Frames /sing


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]

12 responses to “More on the Antigone Complex

  1. anodynelite June 20, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Butler’s Antigone (developed in part in response to Irigaray’s) is a really interesting figure, and deserves another shot. I think the leagues of people who’ve written off Butler betray that they have not read much of her work when they dismiss her as a one-dimensional tranny prophet. Anyway– I like your Guattarian Antigone complex, and I think you’re right to skip over Sjoholm.

    I started a much longer reply but decided to save it for a blog post. So check in later and let me know what you think.

    • kvond June 20, 2009 at 4:26 pm

      Look foward to your longer post AL. I have to say that I don’t dismiss Bulter’s Antigone, but I did find the essay other than its very nice running over important Hegelian and Freudian/Lacanian formulations with a comb of critique to be very short on prospective answers or applications. She simply cannot SEE her Antigone (or present her). Something more needs to be said, for instance the question she poses in implication of an Antigone Complex really needs to be answered. These provisional thoughts, in that way, are a carry-over from my disappointment with the ending of her essay and an attempt to carry on past it.

      My approach is not really Guattari/Deleuzian, even though in this post I include a passage of them that came to mind, and I do think that Antigone’s age is an under valued aspect of her story. It is much more in the vein of the previous post to this one, and found in the elements above that distinguish themselves from a pure-becoming and abstractive reading. I would though say that if we accept the G&D approach that renders Oedipus as a historical appropriate description of subjectivity in the 20th century, then it seems that there is room for something of a historical description of present day Western subjectivity that has been born into an Oedipal past.

      p.s. glad to see you posting more again.

  2. the voice of parodic reason June 20, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    kvond this is maybe tangential but i am very turned on by the whole discussion so i am sharing it with you and clysmatics in hopes of exchange

    i do not quite have the command of the philosophical language needed to describe this, but I understood from the book excerpts that the suture in the frame (which stiches up the hole between what the frame ”represents” and the Otherness that it ”refers to”) bursts, and from its cracks a certain excess of jouissance, something ”hauntological” to use k-punk’s language, comes out

    From Antigone, says the author, The Fury turns into an active defragmentator, in the end literally blowing up the frame

    • kvond June 20, 2009 at 11:52 pm

      Yes I looked at your fury post earlier in the day , and then again to the link of the book and went through a few pages (your comments section is a little profane so I did not write anything). The problem is that I greatly divorce myself from the entire “hautological” (k-punk conflation) binary that people of the Idealist/Phenomenologist tradition get very enthused about. It is prejudiced towards an absolute inside/outside or Being/Non-Being dynamic which determines all other processes.

      I like very much your description though (and the film clip), but the problem is that the crack in the frame, so to speak, under a binary conception, simply dumps all the excess into one great jouissance field, in my mind blurring the actual structures of what this excessive, transpermeate process follows. There are specific paths which produce and then flow out of the frame, we might want to say. If I can put it in another way, when Antigone is transvetitive “becoming the man” before Kreon, she is not just in a jouissance state ripping upon the Law, in fact her manliness has very little directly to do with the Law Kreon before her. She is performing a very specific “line of flight” one might say in a G&D mood.

      I understand that as a Lacanian you will not accept this because you find the Oedipal description more than sufficient. But as I read your description of the Fury scene I actually had a G&D moment where I said to myself, can’t we come up with a position on the subject which does not say “mummy, daddy, child”. This is not a criticism of what you find valuable, but my own sense of it.

      What an Antigone Complex would offer is a theory of the subject which is historically positioned toward the past sufficiency of Oedipus.

  3. the voice of parodic reason June 21, 2009 at 12:56 am

    No Kvond the author himself, in the introduction, distances himself from the Platonic SOLUTION of the relationship between the object and the image, keeping only the tension between the o and the i as his premise:

    • kvond June 21, 2009 at 1:27 am

      Yes, but almost every thinker that he sollicits aid from is driven by the essential binary, preventing what I am actually after, which are the non-binary avenues available, the topological conduits seen and experienced within a historical context. Derrida is a binary thinker, moving in the shadow of philosophies of presence. Lacan is a binary thinker (heavy with Hegel’s influence) attempting to deal with and escape from a presumed fundamental binary whose positioning towards is determinative. This is simply in my view an outmoded path of thought, born of Cartesian philosophical assumptions passed through the Idealist and Phenomenological schools. One has to deal with the historical adequacy and entrenchment of this thought and their descriptions, but one starts from a different calculus.

      • anodynelite June 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm

        Agree with you here on Derrida, Lacan, and the idealist/phenomenological problem.

        I could see your version of the antigone complex having filmic applications, though I’m not sure Carrie would be a starting point. That one would fall more under MacCormack’s “cinesexuality”, I suspect…

  4. the voice of parodic reason June 21, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Oedipal description

    THE FURY is actually much more of an anti-Oedipus narrative, as the last scene enacts, but if you haven’t seen the film it’s a bit difficult to summarize.

    • kvond June 21, 2009 at 1:11 am

      It could very well be, but one reaches this position through an Oedipal framing to which one then gives meaning to the events (at least that is what I gleaned from your commentary). I am more interested in a non-Oedipal description, rather than an Anti-Oedipal one. Antigone is not Anti-Oedipus, she is simply non-Oedipal, or one might say enacting her freedom within an Oedipal horizon, but in such a way that normative Oedipal processes do not define or describe well the kinds of constructions she is attempting.

      But you are very right, I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment well upon your comment…

      “the defrgamentation of the Father/the frame opens the canvas to a NEW vista, somewhere in the frame’s hauntological position as both displaying a reality and referring to an unseen one.”

      which seems like a thoroughly Oedipal conception (even if the action of the film seems in action against those imagined restrictions of subjectivity)…

      An Antigone consciousness, as I imagine it, simply is not concerned with the Father/frame as something to fragment or obey.

  5. Pingback: Black Orpheus by Camus, 1959 « Ktismatics

  6. kvond June 21, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    AL: “I could see your version of the antigone complex having filmic applications…”

    Kvond: I would be very interested in the cinematic appropriations.

  7. the voice of parodic reason June 21, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    kvond what you name is not the discussion I wanted to pursue, and besides I think it does not apply to De Palma in the way you suggest, but I need to think some more about this (and read the entire chapters of the book, which is only given in fragments on the internet)

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