The Curse Conversation with Why Theory

IMPAKT Festival 2022 The Curse of Smooth Operations

With the festival just one week away, it’s time for the fourth and final episode of The Curse Conversations: a series of interviews in which we delve deeper into the themes of the festival. In this last instalment, we talk with Todd McGowan and Ryan Engley. Since 2017 they’ve hosted the podcast Why Theory, in which they use a combination of psychoanalysis and Hegelian thinking to engage with contemporary culture. During the IMPAKT Festival 2022, the duo will record a live episode of their podcast.

Why Theory was launched almost exactly 5 years ago. In that time you have covered a wide variety of topics, from world news to pop culture to philosophical deep dives. What inspired you to start this podcast? And what did you hope to achieve?

We started Why Theory just to have a regular time to talk together about theory. We had no idea if people would want to listen or not, but it seemed like there were no podcasts existing at the time that brought together psychoanalysis, German Idealism, and popular culture. We wanted to do that.

Under The Curse of Smooth Operations, this year’s festival focuses on the dissatisfying potential of technology. Which philosopher sprang to mind when you first heard the festival’s concept, and why?

The festival seems to speak directly to Freud. For Freud, when things seem like they might run smoothly, we find ways to make sure that they don’t. His concept of the death drive provides a clear way into the problem of smooth operations—or their impossibility.

During the IMPAKT Festival 2022, a new episode of Why Theory will be recorded live. One central insight that keeps coming back in your podcasts is that contradiction is no dead end but the very condition that makes thought possible. Could you elaborate on this a bit more?

We take up this idea of the fecundity of contradiction straight from Hegel. His thought is an attempt to show how the barrier of contradiction pushes us to think and to act because we are at home in what doesn’t work out. If it weren’t for contradiction, there would be nothing to desire because things would be working out. To imagine a future free of contradiction seems dystopian rather than utopian to us.

What part or programme of the IMPAKT Festival are you looking forward to most?

I think that both of us are fascinated by The Animal Paradox and look forward to seeing how conceptions of animality relate to unconscious desire.

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