The Unholy Triad

The unholy triad of the subject's existence, according to Butler: the relation of the law to one's conscience to one's guilt. The subject, or the individual, is placed within society with these three forces acting upon his/her every move. "Social existence, existence as subject, can be purchased only through guilty embrace of the law, where guilt guarantees the intervention of the law and, hence, the continuation of the subject's existence." (112) We rely on the power of the law to solidify our existence within society. This belief seems to be the same saying we forfeit some of our rights and liberties for the protection of the State. Society only exists after a law has been laid out and enforcement mechanism, interpellation, has been introduced. Society then continues its existence by bowing to the laws. (Butler makes this relationship sound like the end of the world; the underlining connotation of her work is that it could, or should, be different. I don't know if I am reading into it, but that's the feeling I had from reading it.) But why do we bow to the words of the law?

"Conscience is fundamental to the production and regulation of the citizen subject, for conscience turns the individual around, makes him/her available to the subjectivating reprimand." (115) O yes, our guilty conscience makes us obey the law. We place the rule of the law on a pedestal because it has been granted to us from the "other". We therefore feel obligated to obey. But is guilt the real reason we obey the law? I follow the law for fear of what happens if I don't follow the law, not because I feel guilty all the time and that prevents me from acting. My conscience only plays into my actions post facto and then in a limited sense. Guilt is not the feeling that controls my actions and I don't think any feeling actually controls my actions…

I think that Butler, and other psychoanalysts and postmodernists alike, would ask you to think of your actions and reactions coming not so much out of a familiar conscious-level 'feeling' but instead from the ways in which you, and I, and everyone else, have been 'subjected' in ways that shape us levels that defy simplistic emotion. In other words, the 'guilt' of which Butler speaks may not be something that we actively carry with us as a conscious stress, but is embedded into psyche. This seems the crux of her project, to have examine the ways in which our psyche's have been molded (and to what effect) by the subjugation of power. This is no way at odds with the sense of guilt you might feel if, say, you stole something from the Coop Store (or maybe you wouldn't feel guilty about that, I dunno) but that the ways in which your guilt with regard to the law functions may have been working within us since long before we could formulate words and identify emotions.