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ZIZEK, Slavoj - From Politics to Bio Politics and Back

ZIZEK, Slavoj - From Politics to Bio Politics and Back

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Published by: Lauro Rocha on Feb 01, 2012
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12/28/2012

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Slavoj Žižek
From Politics to Biopolitics . . . and Back
I
n our Western tradition, the exemplary case of a traumatic Real is the Jewish Law. In the Jewishtradition, the divine Mosaic Law is experiencedas something externally imposed, contingent,and traumatic—in short, as an impossible/realThing that ‘‘makes the law.’’ What is arguably theultimate scene of religious-ideological interpel-lation—the pronouncement of the Decalogue onMount Sinai—is the very opposite of somethingthat emerges ‘‘organically’’ as the outcome of thepath of self-knowing and self-realization. TheJudeo-Christian tradition is thus to be strictlyopposed to the New Age gnostic problematic of self-realization or self-fulfillment: when the OldTestament enjoins you to love and respect yourneighbor, this does not refer to your imaginarysemblable/double, but to the neighbor qua trau-matic Thing. In contrast to the New Age attitudethat ultimately reduces my Other/Neighbor tomy mirror image or to the means on the path toself-realization (like the Jungian psychology inwhich other persons around me are ultimatelyreduced to the externalizations/projections of the different disavowed aspects of my person-ality), Judaism opens up a tradition in whichan alien traumatic kernel forever persists in
The
South Atlantic Quarterly
103:2/3, Spring/Summer 2004.Copyright © 2004 by Duke University Press.
 
502
Slavoj Žižek
my Neighbor—the Neighbor remains an inert, impenetrable, enigmaticpresence that hystericizes me.TheJewishcommandmentthatprohibitsimagesofGodistheobverseof the statement that relating to one’s neighbor is the
only
terrain of religiouspractice,ofwherethedivinedimensionispresentinourlives—‘noimagesofGod’doesnotpointtowardagnosticexperienceofthedivinebeyondourreality, a divine that is beyond any image; on the contrary, it designates akind of ethical
hic Rhodus, hic salta
: You want to be religious? Okay, prove ithere, in the ‘‘works of love,’’ in the way you relate to your neighbors. . . . WehavehereanicecaseoftheHegelianreversalofreflexivedeterminationintodeterminatereflection:insteadofsaying‘Godislove,weshouldsay‘Loveis divine’’ (and, of course, the point is not to conceive of this reversal as thestandard humanist platitude. It is for this precise reason that Christianity,far from standing for a regression toward an image of God, only draws theconsequenceoftheJewishiconoclasmthroughassertingtheidentityofGodand man).If,then,themoderntopicof humanrightsisultimatelygroundedinthisJewish notion of the Neighbor as the abyss of Otherness, how did we reachthe weird contemporary negative link between Decalogue (the traumati-cally imposed divine Commandments) and human rights? That is to say,within our postpolitical liberal-permissive society, human rights are ulti-mately, in their innermost, simply the rights to violate the Ten Command-ments. ‘‘The right to privacy’’—the right to adultery, done in secret, whereno one sees me or has the right to probe into my life. ‘‘The right to pur-suehappinessandtopossessprivateproperty’’—therighttosteal(toexploitothers). ‘‘Freedom of the press and of the expression of opinion’’—the rightto lie. ‘‘The right of the free citizens to possess weapons’’—the right to kill.And, ultimately, ‘‘freedom of religious belief’’—the right to celebrate falsegods.
1
Of course, human rights do not directly condone the violation of theCommandments—the point is just that they keep open a marginal ‘‘grayzone,’’ which should remain out of reach of (religious or secular) power: inthis shady zone, I can violate the commandments, and if the power probesinto it, catching me with my pants down and trying to prevent my viola-tions, I can cry, ‘‘Assault on my basic human rights!’’ The point is thus thatit is structurally impossible, for the Power, to draw a clear line of separa-tion and prevent only the ‘‘misuse’’ of the Right, while not infringing onthe proper use—that is, the use that does
not
violate the Commandments.The first step in this direction was accomplished by the Christian notion
 
From Politics to Biopolitics . . . and Back
503
of grace. In Mozart’s
La Clemenza di Tito
, just before the final pardon,Titohimself is exasperated by the proliferation of treasons that oblige him toproliferate acts of clemency:TheverymomentthatIabsolveonecriminal,Idiscoveranother./.../I believe the stars conspire to oblige me, in spite of myself, to becomecruel. No: they shall not have this satisfaction. My virtue has alreadypledged itself to continue the contest. Let us see, which is more con-stant, the treachery of others or my mercy. / . . . / Let it be known toRome that I am the same and that I know all, absolve everyone, andforget everything.One can almost hear Tito complaining: ‘‘Uno per volta, per carita!’’—‘‘Please, not so fast, one after the other, in the line for mercy!’’ Living up tohistask,Titoforgetseveryone,butthosewhomhepardonsarecondemnedto remember it forever:
sextus
: It is true, you pardon me, Emperor; but my heart will notabsolve me; it will lament the error until it no longer has memory.
titus
: The true repentance of which you are capable, is worth morethan constant fidelity.This couplet from the finale blurts out the obscene secret of 
Clemenza
: thepardon does not really abolish the debt, it rather makes it infinite—we are
 forever 
indebted to the person who pardoned us. No wonder Tito prefersrepentance to fidelity: in fidelity to the Master, I follow him out of respect,whileinrepentance,whatattachesmetotheMasteristheinfiniteindelibleguilt. In this,Tito is a thoroughly Christian master.Usually, Judaism is conceived as the religion of the superego (of man’ssubordination to the jealous, mighty, and severe God), in contrast to theChristian God of Mercy and Love—one opposes the Jewish rigorous Jus-tice and the Christian Mercy, the inexplicable gesture of undeserved par-don: we, humans, were born in sin, we cannot ever repay our debts andredeem ourselves through our own acts—our only salvation lies in God’sMercy, in His supreme sacrifice. However, in this very gesture of break-ing the chain of Justice through the inexplicable act of Mercy, of payingour debt,Christianity imposes on us an even stronger debt: we are foreverindebted to Christ, we cannot ever repay him for what he did for us. TheFreudian name for such an excessive pressure that we cannot ever remu-nerate is, of course, superego. It is precisely through
not
demanding from

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