Repetition, a pillar of psychoanalysis | Sunday Observer
Behind the Mask

Repetition, a pillar of psychoanalysis

22 August, 2021

At first glance, Death in an Antique Shop is an extension of Ashoka Handagama’s film Aksharaya. When parts of the film are showed, the same thing happens on stage. Handagama opted for this repetition as the form of his play. Psychoanalysis identifies this as repetitive compulsion.

Repetition is one of the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis as described by Lacan.

That is, the same thing happens again and again and eventually, the subject finds himself. It is no coincidence that in works of art, repetition occurs during this time or at any other time. Repetition was the form in novels such as Eric Ilayap Arachchi’s Petha, Ariyarathana Athugala’s Saho.


What is important in post-modern society is not the symptom. In Freud’s time, when a man realised that he had a mental illness, he turned to a psychiatrist. But today there is a society that enjoys the symptom. We identify it as sinthome. The sinthome of contemporary society is this repetition.

The theme of the play ‘Death in an Antique Shop’ is the release of a young man who accidentally kills his mother and returns to society.

The play becomes a perfect creation through the sinthome that builds up beneath this central event. This is a perfect production because it manoeuvers dialogue, acting and music. But its tensile strength comes from that sinthome. This builds the link between alternative narrative potentials and the sinthome.

The question now is what sinthome is. As Lacan outlines in Seminar: XXIII, Le Sinthome and as articulated the same by Ehsan Azari in Lacan and the Destiny of Literature, there is a radical distinction and antinomy between desire and the sinthome.

Desire insists an appropriating and re-appropriating the fundamental gap in being, whereas sinthome brings up all the joys of the unconscious with the mediation of literature and art.

This means that the subject identifies through his symptom and sinthome becomes a cure and a blessing in which the drives and their immediate goals come into a play within which the subject and his or her unconscious are the main players. This identification of one’s symptom enables the subject to create his own way of enjoying the unconscious.

A widow for one year

Slavoj Zizek locates an instance to illustrate the sinthome. Accordingly, on the very first page of John Irvin’s A Widow for One Year, Ruth, an eight year old girl, surprises her mother Marion in bed with her young lover Johnnie.

The words used by Marion to calm her down (“Don’t cry Ruth. It’s just me and Johnnie”) are repeated verbatim more than 30 years later, when Johnnie and Marion, reunited after not seeing each other for all this time, visit the surprised Ruth, who again starts crying.

This phrase is a kind of sinthome that insists and waits to be repeated. Here Zizek suggests a subtitle for A Widow for One Year could have been as “the story of how a certain phrase, pronounced by Miss Marion in an embarrassing situation, had to wait for 30 years to be repeated in front of the same persons in more respectable circumstances”

We live in a society which is identified as cynical. That is, knowingly tolerating the mistakes of the other.

That is how contemporary ideological society is constituted. Its form is repetition. Not even the Slavs Zizek can escape this repetition.

It is not difficult for one who scrutinises his writings to find out how much he has said the same thing. No one can escape the repetition of today’s ideological society

A similar repetition can be seen in the play Death in an Antique Shop. Father’s impotence in the movie Aksharaya extends to the son’s impotence in the play Death in an Antique Shop.

In the film, Joseph, the museum’s watchman, is speared by its heroin.

The play ends with Joseph throwing a spear at the audience. Hegel said that history necessarily repeats itself.

Marx in Eighteenth Brumaire corrects Hegel as follows: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

If stabbing his mother to death in the movie is a tragedy, killing his girlfriend in the play is a farce. It is a farce because in a society where cynicism has become an ideology, there is no such thing as tragedy.


What is the economic logic of the play in such a formative context? In the film, the museum watchman is transformed into an antique merchant in the play. It is true that the economy of this age has become cultural.

At first glance, this antique shop is located on the ground floor and their (a) cultural home is on the top floor.

Downstairs cultural trade, according to early Max, was infrastructure.Sexual harassment, adultery, impotence, the existence of an obscene life, or rather the superstructure is at the top.

It is also subject to the change in time and space. This is how the economic base, or infrastructure, of today, affects the superstructure.

This metaphorical expression came to the cinema in the same way in Prasanna Vithanage’s film Oba Nethuwa Oba Ekka. Downstairs was a pawn shop, upstairs was their cultural life.

I will end this reading with psychoanalysis itself which teaches us an important lesson. That is to say, the most valuable thing in life is to say that it is a lot of rubbish.