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Lacan's Antigone: The Sublime Object and the Ethics of Interpretation Author(s): Paul Allen Miller Reviewed work(s):

Source: Phoenix, Vol. 61, No. 1/2 (Spring - Summer, 2007), pp. 1-14 Published by: Classical Association of Canada Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20304635 . Accessed: 08/02/2013 08:37
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LACAN'S ANTIGONE: THE SUBLIME OBJECT AND THE ETHICS OF INTERPRETATION


Paul Allen Miller

In 1959, Jacques lacan presented Sophocles' Antigone as a model of pure desire forhis seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1986: 328-329):
as a?xovouo?, the pure and simple relationship of a human being presents herself Antigone to that which finds itself carrying, that is the rupture of signification, that itmiraculously of and against everything? which grants a person the insuperable power of being?in spite what he

simpledesire of death as such [i.e., ofthatwhich is beyond the pleasure principle]. She
incarnates this desire.

[sic]

is ... Antigone

all but

fulfills what

can be called

pure desire,

the pure

and

Lacan notes that Antigone, inher decision to defyCreon, consciously seeks death. no effortto defend Polynices' actions (Lacan 1986:290,323-325). Her She makes choice takes her beyond the realm of rational discourse and the collective norms

of human satisfaction it implies (Lacan 1986: 78, 281; Zizek 1991: 25). Hers is ? position that transcends the comfortable binary oppositions that structureour daily ethical and social lives. Because her choice of death cannot be understood or the individual to the state (Lacan simple antithesis of freedom to tyranny, 1986: 281; Zizek 1992: 77-78). In fact, as she acknowledges, she had chosen death before Creon s decree against the burial of Polynices, and she defines herself to Ismene as one already belonging to the realm of the dead (lines 559-560; Lacan 1986: 315, 326). Creon is not a tyrant who forces Antigone tomake an impossible choice between life and freedom; rather, he embodies the civic norms that her pursuit of a desire beyond the bounds of those desires articulatedwithin the realm of common lifeboth requires as a defining foil, and transcends. Her choice thus represents a pure ethical act shaped neither by a self-interested selection among communally recognized goods nor the self-loathing of conforming to a code that is recognized and despised (Zizek 1992: 77). Such an ethical choice, as Lacan acknowledges, is Kantian in its devotion to a pure concept of duty, but psychoanalytic in its predication on a highly individualized desire whose content cannot be generalized into a universal ethical
according to strictly rational norms, she cannot be read as representing some

maxim (Lacan 1986: 68, 365-366). Antigone's choice, her desire, ispure precisely to the degree that it rejects the claims of theOther to dictate its objects or form. For Lacan, it is the beauty ofAntigone's choice of a Good beyond all recognized goods, beyond the pleasure principle, that gives her character itsmonumental status and makes her a model for an ethics of creation as opposed to conformity. It is for this reason that he citesAntigone's self-comparison to the ever-weeping, princess enclosed alive in stone?as the central axis petrified Niobe?another 1
PHOENIX, VOL. 61 (2007) 1-2.

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PHOENIX

In many ways, this ethical obligation to beauty ismet not by subjecting the text to a pre-existing theoreticalmodel, but by the practice of old-fashioned philology. That is to sayby closely attending to the play ofmeaning in the textand the ways in which it transcends our normative canons of the good, the true, and the beautiful; that is to say our day to day unreflective commerce with our larger Symbolic
communities as defined

around which the play turns (lines 823-833). In this one image we see brought together the themes of beauty, monumentality, and death-in-life in a singular apotheosis of tragic transgression (Lacan 1986: 311, 315, 327). Beauty forLacan represents the perfectmoment between life and death, a moment both articulated by and beyond time and desire, a moment whose true achievement can only be as the incarnation of a pure desire imagined beyond any recognizable object. In itsbeauty, Sophocles' Antigone presents what Lacan defines as a "Sublime Object." Our ethical obligation as readers and analysts is to be true to this object to the precise degree that it transcends all normative categories. As Antigone does not cede on her desire, neither can we assimilate her a tragedy to pre-existing set of critical categories, even psychoanalytic ones. This is an obligation to the text, but it is simultaneously an obligation to our own desire as readers, critics, and subjects: for the encounter with the sublime object is one thatmust shake us to our very core if it is not to be a factitious ormechanical exercise in the application of reassuring truisms. To meet our obligation to the sublime textwe must go beyond the dictates of the pleasure and reality principles, beyond good and evil to encounter pure desire: themoment inwhich the canons of meaning shudder before their own beyond.

has

personal histories. The problem, of course, is that good, old-fashioned philology


almost never existed and what has passed for attention to the text has too

by

our

profession,

our

ideological

commitments,

and

our

often been an exercise in domesticating it to norms of intelligibility, canons of taste, and concepts of historical plausibility alien to the brute facticityof the text itself. We have submitted toCr?ons laws rather than pursued the sublime object in all its strangeness. We have ceded on our and the text's desire in the name of in the name of conformity to a reality principle thatwould predetermine utility, the limits of our experience and its signification. To demonstrate how this ethical (and hence philological) obligation to the text, and its own aesthetic transcendence of the already given, could be pursued in relation to Lacan's own proof text, I propose to pursue a close reading of the opening lines, taking as littleforgranted as possible while allowing the Antigone's unfolding of the alien, conflicting, and at times repetitive forms ofmeaning that inhabit these lines to proceed with a minimum of interference.Antigone's first sentence is addressed to her sister Ismene before dawn outside the royal palace. As is typical of Thebes on theAthenian stage, already we are in a space that is explicitly beyond the norm. Athenian women of good families were not to be found running about in the street in themiddle of the night (Wohl forthcoming: 2). We begin thus in a place outside the law to announce an edict of the

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT
new tyrannos,Creon, and to seek the support of a woman transgression (1-6):
*Q Koiv?v a?ra?E?,<|>ov 'Ia|xrjvr|? Kctpct, ? xi Zeo? xcov an Ol?ircOu koikc?v ?p' o?a0' ?7TOIOV OOXl V(pV ?Xl ?C?GCUV X?A,?i; o???v 5 oik' y?p out' ?XyEiv?v out' axiu?v aiaxp?v is K?^ v o?k oux' ax-p? axep1 tad\ ?rco?ov ou onmn ?y? koikcdv. of Ismene,

3
and a sibling in its

xa>v acov Oh

common

wombmate,

dear head

Do you knowwhat ifanyof the evils from Oedipus Zeus has yet to accomplishforthe twoof us stillliving? For there isnothingpainfulnorwithout ate
Nor shame nor dishonor such as I have not seen in your evils and mine.

to the strange conjunction of these twowords, reducing them to the recognizable sentiments of the nineteenth-century drawing room (1900: 9, ad loc). Rather than seeking to find a solution to this problem, let us linger over these words, an overhasty naturalization while paying close attention to resisting the urge for their resonance with thewhole of Sophocles' closelywrought text. is the Koiv?v normally means something "held in common, shared."What shared thing, the thing held in common addressed here? On first hearing, it a would appear to be the a?xa?eA^ov, kinship term,which here appears in its form rather than the more normal ??etat>o?. While conventionally lengthened translated "brother" or "sister," as Benveniste has pointed out (1966: 1.220-221), Greek uses a periphrasis for male and female siblings, unparalleled in other Indo one of two or more European languages. a?xa?e^ov literally refers to people or things that have shared the same womb or ?e?x^o?. The term thus names one of the play's central themes. Hence, Antigone will later refer to herself as one who does reverence to thosewho have shared the same entrails (?uoa7iA,ayxvoi)? as?eiv, 511). The less common lengthened form, am?-deXfyov, underlines the literal content of the word and prevents its rapid assimilation to a purely conventional kinship term. It is an image of one flesh, inseparable in thewomb and beyond (Segal 1990: 180). Why then is koiv?v even necessary? Does it not common same-wombed one," these merely repeat the idea inherent inaux?? "Oh
not without destruction'; since the accumulation of negatives gives '(nothing) the reverse ofwhat Antigone means, K[amerbeek] reads o??(?) instead of the second ouT(e), '(nothing) sense is clear in any case" (1988: 1, adloc).. painful and (nothing) which is lacking destruction' but the See Gross's gloss 1 "

The first twowords after the initialvocative interjection are all but impossible to translate in anything approaching their original concision. They form a tautology whose harshness most translations smooth over (Watling 1947:126; Grene 1992: 161;Woodruff 2001: 1). Jebb's "my sister, my own sister" in no way does justice

For a survey of the textual difficulties, see Jebb 1900: 243-246.

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4
opening syllables seem to cry.What

PHOENIX
same-wombed one is not common, is strange,

we might well ask?Moreover, the neuter, as Griffith notes, is unheimlich, "may their 'common brother'": Eteocles, Polynices, or Oedipus himself suggest also (1999:120, ad he.; see also Loraux 1987: 173; Butler 2000: 18). Indeed, it is same-wombedness that is at the heart of the Oedipal family romance. The self-enclosed world of the tauto-logy is precisely what opposes to family and to the ordered realm Antigone's obligations professed love of death of civic law and virtue thatCreon proposes to inauguratewith his edict forbidding the burial of the rebel Polynices (Segal 1990: 179-181; Benardete 1999: 9, 97 98). Similarly, it isOedipus' own discovery of an excessive sameness, of a strange commonality at the heart of his being, thatwill cast him beyond the bounds of civic life in theAntigone s belated prequel (Butler 2000: 61). In fact,words that begin with the auto- prefix have a peculiar prominence throughout the play occur (Benardete 1999: 2;Wohl forthcoming: 18). Not only does a?xa?s?^o? twice more (503 and 696) where it refersunambiguously to Polynices, but also, and perhaps most famously, Antigone herself is later referred to as auxovouoc (821), a reference to her being a law unto herself, a self-enclosed, self-legislating who rejects the otherness of the law of the unity, polis, of the Symbolic community norms of human conduct are inwhich intersubjective imposed and negotiated (Loraux 1987:165-167; Tyrrell and Bennett 1998:104; Lacan 1986: 328-329). But wait! Surely, I have committed theworst sort of howler. Only someone

possessed of themost elementary Greek would not recognize that am?be'kfyov It turns is not a substantive but an adjective modifying the neuter Kapa.
out of that an I have been extraneous creating theoretical difficulties agenda. Yet where before none exist?all in the name we deliver ourselves over to

premature self-flagellation, perhaps itwould be best to ask whether thewords yield themselves up to common sense quite as quickly as my interlocutormight claim. Perhaps, just perhaps, the original construction is not resolved quite so easily as it appears. First, theword am?dekfyo? is always a substantive elsewhere in the play.2 Second, while it would be incorrect to say thatkoivo? can nevermean as Kamerbeek claims (1978: 37, ad loc), it is far from "related by consanguinity"
the most common

nor is it ever once used inKamerbeek's sense elsewhere in evenwhen Sophocles, to Antigone and her siblings. Thus, ifwe take am?SzXfyov as an referring adjective, and translate it literally,the result is something like that recommended ... real-sister head of by Gross in his commentary (1988: 1, ad loc), "shared Ismene." The image is grotesque. Even if with Gross we insert a parenthetical "in parents" after "shared," the result is only slightly less strange than imagining a will be quickly added, Antigone and Ismene as two-bodied monster. Kapa, it is synecdoche for the person of Ismene, like Latin caput, and hence a term of
A play. search of the Perseus database reveals only five instances of theword altogether, three in this

meaning,

and

it is never

used

of

things

rather

than

persons,

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT
endearment, "common not a reference to an actual head. Yet the translation, "shared" same-wombed person of Ismene," is every bit as much an offense to our

5
or

commonsense notions of as that of a independent personhood and individuality "shared (in parents) head," and, inasmuch as the emphasis is on their being one flesh, it ishard to keep the image of the "head" as head out of one's mind. Indeed, themore one struggles to construe the grammar of this line, themore it seems rather than the substantivemodified by the adjective, "Oh shared same-wombed
one, an to cry out for a comma after auxa?e?x|)ov, so that Kctpa stands as an appositive,

Nonetheless, beforewe adopt the trulyold-fashioned philological expedient of


emendation, even one as unobtrusive as an extra comma, should we not ask

head/person

of Ismene."

ourselves if the cruxwe have ferreted out in this first line is not reflective of a one that stretchesnot only throughout this opening passage but deeper structure, also through the play as a whole? For the decision about whether to punctuate is always the decision to punctuate, the decision to parse the text in a certain manner, to divide it up into units of sense, even when it clearly resists just this
parsing in the name

which is explicitly announced as masculine and civic in naturewithin the play and which Lacan labels the Symbolic, and an order of mutual reflection and fleshly interrelation,which the play casts as feminine and domestic and which Lacan
labels the

In this case, the question ofwhether or not to insert a comma is in fact nothing less than the question of how to articulate the relation of shared flesh to the discrete personhood of the two sisters and by extension to their two brothers, and to Oedipus, their father/brother. In this question, we find the entire dialectic that characterizes Ismene's relation to Antigone. The essence of that relation is embodied in the tension between the koiv?v a?xct?e^ov and the principle of individuation denoted by the proper name, Ismene, in line 1. That tension represents a conflict between an order of existence of finite, separate individuals,

of an uncanny

refusal

to conform

to the canons

of

sense.3

to adhere to the norms of civic conduct through assuming the position designated forher gender by the law and her refusal to abandon Antigone even in the face of the law's condemnation and seemingly certain death (Vernant and Vidal-Naquet 1981: 1-6, 16; Oudemans and Lardinois 1987: 88, 233; Tyrrell and Bennett 1998: 76-77). The structureof this double movement is very precisely embodied in the next two lines, even as it is simultaneously interrupted. These lines, it is generally agreed, directly address Ismene concerningwhat sortof evil, out of those stemming from their father,Zeus has not yet brought to pass for the two of themwho are
3 as to

Imaginary.

This

tension

characterizes

Ismene's

simultaneous

attempt

so in the "Ode toMan" See for example Heidegger's repunctuation of lines 360 and 370-371 the oppositions between 7ravxo7i?poc and arcopo?, and uyiitoki? and arco^i?, into sharper bring relief than what is found in the text as traditionally printed (1996: 60). See Gross 1988: ad loc; 1990: 197-198; Griffith 1999: 85; and even Loraux 2002: 28-30, who, as Lloyd-Jones andWilson her introduction makes plain (vii-xiv), owes a clear debt to Lacan.

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PHOENIX

still living.4 Nonetheless, the text, in fact, does not yield itselfup to sense in quite a manner. For one a crux here that has vexed so thing, there is textual simple critics for the last three centuries. The basic problem is that these lines possess a kind of grammatical stutter,a moment inwhich themechanics of language, the Real that subtends the possibility of signification, erupts into the text and denies it the ability to produce a singular, accountable meaning in conformity with the
rules of a rational

(O'Brien 1978: 8), "Do you know what Zeus of the evils ofOedipus ofwhatever sort has not yet accomplished for the two of us who are still living?" While the textual tradition and the scholia are unanimous in their attestation of the text, the problem of having ? xi introduce or be resumed by ?rcoiov has been oxi. This recognized at least since Hermann, who suggested the emendation renders the following sense, "do you know that Zeus brings to pass the evils of sort does he not??with us still living." Erfurdt follows him, Oedipus?what that the vulgate is unintelligible and that "nothing ismore certain than arguing this emendation" (1802: 245).6 Hermann's reading has the advantage of disposing of the grammatical problem as well as relieving the harshness of the hyperbaton of having Zeus so far away from the construction he governs. Yet the ?rcoiov oi>%i ceases on this reading to be ameaningful part of the sentence and becomes a kind of rhetorical fragment floating in itsmiddle. ?tcoiov here must also stand for the more properly interrogative ttoiov. This is a problem Lloyd-Jones andWilson (1990) will later solve by inserting a dash afterkolkc?v and emending ottoiov to while nonetheless retaining ? xi: "do you know what of the evils of a, 710?OV, what sort does he not bring to pass for us two still living?" Oedipus, Zeus?ah, Jebb, however, argued against Hermann contending both that the sentence is too short to bear such a construction (without ever saying how long it should be) and that the strangeness of the vulgate can be relieved by an appeal to an assumed informalityofAttic speech, forwhich he offers neither attestation nor mid-sentence clear argumentation. "The ultimate question is,?how much irregularity would the spoken language of the day have tolerated in such a sentence?" (Jebb 1900: 241). He assumes that ? xi is the subject of an unstated ?axi and translates
4 Like Kamerbeek or xet?. (1978: 38, ad loc), I would contend that exi may be taken with either Cc?aaiv Indeed, Iwould argue for an ex commune,construction. 5It is also that printed by Loraux (2002), Griffith (1999), and Rose (1988). 6 It was Erfurdt's edition that was the basis forHermann's (1825). How Erfurdt first became emendation is not clear from the former's note. Sch?fer in a note to his collation

we have printed above is in fact a conservative reading and follows the aswell as the vulgate precisely reading of the scholia and themost recent printings of the text. A literal translation, however, verges on the illiterate ifnot inelegant, inasmuch as it features a double question and seems to change construction in What

grammar.

aware ofHermann's

of the editions of Brunck and Erfurdt suggests that if? xi is genuine it stands for oxtoov or ?xi?r|7toxe is interesting is the assumption that ? xi cannot be ? ti. The text seems (1824: 219, ad loc). What constantly to escape itself.

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT

not "knowest thouwhat ill there is,of all bequeathed byOedipus thatZeus fulfills forus twainwhile we live."He thus ignores the force of cmo?ov on the strengthof a presumed colloquial norm (Jebb 1900: 9). Kamerbeek likewise accepts the text as transmitted but wishes to read ? xt and ?rco?ov ob%? as "contrasted objects of xeA,ci,ranged asyndetically," yielding a literal reading along the lines of "do you know what of the evils ofOedipus Zeus / what sort not accomplishes for the two which he argues, based on other "polar expressions ... can very of us still living," " well convey the idea of 'all the possible (evils)' (1978: 36-37, ad loc).
None of these various texts and translations

our interpretationof it.As Griffith notes, "the sense is clear and sarily, emphatic on us'), and the ('every conceivable evil is descending syntactical informality is or mitigated by word order" (1999: 120, ad loc). Nor is it clear thatwe need, even should, choose between ? xi and oxi. They are, of course, phonetically we recall thatmost ancient and accentually identical. Moreover, if manuscripts were written without spaces between thewords, they are even orthographically identical.The entirematter would thus literallyhang on a breath, on whether an

changes

the

plot

or even,

neces

actor in performance would insert a hiatus between ? and xi or pronounce it as ?xi. The syntax and rhetorical accentuation of the linewould then be reconfigured which its linguistic way in accordingly, but the irreducibleplurality of the text,7the
structure resists as reduction Antigone to a and as scandalous singular Ismene's sense, would common remain?a head. moment every bit

world of intersubjective recognition and responsibility, of articulation before the is this Zeus? The law, already contains the seeds of its own negation. Who force behind the name, as Griffith notes, seems particularly anthropomorphic attenuated in these lines (1999: 120, ad loc). Zevq is less a proper name, denoting a discrete individualwith articulable motives and desires, than synecdoche for an impersonal force, even as the oft-noted hyperbaton, which shifts the name into a syntactically anomalous position (Kamerbeek 1978: 36, ad loc), foregrounds the very agency that seems to be lacking. Similarly, the phrase "the evils from once names his acts (the evils he committed: parricide, incest, the Oedipus" at curse laid upon Eteocles and Polynices), theirconsequences (the evils he suffered: exile, blindness, themutual slaughter of his sons), and theirorigin in the curse of the Labdacids (Jebb 1900: 9, ad loc). In what sense,we must ask, are these evils arewe to understand them in relation to the "we"who are "still Oedipus' and how whom they are "yet to be accomplished"? living" and for
7 On

Still, line two seems to move firmly in the direction of the principium with itsverb in the second person and two proper nouns. There is individuationis, a you who "knows." Zeu? is the active agent of the finite verb xeXe?, and Oi?ircou? is the origin, if not the owner, of the evils brought to pass. Yet, this opening out of the closed incestuous world of common flesh and shared being into the

see Gurd 2005: 46-55.

the textual tradition as a "singular plural" that inherendy defies reduction to a pristine unity,

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PHOENIX

This last question gains particular poignancy when we reflectupon the force of the duals, vcpv and ?coacav, in line 3. These are the firstofwhat Griffith notes to be "a dense cluster of duals" throughout the play used to describe "murderous brothers, disunited sisters, sister and dead brother, dying bride and groom" (1999: 121, ad loc.).s Extrapolating the conceptualization behind the duals to its logical individuals, but one substance from a common womb, thewomb that is the origin of Oedipus' evils (Wohl forthcoming: 15). It isAntigone's desire to assert and maintain these failed unities, to return to the oneness of the flesh and liewith her brother in the grave, that fuels the central conflict of the play embodied in the countervailing forces of a transgressive oneness and an ultimately sterile and self-destructive logic of radical separation. As Charles Segal sums up (1990:183): Even her dual formwhen speaking of herself and Ismene in the third line has its of allegiance on Antigone's part as she leaves the livingkin for her bond to the dead.
Creon's logical path is, of course, just the opposite: in the face of those bonds conclusion he insists on "difference" which and carries of sameness the gods finally vindicate. significance, for it repeatedly denotes the polluted fratricides ... and comes to mark a shift conclusion, Antigone and Ismene are here conceived as a unit: not separate

it to its

Antigone
cannot

is the auxoyvooxoc
the other except

(875),
as

the "self resolved," the a?xovouo?,


the same-wombed, that

who
is as

admit

a member of a potential self-reflectingdual. The experiential reality of that dual, is characterized by the constant presence of axn defined paratactically however, in lines 4-5 as "pain," "shame," and "dishonor"?that is by the experience of a shared transgression of, and rejection by, the Symbolic law. The force of the dual is explicable but not translatable. It asserts as an unarguable grammatical fact the existence of an intermediate category between the absolute identityof the one and the fundamental difference of themany: the self-reflecting two. In the Labdacids'
two as the transgressive one or

the a?xct?e^ov,

tale of internecinemurder and incest, of


as the murderous two, Thus this archaic

the

the one

piece of Indo-European
self-consciously

morphology

attempts to occupy the impossible middle position between Creon's difference and Antigone's sameness, replies toAntigone's first speech (11-14):
euol ?lev o?oei? |uu0oc, 'Avxiy?vn, (Juta?v OU0' r|??? oik' ?Xyeiv?? ?Kex', s? ?xou ?uo?v ???ta|>o?v ?oo, eaxepTjGrpsv ua?t Oavovxoiv rp?po: binXr\ %spi Not one story ofthose who are dear, Antigone, come to me, outside sweet or painful has

manipulated

to achieve

looms large. Throughout


maximum effect.

the play, it is
Ismene, who

whether

of the fact that

we

8Steiners (1984: 113) assertion that the dual occurs only at the play's beginning and therefore cannot be sure of its significance is incorrect. Compare Loraux 1987: 173-174 and Tyrrell and Bennett 1998: 44-45 and 78.

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT
we two were as a pair dying two brothers stripped of on one a double hand. day from

The deliberate alternation between ones and twos is designed to draw attention to the dual as a fundamental textual signature ofOedipal incest and murderous Athens and strife, in contrast to both the normative individual of fifth-century the social collective of the orpoc, represented on stage by the chorus. The unambiguous connection of the grammatical dual to the incestuous story that lies at the heart of theOedipus tale, to the axn of the Labdacids, explicit, however, in Ismene's next speech (49-57):
oijioi?? (|>p?vr|aov, & Kaaiyvr|xr|, 8uo"K?er|? vcpv ?%exQr\q ?pa?a? 7taxf|p x' ?rc(0?,exo, binX?q

ismade

Ttpo? auxo(|>c?pa)v oyei? 87i8ixa

?|i.7rA,aKr|fiax?)v

a?xo? %epi a?xoupycp ^TJxrip Kai yuvr|, 5i7iA,o?v e'rco?,

TtXeKxa?aiv ?pxavaiai tao?axai ?iov xp?xov ?' ??e>,<|)?) 8?o uaav Ka6' f|(a?pav x?) xa>,ai7CG)p(? ^?pov aoxoKxovoGvxe Koiv?v Kaxeipy?aavx' ?naXkr\koiv xepo?v. Alas, consider, oh my sister by birth, how thefather us hated and notorious, to the two of torn out crimes for having self-revealed his two eyes with his own himself self-working hand.9 the mother and wife, a double name, Then her lifewith knotted ropes. Destroys

The wretched pair bykillingthemselves


Accomplish ? common fate with

Third,

two brothers on one day

each others two hands.

The duals at the end of the passage come thick and fast. But throughout these closely packed lines, tragic fate is embodied by one flesh (sisterby birth, father, whose division into self-reflexive twos {the two of us, two eyes, mother, brothers) double name, two brothers, wretchedpair, two hands) resists the separation of the the intervention of the third as represented by Creon's notion of Symbolic law,

communally defined goods and rule-based ^iXia. These twos, these incestuous duals, in the end collapse into a self-reflecting identity (self-revealed, himself, self-working,themselves,common) that is ultimately indistinguishable from death on itself (killing): uThird, two brothers one day." This tension between Imaginary reflection and Symbolic law is also embodied as precisely by Creon's and Antigone's competing notions of fyxkia articulated in the play's opening lines (Griffith 1999: 123; Goldhill
9aauTO<J>(?p?v in the very (a?xo-) 1999: 132, ad lot).

1986: 88-103). As David

... auxo? a?xoupycp %epi: cf. 1, 55-7 nn.... aUT?^copoc usually means 'detected " acf : but here 'self-detected,' and perhaps also 'in an incestuous act' (Griffith

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10 Konstan

PHOENIX

in the adjectival form. And while certain types of interpretationmay have gone too far in reducing the affectivedimension of such ties to the purely functional, without serious distortion. nonetheless archaic fyiXoqcannot be translated "friend" The same is true for the abstract noun ((n?ict as it is used both in archaic and classical textswhere the term "friendship"would be inadequate to those aspects of it that apply to kinship, and other forms of meaning that imply a sense of one flesh whether in the literal or themetaphorical sense. In addition, however, Konstan argues that the classical period sees the emergence of fyiXoqas a noun explicitly used in contrast or coordination with kinship terms,meaning as an "achieved relationship" of mutual loyalty and affection. This is <J)i?,o?
"friend."

contrasted with ?xOpo?, thatwhich is "outside, other, inimical" (Nagy 1979: 242-244; Goldhill 1986: 80-83). Thus Antigone ends her first speech (line 10) are now by asking Ismene if she has heard what evils approaching their (|)iA,oi(i.e., from their e%9poi (i.e., Creon). Polynices) Konstan furtherobserves that this use of fyiXo?, to signify thatwhich is part of the "same," is the primary sense inHomer, where theword is used exclusively

(1997: 1-67) has made us aware, there are essentially two concepts of (|)iA,iaoperative in classical Greece. These are an inheritance of a complex of values that, as Benveniste has shown (1966: 1.335-353), are predicated on an as a person or originary notion of the <|>ita)? being thing intrinsically bound to ties of kinship, tribal and political loyalty, guest friendship, the self?through and/or companionship (Santas 1988: 8; Benardete 1999: 12-13). For this reason, the Homeric usage of fyiXoq,especially when applied to body parts, is thought to differ little from that of the possessive adjective. fyiXoq,then, ismost directly

as inextricablylinked to an essential Antigone defends the archaic view of (|)iAia inwhich legal and Symbolic identity is secondary to the primal oneness oneness, are those who share the bonds of the flesh. She of Being. For her the <|)iA,oi in will lie fyiXr] with fyiXoc, Polynices' grave, not because his cause was just, not because of the existence of an "achieved relationship" that theyhave constructed between them, but because he iswho he is (Lacan 1986: 324-325; Guyomard 1992: 42, note 7). A husband, she says, or even a son, can be replaced but, with both parents in the grave, a brother is irreplaceable (lines 909-912).10 That tear in the oneness of the flesh cannot be mended. There is no possible exchange or substitution, no way to fill this gap within the domains sanctioned by the a pleasure and the realityprinciples. "Doing this," she says, "it is beautiful thing
to die."

For Creon, however, (JnAict a fully legal and rule-bound relationship. Its is purpose is to promote the civic good and it is firmlya part of the kingdom of biens
On the textual controversies surrounding these lines since at least the time of Goethe, 1999: 112-114; and Griffith 1999: 278, ad loc see Lacan

1986: 298; Tyrrell and Bennett

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT

11

would have considered accepted truth (182-190):


Kod uei?ov' ?cm? xoGxov o??auou

of which he is the foremost representative (Lacan 1986: 300-301; Oudemans and Lardinois 1987: 300-301). Dearness forCreon is a function of submission to the law. As he argues in a speech thatwould be later quoted with approval by Demosthenes (19.247), and which representswhat many in Sophocles' audience

?tvxi xrj? auxo?

rcaxpa? Aiyco.

fyiXov voui?ei, oux' ?v

?y? y?p, ?axcoZe?? ? 7t?v0'?pcov?ei,


ai(07ir|aaiui xt|v axnv ?vxi opa>v xrj? acoxnpia?, ?uauevrj y?ovoc, ?xi em

?axo?? axeixouaav oux' ?v fyiXov Ttox' av?pa Oeiunv suauxcp, xo?xo fj?' ?axiv r\aq>?ouaa, xo??

yiyvaKjKcov kcu xauxn?

TtAiovxE? opurjc Whoever of no disaster considers account. For

(|>i?,oi)? noio?usOa.

a friend or kinsman I?let

man bearing ill we when the city is safe make friends will tomy land,knowing this, that
for ourselves by sailing on a sound state. ship of

approaching

I say this one to be greater than his fatherland, Zeus know this?would neither be silent seeing ever-vigilant I ever count as a friend a the citizens, instead of safety, nor would

flesh, theworld of enjoyment that supports and grounds the law and his desire. And that refusal leads to the destruction of his family and himself (Benardete 1999: 74-75; Tyrrell and Bennett 1999: 90-91). By the same token,Antigone's refusal to recognize the claims of the law, her pure desire to transgress the barrier of axr|, leads her from the Symbolic death affirmedby the pleasure principle to the second death, which is its beyond. Her destruction is not the product of an error in judgment, auapxia, like that of Creon, but of a fundamental and toward Being. uncompromising disposition In her insistence on her desire to the point of death, a desire that transcends all rational calculations of Symbolically determined utility, a desire thatpoints beyond

Creon here represents a kind of civic-minded vision of <|>iXia that excludes all aspects of kinship, the flesh, and enjoyment (Griffith 1999:159, ad loc). He does not seek to traverse the veil of axr| but to avoid it (even as he ultimately falls prey to it). His position is at once that of the new constitutional order in democratic Athens (Tyrrell and Blake 1999: 46-47; Oudemans and Lardinois 1987: 161; Knox 1982: 35, 38-39) and a totalitarian insistence on the law as law, without any grounding in family, tradition, or the claims of the flesh (Steiner 1984: 37; world of his own Allen 2000: 91-92). In the end, Creon refuses to recognize the.

the pleasure and realityprinciples, she embraces the familial axrj of theLabdacids. Like Niobe, she becomes both more and less than human, immortalized as a sublime figure of beauty in death, a figure of folly and awe. In the process, she becomes a profoundly ethical figure in her uncompromising singularity.At the

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12

PHOENIX
to be true to its indeterminacies and its self-transcendence,

same time, she points to the desire and obligation of the analyst to listen to the
text, contradictions,

when he is brought up shortbefore the image of his son's dying body clasping the beautiful corpse ofAntigone. It is here, to this unthinkable abyss, that a true ethics of psychoanalysis leads. The talking cure as conceived by Lacan takes the analysand not to theworld of facile adaptation and normalization, but makes possible the direct confrontation with the destitution of desire and the consequent embrace of Being (Lacan 1986:

its awesome foolishness. All Creon's rational calculations, while constituting the can never fully account for grid thatmakes thismoment possible and necessary, it. They can only attempt to contain itwithin the constraints of a self-satisfied instrumental reason thatwhen confrontedwith Tiresias' horrible truth sees only baseness, bribery, and bad faith. Creon remains blind until the awful moment

347):

The

of the Sovereign Good question Not that this is a closed question. the Sovereign Good, but he knows other than to have

has always been posed forman, but the analyst knows one demands not have what of him, only does he there isn't any. Having led an analysis to its term is this limit where the entire of desire is problematic

nothing posed.

encountered

With

freedom from the Sovereign good, however, comes the possibility to realize one's desire in all its idiosyncrasies, to withdraw from an exclusively instrumentalized and utilitarian relation to theworld, and to encounter a beauty
that cannot be confined to immediate use. It is Antigone as sublime object who

points theway to a pure desire that can transformus, likeNiobe, into something new. fundamentally awe-full and One of themost disturbing things about Lacan's reading ofAntigone is his appreciation of her absolute dedication to the obscene kernel of her enjoyment (jouissance). There is an asocial immediacy to absolute enjoyment, to pure desire, which while profoundly ethical?in the sense of representing an absolute which the realization of a desire beyond dedication to the transformation of self, the pleasure and reality principles requires?nonetheless also figures a rupture with the Symbolic order as we know it (Irigaray 1977: 95). It is an ethics that demands the transgression of the law as its universal maxim (Lacan 1966), that a promises not the reign of the good, but world of beautiful and yet monstrous enjoyment?the world of the death drive (Zizek 1992: 134).
Department and Cultures of Languages, Literatures,

University Columbia,
U.S.A.

of South Carolina SC 29208 pamiller@sc.edu

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THE SUBLIMEOBJECT 13
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