This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
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His and StateUniversity. It is astonishing to observe how far Lacan's ethical inquest penetrates beyond the age-old controversies surrounding the problem of tragedy.I haveno faith. 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. for many of us. 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. Theater. Concomitant with his psychoanalytical approach. Lacan upholds the primacy of "language" in accordance with the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure.text establishedby Jacques-Alain Miller(Paris:tditions du Seuil. Criticism.however. (1959-1960). always will identify human action.All referencesto this work are in my own translation. articles reviews and Modern Drama. In the comparative examination conducted by Lacan.in the existence ArtsDepartment San Francisco in Coordinator the Theatre is Mohammad Kowsar Graduate of in haveappeared TheatreJournal. 'Lacan'sextended examinationof the Sophocleantext appears in chapters 19-21 of Le Seminaire de LivreVII:L'ethique la psychoanalyse deJacques Lacan. as something that invariably will shelter a veiled meaning.Lacan's Antigone: A Case Study in Psychoanalytical Ethics Mohammad Kowsar The analysis of Sophocles' Antigoneby Jacques Lacan1clearly professes a complex mission. 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. 94 . to abandonthe beliefthat thereis an instinct towardsperfectionat workin humanbeings. 1986). in its relationship to desire. which has broughtthem to theirpresent and and achievement ethicalsublimation whichmaybe expected highlevel of intellectual into to watchovertheirdevelopment supermen. one that has received extensive recognition from scholars who are active in numerous interdisciplinary studies. Lacan's astute appraisal of the Sophoclean text is indebted to his particular methodology. when put to a rigorous test.too. the thematic concerns of Sophocles' Antigoneseem to keep covenant with Freud's terse declarations in Beyond the PleasurePrinciple: It may be difficult.
and Language.trans. Lacan observes that Freud is fundamentally aware of aporia. As an ontic declaration.He has contrived refugefromillnessesonce beyondall cure. David Greene and RichmondLattimore (Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress. Freud(London:The HogarthPress. This kind of neglect will engender miscalculations at the level of ontological and metapsychological considerations. and it is in the famous song of the Chorus in Antigone. Cleverbeyondall dreams the inventivecraftthathe has 2Sigmund Freud. thoughtlike the wind and the feelingsthatmakethe town. He controlswith craftthe beastsof the open air. proclaiming the irrationality of instincts.and shelteragainstthe cold. psychoanalysis is decidedly not a humanistic enterprise.There'sonly death thathe cannotescapefrom. and challenging the immanence of "humanist" ethics. that Lacan points out an aggregate misreading.in Complete Greek vol. .3 generally regarded as the great eulogy to man. Beyondthe Pleasure Principle. Lacan's study of Antigone (under the rubric of an ethical consideration) expresses the same view and redefines the nature and functions of ethics. about language. denying it any claim to transcendent vitalism." According to Lacan. ed. 1955). The chief instances of misunderstanding issue from insensitivity to the actual words of the text.. 1954). walkeron hills . 18:42. he has taughthimself.The passage relevant to Lacan'sargumentis: thanman. of Sigmund 3SeeSophocles. is the central role of language in an irrational universe. a general tendency to embrace simple explanations wherever the Sophoclean text is intentionally ambiguous.He can alwayshelp himself. refugefromrain. 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.2 This text signals a definite departure from the positive and constructive characteristics of libidinal economy.. Lacan draws attention to the fact that Freud left numerous clues discouraging a reading that would endow his works with the attributes of "humanism. .. in The StandardEditionof CompletePsychologicalWorks .LACAN'S ANTIGONE I 95 of any such internal instinct and I cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved. what Lacan wants to add to render Freud comprehensible. its anti-telic stance is unmistakable. It is. Antigone. Manythe wondersbut nothingwalksstranger .Wyckoff'srendering of the song is fairly representativeof the typical reading of this text by English translators. Freud explicitly declares that human experience is aimless. 1. ElizabethWyckoff. 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. . But what is not articulated clearly in Freud's discourse. instead. 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. this cleverman. . both at the level of word interpretation and at the level of content. Tragedies. He facesno futurehelpless. the celebrated first stasimon.
[332-372] Lacan. punishment. In Lacan's interpretation. Not by my fire. the combination pandaporos aporos("of many resources" and Such a syntactic operation generates enough ambiguity "resourceless. moreover. The Chorus. also cites the French translation of Robert Pignarre: see Sophocle. sees "nothing" which may drive him one time or another to well or ill. Ate encompasses greater ambiguity.96 / MohammadKowsar Greek words and phrases. Finally. Sophocles has organized the plot such that Antigone. 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). 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. in the statement to allow jettison of the connotation of man's all-encompassing ingenuity before life's trials (Seminaire. and death which result from this" (115). Furthermore. but against the chthonian dictum of ate. 321). justice. This conlimit-gives rise to the "creation"of new "maladies" (Seminaire." which leads to "defilement. Wyckoff and Pignarre show great similarities in their renderings of the Greek text. the law ordained by god. Lacan takes issue with the prevailing interpretation that "man faces no future helpless. never to share my thoughts. 1983). Scotos . trasts with the more generally accepted interpretation that the Chorus celebrates man's ability to discover cures to illnesses. See F." that is "Strife" (94). asserts that man is far from being unequivocally artful and resourceful. according to Lacan. Lacaninsists. the Chorus states that it is in man's best interest to make an absolute distinction when it comes to advocacy of the laws. . who does these things. Thdetre Complet (Flammarion: Paris. First. Peters. enfolding it in shadows" (115)."respectively). that his universally acknowledged impotence in the face of death--an insuperable VII. legal proceedings." leaves little room for contention. it is also associated with "aberrations of the mind" (75). but stateless the man who dares to dwell with dishonor. who translated directly from the Greek. it is "related to Darkness. 1967). What Lacan locates in the Chorus' statements confirms the radicality of his interpretation. including the following: ate is the grandchild of "Nux" (Night) and child of the evil aspect of "Eris. 322). E. at least. The laws of the land are separate from dike. the Chorus contends that man's craft and contrivance drive him only sometimes toward good and just as often toward evil. finally. 4That dike can be rendered as "compensation. which Lacan contends that she understands only too well. ate appears as "oblivion and the spirit of error.. Jean Pierre Vernant has provided a range of possible interpretations. must play her fate not against dike. yielding a radically different perspective on the tragic context. losing sight of this distinction entails a serious risk (Seminaire. 320). in other words. 77. When he honors the laws of the land and the gods' sworn right high indeed is his city.VII. 38. an image of the darkness which enshrouds the human spirit suddenly. 1964). Sophocles." He points out that Sophocles employs an oxymoron-a figure he uses often in this text-here. follow an unexpected logic..VII. In his Myth and Thoughtamong the Greeks(Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. quite distinct from terrestriallaws and the separate justice of the gods." and also as "criminal waywardness.4yet another order. GreekPhilosophicalTerms(New York: New York University Press. in Lacan's translation.
321) toward both good and evil. 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. He always misses the point. but the law of ate. It is beyond the pale sphere of a living death. artlessly man "goes toward nothing that might befall him . nor can there be a hope of cancelling the unknown. with absolute clarity. that is. but "beyond all hope" (Seminaire." argues Lacan. . In fact. The law of ate operates in a borderline dimension. beauty's other effect-pain. becomes clear to him that the Chorus is actually stating that man "escapes into VII. 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. However. even though it emanates from a place of beauty. nevertheless. Lacan persists in emphasizing that Sophocles was neither a humanist nor a rationalist. to turn away. always screwed. It is as if the subject located in this space is endowed with a penetration of vision that is supremely tragic. 321). (Se'minaire. the very truth that the subject evokes. which is also to say that it is tantamount to ethical lucidity. 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. and death-these are the topics that interest Lacan in Antigone. To the extent that the unknown is ubiquitous. ethics. The impossiblemaladies"rather than "escapingfrom maladies"(Se'minaire. a space radically free of all material and worldly attachments. is so overpowering that it causes the beholder to blink. Lacan sees the Sophoclean genius as most evident whenever Sophocles depicts human destiny as guided wholly by the aporetic rules that govern the unconscious. not with hope. "he goes pandaporos. Tragedy." (Seminaire. must accede to a law that will direct ethical human aspiration. the difference between the laws of the state and those associated with the gods. There is. This is a "heck of a device. it is the startled reaction of the Theban elders to Antigone. Accordingly. this is not at all the same as stating that "no future" obstacles will remain unchallenged by the skillful man. hence the clever man. and aporos. the sagacious. the role of eros as it structures the tragic thrust of the play. 321). 321). registering. The subject positioned here is illuminated but cannot be gazed upon for too long. Chorus also asserts that for all man's inventiveness and creativity aporia is not to be subjugated by craft. 321). the maladies he has created" VII. From this position the subject can tell. paradoxically enough. a moment in the action that strikes Lacan as pivotal for understanding the coordinate of desire. but he finds formidable devices. lessly. Thus. More precisely.cunningly. particularlywhen it (Seminaire. the Chorus is saying that sometimes artfully and sometimes VII. He manages to have all of his cleverness backfire on him" VII. According to Lacan. the famous first stasimon provides distinct juridical definitions and consigns (to human action) unavoidable ethical consequences.LACAN'SANTIGONE I 97 as an actual obstacle that man must face eventually. nor hopeVII. the Chorus in Antigoneindicates very clearly that man has not really found cures to incurable maladies. for the radiance. 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 Chorus says that "desire is made visible" (imerosemarghes)in the eyes of the .
" which "have their origin in the cells of the body. 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. in CompletePsychologicalWorks." such as "hunger. At this place she appears as a "mirage"but impossibly being" (Seminaire. 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. prearticulatingstate in which pleasure and unpleasure navigate between perception and consciousness. Henceforth Project. TheProject a ScientificPsychology.1:283-347. is imperative if the ethical implications of a literary masterpiece such as Antigone(and its relationship to psychoanalysis) are to be fully appreciated. he mixes ethical and aesthetic categories and proceeds to demonstrate that he is following Freud himself.295). overwhelmed. sexuality" (Project. with overwhelming brilliance. however.5In the person of Antigone. "aflight from the stimulus"(Project. Lacan insists. marshal in the process of defense and control is an entire operation What neurones involving "stimulus. Part of the aim of the neurological project was to study the impact of the environment upon the organism. in that prethinking. 798-799). The energy displayed by the nervous system in discharge moves toward a homeostasis. on the one hand. total adherence to this kind of "neuronal inertia" is abandoned when "endogenous stimuli.6 1895. Lacan is convinced that the explication of the Project. Freud's seminal study in in for neurology. without any doubt. "Desire looks clear from the eyes of a lovely bride: / power as strong as the founded world" (Antigone. that any accord drawn up between them must perforce pay lip service to the laws of good and proper conduct. conversion and discharge" (Project. . respiration. occupies a "place of desire inasmuch as it is the desire for nothing. press upon the organism to discharge. never intended by Freud to be judged on some ideal plane. Projectfor a ScientificPsychology. these are components of sentience that are implicit in all human perceptions. a psychic activity effected in response to external and internal stimuli. To deal with these demands. 6Sigmund Freud. that is. The scope of Lacan's argument is really very vast. Freud saw the organism as having always to negotiate within an economy of pleasure and unpleasure.in which Freud had claimed that the "initialhelplessness of human beings is the primalsourceof all moralmotives"(318). conforming to the "principle of neuronal inertia. The values of good and bad. substitution. first appear problematic for humans at the level of sentience. 297). Undaunted. the relationship of man with his lack of VII. Antigone. its survival depending upon shielding and protecting itself against the onslaught of too-powerful excitations. and transcendentally lovely. who already had established that beauty and pleasure never can enter an agreement innocently. had alluded in some detail to the complex ethical questions raised by psychoanalysis. obliterated.296). 345). desire is made apparent. and respond to the radical demands of death's reality on the other." This is pursuit of a path of least resistance.98 / MohammadKowsar young bride. the nervous 5Wyckoff translates. here she dazzles.
VII.332). into a neurone cathected from the ego" (Project.VII.. none other than a release unto reality and "something that is . 62). 50). Pontalis. 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. but he insists that the ego itself is "for a great part unconscious" (Seminaire. The unconscious is intimately involved in the process of cognition-that which connects perceptual identity with thought identity. Laplanche and J." (Seminaire. which is none other than the subject's attempt at cognition of real objects." that is.. . Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Norton. In Lacan's reading of Freud.an ego that must define itself in relationship to the exterior world. 49-50). B.. excitation will opt for a facilitated pathway in preference to one where no facilitation has occurred.the conveying of a cathexis . a chain . The process Freud designated as Bahnung(facilitation)7 is. they activate thought and speech. VII. Furthermore. Lacan acknowledges that the ego deploys a system of checks and balances comparable to the secondary-function activity.. 1973). there is said to be facilitation. it can be even drawn to a signifying chain . as it were. . and in relation to the secondary process. In this respect.323). the ego acts as a regulative apparatus. what suffers substitution. for Lacan. and is released with discharge is das Ding (the Thing). or "between skin and flesh" (Seminaire. 157. something that passes between Wahrnehmung (perception) and Bewusstsein(consciousness). "influencing the repetition of experiences of pain and of affects" (Project.LACAN'SANTIGONE / 99 system cannot withdraw but must preserve enough energy at the level of the secondary process for "the conservation of life" (Seminaire. intimately involved in the processes of accumulation and discharge of psychic energy. The Languageof Psycho-Analysis. emanating from outside. 46-47. Lacan suggests that what connects perceptual identity and thought identity." in J. exercising "inhibition. . 323). Achieving identity for a subject can be approximated through a circuitous and divided path known as reality testing. in passing from one neurone to another. Thought production is fundamentally situated at the site where the unconscious exercises its influence over the ego (Ich). produce fantasy and hallucination. 58). 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.VII. The mediating unconscious provides a structural opposition that is in itself a sign-making apparatus. very close to language" or its "articulation"(Seminaire. In general. Lacan suggests that Bahnung is misrepresented by the English "facilitation." that is. Part of Freud's hypothesis delineating the neurological field involves perceptual neurones. which always responds to the role of speech and language in psychoanalysis. undergoes conversion." Bahnungshould evoke the "constitution of a path of continuity. 64).VII.in relationship to the primary process.which are fundamental to consciousness and thought. Freud is succinct on this matter: "The aim and end of all thought-processes is thus to bring about a stateof identity. 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. where its passage results in a permanent reduction in this resistance.trans. perceptual neurones. .. runs into a certain resistance.
the theoretical interest [taken in it] is also explained by the fact that an object likethis was simultaneously the [subject's] first satisfying object and further his first hostile object. Then the perceptual complexes proceeding from this fellow human-being will in part be new and non-comparable-his features. 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. He endorses Freud's accentuation of the dual nature of the object as something that presents itself as both satisfying and hostile.and. precisely where the Other appears to the subject as Thing. 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. [memories] which are associated with memories of movements experienced by himself. 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. at a certain level of investment (cathexis) a second impulse.for instance. hostile. which is related entation). For this reason it is in relation to a fellow human-being that a human-being learns to cognize. where the self discovers itself to be "other" to the Other. can be traced back to information from [the subject's] own body. 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.100 / Mohammad Kowsar (Word Pres(Thing-Presentation) and in the domain of thought as Wortvorstellung Lacan. of which one makes an impression by its constant structure and stays together as a thing." situated on the outside. In fact. If the Thing never appears independently of the primordial alienation that structures the relationship of the subject with the Other. VII. those of the movements of his hands-will coincide in the subject with memories of quite similar visual impressions of his own. Thus the complex of the fellow human-being falls apart into two components. For Lacan this text has the force of axiomatic truth. it is found where a radical cleavage exists at the primordial level. in the visual sphere. 331] [Project. Other perceptions of the object too-if. he screams-will awaken the memory of his [the subject's] own screaming and at the same time of his own experiences of pain. intended distinction: Let us suppose that the object which furnishes the perception resembles the subject-a If fellowhuman-being. In terms of the argument presented thus far. 65). This dissection of a perceptual complex is described as cognizingit. so. a stranger (Fremde). 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. Freud's endeavor to define the process of cognition with the example of the Nebenmensch fellow human being) underlies Lacan's concept of das Ding and his (a understanding of Freud's central. for instance. of his own body. by definition. identified a third coordinate for das Ding. it involves a judgmentand when this last aim has been attained it comes to an end. just as persistent. This is to say that when an object is perceived by a subject through the intermediary of a fellow human being. more to the point. this means that whenever a subject's inclination toward an object is erotically charged. ascertaining the facticity of the sep- . but other visual perceptions-e. the split accompanying the recognition of the fellow human being as stranger is only asymptotic to the pleasure-unpleasure dyad. as well as his sole helping power.g. however.
19:237-38. Still. In this sense the Thingspeaks. This is why the Other. it appears both as object of desire and as the object that causes desire. A subject's desire. trans. the subject's demands for recognition. standing in the place of the lost object-the object of desire. is tantamount to relocating desire at the original site of integration with the object. where there is pain. a desiring subject will demand. A subject VII. It is incorrect to take the Thing for a lost sign. 87). thus stands disoriented between an "I" (as lack) and a "Thou" (overdetermined). but one that needs to be found again.. . However. The subject expression from the place of the "prehistoric Other" (Seminaire. "Ibid."where it is least expected. as such. Norton and Co. '2Ibid. Progressively. forever lost and essentially unavailable. because an affective relationship with it is always established.9 What the subject always seeks. and quite often "it speaks" -in Lacan's evocation of Freud. tcrits: A Selection. not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented. Alterity and difference are part of the irretrievable nature of the original condition. between the original substance of the demand and the formal message-which is the mediator-a separation occurs. conditioned by the Other's desire. VII. exists as lack. of reality-testing is. in CompletePsychologicalWorks. or as absence..12 For Lacan. but to refind such an object. 'Freud had written: "The first and immediate aim. Refinding. namely." In Negation. which is impossible. as Joel Dor has succinctly pointed out.10This demand is projected to the Other by language. born of naming the "unnameable. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. guided by unconscious desire. will result in a necessary relationship with the Thing. for the object is never really lost. The Thing.. therefore. Introductiona la lecturede Lacan:1. in this case. The ontological status of the Thingis beingin-lack (manquea etre). and repetition by its very nature introduces a condition that prevents exact duplication of the experience. but also in a greater and greater distance from it. the Thingnegotiates with the real (that is. L'inconscient structurecommeun langage (Paris: editions Denoel. Desire's aim is repetition. 189. 125. the real in its entire structural complexity. received and acted upon by way of a language that is always representative of the Other's desire. ?JoelDor. thus. will be seen by the subject as a Thing."11The demand appears as the lack of coincidence between desire and what must perforce be named."8 The Thingacts as the signifying coordinate for the pain of separation. 1977). relating to its articulated projects and "conserves distance" (Seminaire. 1985). seeking not so much a lost object. to convince oneself that it is still there. that desire be heard. 116-17. W. 68) with it. 188-89. desire's messenger. This structure of incommensurability is the chief measure of the Other's real inaccessibility to the subject's desire. an entity whose articulated desire (twice removed from the subject's own) the subject will emulate. according to this logic. is defined by the distance (gap) that separates it from the Thing. including the ever-present reality of a displaced object that must be 8Jacques Lacan.LACAN'S ANTIGONE / 101 aration is conceivable solely through the articulated signs of language. is the duplication of an original experience of satisfaction. and.
" and it is from this position that the Other will erect a "powerful wall before the path of our desire" (Seminaire. VII. the "beautiful"is that which appears beyond the limit set by the good. for Lacan. Thus. Lacan insists that Freud was "literallyhorrified by love of one's neighbor" (Seminaire. with its concomitant pleasure. on this side (depg)of "the fearful center of desire's aspiration" (Seminaire. pity and fear play a role in the dialectics of desire. VII." which serves as a discourse that can contain. Lacan reevaluates tragedy by identifying the central conflict of tragic action as "the effect of beauty on desire" (Seminaire. and any kind of epiphany. ethics and aesthetics are linked by the common denominator of desire and share analogous correspondences. as does that But particularnotion of catharsis which is linked to the Dionysian sparagmos. common sense. it is normal for the fellow human being to inflict pain. interrogate. 291). wearing the many guises of reason. the fellow human being projects models and imposes rules of conduct that are anathema to desire's objectives. 143). it must enter the signifying chain of language as part of an arrangement supervised by the pleasure principle. 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. and structure the entire dynamics of pleasure and unpleasure. but it is not through a fellow human being that desire confers on the subject a basic understanding of its alienated condition. Through language." always presents itself as something else or "Other thing" (Seminaire. VII. a "no thing. 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. Language carries out its task by way of metaphor and metonymy. 219). But the Thing. For Lacan. perpetually denying any happiness that the subject might seek. In this sense. to the order of the Thing. Pleasure is located. VII. 288). death-and Freud had Between this side (where pleasure said as much-on the other side. Hence arises the condition of the Thing's detachment (being split) from the objects that represent it. The fellow human being. VII. according to Lacan." none more misleading. In fact. and Christian charity. . 270).VII. beyond (au-deld). For the Thingto enter any kind of relationship with the real. can be understood in relationship to a crisis that desire undergoes when faced with the challenge of crossing over "into another dimension" (Seminaire. the "good" always appears as the juridical right to "deprive others. This novel understanding does not deny a function to the technical terms associated with tragedy. therefore. The good consigns to pleasure a limit and a beyond. more enmeshing in the coils of servitude than the recommendation to love another as oneself. organize.102 / MohammadKowsar recovered). Consequently. none is more nefarious than "love thy neighbor. being essentially aporetic. always conducts himself with preternatural cruelty. 288). In this respect the Other's arsenal is replete with persuasive moral arguments and none deadlier than the notion of the "good. of all dictums. 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. is first and foremost a function of desire. tragedy. instead. in fact. the subject enters a relationship of desire with a fellow human being.
this sudden effect of beauty designates a "place" of "limits" (Seminaire. that of her brother. She can appreciate fully that dike would be offended by Polynices' shameful betrayal of Thebes. Reverberating from Antigone." who has "passed on to the underworld. 322)." the bond that connects her brothers born from one mother to "the same father. Beyond lies death. She claims that a woman has absolutely no power over the conditions that provide her with brothers. they cannot be replaced. Oedipus.VII. who catapults the dynamics of this play into the realm of tragedy. the criminal father" (Seminaire. on the one hand. The place of pure desire (associated with Antigone) is a zone that is circumscribed by two deaths: "death encroaching on the domain of life. It is Antigone.LACAN'SANTIGONE / 103 resides) and beyond (the place of certain death). 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. Creon is guilty in the sense that his judgment fails him. Therefore. it is a question of asserting his "being. She cannot allow wild beasts (creatures without names) to desecrate the . As passions. He shows that her reasoning centers on "the matrix.VII. loyalty to a brother has the highest priority. In the text of Sophocles. 322)." now on the wane. which is the effect of beauty. and hamartia is applicable solely to him. is no longer a place of the living. She realizes perfectly how Creon is paralyzed by confusion of the two sets of laws. Aristotle's view notwithstanding. husbands. lie pity and fear. but his suffering originates in a realm that is foreign to Antigone. 324). precisely "for her brother. he is in error. on the other. The Chorus probably alludes to Creon only when it advises against confusing the law of the land "with the dike of the gods" (Seminaire. but this side. 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. Her own choice to bury Polynices has nothing to do with dike. his corpse having been left in the open. having experienced the effect of beauty. and civic laws. chance puts no limits on the number of lovers. and she does distinguish between the gods' laws. Lacan finds hidden sense in Antigone's strange argument. Hamartiahas no place in Antigone's personal project. and children that a woman can acquire in a lifetime. To do so puts a character at fault. But his hamartiacannot fuel a tragic experience. Antigone's beauty structures a relationship between this side and beyond. but a place for life that not only anticipates death but also partakes in death. unburied.VII. Specifically. Antigone suffers neither pity nor fear.VII. nor is it. by marking a place of limits. life encroaching on death" (Seminaire. 291). the central condition of tragedy. 291). however. but in the matter of Polynices' burial the separate realms of civic and divine laws hold no power over her. What she must do is to cover the obscenity of an exposed corpse. On the other hand. but she herself is not in any manner guided by the will of Zeus. Creon also suffers. Antigone's reasoning. Furthermore. is at first glance somewhat cockeyed. when brothers die. Lacan admits. Antigone is the unique tragic personality. and only she." and "it is in the name of the most chthonian blood ties that she is opposed to the commandments of Creon" (Seminaire. VII. What is at stake is the "name" of a brother who is blood related.
following projects at the crossroads of desire's interplay (Seminaire." To assert the integrity of his "being" is to recover her own "being. finally. Antigone is forced to appear in a position that has the semblance of criminality. Desire expresses itself primarily through flirtation with death. because she harbors very little concern for life among the living. because her beauty is not a common beauty. In its simplest formulation. the problematics of "being. 306). so unmindful to mere pleasure and so overwhelmingly self-destructive. This is equivalent to saying that Antigone's desire is not of this world. and for her he is "unique. of course." Lacan contends that Antigone's seemingly inexplicable behavior emanates from the ambiguity which is at the heart of desire itself. Lacan imagines that the Chorus blinks. does not understand all this. one that would relegate correct ethical behavior only to the beleagured tyrant. at its core. In other words. The Chorus in Antigone. is not of this world. In fact. it observes an image at once fascinating and "blinding" (Seminaire.VII. the chthonic nature of ate. the very incarnation of her desire. The fact remains that the good practiced by Creon always will malfunction where the stakes are "inhuman" (Seminaire. How. Antigone's journey in life can be appreciated only with respect to the exigencies of ate. one whose desires are ipsofactostructured by language. In that blinking.says Lacan. can a subject's desire. nevertheless appear so beautiful. Ate. Polynices is her brother. 306). 307).VII. of the "image"Antigone VII." at the very place where the Other finds legitimacy. she too is elsewhere. a desiring subject-one who is already operating within the symbolic field of language." Her desire "aims . the law of desire claims that what a subject most desires is to be recognized as "being" desirable by the Other. at the site of primordial metaphoric ordinance. Desire can be characterized as a state of tension that supports. But looking at Antigone. In its most specific manifestation. Antigone is bound to her family by mereemna (concern) and mneema (memory): of it is "the mereemna the Labdacides that pushes Antigone to the frontiers of ate" (Seminaire. this is the place of ate. she "goes beyond human limits. has a wider application than sorrow and misfortune. for Lacan. particularly vis-a-vis the laws of Creon. an adversity of the Labdacides" (Seminaire.he has had a name. then. finally. to consider only the sphere of "practical good. that is. ate (which according to Lacan is mentioned some twenty times in the Sophoclean text) is "part of a beginning and a linkage. and "splendor" (eclat). the Chorus discerns that Antigone. because Antigone no longer can remain in the world of common good. and because she is at this moment. brilliance. because her desire is not normal.VII. one who makes an elementary distinction between the self as "subject" and others as the "Other"-will always desire someone else's desire. catching the light of her resplendent eyes. and. Responding as she does to ate. Conversely. 291). or that zone where life and death encroach upon each other's dominions-hence. But it is a superficial distinction between good and evil. Here. a dialectics of libidinal investment. as it does when it converges on Antigone? Through the resonance. more than ever. or rather her splendor." This is conceivable and adequate only in the limited universe of human laws. and.104 / MohammadKowsar fallen body of Polynices.VII. at "the limit." or death-aslimit: this is the ontic issue that gives substance to "being" in the first place. 327).
and it is in response to its ubiquitous presence that human culture establishes a morality.Antigone.VII. she embodies her desire.. The desire for the mother (the original. 306). The final component of Lacan's argument.Polynices. the Chorus informs us.Ismene. beyond pleasure itself. (Seminaire. 329] VII. is structured by the "relationship of the unconscious with The Thing . in fact. from time immemorial. 83). which the Chorus. an aesthetic. [Seminaire. to wit: psychoanalytical ethics acknowledges only one moral error. and an erotics. and that is when a subject withdraws before the claims of its desire (Seminaire. but it is at the same time a criminal desire. the part that incorporates an ethical concern.that which has broughtto the lightof day the uniqueoffsprings. Antigone does not. Ate . by introducing ontological suppositions. finds fascinating. Explaining tragedy as a consequence of the dialectics of desire. He does it by compounding ethical and aesthetic considerations. forbidden as it is..Eteocles. VII. Lacan is in agreement with Claude Levi-Strauss when he asserts that cultures are founded on the basis of a fundamental. even as it promotes a pure desire for death and nothingness. and identifies a transgression. 329). (Seminaire. which will not be explained by man. 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. 342). Of the two brothers. a transgressor who occupies an integral role in the familial structure. It has been noted already that beyond pleasure Lacan also has delineated the order of the Thing as that painful truth which fascinates. Following the trajectoryof Antigone's desire in this manner. As individuals they are pawns in a structural scheme that brands each family member guilty. Antigone recognizes this and assumes a terrible responsibility.. beyond ate"(Seminaire. Death establishes limits. Antigone identifies with the desire of her mother (the Other): The desire of the motheris at once the founderof the entire structure. 362). The Labdacides are. 83). and by analyzing the social being in terms of a unique process of acculturation. each destiny is tied inextricably to the destiny of the other. and to indicate it to us in a dazzlement" VII. is the permanent mystery. a kind of agonic relationship between Eros and Thanatos.VII. a criminal lot. Lacan's argument proceeds beyond the good. The fabricof the entire lineage is. Lacan's contribution to this familiar discourse is to raise the stakes of the dispute. by insisting on the primacy of language. one is clearly a criminal. Antigone is separated from her mother by this deathoffering Thing.LACAN'SANTIGONE / 105 at a point . revolves around a consequential assertion.VII. and all are controlled by ate. at a crucial point of the play. woven through the warps and woofs of incestuous desire.More than any other characterof fiction. most intimate other that the child will perceive as "friend"). primordial law-the "interdiction of incest" between the child and the mother (Seminaire. Death. that of deciding "to be the pure and simple guardian of the criminal as such" (Seminaire. As noted. VII. is clearly in keeping with basic Freudian assumptions. In life.
nonetheless. 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. Antigone's tragic triumph is to "perpetuate. the act of suicide appears as an epilogue to an already completed tragic itinerary. when Antigone has finally hung herself. key experiential categories prefigured in the overreaching arc of ate. human life cannot long support such an aspiration. but a primordialsignifier that preexists in an articulated form like an arc of nothingness over the parenthetical moment of life. .VII. Lacan believes that a chain of signifying associations lead from excess to crime and to death. death. the beautiful finds its most resonant and startling image in its identification with death.VII. a desire-which is unavoidably the desire of the Other-can break certain limits and that beyond "morality"and "erotics" (Seminaire. eternalize. strictlyspeaking. Decidedly. The good and desire find their dialectical counterparts in excess and crime. Psychoanalytical ethics shows that beyond human laws. within the dark Theban tomb. 329). In the end. immortalize this ate" (Seminaire.106 / MohammadKowsar is not.