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Unformatted text preview: t hese ideas is t he concept of ant agonism. Laclau and Mouffe
argue that a fully funct ioning democrat ic societ y is not one in which all ant agonisms have disappeared, but one in which new polit ical front ier s are const ant ly
37. Er ic Troncy, “London Calling,” Flash Art (Summer 1992), p. 89. 66 OCTOBER being dr awn and brought into debate — in ot her words, a democr at ic societ y is
one in which relat ions of conﬂict are sust ained, not erased. Without ant agonism
there is only the imposed consensus of author it ar ian order—a tot al suppression
of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy. It is import ant to stress
r ight away that the idea of ant agonism is not under stood by Laclau and Mouffe to
be a pessimist ic accept ance of polit ical deadlock; ant agonism does not signal “the
expulsion of utopia from the ﬁeld of the polit ical.” On the contrar y, they maint ain
that without the concept of utopia there is no possibilit y of a radical imaginar y.
The t ask is to balance the tension bet ween imaginar y ideal and pragmat ic management of a social posit ivit y without lapsing into the tot alit ar ian.
This under st anding of ant agonism is grounded in Laclau and Mouffe’s
t heor y of subject ivit y. Following Lacan, they argue that subject ivit y is not a selft r ansparent , r at ional, and pure presence, but is irremediably decentered and
incomplete.38 However, surely there is a conﬂict bet ween a concept of the subject
as decentered and the idea of polit ical agency? “Decenter ing” implies the lack of a
uniﬁed subject , while “agency” implies a fully present , autonomous subject of
polit ical will and self- determinat ion. Laclau argues t hat t his conflict is false,
because the subject is neither ent irely decentered (which would imply psychosis)
nor ent irely uniﬁed (i.e., the absolute subject). Following Lacan, he argues that we
have a failed structural ident it y, and are therefore dependent on ident iﬁcat ion in
o r d e r t o p r o c e e d . 39 B e c a u s e s u b j e c t i v i t y i s t h i s p r o c e s s o f i d e n t i ﬁ c a t i o n , w e a r e
necessar ily incomplete ent it ies. Ant agonism, t herefore, is t he relat ionship t hat
emerges bet ween such incomplete ent it ies. Laclau contrast s this to the relat ionships that emerge bet ween complete ent it ies, such as contradict ion (A-not A) or
“real difference” (A-B). We all hold mutually contradictor y beliefs (for example,
t here are mater ialist s who read horoscopes and psychoanalyst s who send
Chr istmas cards) but this does not result in ant agonism. Nor is “real difference”
(A-B) equal to ant agonism; because it concerns full ident it ies, it result s in collision—like a car crash or “the war against terror ism.” In the case of ant agonism,
argue Laclau and Mouffe, “we are confronted with a different situat ion: the presence of the ‘Other’ prevent s me from being tot ally myself. The relat ion ar ises not
from full tot alit ies, but from t he impossibilit y of t heir const itut ion.’’40 In ot her
words, the presence of what is not me render s my ident it y precar ious and vulnerable, and the threat that the other represent s transforms my own sens...
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This document was uploaded on 02/20/2014 for the course PHILOSOPHY 244 at University of Tennessee.
- Spring '09