The Rhetorics of Power
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Diacritics 31.1 (2001) 91-104

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The Rhetorics of Power

Slavoj Zizek

Claudia Breger. The Leader's Two Bodies: Slavoj Zizek's Postmodern Political Theology. Diacritics 31.1 (2001): 73-90.


The first problem I have is: to what should I effectively respond? I find it difficult to recognize the theory I developed in the text, so often is my position distorted by means of an entire bag of rhetorical tricks:

—thoroughly distorting paraphrases of my line of argumentation (for example, "Thus, resistance to the 'formal' law of Judaism works as the enactment of the divine Law constituted by the 'real' content of Christianity" [85]—where do I speak of the "divine Law constituted by the 'real' content of Christianity"?), up to simple inventions inserted to render the critique more piquant by making me appear antifeminist, and so forth (for example, "At the same time, 'woman's' 'naked' body functions as a spectacle doubtlessly deserving the philosopher's lust" [88]—where do I claim anything resembling this?).

—the artifice of rendering my position in a falsified way, which makes it an easy target of criticism, and then dismissing the fact that this is NOT my position either as secondary attempts to answer (Judith Butler's) criticism or as its inconsistency. Perhaps the best example of this procedure is the short footnote 9:

As a response to Butler's criticism, Zizek stresses today that this Real is nonetheless "a symbolic determination" [FA 121], but he keeps insisting on its (retroactively installed) foundational status as a traumatic "ahistorical" kernel [112; Zizek's quotation marks]. [78, my emphasis—SZ]

Unfortunately, the features that I allegedly stress as a response to Butler's criticism (the Real, far from being a substantial starting point and reference/guarantee, emerges as the retroactive effect of the failure of the symbolic process itself, and so forth) are systematically developed in my Sublime Object of Ideology, which, published in 1989, precedes Butler's criticism [see 169-73]. (Incidentally, Butler herself accuses me of inconsistency when I characterize the Capital as the Real of our epoch, claiming that I thereby contradict my own definition of the Real—surely the easiest way to avoid confronting the inadequacy of her own notion of the Real: "I claim the notion of the Real in the criticized author means X—the criticized author says things that do not fit X—no problem, it is not my notion that is wrong, he is inconsistent with himself . . .").

—finally, attributions of theoretical propositions that directly contradict my theses: [End Page 91] for example, the claim that my "epistemology collapses historical difference, and the contemporary leader is modeled on the image of the 'premodern' king" [82]. Really? Do I not, again, already in Sublime Object of Ideology, develop in detail the difference between the traditional Master and the modern Leader [see 145-47]? Furthermore, when my critic comments on the thesis that "the emperor cannot simply be undressed," she again imputes the very opposite of what I claim: the undressing of the king does not work not because his charisma is indestructible, but because it only destroys his personal charisma, not the power of the symbolic place of the King—when we undress him, we realize that "he is not truly a king" . . . and engage in the search for a true one. (Incidentally, Marx makes a homologous point apropos of commodity fetishism: in order to escape its grasp, it is not enough to realize that "commodity is just an object like all others.")

Once we discard these distortions, my critic's basic line of argumentation is simple and clear enough: my theory "does not allow for more optimistic scenarios of democratization and the diminution of nationalism in society" [73], that is, I "outline 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 [Zizek's] vision is constitutively tied up with anti-Semitic and antifeminist phantasms, it is especially problematic" [75]. We are thus back to the old criticism elaborated by Butler, according to which the Real I evoke "remains...