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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

More on the Antigone Complex

Ribbons of New Subjective Action

Yesterday I began thinking about the potentials of an Antigone Complex – how I would love to do an online, philosophical reading group on that play in the spirit of Mikhail’s Braver reading group, there is so much philosophical groudwork there, the play has been so conceptually influential its not even funny – thinking in particular about just how tempting and difficult defining a complex is. We want to think of a complex as a kind of double-bind that the subject finds herself in, in the classic sense that the supposedly Oedipal subject is confronted with a kind of inevitable loss (which – now he – then must either accept or deny with consequences). I am struck how Antigone has no such kind of difficulty. She is already inscribed within the matrix (and we use that word literally perhaps) of her powers, however involute that is. Hegel wants to find in her a kind of primative form of the law which the State must eventually sublate, and there is plenty of fodder for conceptions of opposition in the play, Sophocles just loves them, but there is something more happening here. She is a kind of ribbon-thread that runs up through all those oppositions, not joining them together, not holding, but rather transversing them. Kreon, the most fatherly of the fatherly, is not an opposition to her. She runs right through him. She is an apparition to him. The fatherly and the law is her natural order, the water to her fish. She is most dextrous there.

It must be kept in mind that Antigone is a child. Likely understood to be perhaps 13 or 14 by the Greek audience, her boldness, her transfigurative dress in male clothing (“I say now I am not a man, but this girl is a man!” line 484) is something well beneath opposition, something coming right out of the woodwork of the bones. And yes, there is a distinct aura of sterile opposition here, from the lexical facts of her name right on up, but I sense that history has mis-read even this. (I recall my idiosyncratic professor of Greek telling me that her name was commonly understood as “replacement child” the child named after the stillborn birth of another. She is the generation that comes after.)

When thinking hard about the play when retranslating it I came across a reading that claimed that the play should be named Kreon, in the manner in which the title denotes the figure that is going to go through the tragic anagnoresis. Antigone, though she comes to mourn her wedding to death, is not transformed, but transforming. What would a complex of the subject look like that held this capacity?  She is catalytic in the literal and Sapphic sense of the word. And seems to hold within her many of the Zuggtmonic drive principles that have recently been pondered here. I cannot help but think of the confusion that many miss, that there were TWO burials of her brother Polyneice’s body, the first having a very possible purely naturalized explanation – the sleeping guards awoke to find the body nearly invisible and disappeared, covered over by a dust storm. Antigone in this sense acts as a kind of overcoding of the supernatural/natural imaginary relation human beings necessarily have, a subject’s capacity to act right out of the nexus of the material and natural worlds: the subject as apparition (but not subjectivity as having-appeared).

Guattari and Deleuze have an insightful passage in a thousand plateaus  that invokes many of the capacities of Antigone; though she, the political girl, is not mentioned by name (Joan of Arc), she haunts the description:

The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. Trost, a mysterious author, painted a portrait of the girl, to whom he linked the fate of the revolution: her speed, her freely mechanic body, her intensities, her abstract line or line of flight, her molecular production, her indifference to memory, her nonfigurative character – “the nonfiguration of desire.” Joan of Arc? The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, guardian of dynamite? It is certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child. But it is also certain that girls and children draw their strength neither from molar status that subdues them nor from the becoming-molecular they cause to pass between sexes and ages, the becoming-child of the adult as well as of the child, the becoming-woman of the man as well as of the woman. The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. Knowing how to age does not mean remaining young: it means extracting from one’s age the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows that constitute the youth of that age. Knowing how to love does not mean remaining a man or a woman; it means extracting from one’s sex the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows, the n/ sexes that constitute the girl of that sexuality. It is Age itself that is becoming-child, just Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl.

We see here the factor of the start that does not become (the girl does not become a woman), a kind of straition that cuts through and across sedimentations. There is tendency though in such a pure-becoming grasp to lose track of the materiality of Antigone, her history, if we are to find a complex of her, to instead turn her into something of a mathematical vector, which she certainly is not. She is a person, a subjectivity. A traveling body. Not simply a molecularization. And it is not true that the “girl” does not draw her power from the molar, for Antigone’s very invisibility, her capacity to stand before Kreon, to transpermeate straight to the tomb, is due to her place among the molar/Father, as “a child”. The girl in molar determination granted access. And though we understand what Guattari and Deleuze mean when they say that the becoming-girl does not become woman, it is most certainly only in juxtaposition to the capacity to pre-figure woman, to nacently BE woman, that a definite constitutional and apparitional power is achieved. Molecularity does not circulate merely on its own osmosis plane (something that I think both G and D would agree with).

So I resist the idea of making Antigone into a kind subjectivity of pure-becoming. It is much more attuned to her relationship to a pre-posited history of genealogical twisting (an incest of directives) into which she is born. She is not just thrown-into-the-world, but born-into a necessary and profane involution. It is the subjectivity of a pre-existing perversity. Is this twisting, this born-into twisting (a twisting that Sophocles calls αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων – “a self-suspicion twist of blood” of the father and the mother) related to the semantic twisting of conflating explanations for the first burial of Polyneices? I think so. The material (natural) and the imaginary (affective projective) fold themselves into a twin-layered parallel construction, and as such the Antigone subjectivity is able to step in between, in the infintesmal crease, to persist, to stand and live in the gap, and then act, so as to appear. Perhaps what Nicola referred to as the “tiniest diety”. Indeed in the play Antigone performs as something like the tiniest deity. There is something there, including her polymorphous capacity to functionally perform under what Butler calls an equivocality of kinship (which really isn’t so much equivocal as dextrously polyvalent), one in which the sign carries a certain apparitional and inhabited vocability that renders Antigone the ability to seem to speak right out of Space, that needs to be developed and clarified.

 

[A related post in dialogue on Antigone and the possibilities of an Antigone Complex by Anodyne Lite: Two Versions of Antigone]

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