Žižek on Women: Lack or the Logic of the “Not-All”?
Having read my first Žižek book, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, this past semester in a faculty/student reading group, I have to say that, among other things, I am not quite sure what to make of his reading of the “feminine” or “femininity.” Likewise, and this is my caveat prefatory disclaimer, my knowledge of Freud and Lacan is limited, both of which seem fundamental to Žižek’s reading of women. With that said, here are a few of the questions that arose as I read chapter 3 of the aforementioned book. On the one hand, in this work generally speaking, Žižek seems to manifest (problematic) dichotomizing tendencies such as the following: Judaism verses Christianity, masculinity verses femininity, the “male” religion of Judaism verses the “female” orientation of Christianity—for example, the Pharisees have a “male” approach to the Law and the world, whereas Jesus’ attitude toward the Law expresses a “female” sensitivity. Also, I wonder whether for Žižek, female or femininity ultimately translates into a lack? What does it mean that Žižek situates woman on the side of the “real” and men on the side of the “symbolic”? Does it mean that womens’ material existence must ultimately be negated, extinguished? He seems to suggest that desire is always focused on loss and thus has an intimate relation with the death drive. If this is the case, why should we accept that claim?
If lack always equals loss for Žižek, then I wonder whether this “loss-logic” is part of his misread of Christ’s cry of dereliction on the Cross (von Balthasar writes an entire book on the positive theological meaning of the Godforsakeness of God, viz. Mysterium Paschale)? Contra Žižek, couldn’t Jesus’ cry of “desire” for the Father arise out of a plenitude rather than a lack—a love that is willing even to go to hell in order to stand in solidarity with humans who have freely rejected God?
Also, the Catholic Christian tradition holds that materiality is ultimately redeemable because of its “connection” to the divine. We see this is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which occurs again and again—the material revealing the divine which can never be exhausted. Here the material (including the female body) has value then because of this connection with divine plenitude. If I am not mistaken, I believe that John Milbank offers a critique of Žižek along these lines: he cannot be a consistent materialist because matter ultimately has value only by virtue of participation in the divine.
On the other hand, perhaps Žižek could be read, following Lacan, as saying something along these lines. In Žižek: A Very Critical Introduction, Marcus Pound, having commented on the un-representability of feminine sexuality, goes on to explain, “there is no objectifying trait that defines woman as a whole in the way that castration defines men as a whole” (107); this is the meaning of Lacan’s claim, “The woman does not exist” (107). The idea is that men share a common identity as “castrated,” whereas women have no such common unitary trait. Theirs is the logic of the “Not-All.” Thus, they cannot be reduced to mothers or simply the “other set” to men. Rather, they are the “open-set” (108-9). If this is Žižek’s point, then I find it much more appealing and worthy of further development, as it navigates around a dichotomizing and ultimately subject-less view of women and avoids some of the problems noted above.
However, I must say that generally speaking Žižek’s work has a—how shall I put it—rather phallocentric aura about it. At the end of the day, I’m with Foucault and find these psychoanalytic Freudian hand-me-down-ism-inspired theories to be misguided and part of the social construction of a particularly modern subject seeking in a supposed “hidden, repressed” sexuality the ultimate meaning of life. Nonsense. There’s no doubt about it, though– Žižek is quite entertaining. Let me end my musings in the “spirit” of Žižek-ese: could it be that “women” in fact do share a “unitary trait,” namely, menstruation? If so, then is Pound’s more positive reading of Žižek’s view on women negated? There you have it, the “orthodox fox” deconstructs the Slovenian “rock star” philosopher.