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Diacritics 31.1 (2001) 73-90

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The Leader's Two Bodies
Slavoj Zizek's Postmodern Political Theology

Claudia Breger

Over the course of the last decade, Slavoj Zizek and his "Slovenian Lacanian school" have gained renown in the Western theory market. Academics are fascinated not only by Zizek'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 Zizek'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, Zizek 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 "democratic" nationalism might represent "nothing but Milosevic in the 'normal' version, without the excess" [Zizek, "Gewalt"]. 2

Zizek was not alone in warning that the new government in Yugoslavia might not bring an end to Serbian nationalist politics. The pessimistic scenario Zizek 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 Zizek's work thus argues for a reevaluation of his theory in terms of its implicit authoritarian politics. The need for such a reevaluation is also suggested by Laclau toward the end of his recent exchange with Judith Butler and Zizek when he admits that "the more our discussions progressed, the more I realized that my sympathy for Zizek's politics was largely the result of a mirage" [Laclau, "Constructing Universality" 292]. Laclau now criticizes Zizek's radical Marxist rhetoric by suggesting that he "wants to do away with liberal democratic regimes" without specifying a political alternative [289], and describes Zizek's discourse as "schizophrenically split between a highly sophisticated Lacanian analysis and an insufficiently deconstructed traditional Marxism" [205]. On [End Page 73] the other hand, he also problematizes Zizek's "psychoanalytic discourse" as "not truly political" [289]. My argument primarily starts from this latter point: the antidemocratic—and, as I will argue, both antifeminist and anti-Semitic—moment of Zizek'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, Zizek'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 Zizek'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), Zizek notes that "Lacan predicted a new rise of racism for the coming decades" as early as the 1960s [162]. 3 Zizek interprets this statement in the context of a "fundamental impasse of democracy" [162] 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 [164]. 4 According to Zizek, "this constitutive paradox" has to be assumed: "The democratic attitude is always based upon a certain fetishistic...