Thursday, 10 March 2011

Samson: the Triply Castrated Male
(a Lacanian reading of Judges)

Who are the judges of the Book of Judges?  We, the reader, are the judges, since the author does not himself issue judgements of his own.
What I find interesting about the Samson story is the way in which it depicts male/female relations. 

Male = strength, haptic engagement with world.
Female = beauty, subduing the male through her sex, through her being available to be looked at.

How tired do you have to be to not notice your hair being cut?!
That is, in a Hegelian shift, the much weaker woman, who exists as an object to be looked at subdues the strength of the strongest man, Samson.  In this the beautiful is dangerous to the one who does the looking; that is, mans capacity to turn objects into objects to be viewed, while this can be oppressive, is also the same means by which man is himself subdued and overthrown.  To be beautiful is to gain power over the one who looks, over the one who judges beauty.

Also, in some feminist theory of the psychoanalytical mould, it is man who is specular and woman who engages the world in more tactile, haptic ways, the man who is alienated abstract engagement, and the woman who is polymorphous in her relations.  Yet in this story it is man who engages the world with his strength, with his physicality; but it is this very physicality that is brought low by that which catches his eye. 

For the Jew, according to Freud, circumcision represents a muted form of castration, that by which a male enters into the Covenant community of God, that by which they take up a subject position vis-a-vis God and the community (women do not have such an entrance – not because they are outside the symbolic, but perhaps because Jewishness is matrilinear; this might mean that the age-old uncertainty of paternal legitimacy is resolved in circumcision).  However, Freud also comments somewhere that long hair in women can become a phallic signifier (for the fetishistic male child), and so it could be thought that long hair in the wilful Samson stands in as a substitute for the prior semi-castration he had already undergone.  As such, long hair as an extra covenant between him and God is a phallic symbol of increased, super-human strength.  By wearing Samson down through sex and nagging, Delilah is able to undermine the re-instated semi-castrated phallus of Samson and cut his locks off, thus weakening him to normal human potency.

Samson’s blinding is therefore in this context a triple castration: firstly with circumcision; secondly with his hair being shaven; and thirdly with the removal of his sight.  Note that Freud also says that the blinding of the eyes (in the Oedipal complex) is a stand-in for castration proper.  For Samson, this triple castration removes from him the possibility of using his (male and therefore phallic) gaze and his physical strength; and his removal to Gaza, in the midst of his enemies with whom he is a mere slave-entertainer (that is, as one who is, as women are in all cultures, there to be seen), takes him out of the people with whom he has an established subject-position.  In Gaza, blind and at the mill with slaves (to quote Milton), Samson becomes almost a non-subject, a non-person, not in and not out of the symbolic, castrated, dependent, yet strangely phallic.  Oddly, Samson asks the Lord to return his strength to him just once more – not to revenge upon the Philistines his lost hair/strength – but to revenge his two eyes.  That is, the castration of his gaze is felt as a deeper blow than the loss of his physical strength, even though it is because of his eyes that he was subdued in the first place.

As a non-subject, as triply castrated, as dependent, Samson returns from the real of the Philistines to enact an interruption of the symbolic, but not as one who is integrated into the symbolic, but as one who will destroy that from which he is necessarily excluded.  Like Delilah before him, Samson turns the oppressiveness of being an object to be viewed (as a triply castrated male Samson takes up an almost feminine position vis-a-vis Philistine male/female subjectivity) into an opportunity for using that oppressive gaze against itself.  The Philistine gaze is even worse because there is no way in which Samson can return it; this is shown in that he never speaks in the temple with anyone except a fellow servant/slave (of whatever ethnic origin) and God.  Unusually, no mention is made that God’s Spirit does in fact enable Samson here – the only display of strength in the story that doesn’t mention it’s supernatural origin.  Instead it is his[own] might that he uses, and perhaps this is a reflection of the poor quality of the Philistine temple in relation to their cock-sureness.  Also, Samson undermines the Philistine gaze not by being beautiful (unlike his other lovers in the story) or by being supernaturally strong; at the time he is a blinded figure of fun, abjected, and passive towards them, pornographized even.  It is their inability to see him properly despite the oppressiveness of their gaze that puts him in a position to destroy them.          

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