This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Diacritics, Volume 31, Number 1, Spring 2001, pp. 105-108 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/dia.2003.0004
For additional information about this article
Access provided by Freie Universitaet Berlin (31 Jan 2014 11:28 GMT)
and I would explain my methodological position approximately in the following way: while I do believe that it is necessary to historicize psychoanalysis. This absence of debate seemed particularly conspicuous when compared to the ways in which other theory imports had entered German discourse in recent years. and I cannot plead guilty to falsifying or simply inventing any of the positions I discuss. be explained by a couple of remarks regarding the genealogy of my text. my relationship toward psychoanalysis would probably be described as “disavowal. Perhaps I should begin by. I intentionally focus. believe that it is crucial to evaluate. however. alternatively. pleading guilty as well or. Hoping to stir controversy.” From my own. I find many of Freud’s and Lacan’s theorems extremely useful for describing modern configurations of sexuality. From this “anti-dogmatic” standpoint. more or less “relativistic” position. like the long-term fight over postmodernist concepts. and I am willing to defend this stance. of course.1 (2001): 91–104. I agree with his suggestion that. In the case of psychoanalysis. not an appropriate notion.1: 105–08 105 . it is rather principal methodologi∨ ∨ cal questions that are at stake here: from the “dogmatic” standpoint Zizek claims at the end of his paper. in one respect. it originated. Part of the harshness of my tone may. While thus happily accepting the label “anti-dogmatic. and these concerns were eventually shaped into the ferocious critique published in this issue. in any specific thematic context. question. on one level. The opposition reminds me of the debates within gender and postcolonial studies in the course of which diacritics / spring 2001 diacritics 31. ∨ ∨ After these explanatory words.” I would like to argue with ∨ ∨ the way in which Zizek stages the choice between the relativist “liberal democrat” and the fully engaged “fundamentalist” at the end of his paper . Once I had begun to engage more thor∨ ∨ oughly with Zizek’s concepts. Written in the context of German academia. gender.RESPONSE TO SLAVOJ ZIZEK CLAUDIA BREGER ∨ ∨ ∨ ∨ Slavoj Zizek. I do. this is. by Freud and Lacan— or by Karen ∨ Horney or Joan Rivière. and. a couple of years ago. I developed some serious concerns with regard to their political implications. my argument is based on a meticulous close reading of many of ∨ ∨ Zizek’s texts. in my ∨ ∨ paper. ∨ ∨ in an intellectual climate characterized by the omnipresence of Zizek’s words and ideas. on what I believe to be the problematic aspects of Zizek’s theory. with an apology for the sometimes polemical rhetoric of my paper. At the same time. this process includes a critical discussion of the concepts offered. Diacritics 31. I am clearly ∨ irritated by Zizek’s claim to provide one superior. THE RHETORICS OF POWER. with—as far as I could tell—virtually no critical questions being asked. I would like to thank Slavoj Zizek for his response. privileged reading of psychoanalysis via his exegesis of Lacan. like many deconstructivists— and many other scholars—I use psychoanalytic notions as theoretical tools in my own work. and society. and I do enlist rhetorical strategies that serve to stress these aspects and to develop their implications. and negotiate the theoretical concepts I use. with one of its climaxes in the ferocious debate on Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in the early 1990s. which I find very helpful in highlighting some central methodological and theoretical issues. however.
Thus. I would like to—once more—plead for political strategies that renounce such rhetoric. disempowering. seems to be the crucial point: if power is omnipresent (as Foucault argues). I would like to turn to a set of more specific issues that might deserve further comment: the question of undressing the emperor and the relationship of king and leader. however. The argument I develop in my paper questions this description as a performative act: a gesture that installs failure in the project of democracy. and of being fought by others with their contrary claims. As evidence for its necessity. one can obviously ask whether the “true Master-Signifier: democracy” is entirely absorbed by this political configuration. In his response to my text. This very process. ∨ ∨ Zizek states that the problem with “the undressing of the king” is that it “only destroys his personal charisma. or whether it does not function in more complex and multiple ways within and beyond this specific field of political events. the political process of actually negotiating these claims. we need to continuously engage in the process of evaluating—and thus. Before eventually returning to this question of democracy. Perhaps it is useful to explicitly com∨ ∨ ment on the (in a more narrow sense) political dimension of Zizek’s recourse to this signifier: it cannot be read outside the context of the war on terrorism and the Western ∨ ∨ construction of “the fundamentalist” that accompanies this war. is no matter of peaceful serenity (unless—somewhat flippantly spoken—the postmodern deconstructivist who envisions this process has converted to a very Habermasian world view). relativizing—different claims. he enlists the topical figure of a “postmodern deconstructionist” who plays his/her academic power games in the safe realm of ironic distance from social struggles. Zizek—as I argue above in more detail—not only assumes 106 . but I would personally prefer it to be replaced by a critical genealogy of the notion of fundamentalism and its uses—as well as an analysis of those constructions ∨ ∨ which function.deconstructivist positions were charged with destroying political agency. or at least “strategic essentialism” [see. and I argue that it is Ziz ek ’s specific reading of Lacan that does not allow for this ∨ ∨ change of perspective. Even while accepting the implicit proposition that the rhetoric of democracy is today implicated with the politics of war. not the power of the symbolic place of the King” . In other words: challenging the proposition that serious political engagement has to rely on (more or less strategic) “fundamentalism”. He describes a situation in which “we” seem to be unable to touch anything but the personal charisma of the king—and are thereby doomed to endlessly repeat the mechanism of replacing one royal individual with another. was defended as a ∨ ∨ political necessity. I ask why ∨ ∨ Zizek keeps reiterating the negative evaluation (“we cannot undress the emperor”) rather than searching for alternative options (“how could we undress him more effectively ∨ ∨ then”). however. I have no difficulty in acknowledging that the rhetoric of self-relativization is part of academic power games as well—and I do believe that these power games should be subjected to a process of political critique. at least formally. Zizek makes a somewhat different point. I could only agree—completely so. And while the epistemological gesture of recognizing the foundational plurality of diverging claims may be easily performed. If this qualification was intended to suggest that we should develop strategies of deconstructing. Fuss]. as a political opposite of this “fundamentalist” protest: “trust that the democratic substance of honest Americans is able to break up the conspiracy” . I understand Zizek’s gesture of (ironic?) identification with this label as a strategy of political protest via provocation. or splitting that symbolic place. of fighting for their recognition. and essentialism. in Zizek’s text. Zizek justifies his “fundamentalism”—in quotation marks—similarly as a strategic choice. for example. To be sure: with a Foucauldian background. ∨ ∨ However. and no transcendental legitimation available for any of its singular performances (as not only the “antidogmatist” but also the “strategic dogmatist” has to add).
in the political theology analyzed by Kantorowicz and. a friendlier reading than mine could have given more ∨ ∨ weight to these moments of Zizek’s work. in Grimassen des Realen. Other than the traditional master. the political imaginary laid out in Grimassen des Realen seems to be the more consistent development of the— problematic—epistemological claims I have been discussing. for example. this “irruption of the Real” is. in these other contexts. however. As discussed in detail in my paper. And despite the different focus. as discussed in my paper]. Zizek starts from the proposition that the “Lacanian definition of democracy would then be: a sociopolitical order in which the People do not exist—do not exist in a unity” . which means that he can be deauthorized effectively: “as soon as the performative mechanism which gives him his charismatic authority is demasked. he suggests that Marx’s reminder to concentrate on the symbolic place of the king rather than his personal charisma misses the inseparability of the king’s two bodies. as I believe. the “Real” is introduced on a morethan-just-ideological level once more. one of the problematic aspects of this argument in Grimassen des Realen is. in multiple ways. in modernity. CB] an effect of the performative mechanism” of treating him like one. and superior) authority is a structural necessity within and for the social edifice. the objet petit a that arrests the performative play of signifiers seems to play its role on the level of ideology/fantasy only.” that is.” in which the communist leaders are described as “people of a special mould. This idea of an “irruption of the Real” within the “abstractions” of formal democracy is familiar from other texts I have discussed in my paper. in this context. we thus find a more traditional critique of ideology than in those discussed in my paper. Perhaps. here Zizek finds it diacritics / spring 2001 107 . and its infiltration with a moment of sublimity which prevents its effective—personal as well as political—degradation. and associates this nonexistence with Lefort’s empty place of power. however. Here. as Zizek does in other passages of The Sublime Object of Ideology [for example. In this passage.” It is in this context that. he. “the Stalinist vision. which implies the “transsubstantiation” of the body natural by virtue of its occupying the symbolic position of the king. As Zizek insists in his response. but also claims that the social process of filling—and fantasizing about—this position of authority is marked by the intervention of “pieces of the Real. ∨ ∨ located in the articulations of essentialist ethnic identity and racism. In the context of this argument.that a position of (“royal. On the other hand. single. does not exist: “in reality the People are the People because—or. but unfortunately. this difference between the two figures of authority is crucial for his theory. that is. 61–62. the ideas in this short chapter in The Sublime Object of Ideology are also. the leader—and this is the basic feature of the difference between the two—enlists the very performative mechanism as the resource of his power by grounding his authority in the agency of “the people. Whereas. the Master loses his power” . more precisely.” as “a sublime object” . he does develop a different argument. Rather∨than ∨ insisting that this ideology shapes history by constituting its “necessary” form. intertwined with the problems I have identified in other contexts. In the passage of The Sublime Object of Ideology to which Zizek refers in his response. he claims that the “transubstantiated body of the classical Master is [simply. Thus. in so far as—they are embodied in the Party” . central. the argument in Grimassen des Realen fails to substantiate the claim that they ∨ ∨ are different.” This point of reference. the passage concludes with a discussion of democracy that is only partially different ∨ ∨ from the ones I have talked about. that it threatens to collapse the difference between the king—or traditional master—and the modern leader by explaining the indestructible charisma of the leader with recourse to the paradigm of the king and his ∨ ∨ failed deauthorization in the French Revolution. discusses its paradoxical basis and thereby suggests how—both premodern and Stalinist—ideology can be subjected to a critique. In this context.
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. points toward a notion of democ∨ ∨ racy that differs from the one used by Zizek: a notion of democracy designating not only a system of political representation. however. 1989. . but a plurality of struggles that extend “the egalitarian imaginary” to different social fields within both the (heterogenous ensemble of elements constituting the) state and civil society [Laclau and Mouffe 176]. . New York: Routledge. he characterizes the latter as “an act of symbolic dissolution of the social edifice” . At the moment of election. Slavoj. society “changes into a contingent collection of atomized individuals. . in splendid isolation. 108 .]. This notion of radical democracy also includes an ongoing process of questioning its constitu∨ ∨ tive exclusions (which Zizek identifies in his response as the major problem of democracy “as a positive formal system” ). . . . ∨ ∨ Zizek. the analysis is symptomatic for the horizon he develops.” And bring down the king and the leader. occupy the center of both society and political theory.] stochastic process: some wholly unforeseeable (or manipulated) event [. Nature. real democracy. since majorities may be very small and the results of counting ballots occasionally disputed. we could decide to analyze the results of elections as a combination of discursive articulations and factors of institutionalized power—the latter including not only the specific regulations of the electoral process and any group’s chance to decide on the modalities of their application in a situation of conflict.” .” and “the result depends on a [. 1989. and so forth. This analysis. and so on” —and thus we find ourselves in a situation of totalitarianism once more. which enlists the fiction of egality—and liberty—for the development of multiple strategies to fight a series of different. I believe that such a notion of democracy. Zizek concludes with the suggestion to adhere to “the universal notion of ‘democracy’ as a ‘necessary fiction’” . . London: Verso.] can add that ‘half per cent’ one way or the other that determines the general orientation of the country’s politics over the next few years . WORKS CITED Fuss. could prevent the standstill of analysis in Zizek’s scenario of “formal vs. the rule of demagogy. Instead. Diana. and Chantal Mouffe. Ernesto.’” Zizek concludes that “democracy makes possible all sorts of manipulation. . the campaign donations of companies. With Lefort.” but that the “possibility of such deformations” can only be eliminated at the price of democracy itself—“So-called ‘real democracy’ is just another name for non-democracy: if we want to exclude the possibility of manipulation. ∨ ∨ It should be noted that despite this pessimistic scenario. corruption. I don’t think that it is either necessary or helpful to credit an “irruption of the Real” with such problems. albeit intertwined forms of domination and subordi∨ ∨ nation. Laclau. Having identified this “thoroughly ‘irrational’ character of what we call ‘formal ∨ ∨ democracy. The Sublime Object of Ideology. we must ‘verify’ the candidates in advance. we must introduce the difference between the ‘true interests of the people’ and its contingent fluctuating opinion [. 2d ed. London: Verso. who would no longer. Essentially Speaking: Feminism. 2001. and Difference. Nonetheless. Even if— as I would admit—the idea of a moment of irrationality within the electoral process is not without its temptations. but also the intervention of the media.within the process of representative democracy itself: “elections” .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.