Vasiliki Dimoula

The ambivalence of pain in the work of Giorgos Heimonas: Medical perversion or love in the beyond?


Through a comparison with Antonin Artaud, the paper explores a form of jouissance which marks eroticism in the work of Giorgos Cheimonas, but clearly goes beyond sexual pleasure in the sense commonly attributed to this term. Relevant to my argument is (late) Lacan’s distinction between sexual, or else, ‘phallic’ jouissance (which takes place in the realm opened up by an arbitrary Name-of-the-Father and is thus degenerate) and Other jouissance (Seminar XX). The latter is defined as ‘a-sexual’ jouissance and is essentially ineffable, since it is beyond the alienation imposed by language on the sexually differentiated speaking beings. Other jouissance is experienced by the body beyond the false line of sexual difference, by an enjoying substance which insists in the body beyond its sexual being. A combination of life and death, of enjoyment and suffering is part of its essence. Because of the connection with death and suffering, the limit between Other jouissance and the sadistic fantasy (which Other jouissance transcends) is often blurred. My suggestion is that both Artaud and Cheimonas touch upon this ambivalence through the medical images that are the main vehicle of the representation of the body in their texts, and that the way this ambivalence is resolved constitutes part of the moral and cognitive mission of their work. In Artaud body and mind come together in the central experience of suffering that feeds his writing. Throughout his work sexuality is demonised and castration is evaluated as a way to get rid of this obstacle. Most interestingly, Artaud seems to be deliberately seeking a jouissance beyond sex, by means of suffering. Since pain can not be avoided, it should be chosen, rather than passively suffered by the subject, inflicted upon him/her by the Other (society, God). The active acceptance of one’s own suffering is a resistance to the way society regulates the subject’s phallic jouissance at the symbolic order, and thus a way towards real, ‘a-sexual’ jouissance. On the contrary, those who do not choose pain, are tempted to inflict the suffering inflicted upon them by the Other (society, God) onto the other (man). For Artaud, the doctor or psychiatrist, working in milieus where pain is both cherished and controlled (hospitals and asylums), is the main figure accused for this infliction of his own suffering onto others: ‘Asylums’ doctors are conscious and premeditated sadists’, he writes. Self-chosen ‘cruelty’ in the theatre of Artaud paradoxically aims precisely to expose and disrupt this sadistic chain of phallic pleasure. The work of Giorgos Cheimonas is characteristic of the precarious balance between suffering as a trope for ‘a-sexual’ jouissance on the one hand, and sadistic fantasy on the other. Ambivalence between the two is manifest in the medical images, which describe contact with the human body much more centrally than sensual pleasure ever does. Deformation, disability, dismemberment, castration, cannibalism and monstrosity recur obsessively as representations of the human body. Erotic experience is itself entangled with death, pain and suffering, while, as many examples from Cheimonas’s texts will serve to demonstrate, libido transgresses the limits of socially acceptable, or even recognisable, sexual behaviour and reaches a liminal state of morbidity. As Cheimonas himself states, there is a very close connection between the medical and love relationship (η ιατρική σχέση είναι το ίδιο έντονη, το ίδιο αποκαλυπτική (με όλες τις σημασίες της λέξης), το ίδιο διαπεραστική όσο και η ερωτική σχέση). In I Ekromi, doctors and nurses stand for the sadists presented by Artaud, while the central figure in O Giatros Ineotis is an ambivalent one, since its quasi-messianic status implies a potential to transcend the sadistic fantasy and allows to re-interpret the above images of suffering as a pointer towards a utopian space, where sexuality would operate beyond alienation.

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