Thinking about Antigone…


The departmental shows are picked by the students, here. Students and faculty alike make proposals. I’ll be going on about Sophocles tomorrow;over and over again, a move to silence, to aporia –


Per last week: Greek tragedy is argumentative, but not dualistic. Where there is one view, there are extremes of it in other directions until it cedes to an infinite range of possibilities. Between itself and the other (opinion, for example), there are options; between itself and the extent of itself, there are options.


Purgation through pity and terror: we skate over this, but it always bears consideration. Pity and terror are quite different from each other – motions together and apart. By holding them both in the body of a single experience (the tragic experience) we are purged or clean or awake. The function of tragedy is to wake us up to paradox.


Antigone has been received as an opposition of the self against the state, or morality against legislation. Even factoring in the ways Creon persuades us and Antigone annoys us, the conflict is rendered basic. But Greek drama runs in cycles because it’s not circular – breaking down to semi circles – it’s spherical, dividing to hemispheres, the creeping way that day divides the world – shifting and ambiguous lines.


Creon and Antigone require each other, but they’re each stuck in a different kind of no-place. Antigone starts the play outside a wall and ends the play inside a wall, never successfully holding position between walls. Creon has all the power in the room, but is unable to exercise it – he is ineffective in every attempt to influence outcome according to his desires.


Deprived of effective political and moral action in a heroic sense (action that is timely, transformative and enduring), Creon and Antigone are left with paranoia, rumor, and conspiracy, exercised in the sphere of language. Bonnie Honig suggests that this is intense melodrama – more internal and heated than simple plotting. Good and evil are at work within each other; both are suspect. Her descriptions therefore suggest noir in particular – the battle of grays.


Where the Bacchae is a problem of competing hedonisms in the arena of the psyche, Antigone is a problem of integrity (holding anything together) in public space. The world is public; our privacy cheats, steals and lies to survive, and who can blame it?


The play is also a confluence of genres, again in Honig’s view (and I’d want to work with her). Greek drama is stylized, but we don’t know the style; Antigone, so much about articulation, is well set up as an exploration of genre.

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