Ethics of the Real in the Seven Kingdoms: Who is the Other of “the Others” and is Daenerys Targaryen a transgender woman? — Marie Bendtsen

egg1

(Spoiler alert: You might want to watch Game of Thrones before reading this)

Let us begin by addressing question nr. 2. With a poetic twist, we could make the following claim: the Khal becomes the Khaleesi when the woman rises from the ashes of the man’s flesh, and the woman who walked out from the remnants of the pyre is a new subject. She is, as a subject, born from inside of him, and only because of the gradual subjective destitution, he is “subject to”.

Before this subjectivizing Act, both figures (Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo), are pre-Oedipal subjects, dividing the characteristics of nightmarish anxiety, incestuous inseparation and animalistic excess between them. Remember that the Khal’s people are notorious for their excessive customs; a “Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed a dull affair”.

Steel bit into flesh just above the Dothrai’s waist, and opened him from backbone to belly button, spilling his entrails into the dust. As the loser died, the winner took hold of the nearest woman—not even the one they had been quarreling over—and had her there and then. Slaves carried off the body, and the dancing resumed. (Martin, 1996, pp. 124-125)

The Khal falling in love with this foreign, anxious girl thus cannot but seem remarkably curious. Why is this powerful barbarian king falling (in the strong sense of the word) for her, the way he is? I believe it is because of what Lacan called the forced choice of subjectivity.

egg2

The dragon eggs are metaphors of this destiny, this necessity, symbolising all the terror that comes with subjectivity proper. As the “mother of dragons”, Daenerys is guilty for all the terror she brings, yet they “Will have been born”; the pre-Oedipal subject must give up its undead way of life. Why? Because it “lacks the lack itself” – and of course, this happens through a “miraculous” love affair, that, in the end, kills the Khal, so that the Khaleesi can rise and take the lead.

I believe this formula tells perfectly, what’s at stake with transgender people. When conservatives invalidate transgender people or homosexuals by calling their sexuality or identity “a choice”, they’re not fascist for simply deeming it as such but because they’re implying that one could and should choose otherwise. The fascist (and perverse) dimension lies in the repression of the question of the subject’s own desire, with reference to “the natural way” or some predefined formula of moral Law.

The story at hand reminds us that there is no big Other or, more precisely, that the Other of the Other is the subject itself. The chaotic-miraculous birth of dragons implies a terrifying excess to the Other; i.e. the limits of the Natural ways, which can be symbolically formulated in the Other’s shadow by subjects-supposed-to-know, e.g. the “secular” maesters of the Citadel, to whom the dragons makes little sense. Yet even these marvelous, magical beasts can be killed or even “turned” by those the author calls, in the books, “the Others” (by TV fame “the White Walkers” lead by the Night King). As such, the destiny of the Seven Kingdoms isn’t simply death, “we live until we die”, but a terrifying “undeath” brought by a (barred) Other, that itself desires, or needs subjects – their bodies. Even the Other desires something, yet this “something” implies but a “stupid” repetition of a mindless jouissance, that would eventually leave the Night King alone with an endless horde of brainless, walking bodies; i.e. a destiny that cannot but appear as a stupid destiny, or precisely an antithesis to destiny, being a form of sense, as such. The Other cannot account for it, destiny, without “its” Other; the subject.

Daenerys reveals this gap in the big Other: it does not know. There is no Destiny. Her destiny is not fulfilled by her claim to the iron throne alone (a folly that had her brother killed). Her miraculous “choice” of birth(-giving) gave her subjectivity, but then nothing but a series of new choices to make, each one making her more guilty than the last. One cannot, however, invalidate her for choosing her own becoming, i.e. for acting in accordance with her desire, (the moral law of psychoanalysis/ethics of the Real). Exactly the same can be said about any transgender subject-to-be. Both instances, i.e. the mother of dragons and, say, the mother with a penis, cannot but appear tremendously excessive to the everyday eye, yet they both imply a “pure death drive”, that must be accepted in order to break the superego bond that binds the community. As Alenka Zupančič (2000) argues, true evil is always internal to the symbolic order, from which evil is always imagined i.e. given in the form of an image, that serves to protect the community from “excessive” Acts, since such could threaten its way of life (ideology). Let us read a lengthy quote:

It is a matter of acknowledging the fact that any (ethical) act, precisely in so far as it is an act, is necessarily ‘evil’. We must specify, however, what is meant here by ‘evil’. This is the evil that belongs to the very structure of the act, to the fact that the latter always implies a ‘transgression’, a change in ‘what is’. It is not a matter of some ’empirical’ evil, it is the very logic of the act which is denounced as ‘radically evil’ in every ideology. The fundamental ideological gesture consists in providing an image for this structural ‘evil’. The gap opened by an act (i.e. the unfamiliar, ‘out-of-place’ effect of an act) is immediately linked in this ideological gesture to an image. As a rule this is an image of suffering, which is then displayed to the public alongside this question: Is this what you want? And this question already implies the answer. It would be impossible, inhuman, for you to want this! Here we have to insist on theoretical rigour, and separate this (usually fascinating) image exhibited by ideology from the real source of uneasiness – from the ‘evil’ which is not an ‘undesired’, ‘secondary’ effect of the good but belongs, on the contrary, to its essence (p. 95).

Note how trans people, who have not yet found out about themselves and their true gender, are popularly (among each other) called “eggs”. Yet, of course, it makes little sense to deem someone who doesn’t know they’re trans as trans tout court. Their “true gender” isn’t hidden within; it is, if it wills it, properly “latent”. And, as we saw it in the case of Khal Drogo, it wills. He, or she, has unconsciously chosen to give themself over to another subjectivity, which takes their place in spirit and flesh. (Yet not symbolically. A symbolically “excessive” subject’s process of gaining ground in the symbolic is a task that jeopardizes the current order [“do we have to rethink our traditional conceptions of man and woman?”]. In the case of Daenerys, her symbolic institution poses a challenge to, among other things, the slaver’s oligarchy). In both cases destiny is “there”, Real, yet at the same time absolutely contingent, reliant on a succession of precise, particular events. As such, latent trans people aren’t simply eggs but “dragon eggs”: unaccountable for, “un-Natural” and out-of-this-world, and, at the same time: the “eons have turned them into stone” (Martin, 1996, p. 176); they’re solid rock, dead to the core. These egg-shaped rocks are only made eggs retroactively because of contingencies, which in turn makes them fertile and thus their hatching—a certain subjectivation—a necessity.

Marie Boesgaard Bendtsen is a psychology student from Aalborg, Denmark. Self-taught in theoretical psychoanalysis through primarily Žižek and Zupančič.

References:

Martin, G. R. R (1996) A Game of Thrones.

Zupančič, A (2000) Ethics of the Real. London: Verso

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