, respect for human rights, a democratic political system, and economic freedom” (Havel 2001). The West and Europe (which are used interchangeably; Kundera [1984, 33] even sees them as synonymous) thus signify positive and superior values; they are “the horizon of regained humanity and freedom” (Longinović 2011, 77). The relation to the West highlights the ambivalences and tensions within the geopolitical imagination. If the West is a “spiritual notion” and being Western/European the “essence” of Central European identity (Kundera 1984, 33), why use the in-between notion of Central Europe at all? In Kundera's time, the Iron Curtain was the answer, making it possible to picture the region as “culturally in the West and politically in the East” (Kundera 1984, 33). The Cold War drew a barrier, one that was at the same time physical, political, and intellectual, which separated the Czechs and other Central Europeans from the West proper. Since the 1990s, this was creatively adapted in the program of the “return to Europe” (Havel 1990; Drulák 2006b; Moisio 2007), where Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic) was seen as belonging by cultural association. As a result of the interruption of their supposedly “natural” historical development, caused by the Nazis and the Soviets, the Czechs are Western in their essence but still need to demonstrate, deserve, and prove these credentials. This produces the hybrid identity of Czechs as “Almosteuropeans” (Třeštík 1999)—or Almostwesterners—longing “to be recognised as fully equal members of the West” (Slačálek 2016, 35). In this sense, a culturally defined Central Europe always implies “a waiting room between Eastern Europe and Europe proper” (Kuus 2007, 16). Reading this geopolitical imagination through a Lacanian lens, it contains all the basic elements of the psychoanalytical theory of identification and, therefore, offers good resources for the construction of fantasies. It produces uncertain and ambivalent identities (the fragile “in-betweenness” of Central Europe) and offers “Westernness” as a suitable “object” around which geopolitical fantasies can be built. The West is further positioned as the target audience whose recognition is sought (also Slačálek 2016), as only the West proper is capable of authorizing the Central Europeans’ achievement of “Westernness.” Therefore, for Central Europeans held by this imagination, to acquire a stable identity prescribes the dual task of recapturing “Westernness” and being recognized as Western by the Westerners themselves. It is then the function of fantasies to picture “Westernness” in terms that would make it appealing and apparently achievable, so as to be able to attract desire that would then stabilize and reproduce this geopolitical imagination. In the Czech context, particularly salient is a nostalgic “golden age” fantasy that provides an idealized depiction of the 1918–38 period in Czechoslovak history, widely referred to as the “First Republic,” which is also where key parts of the plot of The Glass Room are situated. In Czech discourses, including even large parts of post-1990 historiography, the First Republic is portrayed as an essentially European and Western “island of democracy” and a zone of prosperity in the midst of an unstable region (Holubec 2014; Koeltzsch and Konrád 2016). Kundera remembers the First Republic as the Czechs’ “last direct personal experience of the West” (1984, 36). Analogically, using very similar terms as in his abovementioned definition of the West, Havel sees the “legacy” of the First Republic in terms of “parliamentary democracy, the idea of the rule of law, orientation on Western liberal civilisation . . . tolerance, politeness, humanity and shared responsibility for public affairs” (Havel 1993). This memorialization suggests that the Czechs were already Western once (Slovaks, Germans, and other nations of Czechoslovakia are often marginalized or absent in these narratives). This implies that the Czechs are essentially capable of being Western again and that, therefore, “Westernness” is always within reach and the desire for it can potentially be satisfied. In short, this idealized narrative of the First Republic has the structure of a geopolitical fantasy, as it paints “Westernness” as both desirable and within reach; features that are particularly strong in The Glass Room. The Glass Room as Geopolitical Fantasy Fantasy depictions of the First Republic as a “golden age” are commonplace in Czech popular culture. Countless examples could be cited, including novels and short stories by the often-translated authors Bohumil Hrabal and Ota Pavel or, more recently, two high-budget TV series broadcasted by Czech public television, Bohéma (“Bohemia”, 2017) and První republika (“First Republic”, 2014 and 2017). What makes The Glass Room particularly interesting—and therefore important to analyze—is its Western origin. Because of its own “Westernness,” the novel provides a markedly different context for the construction of geopolitical identities. It allows capturing not only of the symbolic dimension of identification (the production of “Westernness” as the object of desire), which is widespread in Czech pop-culture, but also—and crucially—the aspect of recognition by a desired other, something that no Czech pop-cultural artefact could ever provide. As a Western novel, it can function as a mirror, reflecting back the Czech desire for recognition in the voice of the very audience whose recognition is being sought. Therefore, The Glass Room makes three moves through which it pushes Czech subjects to identify with its story, which is constructed from the resources of—and thus supports—the geopolitical imagination of “a kidnapped West.” First, by locating “Westernness” in the First Republic era, it portrays it as something that Czechs are capable of possessing. Second, by constructing the “Westernness” of the First Republic in strongly appealing terms it makes it a suitable object of desire. Third, and rather uniquely, since interwar Czechoslovakia is indeed not a common subject of Western popular culture, the novel serves as a source of Western recognition. The Glass Room thus presents a fantasy scenario, in which the desire for a stable identity, as promised in the notion of “Westernness,” apparently reaches its fulfilment. The following analysis proceeds in three parts. In the first two, I focus on the construction of the “Westernness” of the First Republic and the portrayal of the horrific consequences of its loss. In the third, I examine the mirror function of the novel by looking at its reception by Czech reviewers, a move that helps us establish the resonance of the narrative with its Czech audience. “A More Perfect Golden Age”: Westernness Possessed There is no doubt that The Glass Room portrays the First Republic as a golden era of Czech history. In the words of its characters, it was “a more perfect golden age” and “a mythic epoch of luxury and freedom” (Mawer 2009, 100, 334). It is seen as a modern, tolerant, democratic, and cosmopolitan state, echoing both Havel's and Kundera's definitions of the West and confirming the argument that in the Czech geopolitical imagination, the principles of “Western universalism” are seen as the sole source of Central European modernity (Slačálek 2016, 34–35). Through such depictions, The Glass Room presents its Czech audiences with images of enjoyment that are connected to the possession of “Westernness.” The First Republic is pictured as a “state in which being Czech or German or Jew would not matter, in which democracy would prevail and art and science would combine to bring happiness to all people” (Mawer 2009, 26). Echoing the metaphor of an “island,” Viktor Landauer, one of the main characters of the book, describes “our own country . . . which ensures a stable democracy in the heart of Europe” (118). Beside explicitly political language, the novel connects the First Republic to a set of positive attributes related to youth, dynamism, and hope. Describing a train station in Město/Brno, the text builds a parallel between the politics of the state and the busy life observed by the characters: “the bustle of people coming and going, the taxi cabs stuttering past, the trams clanging and grinding along the Bahnring, the whole energy and enthusiasm of the new republic” (27). Examples of cultural achievements of that time are often mentioned, of which the Villa Tugendhat—or the Landauer House, as it is called in the novel—is one. Viktor also reads the liberal-democratic daily, Lidové noviny. Liesel and her friend Hana Hanáková are regulars in the modernist Café Zeman. The leading democratic author and journalist of that time, Karel Čapek, is explicitly referenced in the title of one chapter, and Leoš Janáček's music is being played in the house. These tropes are also reflected in the personal traits of the main characters of the book. Viktor and Liesel understand themselves as thoroughly modern, which is best epitomized in their desire for a home built upon the principles of geometry, light, and openness. It is particularly Viktor who is defined by his “vision of the future, his desire not to be pinned down by race or creed, his determination to speak Czech as well as German . . . his talk of inovace and pokrok, innovation and progress” (20, emphasis in original). A dynamic businessman, traveling by car and plane, he believes in “a world of peace and trade, where the only battles fought are battles for market share” (82). Liesel, whose physical appearance mirrors the modern aesthetic of the “roaring twenties,” stays at home, but she is at the same time cultured and independent enough to write a rebuttal to a critique of their house published in a journal of architecture. A reflection of their cosmopolitan selves, their children speak Czech and German, “move easily from one language to the other,” following Viktor's creed that “they must be brought up as citizens of the world” (89). Liesel's best friend, Hana Hanáková, presents an alternative version of Liesel's rational and somewhat cold vision of an independent modern woman. This is best epitomized in Hana's unconventional manners, her desire to shock, and her series of affairs with both men and women. Altogether, the Landauers and Hana are the embodiment of a liberal, open-minded, and cultured society. They are a perfect definition of “Westernness” as outlined by Havel or Kundera. To further highlight these points, The Glass Room juxtaposes the rationality, dynamism, and modernity of the First Republic with the past of the Habsburg Empire and the presence of the interwar Austrian Republic, both of which are coded as opulent, decaying, excessive, and unstable. This contrast is personified by the difference between the Landauers, on the one hand, and Liesel's parents, on the other. While Liesel's mother cherishes her portrait by Gustav Klimt, Viktor is fascinated by the abstractions of Mondrian. When the mother voices nostalgia for Austria-Hungary, Liesel responds that “the monarchy was moribund long before Herr Klimt painted you. It just took a long time dying” (33). This differentiation is further replicated in the descriptions of Vienna, where Viktor often goes for business and to cheat on his wife. In the words of one of Viktor's associates, Město/Brno is characterized by a “good business culture and a modern outlook on life,” which makes it very much “[n]ot like Vienna. Vienna is hidebound by tradition and cursed by Communism” (115). While Město/Brno looks to the future, Vienna is “a city of faded glories and dying significance” (125). It is then no surprise that the end of the First Republic is territorialized as coming precisely from the German-annexed Austria. It is in the direction of Austria that Viktor stares with anxiety after the Anschluss of 1938, realizing that the “Nazis are no more than fifty kilometres away from us here in our nice safe house” (134). Wrapped in the metaphorical language of “rough tides,” “storm,” or “disaster” bound to destroy the “ship” that is Landauer House (100, 167, 168, 179), the end of the First Republic is presented as inevitable. Nostalgia is here coupled with a heavy dose of fatalism, best reflected in the remark that in “our part of the world . . . Empires come and go, countries come and go, people come and go” (135). In tune with the imagination of “a kidnapped West,” the essentially Western First Republic is washed away by foreign barbarism. While the Landauers escape to the West proper and finally settle in the United States, the others, often reduced to mere reflections of their former Western selves, are forced to get used to their “kidnapping.” “The Dark Void of Humiliation”: Westernness Lost I have argued that one of the typical forms of a fantasy is a narrative of why the object of our desire is inaccessible, suggesting there is someone else to be blamed for its destruction or “theft.” This trope is present already in Kundera's (1984) essay, where the loss of “Westernness” is the result of Central Europe's “kidnapping” by the East. Soviet Russia is here the horrific perpetrator, one marked by “brutality” and “terrifying foreignness” (Kundera 1984, 34). While Kundera's language is graphic and can even be described as racist (Todorova 2009, 145), it is nowhere near the depictions offered in The Glass Room. Extensively relying on sex as a tool of subjugation and a source of enjoyment that is so manifestly being taken from the “kidnapped” Czechoslovaks, the novel pictures a series of others that are blamed for the loss of the Western essence: German and Russian occupiers and even the “inner other” in the figure of the opportunist Czech housekeeper Josef Laník. First come the Germans, who are coded as barbaric, brutal, irrational, and, therefore, definitely not Western—regardless of Germany's position on the map. Under the occupation, the Czechs are reduced to selling their bodies to their new masters. As Hana Hanáková puts it, “Everyone here is a whore in some way. The whole damned country is reduced to whoredom” (Mawer 2009, 253). Hana's own way is through an “arrangement” with Werner Stahl, an SS officer. German occupants thus not only have the whole country at their disposal; through people like Werner, they also possess and dominate the very bodies of the former Czechoslovaks. Deprived of any meaningful sense of subjectivity, these are reduced to objects serving the realization of the imperial and sexual desires of their masters. The total extent of this domination becomes apparent when Hana confronts Werner with her pregnancy and gets beaten and anally raped in response: “It's a sudden thing, the resistance breached and a void beyond, the dark void of her humiliation. . . . She gives a cry of outrage and pain and he knows an instant of irrational ecstasy more intense than anything before” (280). In this ultimately horrific vision of what happens when “Westernness” is lost, even whoring to the Germans is not enough. The new masters can do whatever they want and take pleasure in their perverse domination, which gives them an enjoyment “more intense than anything before.” The humiliation does not stop here, as Werner eventually ensures that Hana is sent to a concentration camp. The baby dies there. Next come the Russians, whose arrival in 1945 is described as an exchange of invaders rather than a liberation. While the Germans have the usual properties of cultured villains, the Russians are marked as outright Oriental. They have “the look of Asia about their features. Where have they come from, how many thousands of miles have they crossed to reach here, the place at the epicentre of Europe?” (321). While the Germans use Landauer House for scientific research, the Russians bring in their horses. The subjugation of the former West is again played out in sex, this time between the housekeeper, Josef Laník, and the arch-Orientalized commander, Yevgeniya. “You could imagine her standing outside a yurt on a desolate Mongolian plane, or riding a horse bare-back into battle” (321). The act is not exactly consensual, as Laník submits to Yevgeniya's advances chiefly because of fear for his life and possessions, and the pleasure is certainly not shared: “Laník is enveloped in the smell of horses and the scent of ordure, gripped by armpits and groins, enveloped by lips and legs. He feels that he might suffocate, that he might explode, that he will die” (324). Providing an arsenal of graphic illustrations to Kundera's vision, The Glass Room, once again, stages non-Western intruders as taking pleasure from sexual domination of the very bodies of the “kidnapped Westerners.” Apart from the ruthless invaders, The Glass Room also presents the reader with an “internal other”: the sly and opportunist housekeeper Josef Laník. An anti-Semite who loathed his Jewish employer Viktor, Laník would later do anything just to get by. He effectively stands for a nation deprived of its “Westernness,” an empty and cowardly shell capable of anything. “YOU'VE GOT TO TAKE YOUR OPPORTUNITIES,” he shouts at his sister, when explaining why he engages in illegal trade and makes profit from the wartime shortage and suffering (313). Mimicking the ways of the Germans and the Russians, Laník also uses sex as a tool of domination and exploitation: “Laník understands the cost of everything. . . . When a young woman from a nearby house comes for powdered milk for her baby the calculation is easy. He takes her down the outside steps and into the basement” (317). In Laník, the novel paints the horrific scenario of what “kidnapping” does to the Czechs; how some of them give up their “Westernness” in exchange for petty little pleasures. While the best, such as Liesel, Viktor, and Hana, either flee or suffer terribly, the worst use the opportunity and become complicit in their own subjugation by effectively becoming identical with the “Eastern” invaders. The contrast to the “Western” grace of the First Republic could hardly be any stronger. “These Fates Have Really Happened”: Recognition and Resonance The previous two sections addressed the symbolic aspects of identification by focusing on how The Glass Room portrays Czech history in terms of the initial possession and subsequent loss of the desired “Westernness.” In the following paragraphs, I move to the aspect of recognition, which is based on Lacan's conception of the mirror stage. The Glass Room is caught within a complex feedback loop of narratives and desires flowing between Czech society and its Western significant other, of which the book is a product, but which it also further reproduces. The ambiguous staging of the novel as one that is about Czechs, yet written by a well-recognized British author, positions it well to play the mirror function: it absorbs the national narrative of the First Republic and reflects it back toward its original Czech audience. Thereby, it brings the promise that Czechs will be recognized as Western “in the eyes of those we love” (Kundera 1984, 37), finally satisfying the desire for a full identity. Due to its Western origin, The Glass Room can do what a local narrative cannot—it can occupy the position of the significant other and grant recognition. Do Czechs recognize themselves in The Glass Room? While no discourse is ever accepted uniformly and without resistance, written reflections in seventeen Czech reviews, gathered through online and database searches, suggest that many of them do.4 The analysis of reviews thus brings significant added value, as it supports previous arguments about the presence of the geopolitical fantasy in the novel by the observation that this fantasy actually resonates with its Czech audience. In fact, one of the persistent features in the debate and a key prism for reading The Glass Room in the Czech context, is the appreciation of the novel's supposed authenticity and the author's knowledge of local history and culture—rather than the universal questions of art, love, and aspiration that are typically discussed in the British reviews (Kelly 2009; Sansom 2009). In other words, The Glass Room is often read almost as a history textbook. This is apparent in the promotional strategy of Kniha Zlín, its Czech publisher. While the two different covers of English editions use figural paintings and quotes from reviews, both Czech editions utilize images of the real Villa Tugendhat, one of them selling the novel as “inspired by the actual destiny” of the house. The translation authoritatively intervenes in the novel by replacing Mawer's pseudonym “Město” with Brno—apparently without consulting and against the will of the author (aho 2009). Kniha Zlín's website also claims that the novel “mirrors the tragedy of the whole Czech nation” and highlights the author's “brilliant” capturing of “Czechoslovak reality” (Kniha Zlín n.d.). Most of the reviews accept this emphasis, speaking favorably of Mawer's deep understanding of Czech history. Thus, in Lacanian terms, they appear to recognize the mirror image and identify with the fantasy of The Glass Room. Some of them even call it a “Czech” novel, occasionally using quotation marks to signal the ambivalence (Horáčková 2009; Němec 2009; Nezbeda 2010). Mawer's “foreign” status is often highlighted when appreciating “how aptly and still easily the British author manages to transmit Czechoslovak history, the atmosphere of Brno under the First Republic and the Protectorate” (Horáčková 2009). Delving into the story, “[t]he reader has the opportunity to follow a unique testimony of the time and to shake their head in awe how greatly the British author depicted not only the destiny of the villa, but also the city of Brno, Czech expressions, Czech history, culture and politics” (Huřťáková Hašková 2013). The Glass Room is even seen as capturing “Czechness” itself (Kadlecová 2009, quotation marks in the original), an interpretation that demonstrates how deeply the book speaks to the question of identity—and, crucially, that it is actually being read that way by the Czech audience. The identification with the mirror image becomes almost flawless: “Just like he [the reader] recognises Brno, it seems that he also recognises the heroes of the book, that even these fates have really happened. No exaggeration or, conversely, black and white psychology” (Hauerová 2010, emphasis added). The resonance of the geopolitical fantasy of “Westernness” can be further demonstrated by showing which particular aspects of Mawer's description of the First Republic are mentioned when the authenticity of the mirror image is contemplated. Unsurprisingly, it is again the “typically Western” attributes of democracy, cosmopolitanism, culture, dynamism, or tolerance. One reviewer lauds the “faithful description of the intellectual and political atmosphere of the First Republic, the enthusiasm for everything new, the faith in the coexistence of nations and a great future, in which it would not matter if one is Jew, German, or Czech, since he would be a citizen of the world” (Nezbeda 2010). Very similarly, one blogger concludes that Mawer successfully approximates “the atmosphere of Czechoslovak society of the 1920s, this young democracy full of hope and ideals, this self-confident and economically developing state, where it did not matter what nationality one has, what his mother tongue is or what his confession is” (Brabcová 2013). Therefore, when reading The Glass Room, many of the reviewers see the reflection of their Western selves of the past, acknowledged and mediated by an acclaimed Western writer. While the analysis of book reviews indeed cannot speak for the attitude of every single reader, it shows that the mirror erected by The Glass Room works rather well in the discourses that are available at hand. Always Already Almostwestern The Glass Room presents a particularly clear and, judging by the reviews, resonant example of the fantasy narrative of the First Republic, which supports the geopolitical imagination of Central Europe as a “kidnapped West.” Speaking to the “critical” in critical geopolitics, the pending question is what makes this politically problematic? After all, was the First Republic not a reasonably democratic, tolerant, and cultured polity? The point is not to disavow interwar Czechoslovakia. However, a memory of the First Republic filtered through nostalgic “golden age” fantasies such as those in The Glass Room reproduces the identity of Czechs as Almostwesterners, stuck in the ambiguous “waiting room” at the doorstep of the West proper (Kuus 2007, 16). In this section, I show that these fantasies provide a highly sanitized narration of history, produce geopolitical hierarchies, and fuel the self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority. The image of the First Republic in The Glass Room is a strongly reductionist one, as it is based on the lifestyle of a cultured and wealthy elite. While the positive attributes of the era are omnipresent, there is little space for the darker shades. The novel at best glosses over the Great Depression, during which significant parts of the plot take place, as the few more critical reviews correctly point out (Nagy 2009; Vaníček 2010). While German Nazism plays a prominent role, Czech national chauvinism is remarkably absent. Despite the fact that it happened in Brno, the attempted Czech fascist coup of 1933 is hidden in plain sight. Czech-German tensions, when mentioned, are portrayed as essentially foreign-driven. Even more importantly, while building a grand arch from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Glass Room focuses almost exclusively on the periods that can be remembered in the comfortable categories of domestic grandeur or foreign humiliation. The most problematic and painful times, in contrast, are met with thundering silence. There is little discussion of the authoritarian Second Republic of 1938–39. Completely left out is the semidemocratic Third Republic of 1945–48, which ended up with the smoothest installation of Stalinism in the region. The postwar expulsion of three million Germans is mentioned in a single sentence (Mawer 2009, 382), without any notice of its violent nature that included large scale torture, rape, and murder. This sanitization of history further anchors Czech identity in its imagined relation to the West. In a tautological operation, the idea of one's own “Westernness” is projected onto the very history from which it is supposedly derived. In producing the deceptive continuity of the Czech subject as Western, this narrative explains away the problematic aspects of one's own past as resulting from the involuntary “kidnapping” or simply leaves them out. This reproduces the notion of Czech identity as a pristine Western self, unjustly locked in a place where it does not quite belong. Such self-understanding then easily turns into feelings of superiority toward the “East Europeans,” who appear to be further away on the scale of Easternness, including the closest neighbors (Slačálek 2016). This egocentric self-conception as “most Western” Central Europeans repeatedly resurfaces in Czech politics. It was manifest in the way the governments led by Václav Klaus shrugged off Central European cooperation in the 1990s because of the dubious persuasion that “the post-communist economic transformation of the Czech Republic was superior to that of any other state in the region” and Czechs thus should not coordinate with others when seeking EU membership (Fawn 2001, 56). More recently, Czech diplomacy has taken similarly questionable pride in seeing itself as the “reasonable” party in the region, which can supposedly mediate between Western Europe and illiberal governments in Budapest and Warsaw. While the fantasy of the First Republic brought by The Glass Room distances the Czech self from the (more) Eastern others, it simultaneously separates it from the desired West. “Westernness” seems achievable, as Czechs possessed it once before, but it is also something not quite achieved, as implied in the “central” in Central Europe. Crucially, the reproduction of this ambivalent identity is secured precisely by fantasies of the kind typified by The Glass Room. In Lacanian reading, fantasies are ultimately unfulfillable. Their function is not to satisfy our desire but to reproduce it via the promise of enjoyment. Fantasies keep us going about our daily lives instead of being overwhelmed by the anxiety stemming from the absence of a stable identity (Žižek 1997; Glynos 2008). We desire an identity and search for it precisely because we do not have one. Fantasy is “a screen masking the fundamental impossibility” (Žižek 1997, 20, emphasis in original), the impossibility of being fully identical to ourselves, as identity is always constituted in relation to resources that are part of the “outside” world and beyond our control. Therefore, as long as our relationship to “Westernness” is a fantasy one, its achievement will always remain out of reach. Searching for their identity via fantasies like The Glass Room, Czechs can never become Western. They are always already Almostwestern. The first reason is the elusive nature of the object of desire, in our case the notion of “Westernness.” The problem is that in fantasies we burden the “object” with much more than it can deliver. We do not desire the “object” itself but what it stands for and what it appears to guarantee (Žižek 1997). Therefore, the fantasy of “Westernness” is ultimately self-defeating. The Czech Republic has indeed become a member of both the EU and NATO, which makes it possible to see the “return to Europe” as successfully accomplished (Drulák 2006b). However, the longing for “Westernness” is not interested in a geographic label or the actually realized membership in the EU or NATO but in the fulfilment and enjoyment it is supposed to bring, which, indeed, has not come, with new problems and frustrations emerging in its stead. “Westernness” proved to be an empty signifier onto which different people projected different meanings. We can never be Western enough, since there is always something else that we do not seem to have, something missing, and something we do not do quite right. “Like language, which always promises a ‘meaning’ it can never finally deliver, desire promises a satisfaction that it is itself instrumental in deferring” (MacCannell 2016, 73). The desire for “Westernness” pushes Czechs to act in a way that promises that they will become “truly Western” one day, just like they imagine themselves to have been during the First Republic, yet this “Westernness” is too elusive to ever be achieved. The second reason we can never reach a perfect identity is the need of others for its recognition. Desire can never be satisfied, since, in fact, it is not our desire that we are trying to act upon but rather what we imagine others to desire from us so that they would recognize us: “The original question of desire is not ‘What do I want?’, but ‘What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I to others?’” (Žižek 1997, 9, emphasis in original). The content of fantasies is therefore created with the significant other already in mind. When desiring “Westernness,” Czechs already do so in a way that they imagine the West would approve of. One can ask again what is wrong with wanting to be democratic, cosmopolitan, or prosperous and in being interested in recognition by societies that seem to be closer to these ideals. The problem is that the fantasy structure prevents us from ever achieving this, not only because of the slippery nature of “Westernness” but also because the need for a Western other to guarantee recognition presupposes that this other is separated from the self. As long as they need a Western mirror, the Czechs can never be Western themselves. Therefore, there is an important catch in the mirror dynamics of The Glass Room. Czechs may feel recognized when they see their own national narrative of “Westernness” retold by a Western author. However, the frustrating fact is that this is possible only because of the presence of a “proper” Westerner, a status that the Czechs effectively deny themselves in their own geopolitical imagination. This fantasy thus locks the Czechs within the vicious circle of desire and its disappointment and positions them as perpetually aspiring/frustrated Almostwesterners. The motion between desire and its disappointment, the aspiration to be Western and the frustration from never quite achieving it, gives the Czech relationship to the West a strongly emotional yet ambivalent nature. Citing the Austrian author Karl-Markus Gauss, then Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek spoke of Hassliebe, German for “love-hate,” as defining Central Europe's relationship to the West (Zaorálek 2016). This fuels the politics of oscillation between the predominant excessive inferiority and the occasional, equally excessive, superiority toward the West, which is both adored for the promise it brings and hated for its inaccessibility. Identities constructed in this way are thus highly insecure and trapped in ultimately self-defeating patterns of behavior: be it the one-way adoption of Western influences (e.g., neoliberal transformation, the “War on Terror”); the overreaction to any “Western” criticism, as this can easily be seen as a withdrawal of recognition (e.g., with respect to violations of minority rights, or rule of law issues); or the apparently self-gratifying Schadenfreude when controversial “Western” policies do not appear to work (e.g., détente with Russia, liberal refugee policies). While occupying different positions on the “love-hate” continuum, all of these policies share a common denominator in their desire-driven focus on “Westernness” and the Western significant other, features captured so well in The Glass Room. Conclusion Reading The Glass Room together with its Czech discursive context, this article has shown that the novel sustains the geopolitical imagination of a “kidnapped West” and reproduces Czech identity as Almostwestern. By a selective reading of history, which focuses on the glamour of the First Republic and the horrors of the German and Soviet subjugation, it presents the Czech past as a story of an essentially Western identity and its foreign-induced loss. The desired “Westernness,” which promises to stabilize the insecure and tension-ridden identity, is portrayed as both strongly desirable and within reach. Because of its own Western origin, The Glass Room also appears to guarantee what local artefacts cannot: the recognition of Czechs’ “Westernness” from the position of a “properly” Western audience—an aspect that resonates also in the reception of the book by its Czech reviewers. However, this fantasy structure, in which identity is dependent on the desired “Westernness,” is ultimately self-defeating. The elusive nature of “Westernness” and the need for approval of the Western other mean that the desire is always bound to be disappointed, leading to the politics of the strongly emotional yet ambivalent “love-hate” relationship toward the West. Adopting a Lacanian approach, this article has highlighted the inherently pathological structure of the imagination of a “kidnapped West,” showed the added value of the use of desire in critical geopolitics, and further demonstrated the utility of popular artefacts for political analysis. It is important to briefly state also what has not been done. I have not argued that the dynamics of desire described in this article work equally for all Czech readers of The Glass Room or, indeed, for all Czech citizens. The article provides a detailed reading of one artefact and its embedding within broader discourses, not an extensive discourse analysis. This makes it safe to say that the politics of desire-laden relating to “Westernness” is present in the Czech public discourse, but it also clearly begs for other studies to develop and qualify the argument. Future research could focus on competing geopolitical imaginations (as sketched in Drulák 2006a). Another possibility would be to compare Czech geopolitical fantasies with those of other Central Europeans, which would shed additional light on the affective underpinnings of the geopolitics in and of the region. As all identities are ultimately insecure for Lacan—even though the ways which this insecurity adopts are dependent on the respective geopolitical imaginations and thus very different—it would be very interesting to draw comparisons with other contexts (e.g., with American and German discourses, see Solomon 2015; Eberle 2017). Last but not least, it would be revealing to complement my textual-based argument with an in-depth focus on the negotiation of “Westernness” in everyday experiences and practices. Footnotes 1 A potential problem arises with the question of translation, as meanings indeed shift across languages and contexts of consumption. To triangulate this, I have read the novel both in its English original and in the Czech translation. Apart from the replacing of the ambiguous “Město” with Brno in the Czech version (on which I comment later), the differences are too small to impact on the analysis. Direct quotations are borrowed from the English original. 2 Therefore, the difference between affects and emotions is that emotions are already woven into the fabric of discourse, they are “the ‘feelings’ that signifiers ‘represent’ once we attach them to affects” (Solomon 2015, 919). Similarly, desire is always already discursive, as it is dependent on a particular “object” that stimulates and reproduces it (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 1999). See also the discussion below. 3 The active role in negotiating identity means that Central Europeans are of course also capable of resisting Western discourses. Merje Kuus (2008) captures one particularly typical form of this resistance in her notion of “Švejkian geopolitics,” defined as absurdly exaggerated obedience, which then, paradoxically, leads to at least partially subversive effects via the deployment of irony and laughter. However, neither this, nor other forms of resistance to the dominant imaginary of the “kidnapped West” are traceable in The Glass Room and its Czech reception. 4 Fourteen reviews were related directly to the book and three to a play based on it, which premiered in Brno in 2015. The collection includes mainstream press and online outlets, specialized literary magazines, as well as blog posts. To contextualize the specific tone of the Czech reviews, I compared them with eleven British reviews of the book, mostly from mainstream press, also reached via online search. This analysis served merely as a background and is not developed in the article. 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Vaníček Jakub . 2010 . “ Historie Neviditelného Proletariátu Aneb Ušlechtilý Morzakor .” Tvar 2/2010, January 21 . Vaughan David . 2010 . “ Simon Mawer Talks About The Glass Room .” Radio Praha , July 5. Accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.radio.cz/en/section/books/simon-mawer-talks-about-the-glass-room . Zaorálek Lubomír . 2016 . “ Escaping the Trap of Radicalism. Reflections on Central Europe .” November 25. Accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/en/about_the_ministry/organization_of_the_ministry/minister/speeches_and_articles/x2016_11_25_zaoralek_speech_vienna.html . Zevnik Andreja . 2016 . Lacan, Deleuze and World Politics: Rethinking the Ontology of the Political Subject . Abingdon, UK : Routledge . Žižek Slavoj . 1997 . The Plague of Fantasies . London : Verso . © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Political Sociology Oxford University Press

Desire as Geopolitics: Reading The Glass Room as Central European Fantasy

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association.
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1749-5679
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1749-5687
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10.1093/ips/oly002
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Abstract

Abstract The concept of Central Europe emerges from the tension between the aspiration for a Western identity and the failure to achieve it. This article analyzes The Glass Room, a novel by the British author Simon Mawer set in Brno, Czech Republic, as an artefact that sheds light on the affective dimension of this tension, as captured in the way the book speaks to the Central European desire for “Westernness.” Adopting a Lacanian perspective, I argue that The Glass Room functions as a geopolitical fantasy, bringing its Czech audiences the promise that the desired Western identity is within reach. However, this promise can never be fulfilled, since the substance of “Westernness” is too elusive to ever be possessed and is always dependent on the recognition of a Western audience. This oscillation between desire and its disappointment leads to the self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority, which is so often seen in the region. The article makes a broader contribution by showing how desire sustains and reproduces particular conceptions of space and what role pop-culture plays in this process. In this argument, the reproduction of a geopolitical imagination depends on its ability to capture subjects’ desire for a full and stable identity. First, we hear the dreamlike piano and see clouds reflecting on a glass surface. The video then shows a man sitting on a lonely chair inside an anonymous space reading aloud from a book and proceeds to slide over a number of black and white images of a distinctly modernist house. The man is the British author Simon Mawer, and the video was made on the occasion of the shortlisting of his novel The Glass Room for the Man Booker Prize in 2009. “The Glass Room is about a house in Central Europe,” Mawer starts, describing the novel (Man Booker Prize 2009), which became an international bestseller and gained both popular and critical acclaim in a number of different countries, including the Czech Republic, where most of the plot takes place. While the story is fictional, the actual house is modeled on the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, the second largest town in the Czech Republic. A famous example of the interwar “International Style,” the building was constructed by the superstar architect Mies van der Rohe in 1928–30 and served its original purpose only briefly as its owners, the Jewish-German entrepreneur family Tugendhat, fled Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazi occupation. The first half of The Glass Room focuses on the marriage of the two main characters, Viktor and Liesel Landauer, and is set in the 1920s and 1930s in “Město” (Czech for “city”), a name used by the author to fictionalize Brno. This veiling, however, is a very thin one, as the novel otherwise sticks to real street names and offers well-researched depictions of social and political life in interwar Czechoslovakia. In other words, there is no doubt that Město really is Brno, as Mawer's Landauer House “makes no attempt not to be the Tugendhat Villa, which really does stand in Brno” (Vaughan 2010). In the latter part of the novel, which takes place in 1939–90, Mawer switches between the parallel lives of the Landauers in their Swiss, Cuban, and American exiles, and the house and its inhabitants in Město/Brno. The novel is simultaneously a story about love and loss, hope and aspiration, art and architecture, and even modernity in general. For this article, however, it is most important that The Glass Room also offers a particular reading of Czech history, constructing political subjects and endowing them with power, agency, responsibility, or guilt. As such, it presents potent material for a political analysis as a “popular artefact [that] may reveal key dynamics underpinning contemporary politics” (Grayson 2013, 380)—in this case, the dynamics of Czech geopolitical identities. Locating the novel within a Czech discursive context and reading it through the perspective of a Czech audience, a move that is justified by the book's focus on the history of the country, this article looks at how The Glass Room reflects and reproduces the geopolitical desire present in the way Czechs imagine their belonging to the West.1 I will show that the narrative of the novel is grounded in a geopolitical imagination based on the familiar East/West binary, in which modernity, progress, and rationality are coded as Western, while the East is presented as backward, violent, and irrational. The Glass Room represents a distinctly Central European version of this imagination, in which history becomes a struggle between the supposedly Western character of local societies and the recurring Eastern influence that endangers it (Kundera 1984). The Glass Room is thus analyzed as an instance of a broader geopolitical imagination, through which shared visions of global politics are reproduced. In making this argument, I engage with the prolific literature on critical geopolitics in general and popular geopolitics in particular (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992; Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). I speak also to international relations’ (IR’s) growing interest in popular culture, especially to the works that see popular culture as an important part of the “popular culture-world politics continuum,” in which “significant political battles are fought” (Grayson, Davies, and Philpott 2009, 157). The broader contribution of this article, which makes it relevant beyond debates on Central Europe, lies in its incorporation of desire into the analysis of geopolitical imagination. I argue that the power of imaginary geographies depends and relies on desire for identity and recognition. Following the call for “emotional geopolitics” (Pain 2009) and the affects/emotions turn in IR (for reviews see Bleiker and Hutchison 2014; Hutchison 2016; Koschut 2017), I present a framework that integrates affective aspects into the study of (popular) geopolitics. The argument is based on the theories of Jacques Lacan, which provide an explicit conceptualization of the links between identity, desire, imagination, and language. Despite its notable potential, as highlighted by Slater (1994, 236), Dittmer (2010, 49), and Kingsbury and Pile (2014, 215), the use of Lacanian approaches has been “rather rare” in critical geopolitics (Klinke 2016, 91). The article develops this potential, building on a range of Lacanian scholarship from social and political theory, geography, cultural studies, psychology, and IR, where the interest in Lacan seems to be in the ascendant (e.g., Edkins 2000, 2003; Epstein 2011; Solomon 2015; Zevnik 2016). The Lacanian perspective allows us to move beyond the standard work on critical geopolitics in general, and the role of “the West” in Central European imagination in particular (Neumann 1999; Drulák 2006a; Kuus 2007), by focusing on the affective economy of desire that underpins it. In more general terms, the article addresses the question of how desire sustains and reproduces particular conceptions of space and what role pop-culture plays in this process. Therefore, the contribution of this article lies also in connecting different debates in international political sociology (IPS). It brings together Lacanian IR, on the one hand, and work on popular culture in IR and critical geopolitics, on the other, an encounter that is strangely missing given the key importance of Slavoj Žižek's work for both Lacanian political theory and the wider field of cultural studies. It also contributes to broader debates about identity by utilizing Lacan's concept of the “mirror stage” to show how the subject's fixation with an idealized image of themselves produces the unfulfillable desire for a perfect identity, eventually fueling the vicious circle of oscillation between feelings of equally excessive inferiority and superiority. In the following analysis, The Glass Room is read together with its reception in Czech reviews and situated against the intertextual background of a dominant Czech geopolitical imagination, which conceives the Czechs as essentially Western yet still failing to achieve a full degree of “Westernness.” The Glass Room fills the concept of “Westernness” with a strongly positive—desirable—content based on an idealized narrative of interwar Czechoslovakia and its juxtaposition with the horrific alternatives of German National Socialism or Soviet Communism. By portraying the Czechoslovak First Republic of 1918–38 as an essentially Western state, it further fuels the desire for “Westernness” by showing its apparent accessibility: if the Czechs were Western once, they can recapture this lost identity and become Western again. I argue that The Glass Room also functions as a particularly interesting site of this otherwise widespread imagination, as it offers the Czech audience a story that builds on familiar local narratives but is, at the same time, being told by an acclaimed Western author. Not only does the novel present a story of Czech “Westernness” and its subsequent loss but through The Glass Room, the West can also speak back and authorize the Czech identity narrative from a Western perspective. In other words, the novel functions as a mirror that is able to absorb and reflect the Czech desire and gratify it with recognition. As the analysis of book reviews demonstrates, this Western recognition presents a particularly important interpretive frame for its Czech readers. By playing into the desire for “Westernness” and for recognition, The Glass Room provides the dominant geopolitical imagination with an affective appeal, which helps to stabilize and reproduce it. The argument proceeds in four steps. In the first section, I show how Lacanian theory develops the central themes of critical geopolitics, namely the construction of geopolitical identities and the reproduction of a particular geopolitical imagination. Second, I outline the notion of “a kidnapped West” as a focal point of a dominant Central European geopolitical imagination. In the third part, I offer an interpretive Lacanian reading of The Glass Room and its reviews, showing how the novel functions as a fantasy that supports and sustains the Czech geopolitical imagination. Fourth, I draw out the problematic political consequences of this desire-driven geopolitics, demonstrating how it contributes to the ultimately self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority. The conclusion then summarizes and qualifies the argument. Geopolitical Imagination, Geopolitical Desire Critical geopolitics, an essentially interdisciplinary project borrowing from geography, IR, and social and political theory, has been digging into the constructed nature of the spatial dimension of world politics since the late 1980s. Distancing itself from the environmental determinism of classical geopolitics, critical geopolitics defines its subject as “the study of socio-cultural resources and rules by which geographies of international politics get written” (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992, 193). Geography is no longer seen as immutable or given. The central question moves from what geography does to world politics to how we conceive of world politics in geographic terms. The key argument of critical geopolitics is that our spatial conception of the world is the result of hegemonic discourses that define the “common sense” in a particular social setting. Consequently, “a group of people can be said to have similar (if ultimately unique) visions of the world” (Dittmer and Dodds 2008, 447). Different concepts are used to capture these intersubjective understandings, of which the most common are “imagined geography” (Said 1978), “geographical imaginary” (Kuus 2007), and “geopolitical imagination” (Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). For reasons of consistency, I use geopolitical imagination throughout the article and understand it as a shared constellation of meanings that produces a particular vision of world politics with reference to geographic categories. Geopolitical imagination is constitutive not only of the world as a political arena but also of the identities of different subjects within it (Ó Tuathail 1996). People define their very selves through references to geography, for example as Europeans, Germans, and Bavarians. This is where Lacanian theory brings added value, since it is precisely the questions of subjectivity and identity that are the central concern of Lacan's version of psychoanalysis (Lacan 1977). Lacanians agree with the more established discourse-theoretical work in critical geopolitics that identity is constituted only within and through language and practice (Müller 2008). However, they also move beyond it in their explicit focus on the affective economy of desire, which underlies the process of identity construction (Stavrakakis 2007; Solomon 2015). A Lacanian approach thus offers a specific perspective on the “affective turn” in IPS and the social sciences in general, one that is especially strong in its explicit theorization of the relationship between discourse, affect, and identity (for detailed discussions see Stavrakakis 2007; Solomon 2015; Holland and Solomon 2014). In this view, affect and discourse are ontologically separate, yet intimately intertwined. Affect is itself nondiscursive, it is an amorphous and largely unconscious bodily intensity (Holland and Solomon 2014, 264), or a “quantum of libidinal energy” that circulates through bodies (Glynos and Stavrakakis 2008, 267). However, to gain social and political relevance, affect needs to be translated into discourse and transformed into already socially constructed phenomena such as emotions or desires.2 Thereby, the symbolic form of a discourse, for example all the narratives, images, and ideas that constitute a particular geopolitical imagination, is supported and reproduced by the affective force that is translated into the discourse in the form of desire for a particular identity (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 148–50; Stavrakakis 2007, 87, 192–96). Identity is thus dependent not only on the discursive tropes of a geopolitical imagination as standard critical geopolitics would have it but also on the affective element—mediated by desire—which binds subjects to a particular geopolitical imagination. In Lacanian theory, identities are inevitably insecure and unstable. There is no biological or spiritual essence that would guarantee our identity from “inside-out.” Instead of a static property of collectives and individuals, identity is conceptualized as a dynamic process of repetitive, ultimately failing identifications with socially available resources that are adopted “outside-in” and through which subjects attempt to escape the anxiety of the absence of a stable sense of self (Hook 2013, 40; Solomon 2015, 16). First, people identify in relation to an imaginary “ideal-ego,” a projection of an idealized version of themselves. Lacan discusses this in his famous “mirror stage,” where a child first gains a coherent sense of personhood when they recognize themselves in a mirror. Unlike their experience of fragmented limbs, the mirror presents them with a complete and whole image of a body (Lacan 2002). This experience is also a source of fundamental alienation, as the conception of self as a whole person is correlative with the acknowledgment of the gap between the body and its always more perfect version in the mirror. At a later stage of life, the actual mirror is replaced with an imaginary reflection of ourselves in the gaze of others. Our identity becomes grounded in recognition by an audience: “we behave to be observed: to produce ourselves as subjects within the social or symbolic order. Without the audience, we are nothing” (Edkins 2003, 368, emphasis in original). Therefore, as the gap between the self and the literal or metaphorical mirror shows, the search for identity is accompanied by the frustrating experience of its fundamental impossibility. Identity is always beyond reach and control. This is further exacerbated by our step into the symbolic system of language, which then starts structuring our social world. Our own identity becomes dependent on the acceptance of certain signifiers—our given name and predicates such as “mother,” “teacher,” “American” (Epstein 2011; Solomon 2015). The distance from the ideal image of ourselves becomes further complicated by the role of language in defining the expectations about who we are supposed to be, for example as specified in narratives associated with particular identities (how one has to look and act to be recognized as a “proper” mother, teacher, American). Thereby, the particular and empirically existing significant others—other people—are accompanied by the anonymous Other of the symbolic order, the impersonal system of rules that organizes the structure of language and society (Hook 2013). The externality of our identity is thus twofold, as it not only depends on intersubjective recognition by a significant other but also has to be mediated through a symbolic system, of which geopolitical imagination is one particular example. Identification is therefore an ongoing search for recognition, fueled by our desire for a stable identity, which always occurs within a particular symbolic system. This desire is reproduced in fantasies, defined as intersubjective, imaginary or narrative scenarios, which stage the fulfilment of this identity-searching by presenting it in terms of the achievement of a certain “object” (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 1999; Glynos 2008; Arfi 2010; Eberle 2017). Thereby, the desire for identity is refocused onto an apparently available “thing,” which can be a literal object (iPhone, luxury car), a quality or a state (coolness, health), or even a political concept (justice, freedom). In fantasies, the capturing of this “object” promises the satisfaction of our desire and the achievement of a stable identity, which is supposed to trigger the intense affective experience of what Lacan calls enjoyment (jouissance); “a satisfaction so excessive that it becomes painful” (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 148–50). For example, in his pioneering elaboration of a geopolitical fantasy, Klinke (2016) shows how the Western male fantasy of the online-orderable “Russian bride” constructs “the slippery substance of Easternness” as the object of desire. The “Russian bride” is fantasized as possessing an intrinsic quality—understood in terms of a controllable and sexually available housewife—which promises Western men the recapturing of their supposedly “traditional” identity, which was dislocated by the emancipation of Western women, and, indeed, experiencing the enjoyment that is supposed to come with it. The basic pattern of a fantasy can have many different variations, which have been outlined and explored especially in the work of Slavoj Žižek (1997) and Yannis Stavrakakis (1999, 2007). For the purposes of this article, two fantasy tropes are of particular relevance. First, political fantasies often rely on the notion of a lost “golden age,” a mythical period when a political community (typically a nation) was able to realize and enjoy itself in its “true” identity (Stavrakakis and Chrysoloras 2006, 153). This imaginary past is then used as a resource for current political projects, which promise the recapturing of this “golden age.” This idea of returning to a time “when things were still right” is clearly visible in the fantasy of the “Russian bride” but also in the nostalgic discourses of the Brexiteers or Donald Trump. In this way, the “object” of a fantasy is pictured as something that already was in “our” possession “back then”: all we need to do is get it back. Second, apart from projecting the desired state, fantasies often also offer a justification why we are not able to achieve it. This is typically done by blaming an antagonistic other, who is painted as having “stolen” the object of desire (and with it also our enjoyment) and thereby compromised our very identity (Žižek 1997). Desire is thereby transformed into a combination of anger, hate, awe, or fear and directed toward the other, who is often portrayed with obsessive focus on the body, hygiene, and sexuality. For Žižek, the classical examples are Jews in anti-Semite discourses and immigrants in current nativist narratives. Both are constructed as corrupting the national purity, as barbaric, dirty and yearning to seduce or even rape “our” women (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 2007). In this way, the desire for the “object” is easily transformed into hating those who are supposed to have stolen it. As will become clear, both of these tropes are prominent in the Czech geopolitical imagination. To sum up, the Lacanian theory of identification thus revolves around the triangular interplay between the subject in search of an identity, the symbolic “object” that promises its achievement, and the imaginary audience that is the ultimate source of recognition. Geopolitical imagination provides the stage and the resources for this desire-infused play of identification by coding in geographical terms both the identities of the self and the audience, and the “substances” that constitute the fantasized “object.” Geopolitical imagination thus makes particular fantasies possible by providing a culturally recognizable content for the construction of identities and “objects.” In turn, these fantasies stabilize and reproduce the given geopolitical imagination by infusing it with desire and forcing subjects to identify with symbolic resources that are part of it. In short, while fantasy needs imagination for its content, imagination needs fantasy to “grip” subjects affectively, thereby imposing itself as “common sense” (Glynos 2001). Therefore, Lacanian theory shows us how the power of common-sense geography of the world depends on our desire for identity and recognition and thereby brings new theoretical insights into how geopolitical imaginations are imposed, stabilized, and reproduced. The interplay of geopolitical knowledge-production and the desire-infused economy of identification takes place in various locales. Critical geopolitics traditionally distinguishes between formal (systematic theorizing), practical (political argumentation), and popular geopolitics (pop-culture), arguing that while geographies are written at different sites, there are intertextual linkages connecting all of them (Ó Tuathail 1996; Dittmer and Dodds 2008). From a Lacanian perspective, popular culture is a particularly important site for identification, as it is precisely here that collective desires are best reproduced and circulated. Popular culture does not merely imitate politics but presents an arena in which political battles are fought (Grayson et al. 2009). Through its appeal to imagination and employment of aesthetic techniques, popular culture functions as a social “dream factory” and provides particularly attractive resources to identify with. By identifying with a hero, a plot, or a general context of a novel or a film, we are able to “experience”—and, subsequently, accept—particular geopolitics as “natural.” “A Kidnapped West”: Czech Geopolitical Imagination A popular artefact can be productively analyzed on its own, but it is often only when juxtaposed within broader contexts that the most interesting political aspects become visible. This is also the case with The Glass Room, which intertextually draws upon and, in turn, speaks to a Czech geopolitical imagination, which portrays the Czechs as a “kidnapped West” (Kundera 1984). Such self-conception is part of a broader, well-analyzed notion of Central Europe as a region defined by its position on “an East-West slope of Eastness and Europeanness” (Kuus 2007, 22; similarly also Neumann 1999; Moisio 2002; Todorova 2009). This divides the world into the West proper and a series of Easts, differentiated from one another according to their level of similarity/difference with the Western core. Importantly, “East” and “West” are constructed in cultural, rather than physical-geographical terms (Kuus 2007, x; Neumann 1999, 146; Todorova 2009, 48). Central Europe thus becomes a “moral language” (Moisio 2002, 102), in which geography serves above all as a canvass for the projection of civilizational arguments. In this imagination, “Central Europe is not a state: it is a culture or a fate” (Kundera 1984, 35). Crucially, this classification is not merely an alien Orientalist discourse imposed by the West. On the contrary, it is negotiated, internalized, and even strategically used also by those inscribed as Central Europeans (Kuus 2007, 22).3 While “center” implies in-betweenness, the Czech imagination of Central Europe is turned unequivocally toward the West. The Czech historian Jan Křen argues that the persuasion that the Czechs belong to the West was dominant already in the nineteenth century (Křen 2005, 20). The geopolitical projects of two leading intellectuals and politicians, the founder of the interwar Czechoslovak state, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and his self-styled successor, Václav Havel, were both based on the notion that “Czechoslovakia belongs to the democratic West” (Drulák 2006a, 428). For Milan Kundera, Central Europeans “had always considered themselves to be Western”—until they were “kidnapped” by the Russian East (Kundera 1984, 33). As was already foreshadowed, the West obtains a very distinct meaning in this geopolitical imagination. While still a “geographically delimited territory,” “it is of equal, if not greater, importance to define the West in terms of its values and culture . . . [such as] the rule of law, respect for human rights, a democratic political system, and economic freedom” (Havel 2001). The West and Europe (which are used interchangeably; Kundera [1984, 33] even sees them as synonymous) thus signify positive and superior values; they are “the horizon of regained humanity and freedom” (Longinović 2011, 77). The relation to the West highlights the ambivalences and tensions within the geopolitical imagination. If the West is a “spiritual notion” and being Western/European the “essence” of Central European identity (Kundera 1984, 33), why use the in-between notion of Central Europe at all? In Kundera's time, the Iron Curtain was the answer, making it possible to picture the region as “culturally in the West and politically in the East” (Kundera 1984, 33). The Cold War drew a barrier, one that was at the same time physical, political, and intellectual, which separated the Czechs and other Central Europeans from the West proper. Since the 1990s, this was creatively adapted in the program of the “return to Europe” (Havel 1990; Drulák 2006b; Moisio 2007), where Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic) was seen as belonging by cultural association. As a result of the interruption of their supposedly “natural” historical development, caused by the Nazis and the Soviets, the Czechs are Western in their essence but still need to demonstrate, deserve, and prove these credentials. This produces the hybrid identity of Czechs as “Almosteuropeans” (Třeštík 1999)—or Almostwesterners—longing “to be recognised as fully equal members of the West” (Slačálek 2016, 35). In this sense, a culturally defined Central Europe always implies “a waiting room between Eastern Europe and Europe proper” (Kuus 2007, 16). Reading this geopolitical imagination through a Lacanian lens, it contains all the basic elements of the psychoanalytical theory of identification and, therefore, offers good resources for the construction of fantasies. It produces uncertain and ambivalent identities (the fragile “in-betweenness” of Central Europe) and offers “Westernness” as a suitable “object” around which geopolitical fantasies can be built. The West is further positioned as the target audience whose recognition is sought (also Slačálek 2016), as only the West proper is capable of authorizing the Central Europeans’ achievement of “Westernness.” Therefore, for Central Europeans held by this imagination, to acquire a stable identity prescribes the dual task of recapturing “Westernness” and being recognized as Western by the Westerners themselves. It is then the function of fantasies to picture “Westernness” in terms that would make it appealing and apparently achievable, so as to be able to attract desire that would then stabilize and reproduce this geopolitical imagination. In the Czech context, particularly salient is a nostalgic “golden age” fantasy that provides an idealized depiction of the 1918–38 period in Czechoslovak history, widely referred to as the “First Republic,” which is also where key parts of the plot of The Glass Room are situated. In Czech discourses, including even large parts of post-1990 historiography, the First Republic is portrayed as an essentially European and Western “island of democracy” and a zone of prosperity in the midst of an unstable region (Holubec 2014; Koeltzsch and Konrád 2016). Kundera remembers the First Republic as the Czechs’ “last direct personal experience of the West” (1984, 36). Analogically, using very similar terms as in his abovementioned definition of the West, Havel sees the “legacy” of the First Republic in terms of “parliamentary democracy, the idea of the rule of law, orientation on Western liberal civilisation . . . tolerance, politeness, humanity and shared responsibility for public affairs” (Havel 1993). This memorialization suggests that the Czechs were already Western once (Slovaks, Germans, and other nations of Czechoslovakia are often marginalized or absent in these narratives). This implies that the Czechs are essentially capable of being Western again and that, therefore, “Westernness” is always within reach and the desire for it can potentially be satisfied. In short, this idealized narrative of the First Republic has the structure of a geopolitical fantasy, as it paints “Westernness” as both desirable and within reach; features that are particularly strong in The Glass Room. The Glass Room as Geopolitical Fantasy Fantasy depictions of the First Republic as a “golden age” are commonplace in Czech popular culture. Countless examples could be cited, including novels and short stories by the often-translated authors Bohumil Hrabal and Ota Pavel or, more recently, two high-budget TV series broadcasted by Czech public television, Bohéma (“Bohemia”, 2017) and První republika (“First Republic”, 2014 and 2017). What makes The Glass Room particularly interesting—and therefore important to analyze—is its Western origin. Because of its own “Westernness,” the novel provides a markedly different context for the construction of geopolitical identities. It allows capturing not only of the symbolic dimension of identification (the production of “Westernness” as the object of desire), which is widespread in Czech pop-culture, but also—and crucially—the aspect of recognition by a desired other, something that no Czech pop-cultural artefact could ever provide. As a Western novel, it can function as a mirror, reflecting back the Czech desire for recognition in the voice of the very audience whose recognition is being sought. Therefore, The Glass Room makes three moves through which it pushes Czech subjects to identify with its story, which is constructed from the resources of—and thus supports—the geopolitical imagination of “a kidnapped West.” First, by locating “Westernness” in the First Republic era, it portrays it as something that Czechs are capable of possessing. Second, by constructing the “Westernness” of the First Republic in strongly appealing terms it makes it a suitable object of desire. Third, and rather uniquely, since interwar Czechoslovakia is indeed not a common subject of Western popular culture, the novel serves as a source of Western recognition. The Glass Room thus presents a fantasy scenario, in which the desire for a stable identity, as promised in the notion of “Westernness,” apparently reaches its fulfilment. The following analysis proceeds in three parts. In the first two, I focus on the construction of the “Westernness” of the First Republic and the portrayal of the horrific consequences of its loss. In the third, I examine the mirror function of the novel by looking at its reception by Czech reviewers, a move that helps us establish the resonance of the narrative with its Czech audience. “A More Perfect Golden Age”: Westernness Possessed There is no doubt that The Glass Room portrays the First Republic as a golden era of Czech history. In the words of its characters, it was “a more perfect golden age” and “a mythic epoch of luxury and freedom” (Mawer 2009, 100, 334). It is seen as a modern, tolerant, democratic, and cosmopolitan state, echoing both Havel's and Kundera's definitions of the West and confirming the argument that in the Czech geopolitical imagination, the principles of “Western universalism” are seen as the sole source of Central European modernity (Slačálek 2016, 34–35). Through such depictions, The Glass Room presents its Czech audiences with images of enjoyment that are connected to the possession of “Westernness.” The First Republic is pictured as a “state in which being Czech or German or Jew would not matter, in which democracy would prevail and art and science would combine to bring happiness to all people” (Mawer 2009, 26). Echoing the metaphor of an “island,” Viktor Landauer, one of the main characters of the book, describes “our own country . . . which ensures a stable democracy in the heart of Europe” (118). Beside explicitly political language, the novel connects the First Republic to a set of positive attributes related to youth, dynamism, and hope. Describing a train station in Město/Brno, the text builds a parallel between the politics of the state and the busy life observed by the characters: “the bustle of people coming and going, the taxi cabs stuttering past, the trams clanging and grinding along the Bahnring, the whole energy and enthusiasm of the new republic” (27). Examples of cultural achievements of that time are often mentioned, of which the Villa Tugendhat—or the Landauer House, as it is called in the novel—is one. Viktor also reads the liberal-democratic daily, Lidové noviny. Liesel and her friend Hana Hanáková are regulars in the modernist Café Zeman. The leading democratic author and journalist of that time, Karel Čapek, is explicitly referenced in the title of one chapter, and Leoš Janáček's music is being played in the house. These tropes are also reflected in the personal traits of the main characters of the book. Viktor and Liesel understand themselves as thoroughly modern, which is best epitomized in their desire for a home built upon the principles of geometry, light, and openness. It is particularly Viktor who is defined by his “vision of the future, his desire not to be pinned down by race or creed, his determination to speak Czech as well as German . . . his talk of inovace and pokrok, innovation and progress” (20, emphasis in original). A dynamic businessman, traveling by car and plane, he believes in “a world of peace and trade, where the only battles fought are battles for market share” (82). Liesel, whose physical appearance mirrors the modern aesthetic of the “roaring twenties,” stays at home, but she is at the same time cultured and independent enough to write a rebuttal to a critique of their house published in a journal of architecture. A reflection of their cosmopolitan selves, their children speak Czech and German, “move easily from one language to the other,” following Viktor's creed that “they must be brought up as citizens of the world” (89). Liesel's best friend, Hana Hanáková, presents an alternative version of Liesel's rational and somewhat cold vision of an independent modern woman. This is best epitomized in Hana's unconventional manners, her desire to shock, and her series of affairs with both men and women. Altogether, the Landauers and Hana are the embodiment of a liberal, open-minded, and cultured society. They are a perfect definition of “Westernness” as outlined by Havel or Kundera. To further highlight these points, The Glass Room juxtaposes the rationality, dynamism, and modernity of the First Republic with the past of the Habsburg Empire and the presence of the interwar Austrian Republic, both of which are coded as opulent, decaying, excessive, and unstable. This contrast is personified by the difference between the Landauers, on the one hand, and Liesel's parents, on the other. While Liesel's mother cherishes her portrait by Gustav Klimt, Viktor is fascinated by the abstractions of Mondrian. When the mother voices nostalgia for Austria-Hungary, Liesel responds that “the monarchy was moribund long before Herr Klimt painted you. It just took a long time dying” (33). This differentiation is further replicated in the descriptions of Vienna, where Viktor often goes for business and to cheat on his wife. In the words of one of Viktor's associates, Město/Brno is characterized by a “good business culture and a modern outlook on life,” which makes it very much “[n]ot like Vienna. Vienna is hidebound by tradition and cursed by Communism” (115). While Město/Brno looks to the future, Vienna is “a city of faded glories and dying significance” (125). It is then no surprise that the end of the First Republic is territorialized as coming precisely from the German-annexed Austria. It is in the direction of Austria that Viktor stares with anxiety after the Anschluss of 1938, realizing that the “Nazis are no more than fifty kilometres away from us here in our nice safe house” (134). Wrapped in the metaphorical language of “rough tides,” “storm,” or “disaster” bound to destroy the “ship” that is Landauer House (100, 167, 168, 179), the end of the First Republic is presented as inevitable. Nostalgia is here coupled with a heavy dose of fatalism, best reflected in the remark that in “our part of the world . . . Empires come and go, countries come and go, people come and go” (135). In tune with the imagination of “a kidnapped West,” the essentially Western First Republic is washed away by foreign barbarism. While the Landauers escape to the West proper and finally settle in the United States, the others, often reduced to mere reflections of their former Western selves, are forced to get used to their “kidnapping.” “The Dark Void of Humiliation”: Westernness Lost I have argued that one of the typical forms of a fantasy is a narrative of why the object of our desire is inaccessible, suggesting there is someone else to be blamed for its destruction or “theft.” This trope is present already in Kundera's (1984) essay, where the loss of “Westernness” is the result of Central Europe's “kidnapping” by the East. Soviet Russia is here the horrific perpetrator, one marked by “brutality” and “terrifying foreignness” (Kundera 1984, 34). While Kundera's language is graphic and can even be described as racist (Todorova 2009, 145), it is nowhere near the depictions offered in The Glass Room. Extensively relying on sex as a tool of subjugation and a source of enjoyment that is so manifestly being taken from the “kidnapped” Czechoslovaks, the novel pictures a series of others that are blamed for the loss of the Western essence: German and Russian occupiers and even the “inner other” in the figure of the opportunist Czech housekeeper Josef Laník. First come the Germans, who are coded as barbaric, brutal, irrational, and, therefore, definitely not Western—regardless of Germany's position on the map. Under the occupation, the Czechs are reduced to selling their bodies to their new masters. As Hana Hanáková puts it, “Everyone here is a whore in some way. The whole damned country is reduced to whoredom” (Mawer 2009, 253). Hana's own way is through an “arrangement” with Werner Stahl, an SS officer. German occupants thus not only have the whole country at their disposal; through people like Werner, they also possess and dominate the very bodies of the former Czechoslovaks. Deprived of any meaningful sense of subjectivity, these are reduced to objects serving the realization of the imperial and sexual desires of their masters. The total extent of this domination becomes apparent when Hana confronts Werner with her pregnancy and gets beaten and anally raped in response: “It's a sudden thing, the resistance breached and a void beyond, the dark void of her humiliation. . . . She gives a cry of outrage and pain and he knows an instant of irrational ecstasy more intense than anything before” (280). In this ultimately horrific vision of what happens when “Westernness” is lost, even whoring to the Germans is not enough. The new masters can do whatever they want and take pleasure in their perverse domination, which gives them an enjoyment “more intense than anything before.” The humiliation does not stop here, as Werner eventually ensures that Hana is sent to a concentration camp. The baby dies there. Next come the Russians, whose arrival in 1945 is described as an exchange of invaders rather than a liberation. While the Germans have the usual properties of cultured villains, the Russians are marked as outright Oriental. They have “the look of Asia about their features. Where have they come from, how many thousands of miles have they crossed to reach here, the place at the epicentre of Europe?” (321). While the Germans use Landauer House for scientific research, the Russians bring in their horses. The subjugation of the former West is again played out in sex, this time between the housekeeper, Josef Laník, and the arch-Orientalized commander, Yevgeniya. “You could imagine her standing outside a yurt on a desolate Mongolian plane, or riding a horse bare-back into battle” (321). The act is not exactly consensual, as Laník submits to Yevgeniya's advances chiefly because of fear for his life and possessions, and the pleasure is certainly not shared: “Laník is enveloped in the smell of horses and the scent of ordure, gripped by armpits and groins, enveloped by lips and legs. He feels that he might suffocate, that he might explode, that he will die” (324). Providing an arsenal of graphic illustrations to Kundera's vision, The Glass Room, once again, stages non-Western intruders as taking pleasure from sexual domination of the very bodies of the “kidnapped Westerners.” Apart from the ruthless invaders, The Glass Room also presents the reader with an “internal other”: the sly and opportunist housekeeper Josef Laník. An anti-Semite who loathed his Jewish employer Viktor, Laník would later do anything just to get by. He effectively stands for a nation deprived of its “Westernness,” an empty and cowardly shell capable of anything. “YOU'VE GOT TO TAKE YOUR OPPORTUNITIES,” he shouts at his sister, when explaining why he engages in illegal trade and makes profit from the wartime shortage and suffering (313). Mimicking the ways of the Germans and the Russians, Laník also uses sex as a tool of domination and exploitation: “Laník understands the cost of everything. . . . When a young woman from a nearby house comes for powdered milk for her baby the calculation is easy. He takes her down the outside steps and into the basement” (317). In Laník, the novel paints the horrific scenario of what “kidnapping” does to the Czechs; how some of them give up their “Westernness” in exchange for petty little pleasures. While the best, such as Liesel, Viktor, and Hana, either flee or suffer terribly, the worst use the opportunity and become complicit in their own subjugation by effectively becoming identical with the “Eastern” invaders. The contrast to the “Western” grace of the First Republic could hardly be any stronger. “These Fates Have Really Happened”: Recognition and Resonance The previous two sections addressed the symbolic aspects of identification by focusing on how The Glass Room portrays Czech history in terms of the initial possession and subsequent loss of the desired “Westernness.” In the following paragraphs, I move to the aspect of recognition, which is based on Lacan's conception of the mirror stage. The Glass Room is caught within a complex feedback loop of narratives and desires flowing between Czech society and its Western significant other, of which the book is a product, but which it also further reproduces. The ambiguous staging of the novel as one that is about Czechs, yet written by a well-recognized British author, positions it well to play the mirror function: it absorbs the national narrative of the First Republic and reflects it back toward its original Czech audience. Thereby, it brings the promise that Czechs will be recognized as Western “in the eyes of those we love” (Kundera 1984, 37), finally satisfying the desire for a full identity. Due to its Western origin, The Glass Room can do what a local narrative cannot—it can occupy the position of the significant other and grant recognition. Do Czechs recognize themselves in The Glass Room? While no discourse is ever accepted uniformly and without resistance, written reflections in seventeen Czech reviews, gathered through online and database searches, suggest that many of them do.4 The analysis of reviews thus brings significant added value, as it supports previous arguments about the presence of the geopolitical fantasy in the novel by the observation that this fantasy actually resonates with its Czech audience. In fact, one of the persistent features in the debate and a key prism for reading The Glass Room in the Czech context, is the appreciation of the novel's supposed authenticity and the author's knowledge of local history and culture—rather than the universal questions of art, love, and aspiration that are typically discussed in the British reviews (Kelly 2009; Sansom 2009). In other words, The Glass Room is often read almost as a history textbook. This is apparent in the promotional strategy of Kniha Zlín, its Czech publisher. While the two different covers of English editions use figural paintings and quotes from reviews, both Czech editions utilize images of the real Villa Tugendhat, one of them selling the novel as “inspired by the actual destiny” of the house. The translation authoritatively intervenes in the novel by replacing Mawer's pseudonym “Město” with Brno—apparently without consulting and against the will of the author (aho 2009). Kniha Zlín's website also claims that the novel “mirrors the tragedy of the whole Czech nation” and highlights the author's “brilliant” capturing of “Czechoslovak reality” (Kniha Zlín n.d.). Most of the reviews accept this emphasis, speaking favorably of Mawer's deep understanding of Czech history. Thus, in Lacanian terms, they appear to recognize the mirror image and identify with the fantasy of The Glass Room. Some of them even call it a “Czech” novel, occasionally using quotation marks to signal the ambivalence (Horáčková 2009; Němec 2009; Nezbeda 2010). Mawer's “foreign” status is often highlighted when appreciating “how aptly and still easily the British author manages to transmit Czechoslovak history, the atmosphere of Brno under the First Republic and the Protectorate” (Horáčková 2009). Delving into the story, “[t]he reader has the opportunity to follow a unique testimony of the time and to shake their head in awe how greatly the British author depicted not only the destiny of the villa, but also the city of Brno, Czech expressions, Czech history, culture and politics” (Huřťáková Hašková 2013). The Glass Room is even seen as capturing “Czechness” itself (Kadlecová 2009, quotation marks in the original), an interpretation that demonstrates how deeply the book speaks to the question of identity—and, crucially, that it is actually being read that way by the Czech audience. The identification with the mirror image becomes almost flawless: “Just like he [the reader] recognises Brno, it seems that he also recognises the heroes of the book, that even these fates have really happened. No exaggeration or, conversely, black and white psychology” (Hauerová 2010, emphasis added). The resonance of the geopolitical fantasy of “Westernness” can be further demonstrated by showing which particular aspects of Mawer's description of the First Republic are mentioned when the authenticity of the mirror image is contemplated. Unsurprisingly, it is again the “typically Western” attributes of democracy, cosmopolitanism, culture, dynamism, or tolerance. One reviewer lauds the “faithful description of the intellectual and political atmosphere of the First Republic, the enthusiasm for everything new, the faith in the coexistence of nations and a great future, in which it would not matter if one is Jew, German, or Czech, since he would be a citizen of the world” (Nezbeda 2010). Very similarly, one blogger concludes that Mawer successfully approximates “the atmosphere of Czechoslovak society of the 1920s, this young democracy full of hope and ideals, this self-confident and economically developing state, where it did not matter what nationality one has, what his mother tongue is or what his confession is” (Brabcová 2013). Therefore, when reading The Glass Room, many of the reviewers see the reflection of their Western selves of the past, acknowledged and mediated by an acclaimed Western writer. While the analysis of book reviews indeed cannot speak for the attitude of every single reader, it shows that the mirror erected by The Glass Room works rather well in the discourses that are available at hand. Always Already Almostwestern The Glass Room presents a particularly clear and, judging by the reviews, resonant example of the fantasy narrative of the First Republic, which supports the geopolitical imagination of Central Europe as a “kidnapped West.” Speaking to the “critical” in critical geopolitics, the pending question is what makes this politically problematic? After all, was the First Republic not a reasonably democratic, tolerant, and cultured polity? The point is not to disavow interwar Czechoslovakia. However, a memory of the First Republic filtered through nostalgic “golden age” fantasies such as those in The Glass Room reproduces the identity of Czechs as Almostwesterners, stuck in the ambiguous “waiting room” at the doorstep of the West proper (Kuus 2007, 16). In this section, I show that these fantasies provide a highly sanitized narration of history, produce geopolitical hierarchies, and fuel the self-defeating politics of superiority/inferiority. The image of the First Republic in The Glass Room is a strongly reductionist one, as it is based on the lifestyle of a cultured and wealthy elite. While the positive attributes of the era are omnipresent, there is little space for the darker shades. The novel at best glosses over the Great Depression, during which significant parts of the plot take place, as the few more critical reviews correctly point out (Nagy 2009; Vaníček 2010). While German Nazism plays a prominent role, Czech national chauvinism is remarkably absent. Despite the fact that it happened in Brno, the attempted Czech fascist coup of 1933 is hidden in plain sight. Czech-German tensions, when mentioned, are portrayed as essentially foreign-driven. Even more importantly, while building a grand arch from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Glass Room focuses almost exclusively on the periods that can be remembered in the comfortable categories of domestic grandeur or foreign humiliation. The most problematic and painful times, in contrast, are met with thundering silence. There is little discussion of the authoritarian Second Republic of 1938–39. Completely left out is the semidemocratic Third Republic of 1945–48, which ended up with the smoothest installation of Stalinism in the region. The postwar expulsion of three million Germans is mentioned in a single sentence (Mawer 2009, 382), without any notice of its violent nature that included large scale torture, rape, and murder. This sanitization of history further anchors Czech identity in its imagined relation to the West. In a tautological operation, the idea of one's own “Westernness” is projected onto the very history from which it is supposedly derived. In producing the deceptive continuity of the Czech subject as Western, this narrative explains away the problematic aspects of one's own past as resulting from the involuntary “kidnapping” or simply leaves them out. This reproduces the notion of Czech identity as a pristine Western self, unjustly locked in a place where it does not quite belong. Such self-understanding then easily turns into feelings of superiority toward the “East Europeans,” who appear to be further away on the scale of Easternness, including the closest neighbors (Slačálek 2016). This egocentric self-conception as “most Western” Central Europeans repeatedly resurfaces in Czech politics. It was manifest in the way the governments led by Václav Klaus shrugged off Central European cooperation in the 1990s because of the dubious persuasion that “the post-communist economic transformation of the Czech Republic was superior to that of any other state in the region” and Czechs thus should not coordinate with others when seeking EU membership (Fawn 2001, 56). More recently, Czech diplomacy has taken similarly questionable pride in seeing itself as the “reasonable” party in the region, which can supposedly mediate between Western Europe and illiberal governments in Budapest and Warsaw. While the fantasy of the First Republic brought by The Glass Room distances the Czech self from the (more) Eastern others, it simultaneously separates it from the desired West. “Westernness” seems achievable, as Czechs possessed it once before, but it is also something not quite achieved, as implied in the “central” in Central Europe. Crucially, the reproduction of this ambivalent identity is secured precisely by fantasies of the kind typified by The Glass Room. In Lacanian reading, fantasies are ultimately unfulfillable. Their function is not to satisfy our desire but to reproduce it via the promise of enjoyment. Fantasies keep us going about our daily lives instead of being overwhelmed by the anxiety stemming from the absence of a stable identity (Žižek 1997; Glynos 2008). We desire an identity and search for it precisely because we do not have one. Fantasy is “a screen masking the fundamental impossibility” (Žižek 1997, 20, emphasis in original), the impossibility of being fully identical to ourselves, as identity is always constituted in relation to resources that are part of the “outside” world and beyond our control. Therefore, as long as our relationship to “Westernness” is a fantasy one, its achievement will always remain out of reach. Searching for their identity via fantasies like The Glass Room, Czechs can never become Western. They are always already Almostwestern. The first reason is the elusive nature of the object of desire, in our case the notion of “Westernness.” The problem is that in fantasies we burden the “object” with much more than it can deliver. We do not desire the “object” itself but what it stands for and what it appears to guarantee (Žižek 1997). Therefore, the fantasy of “Westernness” is ultimately self-defeating. The Czech Republic has indeed become a member of both the EU and NATO, which makes it possible to see the “return to Europe” as successfully accomplished (Drulák 2006b). However, the longing for “Westernness” is not interested in a geographic label or the actually realized membership in the EU or NATO but in the fulfilment and enjoyment it is supposed to bring, which, indeed, has not come, with new problems and frustrations emerging in its stead. “Westernness” proved to be an empty signifier onto which different people projected different meanings. We can never be Western enough, since there is always something else that we do not seem to have, something missing, and something we do not do quite right. “Like language, which always promises a ‘meaning’ it can never finally deliver, desire promises a satisfaction that it is itself instrumental in deferring” (MacCannell 2016, 73). The desire for “Westernness” pushes Czechs to act in a way that promises that they will become “truly Western” one day, just like they imagine themselves to have been during the First Republic, yet this “Westernness” is too elusive to ever be achieved. The second reason we can never reach a perfect identity is the need of others for its recognition. Desire can never be satisfied, since, in fact, it is not our desire that we are trying to act upon but rather what we imagine others to desire from us so that they would recognize us: “The original question of desire is not ‘What do I want?’, but ‘What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I to others?’” (Žižek 1997, 9, emphasis in original). The content of fantasies is therefore created with the significant other already in mind. When desiring “Westernness,” Czechs already do so in a way that they imagine the West would approve of. One can ask again what is wrong with wanting to be democratic, cosmopolitan, or prosperous and in being interested in recognition by societies that seem to be closer to these ideals. The problem is that the fantasy structure prevents us from ever achieving this, not only because of the slippery nature of “Westernness” but also because the need for a Western other to guarantee recognition presupposes that this other is separated from the self. As long as they need a Western mirror, the Czechs can never be Western themselves. Therefore, there is an important catch in the mirror dynamics of The Glass Room. Czechs may feel recognized when they see their own national narrative of “Westernness” retold by a Western author. However, the frustrating fact is that this is possible only because of the presence of a “proper” Westerner, a status that the Czechs effectively deny themselves in their own geopolitical imagination. This fantasy thus locks the Czechs within the vicious circle of desire and its disappointment and positions them as perpetually aspiring/frustrated Almostwesterners. The motion between desire and its disappointment, the aspiration to be Western and the frustration from never quite achieving it, gives the Czech relationship to the West a strongly emotional yet ambivalent nature. Citing the Austrian author Karl-Markus Gauss, then Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek spoke of Hassliebe, German for “love-hate,” as defining Central Europe's relationship to the West (Zaorálek 2016). This fuels the politics of oscillation between the predominant excessive inferiority and the occasional, equally excessive, superiority toward the West, which is both adored for the promise it brings and hated for its inaccessibility. Identities constructed in this way are thus highly insecure and trapped in ultimately self-defeating patterns of behavior: be it the one-way adoption of Western influences (e.g., neoliberal transformation, the “War on Terror”); the overreaction to any “Western” criticism, as this can easily be seen as a withdrawal of recognition (e.g., with respect to violations of minority rights, or rule of law issues); or the apparently self-gratifying Schadenfreude when controversial “Western” policies do not appear to work (e.g., détente with Russia, liberal refugee policies). While occupying different positions on the “love-hate” continuum, all of these policies share a common denominator in their desire-driven focus on “Westernness” and the Western significant other, features captured so well in The Glass Room. Conclusion Reading The Glass Room together with its Czech discursive context, this article has shown that the novel sustains the geopolitical imagination of a “kidnapped West” and reproduces Czech identity as Almostwestern. By a selective reading of history, which focuses on the glamour of the First Republic and the horrors of the German and Soviet subjugation, it presents the Czech past as a story of an essentially Western identity and its foreign-induced loss. The desired “Westernness,” which promises to stabilize the insecure and tension-ridden identity, is portrayed as both strongly desirable and within reach. Because of its own Western origin, The Glass Room also appears to guarantee what local artefacts cannot: the recognition of Czechs’ “Westernness” from the position of a “properly” Western audience—an aspect that resonates also in the reception of the book by its Czech reviewers. However, this fantasy structure, in which identity is dependent on the desired “Westernness,” is ultimately self-defeating. The elusive nature of “Westernness” and the need for approval of the Western other mean that the desire is always bound to be disappointed, leading to the politics of the strongly emotional yet ambivalent “love-hate” relationship toward the West. Adopting a Lacanian approach, this article has highlighted the inherently pathological structure of the imagination of a “kidnapped West,” showed the added value of the use of desire in critical geopolitics, and further demonstrated the utility of popular artefacts for political analysis. It is important to briefly state also what has not been done. I have not argued that the dynamics of desire described in this article work equally for all Czech readers of The Glass Room or, indeed, for all Czech citizens. The article provides a detailed reading of one artefact and its embedding within broader discourses, not an extensive discourse analysis. This makes it safe to say that the politics of desire-laden relating to “Westernness” is present in the Czech public discourse, but it also clearly begs for other studies to develop and qualify the argument. Future research could focus on competing geopolitical imaginations (as sketched in Drulák 2006a). Another possibility would be to compare Czech geopolitical fantasies with those of other Central Europeans, which would shed additional light on the affective underpinnings of the geopolitics in and of the region. As all identities are ultimately insecure for Lacan—even though the ways which this insecurity adopts are dependent on the respective geopolitical imaginations and thus very different—it would be very interesting to draw comparisons with other contexts (e.g., with American and German discourses, see Solomon 2015; Eberle 2017). Last but not least, it would be revealing to complement my textual-based argument with an in-depth focus on the negotiation of “Westernness” in everyday experiences and practices. Footnotes 1 A potential problem arises with the question of translation, as meanings indeed shift across languages and contexts of consumption. To triangulate this, I have read the novel both in its English original and in the Czech translation. Apart from the replacing of the ambiguous “Město” with Brno in the Czech version (on which I comment later), the differences are too small to impact on the analysis. Direct quotations are borrowed from the English original. 2 Therefore, the difference between affects and emotions is that emotions are already woven into the fabric of discourse, they are “the ‘feelings’ that signifiers ‘represent’ once we attach them to affects” (Solomon 2015, 919). Similarly, desire is always already discursive, as it is dependent on a particular “object” that stimulates and reproduces it (Žižek 1997; Stavrakakis 1999). See also the discussion below. 3 The active role in negotiating identity means that Central Europeans are of course also capable of resisting Western discourses. Merje Kuus (2008) captures one particularly typical form of this resistance in her notion of “Švejkian geopolitics,” defined as absurdly exaggerated obedience, which then, paradoxically, leads to at least partially subversive effects via the deployment of irony and laughter. However, neither this, nor other forms of resistance to the dominant imaginary of the “kidnapped West” are traceable in The Glass Room and its Czech reception. 4 Fourteen reviews were related directly to the book and three to a play based on it, which premiered in Brno in 2015. The collection includes mainstream press and online outlets, specialized literary magazines, as well as blog posts. To contextualize the specific tone of the Czech reviews, I compared them with eleven British reviews of the book, mostly from mainstream press, also reached via online search. This analysis served merely as a background and is not developed in the article. 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International Political SociologyOxford University Press

Published: May 23, 2018

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