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THE LEADER’S TWO BODIES ∨ ∨
Over the course of the last decade, Slavoj Ziz ek and his “Slovenian Lacanian school” have gained renown in the Western theory market. Academics are fascinated not only ∨ ∨ by Ziz ek’s performances as a speaker, his nondogmatic approach to issues of genre and (inter)mediality,1 and the “literary” character of his theoretical texts [Laclau, Preface xii], but also by the political turn given to psychoanalysis by the “Slovenian school.” ∨ ∨ Already in his preface to Ziz ek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), Ernesto Laclau wrote that this school’s work made Lacanian theory “one of the principal reference points of the so-called ‘Slovenia spring’—that is to say the democratization campaigns that have taken place in recent years” [xi]. More than ten years later—after a decade of authoritarian rule, war, and genocide in former Yugoslavia—recent revolutionary events in Serbia once more allow one to hope for a thorough democratization of the region. In ∨ ∨ a newspaper article evaluating the uprising, however, Ziz ek warned that these hopes ∨ might be premature: while Milosevic could find his new role as “a Serbian Jesus Christ,” ∨ taking upon him all the “sins” committed by his people, Kostunica and his “demo∨ cratic” nationalism might represent “nothing but Milosevic in the ‘normal’ version, with∨ ∨ out the excess” [Ziz ek, “Gewalt”].2 ∨ ∨ Ziz ek was not alone in warning that the new government in Yugoslavia might not ∨ ∨ bring an end to Serbian nationalist politics. The pessimistic scenario Ziz ek evoked on this occasion, however, was not simply the result of his evaluation of the current political constellation in Serbia. Rather, the fantasy of the necessary return of the leader is connected to his political theory—a theory that does not allow for more optimistic scenarios of democratization and the diminution of nationalism in society. My reading of ∨ ∨ Ziz ek’s work thus argues for a reevaluation of his theory in terms of its implicit authoritarian politics. The need for such a reevaluation is ∨ suggested by Laclau toward the also ∨ end of his recent exchange with Judith Butler and Ziz ek when he admits∨that “the more ∨ our discussions progressed, the more I realized that my sympathy for Ziz ek’s politics was largely the∨ result of a mirage” [Laclau, “Constructing Universality” 292]. Laclau ∨ now criticizes Ziz ek’s radical Marxist rhetoric by suggesting that he “wants to do away with liberal democratic regimes” without specifying a political alternative , and ∨ ∨ describes Ziz ek’s discourse as “schizophrenically split between a highly sophisticated Lacanian analysis and an insufficiently deconstructed traditional Marxism” . On
An early version of this paper was presented at the “Theology and Criticism—Literature and the Sacred” conference at Johns Hopkins University, 4–7 March 1999. For helpful suggestions and criticisms of my argument in its different stages I would like to thank Cathy Gelbin, Clare Rogan, Heide Volkening, and Anna Wertz. 1. For example, one of his book titles promises Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan but Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock. 2. The translations are mine—as also on the following pages where I quote from German editions or texts.
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the other hand, he also problematizes Ziz ek’s “psychoanalytic discourse” as “not truly political” . My argument primarily starts from this latter point: the antidemocratic— ∨ ∨ and, as I will argue, both antifeminist and anti-Semitic—moment of Ziz ek’s theory is to be located not only in the way he performs Marxism, but also in the way he performs ∨ ∨ Lacanian psychoanalysis. While, in other words, Ziz ek’s skepticism vis-à-vis democracy is obviously informed by, and inseparable from, Marxist critiques of “liberal,” “representative” democracy, his failure to elaborate alternative visions of political change towards egalitarian and/or plural scenarios of society cannot be explained solely by his ∨ ∨ Marxist perspective. Rather, it is Ziz ek’s reading of Lacanian psychoanalysis that does not allow for revisions of the Marxist paradigm toward, for example, a “radical democracy” as suggested by Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. In a∨ chapter entitled “Formal Democracy and Its Discontents” in Looking Awry ∨ (1992), Ziz ek notes that “Lacan predicted a new rise of racism for the coming decades” ∨ ∨ as early as the 1960s .3 Ziz ek interprets this statement in the context of a “fundamental impasse of democracy”  created by the fact that the abstraction proper to democracy can never dissolve the “substantial ties”—of ethnicity, nation, and so on— ∨ ∨ that it negates .4 According to Ziz ek, “this constitutive paradox” has to be assumed: “The democratic attitude is always based upon a certain fetishistic split: I know very well (that the democratic form is just a form spoiled by stains of ‘pathological’ imbalance), but just the same (I act as if democracy were possible)” . Here, the ∨ ∨ political stance seems to be unquestionable: Ziz ek asks us to act “as if democracy were possible.” If he, nonetheless, describes democracy as impossible, this impossibility is ∨ ∨ grounded in Ziz ek’s staging of the political field as constituted according to Lacan’s ∨ ∨ dictum. In other words: the antidemocratic moment of Ziz ek’s theory is created by the ∨ ∨ way in which Ziz ek reads Lacanian theory as an exegesis of a—by implication: necessarily—totalitarian world. ∨ ∨ As the metaphor of “exegesis” may suggest, I am arguing that Ziz ek’s theory establishes a theological frame of reference.5 His “wild, multitongued discourse machinery” [Wetzel 209] functions as a theological commentary on the body of Lacanian “holy scripture.” By politicizing his “holy” Lacan through a frame deeply affected by the philosophy of German idealism, notably Hegel—a philosophical “common ground” of ∨ ∨ his Marxism and his psychoanalysis—Ziz ek turns the transcendental frame of Lacanian
3. Ziz ek himself asks, if rather rhetorically, whether Lacan “range[s] himself with this ideological argument which warns that contemporary civilization . . . precipitates a violent backlash of nationalism” . The answer he offers is that Lacan “radically subverts” the perspective of this argument while recognizing “a moment of truth in this nostalgic, conservative attitude” ∨ ∨ . While questioning the perspective of “radical subversion” Ziz ek claims for his Lacanian psychoanalysis, I∨am concerned with his ascription of “truth” to the articulations of racism. ∨ 4. See also Ziz ek’s discussion of democracy in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality [94– 100] for a clarification of this claim: although he refers to the “multitude of configurations of the democratic society” , his skepticism is not only directed toward the formalism of liberal democracy, but concerns “the very universal notion of political democracy” . A “‘radical democracy’ that was actually “radical” in the sense of politicizing the sphere of economy would, ∨ ∨ precisely, no longer be a ‘(political) democracy’” [100, Ziz ek’s emphasis]. Here, he clearly parts with Laclau and Mouffe, who integrate issues of economy—as well as the democratic struggles of feminism and antiracism—into their notion of a democratic politics based on the irreducible plurality of social logics and subjectivities. 5. This is also noticed by∨ Laclau [“Constructing Universality” 289] and was argued by ∨ Butler in an earlier reading of Ziz ek [Butler, Bodies]. While my reading relies on Butler’s episte∨ ∨ ∨ ∨ mological critique ∨ Ziz ek [see also Butler, Laclau, and Ziz ek], she does not take this critique of ∨ into the terrain of Ziz ek’s political visions.
psychoanalysis into a vehicle of a political theology. Its central figure, the totalitarian leader, is modeled after the premodern concept of the king analyzed by Ernst Kantorowicz in his 1957 study, The King’s Two Bodies. According to Kantorowicz, the doubling of the monarch’s body historically served to guarantee the continuity of the “body politic” of monarchical power in the succession of mortal, “natural” bodies on the throne. Juridically elaborated in Tudor England, the concept had its precursors and parallels in a variety of images and ideas developed in medieval continental philosophy, notably the early christological concept of the king. Kantorowicz described his work as A Study in Medieval Political Theology, and albeit careful not to overtly politicize his historical endeavor, he located his medieval and early modern material in the genealogy of modern political theology with its fascist implications [viii; Kantorowicz alludes to Carl Schmitt here]. By elaborating the image of the totalitarian leader with regard to “the ∨ ∨ king’s two bodies,” Ziz ek not only effects the move of actualization implied by Kantorowicz, but he also reenacts the theological gesture of legitimation that Kantorowicz ∨ ∨ analyzes. Developed in the 1990s, Ziz ek’s “political theology” is clearly marked by postmodern thought: it is characterized both by an affirmation of the performative enactment of authority and a constitutive ambivalence toward its figures—by which it ∨ ∨ remains nonetheless obsessed. As I will argue, Ziz ek outlines a world eternally ruled by a monstrous, earthbound Lord, a world not open to human agency and political change. Because the authoritarian shape of his vision is constitutively tied up with anti-Semitic and antifeminist phantasms, it is especially problematic.
Holy Lacan, or: Writing As a Performance of Authority At the beginning, there is the authority of the philosophical leader. In Grimassen des ∨ ∨ Realen (Grimaces of the Real) (1993),6 Ziz ek comments on his practice of reading Lacan in a mode of exegesis. Discussing Freud’s status as the founder of psychoanalysis, he argues that Freud’s texts are “beyond criticism” in a radical sense since he opened up a new theoretical field positing its own truth criteria. Thus irrefutable, Freud’s texts are to be read in the same way that Lacan asked us to read the text of a dream: as “holy” texts. ∨ ∨ For Ziz ek, the rhetorical gesture by which Lacan described his psychoanalytic reading as a “return” to Freud therefore points to the form that ∨every attempt to further develop ∨ Freudian thinking necessarily has to take . And, Ziz ek adds, the “disturbing scandal” documented by the history of psychoanalysis consists in the “superior productivity” of this “dogmatic approach” compared to more critical readings . ∨ ∨ Ziz ek repeats the gesture of “return” to the text of the philosophical leader, whose position, in his works, is occupied by Lacan. As opposed to Freud (for Lacan), however, ∨ ∨ Lacan (for Ziz ek) assumes this position by virtue not of the dreamlike quality of his texts, but rather his position as a teacher. Implicitly commenting on his own gesture of ∨ ∨ subordination, Ziz ek discusses the “scandal” (he uses this notion repeatedly in the course of his argument) of Lacan’s frank, “shameless” self-fashioning as an ∨ authority demand∨ ing personal loyality. By his rhetorical presentation of this gesture, Ziz ek points to the disapproval which Lacan’s self-fashioning is bound to elicit in a (presumably) modern, democratically inclined reader, but he seems to do so only in order to enhance the force ∨ ∨ of his own gesture of provocation. For Ziz ek continues his argument by declaring the necessity of Lacan’s performance of personal authority: the “indestructible link” between the doctrine and the teacher is “the scandal that everybody who sees himself as a
6. There is no English edition of this book (although an article with the same title was published in October).
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Lacanian has to assume. . . . If someone says, ‘I follow Lacan because his reading of Freud is the most intelligent and convincing one,’ he immediately discloses himself as a Non-Lacanian” [116–17]. ∨ ∨ Ziz ek relates this model of authority to the figure of Kierkegaard’s “apostle.” The apostle’s authority is supported by a transcendental power—and the Lacanian is to unconditionally, “irrationally” accept this authority . His business is exegesis, not ∨ ∨ criticism. By making this distinction, Ziz ek’s theological gesture of hermeneutic subordination under the leader’s text performatively∨ establishes the authority of his reading ∨ as grounded in a “given” truth. Importantly, Ziz ek himself stresses the performative foundation of this theological concept of authority. According to his reading, it is in theology that the concept of performativity has its seeds: the truth of Christianity is “inerasably branded by an historical event, the moment at which God became flesh” in Christ . It is in this image that the themes of the post-Hegelian turn—the priority of event and existence over timeless truth and essence—have their “actual foundation” ∨ ∨ . Ziz ek’s “political theology” thus grounds itself in Christianity—a Christianity that is elevated by the diagnosis of its relationship to modern and postmodern thinking. Before I discuss the political images developed within this frame of “postmodern Chris∨ ∨ tianity,” it is necessary to look more closely at Ziz ek’s epistemological claims, especially his model of performativity.
Contingent Foundations? Performing “the Real” With the advent of modernity, God’s existence can no longer be taken for granted. Now the performative moment located in Christ’s incarnation of God becomes the last foun∨ ∨ dation of authority. In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Ziz ek develops his performative model of authority by referring to Pascal’s early modern political theology, which insists on the “constitutively senseless” character of the law . The law’s “mystic basis” is in its “process of enunciation”; and “we must obey it not because it is just, good or even beneficial, but simply because it is the law” . Pascal’s performative concept of authority has served as an important point of reference for postmodern thinking and debate. Thus, Jacques Derrida quotes Pascal in his Force de loi as a starting point for his reflections on the constitutive contamination of law with “force,” as both violence and authority. Since the founding of the law can, by definition, be grounded only in itself, it is a groundless act of force [28–29], which implies not its illegitimacy but the impossibility of its philosophical de/legitimation. Derrida’s insistence on this foundational moment of contingency has been discussed with regard to its ethical and political implications.7 Insofar as he is discouraging the critic from distinguishing between different laws and different forms of violence, Derrida’s philosophical intervention, as opposed to his outspoken political intervention, can be accused of not providing a basis for democratic negotiations. ∨While this might seem to align his deconstructivist approach with ∨ the problematic of Ziz ek’s thought as I analyze it here, there is an important difference of orientation to be noted: discussing Walter Benjamin’s “uncanny” affinities to Carl Schmitt, Derrida stresses law’s contamination by “force” in order to deconstruct philo∨ ∨ sophical attempts to claim the legitimacy or holiness of any law or Law. Ziz ek, too, notes the contamination of law with force, but unlike Derrida, he is interested in recon∨ ∨ struction more than deconstruction. In Ziz ek’s reading, Pascalian theology establishes a paradigm for the efficiency of ideology that is based on the repression of the fact that
7. For a partial documentation of the debate on Derrida’s reading of Benjamin, see Haverkamp.
the authority of the law “is without truth” . For him, the crucial text of Pascal is the fragment on the necessity of the wager, which he describes as a “procedure for obtaining ideological conversion” : “‘if you are unable to believe,’” the reader is taught here, “act as if you already believe, and the belief will come by itself” [SO 38–39]. Authority, then, is always performative [see Grimassen 114], but its iteration is not the process of its destabilization, as deconstructivists like Derrida or Butler stress. In a ∨ ∨ recent commentary to Butler’s work, Ziz ek explicitly refutes Butler’s account of resignification as a performative renegotiation of the signifiers of authority [see Butler, esp. Excitable Speech]: “the gargantuan symbolic matrix is far too deep-rooted and ‘substantial’ to be effectively undermined by the marginal gestures of performative dis∨ ∨ placement“ [Ziz ek, Sehr Innig 34]. Rather than destabilizing ideology, the performative process of repetition designates “the way in which so-called historical necessity [. . .] is constituted through misrecognition [. . .], that is, the way truth arises from misrecognition” ∨ ∨ [SO 61]. As Ziz ek points out with regard to Hegel’s reading of Caesar’s death, and thus the fall of the Roman Republic, repetition, by creating public recognition, “announces the advent of the Law” . Appearance, in other words, turns into “essence” [see 198]. ∨ ∨ Referring to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes, Ziz ek admits: if “somebody were publicly to pronounce the obvious truth that ‘the emperor is naked’ . . . —in a sense the whole system would fall apart” , but he declares that ∨ ∨ the “big Other” has to be kept in ignorance about this fact . According to Ziz ek, we cannot simply take the part of the uncorrupted child in the fairy tale and declare:∨ “the ∨ emperor is naked!,” thereby deconstructing his power. In his usual exegetic mode, Ziz ek rather concludes: “We can now see why Lacan, in his seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, distances himself from the liberating gesture” [SO 29].8 To be sure, Butler too has theorized the stabilizing effects of repetition that provide the basis for an effective social regulation of identities and the persistence of hegemonic ∨ ∨ power structures [see Bodies That Matter]. With Ziz ek, though, this process of stabilization has a different theoretical status. The vocabulary he uses, notably his (albeit distancing) use of the notions of “necessity” and “truth,” is symptomatic of this differ∨ ∨ ence. Ziz ek’s performative reenactment of “(so-called) historical necessity” does not ∨ ∨ simply stress the inescapability of totalitarian power, but shows that Ziz ek’s theory provides the functioning of ideology with a guarantee. This guarantee is provided by his use of the Lacanian Real as a central effect—and agent—within the performative process [see Butler, Bodies 198–207; “Competing Universalities” 152]. In The Sublime ∨ ∨ Object of Ideology, Ziz ek develops his concept of performativity in a critical reading of two contrary linguistic positions, the “descriptivist” assumption that attributes an immanent∨meaning to words, and the “antidescriptivist” theorem of a “primal act of bap∨ tism.” Ziz ek argues that not just the former but also the latter eventually misses “the radical contingency of naming” when it refers to “reality” in order to find the feature that guarantees “the identity of the designated object beyond the ever-changing cluster ∨ ∨ of descriptive features” . Instead of searching in the field of “reality,” Ziz ek suggests, we should turn to the Real (as distinct from reality), the “dimension of the object as real in the Lacanian sense” that is missed by the antidescriptivist account . He does not suggest, however, that we should question the assumption of an identity that persists beyond an object’s changing cluster of descriptive features. By refer∨ ∨ ring to the Real as a resource for identity, Ziz ek evacuates the radical “contingency” of ∨ ∨ naming that he claims of its contingency [Butler, Bodies 196]. Ziz ek’s exegesis of the
8. As should perhaps be noted, this distancing gesture of Lacan’s is staged as an answer to a reproach according to which “Lacan doesn’t say much more than ‘The king is naked’” [Ethics 13].
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Lacanian Real stresses its “paradoxical character” [SO 161]. While its intervention, on the one hand, establishes the symbolic order as always “barré, crossed-out, by a fundamental impossibility” , it also eternalizes its (split) shape. The real object can be defined as “a cause which in itself does not exist” . As “a hard kernel resisting symbolization” , it is not just the leftover of the process of symbolization, although it can only be “grasped” as such, but also its ∨ “starting point” .9 This Real ∨ “remains the same in all possible worlds” : in Ziz ek’s reading of Lacan, it is installed as a “rock” grounding a realm beyond discourse [169; see Butler, Bodies 198]. ∨ ∨ By virtue of its intervention, Ziz ek’s performative constitution of identity creates not unstable phantasms (possibly experienced as stable reality, possibly as open to change), but “hard facts.” Without “positive consistency” [SO 95], the objet petit a (the remnant of the Real or “stain” of enjoyment which we encountered in the argument about democracy quoted earlier [LA 168]) functions as a “surplus” in the object that is “something in it more than itself” and guarantees its identity “in all counterfactual situations” [SO 95, 94].
Identity as “Natural” Authority: The Paradigm of the King Identity cannot be separated from authority [Zizek, Grimassen 88]. With regard to Hegel’s ∨ ∨ dialectic, Ziz ek describes the “leftover of the Real” constituting identity also as a “point of exception” or “additional element that ‘stands out’” . In order to explain its “immanently authoritarian character,” he refers to Hegel’s “most disreputable” example ∨ ∨ for this additional element which has—unjustly, Ziz ek claims—been read as proof of the philosopher’s conservatism: the king. While the monarch’s body suspends the state’s rational constitution, the state only achieves its reality in this “additional element that stands out” . For the king is “immediately—precisely in his nature—that which he is according to his symbolic designation (a king becomes king by virtue of his birth, not ∨ ∨ his merits)” . Thus, Ziz ek uses the dynastic model of legitimating authority—which tries to knot together the king’s two bodies inseparably—as a paradigm of identity in general. “The exception of the king is thus an exception that is ‘reconciled in universality’ [‘im Allgemeinen’], since it founds universality” . The “leftover of the Real” that sticks to the figure of the king as a “naturally” legitimized leader constitutes the theory that insists on its performative effectiveness: ∨ ∨ only the point of exception—the monarch—gives Ziz ek’s “democratic,” materialist project its identity. The extraordinary role of the king may be as ideological as “histori∨ ∨ cal necessity”; for Ziz ek, it is nonetheless necessary: “the monarch plays his role as a figure of pure authority which cuts off the endless succession of pros and contras by its ‘Thus it shall happen!’” and thereby “guarantees the identity of the social structure” ∨ ∨ . At first, Ziz ek seems to argue that this element of necessity merely concerns the ∨ ∨ king’s structural position: while authority is always performative (Ziz ek reminds us of the Lacanian thesis according to which the master is fundamentally an impostor), the exposure of his imposture cannot dissolve the place he occupies . By itself, however, this structural necessity of a position of authority would not turn democracy into a ∨ ∨ paradoxical endeavor. Ziz ek argues that in a democratic society, the king’s body guarantees the nonclosure of the social field. He refers to Claude Lefort’s dictum that in democracy, the throne is empty. Once a state to be overcome, the “interregnum” now signifies the normal state of affairs . No one has a full legal claim to the throne; by
9. As a response to Butler’s criticism, Ziz ek stresses today that this Real is nonetheless “a symbolic determination” [FA 121], but he keeps insisting on its (retroactively installed) founda∨ ∨ tional status as a traumatic “ahistorical” kernel [112; Ziz ek’s quotation marks).
definition, every occupant of the place of power is a “usurper,” mandated to exercise power as a temporary representative only. Democracy is defined by the insurmountable boundary that prevents the political subject from becoming consubstantial with power . In the language of psychoanalysis, this means that the place of authority is “a purely symbolic construction” that cannot be occupied by any “real” political official . As ∨ ∨ we have seen, though, Ziz ek’s epistemology does not allow for a construction to be “purely symbolic.” His obsession with the intervention of “pieces of the Real” enacts the king not just as an example, a metaphorical casting of a necessary position, but as the necessary incorporation of (social) identity. As a figure with “natural legitimation,” the royal “piece of the Real” arrests the function of authority in a nondemocratic field. ∨ ∨ Ziz ek concludes the above argument about democracy with an exegesis of Hegel’s plea for hereditary succession. He presents this plea as a suggestion of how to solve the paradox of democracy—a paradox he introduced to the context of this argument by associating Lefort’s thesis with Jacobean rhetoric and concluding that the Terror was of ∨ ∨ a “strictly democratic nature” . According to Ziz ek, Hegel’s monarch is “nothing but a materialization of the distance” between the place of power and its occupant. And it is precisely his hereditary legitimation—the “contingency” of biological origin—which guards the emptiness of the throne by guaranteeing “the ‘utter insignificance’ of the monarch’s positive essence” . Therefore, only the act of subjectivating the barrier in a subject “in which the pure, empty name coincides with the ‘last remnant’ of nature” “interrupts the vicious circle of terror” . A king alone could save us from the terrors of totalitarianism that announce them∨ ∨ selves in the Jacobean murders. This argument suggests that Ziz ek offers a conservative answer to the diagnosed dilemmas of modernity. But it is not quite that simple. His attempt to construct the Hegelian king as a quasi-utopian alternative to the totalitarian present is not very convincing. Since the rhetoric of hereditary ∨monarchy asserts the ∨ uniqueness of the king’s person (rather than its insignificance), Ziz ek enlists the theorem of the “two bodies” of the performative in order to support his claim: the uniqueness asserted on the level of the enunciated is contradicted on the level of enunciation ∨ ∨ . In Ziz ek’s theoretical universe, where the split body of the performative does not open a Third Space (Homi Bhabha) of social renegotiation, this move comes as a surprise—and reads like a “hair-splitting” attempt to introduce difference to a field constituted in sameness. For at this point of his∨argument, in order to explain why the people ∨ are fascinated by the totalitarian leader, Ziz ek has already explained to the reader why the assertion of the master’s personal insignificance can never win the political game. In this argument, however, he uses the example of the king’s decapitation during the French Revolution.
A Sublime Thing: The Leader’s Other Body It is a “platitude,” Ziz ek claims, that the Jacobean logic of the necessary liquidation of the king created an impasse; but this impasse is more complicated than it seems. The problem is not just the one noted already by Marx: that “to be a king” is not only a person’s natural quality, but also a symbolic position [124–25]. This insight would result in a demand to dissolve the network of social conditions that confers the title of king upon a specific person, and thereby to ∨ make visible that this person is “an indi∨ vidual like any other” . According to Ziz ek, though, this strategy is doomed to failure. For the implied differentiation of the king’s two bodies—that is, his definition of democracy—misses a “paradox” articulated already by Lefort in his criticism of
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Kantorowicz’s thesis: not only does the “natural,” mortal body of the king function as a support and incarnation of the immortal “body politic,” but this “body natural”—a king’s everyday qualities—is also “transsubstantiated” once he occupies the symbolic position of king . His person is no longer available for degradation: the more we envision the king as an ordinary person—the more we stress even his “pathological” traits— the more he remains “king” . ∨ ∨ Although Ziz ek’s presentation might suggest it, it is not the inseparability of the king’s two bodies per se that Kantorowicz “misses”: he describes their “dogmatic unity”  dissolved only in death—or a scenario of revolt: dethronement—and, be it ironically or in a gesture of identification, he comments on the idea of their violent separation as unpleasant . But in his reading of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Kantorowicz focuses on the process of dethronement, which challenges the dogmatic concept by effecting the violent separation of the two bodies. Even if Kantorowicz does so in a melancholic pose, he participates in the modern discourse that uses Richard II, the dethroned king,∨as a figure signifying the essential emptiness of the throne [see Mertz ∨ 150]. Within Ziz ek’s epistemological realm, this democratic scenario is not imaginable. The performative act of coronation locating the individual at the symbolic place of power “doubles the king’s body by introducing a split in between the visible, material, passing body and another, a sublime body” —and it does so irrevocably. The king’s bodies are not open to resignification. By virtue of occupying the position of king, the monarch’s (other)∨body is elevated ∨ to the status of a sublime object: “The king is a”—Lacanian—“thing” [Ziz ek, Grimassen 124, quoting Lacan, who quotes this Shakespeare line in his essay on Hamlet]. Lacan’s notion of the Ding describes the sublimity of the Real: its sublimity both as an agent of absolute power—the Ding makes the law [see Lacan, Ethics 73]—and as the (non)“object” of a process of sublimation . As a “thing” (identified with the objet ∨ ∨ petit a in Ziz ek’s argument), the royal “piece of the Real” is a sublime sovereign not only during his reign on earth, but even more so after being murdered—like the undead Shakespearean monarch to whose image Lacan and Zizek refer. To decapitate the king is therefore both “fundamentally useless and furthermore a terrible sacrilege that con∨ ∨ firms the king’s charisma precisely by physically destroying him” [Ziz ek, Grimassen 127]. The Ding cannot∨be killed; and totalitarianism will forever haunt us. For at this ∨ point of his argument, Ziz ek declares that the Jacobean problem with their dead “thing” can be observed “in all similar cases, also with the execution of Ceaucescu” . For ∨ ∨ Ziz ek, the logic of the king’s two bodies corresponds to the logic of the leader’s two bodies: “Within the post-revolutionary ‘totalitarian’ order we have witnessed a reappearing of the sublime body politic in the shape of the leader and/or the party” . ∨ ∨ One might read Ziz ek’s thesis about the indestructible sublime moment of the king/ leader as consequently turning Lacanian psychoanalysis into political theory. In his in∨ ∨ terpretation of Hamlet, Lacan himself seems to point to Ziz ek’s political conclusion when he associates Hamlet’s hesitation to kill the usurper with the fact that Hitler was not murdered. With Lacan, however, this political turn of the argument merely seems to constitute a momentary deviation from his psychoanalytic path. While Lacan asks us to ∨ ∨ substitute “phallus” for “king” in Shakespeare’s text , Ziz ek substitutes “leader.” He is not the only theorist who has drawn this political conclusion: in “Das öffentliche Ding” (res publica), Bernhard Baas describes “totalitarianism” as the “highest perfection” of the “transcendental logic of politics,” developed from Lacanian psychoanalysis.10 Considering these readings, it seems only consequent to argue that any criticism of
10. He phrases this conclusion in the subjunctive mood—as if he were frightened by his own argument—but he does not offer an alternative account.
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Ziz ek’s political vision must start with Lacan’s gestures of establishing the universality of the symbolic order and its ambivalent “foundation” in an (irreal) Real [see Butler, ∨ ∨ Bodies 195]. Nonetheless, we should consider whether Ziz ek’s theological-political turn of Lacanian psychoanalysis does not constitute a rather significant shift. If rhetorical ∨ ∨ operations not only decorate but constitute language and thus theory, Ziz ek’s choice of the royal paradigm of identity may prove to be foundational to his argument11—as well as his decision to use a Hegel translation that chooses “lord/bondsman” where Lacan’s ∨ ∨ ∨ ∨ translation offered “master/slave” [Ziz ek, SO 26]. Ziz ek’s rhetorical reveling in monarchy and theology turns his political vision into an uncanny “thing.” As I have suggested, it would be too easy to denounce this vision as merely “con∨ ∨ servative” or “reactionary.” Ziz ek’s epistemology collapses historical difference, and the contemporary leader is modeled on the image of the “premodern” king. Nonetheless, its performative reevocation is committed to (post)modernity in more than one ∨ ∨ respect. In particular, Ziz ek stresses the constitutive hybridity of his authority figures. As a “grimace of reality,” the leader’s sublimity can be read as both beautiful and disgusting [Grimassen 185–86]; “the fascinating and convincing voice of the lord” may shift to the status of “a repulsively obscene, sticky excrement” [Wetzel 222]. The possi∨ ∨ bility of this shift also constitutes the political escape route Ziz ek points to at the end of Grimassen des Realen: a “postmodern critique of ideology” would attempt to resist ideology by seeing the object of ideological distortion as a “disgusting outgrowth” . ∨ ∨ According to Ziz ek’s definition of postmodernity, however, this “postmodern critique of ideology” is likely to prove unstable. For, he claims, postmodern culture is characterized by its obsessive relation to the objet petit a [Grimassen 157]. Because of its consti∨ ∨ tutive function for the social structure, Ziz ek argues, this relationship to the Ding is necessarily ambiguous: “We renounce the Ding and repudiate it, but at the same time, it attracts us irresistibly“ . The nondemocratic Ding ineradicably marks the political order with its charisma.
The “Real Kernel” of Anti-Semitism: Or, Christian Theology Within the ideological frame that Ziz ek describes and reenacts, the ambivalence toward the Ding is split between its incorporations: while the leader/king is seen as a sublime being, this remnant of the Real is perceived as abject where “the Jew,” as perceived by the anti-Semitic fantasy, stands in for it. Like the leader, the figure of the Jew, as de∨ ∨ scribed by Ziz ek, constitutes identity by representing what resists symbolization: “At the most fundamental level,” anti-Semitism associates Jews with that “shapelessness” which is “the constitutive feature of subjectivity” [Metastases 146]. Sociologically, the figure of the Jew functions as the “symptom of the nonexistence of society,” including the knowledge of its structural impossibility in the totalitarian edifice [SO 125, 127]. In ∨ ∨ other words, within Ziz ek’s theoretical universe, “the Jew” occupies the place where the constitutive split within the Symbolic “erupts most violently”: anti-Semitic fantasy is the answer to the fundamental void designated by the Lacanian “Che vuoi?,” the question for the desire of the Other [SO 114]. While on the one hand, the figure of the Jew functions as just one of those “stains” that “spoil” the democratic form∨with “patho∨ logical” imbalance, it is, on the other hand, its exemplary—and, within Ziz ek’s logic, ∨ ∨ necessary?—embodiment: the symbolic position of Ziz ek’s “Jew” can be related “to ‘what is in Jew more than Jew’”—“that impossible real kernel” [SO 97].
11. Butler makes this claim with regard to Althusser’s theological metaphors and Dolar’s ∨ ∨ (another member of Ziz ek’s Lacanian school) reading of Althusser in The Psychic Life of Power [particularly 114].
Once more, the intervention of the Real guarantees the identity of the object. When ∨ ∨ Ziz ek describes the racial anti-Semitism of the Nazis as a “desperate” attempt “to seize, measure, change [this remnant of the Real] into a positive property enabling us to identify Jews in an objective-scientific way” [SO 97], he does not question the operation of ∨ ∨ othering “the Jew” as such. Rather, Ziz ek’s performance of ideology binds “the Jew” to the position of this ascribed otherness by endlessly reiterating stereotypes and racist jokes. Thus, in order to explain the work of fantasy “as a support of reality” [SO 47], he suggests: “Let us suppose, for example, that an objective look would confirm—why not?—that Jews really do financially exploit the rest of the population, that they do sometimes∨seduce our young daughters, that some of them do not wash regularly” . ∨ The point Ziz ek is trying to make here—as well as in more recent publications—is that this would not explain anti-Semitism: “Even if rich Jews had indeed exploited German workers,” Nazi anti-Semitism would have still been ‘pathological,’ since it denied the subjective libidinal investment of the anti-Semite and the projective displacement of the fundamental antagonism involved [FA German 198, 196].12 Is it necessary, however, to rhetorically propose the possible truth of the stereotype in order to make this psycho∨ ∨ analytic claim? Ziz ek’s presentation of anti-Semitism suggests that he is less interested in analyzing—and, possibly, deconstructing—its discursive constitution than in proving—and reiterating—its necessary place in the symbolic order. In The Sublime Object of Ideology, he also uses “the well-known, very Hegelian joke” about a Jew and a Pole, in which the Pole asks the Jew to explain∨ “how you Jews succeed in extracting from ∨ people the last small coin.” According to Ziz ek’s retelling of this joke, the Jew does so performatively by making the Pole pay for absurd instructions involving a full moon and a churchyard, until the Pole protests: “There is no secret at all, you simply want to extract the last small coin from me!” [SO 64]. Stating that the Jew has kept his promise precisely by deceiving the Pole and that the “Jew’s ‘secret’ lies, then, in our own (the ∨ ∨ Pole’s) desire” , Ziz ek appropriates the joke for the elaboration of his theory—and thereby performatively affirms its stereotypical content rather than questioning it. Within the realm of his—HegeLacanian—political theology where “the emperor cannot simply be undressed,” the operations of anti-Semitic fantasy are “necessary misrecognitions” unchallenged by alternative visions. Instead, these “necessary misrecognitions” are provided with a twofold relationship to historical truth: functioning as media of the historical realization of anti-Semitic fantasy on the one hand, they ∨ ∨ point to its “real kernel” on the other hand. While Ziz ek denounces the Nazis’ attempts to turn this “real kernel” into a positive, scientifically measurable property, his own discourse provides a positive elaboration of the difference that “qualifies” the Jews for the role of the quintessential other in the discourse of ideology. He answers the question “why it has been the Jews who have been chosen as the object of racism par excellence” with the suggestion: “is not the Jewish God the purest embodiment of . . . the desire of the Other in its terrifying abyss, with the formal prohibition to ‘make an image of God’— to fill out the gap of the Other’s ∨ desire with a positive fantasy-scenario?” [SO 115]. ∨ Thus, it is not “race” which binds Ziz ek’s Jew to his fatal place in the ideological game, but the symbolic sphere of religion, the traditional ground of anti-Judaic stereotyping. The symbolic figuration of religious discourse, however, is shaped by the intervention of the Real; and thus, anti-Semitic stereotyping finds its “not merely discursive” support in the way in which the “content” of Jewish religion is knotted together with the “form” of subjectivity in general.13 With its prohibition to fill negative space, the Jewish
12. The German edition is an accurate translation in some chapters and passages of the book but differs rather substantially in others. ∨ ∨ 13. See “Class Struggle”109–12, where Ziz ek connects his theory of the Real to Hegel’s sublation of the form-content dichotomy.
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position corresponds to the emptiness of formal law [Verweilen 171]; in short, it constitutes ∨“Judaeo-democratic [sic] ‘abstract universalism’” [Metastases 146]. ∨ Ziz ek wants us to believe that this abstraction is impossible—and doomed to historical failure. Only the blood of Christ, this little piece of the Real that legitimates power immediately [Verweilen 172] and thus corrects the “flaw” of “Jewish negativity,” completes the “logic of sublimity” [SO 202]. In the last chapter of The Sublime Object ∨ ∨ of Ideology, Ziz ek accommodates Hegel’s systematization of religions in a varied form. Claiming with Yovel that Hegel’s ascending triad “Jewish—Greek—Christian” is infil∨ ∨ trated by “personal anti-Semitic prejudice” , Ziz ek makes it—polemically spoken—“a little less” anti-Semitic by reinstalling the ascending triad “Greek—Jewish— Christian” as its correct form. But it is only the appearance of Christ that opens the proper domain of the religious by suspending the old, Jewish law [Grimassen 87]: with ∨ ∨ Hegel, Ziz ek claims that “for God to become effective he must . . . embody himself in a particular person (Christ)”—just as the state must embody itself in the monarch [SO 215]. We remember that the (Christ-like) Hegelian monarch eventually turned out to be ∨ ∨ Ziz ek’s better democrat. Similarly, Hegel’s interpretation of Christianity is read as “sub∨ ∨ versive” [Verweilen 152]. Even beyond this explicitly Hegelian context, however, Ziz ek describes Christianity—or at least its “kernel”—as “subversive” [FA 119]. The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? returns to the narrative about the historical development of religions in order to argue that Christianity transcends the Jewish attachment to the law (and its “dark” supplement of violence [FA 97]) by opening up a road of transcendence: Paulus’s concept of agape entails the gesture of leaving the realm of the law, of “being dead” for the law .
Theological Politics: “Undressing Woman” This “Christian” gesture of leaving the realm of the law constitutes Ziz ek’s answer to the question of politics and social change: as discussed above, he declares that “the gargantuan symbolic matrix is far too deep-rooted and ‘substantial’ to be effectively undermined by the marginal gestures” of resignification as a performative renegotiation of authority [Sehr innig 34]. Within the symbolic order, resistance is pointless; language itself is “a ‘Stalinist phenomenon’” [SO 212].14 In order to effectively challenge authority—by resisting the temptations of ideology and accepting the Real, for example, the leader’s body, in its “meaningless idiocy”—one must annul oneself as a subject [230, cf. 207]. This gesture constitutes the “act”: a “symbolic suicide” [Grimassen 38] that suspends the performative force of words . Confronted with the Lacanian alternative to choose either “le père” or “le pire,” the act decides on the latter . In the language of psychoanalysis, this is called “psychosis”; but according to Zizek, “psychosis” is just another word for “freedom” in this context . Regular consumers of critical theory will not be surprised by the following move, which outlines the field of the “act” in terms of gender, declaring that “we should risk the hypothesis that” the act as belonging to the Real is “‘feminine’” . With regard to religion, this means that the passage from Judaism to Christianity obeys the same matrix as the passage from “masculine” to “feminine” in the field of sexual difference [FA ∨ ∨ 143]. The paradigm of the act, however, is “pagan”: in several of his works, Ziz ek explains the act with regard to Antigone’s “No!” to Creon.15 What does this paradigm
14. Ziz ek refers here to Laclau, although he does not share Ziz ek’s conclusion. ∨ ∨ 15. In the English edition of The Fragile Absolute, however, Ziz ek surprisingly suggests substituting Medea for Antigone—“in a tradition that comes right down to Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” that is, Sethe’s act of killing her child [FA 152]. This gesture, which might present a
∨ ∨ ∨ ∨
imply? How are we to describe the “politics” of Antigone’s “act,” which suspends Creon’s law in favor of her brother? Antigone’s intertextual history as a more or less heroic ∨ ∨ female within modern philosophy and literature is a long and complex one. When Ziz ek stresses the gesture suspending the (paternal) law, he at first seems to be close to feminist adaptations of the figure that have tested Antigone’s powers of resistance to the symbolic order.16 Upon closer investigation, however, the intertextual genealogy of ∨ ∨ Ziz ek’s Antigone turns out to be a different one: she is not only related to Lacan (whose reading of the figure is influenced by Jean Anouilh’s reading of Sophocles), but also subjected to a (re)turn to Hegel—via the intervention of Kierkegaard’s Protestant theology. ∨ ∨ With Lacan, Ziz ek stresses the gesture of transgression and, in a first move, displaces the Hegelian motif of Antigone’s representing religious (as opposed to Creon’s public) law: her absolute loyalty to the “Other qua thing” rather than the Other as∨sym∨ bolic authority seems to situate her pursuit of desire in a realm beyond the law [Ziz ek, FA German151, see Lacan, Ethics 278]. This loyalty to the realm of the Real, however, ∨ ∨ is problematic within Ziz ek’s frame of analysis: as he himself points out, it poses the question whether she is not a “proto-totalitarian figure” —a “fascist Antigone,” as Lacan wrote with regard to Anouilh’s text [Ethics 250]. In order to save her from this ∨ ∨ charge, Ziz ek refers her deed back to the gods: stressing the “Christian” character of her Lacanian act [FA German 153], he pulls it back into the orbit of transcendental Law. In accordance with the idea that the intervention of the Real constitutes symbolic identity, the jouissance féminine of the act is not to be found at the threshold of the symbolic order, but rather in a complete, unconditional identification with it [FA 147–48]. In ∨ ∨ Ziz ek’s Lacanian act, “absolute freedom” is bound to “unconditional necessity” as∨well ∨ as “duty” [FA German155, 163]. Referring to Kierkegaard’s Protestant theology, Ziz ek also describes the “act” as a sublation of the ethical domain in religion [Grimassen 78]. Kierkegaard’s paradigm for this sublation is Abraham, the biblical figure known for his willingness to sacrifice his human other in obedience toward the Other.17 Thus, resistance to the “formal” law of Judaism works∨ as the enactment of the divine Law consti∨ tuted by the “real” content of Christianity. Ziz ek’s postmodern, “thing-identified” God ∨ ∨ may be less heroic than Hegel’s [see FA German 166], but Ziz ek’s syncretistic, emphatically “Christianized” Antigone is clearly a “revolutionary” in the name of a “higher” cause.18 ∨ ∨ How, then, are we to imagine the politics of this figure, Ziz ek’s not-quite totalitar∨ ∨ ian answer to totalitarianism? In the English edition of The Fragile Absolute, Ziz ek introduces God’s gesture of sacrificing (himself in) his son, and thus, the advent of
reaction to Butler’s book on Antigone, introduces a difference between the premodern act (for which Antigone continues to stand in) and the modern act, in which the subject “bears witness to one’s fidelity to the Thing by sacrificing (also) the Thing itself” . While this constitutes an interesting shift of emphasis, it does not alter the act’s relation to femininity, obedience, negativity, and Christianity. 16. See, for example, Bossinade’s discussion of various twentieth-century readings and Jacobs for a detailed analysis of Irigaray’s Antigone(s). For an alternative reading of Antigone which stresses Antigone’s implication in the—masculine—power that she opposes, see Butler, Antigone’s Claim. ∨ ∨ 17. See also FA 150, where Ziz ek reintroduces the figure of Abraham as another paradigm for the “modern” act. Strowick relates Lacan’s reading of Antigone to Kierkegaard’s reading of Abraham . Her reading, however, follows a different path than mine; she discusses the critical productivity of this act in Kierkegaard’s text. ∨ ∨ 18. At the very end of the English edition of The Fragile Absolute, Ziz ek introduces the “Holy Ghost itself” as a name for “the brief apparition of a future utopian Otherness to which every authentic revolutionary stance should cling” .
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Christianity, as the “ultimate” act . Toward the end of the German edition, he offers John Paul II’s mea culpa gesture preceding his visit to Israel as an “historical act,” immediately after which he justifies the Pope’s position regarding the indissolubil∨ ∨ ity of marriage . Ziz ek’s figure of resistance is to undo symbolic authority by “dying for” it, in “completely identifying” with it. In practice, this strategy of overfulfillment seems to get its “revolutionary” contours only as a process of substituting one authority for the other. Shifting between the realms of secular and religious, modern and traditional authorities, Antigone challenges Creon’s power with her stubborn insistence on a “duty” that, at least according to Anouilh’s interpretation of Sophocles, lacks a rational “content” beyond its textual ground: the “formal” law of ∨ ∨ tragedy—and that is renamed as “Christian” (“content”) in Ziz ek’s reading.19 In any case, Antigone has to die for her higher cause. In a world in which the Symbolic is (at least virtually) always totalitarian, agency can only be envisioned by its relegation to a transcendental sphere—where, however, it can hardly effect any political ∨ ∨ change. Ziz ek insists that the gesture of the act is always negative: fundamentally erasure, it is not undertaken in order to get anywhere [Grimassen 42]. As soon as we gesture beyond this negative dimension, we are back in the realm of the “masculine” performative, which founds a new—totalitarian—order . Thus, Antigone’s theological act does not undo Creon’s power within the realm of history. Her orientation toward the beyond merely complements the Christian motif of resignation, which fol∨ ∨ lows from Ziz ek’s Symbolic prison (and which he himself diagnoses at the heart of Enlightenment): “In other words, we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, so that we can calmly reflect on everything” [SO 80]. The refusal to publicly assume the emperor’s “nakedness”—that is, the refusal to imagine him without the symbols of his authority in the field of theory—displaces politics. It is a double displacement. First, political agency is displaced to a transcendental realm inhabited by an obedient, Christianized jouissance féminine. Second, the analysis of political life is displaced onto the field of the Real, where we encounter imaginary figures standing in for the “unrepresentable” horizon of history: “Capital,” “the Jew” ∨ ∨ (who, according to Ziz ek, stands in for the former, more “authentic” figure in antiSemitic fantasy)—and “woman,” who comes∨ to stand in for the “perfectly dressed” ∨ emperor in the analytic gesture performed by Ziz ek’s theory. “The point is,” he continues to paraphrase Lacan, “that the emperor is naked only beneath his clothes, so if there is an unmasking gesture of psychoanalysis, it is closer to Alphonse Allais’s well-known joke, quoted by Lacan: somebody points at a woman and utters a horrified cry, ‘Look at her, what a shame, under her clothes, she is totally naked’” [SO 29]. Unlike Lacan, ∨ ∨ Ziz ek does not transfer this image back to the figure of the emperor in the following sentence. Albeit subtle, this rhetorical shift is symptomatic. Rather than the gesture of ∨ ∨ “undressing” the emperor, Ziz ek’s theory performs the gesture of “undressing” “woman”: although she, too, is assumed to “be” dressed, the hysterical speech act gesturing toward her (with a “horrified cry”) declares that her dress fails to effectively provide the symbolic shield and, thereby, the dignity and power the naked fairy-tale emperor manages to represent to everybody except a naïve child. What is the theoretical status of this difference between “woman” and the “emperor”? Rather than in the order of things itself, this difference seems to be “grounded” ∨ ∨ in rhetoric and performance—for Ziz ek carefully marks the metaphoric operation of
19. In Antigone’s dialogue with Creon, Anouilh stresses her inability to justify her deed, having Creon comment: “Antigone était faite pour être morte [. . .] Polynice n’était qu’un prétexte” [191; “Antigone was made for being dead [. . .] Polynice was nothing but a pretext”]. In the prologue, however, this necessity of her dying is related to the law of genre and thus located in the realm of theater rather than nature or divine law .
“woman” standing in for the Real. When he describes “sexual difference” as “real,” he defines it not as a difference between feminine/female and masculine/male, but as the “leftover” that prevents both gender masquerades from turning into totally coherent ∨ ∨ identities [Sehr innig 42–43]. Nonetheless, Ziz ek’s writing reinscribes the hegemonic discourse on gender that makes “woman” stand in for this lack. Thus, his Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality contains a eulogy to Otto Weininger, ∨ ∨ the notorious fin-de-siècle antifeminist and anti-Semite philosopher. Here, Ziz ek claims to displace Weininger’s antifeminism, which he paraphrases with Lacan as the position that “woman” is merely “a symptom,” by arguing that Weininger missed the central status of this negativity: as the objet petit a, the symptom is the additional element that guarantees∨ identity and thus the only ground of subjectivity. In The Sublime Object of ∨ Ideology, Ziz ek also suggests the gesture of reversal which concludes that, if woman is just a symptom of man, “man is perhaps simply a woman who thinks that she does exist” . In his Weininger article, however, he rhetorically assumes the asymmetrical structure provided by the philosopher’s “aversion to woman” [Metastases 145].20 In a ∨ ∨ gesture of provocation, Ziz ek stages Weininger as a tragic “herald” of Lacanian theory  whose writings’ “unmitigated authenticity”  is proved by his early suicide, and whose “great merit . . . must be taken into account by feminism” . Beyond the gesture of provocation, however, he supports the thematic fixation of his antifeminist hero, who “elevated sexual difference . . . to the central theme of philosophy” [137; see ∨ ∨ also Sehr innig 42–43]. When Ziz ek declares that Weininger “‘called by name’ all that the ‘official’ discourse silently presupposed” , he ascribes to his sexist phantasms the same moment of “truth” and “authenticity” he also perceives in the contemporary ideologies of right-wing extremists [Metastases 62, 98]. ∨ ∨ As we have seen with regard to Ziz ek’s epistemology, anti-Semitic “ideology” or antifeminist discourse is backed by the “Real.” In other words, this “Real” is structured by authoritarian, sexist, and anti-Semitic phantasms. Like the king and the leader, “the Jew” and “woman,” fetishes of Capital and sexual difference respectively,21 function as figures whose identity, beyond their ever-changing cluster of features, is guaranteed by the real ∨leftovers sticking to them. But while their constitution is analogous, their posi∨ tion in Ziz ek’s philosophical edifice is not: whereas the real backing of the leader provides eternity to his power within the Symbolic, the Real of (Antigone’s) sexual difference locks her into a half-apocalyptic, half-edenic beyond where “our” fundamental lack can be represented. She will never trade places with Creon or any other guy— except, perhaps, with “the Jew” who, like her, is epistemologically bound to the role of eternal phantasm. As∨the “cause” (according to Weininger) or, “[s]trictly speaking,” the ∨ effect of man’s fall [Ziz ek, Metastases 140], “woman” is continually “undressed,” that is, “stripped” of the chance to occupy powerful positions within discourse and society.
20. In this context, he also retells “the well-known joke about a Jew and a Pole” discussed ∨ ∨ above [Metastases 143]. Again, Ziz ek reinscribes this joke on a theoretical level by, in this case, claiming that Weininger’s antifeminism “remains at the level of the Pole’s fury” after having lost his money to the Jew instead of performing the Jew’s gesture, which reinterprets this failure as a hermeneutic success. While the Pole now knows “how Jews extract money from people,” the philosopher could perceive the “negativity” of “woman” as the “truth” about subjectivity. This gesture of resituating the joke on an allegorical level doubles the reflexive moment already inscribed in its plot. But the point of the joke is exactly that this turn of reflection only constitutes a way of fulfilling the stereotype beyond its analysis. While “woman” continues to stand in for ∨ ∨ negativity in Lacan’s analytic discourse, Ziz ek’s “Jew” still does (represent) what he is supposed to in the anti-Semitic fantasy. ∨ ∨ 21. “The same” as for his antifeminism, Ziz ek claims, “goes for Weininger’s notorious antiSemitism” [Metastases 146]. Like his sexism, it supposedly hails the truth of negativity.
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Unlike the figure of “the Jew,” however, her tragic role is awarded heroic status. Furthermore, her (over)identification with authority makes her the implicit paradigm of the ∨ ∨ royal bonds(wo)man Ziz ek’s subject turns out to be—a subject who is, in other words, feminized in his/her acceptance of authority. At the same time, “woman’s” “naked” body functions as a spectacle doubtlessly deserving the philosopher’s lust. But “the Jew’s” eternal, monotonous wanderings in the sphere of the Symbolic do not transcend ∨ ∨ the status—and the unheroic shape—of anti-Semitic fantasy: in Ziz ek’s world, shaped by Creon’s “real” power and his noble though death-bound Christianized daughter, there is really no hope for a decrease of anti-Semitism—or the advent of democracy. ∨ ∨ If we do not want to assume this conclusion, we will have to challenge Ziz ek’s rhetorical establishment of “throne and altar,” backed by his epistemological enthroning of the rigid and immobile character of signification. Butler has suggested that theorizing the constant social rearticulation of political signifiers is of central importance for a “theory of radical democracy” as outlined by Laclau and Chantal Mouffe [Butler, Bodies 192]. Throughout the nineties, this conceptualization of resignification was developed in several directions: whereas Butler’s early work inspired a range of thought on the politics of parodic performance, she later turned to theorizing the ways in which— as Laclau puts it—“parody” is “constitutive of any social action”: the ways in which “the social [is] organized as a rhetorical space” constantly reorganized by tropological movements [Laclau, “Identity” 78]. In Excitable Speech, Butler elaborates the linguistic potential for social rearticulations with regard to the “non-sovereign” workings of perlocutionary performatives. As she qualifies, there is no guarantee that subversion will be inscribed into counterhegemonic rearticulations: historical contexts and discursive regimes may not be easily overthrown, but “inhere in certain speech acts in ways that are very difficult to shake” . Nonetheless, Butler suggests thinking of the performative as an act of “imposture”  and “insurrection” , which—at least virtually—challenges given hierarchies and their legitimation in nature or other “real” forces. This does not mean that the performative simply undoes hegemonic constellations of social power: the notion of “insurrection” also stresses that it (re)inscribes itself into a power structure characterized by domination and subjection. After a decade of debate particularly over the politics of queer subcultural performances, it is clear that these politics are more complex than they may have seemed at first glance. Exposing the theatricality of (“royal”) identity, the act of a drag king does not necessarily overthrow hegemonic concepts of masculinity or even underlying phantasms of sovereignty— and obviously, it does not present an encompassing answer to contemporary issues of authoritarianism in culture and politics. Nonetheless, the “strip acts” of drag kings— ∨ ∨ and their theorizing—present a challenge to Ziz ek’s figure of a “naturally” constituted but always perfectly dressed monarch insofar as they expose the lack of “natural” authority in the performance of masculine sovereignty, rather than the lack of the impersonator whose sex assignment may be female. In other words, the debate on drag has shown that performances of authority need to be analyzed in their specific, contextual complexity. Unless we believe—or act as if we believed—in some transhistorical identity of the signifier “king,” its uses can signify change. And unless we are willing to assume that there is “something” in femininity or Jewish identity “more than itself” that guarantees its identity “in all counterfactual situations,” history is not as safely in the ∨ ∨ grip of ideological phantasms as Ziz ek wants us to believe. His philosophy fails to respond to the need for a theory that analyzes the complex workings of authority in discourse and society with regard to political agency. Thus, we might want to reconsider his royal status in the realm of theory.
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