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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

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3 responses to “What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency

  1. Benoît June 19, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    I have a vested interest in psychoanalysis and so am naturally interested in alternative approaches to its object, means, and subject. So I’d hate to comment without first requesting you expand a bit on some of your notes vis-a-vis psychoanalysis (and so, Oedipus) proper so that I not misstep in thinking through an Antigone Complex. This should have additional effect of ensuring we’re reading the same Freud.

  2. kvond June 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Hmmm. The same Freud? I auppose there are quite a few Freuds out there (or things people try to do with Freud). I’m afraid though that I can’t help you if you are looking to suppliment Freud with an Antigone Complex. I would suspect that Freud’s theories, while holding quite a bit of traction in the 20th century, would probably preclude any of what is implied by an Antigone Complex, (either as I see it, or as Judith Butler attempts).

    The notes posted are really meant as starting points for others if they would like to think along with me on the possibilities of an Antigone Complex. For instance, since you are at least a bit drawn to the topic, I would find it interesting what you might be thinking here. What would you think are the possibilites of a postoedipal complex that characterizes present day subjective challenges?

  3. Pingback: Richard Rorty’s Last “Spinoza” « Mitochondrial Vertigo

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