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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,
2 common being-together demand a more critical. They offer critique. one can never really know or judge. yet avoid the risky political work of condemnation and division. in these times of fundamentalist vigor. they remain too passive. He doesn’t split the difference and try pathetically to find some middle road between them. that everyone is different. response. too acquiescent and compliant. But even as Butler’s critical ethics improves upon White’s ontology. diseased. Butler. one of the thinkers White tames and assimilates. it’s one’s own personal belief that . on the one hand. theory is necessary today. illegal. Instead. White’s approach. 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. 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. divests critical theories of their oppositional political edge. 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. or that says. and market fundamentalisms that are today actively rewriting the very terms of personhood. Critical. one that finds common ground among disparate thinkers. of specifically and decisively rejecting those religious. the very possibility of sustainable living. political. privileged few while the majority are rendered criminal. as opposed to affirmative. To this end. disposable. on the other hand. militarist. I argue that her Spinoza lectures do this and more as they develop a notion of ethical accountability that highlights the necessity of critique. to benefit the wealthy. nationalist.
generous. Rather than setting out a critique of the present. He reads these liberal. he distills from them a common practice of tempering. offering. communitarian. or defanging one’s own theoretical position.3 really matters. Charles Taylor. and sources” (9). or compulsion. to emphasize cultivation rather than argument. or folding of the theory’s ethical-political aims back into its ontological position. finitude. 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. a practice characteristic of what White refers to as a weak ontology. White draws from differing projects to present a positive approach to the . what we might understand as the opposite of the old Frankfurt School idea of immanent critique. 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 finds such affirmative gestures in the work of seemingly disparate thinkers— George Kateb. and essentialist claims. What a nice. to account for human being in terms of constituent attributes of “language. easing. In so doing. and Judith Butler. alteration. What a lovely notion. natality. and. and post-Nietzschean thinkers as responding to universalist. White understands weak ontologies to involve a tentativeness or uncertainty in the face of the recognition of the contestability of one’s own fundaments. conversion. foundationalist. and responsive to the multiplicities and contingencies of late-modern life. William Connolly. confrontation. With his account of weak ontologies. or affirming practices and ways of thinking as valuable. White is elaborating a project of immanent affirmation. etc. to involve a kind of contextualized reflection. nice approach. suggesting. feminist.
arguments fitting for mobile populations in an integrated world. as opposed to affirmative. As White’s own skepticism toward fundamentalism attests. It mistakes the tenacious energy with which the Right in the US (and other countries) is transforming the state. theory is necessary today. for just and sustained economies. we now must fight anew for human equality and dignity. We have to find new arguments. 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. Rather it points us primarily toward different ways of living those structures. as if these concepts fit easily together. for common approaches to living together.” With such a move. critical. all three branches of the US government have acquiesced to the use of torture.4 contemporary. This assumption is deadly—and deadly wrong. He repeats without revising Charles Taylor’s presumption that a felicitous ontological claim assumes the modern welfare state and market economy (70). In my view. In the name of freedom and security. But why avoid political engagement? Why . In the conclusion. The welfare state has been crumbling since the seventies. We should not defend all of late modernity’s practices and identities. some of these practices and identities involve dangerous forms of nationalism and authoritarianism. There’s no need to worry. Consequently. White reassures them: “this ethos does not cast wholesale doubt upon constitutional structures. White divests approaches like Butler’s of their critical edge in order to make them congenial to current power relations. White’s position assumes a political-economic consensus that no longer exists. 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).
Political and economic struggles against fundamentalisms are thereby reformatted as the struggles of a subject against itself.5 not fight against those fundamentals one rejects directly. 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. very high? Despite my continued attachment to critical approaches. inspire a political drive to struggle for change—things can be different. Given the prevalence of fundamentalism today. He displaces potential radicalism—which would necessitate strong claims. potentially revolutionary change. oppositional politics. In affirming a kind of theoretical . we do not have to protect and defend the so-called free market at all costs. 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. I appreciate the clarity with which White’s questions further the work of political theory. the affirmation of contingency could. The notion of a weak ontology could support engaged. and division—with an interiorized cultivation of an ethos of generosity. Similarly. White avoids either of these political possibilities. between the affirmation of late modernity and the potential of affirmation as a political practice. 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. and I’ll add should. 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. less generosity.
its interiorized micropolitical emphasis on cultivating an affirmative sensibility avoids addressing the choices. is thus indicative of the larger problem of avoidance. 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). In some ways. intractable.3 There she attends to those prefigurations of language. Accounting for Ourselves In her Spinoza lectures. contra White.6 friendship among theorists from differing traditions. he avoids the stark. For White. and exclusions constituting the space of politics. finitude. which holds open the place for futural justice. such an approach “shuttles between excoriating critique of an irredeemable present and ‘messianic’ appeals to an indefinite. It becomes a site of . its ambivalent hovering between the affirmation of late modernity and affirmation as a political practice. to offer generosity to practices of becoming that affirm sustaining life in common and to reject political views anchored in religious and market fundamentalism. White misses the opportunity to take a side. Yet. of what we might also call the lack or gap forever in need of a supplement. Butler’s considerations of the relationship of unknowingness to the ethical responsibility of critique demonstrate the political importance of opacity and limits. and natality that White understands as weakly ontological. Judith Butler considers the conditions under which one gives an account of oneself. The ambiguity of White’s approach. gaps. So even though weak ontology does not have to result in the acceptance of late-modern life. and explicit divisions of contemporary global politics. but somehow redemptive future” (151). Sustaining Affirmation rejects the Derridean idea of futural justice or justice to come.
or the way that we come into being within a set of norms that precedes us and remains indifferent to us. Rather than a site of normative overload. not-yet-given. Moreover. Butler embraces the “possibility of hope” (18) and the critical opening in the normative horizon structuring relations of recognition (20). The fact of our exposure is non-narratable. the norms through which we give . these limits exceed any account we can give of ourselves. then. or our condition of corporeality before others (as opposed to pure interiority. the system would be closed. and reflect on how our physical embodiment conditions our being in the world. a failure to acknowledge the ontological sources that prefigure ethical and political claims. say) and normativity. everything would be calculable. too. Butler’s appeals to justice in the future indicate precisely that open-endedness necessary for democracy. These limits include exposure. Yet. other than in fiction. describe our ailments. commenting on Foucault. Butler’s discussion of giving an account of oneself emphasizes the limits conditioning any such accounting. then. Without it.7 “normative overload” (152). Indeed.4 Accordingly. for Butler. 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). In contrast. Butler. a critical engagement unpredictable yet necessary for justice to come. In the very moves that might be read as answering White. conditions any narration we might give of our lives. We can point to our bodies in certain ways. And. the space of ethics and critique. instead of urging an affirmative relation to the world as given. Butler continues to assert the necessity of a critical. rather than an affirmative engagement with the present. incalculable gap is. Similarly. and this failure. we cannot account for our own births and deaths. holds that “ethics undermines its own credibility when it does not become critique” (77). our bodies will die and we with them. This open.
And. of course. might imply. for Butler. finite life that we lead means that we must become critical. Thus. and I will be under a similar obligation to offer forgiveness to others who are also constituted in partial opacity to themselves” (34). partial blindnesses about ourselves. becomes here. this recognition is itself necessarily imperfect. and invariable. Norms exterior to me are necessary for me to be who I am. 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. and of generosity. not quite the same as what one thinks that one is. what I could not have fully known. 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). Living as a subject split between the norms through which we emerge and the corporeal. For Butler. And. although I may often be tempted to fill in this gap with an always impossible certainty. version of recognition because it recognizes the desire to persist. Butler develops this idea as she . not demanding an impossible accounting from another. She writes. 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. The recognition that one is. Allowing for openness. Butler adds that the acknowledgement of the limits of acknowledgement itself can “constitute a disposition of humility. they are necessarily apart from me and not of my own making. Yet. The lack in what we can know about ourselves thus might be understood as the lack in what others know about themselves. a certain patience for others that suspends the demand that they be self-same at every moment” (33). “It would be perhaps an ethics based on our shared.8 an account of ourselves frame the conditions of our emergence. better. at every turn. another. since I will need to be forgiven for what I cannot fully know. in turn.
To this extent. that does not call into question these norms and their consequences. 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. unresponsive as it disavows the relations of power on which it depends. Butler holds back. the limit. 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). 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. condemnation can work precisely against self-knowledge inasmuch as it moralizes a self through disavowal.9 rethinks responsibility. we transmit these norms and thus bear a responsibility for their consequences. that is not a reason to . Persisting in a poorly arranged world poses ethical dilemmas: our own desires to persist have consequences for others. . avoiding the political task of condemning those persons and practices. Or. . Yet. In making this argument. or recognize an other in a way that they frame. those norms and desires upon which our poorly arranged world depends. it may not. insofar as we speak within them. Crucial to each account is a certain limit. an ethics that does not involve critique. . For example. 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. culpable. And. is itself unethical. the trauma within and necessary to me. The ethical disposition Butler finds in the context of address may arise. Although we don’t choose the norms through which we emerge. 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). she writes. although self-knowledge is surely limited. It may well be the case that sometimes something more is called for—judgment or perhaps even condemnation.
additional elements of the contexts of address. again. as well as those I condemn. seeking to purge and externalize one’s own opacity. am I necessarily disavowing racism. hierarchy. and responsibility for other futures. condemning. indeed. that even if these are not his aims. homophobia. but condemnation tends to do precisely this. 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. that it necessarily seeks to purge and externalize opacity and necessarily fails to own its limitations. . elements that involve power. I can base it on the sense that the pursuer of preventive war aims to produce a future that I reject or. or cruelty in myself? Might I not be addressing it in myself as I confront it in another? Or. For surely the fact that condemnation can work against self-knowledge does not mean that condemnation everywhere and always does so. It isn’t clear to me why Butler says this. of confronting. or for defending a notion of preventive war. that I fear will arise in the course of its pursuit. better. My condemnation. might I not be calling into question. or cruelty in another. Indeed. a condemnation indebted and responsible to failure? If I condemn racism. am implicated such that I recognize this condemnation as a selfcondemnation. providing no felicitous basis for a reciprocal recognition of human begins as constitutively limited (36). homophobia. may be a way of grappling with. I need not base this condemnation on a sense that my knowledge is more certain. and in this sense failing to own its own limitations. practices in which I.10 turn against it as a project. Can we not imagination a condemnation capable of acknowledging its own limits? Can we not imagination a condemnation born of failure. And surely it is not always the case that condemnation moralizes a self through disavowal.
”5 In her analysis of US policies of indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. to which she can only gain access through a condemnation. she analyzes. and. Failure to condemn. explains. may risk disavowal of relations of power as well as confrontation with my own complicity. however. 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.11 other contexts. Thus. Rather than a responsive ethics. its own vulnerability and dependence. she treats condemnation as unlike other speech acts. the US’s “shock and awe” attacks on Iraq. Butler does not always and necessarily avoid condemnation.” she reads condemnation as essentially an act of violence. in so doing. then. and conduct. other beings. For me this raises the question of Butler’s separation of condemnation and critique and the political place and function of each. critiques. Butler presumes that condemnation involves closure. 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. That is. interprets. she condemns “on several bases the violence done against the United States and do[es] not see it as ‘just punishment’ for prior sins. interrogates. US violence against Afghanistan. in Precarious Life. it is striking to me that when Butler does condemn. and the Bush administration’s hegemonization of political discourse after September 11th in terms of its own position as victim. such failure may involve a politics of avoidance. contextualizes. In fact. it’s as if she finds herself in that moment trapped within a discourse she rejects. as if condemnation were an act of sovereignty already bent on effacing its own supporting conditions. political moments. one that “erodes the capacity of the addressed subject for both self-reflection and social-recognition” and works to “paralyze and deratify the . Rather. Yet. she does not condemn. judgment.
so?” Condemnation. may not succeed. I am a godless communist. Its effects on the addressee as well as its relation to other acts and interpretations cannot be determined in advance. illegal. the terms. you are the one who ultimately suffers. is to appeal to a prior set of . if the condemned is in fact more powerful. Bush’s persistence in his preemptive war against Iraq in the face of the condemnation of millions throughout the world. condemnation is “uncontrollable. condemnation is citational. say. I certainly do. in other words. something shared. and able to signify otherwise and in excess of its animating intentions. who is left shattered and bereft in condemning me. the suppositions that give it an ethical valence beyond a mere statement of fact—“Yes. imperialist war against Iraq. of condemnation—“I am not who you say I am” or “Because I am who you say I am. and with respect to Bush’s unconscionable. But not necessarily. And. points to the weakness and inefficacy of condemnation unbacked by force. Condemnation does not occur ex nihilo but is based on something. appropriable. then. In sum. however. insofar as it occurs within a context of address. the President of a mighty military power. If the condemned is already positioned in a prior relation of subordination such erosion and paralysis may result. Likewise.”6 To condemn. relying for its efficacy on a set of prior norms that it reiterates. One could wish that condemnation had such effects. The condemned may reject the bases.12 critical capacities of the subject to whom it is addressed” (37). immoral.” The condemned may also accept the words of the condemnation. a set of prior practices and values to which it connects. As with other utterances. unjustified. condemnation is not as powerful and efficacious as Butler implies. but challenge the suppositions supporting these words. then associating condemnation with paralysis and deratification surely overstates the power of the address.
then. indeed. “we are implicated in a mode of relationality that cannot be fully thematized. who live by them. and risk (58). where some needs will go unaddressed. each approach. Butler’s account of ethical responsibility is grounded in the human situation of common vulnerability. for decisions and condemnations. the conditions of contingency and unknowingness in which we find ourselves. avoids politics. But politics necessarily entails risking actions whose results cannot be guaranteed. Butler’s ethics. It’s as if what the politics of avoidance wants most to avoid is responsibility for actions. critique. Just as White’s emphasis on affirming the contestability of one’s own fundaments fail to engage those who like their fundaments. condemnation. seems somehow to presume that such conditions call into question the possibility of politics. potentially. and cognitively known” (59). “From the outset. and where not every value should be respected or even tolerated. like White’s weak ontology. exposure. a trauma that limits and . who kill for them. Avoiding Politics Despite her emphasis on the importance of critique. 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. that will necessarily exceed the aims and intentions of those who find themselves acting. even as it asserts the limits of knowledge. Responsibility stems from an irresolvable unknowability.” she writes. involve determinations of which practices and principles one wants to further and which one wants to reject. subject to reflection. Political decisions.13 connections as it basis and thereby to open up this basis for investigation. Moreover. and. 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. who embrace them.
Attunement to this unknowingness. take place under traumatic conditions of unknowability and . Our political choices. and opacity that seek to shield the subject from pain through appeals to self-defense and recourse to violence. however. 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. our common risks. the experiences of embodiment inflecting our senses of exposure. for me. Butler. to be in my presence as a menstruating woman may risk defilement. 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. our common limits. is a source of ethical connection as it calls up the ways we are each given over to another. Once we emphasize such differences. The risks to which we find ourselves vulnerable. without a fundamentally different ethics of his own. 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. Yet her rejection remains ethical. politics cannot be avoided. may be uncommon: for you. as if the other answers the call to give an account in necessarily the same way. to confront your jouissance may be unbearable. Moreover. That is to say. such conflicts or even antagonisms. If unknowingness conditions ethics then it necessarily conditions politics as well. this limit within each of us. one that emphasizes our common place. our exclusions.14 makes possible our need and capacity for response. Butler draws from the analyses of Freud and Nietzsche to reject those moralizing responses to vulnerability. trauma. she offers an alternative response to vulnerability.
7 For Lacan. in the other as a foreign kernel of our own being. 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. changing them and ourselves in ways we cannot predict. The act suspends the symbolic network. When we intervene politically. a foreclosure of the possibility of the future that would have resulted had we decided otherwise. Zizek explains. we who may recognize each other and who are somehow each at the mercy of the other (58). Precisely here is the monstrosity of the act: the context that conditions me and within which I recognize the other is suspended. The act is a catastrophe that happens to the me that I . I imagine him as my equal in the scene of address.8 Butler’s ethics is grounded in the way we are given over to the other. we affect these representations and practices. since (to put it in Levinasian terms) our very existence is “responsive”—that is to say. fully other—he is part of me. I am not myself.15 unpredictability. In contrast. we emerge as subjects in response to the Other’s Call. but also in the sense of an absent originator of the ethical Call. we act within situations not of our own making. often in terms of representations and practices we might otherwise trouble or critique. 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. Through our actions. My relations are disturbed. rupturing the context of address and erasing the “I” that I am. this other part of me is not fully foreign. of the one who addresses us and to whom we are irreducibly indebted and/or responsible. In a sense. the Lacanian act is self-grounding. In the act. We share a symbolic context. Our decision for this rather than that will necessarily involve a kind of violence.
Critical Theory Today The first generation of the Frankfurt School developed critical theory in an effort to confront and explain fascism. Second. For them. So there is no normative overload here. Indeed. accepting responsibility. it just happens. the notion of the act is not messianic because from the perspective of what comes before the act. their contours. First.16 was and the relations in which I found myself. incalculable move that one has no choice but to do. the very domain of the possible and permissible. perhaps. come what may. a freer. the displacement and transformation it affects.”10 It involves a kind of selfobliteration. relation to the world.11 In politics. changing their terms. the contexts on which justification depends. immanent critique was a practice of finding lost futures in enlightenment. even reconciled. not as a result of calculation and planning. At its best. the dissolution of my sense of who and where I am. loss possibilities for meaning and. the act is not intentional in any proper sense. but in a free. 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. that an act necessarily “involves the choice of the Worse. Yet this view would be mistaken for two reasons. the sacrifice of what is most dear. It transforms these relations. we find ourselves in the position of having no choice but to act and accept full responsibility for our act nevertheless. An act confronts us.9 White would likely view this emphasis on the act as an instance of normative overload or an appeal to a messianic future. one does what one has to do. immanent critique was crucial to this project as it enabled them to work from within what was given to grasp what came to be. is so catastrophic. White’s weak ontology turns immanent critique into immanent affirmation as it finds in critical approaches to the present .
Such will. such ability. 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. for the exclusions and expulsions necessarily implicated in the exercise of power.17 sources that affirm it. Could we. 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. is crucial if we are to oppose the market and religious fundamentalism threatening the world today. should we. imagine a political theory that confronted fascism with nudges. just as one should be willing and able to condemn and oppose what should be condemned and opposed. one should be willing and able to give an account of these decisions. suggestions. and generosity rather than with complete rejection and opposition? Unknowingness conditions our politics as well as our ethics. in politics unknowingness involves responsibility for that which one cannot but do. Yes. .
Precarious Life (New York: Verso. 2001) 161. NJ: Princeton University Press. See also Romand Coles.1 Thanks to Paul Passavant and Keith Topper for suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. 3 .” p. 4 . 2003). “Competing Universalities. 1999) 374-377. Judith Butler. Giving an Account of Oneself: A Critique of Ethical Violence (Amsterdam: Koninklijke Van Gorcum. 8 . Judith Butler. Judith Butler. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (London: Verso. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge. 9 10 . 2000). 7 . 1997). 377. Rethinking Generosity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. since it redefines the very terms of this Cause. Connolly. White.” The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso. 261 in Contingency. See also Paul Passavant and Jodi Dean. See also Judith Butler. Zizek writes that the ethical act proper “takes place in the intersection of ethics and politics. a gesture that can no longer be accounted for in terms of fidelity to some preexisting Cause. The most significant and thorough elaboration of this position comes from William E. and Slavoj Zizek (London: Verso. Judith Butler. . Ticklish Subject. an affair of radically contingent decisions. Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton. 2004) 40. 3 (November 2001) 376-389. in the uncanny domain in which ethics is ‘politicized’ in its inner most nature. “Laws and Societies. Ernesto Laclau. 2000). Stephen K. The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso. . Universality. 2000). Slavoj Zizek. Hegemony. 5 . . . See also Slavoj Zizek. 1997) 6 98. 1995) and Why I’m Not a Secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.” Constellations 8. 2000) 155. 2 . The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Zizek provides the following description of an act: “the decision is purely formal. 2003) 22. not the outcome of strategic argumentation. . or fears.11 . without a clear awareness of what the subject is deciding about.” The Puppet and the Dwarf (Cambridge: The MIT Press. ultimately a decision to decide. desires. unemotional. it is a totally free act. although he couldn’t do otherwise. it is a nonpsychological act. with no motives. it is incalculable.
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