Resistant and radical agency: Traversing Foucault with Slavoj Žižek

Abstract

The article maps Slavoj Žižek's notion of agency against Foucault's theory of power as it emerged from Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality (Volume I). After taking a brief look at Foucault's concept of power as a productive and immanent phenomenon, we turn to Žižek's critique of Foucault in order to establish how exactly he understands the relationship between power and agency, concluding with some observations on how Žižek and Foucault have or might have an impact on the way social reality is experienced today. The main argument can be summed up as follows: according to Žižek's critique, in order to effect social change it is not enough to be aware of the existing state of subjection, since the latter is itself part of a power mechanism that is inescapably eroticized, and ultimately sustained by the disavowed pleasure we derive from being caught in it; what is required as a gesture of liberation, rather, is the (implicitly traumatic and problematic) assumption of this disavowed pleasure.

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