This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
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too. Criticism. 1986).Lacan's Antigone: A Case Study in Psychoanalytical Ethics Mohammad Kowsar The analysis of Sophocles' Antigoneby Jacques Lacan1clearly professes a complex mission.in the existence to watchovertheirdevelopment ArtsDepartment in the Theatre Coordinator is Graduate Mohammad Kowsar of San Francisco in TheatreJournal. one that has received extensive recognition from scholars who are active in numerous interdisciplinary studies. to explore an ethical territory commensurate with the interests of psychoanalysis-a close scrutiny that entails scanning the entire field from a philosophical and ontological perspective -and to show with conclusive evidence that the Freudian project. to abandonthe beliefthat thereis an instinct towardsperfectionat workin humanbeings. as something that invariably will shelter a veiled meaning. haveappeared His articles andreviews StateUniversity.however.All referencesto this work are in my own translation. Concomitant with his psychoanalytical approach. when put to a rigorous test. Lacan's astute appraisal of the Sophoclean text is indebted to his particular methodology. The seminar on Antigoneexposes the reader not only to an unprecedented interpretation of the classical text but to a set of theoretical formulations that test and expand Freud's own ethical and aesthetic principles. the thematic concerns of Sophocles' Antigoneseem to keep covenant with Freud's terse declarations in Beyond the PleasurePrinciple: It may be difficult. It is astonishing to observe how far Lacan's ethical inquest penetrates beyond the age-old controversies surrounding the problem of tragedy.text establishedby Jacques-Alain Miller(Paris:tditions du Seuil. for many of us. always will identify human action. (1959-1960). 94 . Theater.I haveno faith. In the comparative examination conducted by Lacan. in its relationship to desire. 'Lacan'sextended examinationof the Sophocleantext appears in chapters 19-21 of Le Seminaire de la psychoanalyse LivreVII:L'ethique deJacques Lacan. To pursue Lacan's subtle thoughts on Antigoneis to glean uncommon aesthetic insights germane to the circumstances that authorize the appearance of the tragic hero and that shape tragic action. Lacan upholds the primacy of "language" in accordance with the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure. and Modern Drama. which has broughtthem to theirpresent and whichmaybe expected and ethicalsublimation achievement highlevel of intellectual into supermen.
He has contrived refugefromillnessesonce beyondall cure. both at the level of word interpretation and at the level of content.trans.LACAN'S ANTIGONE I 95 of any such internal instinct and I cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved. ed. Beyondthe Pleasure Principle. is the central role of language in an irrational universe.Wyckoff'srendering of the song is fairly representativeof the typical reading of this text by English translators.3 generally regarded as the great eulogy to man. of Sigmund 3SeeSophocles. 1954). proclaiming the irrationality of instincts. As an ontic declaration. This kind of neglect will engender miscalculations at the level of ontological and metapsychological considerations. But what is not articulated clearly in Freud's discourse. Freud explicitly declares that human experience is aimless. . The truths asserted by Freud cannot be grasped if the facticity of language (including the very important ambiguity at the foundation of all words) is left out of psychoanalytical investigations. the celebrated first stasimon.There'sonly death thathe cannotescapefrom. Greene and RichmondLattimore (Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress. and challenging the immanence of "humanist" ethics. this cleverman. in The StandardEditionof CompletePsychologicalWorks .2 This text signals a definite departure from the positive and constructive characteristics of libidinal economy. instead. 1955). He controlswith craftthe beastsof the open air. denying it any claim to transcendent vitalism. psychoanalysis is decidedly not a humanistic enterprise. and thoughtlike the wind Language. David Tragedies. Lacan observes that Freud is fundamentally aware of aporia. and it is in the famous song of the Chorus in Antigone. Cleverbeyondall dreams the inventivecraftthathe has 2Sigmund Freud. Antigone." According to Lacan. it remains the French psychoanalyst's task to illuminate the meaning of the Freudian texts and to remain loyal to the truths of those texts at the same time. He facesno futurehelpless.in Complete Greek vol. Freud(London:The HogarthPress. he has taughthimself. It is. 18:42. refugefromrain. .The passage relevant to Lacan'sargumentis: thanman. Lacan draws attention to the fact that Freud left numerous clues discouraging a reading that would endow his works with the attributes of "humanism. .and shelteragainstthe cold.He can alwayshelp himself. 1. Lacan's study of Antigone (under the rubric of an ethical consideration) expresses the same view and redefines the nature and functions of ethics. but since the original model for the aporetic condition exists in the signifier-signified dyad applicable to all words and because Freud does not interrogate the structure of the unconscious according to a Saussurian formula. a general tendency to embrace simple explanations wherever the Sophoclean text is intentionally ambiguous.. Manythe wondersbut nothingwalksstranger . walkeron hills . and the feelingsthatmakethe town. that Lacan points out an aggregate misreading. The chief instances of misunderstanding issue from insensitivity to the actual words of the text. about language. what Lacan wants to add to render Freud comprehensible. . its anti-telic stance is unmistakable... ElizabethWyckoff.
Thdetre Complet (Flammarion: Paris. 1983). including the following: ate is the grandchild of "Nux" (Night) and child of the evil aspect of "Eris. never to share my thoughts. who translated directly from the Greek. syntactic operation generates enough ambiguity in the statement to allow jettison of the connotation of man's all-encompassing ingenuity before life's trials (Seminaire. which Lacan contends that she understands only too well. Sophocles has organized the plot such that Antigone. . also cites the French translation of Robert Pignarre: see Sophocle.. quite distinct from terrestriallaws and the separate justice of the gods. according to Lacan. must play her fate not against dike. Ate encompasses greater ambiguity. the combination pandaporos aporos("of many resources" and a Such "resourceless. Furthermore. and death which result from this" (115). Not by my fire. Close examination of Lacan's detailed analysis of the first stasimon reveals that his reading parts company with the normative studies of this text at every turn.4yet another order. Scotos . 38. The Chorus. In his Myth and Thoughtamong the Greeks(Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 77. Jean Pierre Vernant has provided a range of possible interpretations." and also as "criminal waywardness. Lacan takes issue with the prevailing interpretation that "man faces no future helpless. the law ordained by god. The laws of the land are separate from dike. but stateless the man who dares to dwell with dishonor..VII. This conlimit-gives rise to the "creation"of new "maladies" (Seminaire. trasts with the more generally accepted interpretation that the Chorus celebrates man's ability to discover cures to illnesses. E. 321). follow an unexpected logic. sees "nothing" which may drive him one time or another to well or ill. 320). punishment." that is "Strife" (94). See F. legal proceedings. 1964). Sophocles. [332-372] Lacan. at least. GreekPhilosophicalTerms(New York: New York University Press. who does these things. an image of the darkness which enshrouds the human spirit suddenly. When he honors the laws of the land and the gods' sworn right high indeed is his city. justice.VII." He points out that Sophocles employs an oxymoron-a figure he uses often in this text-here. the Chorus states that it is in man's best interest to make an absolute distinction when it comes to advocacy of the laws. moreover. finally."respectively). asserts that man is far from being unequivocally artful and resourceful. ate appears as "oblivion and the spirit of error. What Lacan locates in the Chorus' statements confirms the radicality of his interpretation. 1967). First. Finally. that his universally acknowledged impotence in the face of death--an insuperable VII. it is "related to Darkness. it is also associated with "aberrations of the mind" (75). but against the chthonian dictum of ate. 4That dike can be rendered as "compensation." leaves little room for contention. in other words. enfolding it in shadows" (115). Lacaninsists. 322)." which leads to "defilement. Peters. In Lacan's interpretation. in Lacan's translation. Wyckoff and Pignarre show great similarities in their renderings of the Greek text. in Lacan's view the Chorus indicates quite clearly in the same statement that man's progress to the future entails a detour involving ouden(nothing). losing sight of this distinction entails a serious risk (Seminaire.96 / MohammadKowsar Greek words and phrases. yielding a radically different perspective on the tragic context. the Chorus contends that man's craft and contrivance drive him only sometimes toward good and just as often toward evil.
artlessly man "goes toward nothing that might befall him . Lacan persists in emphasizing that Sophocles was neither a humanist nor a rationalist. ethics. To the extent that the unknown is ubiquitous. the Chorus in Antigoneindicates very clearly that man has not really found cures to incurable maladies. the role of eros as it structures the tragic thrust of the play. with absolute clarity. He always misses the point. the Chorus is saying that sometimes artfully and sometimes VII. It is beyond the pale sphere of a living death. it is the startled reaction of the Theban elders to Antigone." argues Lacan. must accede to a law that will direct ethical human aspiration. which is also to say that it is tantamount to ethical lucidity. for the radiance. paradoxically enough. a moment in the action that strikes Lacan as pivotal for understanding the coordinate of desire. nevertheless. he has "created"a science of maladies with which he can establish a structural relationship between aporia and death: "He has found no resolution for death. beauty's other effect-pain.LACAN'SANTIGONE I 97 as an actual obstacle that man must face eventually. even though it emanates from a place of beauty. Lacan sees the Sophoclean genius as most evident whenever Sophocles depicts human destiny as guided wholly by the aporetic rules that govern the unconscious. 321) toward both good and evil. This is a "heck of a device. The law of ate operates in a borderline dimension. . Thus. According to Lacan. but "beyond all hope" (Seminaire. To acknowledge aporia is not only to maintain a healthy respect for death but also to adopt a "creative" attitude toward somatic and psychic illnesses. the maladies he has created" VII. that is. the difference between the laws of the state and those associated with the gods. 321). It is as if the subject located in this space is endowed with a penetration of vision that is supremely tragic. 321). particularlywhen it (Seminaire. a space radically free of all material and worldly attachments. who has become the embodiment of love-even as her death sentence is presented as irrevocable-which is (for Lacan) the most telling incident of the play. the very truth that the subject evokes. 321). He manages to have all of his cleverness backfire on him" VII. 321). and aporos. is so overpowering that it causes the beholder to blink. to turn away.cunningly. Tragedy. not with hope. (Se'minaire. From this position the subject can tell. There is. nor hopeVII. lessly. this is not at all the same as stating that "no future" obstacles will remain unchallenged by the skillful man. More precisely. the famous first stasimon provides distinct juridical definitions and consigns (to human action) unavoidable ethical consequences. registering. In fact. Accordingly. However. but the law of ate. hence the clever man. and death-these are the topics that interest Lacan in Antigone. but he finds formidable devices. becomes clear to him that the Chorus is actually stating that man "escapes into VII. Lacan believes that in the universe of Antigonethere is only one law that functions this way: it is neither a social law nor a divine law. the sagacious. nor can there be a hope of cancelling the unknown. always screwed. Chorus also asserts that for all man's inventiveness and creativity aporia is not to be subjugated by craft. "he goes pandaporos." (Seminaire. The impossiblemaladies"rather than "escapingfrom maladies"(Se'minaire. The subject positioned here is illuminated but cannot be gazed upon for too long. The Chorus says that "desire is made visible" (imerosemarghes)in the eyes of the .
without any doubt.98 / MohammadKowsar young bride.5In the person of Antigone. 297). Henceforth Project. "Desire looks clear from the eyes of a lovely bride: / power as strong as the founded world" (Antigone. To deal with these demands. these are components of sentience that are implicit in all human perceptions. never intended by Freud to be judged on some ideal plane. a psychic activity effected in response to external and internal stimuli. that is. 345). conforming to the "principle of neuronal inertia. It is precisely the surplus excitation directed toward the organism (although endogenous stimuli also exercise considerable force within the cellular and intercellular sphere) that must be controlled and ultimately derouted. he mixes ethical and aesthetic categories and proceeds to demonstrate that he is following Freud himself. Lacan is convinced that the explication of the Project. first appear problematic for humans at the level of sentience. prearticulatingstate in which pleasure and unpleasure navigate between perception and consciousness." which "have their origin in the cells of the body. Undaunted. its survival depending upon shielding and protecting itself against the onslaught of too-powerful excitations. respiration. obliterated. the nervous 5Wyckoff translates. conversion and discharge" (Project. that any accord drawn up between them must perforce pay lip service to the laws of good and proper conduct. marshal in the process of defense and control is an entire operation What neurones involving "stimulus. to map out the relationship between the activity of object phenomena and a subject that must find some manner of receiving external stimuli without being swamped." This is pursuit of a path of least resistance. sexuality" (Project. is imperative if the ethical implications of a literary masterpiece such as Antigone(and its relationship to psychoanalysis) are to be fully appreciated.295).296). who already had established that beauty and pleasure never can enter an agreement innocently. in that prethinking. The energy displayed by the nervous system in discharge moves toward a homeostasis. 798-799). on the one hand." such as "hunger. Freud's seminal study in in 1895. occupies a "place of desire inasmuch as it is the desire for nothing.1:283-347. the relationship of man with his lack of VII. At this place she appears as a "mirage"but impossibly being" (Seminaire. and transcendentally lovely. however. Lacan insists.6 neurology. Freud saw the organism as having always to negotiate within an economy of pleasure and unpleasure. Part of the aim of the neurological project was to study the impact of the environment upon the organism. overwhelmed. . "aflight from the stimulus"(Project. The scope of Lacan's argument is really very vast. substitution. had alluded in some detail for a ScientificPsychology.in which Freud had claimed that the "initialhelplessness of human beings is the primalsourceof all moralmotives"(318). 6Sigmund Freud. in CompletePsychologicalWorks. TheProject to the complex ethical questions raised by psychoanalysis. desire is made apparent. here she dazzles. press upon the organism to discharge. with overwhelming brilliance. Projectfor a ScientificPsychology. total adherence to this kind of "neuronal inertia" is abandoned when "endogenous stimuli. and respond to the radical demands of death's reality on the other. The values of good and bad. Antigone.
there is said to be facilitation. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Norton. into a neurone cathected from the ego" (Project." (Seminaire. intimately involved in the processes of accumulation and discharge of psychic energy.. exercising "inhibition. The mediating unconscious provides a structural opposition that is in itself a sign-making apparatus. excitation will opt for a facilitated pathway in preference to one where no facilitation has occurred. emanating from outside. undergoes conversion. Laplanche and J. The unconscious is intimately involved in the process of cognition-that which connects perceptual identity with thought identity. for Lacan. Furthermore.332). Lacan suggests that what connects perceptual identity and thought identity. none other than a release unto reality and "something that is .LACAN'SANTIGONE / 99 system cannot withdraw but must preserve enough energy at the level of the secondary process for "the conservation of life" (Seminaire.VII. they activate thought and speech. The process Freud designated as Bahnung(facilitation)7 is.trans. Part of Freud's hypothesis delineating the neurological field involves perceptual neurones." in J... ForFreud the Thinghad appeared in the realm of perception as Sachvorstellung 7"Term used by Freud at a time when he was putting forward a neurological model of the functioning of the psychic apparatus (1895): the excitation.in relationship to the primary process.which are fundamental to consciousness and thought. and is released with discharge is das Ding (the Thing). or "between skin and flesh" (Seminaire. The Languageof Psycho-Analysis.VII. there is a connecting chain between perception and consciousness that extends from "the most archaic unconscious to the articulated form of the word by the subject. what suffers substitution. "influencing the repetition of experiences of pain and of affects" (Project. which always responds to the role of speech and language in psychoanalysis. a chain . . VII.. and in relation to the secondary process. Freud's neurological definition of the ego supports its mediative and structural role: the ego can be identified as "a group of neurones which is constantly cathected and thus corresponds to the vehicleof the store required by the secondary function" (Project. it can be even drawn to a signifying chain .323). . In general. produce fantasy and hallucination. 49-50). 58). very close to language" or its "articulation"(Seminaire. 50). In Lacan's reading of Freud. Lacan acknowledges that the ego deploys a system of checks and balances comparable to the secondary-function activity. 1973).. which is none other than the subject's attempt at cognition of real objects. perceptual neurones. Pontalis." that is.VII. as it were.the conveying of a cathexis . but he insists that the ego itself is "for a great part unconscious" (Seminaire. in passing from one neurone to another. Achieving identity for a subject can be approximated through a circuitous and divided path known as reality testing. 64)." that is. 323). . In this respect. the ego acts as a regulative apparatus. Thought production is fundamentally situated at the site where the unconscious exercises its influence over the ego (Ich). . 46-47. 62).VII. something that passes between Wahrnehmung (perception) and Bewusstsein(consciousness). B. 157." Bahnungshould evoke the "constitution of a path of continuity. Freud is succinct on this matter: "The aim and end of all thought-processes is thus to bring about a stateof identity. runs into a certain resistance. Lacan suggests that Bahnung is misrepresented by the English "facilitation.an ego that must define itself in relationship to the exterior world. where its passage results in a permanent reduction in this resistance.
Lacan emphasizes that the conditions that breed hostility in the perceptions of the subject are not defined primarily by the rules of pleasure and unpleasure. entation). Thus the complex of the fellow human-being falls apart into two components. but other visual perceptions-e. at a certain level of investment (cathexis) a second impulse. VII.and.for instance. [memories] which are associated with memories of movements experienced by himself. 331] [Project. will appear to curtailhypertension and quantitative increase of excitement-one that results in avoidance and recoil in anticipation of the overflow of psychic energy that can result in pain. for instance. where the self discovers itself to be "other" to the Other. to both modes of presentation but also stands autonomous and apart-in a position he described as the "absolute Other of the subject that must be recovered" (Seminaire. Then the perceptual complexes proceeding from this fellow human-being will in part be new and non-comparable-his features. it is found where a radical cleavage exists at the primordial level. however. as well as his sole helping power. Freud's endeavor to define the process of cognition with the example of the Nebenmensch (a fellow human being) underlies Lacan's concept of das Ding and his understanding of Freud's central. This is to say that when an object is perceived by a subject through the intermediary of a fellow human being. intended distinction: Let us suppose that the object which furnishes the perception resembles the subject-a If so. hostile. a stranger (Fremde). If the Thing never appears independently of the primordial alienation that structures the relationship of the subject with the Other. This dissection of a perceptual complex is described as cognizingit." situated on the outside. Now Freud indicates with some clarity that the pleasure principle harbors in itself the energetic combination of pleasure and unpleasure. while the other can be understood by the activity of memory-that is. of his own body. He endorses Freud's accentuation of the dual nature of the object as something that presents itself as both satisfying and hostile. can be traced back to information from [the subject's] own body. the theoretical interest [taken in it] is also explained by the fact fellowhuman-being. In fact. those of the movements of his hands-will coincide in the subject with memories of quite similar visual impressions of his own. Other perceptions of the object too-if. by definition. In terms of the argument presented thus far. it guarantees not only the prerequisites for potential satisfaction but also an occasion for the subject to realize that his fellow human being is "other. that an object likethis was simultaneously the [subject's] first satisfying object and further his first hostile object. For Lacan this text has the force of axiomatic truth. precisely where the Other appears to the subject as Thing.g. just as persistent. the split accompanying the recognition of the fellow human being as stranger is only asymptotic to the pleasure-unpleasure dyad. of which one makes an impression by its constant structure and stays together as a thing.100 / Mohammad Kowsar (Word Pres(Thing-Presentation) and in the domain of thought as Wortvorstellung a which identified third for das is related coordinate Lacan. more to the point. this means that whenever a subject's inclination toward an object is erotically charged. 65). For this reason it is in relation to a fellow human-being that a human-being learns to cognize. it involves a judgmentand when this last aim has been attained it comes to an end. Ding. ascertaining the facticity of the sep- . he screams-will awaken the memory of his [the subject's] own screaming and at the same time of his own experiences of pain. in the visual sphere.
10This demand is projected to the Other by language. This structure of incommensurability is the chief measure of the Other's real inaccessibility to the subject's desire. a desiring subject will demand. conditioned by the Other's desire. seeking not so much a lost object. as Joel Dor has succinctly pointed out. is defined by the distance (gap) that separates it from the Thing. it appears both as object of desire and as the object that causes desire.. according to this logic. received and acted upon by way of a language that is always representative of the Other's desire. L'inconscient structurecommeun langage (Paris: editions Denoel. the Thingnegotiates with the real (that is. or as absence.12 For Lacan. Refinding. exists as lack. guided by unconscious desire. and. is the duplication of an original experience of satisfaction.. in CompletePsychologicalWorks. but to refind such an object. standing in the place of the lost object-the object of desire. VII. W. The subject expression from the place of the "prehistoric Other" (Seminaire. A subject's desire. "Ibid. namely.. The Thing. between the original substance of the demand and the formal message-which is the mediator-a separation occurs.19:237-38. trans. . forever lost and essentially unavailable. 125. '2Ibid." In Negation. It is incorrect to take the Thing for a lost sign. tcrits: A Selection. 1977). Desire's aim is repetition. that desire be heard. However. to convince oneself that it is still there. Still. where there is pain. In this sense the Thingspeaks. A subject VII."where it is least expected. This is why the Other. thus stands disoriented between an "I" (as lack) and a "Thou" (overdetermined). 188-89. the subject's demands for recognition."8 The Thingacts as the signifying coordinate for the pain of separation. 87). but also in a greater and greater distance from it. including the ever-present reality of a displaced object that must be 8Jacques Lacan. which is impossible. 1985). Alan Sheridan (New York: W. Norton and Co. thus. but one that needs to be found again. the real in its entire structural complexity. because an affective relationship with it is always established. not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented. 68) with it. will be seen by the subject as a Thing. an entity whose articulated desire (twice removed from the subject's own) the subject will emulate. and repetition by its very nature introduces a condition that prevents exact duplication of the experience. as such. Progressively. born of naming the "unnameable. in this case. is tantamount to relocating desire at the original site of integration with the object. 189. Introductiona la lecturede Lacan:1. of reality-testing is. 'Freud had written: "The first and immediate aim. 116-17.9 What the subject always seeks.LACAN'S ANTIGONE / 101 aration is conceivable solely through the articulated signs of language. ?JoelDor. for the object is never really lost. Alterity and difference are part of the irretrievable nature of the original condition."11The demand appears as the lack of coincidence between desire and what must perforce be named. will result in a necessary relationship with the Thing. relating to its articulated projects and "conserves distance" (Seminaire. The ontological status of the Thingis beingin-lack (manquea etre). desire's messenger. therefore. and quite often "it speaks" -in Lacan's evocation of Freud.
the "good" always appears as the juridical right to "deprive others. beyond (au-deld). therefore. common sense. For the Thingto enter any kind of relationship with the real. Lacan insists that Freud was "literallyhorrified by love of one's neighbor" (Seminaire. . It was obvious to Freud (in Lacan's view) that what the Other obstructs at every turn is the royal road to desire's satisfaction. In this sense. a "no thing." and it is from this position that the Other will erect a "powerful wall before the path of our desire" (Seminaire.VII. perpetually denying any happiness that the subject might seek. death-and Freud had Between this side (where pleasure said as much-on the other side. interrogate. 291). The fellow human being." which serves as a discourse that can contain. and any kind of epiphany. in fact. Consequently. instead. to the order of the Thing. Hence arises the condition of the Thing's detachment (being split) from the objects that represent it. always conducts himself with preternatural cruelty. Pleasure is located. for Lacan. For Lacan. as does that But tragedy. 288). it must enter the signifying chain of language as part of an arrangement supervised by the pleasure principle. In fact. is first and foremost a function of desire. The good consigns to pleasure a limit and a beyond. Lacan reevaluates tragedy by identifying the central conflict of tragic action as "the effect of beauty on desire" (Seminaire." none more misleading. In the character of Antigone Lacan identified the dialectics of beauty and desire in the sense that desire manifests itself in its purest expression as something that is projected beyond human laws. 270). In this respect the Other's arsenal is replete with persuasive moral arguments and none deadlier than the notion of the "good. and Christian charity. it is normal for the fellow human being to inflict pain. 288). 219). of all dictums. can be understood in relationship to a crisis that desire undergoes when faced with the challenge of crossing over "into another dimension" (Seminaire. being essentially aporetic. the fellow human being projects models and imposes rules of conduct that are anathema to desire's objectives. and structure the entire dynamics of pleasure and unpleasure. the "beautiful"is that which appears beyond the limit set by the good." always presents itself as something else or "Other thing" (Seminaire. Through language. 143). on this side (depg)of "the fearful center of desire's aspiration" (Seminaire. Language carries out its task by way of metaphor and metonymy. the subject enters a relationship of desire with a fellow human being. with its concomitant pleasure. none is more nefarious than "love thy neighbor. VII. But the Thing.102 / MohammadKowsar recovered). particularnotion of catharsis which is linked to the Dionysian sparagmos. Thus. a pain that harks back to that initial cleavage within the subject's psyche when it first reached out to assume an identity through the mediation of the primordial Other and was thwarted forever and introduced. pity and fear play a role in the dialectics of desire. VII. This novel understanding does not deny a function to the technical terms associated with tragedy. VII. ethics and aesthetics are linked by the common denominator of desire and share analogous correspondences. VII. wearing the many guises of reason. VII. more enmeshing in the coils of servitude than the recommendation to love another as oneself. according to Lacan. but it is not through a fellow human being that desire confers on the subject a basic understanding of its alienated condition. organize.
The place of pure desire (associated with Antigone) is a zone that is circumscribed by two deaths: "death encroaching on the domain of life. but she herself is not in any manner guided by the will of Zeus. Antigone's beauty structures a relationship between this side and beyond. chance puts no limits on the number of lovers. they cannot be replaced. his corpse having been left in the open. She realizes perfectly how Creon is paralyzed by confusion of the two sets of laws. and she does distinguish between the gods' laws. What is at stake is the "name" of a brother who is blood related. Furthermore. on the other. that of her brother. who catapults the dynamics of this play into the realm of tragedy. Creon is guilty in the sense that his judgment fails him. Hamartiahas no place in Antigone's personal project." the bond that connects her brothers born from one mother to "the same father. Antigone's reasoning. this sudden effect of beauty designates a "place" of "limits" (Seminaire. Aristotle's view notwithstanding. it is a question of asserting his "being. He shows that her reasoning centers on "the matrix. the criminal father" (Seminaire. but this side. Oedipus. husbands. Lacan finds hidden sense in Antigone's strange argument. but in the matter of Polynices' burial the separate realms of civic and divine laws hold no power over her.LACAN'SANTIGONE / 103 resides) and beyond (the place of certain death). lie pity and fear." who has "passed on to the underworld. on the one hand.VII. pity and fear serve to fold back on the central image of desire and to modify the subject's psychic status with a single representation. unburied. 291). VII. She can appreciate fully that dike would be offended by Polynices' shameful betrayal of Thebes. 291). She cannot allow wild beasts (creatures without names) to desecrate the . and hamartia is applicable solely to him. loyalty to a brother has the highest priority. Specifically. by marking a place of limits. but a place for life that not only anticipates death but also partakes in death. but his suffering originates in a realm that is foreign to Antigone. is no longer a place of the living. Antigone suffers neither pity nor fear. he is in error. 322). which is the effect of beauty. Antigone is the unique tragic personality. What she must do is to cover the obscenity of an exposed corpse. and only she. nor is it. On the other hand. and civic laws. As passions. 324). life encroaching on death" (Seminaire. 322). To do so puts a character at fault. In the text of Sophocles. the central condition of tragedy.VII. Therefore." now on the wane. She claims that a woman has absolutely no power over the conditions that provide her with brothers. Creon also suffers.VII. The Chorus probably alludes to Creon only when it advises against confusing the law of the land "with the dike of the gods" (Seminaire. is at first glance somewhat cockeyed. Beyond lies death. But his hamartiacannot fuel a tragic experience. Lacan admits.VII." and "it is in the name of the most chthonian blood ties that she is opposed to the commandments of Creon" (Seminaire. precisely "for her brother. when brothers die. This is to say that she is quite aware that gods issue dictums that are sometimes comparable to and in the spirit of rituals and ceremonies conceived to uphold human respect for death and the dying. and children that a woman can acquire in a lifetime. however. having experienced the effect of beauty. Her own choice to bury Polynices has nothing to do with dike. Reverberating from Antigone. It is Antigone.
is not of this world. because she harbors very little concern for life among the living." or death-aslimit: this is the ontic issue that gives substance to "being" in the first place. or rather her splendor. 306). of course. Lacan imagines that the Chorus blinks. of the "image"Antigone VII. one who makes an elementary distinction between the self as "subject" and others as the "Other"-will always desire someone else's desire. this is the place of ate." Lacan contends that Antigone's seemingly inexplicable behavior emanates from the ambiguity which is at the heart of desire itself. In fact. Conversely. and for her he is "unique. Antigone's journey in life can be appreciated only with respect to the exigencies of ate. and because she is at this moment. But looking at Antigone. a dialectics of libidinal investment. at its core. and. can a subject's desire. 307).VII. In its most specific manifestation. In other words. that is. she "goes beyond human limits." To assert the integrity of his "being" is to recover her own "being. one whose desires are ipsofactostructured by language. or that zone where life and death encroach upon each other's dominions-hence." This is conceivable and adequate only in the limited universe of human laws. a desiring subject-one who is already operating within the symbolic field of language. finally. But it is a superficial distinction between good and evil. does not understand all this. In that blinking. finally. 327). Antigone is bound to her family by mereemna (concern) and mneema (memory): of the Labdacides that pushes Antigone to the frontiers of ate" it is "the mereemna (Seminaire. Responding as she does to ate. This is equivalent to saying that Antigone's desire is not of this world. brilliance. the Chorus discerns that Antigone. In its simplest formulation. catching the light of her resplendent eyes. How.he has had a name. because her desire is not normal. so unmindful to mere pleasure and so overwhelmingly self-destructive. to consider only the sphere of "practical good. and "splendor" (eclat)." at the very place where the Other finds legitimacy. it observes an image at once fascinating and "blinding" (Seminaire. the problematics of "being. an adversity of the Labdacides" (Seminaire. Desire can be characterized as a state of tension that supports.104 / MohammadKowsar fallen body of Polynices. The fact remains that the good practiced by Creon always will malfunction where the stakes are "inhuman" (Seminaire. particularly vis-a-vis the laws of Creon. ate (which according to Lacan is mentioned some twenty times in the Sophoclean text) is "part of a beginning and a linkage. the chthonic nature of ate. she too is elsewhere. Polynices is her brother. Ate. one that would relegate correct ethical behavior only to the beleagured tyrant. has a wider application than sorrow and misfortune. the very incarnation of her desire.VII.VII. for Lacan." Her desire "aims . at the site of primordial metaphoric ordinance. 306). at "the limit. Desire expresses itself primarily through flirtation with death. and. then.says Lacan. 291). because Antigone no longer can remain in the world of common good. nevertheless appear so beautiful. Antigone is forced to appear in a position that has the semblance of criminality. following projects at the crossroads of desire's interplay (Seminaire. Here. the law of desire claims that what a subject most desires is to be recognized as "being" desirable by the Other. as it does when it converges on Antigone? Through the resonance. more than ever. The Chorus in Antigone. because her beauty is not a common beauty.VII.
Polynices. Antigone recognizes this and assumes a terrible responsibility. (Seminaire. and identifies a transgression.that which has broughtto the lightof day the uniqueoffsprings. the Chorus is dazzled by imerosemarghes (desire made visible) and blinks: Lacan sees Antigone's overpowering beauty as a structuring phenomenon: "the function of the beautiful being precisely that which indicates the place of the relationship of man to his own death. 83). and that is when a subject withdraws before the claims of its desire (Seminaire. Antigone does not. a transgressor who occupies an integral role in the familial structure. is clearly in keeping with basic Freudian assumptions. 306). VII.. The fabricof the entire lineage is. each destiny is tied inextricably to the destiny of the other. and to indicate it to us in a dazzlement" VII. woven through the warps and woofs of incestuous desire. one is clearly a criminal.Eteocles. Explaining tragedy as a consequence of the dialectics of desire. and by analyzing the social being in terms of a unique process of acculturation. and all are controlled by ate. is structured by the "relationship of the unconscious with The Thing . Following the trajectoryof Antigone's desire in this manner. the Chorus informs us. The final component of Lacan's argument. forbidden as it is. Lacan's contribution to this familiar discourse is to raise the stakes of the dispute.329] Of the two brothers.Antigone. 329). Antigone identifies with the desire of her mother (the Other): The desire of the motheris at once the founderof the entire structure. It has been noted already that beyond pleasure Lacan also has delineated the order of the Thing as that painful truth which fascinates.VII. by insisting on the primacy of language. revolves around a consequential assertion. which will not be explained by man.. a criminal lot. In life. and an erotics. As individuals they are pawns in a structural scheme that brands each family member guilty.More than any other characterof fiction. 362). she embodies her desire. finds fascinating.. and it is in response to its ubiquitous presence that human culture establishes a morality. is the permanent mystery.LACAN'SANTIGONE / 105 at a point . Lacan is in agreement with Claude Levi-Strauss when he asserts that cultures are founded on the basis of a fundamental. but it is at the same time a criminal desire. Death. the part that incorporates an ethical concern. primordial law-the "interdiction of incest" between the child and the mother (Seminaire. beyond ate"(Seminaire. in fact. 342). Death establishes limits. to wit: psychoanalytical ethics acknowledges only one moral error. 83).Ismene. VII. a kind of agonic relationship between Eros and Thanatos. that of deciding "to be the pure and simple guardian of the criminal as such" (Seminaire. by introducing ontological suppositions. Antigone is separated from her mother by this deathoffering Thing. Lacan's argument proceeds beyond the good. [Seminaire.VII. at a crucial point of the play. As noted. He does it by compounding ethical and aesthetic considerations. even as it promotes a pure desire for death and nothingness.VII. The desire for the mother (the original. from time immemorial. which the Chorus. (Seminaire. The Labdacides are. beyond pleasure itself. an aesthetic. most intimate other that the child will perceive as "friend"). Ate . VII.
. when Antigone has finally hung herself. immortalize this ate" (Seminaire. key experiential categories prefigured in the overreaching arc of ate.VII. The good and desire find their dialectical counterparts in excess and crime. but a primordialsignifier that preexists in an articulated form like an arc of nothingness over the parenthetical moment of life. strictlyspeaking. Psychoanalytical ethics shows that beyond human laws. 101) a desire can hope to aim at a point beyond ate. Antigone sets herself very squarely in relationship to that which aspires to a point beyond ate.VII. Lacan believes that a chain of signifying associations lead from excess to crime and to death. the act of suicide appears as an epilogue to an already completed tragic itinerary. Decidedly. within the dark Theban tomb. human life cannot long support such an aspiration. nonetheless. a desire-which is unavoidably the desire of the Other-can break certain limits and that beyond "morality"and "erotics" (Seminaire.106 / MohammadKowsar is not. eternalize. In the end. 329). the beautiful finds its most resonant and startling image in its identification with death. death. Antigone's tragic triumph is to "perpetuate.