Marti on the Hippolytus

of Meaning
Earl Jackson,
Seminar Winter
of California, Santa Cruz

Date: Monday, February 01, 1999 07:40:18

From: Marti

Subj: Hippolytus / Response

To: Earl Jackson,

text in blue on white
Earl’s comments
in white on black

Looking at desire and sign systems in Euripides
we can see how meaning is misrepresented
and how these misrepresentations persuade an outcome that otherwise would
not have taken place had the truth been told. Phaedra who has fallen
in love
with Hippolytus, her husband’s son, is aware of her wild
desire when she says, „Tis painful coming to one’s
senses again
, and madness, evil though it be, has this advantage,
that one has no knowledge of reason’s overthrow.“ Desire is 

not absent of senses (reason), but is a
willful ignoring of reason to follow what is driven by want.
So desire creates for itself a sign system
which is goal
and filled with misrepresentations in Euripides 


and sign systems

Always define your
at the beginning of your essay, incorporating
your meanings for them into the foundation of your argument. Stay within
the parameters of your stated definition. If you have to revert to other
meanings of the terms, clearly and explicitly state those differences
Don’t rely on what „everyone knows“ or what you might
assume is common knowledge. The phrase here suggests you are going to look
at any sign system whatsoever that happens to come along

What is desire
? What is its relation to
What are the
signs of
desire ? 

Fallen in Love

Phaedra didn’t simply „fall in love“ – this was
a compulsion inflicted upon her by Aphrodite whom Phaedra worshipped.There
is nothing in this tragedy [or any Greek tragedy, really] that can be reduced
to modern „ordinary“ or „psychological“ experience.


Meaning is misrepresented.
There’s that very unhelpful passive voice again. Who or what is responsible
for the misrepresentation? How does it come about? And are you referring
to an originally self-identical, lucid, univocal „meaning“ which suffers
distortion by some act of „misrepresentation“ wrought upon it? Or do you
refer to „meaning“ as an

effect of misrepresentation?

effect of misrepresentation? Is „misrepresentation“
here the ruin of meaning or its generative operation?

And if the answer to the second question is yes,
how would you define „misrepresentation“ if the meaning „misrepresented“
is produced by that „misrepresentation“? Furthermore, which way you answer
the second question, you need to address another question your choice of
terms raises but does not address:

What are the relations between signification and
representation that are relevant to your reading of Hippolytus? And which
of these relations are a function of the semiotics of theater, and which
are the function of the mythos of the drama? Whoo aren’t these good questions?
And they’re potentially right there in your text, you just have to read
yourself with the same critical rapacity with which we approach the texts
under investigation.

„Coming to one’s senses“ Always
cites the line numbers of any Greek drama. The version on the web that
will provide them is the
. I’m sure you’ve seen the documentation
I‚ve done on it on

Be sure any citation from the text is contextualized
sufficiently too. This line seems lost in the emptiness of the paragraph
it finds itself in. You
seem to equate „coming
to one’s senses“ with realizing the desire. But it looks like it means
returning to a moral code that absolutely rejects the particular manifestation
of desire. Without further context, this is undecidable, which means your
reader cannot follow your

Secondly, your own use of the word „senses“ confuses
things further. „Comes to one’s senses“ means „returning to reason.“ „Senses“
in „desire“ makes „senses“ mean the five senses of the body, and the sensuality
they empower and support. Such sensuality (and the senses that are their
vehicle) are what oppose „reason“! You clearly think so too, as
indicated in the end of that paragraph, but your beginning of this paragraph
is contradictory.

desire creates for itself a sign system.

Be very very careful not to personify
. This renders an argument strictly
The sentences become an intellectual Disneyland –
animistic and
Desire doesn’t „create“ anything „for itself“ – it
has no „self“ – it is an integral and dynamic principle of
, but it isn’t an autonomous entity
or some kind of demi-god.

Following my advice about defining terms and remaining
within those definitions will also help prevent the spontaneous generation
of Disney-worlds too ;-).


we have the remainder of Marti’s text in black type and Earl’s comments
in red.

Phaedra is love sick and begins
her lies by hiding her sorrow

from her husband. She doesn’t however hide it from her nurse whom
she asks

not to mention it [Syntax?]. Soon enough
she [Antecedent?] doesn’t keep her
word and things

spiral downward. Phaedra knows that time is a tool which will reveal

false representations [Mixed metaphor]
when she says, „For time unmasks the villain soon

or late, holding up to them a mirror as to some blooming maid.“ Phaedra

hangs herself leaving a suicide note which enrages Theseus and causes

to take revenge for something that is untrue [You’re
not helping the reader here. What was it that angered Theseus? Her suicide?
The fact that she left a note? The contents of the note? It is true that
she committed suicide, so your statement as it is that it caused „Theseus
to take revenge for something that is untrue“ doesn’t make sense {as you
have it here anyway}].
Here the signifier

desire [Hippolytus
is the object of Phaedra’s desire – he is not the signifier of desire,
and if he were whose desire would he signify? This is a serious confusion,
but it’s so glaring that it’s easier to fix than more subtle ones.]

is Hippolytus and then the signifier evolves [Your
use of „evolve“ is incorrect. What do you mean? I can’t tell.]
Theseus when he

wants to get rid of Hippolytus when really the signified of desire is

Phaedra’s love [What is a „signified of desire“?
That would mean „desire“ itself is a signifier and it has a determinate
signified. How could „desire“ simply be the „signifier“ of Phaedra’s „love“?
And is it really „love“? Phaedra never even spoke with Hippolytus, and
remember he longing is implanted in her by a goddess. „Love“ is at best
a euphemism here, and certainly not the „signified“ of any particularly
important „signifier“ the text operationalizes.].
The letter
is also a signifier of Phaedra’s death [No, no,
no – Phaedra is dead – she doesn’t use the letter to indicate that. She
uses the letter as a murder weapon. Instead of a strictly referential theory
of language here, the letter illustrates a performative use of language.]
when really the signified of her death is her shame. [Let’s
talk about your use of „signifed“ and your implicit use of „signifier“.]

Theseus wants to see Hippolytus dead though he has not even

tested his words [Tested whose words? And what
do you mean by „test“? The sentence doesn’t convey anything.].

Hippolytus, like Phaedra, knows time would reveal his

innocence [Phaedra’s line meant she knew time
would reveal her guilt – not Hippolytus’s innocence, and besides which
if that’s what Hippolytus „knew“ – he was mistaken.]
when he
says to his father, „Oh! What wilt thou do? Wilt thou

banish me, without so much as waiting for Time’s evidence on my

case?“ Racing against time, Hippolytus is dying [A
leap – no one could possibly reconstruct the situation from your summary
here. One minute Hippolytus is arguing with his dad, the next minute he’s
on some game show from the late 1950’s whose cohostest [the „Vanna White“
of the 1950s] nearly became my mother-in-law, succumbing to some undisclosed
ailment like Edmund O’Brien in D.O.A.]

when Phaedra’s lies are

revealed [You mean when her letter is exposed
as a lie – your use of „reveal“ makes it ambiguous.]
not in
time to save Hippolytus‘ life. Though it was
too late to

save his life, Theseus realizes his error and Theseus‘ desire to rid

Hippolytus [„Desire to rid Hippolytus“? To
rid him of what? This is not English.]
is turned to desire for
forgiveness. Here desire makes full

circle and his saved from his son’s wrath [Why
be subject to, or fear in any way, his
son’s wrath? The boy is already dead by then and in any event wasn’t particularly
wrathful.]. But I saved your biggest error for last here to single it out
to make certain that you see its importance. When we speak of „Desire“
with a capital „D“, that concept has NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING
to do with another word unfortunately spelled ‚d-e-s-I-r-e‘ too. That second
word is the one that can refer to particular, personal, and essentially
trivial wants, hankerings, etc. „A desire to X“ or „a desire for x“ – as
in „his desire for his son’s forgiveness“ has nothing to do with the desire
of Phaedra or Antigone. Remember when I had the fit (cybernetically of
course) over seminarians‘ conflating
the „subject“ of „subjectivity“
with the ordinary notion of „subjective“?
That’s an error that decimates any critical understanding of „subject“
at its foundation. The same is true for the conflation of „Desire“ with
„a desire to/for“. We’ll come back to this.

By looking at desire and its sign systems we can see the many

signifiers of each signified in terms of cause. Signifiers have and

or category which can be arranged by definition of cause.We can take

Phaera’s signified of death and Hippolytus‘ signified of death. For

Phaedra the efficient cause is her unattainable desire of her love for

Hippolytus. The essential cause is death caused by Hippolytus who has

polluted Phaedra’s honor. The material cause is the rope she hung herself

with. The teological [spelling]
cause is her shame. For Hippolytus it is more

difficult to classify the causes as they are erroneously bases on Phaedra

and her death causes. The efficient cause is the wrongful punishment

his dishonoring of Phaedra. The efficient cause is the banishing away

him by his father. The material cause is through the steeds that drew

chariot. The teological [spelling]
cause is the shinning light on Phaedra’s desire

for Hippolytus and her shame. In order for truth to be revealed the

of one needed the other. As the carpenter is the efficient cause of

table; Hippolytus’death is the efficient cause of Phaedra’s desire for

him. The misrepresentation of hippolytus is needed to bring about the

correct representation of Phaedra’s desire which was hidden by her death

and misrepresented suicide note.

Note on last paragraph:
Marti – I’m very very pleased that you’re taking
the trouble to integrate the conceptions from one area of our investigation
into another. Here you’re attempting to think through Euripides’s Hippolytus
in terms of Aristotle’s four kinds of aitia. Unfortunately, you don’t have
the distinctions among them quite right. When something in seminar catches
your interest, that’s great, but remember you can’t rely solely on what
was said about it in the introductory remarks I made on it. What you should
do in these cases is to make a note to yourself immediatley about what
struck your interest. And then come see me and ask me more about it and
ask for specific sources for your further investigations into it. I put
a general but somewhat detailed synopsis of the meanings and problems with
the term
[„cause,“ sort of] on our
which I created for
the seminar.
That page also includes a brief bibliography of scholarly works on the
question of „aitia“ and links to some very very helpful web resources on
aitia in particular and on the Aristotlean thought
Thought or Analytcs
in which
aitia is found – particularly the lecture notes and other materials written
and made available by two very energetic and extremely generous classicists:
Professor Cynthia Freeland and Professor S. Marc Cohen. I have other links
to their works on
the paidia

This was very stimulating
and provocative
– I look forward to see what
you do when your research provides you with more precision and focus. This
got me thinking too.




Another thought from Earl:

Nichole and Tony
have been having a conversation
about the vissisitudes of names,
, and what either or both of those two place markers [I
can’t call them those two „things“ for reasons that will be obvious to
those who have been paying attention to Aristotle, Augustine
, and others.] have to do with each other according
to Cratylus,
the White Knight, and now
Augustine. I think they’re starting
to suspect
there’s something about the Knight’s classification
I haven’t told yet, perhaps some hidden
. Now would
I do that
? Click here for a

Spiritu et Littera (On the Spirit and the Letter)

To the Knight’s song

To Technical Difficulty

To the Syllabus

To the Lexicon

To the Elenchus Intervention

To the Glasstown Web

Earl Jackson, Jr.