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Deleuze and Contemporary Art$

Stephen Zepke and Simon O'Sullivan

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780748638376

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748638376.001.0001

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Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

(p.246) Chapter 14 Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy
Deleuze and Contemporary Art

Elisabeth von Samsonow

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter offers us the figure of ‘becoming-girl’ as a post-Freudian feminist anti-Electra, explaining that the girl is in possession of a logos of creation because she controls the means of production of the human itself, whether we discuss the imaginary of birth or the potency of artistic production. It also discusses the relevant issues of schizo-technology, Daedalian objects, totemism, and schizogamy.

Keywords:   becoming-girl, Freudian feminist, anti-Electra, logos of creation, artistic production, schizo-technology, Daedalian objects, totemism, schizogamy

Which path leads back to the pre-Oedipal, back to the universe of the primal Mother, the mother as the world? Freud bracketed the continent of the pre-Oedipal out of psychoanalytical theory, considering it a sphere without words or concepts. Indeed, one is always already expatriated; one has already emigrated when one begins thinking about it. For this simple reason the pre-Oedipal rose to become the greatest field of projection for feminist psychoanalysis, onto which was pinned the hope that it could, as an ancestral and prior continent, be (re)conquered exclusively by means of a feminine logic.1 Its mythical nature has lent itself to many interpretations: it is often projected as a Golden Age representing lost experiences of oneness and bliss; or, it serves as an ontological frame for the construction of a non-castrated, unpunished ‘phallic’ mother. But it’s hard to accept this ‘non-castrated mother’ because in this super-dialectic she stands for a perverse logic of loss, that is, for the loss of the Oedipal in the pre-Oedipal as seen from the nostalgic standpoint of the Oedipalised. For the concept of the mother can only appear ‘non-castrated’ from the perspective of loss (from the perspective of an internalised castration) that looks back to a phantasmatic and original possession. Yet wouldn’t a memory that can be re-collected or re-called in fact reconstitute a condition of non-castration where nothing was lost or fell off, and make the positive condition of completeness precisely this ability (or power) to remember? If anything gets lost it is not a sex organ, which is usually quite well attached, but the memory of that which organises the deepest layers of memory. The anxiety of losing sex organs covers the threat of a loss of memory related to the preconscious, the pre-Oedipal. The sexual code of amnesia conceals the fact that the origins of a person are lost in a darkness that is itself a cultural product. A ‘non-castrated’ mother becomes under these conditions someone who, as if by a miracle, one begins to remember. But she will appear as an other mother, a strange mother.2

(p.247) For interpreting the figure of Electra all of these questions seem to me to be extraordinarily important. Electra’s mediocre ability in acting out can be explained by her ‘pre-real’ status, by her general regression into primal femaleness. Indeed, the figure of Electra implies regression, and to understand this we must shake her in such a way that the pre-Oedipal world falls out of her. Electra and her sisters are ‘the last girls’ of the pre-Athenian, Cycladic, Mycenaean, or Minoan world. For this reason it is only as a misreading that Electra could qualify for the role of ‘Athena’, a daughter subservient to the father. In the end, and this constitutes the core of the tragedy, these daughters serve more as symptoms of an abdicating territorial queen. To derive a psychologically standardised father-love from the sadness and desperation that these daughters must have felt over the public offence and scandal of their mother is truly high art, ideological poiesis. In this way, a trail of deceit was laid out to legitimise the girl’s orientation toward the father and her ideal ‘masculinisation’. What made this even more convincing was that the girl-daughter, whose becoming-woman was not yet completed, had no right in her in-between-state to a sexual definition other than ‘not-(yet)-woman’, which might also be read as ‘man’. This would be to confirm the official generative pole of the Electra complex: being-woman (which is also becoming-woman) is an explicit and obsessive partiality for a certain man. But even assuming that love is always a phenomenon of polarisation there remains another possible trajectory for becoming-woman – Deleuze’s becoming-woman – that leads to the universal girl. The idea of a universal devenir-femme as the first stage in the recovery of an open existential potential is a sophisticated philosophical attempt by Deleuze and Guattari to account for repressed otherness as our structural super-motor. It is not by accident that what immediately follows it is the devenir-animal, becoming-animal. Woman and animal make up an amnesic complex, a matrimonium of regression, which navigates the descent to the plutonium of primary energy.

Becoming-woman develops in two directions. First it moves ahead, forward into an open future, as a virtual being that projects potentialities under unrestricted emergent conditions. The Electra complex could earn philosophical honour and attention as such a future-oriented project. In fact, however, there is a lack of definition in the Electra complex’s ‘becoming-woman’ that returns the girl to a primal scene that celebrates in song an unknown but always taken for granted hardly-I and hardly-thou. This song, incanted and magically fixed with phonetic signs, carries the royal dada-esque title of MAMA. As a result, Electra’s relationship with her mother is focused almost exclusively on her most (p.248)

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.1: Elisabeth von Samsonow, Xylosophy, linden wood, wood marker, 2009. Photo: Tal Adler. Image courtesy of the artist.

(p.249) interesting organs; she constantly imagines her productive and creative functions and her sexual activity. As if Clytemnestra were in truth a machine disguised by a mask of the Mycenean queen. Electra ignores the actual mother in front of her in order to get on the track of the real Clytemnestra. One senses that Electra is psychically fixated on a mother who has very little to do with both the very complex personality of her actual mother, and with Clytemnestra’s dreadful tale of woe as it is presented in the myths and dramas. Electra directs at this mother representing a sort of pre-human being, the barely-thou, her primary love and its counterpart of unchecked primary hate, the desire to bash away at her, to bite into her and to destroy her with toxic pee and exploding poo. Why these extreme feelings? Because Clytemnestra let the king’s daughter cry and didn’t come at once, because she, for whatever reason, turned away from the consummate love relationship with her daughter and did something else while little Electra screamed for the eternal milk, similarly to how Melanie Klein imagines it. Because in accordance with Athenian propaganda, she must come to terms with the end of matrilinearity: there is nothing left to inherit. The girl who witnesses the disempowerment of her mother will function as a royal symptom of her suppressed state, appearing in the Electra complex as if in a distorting mirror. And when all she receives as consolation is the advice to be ‘daughter of the noblest father of the world’ (Sophocles 2001: 57, line 366), the outbreak of mother-hatred parallels the internalisation of the inescapable – which will later give material to the psychological sketches of the dramatists.

Constitutive Strangeness or Primary Exoticism?

The mother lineage defines itself through the kind of a priori foreignness we have seen in the pre-Oedipal; for how could a first mother have been produced from a mother? The Bible makes an attempt at an answer when it makes man into the ‘mother’ of the first mother, Adam as the first ‘genetrix’ who lends the first flesh. There are representations that depict a caesarean-section-like wound on the breast of Adam, from which Eve arises. This wound imitates the vulva, and becomes Christ’s organ of blessing. But when a female child feels her way into the primitive layer of identification within her mother, she will discover that the mother-image does not transform into a ‘hu-man’, but rather changes anamorphically into a dragon-, snake-, or monster-image, which, like Dali’s clocks, stands only half upright while the other half hangs down into an abyss where it loses its form and face. Womanhood is to be (p.250) grounded in that female property from which one emerges, a ‘motherness’ (Mutterheit) that is hypothetically represented, for example, in the animal vitality of an elongated muscle that terminates in a mouth, exactly like that given by the appearance of the snake. Wherever the specific, particular mother gets caught up in the unending curvatures of ‘motherness’ – as always happens when memory provides only faded images – she is represented by an appropriate symbol that has a certain functional similarity.

Female identity that is produced in relation to the snake – namely, in a proto-Hegelian sense, in the passage through archaic otherness – will have to imbue social relations with this specific quality. First, the ‘mother’ symbolised in the form of a venerable animal is invoked as constitutive of harmonious ascendance, and then, in order to generalise this animal alienness, the exogamy rule is formulated. Exogamy is the proof of the fact that the mode in which the familiar (i.e., ‘motherness’) is welcomed is the alien. If matrilineal society attempted to set up the pre-Oedipal as permanent, then the logic of its relationships will not find its (Lacanian) condition in a breach of the original bond with the mother, which is assumed to be obligatory for the Electra complex. The exogamy rule expresses the quality of the first love that led to the theriomorphic symbolisation of the mother. The exogamous relationship therefore recalls and repeats the constellation of the first symbiosis, inasmuch as this is grounded in a ‘mother’ who manifests itself as an intimate alien. Clytemnestra’s relationships are thereby constituted xenologically, and only allow the husband a place at the systemic location from where she derived her snake identity. Who then will be desired by a woman who isn’t conditioned to reject the mother by the Electra complex? Will the desired be a non-woman (man?), and will he consequently have to activate that dimension of ‘mother’ (as archetype of the pre-Oedipal erotic relationship) that is the ‘not-woman’ (animal) in her? If, as psychoanalysis never tires of claiming, the primordial relationship supplies the model for every relationship, then this must count for pre-Oedipal society as well. In the coupling of adults the relationship that an omnipotent child has established with its animal becomes dominant again.

The imperative to seek out the strange and unfamiliar (in exogamy) expresses a particular mode of human self-description that is both a modality of eccentric hominisation and a structure of sexual difference. The animal in this respect serves not only to present a certain dimension of the non-animal (human), but also – something so far neglected – serves the internal differentiation of humans into female and male. If the female is conflated with the animal it gives a primary gender constellation in the (p.251)

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.2: Elisabeth von Samsonow, Philosopher from Stella Centauri, painted linden wood, 2007. Image courtesy of the artist.

form of ‘motherness’ becoming the origin and reference of both sexes. Unlike the symbolic order of the father, which introduces an authority like a transpersonal clamp enclosing the feminine and the masculine in his various avatars (justice, law, name, the state), the symbolic order of (p.252) the mother implies both the difference between the sexes and the commerce betweens humans and nonhumans. The symbolic order of the mother therefore opens onto the trans-human, and pairs the human with the animal in a common socius. In this sense, totemism is the political expression of becoming, offering a model for collective ascendance with the animal as its patron. One recalls that ‘man’, before he became one, looked different, exotic. First he was an egg, then a cotyledon, then a kind of crocodile, finally a grand water being before he fell onto dry land as an infant – before, that is, he began to grow and finally became that which simply no longer grows: a grown up.


We intend a descent, not into the cave of Trophonius where an ‘intra-uterine’ visionary culture had created its cultic space,3 but rather into the basement of the Athenian Agora where trophies from the Cycladic, Mycenaean and Minoan cultures are displayed. This cellar corresponds to an older sediment in a literary stratigraphy. At this level it is true that the animal belongs essentially to the human, but in a way opposed to the argument that demands reconciliation with the animal. That is to say, before ‘man’ notices the animal, the animal – and this is the totemic thesis – has already noticed man. The animal is there first. It is already there when humans were not yet humans. To a consciousness that does not yet possess its humanity as a reflex, the level of the animal precedes identification. The animal does not mark the purely functional line of emergence (evolution) as the milieu of pristine nature that, as Schelling imagined it, is struck by the beam of consciousness. If consciousness searches for this emergence, behind and below itself, it despairs because it is always just the most luminous part of a history that loses itself in the dark. In its symbolic form pre-Oedipality gives a different solution to this problem. The level of emergence in the totemic model is as little unconscious as would be the mother goat for her kid. In contrast to the notion that we have simply forgotten our emergence, which can be regained in the pre-conscious, totemism achieves in its affective mood a relationship with the level of emergence that repairs the damage of primal amnesia. The level of origin is ‘motherness’, not yet recognised as human it has no face (because it is seen from inside), it is merely a stimulus-triggering schema. Would this be Mrs. Miller down at 1 Parish St? No, how could she be! Mrs. Miller is too civilised to have ever caused such a storm of primary desire. Then who? It is an animal mother who, once known so intimately, is the first intuition of being for those on their way to becoming human.

(p.253) If we assume hypothetically that layers of identity are communicated from this first great mother-animal to both sexes, to male and female children, the modality of male and female gender identification nevertheless differs considerably on the one point that is of such encompassing significance it is overlooked: mothers are experienced both from inside and from outside. Woman is thus originally faceless (from the inside), a Container-Thou or inner-skin, before she turns herself ‘inside out’ and shows the child her sur-face. She is like a Möbius strip, while the father always appears outside, showing only his ‘exterior’ skin and surface. He never presents himself from inside. Whereas the mother is anthropomorphic in respect to one of her two modes, the father always has the human, the male form. The proof that the mother is human is, even today, still pending; fathers, on the other hand, are happily assured of their humanity or their absolutely human mode of appearance, which people call masculinity.

What memory will one have of this first Container-Thou, and in what symbolic form may it be recovered?4 Which mask will be given to the vital inner skin, and what kind of image would be projected on it in remembering our first partner?

If little boys succumb to Oedipalisation and enter into identification with the father, then when it comes to their own sexual role they can at least build on the literal, really existing father or father-like figures, even if parting from their mother sets up a deep and abiding destabilisation.5 If a father shows up on the horizon, he comes as human. The mother never shows up on the horizon like the father. First of all, she always looks different, and so – this is the most important point – doesn’t look human. The conditions for falling into an Electra complex are obviously more difficult and radical than Oedipalisation, which describes a relation of power between three ‘really’ existing agents. Identification with the mother, the process of becoming-woman, points down into the psychic antiquity of a pre-human ‘motherness’. If the girl succeeds in imagining herself in the place of the mother, she is immediately implicated by concurrent modulations of femininity. That is, if the little girl envies her mother, then she envies her for everything that she has, and most of all, what she fantasises about calling her own. This is the comprehensive conflation of, irrespective of rational objections, a great animal mother with a specific person. The lines of sexual identification part at exactly this point: in the contrast between a type of gaze that unites an interior and an exterior sur-face, and another one that arrives purely ‘from the outside’. The girl who observes her mother feels that she must be hiding something from her, that she has concealed something constitutive, i.e., (p.254)

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.3: Elisabeth von Samsonow, Asino Academico, ink and oil pastel on paper, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

(p.255) her inner skin, so that the mother seems double, a binome of pre-human and human. Freud would have done better to ground the fear of the hole along this trajectory rather than having the little girl become aware of her inferior sex (according to his theory) from an already punished and castrated mother whose penis is, clearly, missing. The girl who, ignoring reason and ‘reality’, tries to align a Great Animal Mother with her concrete mother becomes aware, in the ‘fear of the hole’, less of the lost penis than of the depth of the procreating Container-Thou and its remembrance.

Now the manner in which the animal helps in the determination of gender difference begins to become clear. With the assistance of the animal, the lines of identification are traceable in a double derivation and find corresponding titles: jaguar woman, dragon lady, toad woman, spider woman, wild buffalo, big bear, cat woman, sweet sly fox. And one begins to understand why contemporary feminism has taken such vehement shots at the hegemony of the exterior gaze, at the male gaze that makes woman an object.

Why are women so hypersensitive about this gaze that encounters them only on the ‘outside’, in extimity, that entire feminist libraries have been composed as war machines against its validity? The primordial layer, the human female-animal and animal-mother, is by definition missing in a society of the privileged male gaze, both symbolically and politically. This is why it is reflexively registered in all women as their deficient being, as insufficient beauty, insufficient intelligence, insufficient humanity. Women despair of this regime of the exterior gaze that doubts the complex folding of inner and outer truth where space and subjectivity coincide. The daughter therefore perceives that the mother inexplicably believes herself to be stuck in the pre-human – caught in the preliminaries of becoming-human. Deep inside, girls know that if they want to hold onto their mothers then they too are not-yet-human. In a world determined by human and man, girls cannot rid themselves of the suspicion that something is wrong with them, increasingly falling into panic as the time to bring about the realisation of their becoming-human-woman slips away. Baudelaire wondered why girls fall into the underworld at the age of 15 and remain there until the age of 50.

In the symbolisation that totemism proposes, this portion of the girl’s primary capacity for a relationship that connects her to the ‘Container-Mother’ is invested in the personification of the mother as an animal. Inasmuch as it ascribes the intuition of the nourishing and caring quality of the Container-Thou to the animal, it truly earns the title of a feminist humanism. In this feminist humanism, the portion of diffuse (p.256)

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.4: Elisabeth von Samsonow, left: Shrine of the Beast; middle: Capatoline Wolf; right: The World. Painted wood. Image courtesy of the artist.

pre-humanity is identified and defined as being-animal and integrated into a significant position within the social structure. It becomes the Archimedean point of ascendancy. In this way the animal embodies the legacy of the mother.

(p.257) The interpretation of totemism as arising from the social fact of a matri-focal cultural type is only partially opposed to that of Freud. Inasmuch as we assume that the level of emergence is personified by the animal, in which we find not only our ancestor, but a being fully capable of love and other caring relationships, then (repudiating Freud) we will designate it as ‘mother’. That the goddesses are represented either theriomorphically or accompanied by an animal has been understood by feminists such as Göttner-Abendroth to mean that the animal is the consort of the goddess. In fact the animality of the mother and her consort don’t contradict each other, they necessarily belong together according to the principle of exogamy. This confirms, if by other means, Freud’s assumption that female identification and erotic orientation do not come about by a change of object.6 Freud definitely registers the ambivalence of feelings that the continuity of the mother bond make apparent: ‘The woman’s husband, who to begin with inherited from her father, becomes after a time her mother’s heir as well’ (Freud 1963: 597).

The patterns developed through the relationship with the first (animal) mother are reactivated by an intimus who, like the apersonal Mama, is animal-shaped (as in ‘the beauty and the beast’, or the frog prince). The bride vaguely remembers that great intimacy is to be felt close to animal warmth and animal instinct-automatism. The actual man, in this respect like the mother, will have to rise from exactly this level. From a distance he is nonhuman, other, a stranger. The exogamic model, which demands a bridegroom in the model of a stranger, is quite opposed to the general Platonism of things erotic, which are clearly based upon recognition. In feminist humanism or totemism the one to be married will not be the original one, finally recognised, but the unknown. The stranger becomes the alien intimus, sharing the hypothetical title of the living first mater-ial, the monumental intimate Mama. As a result of the fact that the animal Ur-mother as principle of imaginary and social cohesion must be split up so that the groom may be produced as her equivalent, we must speak of schizogamy (rather than of exogamy). In schizogamy a triangle is in fact inscribed – but it is a pre-Oedipal one: the split partner embraces the two modes of appearance of the Ur-mother, one part showing her as a trans-human (animal) that is transferred into the (re) cognitive pattern of strangeness, the other one being a pure symbiotic being (without any threat of Oedipalisation). The loving girl, and an element of pure strangeness that has the intriguing force of an eternal bond, therefore marks the pre-Oedipal triangle. The last two elements are to be composed in what will appear as the schizogamic bridegroom. (p.258) Schizogamy explains that the woman, in the orientation of her attachment, does not really change her object of love (as Freud suggests), while also showing how the permanency of the object is to be conceived. The constant object is grounded in a deeper layer that introduces a certain distance or haziness into the character of the attachment, through a mnemological difference (‘antiquity of the soul’) that establishes not a ‘cool’ relationship, but rather, Eros as a modality of searching.

Schizosomatic Art

The concept of schizosoma describes the affective and aesthetic quality of the mother/child pair, and casts light on the realm of the sculptural understood less as artistic academic discipline than as a form of experience and productive technology. As schizosoma the sculptural belongs to the girl as the phantasm essential to her desire related to her privilege of making men. Along with the fabrication of cult images and puppets, the production of mummies is part of the phantasmatic ‘business of people-making’, and shows how birth and death coincide once the girl puts her potential to work symbolically. Electra functions as a ‘spare parts depot’ for the older sister Iphigeneia who is already abandoned to sacrifice; Electra is always already a potential candidate for sacrifice, depending on the sacrificial king with whom she forms a couple (Agamemnon). The girl waiting for her sacrifice is closed up in a labyrinth, which is why the specific body-and space-constructions that are derived from the analysis of plasticity have to be examined again in relation to her. The girl in the underworld is archetypically Kore or Persephone, and Electra is her exemplar. The Electra complex has remained distinctively indistinct, an almost complex, a reminiscence of her fate of being sacrificed in an act to come (not devenir fiancée, but devenir sacrificée). Against this should be placed a strong girl who is destined to become queen (as Clytemnestra’s successor, despite everything): Anti-Electra. For in the mega-measure of globalisation an Electra complex would mean that mother-hate affects the Earth. A system that is built upon the sacrifice of the girl inevitably presents an all-too dominant mother who then, in the next step, becomes the object of a general aggression. The vindication of the Earth itself is at stake here. The schizosoma that the girl forms with her mother is itself, however, characterised by death and imbalance, disturbed by the rage of Demeter who searches for the sacrificed daughter (and hangs a veil of grief over her feelings of guilt). But if the girl were to return, if she could conclude the story of her shadow existence, how would the schizosomatic relationship that humans have to Earth (which (p.259) they call mother) take shape? Would the Earth be a ‘mother’ at all if the girl was given back her rightful place? The one who returned from out of the labyrinth was Ariadne, the daughter of Pasiphae. She had the red thread. Is she ‘Anti-Electra’?

Much has been written about phallic objects. The story of Daedalus introduces us to the main objects that symbolise the maternal genitals around which pre-Oedipality circles. In place of the schizoanalytical quadrant that Deleuze and Guattari constructed with the phylum of machines, the flux of libido and capital, the immaterial constellations, and the territory, there is a schizosomatic quadrant of pre-Oedipality, containing necessarily, objects – sculptural things with the quality of living machines. There are four Daedalian objects: the labyrinth, the living statues,7 the copulation apparatus of Pasiphae, and the satellite (Fontisi-Ducroux 1992/3: 98–100). The labyrinth and the automata appear together, the latter interpreting and at the same time forming a compliment to the former, living statues made by the engineer march back and forth in front of the labyrinth. These two objects – the labyrinth and the automata – constitute a set which presents maternal genitality in mirror mode: to the pre-human mother embodied in the labyrinth belong the walking and talking statues that issue from her and move around in front of the entrance. In the third primary object, Pasiphae’s copulation apparatus, the totemistic logic of the pre-Oedipal imaginary becomes sculptural. In this apparatus appears the central operator (the thing with a genital function) that sets up parallels between humans and animals (copulation as a function, a ‘copula’). This copula-tion apparatus will be especially important in our age of electrification and global networks. The fourth pre-Oedipal object unfolds the systemic quality of the labyrinth. It is Daedalus himself, who, as the story tells it, rises into the air from the centre of the labyrinth and flies away.8 He embodies the ‘external observer’ as a deus ex machina compensating for disorientation by technical means, and as its engineer, he ensures the complexity of the labyrinth that he will have both stayed in and left. This fourth pre-Oedipal object has only recently developed into an actual apparatus, namely the satellite. Daedalus as interpreter of the pre-Oedipal horizon produces ‘objectivities’ in order to give a structure to affective moods, and therefore archives within these Daedalian objects significant scenes of ‘inter-corporeal’ communication, a communication for which the (child-)body is specialised.

The girl therefore represents both an imaginarium and a specific form of corporeal intelligence that are based on her ‘interest’ in birth, deriving from a birth expectation in a general sense. In other words, with (p.260)

Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.5: Elisabeth von Samsonow, Enlightenment, painted linden wood, 2006.

Foreground: Heart of the Earth, painted linden wood, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

(p.261) regard to the corporeal being of the human the girl is the one and only true capitalist. She is a capitalist because of her exclusive possession of the means of production. The girl is the potency of birth. Thus a serious discussion of the (re)production of the human – as well as of the artistic – has to begin with the girl. It is doubtful that the interminable feminist discussions of birth privilege and birth envy have been successful in creating or acknowledging the laws for becoming mothers. The condition of possibility of this acknowledgment necessarily precedes birth and must be clarified normatively before birth, thereby constituting an a priori of the mother–child constellation in the mode of becoming, which is perfectly embodied in the girl. The girl represents the collective phantasm of a body able to produce a body, and accordingly the girl emerges as this body and so specified by this body. In so far as the girl expects the realisation of a body capable of giving birth and refers it directly back to herself, she is in possession of a logos of creation, whether we discuss the imaginary of birth or the potency of artistic production.

In order to be clear: If I speak of the one and only real and existing capitalist in relation to human-production, I refer of course to the real girl – but at the same time I don’t mean the real girl. In my analysis the ‘girl’ appears as a signifier. This is surprising considering the undesignated position of the girl within the bourgeois family, which suggests the girl would never be capable of performing a career move on the level of the signifier. One of the few texts considering such a possibility can be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus:

The girl is the first victim, but she must also serve as an example and a trap. That is why, conversely, the reconstruction of the body as a Body without Organs, the anorganism of the body, is inseparable from a becoming-woman, or the production of a molecular woman. Doubtless, the girl becomes a woman in the molar or organic sense. But conversely, becoming-woman or the molecular woman is the girl herself.… She never ceases to roam upon a body without organs. She is an abstract line, or a line of flight. Thus girls do not belong to an age group, sex, order or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce n molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 272–3)

It is therefore indispensable to ask what the girl actually does to stage the impending birth, or rather to guarantee this act in accordance with a corporeal logic. It is indispensable to attentively observe the girl in this respect. Certainly the girl’s acts are not restricted to girls but appear, as an image of Deleuze and Guattari’s model of molecular becoming-woman, everywhere.

(p.262) When the girl brings her physical ability of producing bodies into action, she plays. In this way she anticipates birth in play. She plays production with suitable means. Intimately feeling kinship in a theatrical way, she embraces objects that for her represent the born body as a substitute. The girl is the master of doll play, which is a three-dimensional (plastisch) body play, an artful play, an object play. She is the master of the living sculpture, a first-class sculptress. As a result, the problem of birth does not arise in the relationship between mother and child in a real dimension, but as an aesthetic and technical problem within the manufacture of three-dimensional stuff. The girl fantasises that ‘children’ soon to appear are within her. Therefore she simulates acts according to them already being with her. Within the so-called latency phase following puberty which represents a more or less culturally induced and difficult suspension of sexual and reproductive power in the prolongation of her ‘girl status’, the play modus intensifies towards bricolage, craft and the technical. The girl puts her potency into the work – this could be called the sublimation of a body-producing competence – within technology, where ‘technology’ means the general system of objects. Technology forms the level where the interest in the aesthetic and the functional thing is brought into a system. The semantic of sublimation, which is transferred to technology by the girl, becomes her ‘sex appeal’, to quote Benjamin’s and Mario Perniola’s description (Perniola 2004: 1). If doll play, where the girl plays at reproduction, anticipates, simulates and affectively modulates the real, the question of the suitable horizon for this ‘play’ should be investigated.9 The matter related to the sculptures in which the girl renders her objects, the plastic art forms, could stand in for her ‘object play’. This plastic form covers both the contemporary technical field and its gadgets as well as artistic sculpture – whose connection to the four Daedalian objects are obvious. As the four Daedalian objects interpret and cultivate the relation between the girl and the ‘world’, mobile phones, hand-helds, laptops and head-sets guarantee a form of ‘being online’ that reintroduces nothing other than the pre-Oedipal condition. In all these plastic forms – in so far as they are both simulation and function – new coding and transformations of the girl’s logos can be read as symptomatic transformations of meaning. The plastic object in art therefore comes closest to the production logos of the girl. It is a hybrid of birth, action and production – in exact accordance to the ideal of contemporary art – and traverses what Hannah Arendt saw as the realms connected to ‘giving birth-ness’. The art object – as plastic object, sculpture and installation – expresses symbolic characteristics of the object-like or the thing-state, making the re-arrangement of birth a mode of self-invention in art.


Anti-Electra: Totemism and Schizogamy

14.6: Elisabeth von Samsonow, Electra, performance/procession, 11 September 2009, near Vienna. Photo: Josef Kahofer.

Anti-Electra consistently backs her mother against the allegation of incest by her complete lack of suspicion. This could be called the privilege of being a witness, and it will raise her to the contemporary ideal of an artist. Anti-Electra not only knows but also playfully tests the technical functions bridging a (lost) I and the accompanying objects (world objects), and her ability to connect life and action is a guiding star in the twilight, allowing the boundaries of the human to become blurred.

Translated by Victor Faessel, revised by Stephen Zepke

(p.264) References

Bibliography references:

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Fischer, N. and G. Fischer (1996), Museum von Menschen oder wo sich Kunst und Wissenschaft wieder finden, Frankfurt/Main: Strömfeld Roter Stern.

Fontisi-Ducroux, F. (1975), Dédale: Mythologie de l’artisan en grèce ancienne, Paris: F. Maspero.

Fontisi-Ducroux, F. (1992/3), ‘Die technische Intelligenz des griechischen Handwerkers’, trans. W. Rappl, HEPHAISTOS, Kritische Zeitschrift zu Theorie und Praxis der Archäologie und angrenzender Gebiete 1 (12).

Frazer, J. (1910), Totemism and Exogamy: A Treatise on the Early Forms of Superstition and Society, Vol. III, London: Macmillan.

Freud, S. (1963), ‘Femininity’, in New Introductory Lectures On Psychoanalysis, trans. J. Strachey, London: Hogarth.

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Plutarch (1952), ‘On the Daimon of Sokrates’, in Über Gott, Vorsehung, Dämonen und Weissagung, ed. and trans. K. Ziegler, Zürich und Stuttgart.

Rohde-Dachser, C. (1991), Expeditionen in den dunklen Kontinent: Weiblichkeit im Diskurs der Psychoanalyse, Berlin: Springer.

Samsonow, E. (2007), Anti-Elektra: Totemismus und Schizogamie, Zürich-Berlin: Diaphanes.

Sophocles (2001), Electra, trans. J. March, Oxford: Aris & Phillips.

Zeul, M. (1995), ‘Weiblichkeit, Bild und Wirklichkeit’, in A. Szanya (ed.), Elektra und Ödipus. Zwischen Penisneid und Kastrationsangst, Vienna: Picus.


(1.) The problem of this reconquering was seen clearly, for example, by Rohde-Dachser, see especially Chapter 15.1, ‘Abstiege: Auf der Suche nach der “anderen” Kultur’ (Rohde-Dachser 1991: 270–73).

(2.) In primitive totemism it is expressly denied, according to Frazer, ‘that children are the fruit of the commerce of the sexes. So astounding an ignorance cannot but date from a past immeasurably remote’ (Frazer 1910: 158). Yet for this ‘remote past’ Frazer offers a rather practical explanation that is related to the interval between conception and birth. We would prefer to conceive of the ‘remote past’ in the sense of a weakness of memory or of a memory ‘lost’ in primary consciousness. The ‘savage idea’ of totemistic ascendancy would then not be an expression of ‘ignorance’, but a symbolically satisfactory solution to the impossibility of adequately remembering the ‘remote past’ within ‘adult’ consciousness.

(3.) Plutarch describes how Timarchos descends into the Trophonius cave where he comes across a scenario that one could characterise as ‘being worldless’. He hears noises, sees colours, and witnesses the rotation of the spheres. Finally, he has the feeling of being ‘violently compressed’, before a ‘violent blow to the head’ brings him back to the world.

(4.) Christa Rohde-Dachser writes: ‘This cave beyond the phallic discourse is a female space’ (1991: 272). Rohde-Dachser, however, defines the feminine ‘container’ as (p.265) a ‘site of the warded off (negative) self of the patriarchal, grandiose male subject’ (277). I do not follow this interpretation.

(5.) ‘Stoller, in Sex and Gender, postulates a symbiotic phase between the mother and the girl, like that with the boy, which ends around the end of the second year with the development of their core gender identity, expressed in the child’s conviction that it is a girl or a boy. This gender identity derives, Stoller argues, directly from the primary identification with the mother. However, the boy has first to differentiate himself from his primary object, the mother, with the result that the core gender identity of the male child is less secure than that of the girl, because the boy is always exposed to the pull of falling back into symbiosis with the mother and the identification with her’ (Zeul 1995: 105).

(6.) ‘We will now turn our interest onto the single question of what it is that brings this powerful attachment of the girl to her mother to an end. This, as we know, is its usual fate: it is destined to make room for an attachment to her father. Here we come upon a fact which is a pointer to our further advance. This step in development does not involve only a simple change of object. The turning away from the mother is accompanied by hostility; the attachment to the mother ends in hate’ (Freud 1963: 585).

(7.) See Fontisi-Ducroux (1975: 96–117).

(8.) In their Daedalus project, Nora and Gerhard Fischer have documented MIT’s flight experiment (Fischer and Fischer 1996).

(9.) I discuss the technical objects upon which the girl casts her phantasy in Chapter 5 of Anti-Elektra, ‘Die vier ödipalen Gegenstände” (Samsonow 2007: 209–30).