Nepantla: Views from South 4.1 (2003) 191-194
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Can a Judgment Be Read?
A Response to Slavoj Zizek
William David Hart
According to tradition, when asked why he robbed banks, the notorious Willie Sutton is reputed to have said: “Because that's where the money is.” An honest expression of his motives, no doubt, and a logic that is easy to understand, but hardly a persuasive ethical-political argument for robbing banks, which isn't to say that a good argument for robbing banks, for reimagining the very notion of wealth creation and distribution, cannot be made. Similarly, I do not doubt Slavoj Zizek's honesty and sincerity when he describes himself, in his response published with my essay in Nepantla 3.3, as a left-Eurocentrist. What I do doubt is the cogency of his so-called argument. A forthright acknowledgment that one is a Eurocentrist is hardly an argument for Eurocentrism. It is merely a confession. This confession may be good for Zizek's soul. It may be a way for him to hold his ethical-political commitments and the remnants of his religious commitments in a unified vision. Whether it is good for “us,” however, is an ethical and political question, which has to be put to a historical, empirical, and theoretical test. My complaint is that Zizek ignores history altogether. His analysis operates on the most abstract and rarefied level. He is guilty of the fallacy of misplaced abstraction—the notion that historical-empirical questions can be addressed primarily, if not solely, on the level of abstract theory. This is not an argument against theory. By definition, theory abstracts. That is what it is supposed to do. But like anything that illuminates, it can also blind. Zizek is blinded by [End Page 191] the light of his “Christian,” Eurocentrist “just so” story. Like all “just so” stories, Zizek's account evades the messy and nasty complexities of history.
Since Zizek adopts a certain didactic tone in his response to my essay, which has the rhetorical function of “pulling rank,” I shall respond in kind. Zizek accuses me of knocking on a door—his self-designation as a Eurocentrist—that he opened. This is an odd claim, this notion of opening and openness, since there are good reasons for keeping the door to the outhouse closed. I have no desire to walk through the door that Zizek has opened. On the contrary, I want him to be honest about the history behind that door, which underwrites my argument for why the door should remain closed. Contra Zizek, I am not making an argument for purity. Mine is an argument for how we acknowledge our impurities, complicities, and historical contingency without adopting a reactionary rhetoric masquerading under the honorific label of Left. I take left-Eurocentrism to be just that kind of masquerade, a burlesque of the very notion of the Left. My goal is to “bum rush” the party and tear the mask off the “sucka”—off Zizek's notion of a progressive Eurocentrism.
Zizek's argument, such as it is, has three main points. First, I dismiss his claims for Judaism and Christianity without providing a “proper judgment” of their merits. Second, I underestimate his vast knowledge of Hegel, of the many uses of the Hegelian narrative, indeed, of my argument's every line, since like the Owl of Minerva, he has been there and done that. Third, he castigates my ethical-political stance: “It is Hart's ‘postcolonial' ideology that is hegemonic in today's academia, and he dismisses me not by specific argumentation, but ultimately by simply stating that I don't agree with this hegemonic ideology—it is his voice that is the Master's Voice.” I must confess, as I take Zizek's points in reverse order, that being placed in the subject position of the Master is an uncanny experience. Actually, Zizek's argument is more ridiculous than uncanny, since the uncanny has much in common with the sublime. But alas, there is nothing sublime about Zizek's...