Sunday, December 16, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 7: Antigone and Dramatization

Part 6

Recap of Part 6: Both faith and fidelity push one into the future, and without either, one dies.

To clarify this, I will briefly discuss Antigone in the spirit of Lacan’s seventh seminar. What better image of the obsessional neurotic is there than Antigone’s sister Ismene? When Antigone announces her plan to bury Polynieces against Creon’s orders, Ismene equivocates. Consider Ismene’s response to Antigone:

Oh no! Think carefully, my sister.
[. . . .]
And we must obey this order, even if it hurts us more.
As for me, I will say to those beneath the earth
This prayer: “Forgive me, I am held back by force.”
And I’ll obey the men in charge. My mind
Will never aim too high, too far.”

Ismene does not even say no. She has nothing to act upon, nothing that she can affirm or negate. All she is capable of doing is calculating out a series of goods and harms. She says “think carefully,” which is in this context is only an attempt to defer action. Ismene denies her ability to act and to choose on the basis of being “held back by force.” She also denies the value of any high aim that requires a view to the future.

Contrast Ismene with Antigone, who in Lacan’s reading, is an agent of fidelity. She maintains her desire in the face of the Other of the city in the form of Creon. Antigone is able to make choices that will lead to her own death because she is so invested in one particular object: her brother. Her actions led to excess and death; she participated in the accursed share. Ismene can even be contrasted with Creon. Creon was clearly invested in the city; not only to the maintenance of the city’s current status, but also to the city’s future well being. Because Creon had faith in the value of the city, he was able to make choices that also led to death and excess. Both Antigone and Creon, because of their respective fidelity and faith, were able to make choices and invest in a path that led to excess. Ismene, on the other hand, languished in a life of calculation, deferral and regret. Both faith and fidelity push one towards the future and towards excess. Without either of these things, one lives in a grey world of things to be calculated, stored and shifted around. No quantity of pleasure, security or material goods will ever admit the slightest glimmer of the splendorous excess that awaits one in sacred time.

Here we have the necessity of re-reading Bataille. Bataille has two problems. The first is that much of the problem concerning transgression. Bataille implicitly acknowledges a difficulty here when he disavowed the sexual revolution. Transgression is only possible if rules exist; the sexual revolution indicates the possibility that any one system of rules is capable of dissolving. When one recognizes that rules can dissolve, the next step is to begin understanding all laws and morality as purely self-imposed. How is transgression against such self imposition possible?

The second problem is Bataille’s lack of interest in knowledge, of the common time, the average everydayness of life. Daily life to Bataille is merely a period of cold calculation; projects and reason dominate common time. The question becomes, if daily life is so drab, where are the flowing energies that produce the accursed share? How can life that exists only in a series of calculations of things ever have but the most superficial contact with non-knowledge and the general economy?

What a re-reading offers is the fact that the solutions to these problems are already in Bataille’s work; they are simply covered over and neglected. The solution comes from the linking of a driven, directed secular time to the non-discursive, sacred time. This can be accomplished by using the preceding Lacanian concepts to flesh out and supplement Bataille’s own “dramatization.” What I hope to do is magnify the role that dramatization plays in inner experience, emphasizing its necessity more than Bataille himself does. Along this path, the limitations of faith will become clear.

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