Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation (MIT Press)
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Jacques Lacan claimed that his theory of feminine sexuality, including the infamous proposition, "the Woman does not exist," constituted a revision of his earlier work on "the ethics of psychoanalysis." In Imagine There's No Woman, Joan Copjec shows how Freud's ragtag, nearly incoherent notion of sublimation was refashioned by Lacan to become the key term in his ethics. To trace the link between feminine being and Lacan's ethics of sublimation, Copjec argues, one must take the negative proposition about the woman's existence not as just another nominalist denunciation of thought's illusions about the existence of universals, but as recognition of the power of thought, which posits and gives birth to the difference of objects from themselves. While the relativist position currently dominant insists on the difference between my views and another's, Lacan insists on this difference within the object I see. The popular position fuels the disaffection with which we regard a world in a state of decomposition, whereas the Lacanian alternative urges our investment in a world that awaits our invention.In the book's first part, Copjec explores positive acts of invention/sublimation: Antigone's burial of her brother, the silhouettes by the young black artist Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and Stella Dallas's final gesture toward her daughter in the well-known melodrama. In the second part, the focus shifts to sublimation's adversary, the cruelly uncreative superego, as Copjec analyzes Kant's concept of radical evil, envy's corruption of liberal demands for equality and justice, and the difference between sublimation and perversion. Maintaining her focus on artistic texts, she weaves her arguments through discussions of Pasolini's Salo, the film noir classic Laura, and the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination.
part of the essay is due to Freud’s failure of resolve regarding his own conviction that the drive is intrinsically indifferent to external objects, that human sexuality is not basically “other-directed” or “altruistic,” as he tended to believe in Three Essays, for example, but is on the contrary “autistic,” or narcissistic, has no goal other than its own satisfaction. Fearful, perhaps, of the actual consequences of his notion of an autistic or solitary pleasure on his theory in general, or of
libido—from an energy of the ego-instincts” (SE, 14: 76). This spells out a clear difference between Freud, who infers narcissism from object-cathexes, and Bersani, who infers narcissism from an objectless self-shattering. What are the stakes of this difference; what follows from it? Conceiving sublimation as well as narcissism as independent of any object-cathexis, Bersani is left with a kind of autistic notion of erotic passion. But having sacrificed relationality or sociality in this way at
law to become the motive of our action. In Lacanian terms, we must always desire to be lured by a particular desire. In the absence of this second-level desire to desire, we would be completely indifferent to even the most highly prized object. One of the consequences of this redefinition of evil is that it burdens us with full responsibility for our actions; we are no longer able to exonerate ourselves by claiming to be victims of our passions and thus of external circumstances. Lately, we
judge, in terms that intersect with an argument Freud will make in Moses and Monotheism. This argument concerns the concept of Jewish election, that is, the idea that the Jews are the chosen people of God. This idea appears immediately as an indefensible instance of exceptionalism, but Freud enables us to regard it in a different light. What renders the Jewish belief in the favored status of the race puzzling, rather than automatically comprehensible, to Freud is the fact that it is joined to a
but has a curious resonance in German, since it means also ‘responsibility,’ ‘commitment’”8 It is this distinction introduced by Freud that lies behind and under-girds Lacan’s insistence that Antigone, and she alone, is the heroine of Sophocles’ play; her perseverance in carrying out the burial of her brother is ethically different from Creon’s fixation on enforcing the statist prohibition against his burial. How Freud is able to distinguish between these two kinds of act is what we will have