Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Strindberg's Early Dramas and Lacan's "Law of the Father"

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Strindberg's Early Dramas and Lacan's "Law of the Father"

Article excerpt

AS THE EROSION OF European patriarchal structures accelerated through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many distinguished and important (largely but not exclusively) male readers and producers of culture responded to this development with varying degrees of horror, outrage, and counterattack. As two such pivotal figures, both August Strindberg and Jacques Lacan are central to the cultural conversation this development engendered and have been critiqued in light of the gender issues implicit and explicit in their respective representational systems. Ross Shideler notes, for instance, that

   seizing on his century's rapid changes in cultural and scientific
   knowledge, Strindberg fictionalized what Foucault might call the
   "discontinuities" of his age.... Supported by much of the Victorian thought
   and post-Darwinian science of his day, Strindberg consistently ...,
   portrays and defends in both his earlier Naturalistic and his later
   so-called Expressionistic works the male dominance that he sees as
   biological fact.... [He] portrays both the challenge to the Victorian
   patriarchy and family and the response to that challenge. (226, 229)

Lacan's centrality to this discussion is likewise evident in the keen and sustained attention he and his thought on patriarchal systems as well as on much else have received for many decades.

Interestingly these two authors represent certain patriarchy- and gender-related issues in strikingly similar ways, even as Strindberg's views are often seen as subjective aberration and Lacan's, just as often, as abiding "human" psychological truth. An investigation of two early Strindberg dramas, Fadren [The Father] and Froken Julie [Miss Julie ] in light of Lacan's thought on the Symbolic phase of human development and the Law or Name of the Father can serve to reveal some of the ideological connections between these two ostensibly extremely strange bedfellows.

A brief summary of some of Lacan's theories on this subject might be helpful or appropriate here. Those ideas which are most pertinent to this enterprise concern his notion of the Symbolic stage, that period in human development that Freud called the "Oedipal." This stage of life is especially important because, as Sarup notes, "it is through the Symbolic order that the subject is constituted" (85). This period for Lacan is distinguished by all naming and symbolic identification which are, for him, a function of the Law of the Father, as well as by the child's learning the lessons necessary for "normal" human development to take place. The force that teaches these lessons is designated by a number of interchangeable terms: the phallic signifier, the phallus, the name of the father, the law of the father, the paternal metaphor, and the master signifier, to name but a few.

The primary goal of the Symbolic stage of development is a separation from the mother and an identification with the name or law of the father. For Lacan, the father is equivalent to the principle of law. Thus, the paternal metaphor, the Name of the Father, the Phallus, and the Law of the Father function to sever the close ties between mother and child. As Ragland-Sullivan explains, "the Father's Name(s) offer the mediation of language as a means of flight or escape from, mastery of, a fusion too profound to fathom" (86). But Bergoffen takes issue with Lacan (and implicitly Ragland-Sullivan who is by and large an apologist for the ramifications of Lacan's thought for feminist issues) on this point contending that here aggression becomes "a subtle war of men against women.... Woman is given a place in the Symbolic only so long as she assumes the name of the mother. In assuming this name, however, she consents to her murder. Her role in the family romance is to recognize the Name of the Father. As mother, woman authorizes the phallic order" (287). Woman continues to be permitted a place in the Symbolic only as the mother and only if she represses her need for a relationship with her child in favor of supporting and sanctioning the phallic order. …

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