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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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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