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Category Archives: Antigone

The Transvestive Signifier and the Antigone Complex

Ismene: Linguistic Duplicity vs. Linguistic Transvestism

Following up the line of thought begun in recent attempts to sketch out the possibilities for a postoedipal Antigone Complex subjectivity [What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency, More on the Antigone Complex], it is good I think to put our attention to the other sister, if only as a point distinction. If one sharpens the eyes to the language use in the argument between the two sisters that opens the play, we can perceive two postoedipal language strategies (before social power). Contrary to the usual reading that Ismene is merely the conservative, unrebellious, passive female, a kind of wooden literary foil to the outrage that would become Antigone, Ismene’s rhetorical strategies reveal the fundamental power of duplicity of meaning in the face of authority. This means that Ismene’s postoedipal political/subjective position is one in which one acts as the modest, demur woman, but harbors residual power which works behind the scenes, threatening with dark, chthonic force. The art of Ismene’s suggested ambi-guity is exemplified throughout  in a maze of negations and wordplay slippages, and can be seen reflected in Antigone’s infuriating severance from the game (and Ismene) after having played it for a bit, but perhaps the Isemene strategy can be iconically show in the passage (roughly lines 60-66)…

ἀλλ’ ἐννοεῖν χρῆ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ’ ὄτι

But one must think that tho’ this a woman-pair we

ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·

Produced, so that against men we-two will not war,

ἔπειτα δ’ οὕνεκ’ ἀρχόμεσθ’ ἐκ κρεισσόνων

On that account we’re ruled by greater things,

καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀκούδειν κἄτι τῶνδ’ ἀλγίονα.

These to heed, and still the more grievous of these.

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα, τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς

For me I call on they belów the earth

ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,

To (with-) hold forgiveness, just as I’m forced here;

This is typically translated to mean something like, we are mere women, we cannot fight, and as such must listen to men who are more powerful. This is the supertext. But Ismene is double-talking, and her appeal to the chthonic deities shows it. She is ALSO saying, we have produced ourselves as a woman-pair fate, and as such we are ruled by things greater, more powerful than mere men; these dark, grievous powers we must heed (not men with whom we do not outwardly fight). The double meaning is there again in the final part, wherein she seems to be asking for the dead to “hold forgiveness” for her, given her paralysis, but alternately, to “withhold”, to keep to themselves and not dole out the forgiveness, just as she herself is imprisoned by the political situation. Ismene’s tact is that of stored vengeance under a placid face, woman heeds (and embodies) the most grievous of the most powerful, drawing on the immanent and repressed powers of the dead, using the duplicity of meaning that is possible within language itself. We can see this for instance as a regular and powerful postmodern feminist (and suppressed minority) strategy, a kind of chthonic duplicity.

Antigone’s Transvestism:  No Presumption of Essential Family Violence

Antigone though refuses linguistic ambi-guity, two-facedness as a tool of power (or subjectivity). Instead she wishes to exact the linguistic power inherent in the very filial organizational body out of which she has come, a process of investism…

Taking her perspective as one in contrast with Oedipalism, rather than Isemene (which is a separate issue):

No more exoteric appropriations upon projections of intra-family violence. Instead the family, if anything, forms a nearly equivocal though structured plane within which the exoteric is ever qualified. There is no essential family violence the resolution of which requires the import of foreign and symbolic forms. One does not kill and replace the father by becoming the father of another girl, who loses her father to a kind of death. Rather, if anything, the father is expropriated into an outer form of action, something like an armor to be put on in the name of the family plane, because there is no kerneled subjectivity that is born into reflection through a struggle within the whole. Instead, semiotic elements, signifiers, become vehicles for circuited travel within the larger locality of a kinship philia of eros  bonds and an imbrication of functional role over determinations. Like within dreamwork, one can simultaneously be (play the functional role of) father, daughter or brother. families become portal and self-defining alliances which borrow from their own appropriative use of social forms (gendered and hierarchical/stereotypical), and entire vocabulary of transvestive public positions. The intra-family powers of filial in-netting (and a family can be any kind of historical mutual dependence and nuturing, structuring) provide an affect steeping re-animation of otherwise stale social designations. One goes out in the world AS father, or AS child, or AS sibling perversely impowered by that incubation to which one is loyal, thereby capable of subversive or only creative repositioning oneself within the social sphere, reappropriative of the restrictions of social expectation for new and redemptive use.

Instead of an Oedipal exogamous process of external appropriation which assumes an internal family violence which gives rise to a spliting of the (pure) subject, in which the female aspect plays a kind of material ground for male subjective severings, and the ultimate murder of the father accomplished through the replacement of a father for the daughter from another family, the family is already understood as a coherent, immanent plane that has already appropriated the semiotic elements of society under their own affective structured imbument which transforms the very possibility of their deploy, the capacity to wear the signifier dress (for Antigone to be BE the man) with a certain libidnal fluidity/intensity, subversive of the social order from which the signifier elements were initially borrowed (opening up the possibility of other  families, other filial attachments to be made).  In this sense the family becomes the resource of the very apparition of the divine like force of the signifier itself (not as law-giver, but as radiant element). When Antigone, the young girl performatively stands before Kreon wearing the dress of the father, her father-brother Oedipus, richly steeped in the power of her filial experiences, Kreon stares right into the face of “the man”, and rightfully struggles to anchor it: either she is the man or I am the man. When Antigone sprinkles dirt upon her brother-nephew, she operates as sister-aunt-mother, condensing the figures into a single apparition which cannot be fully separated out from divine apparition itself (or natural processes), running right along the seam of language and nature, come from the incestuous affect-stew of what family is.

It is said that a herding dog as it runs about a flock of sheep, driving it forward, skirting the edges, jumping to the front to steer is actually enacting all the positions that would be taken if the pack was in tact. First this, then another, then another, building a geometry of their organizational synchrony in space. This is what Antigone does, the secret to her transvestism and the imbument of her public powers, come from the experiential bonds of the filia. She occupies each of the familial positions, in turn, the entire family, channeling the affective powers of each borrowed term, in the social sphere exhibiting the apparitional force of what she has appropriated.

The Surpass of the Binary Condition of the Subject

One can recognize in the strategy of Ismene the binary against which I have warned too deep a philosophical dependence. We can say that Ismene’s is a postoedipal position in the sense that she is born into the Oedipal historical situation, but really it is intra-Oedipal, in the sense that it attempt to harness the repressive end of the splitting binary force. This is a primary Freudian conception, a hydraulic model of the mind which finds on the other side of the (negation) barrier certain forces, shadows, that can bubble up from below and exact revenge. If you hold down the mulitiplicity or the primitive too much, it forces its way up to the surface. The duplicity of Ismene trades upon this dark-below, past, un-dead conception, using the ambiguous facility of language, of inside and outside, as a kind of internal power of resistance. Among these strategies related to the contest of Oedipal formations one can find those that appeal to the painful jouissance and attempts to release or celebrate/promote it, after at risk of being defined by the very frame they are somewhat in opposition to (and thereby unconsciously working to reproduce it).

In the Antigone complex one can see the dangers perhaps of a sterile circulation of recursive and relived semiotic elements if the family body is too threatened by a perceived external force. But one should be careful to read the difference in the construction of the subjective itself, the way in which subjectivity embodies itself within filial attachments of which there is no essentialfamilial violence (which is not to say that families do not contain violence, it is just that violence, or promotions to violence, are not essential to the subjective process). The Antigone Complex subjectivity is a positional subjectivity, appreciating the partial epistemic and deeply affective perception powers that involve actual families and siblings, etc, denying for instance any overt importance of something like the categorical “other” (Big or small “o”). Epistemic affective projection always works along prosthetic vectors. One feels an event through your brother’s arm, through your mother’s cheek and hair, not as partial objects, but as plane of world revelation. And the borrowed signifier terms that turn the constellation of trans- or intra-body  human memory into “brother” or “daughter” themselves become “cooked” in the sinewed, one-bodied attachments that are filial. This vectored subjectivity does not require a signifier resting place (a sister can BE a brother), but rather frees up the body to express itself transvestively, such that the wearing of the signifier, performing its function (within and without the family) becomes both an experimentation, and potentially a power toward freedoms (the ability to find new family without the murder of the father), understanding the atavistic nature of social appearance along the powers of bodily cybernetic, epistemic, affective combination, shifting alliances of what is felt and made most coherent.

It is important, I believe, to watch the line between Ismene hydraulic harnessing of the opposite (un)form, and Antigone Complex positioning. It is perhaps quite helpful to trace out the jouissance lead eruptions of bodily limits and the economies of pleasure that help constitute mutualities, taken to the limit perhaps in the G&D concept of the BwO, but one risks losing track of the specific investments, the specific/strategic transvestisms that constitute and condition an Antigonous  subjective expression. It is not just that some repressed thing is breaking free (either at this moment, or continually), but that a bodily contiguity inhabits a social designation/role imbued by the very historical experience of its intra-familia affective force. It is not just a breaking-free, one of the terms out pacing the other. It is specific acts of inhabitation with apparitial, political consequence.

This subjective transvestism is quite different than ornamentation vs. form. Antigone struggles to make the “god” appear in the substance of the signifier (a flash from the infinite), in the fabric of the social, loyal to composite filial memory and its poles of experienced alliance, but not to the signifier itself which is embodied, but also shifted and deployed.

A related line of thinking genealogical to this: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification; and alternately The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency

Psycho-dialysis

I came across something of the notion when reading Judith Butler’s Antigone Claim  that their conceivably could have been something other than the Oedipus Complex in history (despite its firm historical nestwork). That there could have been an Antigone Complex, with the implicit suggestion that perhaps it is time for us to recognize one as such. The thought came up again when responding to Eileen Joy’s post over at In The Middle, which elicited from me the need to declare that not EVERYBODY died in the Antigone, and that Ismene might very well represent a solution or answer to the Antigone Complex, itself a response to the Oedipus Complex into which she had been born (of that wrong sex). Just what is, or what could be the Antigone Complex?

[Digression]  A quick Google shows that indeed there is a book which aims to take up something of just this topic. The Antigone Complex: Ethics and the Invention of Feminine Desire, by Cecilia Sjöholm, which I have not read. The publishers description tells us that it is about feminine desire and the difference between ought and must. I perused it online and it does not seem to hit where I am going, nor really where I would hope an entire complex meant to supplant the great and determinative Oedipus Complex would go. (To be fair this is a cursory assessment.) And then there is a chapter written by Ronald Britton on the Athena-Antigone Complex which from the chapter title “Forever Father’s Daughter” also seems to miss the radical re-descriptive possibilities. It is a theme apparently taken up by Ellyn Kaschak who as also developed an Antigone Complex, now with sociological dimension:

Ellyn Kaschak uses the story of Antigone to draw a parallel with women in modern society. She points out that women are socialized to constantly put their loved ones’ welfare – especially that of the men in their lives – before their own. Furthermore, Kaschak theorizes that women internalize society’s narrow view of their identities and their usefulness, until their self image becomes aligned with society’s expectations. Therefore, a woman in Kaschak’s Antigone phase considers herself as an extension of the men in her life, often subordinating her own needs and desires in order to ensure that theirs are met. 

[Return]  These really seem to in one way or another run far afield from the kinds of capacites one could find in Judith Butler’s invocation of Steiner’s observations. I sense that there is something more, something posthuman(ist), something unrooting in the notion of an Antigone Complex, something that does not cheat Antigone herself who in narrative really supplanted and surpassed her father.

Retracing Sources

Its best I think to post the passages seminal to the question for me, first from Butler and then from Steiner whom she references:

In George Steiner’s of the historical appropriations of Antione, he poses a controversial question he does not pursue: What would happen if psychanalysis were to have taken Antigone rather than Oedipus as its point of departure? Oedipus clearly has his own tragic fate, but Antigone’s fate is decidedly postoedipal. Although her brothers are explicitly cursed by her father, does the curse also work on her and, if so, through what furtive and implicit means? The chorus remarks that something of Oedipus’ fate is surely working through her own, but what burden of history does she bear? Oedipus comes to know who his mother and father are but finds that his mother is also his wife. Antigone’s father is also her brother, since they both share a mother in Jocosta, and her brothers are her nephews, sons of her brother-father, Oedipus. The terms of kinship become irrevocably equivocal. Is this part of her tragedy? Does this equivocality of kinship lead to fatality?

Antigone is caught in a web of relations that produce no coherent position within kinship. She is not, strictly speaking, outside kinship or, indeed, unintelligible. Her situation can be understood, but only with a certain amount of horror. (57 Antigone’s Claim, Part III “Promiscuous Obedience”)

From Steiner’s incomparable Antigones:

Now we are at the nub of the dialectic. There is only one human relationship in which the ego can negate its solitude without departing from its authentic self. There is only one  mode of encounter in which the self meets the self in another, in which ego and non-ego, the Kantian, the Fictean, the Hegelian polarities are made one. It is a relation between man and woman, as it surely must be if primary rifts in being are to be knit. But it is a relation between man and woman which resolves the paradox of estrangement inherent in all sexuality (a paradox which incest would only enforce). It is the relation of brother and sister, of sister and brother. In the love, in the perfect understanding of brother and sister, there is eros and agape. But both are aufgehoben, “sublated”, in filia, to the transcendent absoluteness of relation itself. It is here, and here only, that the soul steps into and through the mirror to find a perfectly concordant but autonomous counterpart. The torment of Narcissus is stilled: the image is substance, it is the integral self in the twin presence of another. The sisterliness is ontologically privileged beyond any other human stance. In it, the homecomings of Idealism and Romanticism are given vital form. This form receives supreme, everlasting expression in Sophocles’ Antigone.

Between the 1790s and the start of the twentieth century, the radical lines of kinship run horizontally, as between brothers and sisters. In the Freudian construct they run verdically, as between children and parents. The Oedipus complex is one of inescapable verticality. The shift is momentous; with it Oedipus replaces Antigone. As we saw, it can be dated c. 1905…. (17-18).

I would very much enjoy hearing from others what an Antigone Complex would be, what essential relations it would consist of. Today I wrote down a few notes on the possibilities of the subject, perhaps as seeds for structures to follow. The way that I view a proposed complex would be one that would follow upon the ubiquity of the Oedipus one that may have characterized our conceptions of subjectivity in the modern, Industrial era, that would indicate what it means to have been born into Oedipus, but not strictly subjected to it. To be, in a sense, in excess of Oedipus. Posthuman.

- An inherited historical situation of involution.

- Positional nomological/functional diversity – the sliding of the signifier as a mode of agency; (polymorphy)

-  The Law of the Dead – inscription within the Law is always an under determination.

- Willingness to play the villain.

- Rite over substance – Supernatural Conflation.

- Marrow Thinking.

- Subjectivity is not the site of determination.

- The father is neither the one who enjoys or forbids, but the one who twists.

- Prosthetic combination – tensors of affect as imperative – the blindman’s hand.

I see as well, in looking at my copy of Antigone’s Claimthat I made a similar styled list, but one that juxtaposed the principles of Ismene and Antigone:

Ismene – Literal truth vs. duplicities of power | Antigone- Transvestism of power (surplus and deficit)

Ismene – Double meanings | Antigone- Symbolizing the unpresentable to produce disjunction

Ismene – Leveraging from within and double strategy | Antigone - Apparition of the god  – the “start” that does not become

And then the question: Is every symbolic act an affective univocal claim upon the Chthonic deities?

I do not know what this comes to, but I sense a focusing of powers into a concept of subjectivity that does not makes of the subject a split or a dilemma. Or, if there is a split, it is the splitting of powers, peeling off the historical layer from the political, using the affective flesh as something of a lathe. There is an apparitional force that exceeds any death or brothered conception, any simple reduction to Being/Non-Being or even filiation, that must be taken to. There is a performance of the transvestism, of reaching signifer autonomy, the way in which Antigone has a filion in the humorous and undecided guard – who comically performs what Antigone does in a deadly way – that resists any psychoanalytic recapture. Yes to an Antigone Complex.

Follow-up thoughts: More on the Antigone Complex

Dust…Beware Fantasies of Being

For tho’ he had vanished, tho’ entombed not,

Thin, as if the awe of a fugative, was the dust.

Lines 255 and 256 of the Antigone stand in the way of any purely immanent, plentitudnal reading of the world’s ontology. A thin layer of dust has made the body of Polynikes “disappear”. In order to understand this one must see this naturalistically. A dust storm has billowed up in the night. At dawn, the body which could not be buried has literally become invisibile in the thinnest of layers. This layer is a co-incidence of the contingent into Fate, caught up in imaginary relations: the imagination of Lack.

So invisible it was that Hölderlin, Heidegger’s “prophet of future Being”, refused to, or mis-translated it into absence, in a parentheses of negatives:

Nichts feierlichs. Es war kein Grabmal nicht.

Nur zarter Staub, wie wenn man das Verbot

Gescheut. (265-67).

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