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A politics of avoidance: the limits of weak ontology Jodi Dean Grand narratives and strong ontologies have a remarkable

hold on contemporary life. Fundamentalist positions are ever more pervasive and intractable. In the United States, religious and market fundamentalism impresses itself on global and domestic practices of knowledge, law, governance, mobility, personhood, hospitality, and justice. Add to this the current reorganization of the post-WWII economic consensus around social welfare, as well as recent challenges to the rule of law and international legal conventions (such that Howard Dean is chastised for suggesting that Osama bin Laden should receive a fair trial, to use one example, or US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ remark that the Geneva conventions are “quaint,” to use another) and it becomes clear that strong ontologies or fundamentalisms raise moral and political questions that cannot, must not, be avoided. The stakes are high. Without exaggeration we can say that engagement with religious and market fundamentalism will shape the twenty-first century much as anti-fascism made its marks upon the twentieth. Some political theorists argue that the proper response to this fundamentalism is generosity.1 They elaborate ontologies and ethics that eschew fundamentals and urge an awareness of the contestability of one’s own fundaments or a responsiveness to the limits and vulnerabilities that necessarily condition the contexts in which we give an account of ourselves. I consider here work by Stephen White and Judith Butler. White offers the notion of a weak ontology as a contextually attuned and politically minded response to this moment of fundamentalist vitality.2 I argue that it is the wrong response, one that turns to acceptance and affirmation at a juncture when the future of hopes for equality, democracy, and a sustainable,

or that says. that everyone is different. they remain too passive. to benefit the wealthy. on the one hand. militarist. the very possibility of sustainable living. He makes them congenial to current power relations at a moment when they need to be sharpened and wielded as critically and antagonistically as possible. Critical. White’s approach. diseased. theory is necessary today. political. I argue that her Spinoza lectures do this and more as they develop a notion of ethical accountability that highlights the necessity of critique. of specifically and decisively rejecting those religious. on the other hand. Affirming weakness Stephen White’s Sustaining Affirmation takes on the problems that tenacious fundamentalisms present for liberal pluralist constitutional regimes. White rejects both fundamentalism and so-called postmodernism. response. nationalist. yet avoid the risky political work of condemnation and division. it’s one’s own personal belief that . as opposed to affirmative.2 common being-together demand a more critical. one of the thinkers White tames and assimilates. To this end. illegal. Instead. divests critical theories of their oppositional political edge. He doesn’t split the difference and try pathetically to find some middle road between them. Butler. privileged few while the majority are rendered criminal. They offer critique. one can never really know or judge. But even as Butler’s critical ethics improves upon White’s ontology. can be read as responding to White’s project for weak ontology. White holds that the current political moment requires a response that does more than assert unconditionally on the basis of the incontrovertible evidence of faith. and market fundamentalisms that are today actively rewriting the very terms of personhood. disposable. in these times of fundamentalist vigor. one that finds common ground among disparate thinkers. too acquiescent and compliant.

foundationalist. etc. he distills from them a common practice of tempering. Charles Taylor. White understands weak ontologies to involve a tentativeness or uncertainty in the face of the recognition of the contestability of one’s own fundaments. and essentialist claims. Rather than setting out a critique of the present. White is elaborating a project of immanent affirmation. and sources” (9). What a nice. a practice characteristic of what White refers to as a weak ontology. to emphasize cultivation rather than argument. In so doing. With his account of weak ontologies. natality. or affirming practices and ways of thinking as valuable. confrontation. or folding of the theory’s ethical-political aims back into its ontological position. What a lovely notion. what we might understand as the opposite of the old Frankfurt School idea of immanent critique. William Connolly. and. generous. communitarian. and Judith Butler. Weak ontologies are thus theories that embrace their own contestability and understand their theoretical task less in terms of presenting claims to truth or irrefutable arguments than of nudging. White draws from differing projects to present a positive approach to the . and responsive to the multiplicities and contingencies of late-modern life. conversion. feminist. easing. to account for human being in terms of constituent attributes of “language. or defanging one’s own theoretical position. suggesting. and post-Nietzschean thinkers as responding to universalist. to involve a kind of contextualized reflection. finitude. alteration. offering. or compulsion. nice approach.3 really matters. He reads these liberal. Sustaining Affirmation thus eschews the tired opposition between absolutism and relativism or foundationalism and anti-foundationalism to locate in the interface of differing approaches to political and ethical theory a set of affirmative gestures that prefigure or sustain a receptive attitude toward the strangeness of the late-modern world. White finds such affirmative gestures in the work of seemingly disparate thinkers— George Kateb.

He repeats without revising Charles Taylor’s presumption that a felicitous ontological claim assumes the modern welfare state and market economy (70). arguments fitting for mobile populations in an integrated world. In my view. for just and sustained economies. as opposed to affirmative.” With such a move. In the conclusion. There’s no need to worry. Consequently. White divests approaches like Butler’s of their critical edge in order to make them congenial to current power relations. for common approaches to living together. In the name of freedom and security. As White’s own skepticism toward fundamentalism attests. he points to this “yes” to contemporary life as he reassures political liberals who could raise concerns that the ethos of weak ontology might affect the basic constitutional structure of the liberal democratic state (153). as if these concepts fit easily together. Rather it points us primarily toward different ways of living those structures. we now must fight anew for human equality and dignity.4 contemporary. White’s position assumes a political-economic consensus that no longer exists. But why avoid political engagement? Why . This assumption is deadly—and deadly wrong. White reassures them: “this ethos does not cast wholesale doubt upon constitutional structures. some of these practices and identities involve dangerous forms of nationalism and authoritarianism. We should not defend all of late modernity’s practices and identities. We have to find new arguments. theory is necessary today. It mistakes the tenacious energy with which the Right in the US (and other countries) is transforming the state. critical. The welfare state has been crumbling since the seventies. Neoliberal economics has replaced the welfare state’s generalized sense of social solidarity and the collective assumption of risk with the brutal extremes of economic inequality and the heightened violence and fear of the society of control. all three branches of the US government have acquiesced to the use of torture.

very high? Despite my continued attachment to critical approaches. It may be that White dulls the radical edge of his account of weak ontology because he doesn’t attend to the way that the welfare state has collapsed. the affirmation of contingency could. The notion of a weak ontology could support engaged.5 not fight against those fundamentals one rejects directly. In affirming a kind of theoretical . oppositional politics. Given the prevalence of fundamentalism today. from the standpoint of one’s own political convictions? Why cultivate a tolerance or generosity toward practices and positions that are deeply wrong? Why concede ground to ruthless opponents—especially when the stakes are so very. I appreciate the clarity with which White’s questions further the work of political theory. He displaces potential radicalism—which would necessitate strong claims. contesting the political imposition of the religious fundaments of the Christian right and widely cultivating generosity toward sexual minorities and the economically exploited and oppressed would be a dramatic. Political and economic struggles against fundamentalisms are thereby reformatted as the struggles of a subject against itself. and division—with an interiorized cultivation of an ethos of generosity. Similarly. White avoids either of these political possibilities. potentially revolutionary change. we do not have to protect and defend the so-called free market at all costs. between the affirmation of late modernity and the potential of affirmation as a political practice. and I’ll add should. Should we take an affirmative approach to late modern life? Can affirmation provide a vehicle for political change? Is the proper response to fundamentalism one of affirmation or does such generosity risk a politics of avoidance that ultimately accedes to fundamentalist will? Sustaining Affirmation hovers uneasily between the first two questions. inspire a political drive to struggle for change—things can be different. less generosity.

Butler’s considerations of the relationship of unknowingness to the ethical responsibility of critique demonstrate the political importance of opacity and limits. Judith Butler considers the conditions under which one gives an account of oneself. intractable. is thus indicative of the larger problem of avoidance. and natality that White understands as weakly ontological. Sustaining Affirmation rejects the Derridean idea of futural justice or justice to come. but somehow redemptive future” (151). White misses the opportunity to take a side. of what we might also call the lack or gap forever in need of a supplement. For White. gaps. its ambivalent hovering between the affirmation of late modernity and affirmation as a political practice. which holds open the place for futural justice. It becomes a site of . and explicit divisions of contemporary global politics. Yet. these lectures seem like an exercise in weak ontology insofar as Butler emphasizes the foundering of our attempts to tell our own stories in order to present “a certain ethical disposition in the place of a full and satisfying notion of narrative accountability” (29). Accounting for Ourselves In her Spinoza lectures.3 There she attends to those prefigurations of language. The ambiguity of White’s approach. he avoids the stark. its interiorized micropolitical emphasis on cultivating an affirmative sensibility avoids addressing the choices.6 friendship among theorists from differing traditions. finitude. So even though weak ontology does not have to result in the acceptance of late-modern life. such an approach “shuttles between excoriating critique of an irredeemable present and ‘messianic’ appeals to an indefinite. and exclusions constituting the space of politics. contra White. In some ways. to offer generosity to practices of becoming that affirm sustaining life in common and to reject political views anchored in religious and market fundamentalism.

Butler’s appeals to justice in the future indicate precisely that open-endedness necessary for democracy. Yet. In the very moves that might be read as answering White. Butler. Without it. rather than an affirmative engagement with the present. We can point to our bodies in certain ways. Indeed. Butler’s discussion of giving an account of oneself emphasizes the limits conditioning any such accounting. everything would be calculable. The fact of our exposure is non-narratable. the system would be closed. incalculable gap is. instead of urging an affirmative relation to the world as given. then. This open. say) and normativity. the space of ethics and critique. conditions any narration we might give of our lives. her treatment of the conditions under which one gives an account of oneself makes clear the power relations maintaining any “historically instituted order of ontology” (65). or the way that we come into being within a set of norms that precedes us and remains indifferent to us. And.4 Accordingly. In contrast. a critical engagement unpredictable yet necessary for justice to come. Butler continues to assert the necessity of a critical. too.7 “normative overload” (152). not-yet-given. other than in fiction. our bodies will die and we with them. These limits include exposure. Butler embraces the “possibility of hope” (18) and the critical opening in the normative horizon structuring relations of recognition (20). a failure to acknowledge the ontological sources that prefigure ethical and political claims. then. and this failure. and reflect on how our physical embodiment conditions our being in the world. Moreover. commenting on Foucault. describe our ailments. we cannot account for our own births and deaths. for Butler. holds that “ethics undermines its own credibility when it does not become critique” (77). these limits exceed any account we can give of ourselves. or our condition of corporeality before others (as opposed to pure interiority. Rather than a site of normative overload. Similarly. the norms through which we give .

not quite the same as what one thinks that one is. And. of our ability to recognize and be recognized. my ability to cultivate an awareness of this lack could enable me to be more forgiving of others and perhaps even of myself. partial blindnesses about ourselves. what I could not have fully known. Norms exterior to me are necessary for me to be who I am. a certain patience for others that suspends the demand that they be self-same at every moment” (33). this recognition is itself necessarily imperfect. Living as a subject split between the norms through which we emerge and the corporeal. since I will need to be forgiven for what I cannot fully know. in turn. and I will be under a similar obligation to offer forgiveness to others who are also constituted in partial opacity to themselves” (34). Human being is thus lived at a minimum through two temporal vectors: the temporality of one’s embodied first person perspective and the temporality of the norm. might imply. although I may often be tempted to fill in this gap with an always impossible certainty. finite life that we lead means that we must become critical. not demanding an impossible accounting from another. She writes. they are necessarily apart from me and not of my own making. version of recognition because it recognizes the desire to persist. better. And. The recognition that one is. Thus. for Butler. “It would be perhaps an ethics based on our shared. another. of course.8 an account of ourselves frame the conditions of our emergence. Butler develops this idea as she . and of generosity. Butler adds that the acknowledgement of the limits of acknowledgement itself can “constitute a disposition of humility. experiencing the limits of our ability to account for ourselves enables a “new sense of ethics” that she speaks of as the “acknowledgement of the limits of acknowledgement itself” (33). at every turn. Allowing for openness. and invariable. becomes here. For Butler. The lack in what we can know about ourselves thus might be understood as the lack in what others know about themselves. Yet.

that is not a reason to . . And. Butler holds back. the limit. that does not call into question these norms and their consequences. For example. Or. It may well be the case that sometimes something more is called for—judgment or perhaps even condemnation. it may not. she draws from Adorno’s account of the inhuman as necessary for the human as well as from Foucault’s telling the truth about himself. insofar as we speak within them. is itself unethical. . avoiding the political task of condemning those persons and practices. those norms and desires upon which our poorly arranged world depends. Although we don’t choose the norms through which we emerge. . Crucial to each account is a certain limit. culpable. although self-knowledge is surely limited. or recognize an other in a way that they frame. To this extent. she writes. unresponsive as it disavows the relations of power on which it depends. an ethics that does not involve critique. the trauma within and necessary to me.9 rethinks responsibility. we transmit these norms and thus bear a responsibility for their consequences. The ethical disposition Butler finds in the context of address may arise. Persisting in a poorly arranged world poses ethical dilemmas: our own desires to persist have consequences for others. Butler allows for this when she observes that judgment does not “exhaust the sphere of ethics” and when she says that judgments are necessary for political life (36). even as this ethics is prefigured in the conditions of the scene of address it is nonetheless inseparable from an openness in and to the future. a limit that conditions the becoming of subjects and reminds us how ethical norms not only guide conduct but decide who and what is human (65). In making this argument. Yet. condemnation can work precisely against self-knowledge inasmuch as it moralizes a self through disavowal. arguing that insofar as we remain strangers to ourselves responsibility cannot rest on a myth of transparency but must instead be understood as dependent on the unknowable.

Indeed. practices in which I. indeed. I can base it on the sense that the pursuer of preventive war aims to produce a future that I reject or. may be a way of grappling with. Can we not imagination a condemnation capable of acknowledging its own limits? Can we not imagination a condemnation born of failure. again. a condemnation indebted and responsible to failure? If I condemn racism. homophobia. My condemnation. am I necessarily disavowing racism. that even if these are not his aims. or cruelty in myself? Might I not be addressing it in myself as I confront it in another? Or. that it necessarily seeks to purge and externalize opacity and necessarily fails to own its limitations. And surely it is not always the case that condemnation moralizes a self through disavowal. a condemnation of us and of our practices? And could it not be the case that such condemnation is my ethical responsibility insofar as it seeks to transform those contexts of address that will and do exceed my own? If I condemn someone for pursuing preventive war. am implicated such that I recognize this condemnation as a selfcondemnation. might I not be calling into question. as well as those I condemn. of confronting. . additional elements of the contexts of address. I need not base this condemnation on a sense that my knowledge is more certain. or for defending a notion of preventive war. and in this sense failing to own its own limitations. seeking to purge and externalize one’s own opacity. For surely the fact that condemnation can work against self-knowledge does not mean that condemnation everywhere and always does so. that I fear will arise in the course of its pursuit. It isn’t clear to me why Butler says this. elements that involve power. providing no felicitous basis for a reciprocal recognition of human begins as constitutively limited (36). hierarchy. and responsibility for other futures. but condemnation tends to do precisely this.10 turn against it as a project. better. or cruelty in another. homophobia. condemning.

Failure to condemn. and conduct. to which she can only gain access through a condemnation. Rather. and the Bush administration’s hegemonization of political discourse after September 11th in terms of its own position as victim. she condemns “on several bases the violence done against the United States and do[es] not see it as ‘just punishment’ for prior sins. its own vulnerability and dependence. political moments.”5 In her analysis of US policies of indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. Butler presumes that condemnation involves closure. other beings. one that “erodes the capacity of the addressed subject for both self-reflection and social-recognition” and works to “paralyze and deratify the . then. judgment. interprets. such failure may involve a politics of avoidance. however. explains. So even as she recognizes judging as a mode of address and thus premised on the context of address that “can and should provide a sustaining condition of ethical deliberation. the US’s “shock and awe” attacks on Iraq. she analyzes. as if condemnation were an act of sovereignty already bent on effacing its own supporting conditions. and. That is. she treats condemnation as unlike other speech acts. interrogates. important to my argument is the fact that her ethics need not preclude condemnation and that it can and should be sharpened so as to account for such divisive. Yet. In fact. Rather than a responsive ethics. US violence against Afghanistan. For me this raises the question of Butler’s separation of condemnation and critique and the political place and function of each. she does not condemn. may risk disavowal of relations of power as well as confrontation with my own complicity. it’s as if she finds herself in that moment trapped within a discourse she rejects.11 other contexts. in so doing. Thus.” she reads condemnation as essentially an act of violence. contextualizes. critiques. Butler does not always and necessarily avoid condemnation. it is striking to me that when Butler does condemn. in Precarious Life.

Bush’s persistence in his preemptive war against Iraq in the face of the condemnation of millions throughout the world. If the condemned is already positioned in a prior relation of subordination such erosion and paralysis may result. however. One could wish that condemnation had such effects. condemnation is not as powerful and efficacious as Butler implies.12 critical capacities of the subject to whom it is addressed” (37). is to appeal to a prior set of . so?” Condemnation. in other words. But not necessarily. you are the one who ultimately suffers. unjustified. something shared. and able to signify otherwise and in excess of its animating intentions. who is left shattered and bereft in condemning me. immoral. of condemnation—“I am not who you say I am” or “Because I am who you say I am. may not succeed. Likewise. the President of a mighty military power. As with other utterances. if the condemned is in fact more powerful. the terms. insofar as it occurs within a context of address. then. illegal. then associating condemnation with paralysis and deratification surely overstates the power of the address. a set of prior practices and values to which it connects. condemnation is citational. condemnation is “uncontrollable. the suppositions that give it an ethical valence beyond a mere statement of fact—“Yes. I certainly do. And. Its effects on the addressee as well as its relation to other acts and interpretations cannot be determined in advance. I am a godless communist. Condemnation does not occur ex nihilo but is based on something. but challenge the suppositions supporting these words.” The condemned may also accept the words of the condemnation. In sum.”6 To condemn. appropriable. and with respect to Bush’s unconscionable. points to the weakness and inefficacy of condemnation unbacked by force. imperialist war against Iraq. The condemned may reject the bases. relying for its efficacy on a set of prior norms that it reiterates. say.

Butler’s ethics. and. But politics necessarily entails risking actions whose results cannot be guaranteed. Responsibility stems from an irresolvable unknowability. where some needs will go unaddressed. involve determinations of which practices and principles one wants to further and which one wants to reject. subject to reflection. the conditions of contingency and unknowingness in which we find ourselves. exposure. then. Moreover. so does Butler’s emphasis on the limits at the basis of our ability to give an account of ourselves format the lack constitutive of the subject as an opacity to be acknowledged ethically but avoided politically. Political decisions. seems somehow to presume that such conditions call into question the possibility of politics.” she writes. making decisions and exercising power under conditions where not every option can be pursued. the very decisions to politicize or to constitute a space or identity as political. Avoiding Politics Despite her emphasis on the importance of critique. condemnation. “From the outset. who live by them. It’s as if what the politics of avoidance wants most to avoid is responsibility for actions. that will necessarily exceed the aims and intentions of those who find themselves acting. and cognitively known” (59). Just as White’s emphasis on affirming the contestability of one’s own fundaments fail to engage those who like their fundaments. each approach. like White’s weak ontology. for decisions and condemnations.13 connections as it basis and thereby to open up this basis for investigation. and where not every value should be respected or even tolerated. a trauma that limits and . critique. potentially. indeed. avoids politics. Butler’s account of ethical responsibility is grounded in the human situation of common vulnerability. “we are implicated in a mode of relationality that cannot be fully thematized. who kill for them. and risk (58). who embrace them. even as it asserts the limits of knowledge.

our common risks. That is to say. as if the other answers the call to give an account in necessarily the same way. is a source of ethical connection as it calls up the ways we are each given over to another. Moreover. displaces attention from the political matter of decision as she presents an ethics animated by an appreciation for the opacity and unknowingness rupturing any expectation to complete coherence or fully transparent self-identity. this limit within each of us. and opacity that seek to shield the subject from pain through appeals to self-defense and recourse to violence. Butler. to be in my presence as a menstruating woman may risk defilement. If unknowingness conditions ethics then it necessarily conditions politics as well. however. such conflicts or even antagonisms. to confront your jouissance may be unbearable. she offers an alternative response to vulnerability. Our political choices. our exclusions. But if the subject’s self-crafting “takes place always in relation to an imposed set of norms” (16) then differing sets of norms will condition senses of oneself and others and differing ways of conceiving this relation. one that emphasizes our common place. Butler draws from the analyses of Freud and Nietzsche to reject those moralizing responses to vulnerability. Attunement to this unknowingness. take place under traumatic conditions of unknowability and . politics cannot be avoided. for me. But what can be said about a political response to those who reject this ethics? Who prioritize preservation of a narrowly conceived self and nation over acknowledgement of common vulnerability? It’s almost as if Butler’s account of the context of address presumes an other who shares this context or who can and will accept her account of it. may be uncommon: for you. without a fundamentally different ethics of his own. The risks to which we find ourselves vulnerable. the experiences of embodiment inflecting our senses of exposure. trauma. our common limits.14 makes possible our need and capacity for response. Yet her rejection remains ethical. Once we emphasize such differences.

My relations are disturbed.15 unpredictability. In the act. we act within situations not of our own making. in the other as a foreign kernel of our own being. The act suspends the symbolic network. since (to put it in Levinasian terms) our very existence is “responsive”—that is to say.8 Butler’s ethics is grounded in the way we are given over to the other. but also in the sense of an absent originator of the ethical Call. Our decision for this rather than that will necessarily involve a kind of violence. changing them and ourselves in ways we cannot predict. the Lacanian act is self-grounding. I imagine him as my equal in the scene of address. we who may recognize each other and who are somehow each at the mercy of the other (58). We share a symbolic context. In a sense. Precisely here is the monstrosity of the act: the context that conditions me and within which I recognize the other is suspended. fully other—he is part of me. this other part of me is not fully foreign. we affect these representations and practices. often in terms of representations and practices we might otherwise trouble or critique. a foreclosure of the possibility of the future that would have resulted had we decided otherwise.7 For Lacan. When we intervene politically. Through our actions. the act is strictly correlative to the suspension of the “big Other”—not only in the sense of the symbolic network that forms the “substance” of the subject’s existence. The act is a catastrophe that happens to the me that I . Zizek explains. I am not myself. we emerge as subjects in response to the Other’s Call. of the one who addresses us and to whom we are irreducibly indebted and/or responsible. In contrast. Zizek’s account of the Lacanian notion of the act emphasizes precisely this point: in the act the distance between the ethical and political (the acknowledgement of the limits of acknowledgement and the necessity of a decision) collapses. rupturing the context of address and erasing the “I” that I am.

not as a result of calculation and planning. but in a free. At its best. Indeed. changing their terms. one does what one has to do. perhaps. White’s weak ontology turns immanent critique into immanent affirmation as it finds in critical approaches to the present . come what may. we find ourselves in the position of having no choice but to act and accept full responsibility for our act nevertheless. even reconciled. the sacrifice of what is most dear. So there is no normative overload here. immanent critique was a practice of finding lost futures in enlightenment. the act is not intentional in any proper sense. the very domain of the possible and permissible.9 White would likely view this emphasis on the act as an instance of normative overload or an appeal to a messianic future.11 In politics. For them. the contexts on which justification depends. incalculable move that one has no choice but to do. An act confronts us. First. their contours. Yet this view would be mistaken for two reasons. accepting responsibility. the displacement and transformation it affects. It transforms these relations. a freer. the dissolution of my sense of who and where I am. the opposite is the case insofar as there is no prior justification for an act: acts just occur and when they do they change their very contexts of emergence. is so catastrophic.16 was and the relations in which I found myself. Second.”10 It involves a kind of selfobliteration. the notion of the act is not messianic because from the perspective of what comes before the act. Critical Theory Today The first generation of the Frankfurt School developed critical theory in an effort to confront and explain fascism. that an act necessarily “involves the choice of the Worse. loss possibilities for meaning and. it just happens. relation to the world. immanent critique was crucial to this project as it enabled them to work from within what was given to grasp what came to be.

such ability. . one should be willing and able to give an account of these decisions. imagine a political theory that confronted fascism with nudges. suggestions. Rather than an ontological condition somehow compelling us to embrace the contestability and uncertainty of convictions (as if any ethical or political position could follow directly from such an account) or an ethical acknowledgement that renders what is unknown to me the same as what is unknown to the other. Could we. is crucial if we are to oppose the market and religious fundamentalism threatening the world today. for the exclusions and expulsions necessarily implicated in the exercise of power.17 sources that affirm it. The ambiguity that haunts his account of weak ontology contrasts mightily with the political and ethical positions that gave the Frankfurt theorists their ethical bearings. should we. in politics unknowingness involves responsibility for that which one cannot but do. Such will. and generosity rather than with complete rejection and opposition? Unknowingness conditions our politics as well as our ethics. Yes. just as one should be willing and able to condemn and oppose what should be condemned and opposed.

The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Competing Universalities. Judith Butler. 8 . Judith Butler. Judith Butler. 1999) 374-377.1 Thanks to Paul Passavant and Keith Topper for suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. Judith Butler. Ernesto Laclau. and Slavoj Zizek (London: Verso. 2001) 161. 2000). 377. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (London: Verso. . Connolly.” p. 2003). See also Paul Passavant and Jodi Dean. an affair of radically contingent decisions. 2000). See also Slavoj Zizek. 5 . See also Romand Coles. 261 in Contingency. 2000). “Laws and Societies. 7 . since it redefines the very terms of this Cause. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge. NJ: Princeton University Press. a gesture that can no longer be accounted for in terms of fidelity to some preexisting Cause. Hegemony. . Universality.” The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso. See also Judith Butler. White. 2004) 40. 2 . 3 . 3 (November 2001) 376-389. Ticklish Subject. in the uncanny domain in which ethics is ‘politicized’ in its inner most nature. Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton. Zizek writes that the ethical act proper “takes place in the intersection of ethics and politics. Rethinking Generosity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 4 . 1995) and Why I’m Not a Secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.” Constellations 8. 9 10 . The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso. Precarious Life (New York: Verso. . Slavoj Zizek. Stephen K. Giving an Account of Oneself: A Critique of Ethical Violence (Amsterdam: Koninklijke Van Gorcum. The most significant and thorough elaboration of this position comes from William E. 1997) 6 98. 1997). . 2000) 155.

without a clear awareness of what the subject is deciding about. it is incalculable. it is a nonpsychological act. . or fears. with no motives. unemotional. 2003) 22.11 . Zizek provides the following description of an act: “the decision is purely formal. although he couldn’t do otherwise. desires. not the outcome of strategic argumentation. ultimately a decision to decide.” The Puppet and the Dwarf (Cambridge: The MIT Press. it is a totally free act.