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Calum Neill – An Idiotic Act – On the Non-Example of Antigone


THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 1-28


Antigone, Medea, Selma Jezkova, Mary Kay Letourneau, Andrea Yates… Zizek has over the years utilised a number of characters, both fictional and existent, and usually female, to illustrate various aspects of his Lacanian-derived conception of ethics. The contexts in which these characters are to be located and the actions they engage in determine them, for Zizek, as suitable ethical examples. This article will focus on one such example, perhaps the most obvious: Antigone.


For Zizek, the crucial aspect of both Sophocles’ Antigone, the play, and Antigone, the character within the play, lies in what he, following Lacan,1 terms her ‘act’.2 The term ‘act’, in Lacanian theory, is differentiated from the sense of “mere behaviour”3 by the location and persistence of desire. This is to say that the act is necessarily a subjective undertaking and that it can be understood to be coterminous with the assumption of subjectivity and the responsibility entailed in such an assumption, the Freudian Wo Es war, soil Ich werden. Where behaviour would describe the response to needs, for example, the act is defined by the impetus of desire. Desire makes the subject act and as such the weight of responsibility for the act committed lies with the subject.

An Idiotic Act – On the Non-Example of Antigone

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