Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plastic Jesus and The Saint of Steel

(In Stuart Rosenberg's 1967 classic "Cool Hand Luke", Paul Newman plays a modern saint)

"In 1956, Lacan proposed a short and clear definition of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is the entry of the signifier into the world. This is certainly what Freud brought us under the title of death drive.” What Lacan means, at this moment of his thought, is that the Holy Spirit stands for the symbolic order as that which cancels (or, rather, suspends) the entire domain of “life”—lived experience, the libidinal flux, the wealth of emotions, or, to put it in Kant’s terms, the “pathological.” When we locate ourselves within the Holy Spirit, we are transubstantiated, we enter another life beyond the biological one."
(Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf)


"Christianity follows the Jewish religion in occluding the dimension of the Holy. What we do find in Christianity is something of quite another order: the idea of the saint, which is the exact opposite of the priest in service of the Holy. The priest is a 'functionary of the Holy'; there is no Holy without its officials, without the bureaucratic machinery supporting it, organizing its ritual, from the Aztecs' official of human sacrifice to the modern sacred state or army rituals. The saint, on the contrary, occupies the place of objet petit a, of pure object, of somebody undergoing radical subjective destitution. He enacts no ritual, he conjures nothing, he just persists in his inert presence.

We can now understand why Lacan saw in Antigone a forerunner of Christ's sacrifice: in her persistence, Antigone is a saint, definitely not priestess. This is why we must oppose all attempts to domesticate her, to tame her by concealing the frightening strangeness, 'inhumanity', apathetic character of her figure, making of her a gentle protectress of family and household who evokes our compassion and offers herself as a point of identification. In Sophocles' Antigone, the figure with which we can identify is her sister Ismene - kind, considerate, sensitive, prepared to give way and compromise, pathetic, 'human', in contrast to Antigone, who goes to the limit, who ' doesn't give way on her desire' (Lacan) and becomes, in this persistence in the 'death drive', in the being-towards-death, frighteningly ruthless, exempted from the circle of everyday feelings and considerations, passions and fears. In other words, it is Antigone herself who necessarily evokes in us, pathetic everyday compassionate creatures, the question 'What does she really want?', the question which precludes any identification with her." (Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology)