Frames /sing


Do Küsse and Bisse rhyme? Penthesilea, breaking the injunction

I am reading through Larval Subjects’ crisp recapitulations of, and comments upon, Lacan, [here and here, etc.] And a single line come to me as she/he talks about the non-totalizing effects (or capacities) of language. There is a logic of “masculine” and a “feminine” failure (incompleteness or inconsistency).

The line comes from Kleist’s incalculable play “Penthesilea”, at its lexical apex/end. As the Amazon queen Penthesilea, having lost her senses, is informed by the High Priestess that she has torn into and fed upon her unfeatable/defeated Achilles as a beast among her dogs, she explains poignantly, how this act was born from love:

— So it was a mistake. Küsse [kiss] and Bisse [bite],

They rhyme, for one who truly loves

With all her heart can easily mistake them.

(Scene twenty-four).

[So war es ein Versehen. Küsse, Bisse,/ Das reimt sich, und wer recht von Herzen liebt,/ Kann schon das eine für das andre greifen. 2981-2983]

There is much that can be written about these brief, condensed lines. Penthesilea has passed over into a kind of feminine psychosis, literalizing words (earlier she confesses to her dead Achilles, “How many a maid would say, her arms wrapped around/ Her lover’s neck: I love you, oh so much/ That if I could I’d eat you up right here…”) The words have operated as driving lexical causes, an over-literalization of their effects. Maids say “I could eat you up,” and I have. And then, secondarily how, she wishes that language itself should have had in its contingent nature the coincidence of forms what would have enacted, or more enabled the con-fusion of the two words, Küsse and Bisse, brought about by the apparent impossibility of the sexual union of Achilles and Penthesilea.

But this is not enough. We have the enunication and the acts of Penthesilea, the character, but we have also the extraordinary construction of Kleist himself, as he performs the fusion of these two words Küsse and Bisse in the writing of his play. The first question is, Has Penthesilea herself successfully trangressed Lacan’s injunciton on language? Has Penthesilea used the signifier by embodying it? Her loss of sanity suggests that she does risk the abyss of psychosis that Lacan claims lies outside of the signifier, but to risk something is not to succumb to it (her love can be read as fulfilled, having been inscribed on the Body and the signfier, expressionally). But the second, and obscured question is, Has Kleist himself, through a more subtle oscillation of “masculine” and “feminine” effects, woven a syntagmatic solution to the injunction. He has made Küsse and Bisse rhyme, in the figure of Penthesilea, and the play. 

The rescue from the kinds of paralysizing foreclosures that Lacan enacts through rather neat configurations of logic (I have always loved his mathemes) is accomplished by “artists” through, I suspect, at least two kinds of “transcendence” of the signifier, that performed by Penthesilea, the living through one’s own signification processes, inscribing your meaning upon yourself; and, by that achieved by von Kleist the author, through the affective and representational construction of the scene of lexical possibility, through witness and testament.

I prefer as well an understanding that reads language and its possibilities more deeply in terms of both affective capacities and instrumentality, the logic of which is secondary to their possibilities (pace Lacan, et al). The above example really is a consideration in terms of the injunction itself. Because I suspect that the inscriptions of the signfier, the supposed Symbolic order, is parasitic to, or at least shadow to, the lived, affective affinities that make up body-to-body, moment-to-moment epistemologies (witnessings), the seeing-through others, the extremes of Kleist’s project only mark out the outer limit of affect freedoms even amid the supposed injunctions themselves, the body to body ties that bind us being regular transports of linguistic freedoms.


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