empty sacrifice par excellence

However, these two reasons for not marrying her love do not cover the entire field. One is tempted to claim that the Princess enumerates them in order to conceal the third, perhaps the crucial one: the jouissance, the satisfaction brought about by the very act of renunciation, of maintaining the distance towards the beloved object. This paradoxical jouissance characterizes the movement of drive as that which finds satisfaction in circulating around the object and repeatedly missing it. The three reasons thus refer to the triad of ISR: the symbolic moral prohibition, the imaginary concern for the balance of pleasures, the real of drive. – Along these same lines, one should interpret the other great mysterious feminine “No!”, that of Isabel Archer at the end of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady: why doesn’t Isabel leave Osmond, although she definitely doesn’t love him and is fully aware of his manipulations? The reason is not the moral pressure exerted on her by the notion of what is expected of a woman in her position – Isabel has sufficiently proven that, when she wants, she is quite willing to override conventions: “Isabel stays because of her commitment to the bond of her word, and she stays because she is unwilling to abandon what she still sees as a decision made out of her sense of independence.”24 In short, as Lacan put it apropos of Sygne de Coufontaine in Claudel’s The Hostage, Isabel is also “the hostage of the word.” So it is wrong to interpret this act as a sacrifice bearing witness to the proverbial “feminine masochism”: although Isabel was obviously manipulated into marrying Osmond, her act was her own, and to leave Osmond would simply equal depriving herself of her autonomy.25 While men sacrifice themselves for a Thing (country, freedom, honor), only women are able bto sacrifice themselves for nothing. (Or: men are moral, while only women are properly ethical.) And it is our contention that this “empty” sacrifice is the Christian gesture par excellence: it is only against the background of this empty gesture that one can begin to appreciate the uniqueness of the figure of Christ. (zizek on lacan)

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