Love, or Woman as Thing ever, the dominant partner becomes sickened The fascination of the lady in courtly love is usually attributed to her a 23 As for this Deleuzian opposition of surface event and bodily depth, see Zizek. Courtly Love, or Woman as Thing This is a chapter from The Metastases of Enjoyment (, pp. ). Here Ziiek argues that courtly love. Zizek – “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”. Slavoj Zizek. 1. “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”. a. Courtly love defines the parameters of how.
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Post on Apr views. Here Ziiek argues that courtly love, far from being out of date, has a structure which can still be detected in sexual relations today. For an analysis of its ‘masochistic theatre’, he turns to lacan, who regards the lady not ‘as sublime object, but as universal ideal emptied of all substance – a remote impassive figure who imposes arbi-trary tasks.
Coyrtly matches the relation of knight wlman master, but with an additional perverse twist, that the tasks imposed tuing sometimes curiously at odds with her putative spirituality. The courtly lover’s narcissistic illu-sion conceals from him the traumatic strangeness of ‘the Freudian Thing’. Another way in which courtly love betrays its link with masochism is its emphasis on strict performance of codes. Masochism is to be distinguished from sadism in that it is a contract between two parties, in which the supposed tthing is giving the orders, unlike sadism, in which the torment is uncontrolled.
This makes the masochistic scene essentially theatrical, the violence ‘endlessly repeated as an interrupted gesture’. This high theatre of the masochistic performance no more disrupts everyday reality than the masochist’s instructions to the dominatrix prevent the game from proceeding. Here is a parallel to the Symbolic per se, in that the scene has to be played with a straight face, because it is the playing as such that counts, not any supposed reality behind the mask.
Similarly, the sadist may try to justify the excess of his violence by claiming that the victim is a masochist who is making him into her slave. The fascination of the lady in courtly love is usually attributed to her inaccessibility; but in the lacanian reading, the obstacle that makes her inaccessible is of the subject’s own creation, for the reason that the courtly lover cannot confront the impossibility of what he seeks.
The lady becomes a substitute for what he pursues, thus allowing him to set up the obstacle that keeps her thimg a safe distance, enforcing a detour, a theme tihng recurs in the films of louis Buiiuel in the artificial impediments set up for desire.
The Thing can be seen only in a distorted form, in an ‘anamorphosis’, never directly; a direct view would destroy the illusion and leave nothing.
Slavoj Zizek’s Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing by Bill Snyder on Prezi
This structure falls within lacan’s view of sublimation, the raising of an object ‘to the dignity of the Thing’: The same paradox of detour is discernible in the phallic signifier, as it ‘stands both for the immediacy of jouissance and for its refusal castrationso that jouissance can be reached only through the endless succession of symbolic desires.
Thus the very agency that entices us to search for enjoyment induces us to renounce it. Here Ziiek finds an analogy with a characteristic of Western philosophy: L Austin, making the performative mode into the genus for both species of statement, constative and per-formative.
In contrast, Heidegger’s notion of ‘ontological difference’ implies that whatever is chosen as the ground of explanation of a totality cannot encompass the Real. By the same token, the lady is a name for the Real that continually evades the grasp, a negative feature that functions as a positive one. The wish to ensure that the Real evades his grasp characterizes the lover’s ordeal, of which Ziiek produces a series of exemplifications: As a final varia-tion of the courtly love dilemma, and a possible resolution thereof, the black male transvestite in The Crying Game is structurally in the position of the Lady through the distance maintained by her unknowing lover.
The crux of the film occurs when the lover discovers ‘something’ where he expected ‘nothing’, a reversal of the Freudian shock. Where courtly love fails, the possibility of ‘real’ love emerges: The survival of the courtly love structure testifies to the continuing male attempt to compensate for his reduction of the woman to a mere vehicle for his fantasy.
In turn the woman comes to inhabit this fantasy as her ‘femininity’ – thus deprived of her own particularity as woman – which leads to a symmetrical view of the sexes.
If sexual difference always retains a Real that cannot be symbolized, lovers are fated to settle for a relation-ship that is also a ‘non-relationship’, in that each partner is not wholly subject, but intersects with the Thing.
Why talk about courtly love I’amourcourtois today, in an age ofpenrussiveness when the sexual encounter is often nothing more than a ‘quiCkie’ in some dark comer of an” office? The impression that courtly love is out of date, long superseded by modem manners, is a lure blinding us to how the logic of courtly love still defines the parameters within which the two sexes relate to each other.
This claim, however, in no way implies an evolutionary model through which courtly love would provide the elementary matrix out of which we generate its later, more complex variations. Our thesis is, instead. It is only with the emergence ofmaso-chism, of the masochist couple, towards the end of the last century that we can now grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love. The Lady is thus perceived as a kind of spiritual guide into th6 higher sphere of religiOUS ecstasy, in the sense of Dante’s Beatrice.
In contrast to this In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real substance. By means of a fonn of sublimation specific to art, po”etic creation consists in positing an object I can only describe as terrifYing, an inhuman partner.
The Lady is never characterized for any of her real, concrete virtues, for her wisdom, her prudence, or even her competence. If she is described as wise, it is only because she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents its functions more than she exercises them.
On the contrary, she is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her servant. It is precisely in order to emphasize the non-spiritual nature of these ordeals that Lacan quotes a poem about a Lady who demanded that her servant literally lick her arse: The Lady is thus as far as possible from any kind of purified spirituality: This coincidence of absolute, inscrutable Otherness and pure machine is what confers on the Lady her uncanny I monstrous character – the Lady is the Other which is not our ‘fellow-creature’; that is to say, she is someone with whom no relationship of empathy is possible.
This traumatic Otherness is what Lacan designates by means of the Freudian term das Ding, ‘the Thing’ – the Real that ‘always returns to its place’ ,3 the hard kernel that resists symboliza-tion. The idealization of the Lady, her elevation to a spiritual, ethereal ideal, is therefore to be conceived of as a stricdy secondary phenomenon: In this precise and limited sense, Lacan concedes that ‘the element of idealizing exaltation that is expressly sought out in the ideology of courtly love has certainly been demonstrated; it is fundamentally narcissistic in character’.
In other words – those of Christina Rossetti, whose sonnet ‘In an Artist’s Studio’ speaks of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s relationship to Elizabeth Siddal, his Lady – the Lady appears ‘not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
The mirror mayan occasion imply the mechanisms of narcissism, and especially the dimension of destruction or aggression that we will encounter subsequently. But it also fulfils another role, a role as limit.
It is that which cannot be crossed. And the only organization in which it participates is that of the inaccessibility of the object. That is to say, if men are to project on to the mirror their narcissistic ideal, the mute mirror-surface must already be there. This surface functions as a kind of ‘black hole’ in reality, as a limit whose Beyond is inaccessible. The next crucial feature of courtly love is that it is thoroughly a matter of courtesy and etiquette; it has nothing to do with some elementary passion overflowing all barriers, immune to all social rules.
We are dealing with a strict fictional formula. And it is precisely this feature which enables us to establish a link between courtly love and a phenomenon which, at first, seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with it: In his celebrated study of masochism,7 Gilles Deleuze demonstrates that masochism is not” to be conceived of as a simple synunetrical inversion of sadism.
The sadist and his victim never fonn a complementary ‘sado-masochist’ couple.
From Courtly Love to The Crying Game
Among those features evoked by Deleuze to prove the asymmetry between sadism and masochism, the crucial one is the opposition of the modalities of negation. Closely depending on this first opposition is the opposition ofinstitution and contract. Sadism follows the logic of of institutional power tor-menting its victim and taking pleasure in the victim’s helpless resistance. More precisely, sadism is at work in the obscene. Masochism, on the contrary.
It is the servant, therefore, who writes the screenplay – that is, who zizej pulls the strings and dictates the activity of the woman dominatrix: Furthennore, violence is never carried out, brought to its conclusion; it always remains, suspended, as the endless repeating of an interrupted gesture.
It is precisely this logic of disavowal which enables us to gtasp the funda-mental paradox of the masochistic attitude. That is to say, how does the typical masochistic scene look? The man-Servant establishes in a cold, businesslike way the terms of the contract with the woman-Master: When they finally pass over to the masochistic game proper, the masochist constantly maintains a kind of reflect-ive distance; he never really gives way to his feelings or fully abandons himself to the game; in the midst of the game, he can suddenly assume the stance of a stage director, giving precise put more pressure on that point, repeat that movement, Once the game is over, the masochist again adopts the attitude of a respectful bourgeois and starts to talk with the Sovereign Lady in a matter-of-fact, businesslike way: SaIne time next week?
What is of crucial importance here is the total self-externalization of the masochist’s most intimate passion: The nature of the masochistic theatre is therefore thoroughly ‘non-psychological’: Masochism confronts us with the paradox of the symbolic order qua the order of ‘fictions’: The very kernel of the masochist’s being is externalized In the staged game towards which he maintains his constant.
And the Real of violence breaks out precisely when the masochist is hystericized – when the subject refuses the role of an object-instrum. James’s A Tastefor Death, the murderer describes the circum-stances of the crime, and lets it be known that the factor which resolved his.
He practically asked for it. He could have tried to stop me, pleaded, argued, put up a fight. He could have begged for mercy, “No, please don’t do it. Just that one word He looked at me with such contempt Of course he knew.
And I wouldn’t have done it, not ifhe’d spoken to me as in were even half-human. He was supposed to be terrified. He was supposed to prevent it from happening He just looked at me as if he were saying “So it’s you. How strange that it has to be you. But I did have a choice. And so did he. Christ, he could have stopped me. Why didn’t he stop me? This attitude was what the murderer found unbearable: Sir Paul’s attitude of non-resistance, of indifferent provocation. In short, what compelled the murderer to act was the experience of having his desire to kill the victim coincide with the victim’s death drive.
This coincidence recalls the way a male hysterical ‘sadist’ justifies his beating of a woman: She really wants me to hurt her, she compels me to beat her so that she can enjoy it – so I’ll beat her black and blut and teach her what it really means to provoke me! I set out to beat a woman and when, at the point where I think that I thoroughly dominate her, I notice that I am. The principal mistake to avoid is reducing this inaccessibility to the simple dialectic of desire and prohibition according to which we covet the forbidden fruit precisely in so far as it is forbidden – or, to Freud’s classic formulation: