A Reply to My Critics (re: The Sexual is Political)

A Reply to My Critics (re: The Sexual is Political)

Lately I am getting used to attacks that not only render my position in a totally wrong way but also practice slander pure and simple, so that, at this level, any minimally rational debate becomes meaningless. Among many examples, suffice it to mention Hamid Dabashi, who begins his book Can Non-Europeans Think? with:

“‘Fuck you, Walter Mignolo!’ With those grandiloquent words and the gesture they must have occasioned and accompanied, the distinguished and renowned European philosopher Slavoj Žižek begins his response to a piece that Walter Mignolo wrote…”8

No wonder that no reference is given, since I never uttered the phrase “Fuck you, Walter Mignolo!”. In a public talk in which I responded to Mignolo’s attack on me, I did use the words “fuck you,” but they did not refer to Mignolo: his name was not mentioned in conjunction with them; they were a general exclamation addressed (if at anyone) at my public. From here, it is just one step to elevating my exclamation into “Slavoj Žižek’s famous ‘Fuck you, Walter Mignolo’,” as Dan Glazerbrook did.9

Back to Dabashi’s book. On page 8, the comedy reaches its peak: a long quoted passage is attributed to me (it follows “Žižek claims:”), and after the quote the text goes on: “This is all fine and dandy – for Žižek. He can make any claim he wishes. All power to him. But the point is…” There is just one tiny problem: the passage quoted and attributed to me and then mocked as an example of my European racism and of my misreading of Fanon is from Fanon himself (again, no reference is given in Dabashi’s book – the quoted passage is from Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, New York: Grove Press 2008, p. 201-206.)

So, I thought we had reached the lowest point, although in a more recent contribution to Al-Jazeera, Dabashi puts me into the same line with Breivik, the Norwegian racist mass murderer.10 But the reactions to my “The Sexual Is Political” demonstrate that one can go even lower. Browsing through numerous tweets and email blogs, I searched in vain for a minimum of argumentation. The attackers mostly just make fun of a position, which is simply not mine.

Here is a relatively decent example:

“I know that this is difficult to understand, mostly because it draws from his big Daddy the contemptible Lacan. Really though, all Zizek is saying is that opposition to transgender people represents an anxiety which in his theory occurs because of sexual difference; i.e. transgender people disrupt the binaries we construct in order to place ourselves into discrete genders. What Zizek tries to say, he’s not a very good writer in English at least, is that the antagonism will exist even if we completely accept LGBT people as members of our community because they always exist as a threat to the binary. I don’t think that Zizek ultimately thinks social antagonism against LGBT people is something we can move beyond as long as the binary system exist. This is why he cites the story of Şalcı Bacı, to Zizek she represented an existential threat to people’s identities. In a sense you can say it is a right-wing concept, because it’s essentially saying that transgender people are indeed the threat to society they’re portrayed to be. The question would be, does Zizek approve of threats to society as the revolutionary he supposes himself to be?”11

I have to admit that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was reading these lines. Is it really so difficult to follow the thread of my argumentation? First claim: “all Zizek is saying is that opposition to transgender people represents an anxiety which in his theory occurs because of sexual difference; i.e. transgender people disrupt the binaries we construct in order to place ourselves into discrete genders…” No, I’m not saying that at all: I don’t talk about the anxiety experienced by heterosexuals when they confront transgender people. My starting point is the anxiety transgender people themselves experience when they confront a forced choice where they don’t recognize themselves in any of its exclusive terms (“man,” “woman”). And then I generalize this anxiety as a feature of every sexual identification. It is not transgender people who disrupt the heterosexual gender binaries; these binaries are always-already disrupted by the antagonistic nature of sexual difference itself. This is the basic distinction on which I repeatedly insist and which is ignored by my critics: in the human-symbolic universe, sexual difference/antagonism is not he same as the difference of gender roles. Transgender people are not traumatic for heterosexuals because they pose a threat to the established binary of gender roles but because they bring out the antagonistic tension which is constitutive of sexuality. Şalcı Bacı is not a threat to sexual difference; rather, she is this difference as irreducible to the opposition gender identities.

In short, transgender people are not simply marginals who disturb the hegemonic heterosexual gender norm; their message is universal, it concerns us all, they bring out the anxiety that underlies every sexual identification, its constructed/unstable character. This, of course, does not entail a cheap generalization which would cut the edge of the suffering of transgender people (“we all have anxieties and suffer in some way”); it is in transgender people that anxiety and antagonism, which otherwise remain mostly latent, break open. So, in the same way in which, for Marx, if one wants to understand the “normal” functioning of capitalism, one should take as a starting point economic crises, if one wants to analyze “normal” heterosexuality, one should begin with the anxieties that explode in transgender people.

This is why it makes no sense to talk about “social antagonism against LGBT people” (incidentally, a symptomatically clumsy and weird expression: “antagonism against”?). Antagonism (or, as Lacan put it, the fact that “there is no sexual relationship”) is at work in the very core of normative heterosexuality, and it is what the violent imposition of gender norms endeavors to contain and obfuscate. It is here that my parallel with the anti-Semitic figure of the Jew enters. The (anti-Semitic figure of the) “Jew” as the threat to the organic order of a society, as the element which brings into it from the outside corruption and decay, is a fetish whose function is to mask the fact that antagonism does not come from the outside but is immanent to every class society. Anti-Semitism “reifies” (embodies in a particular group of people) the inherent social antagonism: it treats “Jews” as the Thing which, from outside, intrudes into the social body and disturbs its balance. What happens in the passage from the position of class struggle to Fascist anti-Semitism is not just the replacement of one figure of the enemy (bourgeoisie, the ruling class) with another (Jews); the logic of the struggle is totally different. In class struggle, the classes themselves are caught in the antagonism inherent to social structure, while the Jew is a foreign intruder who causes social antagonism, so that all we need in order to restore social harmony, according to Fascist anti-Semitism, is to annihilate Jews. This is the old standard Marxist thesis: when my critic writes about my line of thought “In a sense you can say it is a right-wing concept,” I would really like to know what precise sense he has in mind.

Footnotes

  1. Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?, London: Zed Books 2015, p. 1.
  2. Quoted from http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/16/with-enemies-like-this-imperialism-doesnt-need-friends/.
  3. See http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/06/europe-creation-world-160613063926420.html.
  4. Quoted from: https://m.reddit.com/r/GamerGhazi/comments/4vxmfk/philosopher_slavoj_zizek_knows_next_to_nothing/.
  5. Louis Althusser, »Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,«  in Essays in Ideology, London: Verso 1984, p. 163.
  6. I resume here a more detailed critical reading of Althusser’s notion of ideology from Chapter 3 of Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment, London: Verso Books, 2006.
  7. Here I follow the perspicacious observations of Henry Krips. See his excellent unpublished manuscript »The Subject of Althusser and Lacan.«
  8. Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?, London: Zed Books 2015, p. 1.
  9. Quoted from http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/16/with-enemies-like-this-imperialism-doesnt-need-friends/.
  10. See http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/06/europe-creation-world-160613063926420.html.
  11. Quoted from: https://m.reddit.com/r/GamerGhazi/comments/4vxmfk/philosopher_slavoj_zizek_knows_next_to_nothing/.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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