I Joan, a play which opened at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London last month, shows Joan of Arc as a legendary leader who uses the pronouns, they/ them. Lest it be criticised for historical inaccuracy, the theatre was proactive in affixing a special note by its artistic director: “Theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’. Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible. […] History has provided countless and wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman. This production is simply offering the possibility of another point of view. That is the role of theatre: to simply ask the question ‘imagine if?’[1] Exculpated from any criticism on a retelling of the history which would not be heteronormative and cisnormative as it has always been[2], I Joan downplays the political and religious themes of medieval France only to magnify the dimension of ‘gender identity’ and what are presented as definitive implications via a melange of past and present: “Truth is, trans people are sacred and queerness is magic, pure magic! We are beautiful, and powerful, and for that we are killed. The violence is real. You know how my story ends.”

We can read in the play the attempt at extrapolating today’s signifiers to history: “It seems obvious to me that Joan was what we now call non-binary”, the play’s writer states, adding that her goal is to “enjoy this expansion of understanding” through recourse to this famous historical figure.[3] And why not. Yet psychoanalysis–through its dimensions of real, symbolic and imaginary–gives us the tools to go further. Reducing or cancelling the dimension of time in its historical reality, removing it from its context, ignoring the discourse and language of the time, implies that time is divested of its quality as real.[4] Time without the real also implies it is without the speaking body insofar as time as real is inscribed on the body, it has a mark on the speaking body.[5] A cut between the body and speaking is thus effectuated, an unmooring which denies the unconscious and leaves one to be defined by their biological corporeality[6]. In Joan’s words: “I hate the body that I’m in […] There is nothing wrong with being a girl. Except when you are not; then everything is war […] My body knows before I do, I’ve got power.”

Time without the real indeed has an ‘imagine if’ quality, it is imaginarized time with no history and no memory, which impedes access to the symbolic; it is time eternally in the present.[7] In fact, in addressing the court of law, I, Joan say [sic]: “Prevaricators of divine law: Enough of your words! You’ve spoken so many words. […] Whose definitions, whose words? Dictionaries have a hard time trying to define me. I’m nowhere, I’m everywhere. All the words yet none of them fit. Your words are SHIT. Consistently, repetitively, disappointingly shit; pathetic attempts to create certainty while it’s all fluid, dripping down on the sides of your binarism…We say fuck you to patriarchy, fuck you to historical accuracy, fuck you to the male gaze.”

At the backdrop of a soaring imaginary both the demise of the Father and of the Name are evoked, but also the structural inadequacy in finding one’s identity in language insofar as there is always a lack in being as attested to by the bar in the subject and in the Other. And as Jacques-Alain Miller underlined, there is a revolt not only against the body but the signifier itself. [8] I, Joan continue [sic]: “woman is not the right word for me and yet there’s not a word. I’m wordless and it’s lonely not having language.”

Refusing to question their own sayings is a refusal of an unconscious which would be situated “at the very juncture of this irreconcilable space between the signifier and the body, producing a radical mismatch, intrinsic to each subject” but which would allow a “making do with the speaking body.”[9]  Could we say that I Joan have recourse to new signifiers to define their being instead, in terms that work best for them? : “I’m not a woman, I’m a fucking warrior”, “I’m fucking poetry.”

[1] Terry, M., Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, on Identity in I, Joan. Available Online: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/identity-in-i-joan

[2] Necati, Y., “Rewriting History, an Ode to Queer Retellings” in I, Joan: Programme. Available at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

[3] Josephine, C., “A Note on the Text in I, Joan: Programme, Op.cit.

[4] See Brousse, M.-H. (2022) “Presentation of Chapter XI: The Rat in the Maze,” in Reading Lacan’s Seminar XX, online seminar series organised by the London Society of the New Lacanian School, 27 March 2022, unpublished.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See this point developed by Marie-Hélène Brousse in conversation with Laurent Dupont. “Modes of Sex: Interview with Marie-Hélène Brousse”. Lacan Web Television (with English subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM2Ogcq3CaU

[7] During the recent WAP congress, Woman does not exist, 1/4/22. Jacques-Alain Miller referred to the Woke aspiration for justice as a process that makes the past disappear in favour of the present as a tendency towards an endless present. Everything is present

[8] Commentary by Jacques-Alain Miller during UFORCA, 18 June 2022.

[9] Dupont, L. Eight Points on ‘The Trans Issue’, LRO 352, Available Online: https://www.thelacanianreviews.com/eight-points-on-the-trans-issue/