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Violence and Beauty: Jacques Lacan's 'Antigone'

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Book Chapter

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Publication Source

Beauty, Violence, Representation


If Jean-Luc Nancy was able to write in "The Sublime Offering," in 1993, that the sublime was fashionable (25), then academic and theoretical tastes have changed, and beauty has come back in style.

Throughout the late 1990s, cultural critics and theorists undertook a return to beauty against the fashion for the sublime that returned in twentieth-century theory and philosophy of art in works by Jean-François Lyotard and Theodor Adorno, among others. The interest in the sublime has been grounded in violent historical experience. Not that violence was new, or that the kinds of violence that the twentieth century bequeathed us are without precedent, or that people and nations were naively unprepared for what we could do to each other. None of that is true or false in any simple way. Taking Fredric Jameson on his word in The Political Unconscious when he concludes that history is what hurts (102), any historical thinking will have to take into account human pain and suffering. Or, taking literally Maurice Blanchot's imperative near the end of The Writing of the Disaster, "learn to think with pain" (219), it seems that we are already thinking violence aesthetically.

In this chapter, I discuss the categories of the sublime and the beautiful in Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke as the expression of a way of understanding aesthetic pleasure and artworks in relation to violent histories. I then turn to Jacques Lacan's account of Antigone. For Lacan, Antigone is a character who offers spectators in the theater a beautiful effect through a sublime appearance. Through Lacan's reading of Antigone, I suggest a way in which beauty becomes adequate to the representation of violent and terrifying histories.

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Chapter 5 is provided for download with the permission of Taylor and Francis Group LLC, a division of Informa plc. Documentation is on file. To read the entire volume, find it in a library or see the publisher's online catalogue: https://www.routledge.com/products/9780415829403.



Place of Publication

New York, NY

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