Academic journal article The Comparatist

Enjoyment beyond the Pleasure Principle: Antigone, Julian of Norwich, and the Use of Pleasures

Academic journal article The Comparatist

Enjoyment beyond the Pleasure Principle: Antigone, Julian of Norwich, and the Use of Pleasures

Article excerpt

In 1984 Michel Foucault published the long awaited sequel to his Histoire de la sexualite. The Use of Pleasures, as volume two was titled, ends with a final chapter called "True Love," which offers a reading of Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus. In many ways, this chapter is crucial to understanding Foucault's whole project in the History of Sexuality. For one thing, it takes up and responds to Lacan's reading of the Symposium in his well-known 1961 seminar on transference and thus is central to understanding the relation between the Histoire and psychoanalysis. For Lacan, the essence of the Symposium is its exploration of the transferential relationship and the logic of substitution that relation implies between Socrates, Alcibiades, and Agathon. (1) In his reading, Alcibiades and Agathon, while not identical, are substitutable as objects of desire, insofar as each of them is beautiful. At the same time, Socrates is the object of Alcibiades' desire precisely because Alcibiades desires to be his object. Subject and object, desire and its tokens, all become part of an economy of substitution in which Agathon (literally "Mr. Good") and Alcibiades (the beautiful boy par excellence) become place holders in a dance that leads from the empirical to the sublime through a logic of transference and counter-transference as all three characters play musical couches at the conclusion of Plato's great dialogue.

Foucault's reading, in the end, does not so much contest Lacan's interpretation as historicize it, asking how is it that Love or Desire (Eros) came to be seen as a problem of truth rather than a simple question of regime or of the "use" of pleasures. As we shall see later, in so doing, he offers a powerful recontextualization of psychoanalysis's framing of desire in relation to the "truth" of the subject. But Lacan's seminar on transference was the second in a sequence devoted to texts from antiquity. The first was 1960's The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, which featured an extended reading of the Antigone (1986). And while Foucault offers an important response to the problem of desire and its relation to truth, as first posited by Plato and reinterpreted by Freud and Lacan, he does not do the same for Antigone. This, as we shall see, constitutes an important lacuna: for the Antigone does not so much pose the Symposium's question of desire's relation to truth and to an economy of substitutions, according to Lacan, as posit the possibility of an enjoyment, of a drive, that goes beyond any such economy, beyond all calculation, and hence beyond the pleasure principle. This is a possibility the History of Sexuality does not directly consider. When at the end of Volume One Foucault asks us to imagine a world not founded on sexuality, but on bodies and pleasures (1976), he is positing a utopia that Alcibiades might well have understood but one that has no room for Antigone and her choice of death. Moreover Antigone is not a unique case in this regard, as we shall demonstrate later when we read what is many ways a sister text: the visionary writings of the medieval anchorite, Julian of Norwich.

To fully understand the stakes of Foucault's final chapter of Volume Two of the History of Sexuality, however, we must also come to see how his reading offers a counterdiscourse to another famous psychoanalytic interpretation of the Symposium, one that is contemporary with his own and one that takes direct aim at what it terms his "sado-masochistic" "homosexual" discourse, Julia Kristeva's Tales of Love. Kristeva's text not only opens with a reading of the same Platonic dialogues as Foucault but it also makes pointed allusions to Foucault's person, using phrases such as "our archeologists of love" and defining all homosexuality as characterized by sado-masochistic domination. Nor is this a single reference. The association of homosexuality, sado-masochism, and Foucault is repeated in more menacing and less flattering terms in Kristeva's thinly veiled portrait of the philosopher in her roman a clef, Les samourais. …

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