of the Tragic:
for Critical Theory
The glossary explores what persists and what remains from the textual, epistemic, aesthetic, and political legacy of “Antigone” at the present historical moment with regard to pursuits of dissent, agonism, democracy, egalitarianism, and revolt. Each lexical entry invokes a single concept related to “Antigone,” while questioning conventional assumptions about the tragic and its implications for contemporary critical theory. The entries encourage us to ask whether there can be another way of performing a glossary, beyond definitional finality and cathartic closure.
Editors: Athena Athanasiou and Elena Tzelepis
Curating and editorial assistance: Alkisti Efthymiou
There are 25 terms in directory.
There are 0 terms under the letter M.
by Marios Chatziprokopiou
ἡ παῖς ὁρᾶται κἀνακωκύει πικρᾶς
ὄρνιθος ὀξὺν φθόγγον
perhaps you know that Ingeborg Bachmann poem
from the last years of her life that begins
‘I lose my screams’
I take it as the task of the translator
to forbid you should ever lose your screams
Anne Carson, “The Task of the Translator of Antigone”
Because there’s the right to scream
So I scream
Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star
“Why does He give light to the suffering?” asks Job in the Old Testament (Scholem, “Job’s Lament” 321). Departing from his own practice of translating Jewish laments (kinah), Gershom Scholem notes that “[l]anguage in the state of lament annihilates itself, and the language of lament is itself, for that very reason, the language of annihilation” (“On Lament and Lamentation” 314). This “language of the border, and on the border itself” (313) is not a dialogue. In it, “each word negates itself and sinks back into the infinity of silence” (318). Beginning with the plaintive “how” or “why” (eikhah), its recurrently interrogative form “is not posed in order to receive a response” (“Job’s Lament” 321). “Why did I not emerge dead from the womb?” Job asks again (325). Yet, “[t]here is no answer to lamentation but silence” (Weigel 194). The only one who could respond to this is “God himself” (Scholem, “On Lament and Lamentation” 316).
This language of, and on, the border operates at the borders of meaning: the repetition of the plaintive “how” or “why” is echoed by the recurrent rhyme ayikh (Scholem, “A Medieval Lamentation” 337-8), “a rhyme resting on a phonetic relationship with the canonic word of lamentation eikhah” (Weigel 197). As Galit Hasan Rokem observes, the vocal materiality of ayikh “interestingly parallels the aiaî (αἰαῖ),” the mourning scream of ancient Greek tragedy, “pointed out by Nicole Loraux” (qtd. in Hasan-Rokem 42). Focusing on “the sound of the cry” of Greek tragedy, Loraux stretched the importance of the tragic interjection aiaî (αἰαῖ), often translated into English as “alas,” and juxtaposed it to aeì (ἀεί), the temporal adverb that means “ever.” As Loraux showed, aeì refers to the political sphere manifested through articulated discourse (lógos); to the city, democracy, and eternity; in contrast, aiaî, the interjection, marks what she calls the “anti-political” voice of the tragedy (phōnē). Lying beyond language as a purely aural signifier, this is “another language of lamentation” (60); a language of, and on, the border; impossible to translate.
Ὦ (Oh): beginning with an interjection, often omitted in translation, Antigone addresses her “sister bound by blood” (κοινὸν αὐτάδελφον, Ant. 1),I use Oliver Taplin’s translation throughout. inviting her “to help these hands of mine to lift the corpse” (εἰ τὸν νεκρὸν ξὺν τῇδε κουφιεῖς χερί, Ant. 45). Lifting the dead from battleground was not women’s job in ancient Greece, so Antigone does not only break Creon’s decree but also conventional gender boundaries (Karakantza 17-20). In an attempt of fusion with her sister, Antigone invokes their common afflictions speaking in the dual number. Yet, after Ismene’s refusal to collaborate—“you’re in love with what’s not possible” (ἀλλ᾽ ἀμηχάνων ἐρᾷς, Ant. 90); “you should not start to chase what can’t be done” (θηρᾶν οὐ πρέπει τἀμήχανα, Ant. 92)—“Antigone will not again resort to any dual forms” (Steiner 210). Twisting to the singular mode, Antigone will even grammatically enter in the realm of loneliness.
If laments in the Greek tradition have been analyzed as antiphonal and communicative events, as acts of women’s solidarity and social protest (Alexiou; Caraveli-Chaves, “Bridge between worlds”; Auerbach; Seremetakis; Holst-Warhaft; Loraux), Antigone’s isolation urges us to reflect on lament’s failure to build a community: lament not only as a “bridge between worlds” (Caraveli-Chaves), but also as the collapse, or even the impossibility of it. Already in Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone ignores the exact location of her father’s grave. Yet, as Derrida and Dufourmantelle suggest, “without a fixed (arrêté) place, without a determinable topos, mourning is not allowed” (111). Antigone therefore “weeps at being deprived of a normal mourning,” she “weeps for her mourning, if that is possible” (111).
In the play bearing her name, the topos of her brother’s corpse is known yet forbidden, expelled from the polis. Antigone’s lament is now heard in the wildness: “She was lamenting shrilly, like the screeching/ of a bird that finds its nest is empty, chicks all gone” (κἀνακωκύει πικρᾶς/ ὄρνιθος ὀξὺν φθόγγον, ὡς ὅταν κενῆς/ εὐνῆς νεοσσῶν ὀρφανὸν βλέψῃ λέχος, Αντ. 424-6). Used by Penelope in Odyssey (19.541) and Xerxes in Aeschylus’ Persians (468), the verb κἀνακωκύω bears the meaning of the shrill lamenting cry, the scream of suffering (Stampoulou 173). Displaced from the stage, Antigone’s lament is framed in the narrative of the Guard in verses 417-425, which Steiner considered “untranslatable” (223). In Carl Orff’s opera Antigonae, the male singer reaches the highest pitch at this point, almost becoming, in a breach of his narrative, the voice of Antigone. Listen to minutes 46:00-47:00:
Perceived as less than human, Antigone’s shrill cry also implicitly relates to the nightingale, the archetype of lamenters, to which mourning women such as Penelope, Electra, or Cassandra compare themselves (e.g. Odyssey 19.518; Sophocles’ Electra 147-52, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon 1140-5; see also Nagy; Weiss; Suksi). In Euripides’ Phoenissae (1515-8), Antigone calls upon the nightingale to come and help her sing her lament, as she prepares for a life of endless tears. Resonating in the wildness, as the dust clears up, her lament is a language of, and on, the border: between the human and the animal, between nature and culture, troubling the rationality of the male-dominated polis. In Steiner’s words,
Antigone’s shrill lament voices instincts and values, older, less rational than man and mans’ discourse. Can the polis, built as it is on essential delimitations between the human and the animal spheres, fundamentally committed as it is to articulate speech, contain, give adequate echo to, such cries? (226-7)
I take it as the task of the translator
to forbid you should ever lose your screams
Anne Carson, “The Task of the Translator of Antigone”
Entering the public sphere of dialogue, confronted with the State, Antigone skillfully uses logos, articulate speech, to the extent that she provokes masculinity anxieties to Creon and his son (his final agon with Aemon is indicative in this regard). Dissonant to her sister’s reminder that “we are born as women” (γυναῖχ᾽ ὅτι/ ἔφυμεν, Αντ. 60-1), Antigone shows herself once again in tune with her very name anti-gone: against birth and against generation (Butler), but also against essentialist assumptions over women’s “natural” powerlessness. Speaking in public, she undoes the imposture of female silence, first posited by Sophocles in Ajax “silence brings an adornment for a woman” (γυναιξὶ κόσμον ἡ σιγὴ φέρει, Αἴας 294, my trans.), and quoted by Aristotle in his Politics (Pol I 13, 1260a28-31, a30-1; see also Cavarero). Yet, although Antigone defends her right to lament through logos, when it comes to her own lament, she fails to build an aural community.
In her final appearance in the kommos, Antigone calls again to a union in mourning. In sharp contrast with similar scenes from other tragedies, where the lead mourner’s pain is shared by the chorus’s response, Sophocles stages, as Rosa Andújar has shown, a moment of “broken antiphony in which the chorus either participates only partially in, or simply does not contribute to, the lament” (208). Tearful in the beginning, the elderly representatives of the polis show themselves judgmental, or even ironic, “far from consolatory or compassionate” (210), and reticent to join the young girl’s lament. If lament is in Attic tragedy a collaborative, dialogical process that subsumes the validation and response of others, Sophocles here “reveals the necessity of this collaboration precisely by staging the results of its failure” (215). Antigone’s gradual isolation leads to the paradox of her self-lament. Cut out of the civic community (not stoned in public, as was Creon’s initial decree), expelled outside the borders of the city, buried alive in a “rocky cell,” she becomes the liminal figure of a metoikos, a stranger in manifold ways: between the polis and its enemies, the public and the private, but also between the alive and the dead.
Beginning her self-lament, Antigone reflects on the mythological figure of Niobe, who was petrified by divine punishment; consumed, melted by her grief. The Greek word is τακομέναν: (Αντ. 828), from the verb τήκομαι: to melt, to perish out of psychic pain (Stampoulou 207); a verb synonymous with the modern Greek liônô, “an expressive metaphor for the burning pain of crying and tears” (Dunham), frequently used for women in both epic and tragedy. This mythical parallel connects Antigone to a long genealogy of female lamenting figures who get consumed by their grief. “[S]toniness, voicelessness, and tears” (Gentilcore 101) are the three main characteristics of mourning women’s transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Lamenting for their brother Phaethon, the Heliades become poplar trees; the sun transforms their tears into amber. Myrrh’s origin is Myrrha’s tears for her father-lover while, mourning her unattended love for her own brother, Byblis becomes a fountain, “consumed by her own tears” (lacrimis consumpta suis, Metamorphoses 9.663), “a vein of tears that would never dry” (Gentilcore 104). Women’s permanent sorrow becomes “a feature of the physical landscape” (94).
“[I]n becoming a part of the physical landscape” like petrified Niobe, women’s permanent sorrow described by Ovid “is a potent representation of women’s powerlessness” (115-6). In contrast, though, with the perpetual posthuman mourning of those figures, mortal Antigone in her living tomb chooses to commit suicide, recurring to the ultimate agency of deciding upon her own life. Rereading Walter Benjamin’s “The Origin of German Tragic Drama” together with Franz Rosenzweig’s “The Star of Redemption,” Georges Didi-Huberman reflects on Antigone’s silence in the crypt, her “defeated position, condemned to death” as not “empty or neutral, weak or impotent” but, in Benjamin’s terms, as “a silence gifted with an accent (akzent),” “powerful as a scream in its very powerlessness” (Huberman 250-1, my trans.). This silence is another “language of the act,” a different “grammar of pathos” (Rosenzweig qtd. in Huberman 320). Its echoes can be thought through contemporary activist practices such as those of The Women in Black which, as Athena Athanasiou has shown, re-appropriate women’s deprivation of speech in the Mediterranean, creating “potentials of disquieting silence” (“Undoing language” 221), uttering other languages of “agonistic mourning” (Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning). Silence is not the opposite of voice. Confined in the stone, Antigone’s lament continues shrill. Her body does not melt into the landscape; it stays hung inside the crypt. We can even imagine the sound of it, reaping the air, suspended.
perhaps you know that Ingeborg Bachmann poem
from the last years of her life that begins
‘I lose my screams’
Anne Carson, “The Task of the Translator of Antigone”
In The Hour of the Star, her final book published in her lifetime, Jewish-Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector gave thirteen alternative titles. Among them: “The right to scream”; “A sense of loss”; “Cheap tearjerker”; “She doesn’t know how to scream.” Could this book be read as a postwar lament for “an innocence that’s been trampled upon, an anonymous misery” (Lispector Interview)? Through the persona of a fictional writer, Clarice creates Maccabea: a girl “so poor that all she eats is hotdogs”; a being deprived of everything, beyond consciousness and language; “ultrasonic of life.” Death is the only and ultimate “hour of the star” of this deprived life, which “inclined towards the great uncontrollable weeping like rain and lighting.” When at the end she gets crushed by a huge Mercedes, lying moribund on the ground, the writer shows himself willing yet unable to help her. He asks the readers to pray for her salvation. Lament. No answer.
Death, his “favorite character in this story” (Lispector The Hour of the Star) appears again—bringing in mind Ann Carson’s “Nick of time”—: “a thin man in a ragged jacket […] playing the fiddle on the street corner.” Unheard by a distant, non-responsive God, Maccabea lies hopeless on the ground; “[l]ike a hen with a half-severed neck running terrified dripping blood.” Yet, “the hen flees—as you flee pain—in panicked clucks. And Maccabea was struggling”; not silent, but “mute” (emphasis added). Her silence as “a language of the act,” “powerful as a scream in its very powerlessness,” in Didi-Huberman’s terms, is nonetheless somehow given as a promise: “despite everything, she belonged to a stubborn race of dwarves that one day might reclaim the right to scream”; “.As for the future.” which, with this punctuation, is another title for the book. Yet, for the moment, echoing the recurrent interrogations of Jewish laments, the writer’s question remains without response, in broken antiphony:
“I ask my self is every story that has ever been written in this world a story of suffering?”
Andújar, Rosa. “Of Not Managing Mourning: The Reticent Chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone.” NEARCO: Revista Eletrônica de Antiguidade, vol. 10, no. 2, 2018, pp. 207-26.
Alexiou, Margaret. The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 1974.
Athanasiou, Athena. “Undoing language: Gender dissent and the disquiet of silence.” Language and Sexuality (Through and) Beyond Gender, edited by Costas Canakis et al., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, pp. 219-46.
—. Agonistic Mourning: Political Dissidence and the Women in Black. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
Auerbach, Susan. “From Singing to Lamenting: Women’s Musical Role in a Greek Village.” Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Elen Koskoff, University of Illinois Press, 1989, pp. 25-44.
Benjamin, Walter. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Translated by John Osborne, Verso 1998.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2002.
Caraveli-Chaves, Anna. “Bridge between worlds: The Greek women’s lament as communicative event.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 93, no. 368, 1980, pp. 129-57.
Carson, Anne. “The Task of the Translator of Antigone.” Antigonick, New Directions, 2012.
Cavarero, Adriana. For More than One Voice. Stanford University Press, 2005.
Derrida, Jacques, and Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality. Translated by R. Bowlby, Stanford University Press, 2000.
Didi-Huberman, Georges. Ninfa Dolorosa: Essai sur la mémoire d’un geste. Gallimard, 2019.
Dunham, Olivia. “Private Speech, Public Pain: The Power of Women’s Laments in Ancient Greek Poetry and Tragedy.” Criss-Cross, vol. 1, no. 1, art. 2, https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/crisscross/vol1/iss1/2/.
Gentilcore, Roxanne M. “The Transformation of Grief in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.” Syllecta Classica, vol. 21, 2010, pp. 93-118.
Hasan-Rokem, Galit. “Bodies Performing in Ruins: The Lamenting Mother in Ancient Hebrew Texts.” Lament in Jewish Thought. Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, de Gruyter, 2014, pp. 33-64.
Holst-Warhaft, Gail. Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature. Routledge, 1992.
Karakantza, Efimia. Antigone. Routledge, 2023.
Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. Translated by Benjamin Moser, New Directions, 2011.
—. Interview by TV Cultura in São Paulo, February 1977. YouTube, uploaded by Penguin Books UK, 24 January 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1zwGLBpULs.
Loraux, Nicole. The Mourning Voice. An Essay on Greek Tragedy. Translated by Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings, Cornell University Press, 2002.
Nagy, Gregory. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Orff, Carl. Antigonae, 1949.
Rosenzweig, Franz. The Star of Redemption. Translated by Barbara E. Galli, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Scholem, Gershom. “On Lament and Lamentation.” Lament in Jewish Thought. Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, de Gruyter, 2014, pp. 313-19.
—. “Job’s Lament.” Lament in Jewish Thought. Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, de Gruyter, 2014, 321-27.
—. “A Medieval Lamentation.” Lament in Jewish Thought. Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, de Gruyter, 2014, 337-8.
Seremetakis, Nadia C. The Last Word: Women, Death and Divination in Inner Mani. University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Sophocles. Antigone and Other Tragedies. Translated by Oliver Taplin, Oxford University Press, 2020.
Stampoulou, Symeon. Selides gia tin Antigoni [Pages on Antigone]. Gutenberg, 2017.
Steiner, George. Antigones. How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought. Yale University Press, 1996.
Suksi, Aara. “The Poet at Colonus: Nightingales in Sophocles.” Mnemosyne, vol. 54, fasc. 6, December 2001, pp. 646-58.
Weigel, Sigrid. “The Role of Lamentation for Scholem’s Theory of Poetry and Language.” Lament in Jewish Thought. Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, de Gruyter, 2014, pp. 185-203.
Weiss, Naomi. “Noise, Music, Speech: The Representation of Lament in Greek Tragedy.” American Journal of Philology, vol. 138, no. 2 (Whole Number 550), Summer 2017, pp. 243-66.
Marios Chatziprokopiou is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies and Writing at the University of Thessaly, Greece. His research and publications focus on performances of migration and refugeeness, contemporary re-readings of ancient drama, performances of gender and sexuality, and ritual performances of lament. He has presented performance and lecture performances in collaboration with several institutions internationally (Spinnerei/ Leipzig, Mouvoir Tanztheater/ Cologne, Oxford University, Perform 1/ São Paolo, University of London, Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens Biennale, Athens and Epidaurus Festival etc.). He has translated four books by Clarice Lispector into Modern Greek. His first poetry book Local Tropics (2019) explores issues of queer mourning and desire in relation to oral poetic traditions, and it has been shortlisted for the State Literary Award for Best Poetry.
|↑1||I use Oliver Taplin’s translation throughout.|
by Ioannis Tsioulakis
Collect; break it down; synthesize and lay it out. Improvisation is about taming material, some yours, some others’, echoing from the past and propelled towards an uncontingent future. As an anthropological concept, it helps us understand the more untapped strategies of the human mind, as a “hotbed of tactical and relational improvisation” (Ingold and Hallam 9). Yet, the malleability of improvisation as a term makes it elusive, uneven, even risky. Drawing on long practice in music and research among precarious musicians, here I want to lay out two visions of improvisation, connected to creativity and control.
It’s exciting. Overwhelming. You get wrapped in the timbres and pulses, swirl in their unforseeability of which you are, somehow, part. You take pleasure in the serendipitous successes and cringe at the mishaps, bidding them both farewell, unsure whether you will ever hear/see/sense those moments again. Improvisation in creative practice is a play with material, repertories, and techniques, never entirely owned or ownable. It (re)arranges only to scatter them again, orders them only to accept their disobedience. Be it as anarchic as Ornette Coleman’s free jazz (Hersch) or as premeditated as ṭhumrī vocal performances in North Indian Classical Music (Alaghband-Zadeh), improvised creativity eternally swings between poles of freedom and constraint. In children’s play, from Aboriginal Australia (Magowan) to Black America (Gaunt), improvisation is where the social becomes embodied in rhythm, voice, and movement, eventually turning into cultural habitus. In visual arts, it becomes entangled in debates of ethics and ownership complicated by global transit (Svasek). In comedy, it stages the spontaneous only to conceal the rule-governed (Keisalo).
Whatever shape it might assume, improvisation is as common as it is exceptional. It births, maintains, and demolishes assemblages of creative units, only to start again from scratch. But it is not creativity ex nihilo; it builds on vocabularies that require skill and command, what Kayla Rush terms “riff capital.” However, from art to everyday behavior, the open-ended potentials that it fosters carry glimpses of utopia, imaginings of agency, freedom, and possibility. Improvisation, then, can be a tool of deliverance and of “presentism,” which, as Isabell Lorey reminds us, entails “the capacity to lose control and let go: to wander around, to risk the incalculable, unforeseeable, that which cannot be anticipated” (190).
Musical interlude 1: “Freshair”
Freshair is an electroacoustic musical collaboration between Hadi Bastani, Rojin Sharafi, and Anna Linardou. The piece is a side product of an article entitled “Musical careers in constant crises: An asynchronous dialogue from Tehran to Athens, via Belfast and Vienna,” co-authored by Bastani, Sharafi, Linardou, and Ioannis Tsioulakis for the journal Critical Studies in Improvisation. The article can be accessed here.
Still, language is slippery. Appropriated by perpetrators of a neoliberal governance that thrives on crisis and precarity, “improvisation” (note the scare-quotes from here on out) can designate a Darwinian fight for survival. Striving for the bare minimum of livelihood in a social order without safety nets. In this, “improvisation” joins a group of other seemingly innocuous concepts such as “resilience,” “flexibility,” and “adaptability.” Used this way, “improvisation” and its conceptual buddies can become vocabularies of oppression and control, elevating precarity onto a permanent condition of being propelled downwards – what Angela McRobbie calls the “incarceration effect” (Feminism and the Politics of Resilience). This has been particularly true in contexts of economic crisis and austerity, whereby, as Athena Athanasiou has argued, neoliberal governmentality “strives to train us how to be (and not to be) within the crisis; how to embody these necessary norms of adjustment and self-governance which will render us available to the needs of the crisis” (26, my trans.).See also Tsioulakis, Musicians in Crisis. After all, the paradigm of “flexible” creative work has for decades been appealing to capitalist elites, as a mechanism of managing precarious workforce away from welfare models.
As McRobbie argues elsewhere, “there is a dispositif that drives the growth of the new creative industries,” which in turn, “supports […] this arriviste middle class, allowing them to act as guinea pigs for testing out the new world of work without the full raft of social security entitlements and welfare provision that have been associated with the post-Second World War period. […] The creative workforce might be relatively small, but it is being trained up to pave the way for a new post-welfare era” (Be Creative 34-5). “Improvisation,” then, can be ripped away from its creative potential and be packaged as a strategy for survival within ever-unfolding insecurity, a vessel in which to navigate dystopia.
Musical interlude 2: “The Workers of Art” by The Cinematic Orchestra
I hope you see the problem now. I reminisce about my experience with Athenian jazz musicians, and our oscillation between mutualities of musical play and the disenfranchisement of musical labor (Tsioulakis, “The Quality of Mutuality”). “Improvisation” is an unruly term, capable of evoking utopias and dystopias at whim. Let’s keep this in mind when we wake up tomorrow and start improvising our lives all over again.
Alaghband-Zadeh, Chloe. “Formulas and the building blocks of ṭhumrī style: A study in ‘improvised’ music.” Analytical Approaches to World Music Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-48.
Athanasiou, Athena. I krisi os katastasi “ektatis anagkis” [The Crisis as a “State of Exception”]. Savvalas, 2012.
Gaunt, Kyra. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York University Press, 2006.
Hersch, Charles. “‘Let Freedom Ring!’: Free Jazz and African-American Politics.” Cultural Critique, vol. 32, Winter 1995, pp. 97-123, doi:10.2307/1354532.
Ingold, Tim, and Elizabeth Hallam. “Creativity and cultural improvisation: An introduction.” Creativity and Cultural Improvisation, edited by Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold, Routledge, 2007, pp. 1-24.
Keisalo, Marianna. “Learning to make people laugh: A semiotic anthropology of stand-up comedy.” Allegra Lab Essays, April 2016, https://allegralaboratory.net/learning-to-make-people-laugh-a-semiotic-anthropology-of-stand-up-comedy/.
Lorey, Isabell. “Preserving Precariousness, Queering Debt.” Recerca: Revista de Pensament i Anàlisi, vol. 24, no. 1, 2019, pp. 155-67, doi:10.6035/Recerca.2019.24.1.8.
Magowan, Fiona. Melodies of Mourning: Music and Emotion in Northern Australia. University of Australia Press, 2007.
McRobbie, Angela. Feminism and the Politics of Resilience: Essays on Gender, Media, and the End of Welfare. Polity Press, 2020.
McRobbie, Angela. Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. Polity Press, 2016.
Rush, Kayla. “Riff Culture: Toward an Ethnomusicology of Fees-Based Rock Music Schools.” Anthropology Research Seminar Series, 2 November 2021, Queen’s University Belfast. Presentation.
Svasek, Maruska. “Improvising in a world of movement: Transit, transition, transformation.” Cultural Expression, Creativity and Innovation, edited by Helmut K. Anheier and Yudhishthir Raj Isar, Sage, 2010, pp. 62-77.
Tsioulakis, Ioannis. “The quality of mutuality: Jazz musicians in the Athenian popular music industry.” Musical Performance and the Changing City: Post-industrial Contexts in Europe and the United States, edited by Carsten Wergin and Fabian Holt, Routledge, 2013, pp. 200-24.
Tsioulakis, Ioannis. Musicians in Crisis: Working and Playing in the Greek Popular Music Industry. Routledge, 2020.
Ioannis Tsioulakis is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology at Queen’s University Belfast. His first monograph, Musicians in Crisis: Working and Playing in the Greek Popular Music Industry was published by Routledge in 2020. The book looks at the diverse socio-cultural worlds of music-making in the Greek capital with an emphasis on precarity and economic austerity. Tsioulakis’ main research has focused on music professionalism and the impact of globalization on Greek subcultures and their conceptions of musical creativity. His current research is concentrating on musical labor and precarity and the way that it shapes understandings of musical competence, aesthetics, and the social dynamics of local “scenes.”
|↑1||See also Tsioulakis, Musicians in Crisis.|
by Anna Carastathis
As a theatrical genre, tragedy constructs suffering as constitutive of the human condition, and indeed shows the boundaries of the human, through the repeated and ineluctable manifestations of misfortune unto death, affecting or instigated by the play’s hero. Yet death—and physical violence leading to it—was not depicted on the ancient stage. In the Poetics, Aristotle defines tragedy as the
imitation [mimesis] of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions. (VI)
The positive social function of tragedy, for Aristotle, is emotional catharsis, particularly of the affects it arouses: pity and fear, which the spectator experiences watching the play. Catharsis gives way to pleasure: being cleansed of these emotions, the spectator experiences wonder and comes to view the tragic ending as something beautiful (Sachs).
Judith Butler’s review of Antigonick, Anne Carson’s “translation” of Sophocles’ tragedy—“more transference than translation, a relay of tragedy into a contemporary vernacular that mixes with archaic phrasing, sometimes lacking commas and periods, a halting and then a rushing of words structured by the syntax of grief and rage, spanning centuries”—, is titled: “Can’t Stop Screaming,” likely a reference to Carson’s dedication to Antigone: “I take it as the task of the translator/to forbid that you should ever lose your screams.” Elsewhere, Butler says, “Anne Carson asks, ‘Why does tragedy exist?’ and then answers:
‘Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief. Ask a headhunter why he cuts off human heads. He’ll say that rage impels him and rage is born of grief. The act of severing and tossing away the victim’s head enables him to throw away all of his bereavements. Perhaps you think this does not apply to you. Yet you recall the day your wife, driving you to your mother’s funeral, turned left instead of right at the intersection and you had to scream at her so loud other drivers turned to look. When you tore her head off and threw it out the window they nodded, changed gears, drove away.’” (in Butler, “On the Edge”)
Contemporary theories of emotion, mediated through concepts of the unconscious, view anger and rage through the metaphor of the iceberg (underneath lie sorrow and grief); and so, it makes sense to us for Butler, seeking to found a theory of nonviolence in her reading of Carson, to claim: “Antigone rages forth from grief, causing new destruction, and so, too, does Kreon … The reader is implicated in this recurrent alteration of grief and rage, subject to the destruction she or he is capable of inflicting, if there is no timely intervention” (“Can’t Stop Screaming”).This foreshadows her argument in The Force of Nonviolence. And then Butler hazards: “Perhaps non-violence is the difficult practice of letting rage collapse into grief, since then we stand the chance of knowing that we are bound up with others such that who I am or you are is this living relation that we sometimes lose” (“On the Edge”).
In Antigonick, there are two references to the intersection: when Antigone, imploring her sister Ismene to “join me, … join in my action” to bury their brother, tells her: “O one and only head of my sister, whose blood intersects with my own in too many ways…” And once more: just before her last encounter with Kreon, and just prior to committing suicide to avoid being killed—by his decree—by living burial (off-scene, of course, as described by a messenger).
Carson’s Antigonick is replete with anachronisms (like references to Brecht, Hegel, and the unconscious) and I would wager that intersections are one of them. Not only because “intersection” (diastávrosi) did not exist in ancient Greek;See “Διασταύρωση,” Βικιλεξικό, 2022, https://el.wiktionary.org/wiki/διασταύρωση. the etymology of the word intersection (in English) is traced to a mid-16th century loan from French, to mean the “act or fact of crossing” from Latin intersectionem, “a cutting asunder.” Its contemporary meaning, “crossroads, a place of crossing,” is traced to 1864 in English.See “Intersection,” Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020, https://www.etymonline.com/word/intersection. But also because in Carson’s Antigonick, informed by critical theory and gender studies—including, undoubtedly, Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death— the intersection carries the meaning not only of the place of crossing but also of the tragic accident:
Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and the contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars travelling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.
Judicial decisions which premise intersectional relief on a showing that Black women are specifically recognized as a class are analogous to a doctor’s decision at the scene of an accident to treat an accident victim only if the injury is recognized by medical insurance. Similarly, providing legal relief only when Black women show that their claims are based on race or on sex is analogous to calling an ambulance for the victim only after the driver responsible for the injuries is identified. But it is not always easy to reconstruct the accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm. In these cases the tendency seems to be that no driver is held responsible, no treatment is administered, and the involved parties simply get back in their cars and zoom away.
To bring this back to a non-metaphorical level, I am suggesting that Black women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men. (Crenshaw 149)
Intersectionality made it into the dictionary in 2015, but was invoked in Crenshaw’s text quoted above in 1989 as a metaphor to refer to the unintelligibility of Black women’s experiences when cognised or represented through categories of “race” or “sex” discrimination that take Black men’s and white women’s experiences as foundational, as the norm, or pattern. The chiasmatic structure attributed to race and sex oppressions, held apart in hegemonic and counterhegemonic discourses but intersecting in Black women’s lives was circulating in Black feminist thought since the nineteenth century, but the concept of intersectionality gains traction through the work of legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and her contemporaries.
Carson has the Chorus in Antigonick ask and answer:
How is the Greek chorus like a lawyer
They’re both in the business of searching for precedent
Finding an analogy
Locating a prior example
So as to be able to say
This terrible thing we’re witnessing now is not unique you know it happened before
Or something much like it
We’re not at a loss how to think about this
We’re not without guidance
There is a pattern
We can find an historically parallel case
and file it away under
Antigone buried alive Friday afternoon
Compare case histories 7, 17, and 49…
In the years since Crenshaw, in her critique of antidiscrimination doctrine and oppositional politics that asked us to consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection in order to understand how singular and mutually exclusive legal categories of discrimination based on “race” and “sex” render Black women invisible and without remedy in the law, and in social movements, intersectionality has emerged as a positive concept, a framework which asserts Black women may be represented through the synthesis or mutual constitution of race and sex. Thus, intersectionality has primarily become interpreted as a tool of finding and representing “parallel cases”: a representational politics that aims to make the intersection visible as the site of the tragic accident—which is no accident at all, but the patterned effect of systematic oppression.
I am interested in thinking about the analogy of the intersection as an invocation of the tragic: We are full of rage because we are full of grief: that is why tragedy exists (Carson). Intersectionality, as a tragic index of a locus full of grief, serves not to expunge the feelings of pity and fear, as Aristotle would have it, but to channel rage, anger, and fury into resistance. In Black feminist poetics, anger has its uses (Lorde, “The Uses of Anger”).
A gear of ancient nightmare churns
swift in a familiar dread and silence
but this time I am awake, released
I smile. Now. This time is
escorting fury through my sleep
like a cherished friend
to wake in the stink of rage
beside the sleep-white face of love. (Lorde, “A Poem for Women in Rage” 212)
Aristotle. Poetics, Book VI. Translated by S.A. Butcher, Project Gutenberg, 2013, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1974/1974-h/1974-h.htm#link2H_4_0008.
Sachs, Joe. “Aristotle: Poetics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/aristotle-poetics/.
Carson, Anne. Antigonick. New Directions, 2012.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Butler, Judith. “Can’t Stop Screaming.” Public Books, 9 May 2012, https://www.publicbooks.org/cant-stop-screaming/.
Butler, Judith. “On the Edge (of Upheaval).” PEN World Voices Festival. YouTube, 30 April 2014, https://youtu.be/rNmZSROmzeo.
Butler, Judith. The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso, 2020.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 1989, no. 1, pp. 139-67.
Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger.” Your Silence Will Not Protect You. Silver Press, 2017, pp. 107-18.
Lorde, Audre. “A Poem for Women in Rage.” Your Silence Will Not Protect You, Silver Press, 2017, pp. 211-4.
Anna Carastathis is co-director of the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research in Athens (feministresearch.org) and author of Intersectionality: Origins, Contestations, Horizons (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) and Reproducing Refugees: Photographìa of a Crisis (with Myrto Tsilimpounidi, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2020). She is currently co-investigator on the TransCity project (Space, Gender, and Transitions in Athens) and on the RESIST project (Fostering Queer Feminist Intersectional Resistances against Transnational Anti-Gender Politics, theresistproject.eu).
by Maria Margaroni
Artwork by Marion Pascali
75cm x 92cm
paper, primer, pencil, oil paints, threads
Intertextuality and Braiding
Braiding one’s hair was common practice in Ancient Greece, as was what we have come to call, following Julia Kristeva’s influential analysis and reinvestment of Mikhail Bakhtin’s thought, “intertextuality.” See her Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Language and Art and in particular the essays “The Bounded Text” and “Word, Dialogue, and Novel.” In Homeric Greece, braiding complicated the reading of gender, as it was a hair style adopted by young people of either sex. By the 5th century BC, young boys began to trim their hair, so braiding and plaiting became markers of the youthful sexuality of the maidens,See Haas et al. such as the ones supporting the roof of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis. A variety of braids were worn. Some styles were more elaborate than others to attract and seduce the gaze or to ward off evil. On specific occasions (e.g. before a maiden’s marriage, in circumstances of mourning, etc.), a braid was cut and dedicated to a god or the dead.See “Hair in the Classical World,” exhibition brochure, Bellarmine Museum of Art (October 7 –December 18, 2015) … Continue reading
In his analysis of tragic mythos in Poetics, Aristotle makes braiding (the intertwining and knitting together of incidents) the key task of the tragic poet, who he perceives as drawing on an existing reservoir of plots to which he, in his turn, also contributes. As he emphasizes, it wasn’t the novelty of plots that was valued but the dramatists’ skillful transposition of elements, subjects, or characters from earlier sources into their plays (39-40, 43-4). As a result, the earliest strands of the textured dramatic narratives we have inherited are far from traceable. What we have come to know is some of the twists and turns, some of the splits and crossings on their elaborate passage to the present.
Focusing on contemporary adaptations of ancient Greek drama, Phillip Zapkin shows how this intertextual resource of myths, characters, forms, and themes continues to be enriched, developing as a global commons accessed and used by a multitude of writers, translators, stage directors or filmmakers situated in different parts of the world. It seems that the long, braided history of ancient Greek drama is getting longer, its ends left loose to pick up when one wants to undo a tangled strand, rearrange fly-aways, or start a new braid. According to Zapkin, the contemporary practice of loosening, running through and re-entangling a more and more cosmopolitan “Hellenic Common” invites us to rethink the political economy of intertextuality, that is, its resistance to neoliberal models of intellectual property, private ownership, and Western patrimony.
In her 2009 study of textual interdependence, Carmen Lara-Rallo demonstrates that braiding (the interlacing of strands of hair or the threads of a fabric) has functioned as one of the dominant metaphors in the “forty-year history of the notion of intertextuality,” alongside other metaphors, such as the mosaic or the palimpsest (91). Roland Barthes’ definition of the text as a “tissue,” a “woven fabric,” a “weave of signifiers” is well known (“From Work to Text” 903). His use and development of the metaphor of the braid, however, has not been sufficiently foregrounded. In S/Z Barthes writes: “The grouping of codes, as they enter into the work, into the movement of the reading, constitute a braid (text, fabric, braid: the same thing); each thread, each code is a voice; these braided—or braiding—voices form the writing” (160). Significantly, Barthes draws on Sigmund Freud’s essay on femininity to associate braiding with women’s labor to resist a destiny of castration through endless transformation (Freud 167). He argues that to reduce a text “to the unity of meaning, […] is to cut the braid, to sketch the castrating gesture” (160).
In a more recent attempt to theorize the workings of intertextuality in the analysis of early modern drama, Arnaud Zimmern remobilizes braiding as a method of “scalable reading,” distinctly attuned to the “visualizing, tracking, and comparing structures of dramatic dialogue.” Zimmern suggests that, to appreciate the intertextual links among dramatic works, it is important to move beyond content and close formal analysis, concentrating instead on “the braiding of voices in a dialogue,” “the synchronic and diachronic unfolding of the plot, […] the patterning within a text and across multiple texts, the intertwining of power-play and politics.”
Connecting Zimmern’s methodological attention to the braiding of voices, patterns, and power tactics in dramatic dialogue, with Barthes’ metaphor of the braid as the resistant labor of the feminine, we may venture to rethink the concept of “intertextuality” as paradigmatic of the tragic suffered and enacted by Antigone, Sophocles’ controversial heroine whose splendor is blinding to the gaze,See Lacan’s analysis of Antigone in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (270-83). and whose afterlives coil and tangle around the world, forming part of Zapkin’s growing cosmopolitan commons.
Take (more than) Two
When braiding one’s hair, dividing the hair into two strands is not enough. Normally, you need a third strand of hair to use as a moving threshold, a passage, a connecting link to weave in and out of the strands related. In the same way, intertextuality proliferates relations, voices, echoes, meanings, utterances, or codes. As a textual practice, intertextuality, Kristeva argues, involves “two texts, two destinies, two psyches” (“Nous Deux” 8). Yet, in “Word, Dialogue, and Novel” she insists that each One of the Two is at least double and “acts as a multi-determined peak” (Desire in Language 69). This is why she posits the text at the intersection of several symbolic systems but also at the crossroads between the semiotic and symbolic modalities of language. Kristeva recontextualizes Bakhtin’s concepts of dialogism and heteroglossia in an attempt to theorize the polylogic nature of what she calls poetic language and the crisis of meaning staged by each text as it unfolds across multiple idiolects, sociolects, cultural contexts, or historically-charged meanings. According to her, poetic language is “an infinity of pairings and combinations” (Desire in Language 69) —hence its undermining of all claims to authority, unproblematic unity, and monolithic Truth. As she writes, “the discovery of intertextuality” places the creator “at the intersection” of a “plurality of texts” and leads us “to understand creative subjectivity as a kaleidoscope, a ‘polyphony’ as Bakhtin calls it” (Interviews 190). Following up on Kristeva’s analysis of Bakhtin, Barthes, in his own turn, defines the text as “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (“The Death of the Author” 170). In his view, it is precisely the multi-voiced nature of Greek tragedy, the haunting of the double within an utterance or a word that produces the effect of the tragic (171).
Indeed, tragedy in Sophocles’ Antigone is the product of an uncanny proliferation of doubles and takes the form of what Simon Goldhill calls “paired destruction” (152). Since Georg Hegel’s analysis of the play in his Phenomenology of Mind, different commentators have repeatedly approached Antigone as a confrontation between two voices, two laws, and two genders, braiding themselves in and out of the textured plot of the play and getting so entangled that neither One can breathe. In her critique of Hegel, Luce Irigaray loosens the tight knot formed by his dialectical opposites, noting the radical doubling of the doubles, which complicates any dream of a union of opposites (107). Similarly, Paul Allen Miller interprets the tragic outcome of the Sophoclean play as the result of Antigone’s frustrated desire to maintain failed unities in the face of a transgressive force that breaks each One into a self-reflecting and murderous Two (8). It is this dramatic power-play of doubles, this chiasm of voices and echoes heard within and across the dialogues between-Two that gives Antigone its distinct taste of tragic irony. For both Irigaray and Judith Butler, the tragic irony performed in Antigone is inextricable, pace Hegel, from “Womankind” (Butler 276) and relates to Barthes’ braiding labor of the feminine or of the inhuman speaking from the place of the feminine. In Irigaray, the ironic art of braiding becomes a politics of feminist resistance that ventriloquizes Hegel’s voices in his analysis of Antigone, seducing them to say more than they mean. In Butler, Antigone’s double, tragically impure speech results in a linguistic and political catachresis that posits Antigone at the site of the unspeakable and the less than human. It is because she speaks from this site that she transmits “more than one discourse at once” (Butler 58), exposing the Father’s law-bearing Word to its inherent promiscuity.
Tangles and Knots/naughts
To braid one’s hair, one needs to remove tangles and knots by combing. Similarly, Barthes argues that in the braided space of the text “everything is to be disentangled” (“The Death of the Author” 171). Knots are formed in thresholds, that is, at the point of contact among (more than) two strands of hair, codes, echoes, laws, or cultures. According to Michael Riffaterre, tangles and knots constitute the matrix of the intertextual process. They are the gaps, the silences, the oddities and ungrammaticalities that the reader encounters in his/her attempt to comb smooth the multiple strands of hair in a text so that a solid interpretive braid can (finally) be arrived at (“Intertextuality” 781; “L’intertexte inconnu” 5). Riffaterre approaches these sites of interpretive frustration as the traces of an “intertextual unconscious” and compares them to the hole in the middle of a doughnut. In his view, reading is driven by a “craving” to consume this hole, the knot/naught at the heart of a text, which opens it to its intertextual outside; that is, to its missing part, the intertextual supplement that promises to make the text whole.See Riffaterre, “L’intertexte inconnu” and “The Intertextual Unconscious.” See also Kristeva, “‘Nous Deux’ Or a (Hi)Story of Intertextuality.”
Admittedly, the intertextual journeys of Sophocles’ Antigone from the 5th century BC to the present can be perceived as the symptom of such interpretive craving. Knots and tangles proliferate in the Sophoclean text: from the one-too many brothers that Antigone mourns to her melancholic refusal to mourn for a husband, a child, or the loss of the mother. In his address to Creon, Tiresias confronts him with the naught that will result from the knot he made out of death and life: “…a corpse for corpses given in return, since you have thrust/ to the world below a child sprung for the world above,/ ruthlessly lodged a living soul within the grave […] keeping a dead body here in the bright air” (Sophocles 115). If Creon remains deaf to the double-tongued prophet’s warning, this is because he is convinced (until it is too late) that knots refusing to untangle can simply be cut.
Cuts and Loose Ends
As we have seen, for Barthes the cutting of a tangled knot or an excess braid results in the castration of the text, its reduction to the Father’s intentionality or what he calls “‘theological’ meaning” (“The Death of the Author” 170). In Hegel, cuts (or the lethal collision between-Two) are the index of an undesirable knot in his philosophical dialectics, that is, an inability to achieve an “untroubled transition” from one to the other (266-7). These cuts, Hegel tells us, are inextricable from the pathos of “character” (272-3).
Pathos or, indeed, a certain melancholia is traced at the heart of the intertextual process, for the promiscuity of meaning is predicated on the displacement of all origins, the loss of voice, and the crisis of subjectivity. “The reader of the Text may be compared to someone at a loose end”, Barthes writes (“From Work to Text” 903). Similarly, Kristeva notes: “If we are readers of intertextuality, we must be capable of the same putting-into-process of our identities, capable of identifying with the different types of texts, voices […]. We also must be able to be reduced to zero…” (Interviews 90). Yet, the naught inherent in the melancholic trials and rebirths of intertextuality needs to be seen as countering the naught of Creon’s castrating cut that seeks to stabilize the State, law, gender identity, sexuality, and meaning. In her analysis of Antigone, Butler associates the latter with a “socially instituted melancholia” which produces “a shadowy realm of love” and an excluded, ungrievable, unlivable, “slowly dying” body at the borders of the human (78, 80-1).
Posited between two naughts, two deaths,See Lacan’s analysis of Antigone (270-83). and two distinct experiences of melancholia, Antigone, our Sophoclean heroine, fleshes out the modes and moods of the intertextual process, within which she is caught braiding (again), her crisis and suffering turning with each twist of her coiling hair into the “rebellious conquest of a new polymorphous expression” (“Nous Deux” 9).
Aristotle. “On the Art of Poetry.” Classical Literary Criticism: Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, translated by T. S. Dorsch, Penguin Books, 1981, pp. 29-75.
Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, edited by David Lodge, Longman, 1988, pp. 166-72.
—. “From Work to Text.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, edited by David H. Richter, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998, pp. 900-5.
—. S/Z. Translated by Richard Miller, Blackwell, 2002.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Freud, Sigmund. “Femininity.” New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, translated by James Strachey, edited by James Strachey with Angela Richards, Penguin Books, 1991, pp. 145-69.
Goldhill, Simon. “Antigone and the Politics of Sisterhood.” Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought, edited by Vanda Zajko and Miriam Leonard, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 141-61.
Haas, Norbert, et al. “Hairstyles in the Arts of Greek and Roman Antiquity.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology: Symposium Proceedings, vol. 10 no. 3 (December 2005), pp. 298-300.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Phenomenology of Mind. Translated by J. B. Baillie, Dover Publications, 2003.
Irigaray, Luce. “The Eternal Irony of the Community.” Feminist Readings of Antigone, edited by Fanny Söderbäck, SUNY Press, 2010, pp. 99-110.
Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, edited by Leon S. Roudiez, translated by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, 1980.
—. Interviews. Edited by Ross Mitchell Guberman, Columbia University Press, 1996.
—. “‘Nous Deux’ Or a (Hi)Story of Intertextuality.” The Romanic Review, vol. 93, no. 1/2, January-March 2002, pp. 7-13.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Dennis Porter, Norton, 1992.
Lara-Rallo, Carmen. “Pictures Worth a Thousand Words: Metaphorical Images of Textual Interdependence.” Nordic Journal of English Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 2009, pp. 91-110.
Miller, Paul Allen. “Lacan’s Antigone: The Sublime Object and the Ethics of Interpretation.” Phoenix, vol. 61, no. 1/2, Spring-Summer 2007, pp. 1-14.
Riffaterre, Michael. “L’intertexte inconnu.” Littérature, vol. 41, 1981, pp. 4-7.
—. “The Intertextual Unconscious.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 13, no. 2, Winter 1987, pp. 371-85.
—. “Intertextuality vs. Hypertextuality.” New Literary History, vol. 25, no. 4, Autumn 1994, pp. 779-88.
Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Books, 1984.
Zapkin, Phillip. Hellenic Common: Greek Drama and Cultural Cosmopolitanism in the Neoliberal Era. Routledge, 2021.
Zimmern, Arnaud. “Cavendish X Molière: Braiding the Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue.” Women Writes Project, https://wwp.northeastern.edu/blog/cavendish-x-moliere/.
Maria Margaroni is Associate Professor of Literary Theory and Feminist Thought at the University of Cyprus. She has held visiting fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (University of Edinburgh) and the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory, and History (University of Leeds). She has published extensively on the work of Julia Kristeva in peer-reviewed journals and collected volumes. She is the co-author of Julia Kristeva: Live Theory (with John Lechte, Continuum, 2004). Other publications include three special issues and four edited volumes, most recently Arts of Healing: Cultural Narratives of Trauma (with Arleen Ionescu, Rowman and Littlefield, 2020) and Understanding Kristeva, Understanding Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2022).
Marion Pascali was born in England by Cypriot parents. During her studies in science at the Pancyprian Gymnasium in Nicosia, the artist received drawing and painting lessons from the artist Andreas Charalambous. Subsequently she studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence under the supervision of the artists F. Farulli and G. Ulivi. In the course of her studies, her inspiration by performance art led her not only to the creation of a book “objet d’art” (titled 2×4 = ∞ or of divergence figures) and the intention of its audio-visual expression, but also to further studies in the field of theater. She received an MA in Text and Performance from Kings College and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. For the past sixteen years she works as an art teacher at the Junior and Senior School in Nicosia, while continuing her creative path in the field of arts. Her works have been presented in four solo and six group exhibitions.
|↑1||See her Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Language and Art and in particular the essays “The Bounded Text” and “Word, Dialogue, and Novel.”|
|↑2||See Haas et al.|
|↑3||See “Hair in the Classical World,” exhibition brochure, Bellarmine Museum of Art (October 7 –December 18, 2015) https://www.fairfield.edu/museum/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/hair-in-the-classical-world/index.html. See also “The intriguing hair care and hair styles in ancient Greece,” The Delphi Guide, https://thedelphiguide.com/hair-care-and-hair-styles-in-ancient-greece/. Accessed 26 February 2023.|
|↑4||See Lacan’s analysis of Antigone in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (270-83).|
|↑5||See Riffaterre, “L’intertexte inconnu” and “The Intertextual Unconscious.” See also Kristeva, “‘Nous Deux’ Or a (Hi)Story of Intertextuality.”|
|↑6||See Lacan’s analysis of Antigone (270-83).|
by Valia Papastamou
[Undoing the Glossary (a present encryption)]**
Word – Ain’t I a word to become?
She* – If you defend what doesn’t exist yet.
Chorus (She* & Word) – It is a “U,” like “Unsettling,” and a “U,” like “Upsetting.”
Word – Ain’t I another word that wants to be undone?
She* – If you ask me about the failure of words and worlds which I inhabit.
Chorus (She* & Word) – A queer “F,” like “Failure,” as nearly an “E,” like “Escape.”
Word – I am thrown into language.
She* – I occupy prefixed indexes while I am excluded from their terms.
Chorus (She* & Word) – The terms of an “A,” like “trauma’s Affective Archives.”
Word – I want to emerge and ask you.
She* – Emerge as a question that persists, in this place in which we are not supposed to be.
Chorus (She* & Word) – “P,” like “Polis,” is the Place.
Word – Where are we heading to?
She* – We are in the middle of a crossroad.
Chorus (She* & Word) – The “M” of “Middle,” the “M” of “Mestiza” who crosses the “B” of “Borders.”
Word – For whom do we speak about?
She* – We just speak nearby.
Chorus (She* & Word) – the “I,” like “the Inappropriate Other within every I.”
Word – I ask you to transmit me and betray me, send me in directions I never intended to travel.
She* – I say that I do it and I do not deny it.
Word – Now, I myself am a deed.
Chorus (She* & Word) – “D,” like “do,” “deny,” “deed.”
She* – I am inhabiting the language, speaking in and against it.
Word – She* is unlearning in order to rewrite me.
Chorus (She* & Word) – Rewrite the “R” of every “Re” in orbit.
She* – Then am I at a distance from that which I represent, and what I represent is far from clear?
Word – As far as I am in a decentered transposition.
Chorus (She* & Word) – Like the “T” of every one of the “Trans” positionalities.
She* – It sounds as if I make a word out of the shattered pieces.
Word – We make a word out of the pieces we shatter, the shattered pieces we are.
Chorus (She* & Word) – “W,” like “We” – “Words” – “the Weapons of the Weak.”
She* – Do silences survive their own voice in our embodied language?
Word – Silences exercise the desire of those they are to name.
Chorus (She* & Word) – That “S” of “Silences” like the “Screams” we lose.
She* – They encrypt a transformative language of themselves.
Word – They reinscribe themselves in a spectral grammar.
Chorus (She* & Word) – With “S,” like the “She–Spectrum,” we return in plurality to reclaim their rights. We are about to and already have celebrated the victory of another word as we perform the insisting mourning of her new loss. We are their phantasms, repetitively encrypted in a present heteroglossary that is yet to become.
She*: positioned beyond the gender binary
** The dialogue between the Word and She* interweaves with and refers to others who are present in it, as another conversation with Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Athena Athanasiou, Sara Ahmed, Judith Butler, Anne Carson, Ann Cvetkovich, Saidiya Hartman, bell hooks, Trinh Minh-ha, José E. Muñoz, Sojourner Truth, Elena Tzelepis.
Valia Papastamou is a researcher and artist, currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Thessaly, School of Humanities & Social Sciences. Her PhD dissertation “Artistic-research performative practices in the contemporary transnational condition: Feminist transformative politics of knowledge” examines the performative relation between research and art. With a background in architectural studies (M.Arch), Cultural Administration (MA) and Fine Arts (MFA), her research interests are interdisciplinary and include art theory, political and social philosophy, gender studies, postcolonial theory, and contemporary critical theory. Her artistic/research practice further explores the interrelation between language and body through written/vocal utterances and sculptural forms. Since 2018 she has been working as an associate researcher in the Centre of New Media & Feminist Public Practices at the University of Thessaly.
by Elke Krasny
For centuries, public space has been given special significance in the context of political ideas and collective imaginaries. Thus understood, the idea of public space speaks of a politics of appearance and of rights, including the rights to public assembly and speech. The regimes of power that commanded the planning, designing, and building of public spaces bestowed considerable authority on public space. They filled the political idea of public space with power. Quite paradoxically, it is precisely the claim to this authority and this power that the enactment of public assembly and speech makes. Public space lends authority and power to those who claim it. Those who gather in public space, here and now, claim the political idea of public space in the material and built realities of specific public spaces that were shaped, financed, and built by ruling powers. How can the figure of Antigone ask of us to see the contradictions and conflicts that would open up a much more complicated, unsettling, and uneasy understanding of the realities of public space as a political idea?
Here and now, with its implications of “at this moment” or “at the present time,” is useful to begin to approach the political idea of public space that is realized and enacted through people’s presence in the here of a concrete public space and in the now of a specific historical moment. Freedom of assembly and expression, these deeply enshrined twin imaginaries connected to the political idea of public space, are enacted in the material, infrastructural, and environmental conditions of public spaces. They are enacted in streets, squares or parks, which are shaped by past realities of planning and building as they were defined by imperial colonial regimes and by present-day neoliberal neocolonial capitalism. Any use of public spaces in the here and now is therefore deeply implicated in the afterlives of material, social, and environmental realities shaped by past regimes of power. Furthermore, the everyday conditions of the hard space, the green space, and the air that support all those who gather in public in order to enact their rights to assembly, have been produced and are still continually reproduced by economies based on the extraction of resources and the exploitation of labor. And then there is the centuries-old history of patriarchal violence that has made use of public space to perpetrate power and to normalize sexist and racist assaults. Building on the work of feminist anthropologist Rita Segato, public space has to be understood as an exemplary site of “patriarchal pedagogy” and its “cruelty.”
The violent contradictions between the political idea of public space and the material, economic, and social histories of public space are very often strategically ignored, when people gather together to make use of public space for their emancipatory struggles and their defiance of unjust laws, with the latter exemplified by the figure of Antigone. Feminist philosopher and cultural theorist Judith Butler observes that Antigone “absorbs the language of the state against which she rebels” (5). Those making public their demands and their defiant resistance to the state, most often unwittingly absorb the histories of violence stored in these public spaces. While emancipatory struggles might conceive of themselves to be in clear opposition to hegemonic power, Butler’s reading of Antigone’s politics as “a politics not of oppositional purity but of the scandalously impure” (5) illuminates how deeply implicated emancipatory movements and their public assemblies are in the unjust and violent histories of these spaces. Public space, therefore, is never pure. It is always impure. Rather than giving up on the political idea of public space, the argument here is that the political idea of public space and the material conditions of public space, such as its unevenly allocated resources and infrastructures, as well as the normalized sexist, racist, and environmentally destructive histories of public space, need to be understood together. Only by acknowledging the past and present violence inherent in the material and ecological production and reproduction of public space and by interrogating the effects of patriarchal pedagogy that has shaped the idea of public space as patriarchal idea, will a collective understanding of what needs to be defied become possible.
Thinking about the political idea of public space in respect to the figure of Antigone in late 2022 involves necessarily a consideration of the absences and silences haunting the normative temporalities of public mourning. With 15 million human deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and with the dying out of entire species and the ongoing dying of numerous living and sentient beings, which is caused by the current sixth mass extinction event, one understands that assembling in public for acknowledging the dead and mourning them collectively has not been central to the political idea of public space. I imagine connecting the immense scale of loss at the present historical moment to the histories of past violence as they are inscribed in concrete public spaces would be one possible way of engaging a new political idea of public space as a politics of defiance and mourning.
Segato, Rita. “Reading patriarchy.” Autonomies, 8 March 2021, https://autonomies.org/2021/03/rita-segato-reading-patriarchy/.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Dr Elke Krasny is Professor for Art and Education at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She is a feminist cultural theorist, urban researcher, curator, and author. Her scholarship addresses ecological and social justice at the global present with a focus on caring practices in architecture, urbanism, and contemporary art. With Angelika Fitz, she edited Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet together (MIT Press, 2019). She co-edited Radicalizing Care: Feminist and Queer Activism in Curating (Sternberg Press, 2021). Her forthcoming book Living with an Infected Planet: Covid-19, Feminism, and the Global Frontline of Care develops a feminist perspective on the rhetoric of war and the realities of care in pandemic times.
by Elena Loizidou
The story of Sophocles’ Antigone (1984) is well known.
Antigone defied her uncle’s Creon edict—prohibiting the burial of Polyneices and his soldiers as they were considered by Creon traitors for levying a war against him and Eteocles—and buried Polyneices. Subsequently Creon demands from Antigone to account for her actions. Antigone disobeys his command. She refuses to account for her actions. Creon gets angry and orders that she is to be buried alive. Antigone commits suicide instead of falling into the hands of Creon’s army.
Whilst philosophers, for example Hegel (2004), Lacan, and Irigaray (Speculum; Sexual Difference), read Antigone’s disobedience of the edict that prohibited the burial of her brother as an ethical act, Antigone acts responsibly towards her brother and commemorates his singularity by choosing to bury him. In doing so she disobeys State (Sovereign) laws and to her own admission obeys another set of laws, laws that honor kinship and customary rites of burial (Sophocles 105). Ethical subjects, as we know from the work of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, are subjects that recognize the singularity of each one of us and do not reduce us to generalized and universalizable entities.
The philosopher Judith Butler in Antigone’s Claim invites us to think of Antigone as an agentic and political subject by reading her refusal to account for her conduct (burial of Polyneices) as an act of disobedience. She refuses in this way to subject herself to the unjust State Laws of Thebes enacted by her uncle “King” Creon. Indeed, we can see the viability of Butler’s interpretation and we can see how we can utilize it to understand political acts of disobedience. When for example, Black Lives Matter activists bring down or alter statues of slave owners, they defy the criminal laws of the land and stand the chance to be prosecuted for their defiance. Take as example the Black Lives Matter activists in Bristol who in the summer of 2020 brought down and threw into the river Avon, the bronze statue of the slave owner Edward Colston. They defied the law (criminal damage) and left themselves open to prosecution. They nevertheless decided to bring down the statue because they wanted to do away with the public display and celebration of an individual (Colston) who was responsible for the unfreedom and trade of black people.Colston between 1672-89 traded 100,000 slaves from West Africa (see Siddique and Skopeliti). As one of the four activists prosecuted for criminal damage put it, the pulling down of the statue acted as the “symbolic sentencing” of Colston (see Callen). In short, they, like Antigone or Antigone like them, act according to higher laws, laws that recognize that what happened was unjust and needs to be addressed somehow.
Whist Antigone and Black Lives Matter disobedience have the calling to a distinct set of norms or beliefs or laws in common, they also have differences. Black Lives Matter activists act in concert gesturing towards a collective political subject, whilst Antigone acts alone, holding onto the idea of a sovereign lone subject. While Black Lives Matter activists destroy property, they do not self-destroy, but rather they in mutuality show us that a non-racist and just world is possible—if only we can act together. Antigone, on the other hand, does not call the Chorus (the Chorus is most often used by playwriters to transmit the views of the spectator or to ease a tense situation) to her side, so she acts alone, bounded to a political subjectivity that does not transgress the “I” (even when she acts responsibly towards the singularity of her brother) as it remains sovereign through the act of suicide. Perhaps at the end of the day, neither Antigone nor Sophocles were ready to do away with monarchical political regimes.
I often ask myself what would have happened if Antigone did not commit suicide. What would have happened if, for example, Sophocles crafted an Antigone that called the Chorus to her side, spoke to them of the need to mutually support each other, to pick a shovel and dig a hole and burry her brother, and then raise those very shovels to the sky and break the Palace in the Kingdom of Thebes, and use its rubbles to build houses for all and govern together. What would have happened if she realized that she was not just a bounded “I” but rather an unbounded, extensive subjectivity? I wouldn’t like to estimate, but I imagine that, like the Black Lives Matter activists, she would have realized how acting in concert together, we can avoid what Simon Critchley called “active nihilism” (5) and instead begin the process of building better and fairer worlds for all.
And upon a second reflection, perhaps the biggest struggle is not to engage in acts of disobedience but to learn to detach ourselves from all those myths, genres, roles (after all Antigone was a dutiful sister) that bound us, if we are to survive, that is.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Callen, Charlotte. “At the Scene.” BBC News, 5 January 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-59727161.
Critchley, Simon. Infinitive Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. Verso, 2007.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Cornell University Press, 1985.
Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Athlone Press, 1993.
Lacan, Jacques. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-60. Translated by Dennis Porter, edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, Routledge, 1992.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Otherwise than Being: Or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press, 1998.
Siddique, Haroon, and Clea Skopeliti. “BLM protesters topple statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston.” The Guardian, 7 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/07/blm-protesters-topple-statue-of-bristol-slave-trader-edward-colston.
Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1984.
Dr Elena Loizidou is Reader in Law and Political Theory at the Department of Law, Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Judith Butler: Ethics, Law, Politics (2007) and Anarchism an Art of Living without Law (2022). She also is the editor Disobedience: Concept and Practice (2013) a collection of essays on disobedience. She is on the editorial board of Law and Critique.
|↑1||Colston between 1672-89 traded 100,000 slaves from West Africa (see Siddique and Skopeliti).|
by Patricia Felisa Barbeito
“I will take her to a place where men’s feet have trodden no path, and I will bury her alive in a chamber of rock, giving her just enough food to avoid guilt… perhaps… she will learn, although too late, that worshipping the dead is wasted labor.”
To punish Antigone for her defiance and spare the city of the responsibility for it, Creon, a man of rigid boundaries, sentences her to a slow (to use Lauren Berlant’s formulation), living death: confinement in a space outside the social. The rebellious Antigone, who chooses to worship the dead and not, as her sister does, succumb to the power of an explicitly male hubris, is what must be abjected to preserve the polis. She is one in a long, uninterrupted history of captives (particularly female captives) immured and imprisoned in interstitial spaces (rocks, prisons, forests, hulls of ships) that have long haunted (and defined) the borders of the national and, especially in most recent refugee and migrant crises, the transnational imaginaries.
In the North American context in particular, various forms of captivity narratives—from Indian captivity narratives, to slave narratives and domestic fictions, to accounts of alien abduction and prison narratives—have played fundamental roles in articulating conceptions of gender and race.See Barbeito for an exploration of the relation between Indian Captivity Narratives and accounts of alien abduction from the 1990s. The early and enormously popular Indian captivity narratives written by white women taken captive by Native Americans,Indeed, these narratives have been linked to the development of Anglo-American modernity (see, for example, Armstrong and Tennenhouse). are a case in point. They functioned, on the one hand, as a white women’s tale of triumph over the “savagery” of the “wilderness”—conditions often described as worse than death. Their survival and eventual return to hearth and home reassured their readers of the colonists’ moral superiority, of manifest destiny. Yet there were also the captives (the infamous Mary Jemison, for instance) who refused redemption, who chose the figurative death of captivity in the wilderness, citing a newfound sense of freedom from the constraints of their former lives. The captivity narrative in its many forms, then, is shaped by this fundamental turn and lurking threat: at once outlining the boundaries of freedom and pointing to the tenuous legal fictions on which it is based.
“Captivity is consciousness—/So’s Liberty,” wrote Emily Dickinson in her inimitable way, pointing to the dialectical relationship that has shaped what Achille Mbembe describes as modernity’s necropolitics: the way the concept of sovereignty and the free and equal individual relies on the production of death worlds that blur “the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom” (92). Antigone’s ultimate defiance is, of course, to choose death as a form of liberation, to align with the dead she worships, a decision that ultimately undoes the male heteronormative legal narratives on which Creon’s sovereignty relies.
Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved black woman from North Carolina, details in her narrative of 1861, Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl, the almost eight years she spends in a tiny attic garret above her grandmother’s cottage while hiding from her predatory master. “[O]nly nine feet long and seven wide,” with a highest part of “three feet” and “sloping down abruptly to the loose board floor,” the attic is both a tomb that torments and depletes her body and a “loophole of retreat” from slavery that allows her to keep an eye on her children through a hole she has bored in the wood, and plan their and her own liberation, as well as, indirectly, her master’s downfall, who squanders his dwindling resources in trying to recapture her on wild goose chases of her instigation. Antigone’s rock, Jacobs’s attic, both exemplify Katherine McKittrick’s contention that “racism and sexism are not simply bodily or identity based; racism and sexism are also spatial acts and illustrate black women’s geographic experiences and knowledges as they are made possible through domination” (xviii). Their practices of liberation involve tapping into the un-settling potential of these spaces and their place in them.
In his Live from Death Row (1995), Mumia Abu-Jamal describes the American prison system as part of a prison industrial complex that targets and dehumanizes people of color. He underscores the tenuousness of the line separating those on the inside from the outside in a startling passage written in response to learning that, due to heavy rains, the prison’s water has become tainted by an oil-based substance:
It makes me wonder about a saying my wife and I share, that bars and steel can’t stop the power of love. The dark side of that also is true: bars, steel, and court orders can’t stop the seepage of pollution that afflicts both the caged and the “free.” Despite the legal illusions erected by the system to divide and separate life, we the caged share air, water, and hope with you, the not-yet-caged. We share your same breath. (51-2)
Abu-Jamal counters the spatial act of domination through the allegorical, connective power of water and air, attempting to breathe life into a common humanity shattered by extractive practices and lines drawn by a dehumanized system. Like the artist Torkwase Dyson, he dreams of sites of self-liberation in interstitial spaces.
Torkwase Dyson, I Belong to the Distance, 2019
Abu-Jamal, Mumia. Live from Death Row. Harper Perennial, 1996.
Armstrong, Nancy, and Leonard Tennenhouse. The Imaginary Puritan. University of California Press, 1992.
Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.
Barbeito, Patricia Felisa. “‘He’s making me feel things in my body that I don’t feel’: The body as battleground in accounts of alien abduction.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 28, no. 2, 2005, pp. 201-15.
Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 1861. Dover Publications, 2001.
Mbembe, Achille. Necropolitics. Duke University Press, 2019.
McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Patricia Felisa Barbeito is Professor of American Literatures at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she teaches courses on race, gender, and ethnicity. She is also a translator of modern Greek literature.
by Demetra Kasimis and Clara Stelow
In recent years, critics have turned their attention to the fact that Antigone calls herself a “metic” (metoikos) several times in Sophocles’ play (Antig. 850-53; 867-68). For Andrés Henao Castro, the character is invoking a broad condition of “noncitizen, foreigner, stateless, refugee” (308) when she names herself a metic. What he calls Antigone’s “political illegibility,” a consequence of her decision to bury Polynices and Creon’s death sentence, moreover bespeaks her “refusal to compromise the ontological ambiguity” of the “citizen-making device” (316) of marriage in ancient Greece. And yet Antigone becomes a champion of the natal oikos in Castro’s account, which sees her viewing the oikos as an alternative mechanism (to the polis) for re-locating and re-categorizing her. This familiar interpretation of Antigone’s relationship to the oikos finds similar expression in Valerie Reed’s reading of Antigone’s metoikia. To the extent that Antigone is physically un-homed by the scandalous activity of her parents and siblings, she becomes a “metic,” Reed says. Stepping “outside of the physical space of her oikos” (318) only better enables her to represent it as an institution.
Here two tensions arise. First, rather than taking Antigone’s metoikia to confirm conventional lines of criticism about Antigone’s fidelity to the oikos, we might ask what her figuration as a metic opens up, both heuristically and critically. Second, in democratic Athens, there is no polis without the oikos, because there is no membership in the polis without membership in an oikos. And there is no oikos without marriage, without the very bridal exchange between men in which Antigone fails to participate. Why continue to see Antigone’s relationship to marriage evincing an investment in the oikos rather than just the opposite? What is the link between metoikia and marriage in Antigone’s figuration? What does one have to do with the other?
It is worth taking a step back to consider the associations Antigone’s metoikia would have conjured for a classical Athenian audience. Metoikos was a legal status granted to immigrants and their native-born children in Athens. Metics lived freely in Athens but were excluded from democratic citizenship, generation after generation, on the basis of blood (Kasimis 171). While an experience of migration might have characterized the lives of many actual metics in Athens, the fact is that Athenian democracy used the designation to mark a blood-based difference, which it extended to all non-autochthonous residents of the city, including indigenous persons who lacked dual Athenian parentage and, at various points, anyone born out of wedlock to citizens. Seen from this angle, one reason Antigone calls herself a metic is that she is the product of an incestuous union, the sort of kinship that makes one non-autochthonous, an impossible full member of the polis.
Now we do not need to see Antigone as a metic to see that her kinship position is problematic.Cf. Butler. But if a metic is non-autochthonous, Antigone’s metoikia invokes the link between citizenship and (pure) birth, and foregrounds the role that heritability and its (democratic) regulation play in the making of citizens, which is to say inclusion in an oikos and the highly ritualized alliance of families accomplished by the traffic in women.
It is striking that Antigone calls herself a metic only after she has buried Polynices, when she is standing before Creon and the chorus. Although she might have done so earlier, Antigone deploys the language of metoikia only after she has ensured for herself a failed bridal exchange between her father and potential husband, who are the subjects of the exchange. Disconnected from her paternal oikos and newly disqualified from forming a conjugal one, Antigone is an example of bridal exchange gone awry. She is also ineligible for membership in an oikos or a polis. Her metoikia does not express her loyalty to the (paternal) oikos, which depends on the same practices of exchange that a conjugal one would, but rather the sense in which Antigone moves beyond the oikos altogether. Without the ability to establish her own oikos, Antigone becomes a stranger not only to the polis and her family but also to “the living and the dead” (Sophocles 850-3).
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2002.
Castro, Andrés Fabián Henao. “Antigone Claimed: ‘I Am a Stranger!’ Political Theory and the Figure of the Stranger.” Hypatia, vol. 28, no, 2, 2013, pp. 307-22.
Kasimis, Demetra. The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Reed, Valerie. “Bringing Antigone Home?” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2008, pp. 316-40.
Sophocles. Antigone. Edited and translated by Hugh Lloyd-Jones. Loeb Classical Library 21. Harvard University Press, 1994.
Demetra Kasimis is Associate Professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where she is also an associated member of the Classics Department, a faculty fellow of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT), and a member of the board of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. She is the author of the monograph The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy (Cambridge, 2018) and articles on such topics as gender and kinship and conspiracy and democratic instability.
Clara Stelow is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago majoring in political science and philosophy and completing a BA thesis on figurations of the maternal in Sophocles’ Antigone. She has general research interests at the intersections of ancient political theory, gender studies, and poststructuralist thought and plans to pursue a PhD in political theory.
by Andreas Chatzidakis and Lynne Segal
Can Antigone tell us anything about the nature of care? For most people care means “hands-on” care, a series of practices most of us regularly engage in when directly looking after the physical and emotional needs of others. This is of course a critical dimension of care that remains as important as ever. But “care” for us, co-authors of the Care Manifesto, as well as various others before us, should be viewed rather more capaciously. Political theorists such as Joan Tronto, for instance, have distinguished between “caring for,” the physical aspects of hands-on care, “caring about,” our broader emotional investments in and attachments to others, and “caring with,” our political mobilisations in order to transform our world and democratise care. Building on such contributions, we view care as a broader social capacity and activity that involves the nurturing of all that is necessary for the welfare and flourishing of human and nonhuman life. Above all, to take care centre stage, means recognizing and embracing our interdependencies and shared vulnerabilities (Butler) across all scales of everyday life.
Within the Care Manifesto, our capacious treatment of care therefore includes usually unpaid familial care, the waged hands-on care that workers carry out in care homes and hospitals and that teachers do in schools along with the everyday services provided by other essential workers as well as the care of activists in constructing libraries of things, co-operative alternatives and solidarity economies or, more broadly, the political policies that keep housing costs affordable, slash fossil fuel use and expand green spaces. As we put it, “care is our individual and common ability to provide the political, social, material, and emotional conditions that allow for the vast majority of people and living creatures on this planet to thrive—along with the planet itself” (The Care Collective 6).
We could suggest that there is an Antigonean element of transcendence in our model of care, although it by no means embraces some notion of “purity,” which appears in some psychoanalytic readings of Antigone’s refusal to betray her desire, hence deciding to commit suicide. Care cannot be “pure” in this sense—it is always messy and likely to unfold along axes of ambivalence, vulnerability and even abjection. And yet, we also argue that care can be, indeed needs to be, transcendent, in the sense of going beyond the limits imposed on our everyday imagination(s) by care norms and ideologies centred on ideals of “proximity” and “similarity.”
In the manifesto, this is encapsulated in our notion of “promiscuous” care, which urges us to rethink current (Western) models of kinship as the primary basis for providing or receiving care. For us, promiscuous care is an ethics that proliferates and redefines caring relations from the most intimate to the most distant. It invites us to multiply and diversify the numbers of human and nonhuman others we can care for and to experiment with different ways of care giving and receiving. Of course, such model in the current state of the world may feel utopian—not least because it requires building institutions that are both capacious and agile enough to recognize and resource wider forms of care, not only at the level of kinship, but also within the community, economy, nation state and the world at large. It is for this reason that promiscuous care is not only an ethics, but also an urgent political imperative.
The paradoxes and ambivalences of care—and of the desire to care—are already evident in its mythic and etymological routes, which are decidedly tangled, contrasting sharply with the strength and clarity of Antigone’s desire. The etymology of care in English, for instance, comes from the old word “caru,” meaning care, concern, anxiety, sorrow, grief, trouble—its double meanings clearly on display. However, these double meanings are part and parcel of everyday life in both the polis and the oikos. We continue to live in societies that regularly reward those who can and do care less about other people and undervalue or ignore those who do most caring maintenance. On all these readings, Antigone can also be interpreted as about care—the refusal not to care for, with, and about the death of another. Beyond the violent absence of care for human life portrayed by Sophocles, we all need to keep ourselves busy building the material, social, and cultural conditions for the mutual thriving of all.
Butler, Judith. The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso, 2020.
The Care Collective. The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence. Verso, 2020.
Tronto, Joan. Caring Democracy – Markets, Equality and Justice. New York University Press, 2013.
Lynne Segal is Professor Emerita in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on gender matters and feminist theory, while participating in diverse campaigns addressing broader issues of justice, equality, and social inclusion over the last five decades. Her books include Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism (co-authored); Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism; Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men; Straight Sex: The Politics of Pleasure; Why Feminism? Gender, Psychology & Politics; Making Trouble: Life & Politics; Out of Time: The Pleasures & Perils of Ageing; Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy; The Care Manifesto (co-authored). She is currently completing Lean on Me: What We Owe Each Other, addressing the contemporary crisis of care at every level.
Andreas Chatzidakis is Professor of Marketing and Consumer Culture at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research focuses on the broader intersection(s) of consumption with ethics and politics, including themes such as consumer-oriented activism in crisis-hit Athens, the role of care and relationality in everyday consumption, geographical and psychoanalytic approaches to consumption. It has been published in numerous journals such as Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Culture, Journal of Business Ethics, Environment and Planning D, and British Journal of Management; and books such as Gendering Marketing (with Pauline Maclaran), Contemporary Issues in Marketing and Consumer Behavior (with Pauline Maclaran and Elizabeth Parsons), and Consumer Ethics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (with Deirdre Shaw and Michal Carrington). He is also a member of the Care Collective, author of The Care Manifesto (Verso, 2020).
by Sanja Bojanić
Katharòs is material purity, isn’t it? It’s an adjective for a clean and candid, too neat, too immaculate, thing or body, at least before Plato. Where did we come from and what did we do for even claiming the ambition to model our humanness (perceived as manliness) in the framework of katharòs? Homer? Hesiod? Aristophanes? (Paillier 21).
This phantasm of purity, the candidness of all sorts, like in Empedocles’ Purifications fragments, translates the body’s materiality directly to the spirituality of souls as it elevates both alimentary prohibitions and a construct of perpetual peace around metempsychosis. Its action noun catharsis or kátharsis corresponds to the verb kathairô: to cleanse, purify, purge. And “Apollo is said to be a kathársios, a purifier; forced into purification after the murder of Python at Delphi: according to Socrates in Cratylus, he is fittingly named apolouôn, ‘the washer’” (Cassin et al. 126). But this transition between natural elements and material bodies to spirituality is doomed, isn’t it? Not all material bodies can provide life and a place for it in the world. Some stay less engaged. Not all material bodies reach the spirituality of souls. This should be reciprocal, shouldn’t it?
At least it should be for Plato in the Republic (X, 605), who is again purely and simply against any possibility of tempering our feelings and emotions. And feelings like emotions belong to the body. To expulse them, yes, but to moderate them, no. They breach laws of reason. Purification is spiritual and religious. It is also political when painful purges, just like in Hippocratic medicine, need to separate us from harmful secretions (see Cassin et al. 126). This homoeopathic analogy provides grounds for further developments of the term.
A list of good Aristotelians—Jacob Bernays, Golden-Hardison (133-7), Gerald Else, Leon Golden, and Pierre Somville (55-92) or, in French, Roselyne Dupont-Roc and Jean Lallot (188-91), to name a few—meticulously scrutinized the conceptual shift Aristotle made in the passage from the body to the soul, placing there the importance of the purging. We are familiar with the indisputable definition of tragedy as that which “represents men in action and does not use narrative, which through pity and fear effects relief (kátharsis) to these and similar emotions” (Aristotle, Poetics 1449b). The “plasticity” of pathèmata—as Aristotle names eleos (pity), phobos (fear) and other similar emotions—provokes kátharsis through synergy. The meaning of the first two terms is taken to be obvious, and Aristotle does not think they require any further explanation in his Poetics. They are neatly self-evident and have been since Plato’s Phaedrus, when pity and fear were bundled with “similar emotions.” Gorgias, in Encomium of Helen, uses the example of poetry to illustrate pathèmata. Here, trembling is produced by fear (phrikè periphobos), whereas pity causes tears (eleos poludakrus) and pain of grieving (pathos philopenthès). The painful experiences of eleos and phobos are described even earlier, in Aristotle’s Rhetoric (II, chap. 5). Phobos is defined as pain that produces disorder (lupè tis kai tarakhè), and eleos (II, chap. 8) as lupè, but a sort of mediated phobos: if you feel phobos, then you shiver for yourself, and if you feel eleos, then you feel (you actually empathize) for someone else or something else. Phobos (phobic fear) is a subjective experience, whereas eleos is the fear that introduces an inter-subjective experience, the end result of which is pity. If we feel phobos (and I need not remind you of contemporary forms of various phobias, from psychosomatic disorders that treat humans’ relation to nature and surroundings to various cultural phobias: homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, even phobophobia), then we are dealing with a personal, monstrous fear, difficult to convey, impregnable and entirely immutable, since it is impossible to transform this fear into anything else.
Even if its causes are difficult to impart to another, it is irrational, relativistic, and resistant to reason this phobic. Aristotle is explicit that we feel fear when we are ourselves sufficiently vulnerable, receptive to pain and destruction: “[f]rom the definition it will follow that fear is caused by whatever we feel has great power of destroying us, or of harming us in ways that tend to cause us great pain” (Rhetoric, II, chap. 5 1382b28-30). The connective tissue of eleos is necessary to sustain our lives through relations with others and caring for others. Any new experience of a community, starting with the primary form of life with others, coupled living, to more developed forms of family or larger society, elevates this primal fear. Thus, only within a purposely created context did pity and fear become the condition of the appearance of kátharsis.
Thus, Antigone’s authentic experience of a daughter and a sister who dares to say no, simultaneously paves the path to the discharge of affects. Her call, her plea for a transformation of a social body, blindly follows its own rules structured and shaped in sometimes not-so-predictable and logical manners. The transition between natural elements and material bodies seeks a new articulation of an active being together, of togetherness which requires a way to mold, act on, and articulate the fear as a phobia and fear shared with others, for others.
We can reach kátharsis only on the literal plane of the body, or of embodiment, in which, just like Antigone, we can be aware of the presence of another (even dead) body next to us. We experience its presence as other-extendedness that does not encroach on our geometry and with which we, in turn, do not disturb the geometry of bodies that are contiguous to ours.
Aristotle. Poetics. Translated by W. Hamilton Fyfe, Harvard University Press, 1965.
Aristotle. Hardison, O. B. Aristotle’s Poetics: A Translation and Commentary for Students of Literature. Translated by Leon Golden, Florida State University Press, 1981.
Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Translated by George A. Kennedy, Oxford University Press, 2006.
Bernays, Jacob. Grundzüge der verlorenen Abhandlung des Aristoteles über Wirkung der Tragödie [Outlines of Aristotle’s Lost Work on the Effects of Tragedy]. Eduard Trewendt, 1857.
Cassin, Barbara, et al., editors. Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon. Princeton University Press, 2017.
Dupont-Roc, Roselyne, and Jean Lallot. La Poetique–Aristotle. Seuil, 1980.
Else, Gerald. Aristotle’s “Poetics”: The Argument. Harvard University Press, 1957.
Golden, Leon. “Catharsis.” Transactions of the American Philological Association, vol. 93, 1962, pp. 51-60.
Paillier, Magali. La katharsis chez Aristotle. L’Harmattan, 2004.
Plato. Republic. Translated by Paul Shorey, William Heinemann, 1969, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0059.tlg030.perseus-eng1:10.605a.
Somville, Pierre. Essai Sur La Poétique d’Aristotle et Sur Quelques Aspects de Sa Postérité [Essay on the Poetics of Aristotle and on Some Aspects of Its Posterity]. Vrin, 1975.
Sanja Bojanić teaches at the Academy of Applied Arts of the University of Rijeka, Croatia. She is a researcher immersed in the philosophy of culture, media, and queer studies, with an overarching commitment to comprehend contemporary forms of gender, racial, and class practices, which underpin social and affective inequalities specifically increased in the contemporary societal and political contexts. Her research and scientific work are fostered through various projects funded by the European Commission and private foundations. She is the author and editor of several books and manuals and has published over thirty peer-reviewed papers on topics related to her field of expertise.
by Rosaura Martínez Ruiz
A considerable number of adaptations of the Greek tragedy Antigone (441 BC) by Sophocles have been produced in Latin America in reaction to the large number of forensic crises that have devastated the region. There has been a systematic history of forced disappearances in Latin America, going from the dictatorships in Chile and Argentina in the seventies to the various armed conflicts in Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries, and, since the militarization of the country, in Mexico (without neglecting the fact of systemic feminicides in Ciudad Juárez, where many of the victims were also “disappeared”). The number of these adaptations in this part of the world is striking because there is an important difference between the story of the Theban Antigone and those of the Latin American Antigones: the Greek Antigone is in possession of her brother Polynices’ corpse and knows exactly how he died; in contrast, most Latin American Antigones are relatives of the disappeared and are seeking the living or lifeless body of their loved one and the truth about their fate. Antigone of Thebes demanded a dignified ritual for her brother Polynices, whilst the Latin American Antigones, Antígona Furiosa by Griselda Gambaro (1986), the Peruvian Antígona by Grupo Yuyachkani (2000), Antígona González by Sara Uribe (2012) and Antígona in Juárez by Perla de la Rosa (2005),The title of the Antigone of Ciudad Juárez is Antígona, las voces que incendian el desierto [Antigone, the voices that set fire to the desert]. demanded the materialization of the absence of their loved ones and a human burial.
In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud argues that the crucial difference between these two psychic phenomena is that mourning takes place when the sufferer knows what she has lost. In contrast, not knowing what has been lost, or in the case of the Latin American Antigones not even knowing whether something has been lost or not, sentences the subject to a condition of melancholia: “This would suggest that melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious” (Freud 243). This does not mean that the Latin American Antigones are not aware of their loss, rather, for Freud, the unconscious in melancholia is that which has been lost with the object: the patient may know who she has lost, but not what she has lost with it (243). Following Freud, it is clear that mourning is impossible for the Latin American Antigones since they do not even know if they have lost someone or not; yet, based on this same theory, the Greek heroine’s difficulty in mourning is enigmatic. If Antigone of Thebes is in possession of the corpse of her brother and knows the truth of his fate, why does she continue her lamentation? Freud is wrong on a key point, mourning can only be mourning if it is collective. One can only mourn if the loss is socially or collectively recognized as such; the grief of the bereaved must be registered as the sorrow of someone who is a member of the polis. As Butler points out in Precarious Life, mourning is not a private thing; on the contrary, it “furnishes a sense of political community of a complex order, and it does this first of all by bringing to the fore the relational ties that have implications for theorizing fundamental dependency” (21). What the Theban Antigone shares with the Latin American Antigones is that their mourning and their loved ones are not recognized as being included in what is shared. Every one of the Mexican Buscadora collectives has been formed after women have reported the disappearance of their relatives to the authorities, have demanded they be searched for, and provided the police with clues to their loved ones’ possible whereabouts.Reacting to the State’s inability and negligence towards responding to their searching, adopting the name Buscadoras, numerous Mexican women have organized themselves into collectives that travel … Continue reading These women have taken to the streets to demand justice and they have been ignored. In this sense, the Buscadoras are women whose citizenship has been de facto denied. There is no customary right to mourn for Latin American Antigones. After denouncing threats made by an organized crime gang member, the authorities told Mirna Medina, a buscadora: “Well, woman, don’t search then,” (Pacifista! paragraph 13).
In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi says that “the need to tell our story to ‘others’, to make ‘others’ share it, took on for us, before the liberation and after, the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with other elementary needs” (Preface). As also related by Kimberly Theidon in her study on the aftermath of armed conflict in Peru: “as I walked up the hill I ran into Mrs. Giovana Valenzuela […] she summoned me straight away: ‘Miss, come, I want to talk to you.’ When I approached, she said ‘Llakiytam huillakuyta munaryk’i’ [I want to tell you my sorrow]” (112). Among the victims of extreme violence, the “urge to be heard” is a constant. Why is there this pleading demand to be heard?
In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt argues that the narrative of action is the human activity that reveals the “‘who’––the unique and distinct identity of the agent” (180) in the public sphere. In this way, the narrative constructs human dignity as the irreplaceable singularity par excellence (176). The narration of the action or event facilitates the creation of agency for the subject but, since there is no story in the public sphere without the hospitable listening of the agora, the latter is shown as the fundamental ethical activity. For the Antigones, there is no possibility of mourning without the hospitable listening to their laments in the polis. Repairing extreme violence necessarily implies making space for it in the collective memory.
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, 2004.
De la Rosa, Perla. “Antígona: las voces que incendian el desierto” [Antigone, the voices that set fire to the desert]. Cinco dramaturgos chihuahuenses, edited by G. de la Mora, Fondo Municipal Editorial Revolvente, 2005, pp. 187-228.
Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1-24 Volume Set), translated by James Strachey, W. W. Norton & Company, 1976, pp. 3039-65.
Gambaro, Griselda. “Antígona furiosa” [Furious Antigone]. Griselda Gambaro: Teatro 3, Ediciones la Flor, 2011, pp. 313-28.
Grupo Yuyachkani. Antígona. Yuyachkani, 2000.
Ilná, Nadejda. “‘¡Tu madre está en la lucha!’ La dimensión de género en la búsqueda de desaparecidos en Nuevo León, México” [“‘Your mother is fighting!’ The gender dimension in the search for the disappeared in Nuevo León, México”]. ÍCONOS: Revista de Ciencias Sociales, vol. XXIV, no. 67, 2020, pp. 119-36. doi:10.17141/iconos.67.2020.4172.
Levi, Primo. If This Is a Man. Translated by Stuart Woolf, The Orion Press, 1959.
Pacifista! “‘Encontré a mi hijo pero faltan miles más’: Mirna Medina” [“‘I found my son but thousands more are missing’: Mirna Medina”]. Pacifista TV, 12 September 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20220520111333/https://pacifista.tv/notas/encontre-a-mi-hijo-pero-faltan-miles-mas-mirna-medina/.
Redacción Animal Político. “Crean la Brigada Nacional de Búsqueda de desaparecidos; su primera misión será en Veracruz” [“The National Brigade for the Search for the Disappeared has been created; its first mission will be in Veracruz”]. Animal Político, 8 April 2016, https://www.animalpolitico.com/2016/04/crean-la-brigada-nacional-de-busqueda-de-desaparecidos-su-primera-mision-sera-en-veracruz/.
Romina Gándara, Sugeyry. “La VI Brigada termina trabajos en Morelos: ‘venimos a sacar la verdad y enfrentarla’” [“The VI Brigade ends work in Morelos: ‘We have come to bring the truth to light and face it’”]. Sin embargo.mx, 24 October 2021, https://www.sinembargo.mx/24-10-2021/4044803.
Theidon, Kimberly. Entre prójimos. El conflicto armado interno y la política de reconciliación en el Perú. [Between Neighbors: The Internal Armed Conflict and the Policy of Reconciliation in Peru]. IEP Ediciones, 2004.
Uribe, Sara. Antígona González. Surplus Ediciones, 2012.
Rosaura Martínez Ruiz is Professor of Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She is a member of the National System of Researchers in Mexico (SNI) and served as the coordinator of the research project Philosophers after Freud (UNAM, 2013–2016). Her main line of research is the analysis of problems of contemporary ontology with particular emphasis on questions of subjectivity. Interested in the dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis, she has studied the impact that the latter has had on some classical philosophical problems, and has specialized in the crossover between the thought of Jacques Derrida and the work of Sigmund Freud. She is the author of Freud y Derrida. Escritura y psique (2013), among other works and articles.
|↑1||The title of the Antigone of Ciudad Juárez is Antígona, las voces que incendian el desierto [Antigone, the voices that set fire to the desert].|
|↑2||Reacting to the State’s inability and negligence towards responding to their searching, adopting the name Buscadoras, numerous Mexican women have organized themselves into collectives that travel around the country. They have learned to distinguish the smell of death from all the other smells of the earth; they have learned to find and handle human remains with the care required for their subsequent analysis. Some of them, like Yadira González, have even become certified forensic anthropologists (Romina, paragraph 1). They have become Antigones against their own will, as Diana “Antígona” Gómez said: “I didn’t want to be an Antigone, but it fell to me to be one” (Uribe 15). Since 2012, various collectives of “Antígonas” have been organized throughout Mexico (Ilná 121). Since 2016, the Red de Enlaces Nacionales has organized the annual National Search Day when different search organizations and non-governmental organizations meet in a conflict-torn region of Mexico to carry out searches, forensic identification, searches for the living, prevention of forced disappearances at schools and religious communities, and to raise awareness among local authorities and security forces (Redacción Animal Político).|
by George Sampatakakis
the chorus—perhaps the most conspicuous
element of ancient tragedy
(Hans-Thies Lehmann 22)
1. The ancient Greek chorus is a machine of collectivization—an apparatus of (not always lyrical) voices and bodies erupting in the middle of the tragic action. The chorus sings, dances, makes speculations, falls down, stays clear of the actions of others, makes statements, and knows secrets. The solidarity of the chorus is rarely cracked and the tragic chorus cannot normally talk asydentically (as in Aeschylus’ Persians, for example)See Hall 23.—it has to be a coalition of symmetry and unison.
There is no better definition for the political identity of particularly the Sophoclean chorus than the one given by Simon Goldhill, according to which most choral odes are positioned “between authority and insecurity, as the choral voice shifts and slides between authoritative generalization and character-led specificity” (107). This in-betweenness of sliding favoritism presents the Elders of the chorus of Antigone as the guardians of traditional (patriarchal) values with a fruitless and incompetent sensitivity for the invincible love and death of others:
(Antigone is brought in from the palace under guard.)
But now I myself am carried beyond the laws (θεσμῶν) at this sight, and I can no longer restrain the stream of tears, when I see Antigone here passing to the bridal chamber where all come to rest. (Sophocles 801-5)
This lyrical exercise of practical nothingness is the perfect confirmation of Friedrich Hegel’s seemingly hyperbolic statement that “the chorus in Greek tragedy […] does nothing and has only universal considerations in view” (1080). Still, for the German philosopher each opposing side in a tragic conflict like Antigone’s with Creon (Hegel 1196) has a strong moral justification, making the chorus a commentator on both defensible sides.
Along the same philosophical lines, Jacques Lacan points out that both the tragic heroes and the voices around them “are situated with relation to the goal of desire” and that tragedy “concerns subsidence” (265). More generally, in Lacan’s reading of Antigone, the chorus is situated outside real action and the true events, thereby praising mankind and making comments on the desires of others (Lacan 265). But, for Judith Butler, there is no “uncontaminated voice with which Antigone speaks” and the chorus, in particular, brings undoubtedly the “community judgment” not inseparable “from either kinship or the state” (88), given also that choruses of old men in Greek tragedy are more generally associated with “political concerns” (Foley 24).
2. The atheist and absurd 20th century lowered the old poetic grandeur of Sophocles’ choral poetry into “mere dry statement” (do Céu Fialho 65), making the chorus talk in prose against inconceivable ancient acts. Jean Cocteau’s Antigone at the Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris (1922) put together one of these choruses which were shoved in a hole at the back of the stage, delivering ironic statements on human condition:
Man is amazing. Man sails, man tills the soil, man hunts, man fishes. He tames horses. He thinks. He speaks. […] He escapes diseases. Death is the only disease that he does not recover from. He does good and evil. He is a brave man only if he listens to the laws of heaven and earth, but he ceases to be brave from the moment he stops listening to them. Let no criminal ever be my guest. Gods, what a strange wonder! It is unbelievable, but it’s true. Is that not Antigone? (Cocteau 62)
But Bertolt Brecht, in reclaiming the chorus of Antigone (from Friedrich Hölderlin’s 1804 translation), was the one who made fundamental remarks on the dramaturgical technology of adaptation with regard to ancient texts and the choral odes which “sound like riddles that demand solutions” (Revermann 128). For Brecht:
(a) ancient texts must be treated as political Material that invites analogies with the present day, but only after following a process of de-familiarization and rationalization;
(b) the main point is not to “conjure up the spirit of antiquity,” but to reject “philological interests,” that is, interests of fidelity and authenticity;
(c) the whole plot of the new play must proceed objectively (“Masterful Treatment” 210).
The objective solution that Brecht found regarding the new political identity of an unrhymed chorus of Elders, is to accuse Antigone for her delayed—but effective in “the collapse of the head of government” (Brecht, “Masterful Treatment” 209)—revolution:
Exit Antigone with the guard and the maids.
Turned and with long strides as though she
Were leading her guard. Over the square
[…] There she walked faster;
But she also once
Ate of the bread that was baked
In the stony dark. And while unhappiness
Harboured in the towers
In their shadows she sat at ease […].
(Brecht, Brecht Plays 37)
This Brechtian chorus wore ritualist square masks with primitive faces, which were carried on poles and were put on during the choral stasima,For details see Revermann 159-62. promoting new political demands.
3. By the end of the Second World War, a dramaturgy of suspicion (Bruera 140) regarding the sanctification of tragic myths transformed ancient choruses into prose political narrators—intervenors, that is, into action and the “puerile dreams of heroism” (Steiner 193). Anouilh’s Antigone (1944) that was presented in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Atelier during the Nazi occupation, is perhaps the best example of the devastation of an era:
But now, it’s over. […] Everyone who had to die is dead. Those who believed one thing, and those who believed another—even those who believed nothing, and were caught up in the story without understanding any of it. Just as dead, all of them—stiff, useless, rotting. And those who still live will begin very slowly to forget them and to mix up their names. It’s over. Antigone’s fever has subsided, and we’ll never know its name. Her work is done. (Anouilh 60)
4. The theatrical cliché of the revolutionist Antigone who fights against oppressions, was never really revoked in the 20th and the 21st century, even if it was generally transformed into a harsh agonistic need for revolt (not only against oppression, but also against tradition). Still, in many cases the old-fashioned machine of the chorus seemed needless. The choral voices and any form of communal “actor” were no longer valid in times when the Antigonic desires for heroism result to a total rapture not only from kinship but also from a moral community. Accordingly, Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of Antigone’s moral fidelity as that of a “proto-totalitarian figure” (Interrogating the Real 344) made him compare Antigone’s personal act with the World Trade Center attacks, if “they both undermine the ‘servicing of the goods’” (“The Smell of Love” 142).
The alienated and unaccompanied by a chorus Antigone is still a revolutionist, but not always a romantic one when she fights harsh regimes and conservative societies. For example, in Femi Osofisan’s Tegonni: An African Antigone (1994) the Nigerian heroine becomes “the unambiguous symbol of resistance to colonial oppression” but also the “agent of social and emancipatory change in a repressive traditional society” (Van Weyenberg 19). But, more recently, an Afro-American Antigone in the Classical Theater of Harlem (2018) fought for the Black Lives Matter movement in front a stage-wall painted with graffiti which wrote RIP Eteocles, say his name, black lives matter, returning to the need of a chorus. The choral odes “with the music of a crooning chorus and the movement of a flock of five dancers” (Collins-Hughes) was choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher in the style of hip-hop dance and African rituals, celebrating thereby traditional and contemporary cultures. In doing so, the ancient chorus made a perfect cycle from the passive commentary to choral solidarity, recalling perhaps the delirium of the first modern chorus of Antigone (Jones 95)—the Romantic chorus of Ludwig Tieck’s and Felix Mendelssohn’s archaistic Antigone (Potsdam, 1841), that sought to archaeologically reconstruct the rhythmical sensation of antiquity.
Anouilh, Jean. Antigone. Translated by Barbara Bray, Methuen Drama, 2000.
Brecht, Bertolt. “Masterful Treatment of a Model (Forward to Antigone).” Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett, 2nd ed., Methuen, 1974, pp. 209-15.
—. Brecht Plays 8: The Antigone of Sophocles; The Days of the Commune; Turandot or the Whitewasher’s Congress. Translated by David Constantine, Bloomsbury, 2015.
Bruera, Franca. “Towards a Dramaturgy of Suspicion: Theatre and Myths in 20th-Century France.” Beyond Deconstruction: From Hermeneutics to Reconstruction, edited by Alberto Martinengo, De Gruyter, 2012, pp. 135-48.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Cocteau, Jean. Four Plays. Translated by William Fifield, MacGibbon & Kee, 1962.
Collins-Hughes, Laura. “Review: ‘Antigone’ Asserts Whose Lives Matter, With Modern Relevance.” The New York Times, 9 July 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/theater/antigone-review.html.
do Céu Fialho, Maria. “Jean Cocteau and Oedipus’ Daughter.” Portrayals of Antigone in Portugal: 20th and 21st Century Rewritings of the Antigone Myth, edited by Carlos Morais et al., Brill, 2017, pp. 57-71.
Foley, Helene. “Choral identity in Greek tragedy.” Classical Philology, vol. 98, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-30, doi:10.1086/378725.
Goldhill, Simon. “Choreography: The Lyric Voice of Sophoclean Tragedy.” Choral Mediations in Greek Tragedy, edited by Renaud Gagné and Marianne Govers Hopman, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 100-29.
Jones, Frank. “Scenes from the life of Antigone.” Yale French Studies, no. 6, 1950, pp. 91-100. doi:10.2307/2929200.
Hall, Edith, editor. Aeschylus: Persians. Aris & Phillips Ltd, 1997.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Aesthetics, vol. 2. Translated by Thomas Malcolm Knox, Clarendon Press, 1975.
Lacan, Jacques. “The articulation of the play.” The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Denis Porter, W.W. Norton and Co, 1986, pp. 257-69.
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre. Translated by Erik Butler, Routledge, 2016.
Revermann, Martin. Brecht and Tragedy: Radicalism, Traditionalism, Eristics. Cambridge University Press, 2022.
Sophocles. Volume II: Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus. Translated by Hugh Lloyd Jones, Harvard University Press, 1994.
Steiner, George. Antigones: How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought. Yale University Press, 1986.
Van Weyenberg, Astrid. The Politics of Adaptation: Contemporary African Drama and Greek Tragedy. Rodopi, 2013.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Conclusion: The Smell of Love.” Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September, Verso, 2002, pp. 135-59.
—. Interrogating the Real. Edited by Rex Butler and Scott Stephens, Continuum, 2005.
George Sampatakakis is Associate Professor of Drama and Performance at the Department of Theatre Studies, University of Patras, Greece. His areas of interest include performance studies, the reception of Greek drama, theatre histories and theories, and queer theory. He has published many books and articles on the abovementioned areas, and his most recent publications include: “From the ekkyklema to Ivo Van Hove: The technology of presence in multimedia theatre and the presence of the digital in performance,” in G. Rodosthenous and A. Poulou (eds), Greek Tragedy and the Digital, Bloomsbury, 2022 (forthcoming), and “VISUAL ESSAY: Rebranding the nation: Performances of 1821,” Journal of Greek Media & Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, 2022, pp. 117–123. He has also participated in many international conferences and has been a member of state committees.
by Adriana Zaharijević
Antigone is a defiant maker of her own history: she seems to be what all activists inherently strive for. Antigone fights unflinchingly for what she believes right, against the authority embodied in the laws of the sovereign, appropriating his words, and valiantly speaking back. Her will is so strong that she rejects counsels and appeals of those she holds dearest, her sister and her lover. No one can hold her back. Until the very end, she remains determined to be her own legislator, even if this means legislating death to herself. Antigone’s defiance, however, goes beyond her entombment in the death chamber. She stakes not only her life, but also all of what life—a life of a woman in the ancient polis—could have consisted of. By flouting the law, she renounces her femaleness, rejecting an existence of “only and exclusively… the fleshy prerequisite of biological life” (Athanasiou and Tzelepis 108). By her doing and undoing—rites, speech, sex, laws—Antigone performs a series of transgressions and produces a radical crisis in established power. By being steadfast and consequent in her resoluteness, she undoes the political, but also the order on which the polis depends. The chorus both reprimands her (“your self-willed temper has destroyed you” (Sophocles 93)) and praises her, calling her glorious and αὐτόνομος, “answering only to the laws of yourself” (Sophocles 90).
Antigone’s autonomy is reflected in her being the only mortal who, guided only by her own laws, will go into Hades alive. But, her indisputable heroism notwithstanding, Antigone cannot function as the paradigmatic figure of political agency, and therefore activism. In our activism, we cannot want to emulate her. Antigone dies. She pays for her defiance with her life. The risk she was prepared to take led to her bodily disintegration. Thus, the main question for political activism is: what would it mean for Antigone to have stood up to Creon and lived?
If we follow Judith Butler, we need to be able to envision a world in which we, as activists, perform transgressions and produce crises in established power—without risking disintegration, without putting our lives at stake. Antigone’s story is thus also a story that tells us that the individual—however autonomous—cannot stand up to social reality alone. We want an activism that challenges social intelligibility and political representability, but without tragedy, without staking life. The question of survival is, in a sense, a prerequisite for a successful or, rather, livable political agency. Thus Butler says: “It seems to me that you survive in community or in solidarity, with others who are taking the risk with you. So there might be a kind of collective effort that allows for those risks to be taken, pose a certain danger but not a suicidal one.”
Butler wants to keep Antigone, but not as a heroic individual. “We should be able to live in a world in which our demands for justice do not cost us our lives. We want to survive; we want to make such claims and survive. So the question that Antigone raises for me is, what kind of world would it have been or could it be in which Antigone could survive?” (Reddy and Butler 122). What kind of world do we want to build through our activist actions? One in which no Antigone would have died.
And how to reach that world? “The only way she could have lived is if she had had a serious social movement with her… It’s really important to be able to re-situate one’s rage and destitution in the context of a social movement” (Bella). Imagine that Antigone had others who were taking the risk “with her”: she leads or participates in an insurrection against the tyrant, or in a massive public mourning, a kind of collective act of defiance of a sovereign edict. Not only does she then perhaps not die, but her body is shielded and sheltered by other bodies, gathered together. (Zaharijević)
We need Antigone to live in order to continue undoing the status quo. We need her heroism, but only if she acts with others, in concert. Antigone alive should be our paradigm for acting.
Athanasiou, Athena, and Elena Tzelepis. “Mourning (as) Woman: Event, Catachresis, and ‘That Other Face of Discourse’.” Rewriting Difference. Luce Irigaray and the “Greeks,” edited by Elena Tzelepis and Athena Athanasiou, SUNY Press, 2010, pp. 105-18.
Bella, Kyle. “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements.” Truthout, 15 December 2011, https://truthout.org/articles/bodies-in-alliance-gender-theorist-judith-butler-on-the-occupy-and-slutwalk-movements/.
Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble: Still Revolutionary or Obsolete?” Interview by Bang Bang, May 2007, http://www.fahamu.org/mbbc/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BangBang2007InterviewwithJudithButler.pdf.
Reddy, Vasu, and Judith Butler. “Troubling Genders, Subverting Identities: Interview with Judith Butler.” Agenda, vol. 18, no. 62, 2004, pp. 115-23, doi:10.1080/10130950.2004.9676210.
Sophocles. Antigone. Edited and translated by Reginald Gibbons and Charles Segal, Oxford University Press, 2003.
Zaharijević, Adriana. Butler and Politics. Edinburgh University Press, 2023 (upcoming).
Adriana Zaharijević is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (University of Belgrade) and Assistant Professor of gender studies at the University of Novi Sad. Zaharijević’s research interests have developed along two axes: first, the history and theories of women’s movements both in the West and in the East, especially Yugoslavia and contemporary Serbia, with a special stress on anti-militarism, anti-nationalism, and, of recent, anti-capitalism; second, theoretical and historical underpinnings of the contemporary neoliberalism. She publishes on different topics within political philosophy (critique of liberalism, feminist philosophy, and critique of violence), and engagement studies (agency, translation, and critique as engagement).
by Eirini Avramopoulou
“It smells of psychiatric asylum, here, I thought when I visited a place in Athens,” she tells me.
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
“The psychiatric hospital was smelling,” another woman notes. “It was smelling of urine and shit. Their shit was smelling because the food was bad and they would often have diarrhoea. The patients smelled of the medicine, too. They were taking a lot of drugs, tranquilizers… their bodies smelled of those medicine.”
“Yes, that is true,” the first woman replied to her. “But I do not refer only to these. I refer to the smell of the rose spray. For example, whenever the patients would shit on the floor, we would spray over it. We sprayed all the time. The hospital smelled of that spray. That is why I cannot stand the smell of rose spray anymore.”
Following the dialogue that I had with two women who worked from the age of 17 until their retirement as caretakers in the psychiatric hospital of Leros island, I ask: “What can a smell do? What is it capable of?” Paraphrasing important theoretical questions that defined the emergence and development of critical engagement with discourse, identity, and representation through affect theory, since the 1990s, I draw attention to injurious stereotypes, embodiments, and norms related to unbearable smells that defined, and continue to define, everyday life in the island of Leros. Thus, my intention is to raise questions regarding the ethical and political implications of those dense affective atmospheres that penetrate the senses while they defy sense-making mechanisms as people become entangled in sustaining and reiterating the production of contemporary human tragedies.
The vivid images I already had of this island, even before visiting it for the first time in 2016, were coming from my late childhood. The photograph escorting John Merritt’s article for The Observer in 1989 titled “Europe’s guilty secret,” or captions from the film made by Jane Gabriel for BBC Channel Four in 1990, called The Island of the Outcasts, along with the reportage for the Greek magazine Tahidromos, in 1982, made by the Greek journalist Kostas Papapetrou and the photographer Nikos Panayiotopoulos, and Kostis Zois’ documentary called The Rejected during the same year, still haunt the social imaginary in Greece, as they fixed the image of the “mad” and gave the asylum its well-earned dreadful aura. “Patients shut in iron cages behind barbed-wire fences, 85 percent of the patients restrained or in straitjackets. Their treatments were described: blows, water jets to calm them down, and a waste product of about sixty or seventy deaths a year. No patients discharged in thirty years!” was what François Dosse describes as the file of press cuttings of the asylum in Leros given to Felix Guattari on the plane to visit Greece and the island in 1989 (Dosse 341). Such representations got attached to the affective atmosphere of this place, stigmatizing its inhabitants’ by hailing them complicit to what was depicted as “a crime against humanity” for which no official authorities were ever asked to account for and/or obtained responsibility.
The economy produced by the psychiatric hospital rescued the locals from the fate of extreme poverty usually reserved for those living on small Mediterranean islands in the late 1950s. 90% of the islanders found work in the asylum, people told me. Professional categories of caretakers and hospital guards were created and given to an unskilled population assigned to the care of nearly 5,000 patients who arrived from 1958 onward and were destined to live and die in Leros. The locals would perform all the tasks related to the care of people toward whom they held mixed emotions—namely, the fear, aversion, and repulsion generally attached to those deemed “mad.” Nevertheless, the stories the locals shared with me also conveyed their burnout, having to endure a job bearing the unbearable smell of stool, indirectly attached to the unbearable guilt of “treating people like animals” and having to “put your hands in shit,” as they often phrased it. At the same time, they slowly developed intimacy, genuine care, and love on account of the unavoidable co-dependency and coexistence created, especially when most of the islanders grew up and got old in the psychiatric hospital, together with the patients.
“What can a smell do? What is it capable of?” I ask while keeping in mind that the lingering memory of the (unbearable) stench of stool of the psychiatric hospital, that sticky smell of shit that was getting stuck in the skin while permeating the surface of bodies and social relations, or of the “affective economy” (Ahmed) of fear, guilt, complicity, and denial stigmatizing its inhabitants, resonates to the im-possibility of attributing “clean” meaning in convoluted landscapes marked by “slow death” (Berlant). Indeed, the toxicity produced in such gendered, medicalized, and racialized landscapes cannot find easy relieve in the haunting plea for disinfection, sanitization, or else, catharsis. The lingering affects of unbearable smells that stick around to performatively remind us of the symbolic cost of this aversion, as evident in my interlocutor’s repulsion towards the deadening aroma of the rose spray, gets to be uncannily reiterated in view of another contemporary tragedy.
In 2015, the decision to build a refugee Hotspot in Leros recalled past traumas, as more than 38,000 refugees passed through the island, whose permanent population numbers fewer than 9,000 inhabitants. Currently, bearing witness to the eruption of what has been characterized as the biggest refugee crisis in Europe over the last years, which followed the devastating effects of Greece’s economic crisis impacting a population struggling to survive huge levels of unemployment and agonizing over impoverishment, seemed to re-animate the smell of fear, hate, guilt, and denial circulating around the question of who would/could profit from another human tragedy. “Everybody profited from the psychiatric hospital” appeared in parallel to “everybody profits from the refugee crisis” or “they ‘eat’ the money of the refugees, as they did with the mentally ill.” Here, xenophobia and empathy collide, as “dirty refugees” morph into “poor refugees,” from whose “shitty conditions” others can “profit.”
And I wonder, again: What can a smell do, what is it capable of? Or else, how can one be set free of the toxic odor that certain structures carry, especially when society has invested so much economic and symbolic value on their (re)production? Most importantly, where would a(nother) tragedy’s catharsis lie?
Reading Antigone against the grain of traditional political philosophy and psychoanalysis, Judith Butler evocatively asserts that Antigone “[…] as a figure for politics, she points somewhere else, not to politics as a question of representation but to that political possibility that emerges when the limits to representation and representability are exposed” (2). This “representational trouble” that also resonated to theoretical discussions regarding the “affective turn” in social anthropology, gender/queer theory, feminist philosophy, and postcolonial studies, entailed asking methodological questions differently than those focusing on the evocative power of “events,” the emancipating potential of defiant subjects and the promising futurity attached to heroes/heroines. Instead, looking into ephemeral evidence of everyday life (Muñoz), caring for ordinary affects (Stewart), being attentive to negativity’s hold in the affective geographies we co-inhabit (Navaro-Yashin) and prompting “the unresolved” or the “unfinishedness into our storytelling” (Biehl), enable us to pose questions without being falsely attached to inquiries about truth-making regimes, linear narratives, clear cut meanings, fixed identities and representations. This powerful lineage of intellectual work prompts us to finally ask: What kind of subjects emerge in tragedies and what kind of remedies societies evoke to heal their wounds? And in this case, I also ask: How can we imagine processes of decolonizing (knowledge about) the body through the lingering affects of a smell that trouble the ethics of representation?
Ahmed, Sara. “Affective economies.” Social Text, vol. 22, no. 2, 2004, pp. 117-39, doi:10.1215/01642472222_79117.
Berlant, Lauren. “Slow death (sovereignty, obesity, lateral agency).” Critical Inquiry, vol. 33, no. 4, 2007, pp. 754-80, doi:10.1086/521568.
Biehl, João. “Ethnography in the Way of Theory.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 28, no. 4, 2013, pp. 573-97.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim. Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Dosse, François. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives. Columbia University Press, 2010.
Muñoz, José Esteban. “Ephemera as evidence: Introductory notes to queer acts.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 8, no. 2, 2008, pp. 5-16, doi:10.1080/07407709608571228.
Navaro-Yashin, Yael. The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity. Duke University Press, 2012.
Stewart, Kathleen. Ordinary Affects. Duke University Press, 2007.
Eirini Avramopoulou is Assistant Professor of Social Anthropology at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Athens, Greece). Her research interests include anthropology of human rights, social movements, and activism; feminist and psychoanalytic approaches to subjectivity, biopolitics, and affect; displacement, refugeeness, and trauma. She is the author of Porno-graphics and Porno-tactics: Desire, Affect and Representation in Pornography, (co-edited with Irene Peano, 2016, Punctum Books), Affect in the Political: Subjectivities, Power and Inequalities in the Modern World (in Greek, 2018, Nissos), and Sexuality’s Object(ion)s: Critical Theories, Interdisciplinary Readings (in Greek, co-edited with Aspa Chalkidou, 2022, Topos). She is the Principal Investigator of the research project “Affect-scapes of care: Gender-based violence and resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic,” funded by the Hellenic Foundation for Research & Innovation (see: https://covcare.gr/en/).
by Stefanos Geroulanos
The standard narrative about antihumanism’s rise is attached to two 20th-century stories, namely the postwar decline of utopia and the rise of structuralism in French thought. The two are entwined insofar as disappointment in the violence of political dreams ostensibly left the deconstruction of Western subjectivity as the most effective intellectual path. Which led to the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss arguing that “the ultimate goal of the human sciences” was “not to constitute, but to dissolve man” (The Savage Mind 247) and, even more famously, to Michel Foucault announcing an epistemological transformation thanks to which “Man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea” (387). This decline of Man-capital-M would end the overrated hopes in a communist future, a state-driven future, of a eugenic or consumerist or even a fascist future Man, a New Man. But it also would allow for the rethinking of modernity as secularization, democratization, and the overcoming of patriarchal authority, because—as many antihumanists argued—Man-capital-M had been responsible for some of the most staggering violence, oppression, and normalization in human history. That was a dream all its own—and in some ways it faded with the 1970s, as new political and economic tensions arose.
This easy account is wrong on many fronts. Antihumanism was not born in Paris around 1960-65. Rather, “Paris” is where it congealed and coagulated into a fairly distinct position, after several decades of multidirectional moves and gestures.For a France-focused version of this alternative story, see Geroulanos). These were not always at the same level of argumentation, but they constructed a constellation of antihumanisms—different permutations of burying the corpse of “Man.” So, some tactical pointers:
(1) Virtually every political movement in the period 1918-1970 presented itself as humanist and its opponents as either failed or antihumanist (meaning misanthropic). The communists did this to the liberals and the socialists, pointing to imperialism and tolerance for capitalism. The liberals pointed a finger back to the Russian Civil War, the Moscow Trials and Stalinist terror, later the Gulag. Even the fascists claimed to be humanists, with the Nazis debating the matter as late as 1941-42.On Nazi Germany’s humanism debate, see Rabinbach (109-10).
(2) Antihumanism grew in the shadow of a new literary canon as this canon developed—using Nietzsche’s revaluation of all values and Thomas Mann’s ironizing of Settembrini in his The Magic Mountain; using Dostoevsky and Beckett and the early Sartre; using Malraux’s desperation in La condition humaine but also Artaud and Bataille; dreaming with dada and breathing with Freud’s death drive, or Thanatos. This new canon played with religious and existential questions—and it was available as much to upper-class aesthetes as it was to university students, anticolonial and Marxist activists, and “Left melancholics.”On this last, see e.g. Traverso; Buck-Morss. Put two and two together, the point was, and you’ll see that life cannot be granted a meaning, politics can barely save us from the abyss, violence is ever-present, Man is the real behemoth and the brittlest of beings at once.
(3) Scientists and thinkers of technology—from evolutionary biologists and early quantum physicists through cyberneticians and psychologists—offered similar, often even analogous theories: “the human” was at best a marginal creature, at worst actively “degenerating.” Eugenics offered to improve the human; the question—intellectuals of all persuasions from Aryan supremacists to socialists and liberals agreed—was how.There is now a significant literature on eugenics’ persistence after 1945, and see notably Herzog. Meanwhile, psychologists promised to understand, diagnose, and truly cure humanity’s ills—in a sense to link healthy life with a healthy society. Some of these fantasies began to decline after World War II (though, as we know, they never disappeared), but then cybernetics, systems theory, and information theory stepped in (see Hayles; Geoghegan; Bates). In their worlds, the human was an epiphenomenon, not the driving force of history: electrical circuits, computers, and robots would still need something human in emergencies, but that was all. After all, the size and age of the universe (already calculated at 175 million years before 1900 and at billions soon thereafter) showed how puny and pathetic this species really was, living in the “cosmic boondocks” as Carl Sagan put it (50). Geology had offered a true second Copernican Revolution, compounded by a third, that of human descent from the apes, and a fourth, that of Freud’s Unconscious. Each, Freud noted, was a blow to humanity’s narcissism.
And so, science came to mean three things about Man at once. First, the sign of the excessive power of humanity (i.e. the atomic bomb, which could end all life on the planet). Second, the management of society and nature with an eye to their improvement, but which also had devastating effects. In Lévi-Strauss’s famous words in 1955,
Now that the Polynesian islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of traveling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western Civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. (Tristes Tropiques 43)
And nevertheless, third, the recognition that for all that humanist might, what Alexandre Koyré called the “Infinite Universe” was nevertheless absolutely terrifying.
(4) By 1950, virtually all European cultures were debating some version of the antihumanist question—what the human even was. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty put it, “even those of us today who are taking up the word ‘humanism’ again no longer maintain the same shameless humanism of our elders” (226). In Germany, the subject preoccupied the right (Heidegger, Jünger) as much as the left (Adorno). Heidegger had famously emphasized the distinction between being and man in the 1920s, downplaying the latter, but so had others, from his teacher Edmund Husserl to Erwin Panofsky who identified perspective with the rise of the “modern ‘anthropocracy’” (72, 154n73).On Husserl’s putative antihumanism, see Derrida. In France, antihumanism was a leading subject from disappointed marxists to epistemologists. North America faced what Mark Greif has aptly called an “age of the crisis of man.” Traditional humanism sputtered as the sheer numbers of the dead from war, the Shoah, Soviet and Chinese Terror were becoming better known. Historians and philosophers from Koyré to Hans Blumenberg to Hannah Arendt wrote of the Copernican Revolution as if it was really occurring now, which at the metaphorical level concerning “the human” rather than “the earth” was certainly true.On anthropoperiphery, see Nasser Zakariya’s forthcoming work. All the while, anticolonial activists and feminists pointedly asked “what indeed is Man—if not masculine and white?” And did we not tell you so already?
(5) I have left this part for last, because it involved the most radical and transformative visions, and here antihumanism became the jumping point for an altogether different humanity. Feminists from Simone de Beauvoir to Judith Butler showed how one (Antigone included) “is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (273). And elsewhere: “what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she—a free and autonomous being like all human creatures—nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other” (27). One might continue into current idioms: how one is gendered, how her/their revolt cannot be encompassed by humanism. Anticolonial and decolonial theorists from Aimé Césaire through Frantz Fanon and all the way to Achille Mbembe recalled, time and again, that when Europeans were shocked by power and totalitarian violence, non-Europeans had suffered European Man through slavery and colonialism for centuries. As Césaire distilled the “very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the 20th century” in 1950:
without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa. And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been – and still is – narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist. (36-7)
And this violence was not over. In many ways, since the 1960s, this position has distilled into a problem of universalism—whom does universalism leave aside and allow to be violated? As Butler wrote in Antigone’s Claim, “which human losses can be explicitly grieved as real and consequential loss?” (24) and, more explicitly in Frames of War, that despite universalist pretentions “those we kill are not quite human, and not quite alive, which means that we do not feel the same horror and outrage over the loss of their lives as we do over the loss of those lives that bear national or religious similarity to our own” (42).See also Butler, Frames of War (6-7, 18-9).
As I wrote earlier, these arguments operated generally at different levels. It was usually a combination of them that led to disgust with “Man.” (The disgust, moreover, was rarely complete: it is always possible to find new hope, new struggles, new meaning—as humanism’s more activist opponents did.) Now this disgust, this desire for a non-humanist ideal, coalesced parallel to the student movements of the 1960s. By the late 1970s, antihumanism was in full swing, from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, from Luce Irigaray to the rise of “theory” in North America, from cyberpunk to antipsychiatry, from gender theory to the end of the Cold War.
But you don’t win elections with antihumanist slogans; you can’t prop up the welfare state by trashing certain normative definitions (i.e. patriarchal, heteronormative, white supremacist, bourgeois, but also socialist or old communist) of “the human”; you don’t lead a Revolution, while declaring that the foundationalism of Man needs to be overcome. Or such was the understanding in the 1970s and 1980s: a certain universalism could not be disengaged from progressive politics. And so, even though many of the basic tenets of antihumanism had become widely accepted, activists could always relegate “antihumanism” to the 1960s, to its most famous expressions, to “theory.” The aftermath of the 1960s shifted significantly the metahistorical understanding involved in antihumanism, offering a different variety of the present as a transformative moment. The structures defining the present had previously been discussed as ambiguous and in the process of a transformation, as structures of knowledge and difference, history and presence. By 1977 or so, this transformation had become a far more political one, founded in a radicalism that aimed at a wholesale socio-political transformation of a very different and far more immediate variety. The need for a new approach to agency gave no quarter to antihumanism’s epistemological syncopation of political questions. And so, antihumanism was disavowed as if it had been the enemy—for in one sense, it easily served cynicism or endless deconstruction. Levi-Strauss may have been a great advocate of the Indigenous other, in a period that at best romanticized native peoples. Foucault may have re-theorized power and micropolitics and argued for the mad, the queer, the imprisoned. But now, outside of universities, they could generally be left behind—outside the borders of the polis—even while everyone could agree with their basic point.
Bates, David W. “The Political Theology of Entropy: A Katechon for the Cybernetic Age.” History of the Human Sciences, vol. 33, no. 1, 2020, pp. 109-27.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Translated by H. M. Parshley, Jonathan Cape, 1953.
Buck-Morss, Susan. Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in the West. MIT Press, 2000.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
—. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? Verso, 2009.
Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Translated by Joan Pinkham, Monthly Review Press, 2000.
Derrida, Jacques. “The Ends of Man.” Margins of Philosophy, translated, with additional notes by Alan Bass, University of Chicago Press, 1982, pp. 109-36.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Vintage Books, 1994.
Geoghegan, Bernard. Code: From Information Theory to French Theory. Duke University Press, 2023.
Geroulanos, Stefanos. An Atheism that is not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. Stanford University Press, 2010.
Greif, Mark. The Age of the Crisis of Man. Princeton University Press, 2015.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Herzog, Dagmar. Unlearning Eugenics: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Disability in Post-Nazi Europe. University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.
Koyré, Alexandre. From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Savage Mind. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.
—. Tristes Tropiques. Translated by John and Doreen Weightman, Penguin, 1978.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Man and Adversity.” Signs, translated by Richard C. McCleary, Northwestern University Press, 1964, pp. 224-46.
Panofsky, Erwin. Perspective as Symbolic Form. Zone Books, 1991.
Rabinbach, Anson. In the Shadow of Catastrophe: German Intellectuals Between Apocalypse and Enlightenment. University of California Press, 1997.
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1994.
Traverso, Enzo. Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory. Columbia University Press, 2017.
Stefanos Geroulanos is the Director of the Remarque Institute and Professor of History at New York University, where he has taught since 2008. He is the author of four books, including An Atheism that is not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford 2010), Transparency in Postwar France (Stanford 2017, Πόλις 2022), and The Human Body in the Age of Catastrophe (with Todd Meyers, Chicago 2018). He has co-edited or co-translated twelve books, including Power and Time (with Dan Edelstein and Natasha Wheatley, Chicago 2020), and serves as the co-Executive Editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas.
|↑1||For a France-focused version of this alternative story, see Geroulanos).|
|↑2||On Nazi Germany’s humanism debate, see Rabinbach (109-10).|
|↑3||On this last, see e.g. Traverso; Buck-Morss.|
|↑4||There is now a significant literature on eugenics’ persistence after 1945, and see notably Herzog.|
|↑5||On Husserl’s putative antihumanism, see Derrida.|
|↑6||On anthropoperiphery, see Nasser Zakariya’s forthcoming work.|
|↑7||See also Butler, Frames of War (6-7, 18-9).|
by Elpida Karaba
Our activist archives are thus unhappy archives. Just think of the labor of critique that is behind us: feminist critiques of the figure of “the happy housewife”; Black critiques of the myth of “the happy slave”; queer critiques of the sentimentalization of heterosexuality as “domestic bliss.” The struggle over happiness provides the horizon in which political claims are made. We inherit this horizon. […] Can we rewrite the history of happiness from the point of view of the wretch? If we listen to those who are cast as wretched, perhaps their wretchedness would no longer belong to them. The sorrow of the stranger might give us a different angle on happiness not because it teaches us what it is like or must be like to be a stranger, but because it might estrange us from the very happiness of the familiar. Willfulness [is the] asserting or disposed to assert one’s own will against persuasion, instruction, or command; governed by will without regard to reason; determined to take one’s own way; obstinately self-willed or perverse […] a willful politics needs to be a collective politics [and] when willfulness becomes a style of politics, it means not only being willing not to go with the flow, but also being willing to cause its obstruction.
Sarah Ahmed, “Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)”
The point of departure for the sound piece by Valia Papastamou, Undoing the Glossary (a future sample), is Saidiya Hartman’s text The Plot of Her Undoing. Hartman searches for the limits of the archive, writing about the lives of these “unknown, exploitable, expendable” others, the lives of “those who have left but little trace.” Through a poetics of the archive, the morphing of the feminist subversion of the glossary attempts to introduce another voice that echoes the silences that surround us by investing in the desire to articulate a new language as a field of interconnection, alliance, and assertion.
In the wake of the tumultuous events and changes at the end of the 20th century, the question of information, truth, history, memory, knowledge and its systems will be condensed into the special interest for the archive in such an extended way that many will talk about the “archival turn” in our culture. The central position of the archive as the par excellence apparatus of power and knowledge within modernity will make thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida in the late 1980s and 1990s to challenge its position in current affairs, politics, science, governmentality, and life itself. The rethinking of how knowledge and truth are constructed and distributed within the realm of cognitive capitalism and globalized economy and technology will make the troubling, undoing, and unsettling of the archive a political stance. The rising of agonistic archival formations, the feminist archive, the decolonial, the queer, black archives, the archive of AIDS, the diasporic archive will show us that the archive is not about the past but about understanding the contemporary; that the archive is about the present and the future realm of politics, looking in the face, listening, sensing, feeling the legacies, traits, and traumas that press on the present. The archive pushes us to examine what kind of present we occupy and becomes the vehicle for the future we would inhabit.
The feminist scholar Kate Eichorn, in her book the Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order, examines the critical relationship between neoliberalism and the archival turn and the role of the feminist archive as a creative locus for art, cultural production, genealogical politics, and activism. Few things have been left untouched by the axes of power, of capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, which organize our economic and political conditions and, consequently, the structure of our daily life but also our perceptions and experiences of time, history, and, most critically, social action, as Eichorn incisively points out (6). For that the archive can be perceived in its negative or affirmative power. For the archive contains the beginning, the origin and the power. For it hegemonizes as potestas, it regulates, it represses, it normalizes, but hegemonization is also inherent in the archive as potentia. In the first case, it is presented as a relation to another corporeality, in the second as a capacity or intensity. Potestas needs a referent to dominate or to be dominated by it in order to be realized. In contrast, potentia is a relation to the whole world, in the synthesis of a form of “harmony.” This harmony appears in the subtly integrated structure of infinite force and strength, which rises from every free-thinking and active individual. Potestas is subdivided every time is shared; potentia, however, moves in the inverse direction, it increases with the multiplicity; it is a multiplying (co)action. The willful archive is such an action.
The capacity of this archive is to restore to us what is systematically taken away from us by the axes of power—“not history itself, but rather the ability to understand the conditions of our lives across time and, most importantly, the conviction that we could, once again, be agents of change in time and history” (Eichorn 6). The archive is not only a contradictory practice, or an oppositional formation. Rather, it is an articulating formation, a multiplier. The willful archive “reflects the desire to take control of the present through reorientation to the past” (Eichorn 7). Hence, we can think of the archive as a central rather than a peripheral field of resistance, unsettling and doing otherwise. The willful archive resists institutional repression and denial, in mining, illuminating, spectralizing, and situating all those/that is withdrawn and dysselectedA critical term, key theme in the work of Sylvia Wynter, which expands from the dysselected-by-Evolution to the organization of academic knowledge that replicate the us-them and … Continue reading from the dominant narratives. It places what is not apparent, making sure that the history of violence and exclusion does not fall into oblivion as it happens in dominant archives that have been repeatedly not spaces of memory and history but apparatuses of lethe.
The willfulness of the archive is related to its interpellative and performative character, as it can be traced in processes of instituting willfulness. The will to enact aims beyond mere dislocation and towards possibilities of new and unexpected articulations. At the same time, instituting practices are not to be identified with utopian figurations (implying the idea of wholeness and completeness). Archives reveal scenes of unbearable historical burdens and, in doing so, open up productive spaces for aesthetic, ethical, political, social, and theoretical contemplation. Willful archives raise questions regarding what is at stake at any given time envisioning and postulating a different world where inequalities are combatted and the concerns of the most vulnerable can be addressed. The willful archive does not invoke the articulation of precarious subjects as an a priori positive development, but evaluates in it the decisive role of their public appearance through the archive and the publication of their conditions of existence. This appearance is about distinguishing one from others, occupying a prominent position within the space of human affairs (Arendt 218). The willful archive embodies the aporia with which the present condition confronts us. It activates the importance of promise, hope, and faith as the daunting capacities for the birth of the new.According to Arendt, the human capacity for promise is linked to the human affairs of faith and hope. It is based on man’s capacity for the (birth of) the new (Arendt 243-7). The willful archive activates the hope of possibility. The public domain is mutated while the willful archive takes on the representation, articulation, enunciation, and instituting of meaning. In this sense, the creation of a willful archive is an act of realizing this hope, which is not a chimera but rather an event of promise that takes place in the here and now. The willful archive is not linked to future projections based on fantasies of establishing a perfect world. Inscribing the “unpredictability of promise” (Arendt 243-7), it is a praxis of will in the here and now.
As part of this glossary entry in the online publication Invocations of the Tragic: A Glossary for Critical Theory, edited by Athena Athanasiou and Elena Tzelepis, we would like to invite friends, colleagues, and kins to share with us their willful archives. We expect the entry itself to become an active archive of willful archives: a topos of public appearance for researchers, activists, and other willful subjects.
Ahmed, Sarah. “Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects).” Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert, special issue of S&F Online, vol. 8, no. 3, 2010, https://sfonline.barnard.edu/feminist-killjoys-and-other-willful-subjects/.
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 1998.
Eichorn, Kate. The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order. Temple University Press, 2013.
Hartman, Saidiya. Notes on Feminisms: The Plot of Her Undoing. Feminist Art Coalition, https://feministartcoalition.org/essays-list/saidiya-hartman.
McKittrick, Κatherine, editor. On Being Human as Praxis. Duke University Press, 2015.
Dr Elpida Karaba is Associate Professor of Cultural Mediation and Education in Arts at the University of Thessaly (Volos, Greece). She works at the intersection of public art, critical theory, the relationship of art to systems of knowledge, and emerging political manifestations in the public sphere. She has participated in research projects and organized contemporary art exhibitions and independent art education programs. She is the head of research of the Center for New Media and Feminist Public Practices, which is dedicated to art, feminism, and technology, and founder of the Temporary Academy of Arts, a hybrid of artistic, curatorial, and theoretical practices that focuses on issues of labor, education, and institutional critique with the aim of exploring the boundaries, permeabilities, and contradictions implicit in public discourses and spaces in relation to issues of art, politics, and education.
|↑1||A critical term, key theme in the work of Sylvia Wynter, which expands from the dysselected-by-Evolution to the organization of academic knowledge that replicate the us-them and biocentric-social-geographic divides. For that and other key themes of Wynter—such as autopeoisis, counterdoctrines, propter nos, adaptive truths, archipelagos of poverty, scientia, which are so valuable for a willful archive—see McKittrick.|
|↑2||According to Arendt, the human capacity for promise is linked to the human affairs of faith and hope. It is based on man’s capacity for the (birth of) the new (Arendt 243-7).|
by Alexandros Kioupkiolis
Composed of αυτός (self) and νόμος (law), this ancient Greek term denoting “self-legislation” occurs routinely in political contexts where cities are “governed by their own laws” [αὐτονόμοι; Thucydides 5.18.2]. But it also crops up in Antigone, remarkably qualifying an individual posture of heroic defiance, as Antigone contests the decree of Thebes’ ruler Creon banning her brother’s burial. Responding to Antigone’s lament as she sets out on her journey to death, the chorus remarks that “guided by your own laws [αὐτόνομος] and still alive, unlike any mortal before, you will descend to Hades” (Sophocles 821-2).
Could Antigone’s tragedy, which intertwines personal-moral with political autonomy in an archaic setting restaged in classical Athens, foster critical reflection on modern autonomy?
Taking our bearings from Heidegger, among others, modern metaphysics forms “man” as a subject that
frees himself from obligation to Christian revelational truth…to a legislating for himself that takes its stand upon itself…freedom as the self-determination that is certain of itself (148).
Modern man as the thinking-representing subject of freedom rises to pre-eminence over all other beings. His subjectivity can be individual or collective (nation, race etc.). Yet, it always holds on to the structure of I and you, subject and object, culminating in “the planetary imperialism of technologically organized man” (Heidegger 152).
Individualist autonomy has been reasserted, most notably by political liberalism (Rawls) and neoliberal capitalism (Hayek; Dardot & Laval) in the second half of the 20th century, as the fundamental principle of politics, society, and economics. Opposing this reaffirmation, a multivocal chorus of theoretical and political currents, from psychoanalysis and Heideggerian existentialism to (post-)structuralism, feminism, ecology, post-colonial and disability studies, have multifariously taken issue with the autonomous and sovereign subject of modernity, castigating it as hollow, domineering, and lethal.
Autonomous subjectivity is an illusory effect of ideological interpellation (Althusser), captive to unconscious forces (Freud; Lacan, Ecrits; The Seminar), subject to reigning discourses and power structures (Foucault, “The Subject and Power”), racialized and gendered prior to its capacity to understand and act upon the norms constituting the identity of the self (Butler; Fanon). The autonomous subject is also politically complicit in all patterns of domination which govern capitalism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, and ecological destruction. It configures a self-certain and self-possessed I that stands apart from the Other(s)—other genders, sexualities, classes, races, abilities, human and non-human beings—asserting its knowledge, its independence, and its sovereign will over and against them.
Antigone’s ethico-political autonomy consists primarily in her freely chosen descent to Hades as a consequence of her willed resistance to Creon’s ban, whose violation would be punished with the sentence to death (Sophocles 806-22). In freely taking the decision to act in defiance and to die, she effectively observes pre-given laws ordaining her life. Neither the “unwritten and unfailing statutes given us by the gods” (454-5) that enjoin the burial of the dead, nor the “entire doom ordained” for her family, the incestuous “house of Labdakus” (859-60), nor her passionate love for her dead brother (870-1; 902-15) were of her own autonomous choice. Hence, both the chorus and Antigone herself collapse her autonomy into her free determination to die (806-930), a sovereign exertion of the will over and against any other living person and condition of life. She does not only oppose the authority of Creon. She refuses to listen and relate to any living other close to her—her sister, her betrothed. She painfully rises above any other desire, need, and consideration in her life. Hence, Antigone’s lament illuminates how the decision to commit suicide is perhaps the only instance when an individual subject can truly realize autonomy as full sovereign control over one’s entire life, independently of constitutive relations and socio-historical matter.
On the plane of political authority, Creon reflects the same lethal nature of the subject’s claim to sovereign autonomy, inducing the self-destructive death of his loved ones and the city itself as a political entity. He affirms the city’s authority to make its own laws. But he identifies this self-legislating freedom with the sovereign power of a single will, suppressing plurality, division, and interdependence—the democratic polis (663-75).
Am I to rule this land by the will of another than myself? (736) … Does not the city by tradition belong to the man in power? (738)
To which Haemon responds:
That is no city, which belongs to one man. (737) … You would make a fine monarch in a desert. (739)
Do not, then, bear one mood only in yourself: do not think that your word and no other, must be right. For if any man thinks that he alone is wise … such a soul, when laid open, is always found empty. (710) No, even when a man is wise, it brings him no shame to learn many things, and not to be too rigid. (711)
The vicissitudes of autonomy, ancient and modern, call for two decisive shifts to reconfigure rather than forsake the will to self-determination animating emancipatory struggles. From an imaginary pre-social state of narcissistic independence and self-assertion, autonomy should turn into an agonistic work on the social-historical construction of the self. This reflective agonism investigates “the instances of discourse that articulate what we think, say, and do as so many historical events” (Foucault, “What is Enlightenment” 124). It separates out “from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being” thus, and it undertakes historico-practical tests “of the limits that we may go beyond … as work carried out by ourselves upon ourselves as free beings” (126).
Autonomy morphs into an always partial and never-ending engagement, pursued through socially available practices of reflection and active self-formation, by virtue of which subjects gain some distance from the dominant norms and structures that constitute and constrain them, carving out space for different choices, paths and creative undertakings.
In a second and parallel step, agonistic autonomy becomes attuned to the mesh of ecological and social relations making and sustaining the self. Caring for the relational nexuses in which the I is nested, autonomous subjectivity does not only uphold its conditions of existence. It nurtures its essentially socio-historical sources of reflection and life-creation. It takes on the others as co-actants in the self-determination and self-formation of one’s being as constitutively being-with-others (Nancy, Being Singular Plural), shaping life in interaction and community.
Autonomy alive to eco-social relationality feels and thinks existence as “being-in-common” with others, with an originary plurality of beings in the world (Nancy, The Inoperative Community 12), both human and non-human. Such a constitutive relationality does not make up yet another unified cosmic subject or essence. It consists, rather, in diverse modes of contiguity and contact between multiple singularities, in spaces of co-appearance, a dialogue or cacophony of plural voices, various encounters, reciprocal action open to diversity and change, a praxis of sharing, a network of singularities which touch each other without melting together. Variable limits render us singular while opening a space between us (Nancy, Being Singular Plural 5-7; The Inoperative Community xxxvii-xxxviii, 4, 6).
Insofar as this singular being-in-plurality does not seamlessly accord with the other(s) but retains its distinctness, finitude, and criticality, its critical responsiveness and liability to crisis, such autonomous being-with is irredeemably agonistic—an ongoing struggle—and hence potentially tragic. “Fate” and “fortune,” that is, natural and historical circumstances which are beyond anyone’s control, can frustrate any plans and can ruin lives. Crucially, singular differences which are interwoven and interact with each other are not preconstituted as a unified harmonious whole or destined to become one. Critical and creative differentiation, both within and among singularities, is prone to generate division and irreconcilable conflicts within and among relational beings, turning on contending desires, needs, norms, understandings, values, terms of existence. But this autonomous agonism is a modest and ironic heroism that affirms life in its plurality and dynamic intertwinements rather than aspiring to full sovereignty or universal fusion into Oneness, which are both conditions beyond the relational plurality of beings; they are conditions of death.
Althusser, Luis. On Ideology. New Left Books, 1971.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1990.
Dardot, Pierre, and Cristian Laval. The New Way of the World. On Neoliberal Society. Translated by Gregory Elliott, Verso, 2013.
Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington, Grove Press, 1963.
Foucault, Michel. “The Subject and Power.” Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1982, pp. 208-26.
—. “What is Enlightenment.” The Politics of Truth, edited Sylvère Lotringer, Semiotext(e), 1997, pp. 101-34.
Freud, Sigmund. The Unconscious. Translated by Graham Frankland, Penguin, 2005.
Hayek, Friedrich A. The Constitution of Liberty. University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Age of the World Picture.” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, Harper & Row, 1977, pp. 115-54.
Lacan, Jacques Ecrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan, Tavistock Publications, 1977.
—. The Seminar, Book III: The Psychoses, 1955-6. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Russell Grigg, Routledge, 1993.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Translated by Peter Connor, et al., University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
—. Being Singular Plural. Translated Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne, Stanford University Press, 2000.
Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised edition, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Sophocles. The Antigone of Sophocles. Translated and edited with introduction and notes by Sir Richard Jebb, Cambridge University Press. 1891, http://data.perseus.org/texts/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0011.tlg002.perseus-eng1.
Alexandros Kioupkiolis is Associate Professor of Contemporary Political Theory at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. He has studied Classics (BA, University of Athens) and Contemporary Political Theory (MA, Essex University, DPhil, Oxford University). His research interests revolve around radical democracy, the commons, social movements, and the philosophy of freedom. He has directed an ERC COG project on these topics (Heteropolitics, 2017–2020) and has published numerous relevant books and papers, including the monographs Τhe Common and Counter-hegemonic Politics (2019, Edinburgh University Press) Common Hegemony, Populism, and the New Municipalism: Democratic Alter-Politics and Transformative Strategies (2022, Routledge).
by Zeynep Gambetti
The most tragic condition today might be that tragedy is being evacuated. This is the becoming unintelligible of the tragic in societies that shun death and negativity, societies that lure us into psychic as well as practical attachments to the present, to the flow of social media timelines, to sterilized images replicated ad infinitum.
Indeed, namelessness and facelessness befall those who incur social deaths. We walk through cities, stepping over the extended limbs of those stranded on sidewalks, turning our heads not to notice. We are being turned into little Creons, unmoved by dead bodies lying on pavements in Diyarbakır, staying there on the ground for days without being recuperated, let alone buried, because of Turkish Armed Force operations into heavily populated Kurdish cities. Lifeless bodies of children washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean appear on our smartphone screens, making us cringe, but the timeline moves on to the next image—a friend posing at some fabulous tourist resort, some Kim Kardashian clone with puffed up lips and filtered looks smiling a fake smile. The family living across the street disappears, evicted because they can’t afford to pay the rent. The porch is empty, the door shut. The only living being left behind is a cat, which comes back once or twice and then it too disappears into the undergrowth. We sigh and get on with our business. For some of us, these are but insignificant trivia in our professional and urban lives propped up by hi-tech assemblages that keep us at a distance from the forces of life in the bare sense. And yet, the frontier between snug interiors and the wilderness is thinner than meets the eye. So goes the story of many colleagues, who nonetheless do have names and faces. Short-term flexible contracts, pressures to perform, the exploitation of labor, time and affective investment by increasingly corporatized work conditions—all this is part of “normality.” The colleague next door might be gone tomorrow, replaced by another willing to undergo similar pressures. We might walk past the door and notice that the nametag keeps changing, but hurry on so as not to divert our attention from planning our next research project. Precarity is taken for granted; those who cannot survive are no longer our fellows. We too have internalized the indictment that they are incompetent, indolent, not fit for the neoliberal market. Death has lost its aura: we die physical or social deaths in silence, in oblivion.
So the disturbing question is this: is there a difference between an individual who turns a blind eye to the plight of a fellow worker and a Tea Party audience who cheers a US congressman for suggesting that uninsured patients must be left to die?See https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/tea-party-debate-audience-cheered-idea-of-letting-uninsured-patients-die/. Scholars doing reputable work on new fascisms retort that our quotidian indifference to precariousness is not comparable to the Alt-Right’s disregard for the fate of outliers. We are critical and caring souls. There are no lines of continuity between us and them. They are fascists, we are liberals or progressives. We should not dilute the term “fascist,” lest it is so hallowed out that it fails to perform its critical function.
But what if the idea of a clean break between us and them served to exonerate us, by providing us with a comfortable position of externality from which to critique far right ideologies without asking the question of whether we, too, might be involved in reproducing some of the practices that we explain away as being “exceptions” or “abominations”? What if today’s Antigones are confronted not with mighty Creons but with social media trolls? Not with Law, but with regulations and uncodified practices of letting die? Not with Leviathan but with Behemoth?
Gilles Deleuze famously wrote that “[t]he coils of the serpent are even more complex than the burrows of a molehill” (7). The serpent is the mode of functioning of “control societies” in which institutions have lost both their relevance and their capacity to stratify, enclose, and enshrine. Given that new forms of domination breed—and will breed—from within control societies, we would need to ask what it would mean to cease thinking of fascism as a molehill, as a closed system with identifiable spaces and practices of molding, internment, discipline, and punishment. What would it mean instead to think of it as a serpent that does not hold captive, but lets loose through undulations and modulations, rapid and flexible variations, and the limitless postponement of the Final Solution?
In a similar vein, Michel Foucault claims that the space of the social is being reconstructed in such a way that positive law becomes redundant or rather, is taken over by a series of other laws—the laws of supply and demand, of capital flows, demographic laws, the laws of optimal societal development, and so forth. Securitarian biopolitics generates existential dangers, but removes the legal and institutional forms of protection against these. Instead of codification, we have constant fluidity. The “fear of fear” becomes the single most decisive factor that prompts the internalization of techniques of adaptability. “Population,” which is neither a legal category nor a subject in the political sense, is replacing the “people.” But that is exactly why we must refuse to become population:
The people comprise those who conduct themselves in relation to the management of the population, at the level of the population, as if they were not part of the population as a collective subject-object, as if they put themselves outside of it, and consequently the people are those who, refusing to be the population, disrupt the system. (Foucault 43-4)
A glimmer of hope resides in feminist enactments of the “people.” We do not simply refuse to die in silence. By collectively inventing a politics of care, of giving and protecting life, today’s Antigones are striving to overturn the forces of precarity and indifference. We are no longer on our own; our acting together wields power from below. This power (a potentia rather than a potestas) is capable of transcending the present by disrupting its temporalities and modalities. But it also founds communities, bonds, and bounds. We are no longer destroyed by hubris; we are humbled and fortified in our interdependence.
Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October, vol. 59, Winter 1992, pp. 3-7.
Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978. Translated by Graham Burchell and edited by Michel Senellart, Picador, 2009.
Zeynep Gambetti is an independent scholar, who taught as Associate Professor of political theory at Bogazici University between 2000–2019. She has published on the Kurdish movement in Turkey, with particular emphasis on space as a vector of relationality. Inspired primarily by Arendt, Marx, and Foucault, her theoretical work focuses on contemporary forms of violence and resistance. Among her publications are Rhetorics of Insecurity: Belonging and Violence in the Neoliberal Era (co-edited with Marcial Godoy-Anativia) and Vulnerability in Resistance: Politics, Feminism, Theory (co-edited with Judith Butler and Leticia Sabsay). Gambetti also co-chairs the International Board at the UC Berkeley-based International Consortium for Critical Theory Programs.
by Olga Demetriou
In being punished for disobeying the Law of the polis, Antigone is not only sentenced to death, she is also expelled. This “also” is by no means trivial. Not quite obliterated in the finality of death that earlier forced choices in the play may have been,Discussed in Honig, “Ismene’s forced choice,” in reference to Ismene and Antigone, via Alenka Zupančič’s reading of Jacques Lacan (Book XI, “Alienation”). Antigone is to be led away and buried alive. But she has in fact become estranged long before, through her dissensual mourning, perhaps even before this plot has even begun; perhaps her existence was always estranged (Castro). Is this estrangement part of the tragedy, is it its core, or is it a redemption, a pointer to the impossibility of community, an offer of what they might otherwise be, or perhaps the predicament that we all inhabit?
Bonnie Honig, building on and departing from Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim, has argued that “Homeric Antigone’s alienness to democratic Athens” (“Antigone’s laments” 15) is fundamental to exposing the limits of this democracy. And as her death becomes the cause of other deaths (Haemon and Eurydice), these limits become impossible to maintain, even for Creon himself, whose grief is now excessive, by his very own democratic standards. Honig also reads a story of sisterly solidarity in the actions of Antigone and Ismene when seen together, and against readings of singular heroification (“Ismene’s forced choice”). She proposes that Ismene had a hand in the burial that brought on Antigone’s death, and that her acceptance to live a life she does not want, represents the quieter, but no less ethical, nor indeed tragic, agency that allows Antigone to triumph in her revolt. Taken together, these two arguments sketch out the possibilities and prerequisites of estrangement: foreignness is already within the polis, democracy is strange to itself, ruptures are never singular affairs, they become so in solidarity. Even more forcefully in Medea, Kasimis argues, the multiple displacements of the central character help expose the force of kinship-based political orders (pace Stevens, for example) in the ways these belie our democratic sensibilities.
The last time I watched a performance of Antigone was in the ancient Roman theatre of Salamis in northern Cyprus (it was, in fact, one of very few: I always had a difficult time getting past the disciplining function that Greek antiquity has in a Cypriot context that seeks to fashion proper national subjects). The performance was staged within the frame of the ongoing negotiations back in 2016, with officials in attendance. It was co-hosted by its Greek-Cypriot producers and Turkish-Cypriot municipal authorities, attended by a largely Greek-Cypriot audience who had enthusiastically secured prized seats on several dozen buses crossing from the south. A vocal part of the political establishment and the press had criticized the staging, which they saw as legitimizing a regime that by occupying northern Cyprus also manages the site of the ancient theatre (a Turkish-Cypriot production staged there in 2019 hardly drew any attention at all).One of the few counter-reports, by feminist novelist Constantia Soteriou, can be found here: https://www.fractalart.gr/anevazontas-tin-antigoni-stin-salamina/. Commented also by Ni Aolain (118n). Sitting in attendance was a dissonant experience, fraught between “community” connoted as political in multiple and jarring ways (reconciliatory, laying claim to a space it considered its own, staking an opposition against injunctions not to attend, staking also a claim for culture as separate from politics) and a discomfort with such community that seemed uniquely personal.
Perhaps it is this dissonance, rather than, or perhaps in, dissent, that Antigone the foreigner underlines. Antigone is about the foreigner making the polis more agonistic, and for that reason more democratic, but also more tragic and more deadly. And about the making of the foreigner out of kin. And the tortured, difficult inhabiting of that unhomely position. Celebrating and lamenting in silence at once is perhaps an affect that must attend that dislodged sense of being within and outside community, kin and foreigner, solidary and solitary.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2002.
Castro, Andrés Fabián Henao. “Antigone Claimed: ‘I Am a Stranger!’ Political Theory and the Figure of the Stranger.” Hypatia, vol. 28, no, 2, 2013, pp. 307-22.
Honig, Bonnie. “Antigone’s laments, Creon’s grief: Mourning, membership, and the politics of exception.” Political Theory, vol. 37, no. 1, 2009, pp. 5-43.
—. “Ismene’s forced choice: Sacrifice and sorority in Sophocles’ Antigone.” Arethusa, vol. 44, no. 1, 2011, pp. 29-68.
Kasimis, Demetra. “Medea the Refugee.” The Review of Politics, vol. 82, no. 3, 2020, pp. 393-415.
Ni Aoláin, Fionnuala D. “Gendering the law of occupation: The case of Cyprus.” Minnesota Journal of International Law, vol. 27, no. 1, 2018, pp. 107-42.
Stevens, Jacqueline. Reproducing the State. Princeton University Press, 1999.
Zupančič, Alenka. “Lacan’s heroines: Antigone and Sygne de Coufontaine.” New Formations, vol. 1998, no. 35, pp. 108-21.
Olga Demetriou is a social anthropologist based at the Durham Global Security Institute at Durham University’s School of Government and International Affairs. Her work on minority rights, gender, displacement, and refugeehood, has largely been cross-disciplinary. Indicative of this are two monographs, Capricious Borders: Minority, Population and Counter-Conduct between Greece and Turkey (Berghahn, 2013/2017) and Refugeehood and the Post Conflict Subject: Reconsidering Minor Losses (SUNY Press, 2018). Her current interests focus on activism in refugee reception sites in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus.
|↑1||Discussed in Honig, “Ismene’s forced choice,” in reference to Ismene and Antigone, via Alenka Zupančič’s reading of Jacques Lacan (Book XI, “Alienation”).|
|↑2||One of the few counter-reports, by feminist novelist Constantia Soteriou, can be found here: https://www.fractalart.gr/anevazontas-tin-antigoni-stin-salamina/. Commented also by Ni Aolain (118n).|
by Al. Ter.
Between talking to them and speaking of them there is a world of difference.
In the apostrophe there are first of all the friends […]
Jacques Derrida (172)
It’s been a longtime. I feel numb about this letter. It hovers in the void opened by your disappearance; in the absence of a request. I don’t know what to ask you anymore. I certainly have no news. In other words, I cannot say “wait ‘till you hear this…” I lost the impulse to share with you the reason that made me smile involuntarily; since, while walking hastily, I made a stifled grimace.
First of all (or to begin with? I don’t know, I’m always confused between the two), I wonder what’s left that’s making me send you a friendly letter.
Jacques Derrida finds friendship in an apostrophe; First (and foremost?) in the act of addressing, that, in order to actually address, invite, desire, and expect presupposes the possibility of a non-response; I call you and you are here [da]; I speak of you and you are already missing [fort].
Jacques Derrida (173-4)
Derrida says that in order for us to be girlfriends there should be an aporia. I should call you and tell you:
I don’t want you to wait for my call and become forever dependent upon it; go out on the town, be free not to answer. And to prove it, the next time I call you, don’t answer, or I won’t see you again. If you answer my call, it’s all over.
Jacques Derrida (174)
I don’t remember when I first stopped addressing you. Probably when the possibility of your response stopped being convincing. At first, when I felt the distance, I would make up news that would justify a call. Then I started having no news. I was gawping in a constant swing high/ swing low. (Do you know that my first nickname was Bella?In Italian bella means pretty. Bella is also a part of the Greek children’s swing song kounia bela (κούνια μπέλα). The second, and the one that finally prevailed, was Geppetto. I think Bella was too erotic for my parents to keep addressing me like that).
I felt like you weren’t gone, but you weren’t there either. Is this mourning? The string from my Freudian yo-yo broke.
In contemporary dance you get one inhalation to gather your strength, one exhalation to unwind the movement, and a moment in between, where you float before letting yourself go into an off-center urge you can no longer resist, only somehow shape.
I think it was around that time that Mr. K. appeared and I learned how to do a pirouette. I can spin wonderfully, I’m telling you. It’s insane. You are missing this…
I read a text by Fred Moten, “Blackness and nothingness (Mysticism in the flesh).”
The first part of the text bears the title:
Just friends. (737)
I didn’t suggest it to you. You prefer making the suggestions yourself. I’d rather you suggest things to me while laughing with your voluptuous look and that awkward smile you can’t hold back when I recognize that you’re teaching me something; your Potlatches, that’s what you said when you recommended I read David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System, shamelessly plagiarizing the translator’s postface and boasting:
Faithful in his exercising of the Potlach, the altruistic but always strategic exchange of gifts, Wallace gave Karr the following post-romantic gift: He bought the right to name a star after her.
David Foster Wallace (here quoted by Giorgos-Ikaros Babasakis)
I laughed really hard when I discovered your plagiarism. Gotcha.
Through these discoveries, my dearest Apricot, I invented a way to relate with you in a field that for a long time seemed completely inaccessible—due to your masculinity and the mirroring of my femininity onto it.
Through these funny discoveries, I invent a way to relate to you and to me. Through these defeats of masculinity, that have made you—thankfully—less of a David Foster Wallace than you might have wanted.
If this way were an expression, it would be a silent, teasing smile. If it were a gesture, it would be a smiling shrug.
Every slip of your masculinity becomes a reason for one more kiss.
So this is how I went from falling in love with your gender to loving its failures—and getting turned on at these very moments when our genders and heteronormativity were deadlocked; When exhausted by competition you awkwardly ask me, oblivious to place and time: “Are we sleeping together?” as if we haven’t already agreed on this, hours ago. When I awkwardly reply, “Yeah ok. We could do that,” as if I don’t care.
You read all this and say to me, furrowing your brow, “Just messing around then?”
“Just,” I answer. “Free-floating. I have been wandering aimlessly for some time now—in every folding of our impossible meeting.”
Fred Moten suggests ways to relate differently; to just be friends.
This differently, my beloved, does not inhabit a place, it does not have neither a position (a city, a motorbike, an apartment, a stool, an island, a tent, a hill, a bar, a chat, a mattress, a duvet cover, a bathtub, a beach, pages of literature, pages of theory) nor a time (in autumn, last year, in confusion, during the gathering, in comfortness, years ago, at a demonstration, while talking, in autumn, at night, at night with fatigue, at night with a cloudy head, at wet night). The position of this relationship is permanently displaced, says Moten. He imagined this place in motion and this time as a “stroll of the stolen life.”
Moten speaks of blackness. What do we know about it? We both hold almost full citizenship of various states.
He also talks about his friends. They all inhibit the ship hold of blackness. The people in this hold cannot be bros, they cannot be family, cannot be spouses, cannot be partners. In this hold of aporia there are no normal relations and offices; those who dwell there have not been accepted for such roles of humanness, says Moten, quoting his friend Frank Wilderson:
In other words, the Black has sentient capacity but no relational capacity. As an accumulated and fungible object, rather than an exploited and alienated subject, the Black is openly vulnerable to the whims of the world […] (Wilderson 56)
Fred Moten (748)
I wonder if our citizenship renders my reference to Moten terribly frivolous. Is there something universal in this hold? Can “exploitable and alienated subjects” share a condition of relational “nullity” like that described by Moten and get caught up in nothing more than a stroll of stolen life? They could, at the same time, fear, imitate, refer to, hate, be averted by, mock, lust, envy, fail at, and again sneer at normal relational roles.
What would it be, deeper still, what is it, to think from no standpoint; to think outside the desire for a standpoint?
Fred Moten (738)
“What does it mean to want but not to take a position; to want outside the desire to take a position?” I ask you.
Are you forced not to take a position or do you choose not to take one? I think Moten is suggesting something else: being in a condition of (en)forced displacement and choosing not to imagine your position. It’s just that your friends are those you hang out with, in this out-of-place.
“Do we detest existing positions or are we incapable of taking a position within them?” “What was it that displaced us?” you ask me.
“Do say,” I respond.
“Is it that we are not partners?”
“We have never been combative and worthy comrades, comrade.”
“I am an adverse condition.”
“I am an adverse condition.”
“Your taste. It grippes me.”
“Your weight on top of me. It melts me.”
“The possible gaze of comrades.”
“All that is said and not said,” you say.
“All that is not said, is not said,” I answer.
Anyways. I thought of us in the phrase “stroll of the stolen life.” Since we never knew what to do with us, we can always stroll inside the same sentence.
You hug the space between my legs. I hug your leg with my entire body.
I want us to start at the S, get to the S, and then go back again in a continuous jam. I want to push you from the T to the R, when you nod to me that you get anxious and stuck, you lose your cool, and you don’t know which move is appropriate. When you send and unsend messages. When I do and you undo. When you say and I unsay.
You show me how we’ll skip the Ls because they’re making me uncomfortable and I don’t like them and I am at a loss and I get pissed off.
To whisper, breathing, inside the mouths “stroll.” I think what I like most about this phrase by Moten, my dear Apricot, is the sound of the S in my teeth, the T of your tongue that finally fades into the R. I imagined you spelling the passage into my mouth; me giving it back to you.
I’m giving you back your Potlatch, alongside a collage of fragments:
To remain in the hold is to remain in that set of practices of living together where antikinetic theorizing is both bracketed and mobilized by performative contemplation […] where the hermetic absence of and from home is given in and as a playhouse, a funny house, a madhouse. The club, our subcenobitic thing, our block chapel, is a hard row of constant improvisational contact, a dispossessive intimacy of rubbing, whose mystic rehearsal is against the rules or, more precisely, is apposed to rule, and is, therefore, a concrete social logic often (mis)understood as nothing but foolishness, which is, on the other hand, exactly and absolutely what it is. (Moten 754)
Is it just a minor internal conflict, this intimate nonmeeting, this impossibility of touching in mutual radiation and permeation? Can pessimists and optimists be friends? I hope so. Maybe that’s what friendship is, this bipolarity, which is to say, more precisely, the commitment to it. To say that we are friends is to say that we want to be friends. I want to try to talk about the nature and importance of the friendship I want, that I would like us to have, that we are about to have, that in the deepest sense we already more than have, which is grounded in and enabled by that commitment even as it is continually rethought and replayed by way of our differences from one another, which is held within and holds together our commonness.” (Moten 778)
In her poem “For the white person who wants to know how be my friend,” Pat Parker writes:
The first thing you do is to forget that I’m black. Second, you must never forget that I’m black.
Pat Parker (73)
In her book In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado offers a paraphrasing of Parker’s verses:
If you want to be my friend, you must do two things. First, forget I am a lesbian. And second, never forget I am a lesbian.
Carmen Maria Machado (152)
I paraphrase with inhibitions; I feel that for some time now I am dealing with abuses in order for me to find a place for us to stand (we have nowhere to stand A. We seek for footings in between abuses): “If you want to be my friend first (or firstly?), never forget I am a woman. Secondly, forget I am a woman.”
You say, “Please open your legs—let me smell.”
** P.S. It was well known—even when he was still alive—that David Foster Wallace was abusing Mary Karr. The fact was accepted in artistic circles as a unique characteristic of his peculiar genius. Being gifted stars is bogus. Anthropologists do say that among others Potlatch is a power game.
Good morning, pal!
We say good morning every day.
I call my parents every night and say good night. I hate automatism so much and this everyday routine in all these family phone calls; if I want to, sometimes, I do not listen. I am not listening to what I am feeling. The calls mechanically repeat themselves every day. My blood freezes. I answer like a snack vending machine. Words wrapped in plastic.
“What did you eat?”
(shit) “Sandwich, Sainsbury’s Cheddar & Onion.”
Before I wrote these lines, I never thought how our good mornings relate to these good nights.
I often get bored of our good mornings. I have thought that these are your moments of boredom. Why would you want to say good morning to me every day? Have you nothing else to do? What changed since yesterday? What makes our friendship? Is it the need?
I become an angry firstborn who wants nothing but fillet, and snubs its daily food; endangered child trying to save what’s left and safekeep autonomous areas of high aesthetics to keep the world from approaching.
“Good morning baby,” you say, “you forgot me today.”
You send me these stupid GIFs of yours that I learned to use while pouting so that you don’t call me a boomer. What bullshit. How is this even cool, sending digital flowers and all these crap? It’s cheesy. I want to get my flowers from the flea market on a Saturday. I really like my flowers. My flowers can become a mood, you know? While emojis will always be nonsense. “Come on N.” you would say to me. “Be a babie. Relax. Flex your coolness.”
“Good morning, babie [digital rose],” I say to you, “Don’t talk nonsense [digital ladybug]. How are you spending your day?”
In the introduction to Families We Choose, Kath Weston wonders:
Everyone had heard stories about the parent who reacted by saying, “A son of mine would not do this. Get out of my sight! You were never really my son!” Kinship began to seem more like an effort and a choice than a permanent, unshakable bond or a birthright. The mute substance of genes, blood, and bone had to be transformed into something more. And if such efforts at transformation could fail-if blood could prove thinner than water-why dismiss out of hand the kinship potential of other sorts of social ties: the connecting tissue of friendship, say, or non-biological parenthood, or a committed gay relationship?
Kath Weston (21)
“Good morning D. Do you know what a committed relationship is? Is it me doing something for you when I don’t want to? Is it always wanting to do something for you? Is it being completely indifferent to these questions?”
The bodies of the boys on the cover of Weston’s book touching each other.
“Morning D. I think when I want hugs and cuddles my skin tingles and you always rub me willingly.”
“Good morning D! I bought a pair of clogs and they look very tasteful.”
“Mmmmm… Honey, I don’t think so.”
Our good mornings remind me every day of how we think and feel collectively. Not as an aggregate; as differences.
I knew half of it before this collective happened. Our chats, pal, come and go airily, and stubbornly open political space. It is a penthouse terrace in Kypseli, a shade under a tent in Anafi. They make things make sense.
As long as our chatter goes on, the world is never lost.
Our company becomes a spacious political hangout. It patiently and tenderly ignites our obsessions, our pettiness and tastes; all that we’ve learned wrong. It stubbornly shifts the gaze.
I’ve been thinking with two minds for a while now and I’m getting good at it. I make manners. I’m building a collective character. We dig into our everyday life in a feminist way. The agency that our relationship produces—for each of us—is a collective one.
“Good morning. You taught me to listen to my want more than my ego.”
“Good morning. You taught me it’s ok.”
“Good morning D. Let me ask you this: do you still insist on mixed gender political groups? So somehow, after all that, you don’t think we were chasing clouds?” I ask you.
“Yes I insist. And yes we did,” you tell me.
“But during this chase we found a safe space between us. I mean, could we finally accept that safe space is a requisite for a feminist collective? For a collective? For a relationship? And finally what is this safe space? It is a space of unconditional political devotion. Isn’t this what blood kinship and other kinds of brotherhood are trying to represent? Is a space without criticism and self-reflection the safe space? Is it a space of loss of individuality? Against whom does the safe space offer security? Against the ‘bad guys’ for sure. But what other political topology does safe space serve?”
“So you agree we did well.”
“I don’t know.” I answer. “I know that if we hadn’t opened this space, we wouldn’t be able to decode, for example, all these subtle and overt sexisms that now seem obvious to us. We would not have analyzed, for example, all the macho in our comrades’ certainties about politics and life. I know how someone needs to feel safe in order to think and feel clearly.”
“I do not want and cannot accept that the safe space is delimited by gender (even more on the basis of sex).”
“Yes, I agree. I agree in the sense that, amongst other things, a political project that declares that ‘justice is on our side’ does not concern me at all—without in any way blaming mixed-gender groups for this. I want to say that this appropriation of justice—in terms of ownership—is in my mind related by blood-to-blood kinship. Brotherhood is a physicalized devotion, an unconditional loyalty to the defense of the clan, the family lines, the family welfare, the family right. On the other hand, friendship could become a different example of political relationality. It could invoke a Derridian understanding of justice that turns to the other, recognizes and always attempts—relatively unsuccessfully and partially successfully—to understand otherness. Perhaps the safe space, then, is, among other things, the devotion to a reflective repetition that denaturalizes the unconditional relationship of blood kinship.”
“Saying good morning every day; choosing to try.”
“Cooking me boiled broccoli with carrot flakes and slices of feta cheese; listening to the same things over and over again; listening to your exhaustion after 15 hours of work; suggesting soul-pleasing vagrancy.”
I told Mr. K. that I am feeling a great sadness. I mourn my relationships with my comrades every time I’m confronted with fraternal gestures and that oh-so-frustrating, manichean “you are either with us, or against us” mentality. I was ashamed to confess in tears how often I cry about all this. The leftist Mr. K seemed to understand. He told me that breakups in comradely relationships are “definitely painful since these bonds take up a lot of mental space. The investment is huge.” This understanding softened me; and, pal, I found it in an unexpected place.
Peter Goodrich in his “Laws of Friendship” article says:
The most painful questions have remained the least examined. They are those that relate to distinguishing between nepotism and political or theoretical affinity. How does the sentiment of comradeship compare to the needs of others? How does the desire to reproduce the same—narcissism or the pleasure of the familiar—affect openness to difference? How does one take account of friendship without either discounting it or giving the friend an absolute advantage? The analysis of such ethical and political questions requires the elaboration of a theory of living friendships, of the practice of relationships within the intimate public sphere.
Peter Goodrich (43)
I am performing the well-known recipe: sea bream on parchment paper with pieces of lemon peel, salt, pepper, and oregano. And you hug me.
On the cover of Kath Weston’s book three boys rest their heads on each other.
I am thinking—fortunately, sometimes I can rest my head upon you, so that my neck won’t break. And we drink wine from Argentina, which a gal/comrade brought for you and you opened it so that we can drink it and blush and make our heads hurt and forget that our heads hurt.
“Can I ask you something E.? Do you think, if we have kids, will they be fucking amazing or what?” I ask you.
“Or fucked up. Even if we don’t, we’ll be pretty cool as childless women.”
“Are you going to continue to motherly admonish passersby taking pictures with their cell phones at the demos?” “We don’t do that you guys! It’s not right!” I ask you. “Making feminist graffiti with friends in Piraeus street? Isn’t that motherly care?” “Neither a slave nor a master / always a feminist / always antifa.”Popular slogan of the Greek Antifa Feminist Movement, shouted in every demonstration that has a feminist, antifa or even antiauthoritarian thematic (ούτε δούλα / ούτε και κυρά / … Continue reading Isn’t that a parental responsibility, isn’t that inheritance?”
“I’m wondering if this little thing we joke about—that I can be like an aunty sometimes—is actually a form of caregiving. It’s not. It’s a way of being in things by making fun of them. For one thing, I at times get bored of human barking and, on the other hand, I vent in a much more performative way. My release degenerated into a frenzy.”
“Then what? Do you think humor is not a form of caring? What you describe as comical, is in this case a way of performing multiple functions of caring for yourself and others. After all, maybe this is what parenting is all about.”
“It definitely takes care of me. If it’s done properly, maybe it also takes care of others. A good performance makes fun of the ‘parental’ admonition as something that is not at all suitable for the streets, what is more, expressed in such a way. At the same time, it eliminates the need for significant insults to someone who, simply using their cellphone, uploads to the cloud a video that they will never watch again. I always think of it this way: as bytes in the cloud and rarely as recording.”
“You know what? Right wing people have no sense of humor.” “Plus, I think this ultimately has to do with accepting the fact that every political gesture is polysemous, even often ambiguous. The narcissistic fantasy of communicating a clear meaning, of accurately conveying ‘serious political content,’ when not understood as such, could degenerate into unimaginable authoritarianism.”
We chat and I think about how unique and irreproducible our company is. How it started in family tables with aunts, girlfriends, and cousins and, without somehow losing these eclectic affinities, it became something else: endless conversations, roaming at punk concerts; at least worthy of reservation—if not impermissible for some—conversations between political groups; beers; funerals; fried eggs with bread to destress before demos; beers; travels; pilates; beers; trust; sweetness in disagreement and criticism; weddings; demos; listening to the same radio shows; birthdays; grainy black and white photos from when we looked like babies and had SLRs and were using the b/w Ilford; books.
Judith Butler in Antigone’s Claim says that what Antigone wishes to mourn in her brother is the singleness of their relationship. She mourns the non-reproducible, non-substitutable position. Butler quotes Antigone saying:
If my husband had died, I could have another, and a child by another man, if I had lost the first, but with my mother and father in Hades below, I could never have another brother. Such was the law for whose sake I did you special honor, but to Creon I seemed to do wrong and to show shocking recklessness, O my brother. And now he leads me thus by the hands, without marriage, without bridal, having no share in wedlock or in the rearing of children.
Her brother is, in her view, not reproducible, but this means that the conditions under which the law becomes applicable are not reproducible. This is a law of the instant and, hence, a law with no generality and no transposability, one mired in the very circumstances to which it is applied, a law formulated precisely through the singular instance of its application and, therefore, no law at all in any ordinary, generalizable sense.
Judith Butler (9-10)
However, I do not mean that there is anything exclusive about this friendship. I do not wish to romanticize our mundane everyday life by turning it into poetry. So—and from this point of view—writing about us is already making this melodramatic.
Fried eggs are fried eggs.
I probably mean that friendship is made up of the same commonalities that many people share with their girlfriends, each time in a unique combination that no one can faithfully reproduce and apply to any other case. Interestingly enough, in this case uniqueness coexists with commonness and singularity with an unmitigated pluralization.
In another part of the book, Butler writes about Antigone:
The chorus at one point seeks to remind her that she has more than one brother, but she continues to insist on the singularity and non-reproducibility of this term of kinship. In effect, she seeks to restrict the reproducibility of the word “brother” and to link it exclusively to the person of Polyneices […]. The term continues to refer to those others she would exclude from its sphere of application, and she cannot reduce the nomenclature of kinship to nominalism. Her own language exceeds and defeats her stated desire […]. Thus she [Antigone] is unable to capture the radical singularity of her brother through a term that, by definition, must be transposable and reproducible in order to signify at all.
Judith Butler (77)
So perhaps what friendship reminds us is that multiple performances of relating, even in its most normalized and regulated forms—for example, in parental relationships, where the content of and the expectations from the relationship are rigidly arranged by a series of institutional and other dominant discourses—always seem to escape the contour of the norm that organizes and standardizes the relationship. Therefore, instead of someone asking why a relation does not faithfully fulfill the rule to which it is subject, it would seem more reasonable for them to wonder about the incredible ambition of that rule to wish to typify every relation which it decrees to be within its scope; despite the fact that the materials of the performances of these relations are obviously not original, authentic or special.
“Don’t forget your green windbreaker,” you yell at me.
“Do you really think I would forget my green windbreaker?” I reply, “and you should put on some mascara.”
“Do you think I would forget my mascara! Are you crazy? It upgrades the whole thing.”
This letter should be a tracklist. I would like to be able to make a mix.
Not because you deserve a nice mix. What I want is for mе to call you and for you to turn to me.
I need to stop feeling the gape of panic under my feet when I am feeling unable to communicate with you. To be able to speak eloquently, in your own language, since mine doesn’t work.
Silence makes me nervous. The lack of words throws me into a realm of insignificance, where I don’t exactly feel like I’m floating; it’s more like my limbs are numb and I’m losing my outline. I become one with everything and I dissolve.
I start talking and a lifeline is thrown at me, L. They are not stable, you are right, yes. And they get chatty sometimes, yes. I repeat, yes. I said, I unsaid, yes.
I say. I say. I say. I say.
Why are you silent? What does it mean not to listen? What is it that you hear and makes you start spinning, L.? What meaning do you find in the void of words? Why do you start talking and the syllables stumble in your mouth?
I don’t know if I’m talking any sense. Maybe I’m not talking sense. Maybe I am making sounds.
The passing from the E to the X and then to the PL and then to the S and the T and the L is really strong, isn’t it? Hey! (Are you not listening?) Hey! I’m talking to you, man.
If every glottal stop becomes a sound, do you think you could give me back a sound response?
What if you learn to hear the words as music? Maybe you hear the words as music and mine do not speak to you?
Is there a sound translation dictionary? Why don’t you speak?
You can get close, yes. Not nervously. No jokes. Do you want to approach with desire, L.? What do you want, L.?
What’s wrong with me, L.? Why can’t I write this letter?
“Hey. Relax. It’s me.”
“Yes, but who are you? I don’t know. You are not speaking.”
“It’s me, man.”
“And who are you? What do you want? Why do you want it? Tell me why you want me. Speak it.”
I feel like a metonymy. And when I sense I’m a metonymy I lose my outline again and I dissolve.
“Give me the big one, the good kiss, not the small ones you usually give me.”
“I am giving you the big kiss when I want to. If I give it to you all the time, you won’t miss it,” you answer.
“What do you want to do with me? What are we going to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I want us to hang out. I miss my company, man.”
“Stop busting my pussy. How can you possibly want it like that? Are you playing pretend?”
“While you think you’re doing everything perfect, right? Just because you know how to use nice words?”
“Okay, play the trumpet. Put some music on. Make a gesture.”
“I am. It doesn’t matter. Υou want others to talk like you. React like you. Plan like you.”
“You are being really unfair. I want that, yes. I do what I can. Do as if you can.”
“Don’t tell me to do as if I can. This is when you really get pissed off. I do what I can.”
Giorgio Agamben writes:
It is common knowledge that no one has ever been able to satisfactorily define the meaning of the syntagm “I love you”; so much is this the case that one might think that it has a performative character: that its meaning, in other words, coincides with the act of its utterance. Analogous considerations could be made regarding the expression, “I am your friend,” although recourse to the performative category seems impossible here. I maintain rather, that “friend” belongs to the class of terms that linguists define as nonpredicative; these are terms from which it is not possible to establish a class that includes all the things to which the predicate in question is attributed. “White,” “hard,” or “hot” are certainly predicative terms; but is it possible to say that “friend” defines a consistent class in the above sense?
Giorgio Agamben (“What Is an Apparatus” 28-9)
I look for the definitions. Agamben writes:
Indeed, what is friendship other than a proximity that resists both representation and conceptualization? To recognize someone as a friend means not being able to recognize him as a “something.” Calling someone “friend” is not the same as calling him “white,” “Italian,” or “hot,” since friendship is neither a property nor a quality of a subject.
Giorgio Agamben (“What Is an Apparatus” 28-9)
You are gentle and systematic. You obsess on the same spot, in silence and shifting. I get sweeter in the hug. I smell your taste. I melt into the common sleep.
You listen to me you listen you listen you listen.
I am looking for the gestures. Agamben writes:
Nothing is more misleading for an understanding of gesture, therefore, than representing, on the one hand, a sphere of means as addressing a goal (for example, marching seen as a means of moving the body from point A to point B) and, on the other hand, a separate and superior sphere of gesture as a movement that has its end in itself (for example, dance seen as an aesthetic dimension). Finality without means is just as alienating as mediality that has meaning only with respect to an end. If dance is gesture, it is so, rather, because it is nothing more than the endurance and the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements. The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such. It allows the emergence of the being- in-a-medium of human beings and thus it opens the ethical dimension for them.
It is only in this way that the obscure Kantian expression “purposiveness without purpose” acquires a concrete 1neaning. Such a finality in the realm of means is that power of the gesture that interrupts the gesture in its very being-means and only in this way can exhibit it, thereby transforming a res into a res gesta. In the same way, if we understand the “word” as the means of communication, then to show a word does not mean to have at one’s disposal a higher level (a metalanguage, itself incommunicable within the first level), starting from which we could make that word an object of communication; it means, rather, to expose the word in its own mediality, in its own being a means, without any transcendence. The gesture is, in this sense, communication of a communicability. It has precisely nothing to say because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as pure mediality. However, because being-in-language is not something that could be said in sentences, the gesture is essentially always a gesture of not being able to figure something out in language; it is always a gag in the proper meaning of the term, indicating first of all something that could be put in your mouth to hinder speech.
Giorgio Agamben (Means Without End 57-8)
I write the letters. I expose myself. I have shat my pants. You convinced me that if anything should matter, this is it:
The face does not coincide with the visage. There is a face wherever something reaches the level of exposition and tries to grasp its own being exposed, wherever a being that appears sinks in that appearance and has to find a way out of it.
I look someone in the eyes: either these eyes are cast down-and this is modesty, that is, modesty for the emptiness lurking behind the gaze-or they look back at me. And they can look at me shamelessly, thereby exhibiting their own emptiness as if there was another abyssal eye behind it that knows this emptiness and uses it as an impenetrable hiding place. Or, they can look at me with a chaste impudence and without reserve, thereby letting love and the word happen in the emptiness of our gazes.
Exposition is the location of politics.
Giorgio Agamben (91-2)
Agamben, Giorgio. “What Is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays. Edited by W. Hamacher, translated by D. Kishik and S. Pedatella, Stanford University Press, 2009.
—. Means Without End. Notes on Politics. Translated by (V. Binetti and C. Casarino, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
Babasakis, Giorgos-Ikaros, translator. “Epimetro” [Postface]. The Broom of the System. By David Foster Wallace, Kritiki, 2016.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Derrida, Jacques. Politics of Friendship. Translated by G. Collins, Verso, 2009.
Goodrich, Peter. “Laws of friendship.” Law and Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 2003, pp. 23-52.
Machado, Carmen Maria. In the Dream House: A Memoir. Graywolf Press, 2019.
Moten, Fred. “Blackness and nothingness. Mysticism in the flesh.” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, no. 4, 2013, pp. 737-80.
Parker, Pat. “For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend.” Callaloo, vol. 23, no. 1, 2000, p. 73.
Weston, Kath. Families We Choose. Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. Columbia University Press, 1991.
|↑1||In Italian bella means pretty. Bella is also a part of the Greek children’s swing song kounia bela (κούνια μπέλα).|
|↑2||Popular slogan of the Greek Antifa Feminist Movement, shouted in every demonstration that has a feminist, antifa or even antiauthoritarian thematic (ούτε δούλα / ούτε και κυρά / πάντα φεμινίστρια / και πάντα αντιφά).|
by Gerasimos Kakoliris
In Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida underlines that hospitality is not just “some region of ethics” but “ethicity itself; the whole and the principle of ethics” (Adieu to Levinas 50). Hospitality generally refers to the opening oneself to others, which is fundamental to all ethics. It relates to our ethos, the manner of being at home, our spirit and character, our values and principles, as well as how we define and manage our boundaries, i.e. our relationship with others, with otherness, and with what comes from outside. Consequently, the “welcome” of hospitality, as a matter of association and relations with other people or other living beings, is not just a peripheral issue of ethics but lies at its very core.
But what does our relationship with others demonstrate as hospitality? An essential characteristic shared by all living things, including humans, is the relational and interdependent nature of their existence. No living thing is self-sufficient or self-sustaining. We all depend on others for our survival and well-being. As Judith Butler points out, “We are interdependent beings whose pleasure and suffering depends, from the start, on a sustained social world, a sustaining environment” (2). This vital interdependence makes us always already responsible for the other’s life. The other—person or living being—calls us to responsibility through their material, intellectual or emotional needs. The unburied body of Antigone’s brother, Polynices, is for her a call to responsibility from which she cannot escape. Thus, being hospitable, namely opening the door of our home or the borders of our country to others, is not so much a virtue as acknowledging the responsibility arising from the primary interdependence of one from the other. The refugees’ vulnerability, the danger threatening their lives, their precarity and poverty, do not only concern them; they concern every other human being to the extent that the improvement or even deterioration of their condition, in general, depends little on themselves and much more on us, the others.
The recent resurgence of interest in hospitality is related to the efforts made by individuals and collectives worldwide to reverse the violent policies of many sovereign nation-states to restrict and deter the arrival of people in great need, mainly refugees and immigrants, on their soil. Many crimes against hospitality are committed daily by the anti-immigration policies of mainly rich countries to keep unwanted foreigners away from their borders. The modern “Creons” engage in “a cruelty without precedent” (Derrida, Adieu to Levinas 64), erecting fences on the borders of their countries, creating border and coast guard agencies, such as the European Frontex, which equip themselves with state-of-the-art surveillance systems to intercept the arrival of modern “Suppliants,” the new wretched of the earth. They are building modern-day hellholes that they call “hospitality camps” while simultaneously steadily tightening immigration laws, even turning the hospitality of “unregulated” foreigners into a criminal offense. At the same time, they are poisoning the souls of their citizens with their xenophobic and racist rhetoric, assisted by the mainstream media.
However, despite the systematic effort to eliminate the concept of hospitality from the state laws and practices concerning refugees and immigrants, and to trivialize the content of hospitality through its transformation into a purely economic transaction, as is the case with tourism, the concept continues to inspire those who resist all kinds of state or governmental expedients which target the foreigner as their victim. They resist like Antigone, who disobeys Creon’s laws in the name of what she sees as justice. Like Antigone, so do her modern versions, who believe that there are unjust laws and that they have a moral duty to disobey a law that conflicts with what they believe to be just, with what justice demands of them. Hospitality to the foreigner today cannot but bring us into a confrontation with the state and its laws, often leading us inevitably, like Antigone, to civil disobedience or refusal to obey the law.
There are many examples of acts of civil disobedience against the laws of the state today; such acts are undertaken in the name of hospitality and solidarity with persecuted foreigners. For example, such an act of civil disobedience was called for by Derrida in 1997 on the occasion of the filing of a draft law by the French Minister of the Interior, Jean-Louis Debré, on the entry and stay of foreigners and asylum seekers, which provided, among other things, for the obligation of property owners to declare the arrival or departure of any foreigner who found themselves in a condition deemed illegal (“accommodation certificates”). Failure to comply with this obligation would be considered a “crime of hospitality.” Faced with the heinous, inhumane act of turning hospitality into a crime, Derrida emphasizes the following: “We must also—as some of us have done—defy the government by declaring ourselves prepared to determine for ourselves the level of hospitality we choose to show the ‘sans-papiers’ […]. This is what is called civil disobedience [désobéissance civique] in the United States by means of which a citizen declares that in the name of a higher law he will not obey this or that legislative measure that he judges to be iniquitous and culpable, preferring thus delinquency to shame, and the alleged crime [délit] to injustice” (“Derelictions” 143). Similarly, the majority of physicians in Greek hospitals resorted to a comparable act of civil disobedience when they refused, following the Code of Medical Ethics, to implement a circular issued by the Greek Ministry of Health in July 2000, which imposed the obligation to surrender to police authorities all immigrants who were seeking medical attention in hospitals and lacked legal documents to stay in the country.
Another form of political disobedience that contested the undivided state-national sovereignty and its deadly power in the name of hospitality was the creation of a network of “cities of refuge” (villes-refuges) by the members of the International Parliament of Writers. This network of cities, which would disobey the laws of the state, would grant asylum to writers and artists who were refugees, immigrants, exiled, fugitives, displaced, or stateless.The term “cities of refuge” derives its origin from the Old Testament and refers to six cities in which someone who had committed unintentional murder could take refuge without being subject to … Continue reading
In these cases, as in many similar ones, hospitality is political in that it goes against state rules to welcome and stand in solidarity with a group of non-citizens who themselves have had to violate the laws of another state, claiming their vital right to a liveable life. Moreover, hospitality has a “political impact” because, as José Luis Rocha Gómez notes, it “states and proposes that other ways to face migration are desirable and possible, and it aims at the promise of full citizenship” (190). For René Schérer, hospitality forces us to confront the political question of not just how to make possible the acceptance of the foreigner in the present society, but of “how to think of a better society centered on the foreigner and on their acceptance.”
Butler, Judith, and Athena Athanasiou. Dispossession: The Performative in the Political. Polity, 2013.
Derrida, Jacques. “Derelictions of the Right to Justice (But what are the ‘Sans-Papiers’ Lacking?).” Negotiations. Interventions and Interviews 1971-2001, edited, translated and with an introduction by Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford University Press, 2001.
—. “On Cosmopolitanism,” translated by Mark Dooley. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Routledge, 2001, pp. 3-24.
—. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Levinas, Stanford University Press, 1999.
Rocha Gómez, José Luis. “Hospitality as Civil Disobedience.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, vol. 26, 2014, pp. 185-91.
Schérer, René. “Hospitalité et utopie.” Ici et ailleurs, 2 October 2022, https://ici-et-ailleurs.org/contributions/portraits-philosophiques/article/hospitalite-et-utopie.
Gerasimos Kakoliris is Associate Professor of Contemporary Continental Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece. He has published two monographs: Derrida’s Deconstructive Double Reading: The Case of Rousseau (2004, 2022) and The Ethics of Hospitality: Jacques Derrida on Unconditional and Conditional Hospitality (in Greek, Plethron, 2017).
|↑1||The term “cities of refuge” derives its origin from the Old Testament and refers to six cities in which someone who had committed unintentional murder could take refuge without being subject to blood vengeance. On the modern institution of “cities of refuge,” see Jacques Derrida’s texts “On Cosmopolitanism” (3-24) and Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas (45, 106, 112).|
by Eleni Papagaroufali
The term embodiment comes from a strand of phenomenology which defines the body not as an object of study, nor as a text-like entity to be “read” as the representation of social reality, but as a “being-in-the-world,” “a living entity by which, and through which, we actively experience the world” (Desjarlais and Throop 89; Merleau-Ponty). This notion of embodied experience of the world opposes the Cartesian metaphysical distinction between mind and body, which for most feminist theorists is also responsible for the Western privileging of an active, rational, disembodied mind deemed as masculine, over a body understood as passive, irrational, and associated with the feminine (e.g. Grosz; Braidotti). Contrary to such substantialized and a-temporal, yet hierarchical and already sexed binarisms, embodiment requires that the body be understood as nondualistic: as “the existential ground of culture” rather than vice versa (Csordas, “Somatic Modes” 135). Hence it is rendered intentional, meaningful, lived in the world, that is, always already relational: “a synthesis of possibilities, responses, purposes, and actions” (Colebrook 26-7). The embodiment’s body is Bourdieu’s habitus, but seen as “structured by a kind of performativity,” i.e. by a powerful, implicitly reiterated formative force that recasts the habituated, unconscious, practical knowingness of the body as “the site where performative commands are received, inscribed, carried out, or resisted” (Butler, “Performativity’s Social Magic” 115). Put otherwise, the lived body is not an inert, silent, and feminine materiality (necessarily) negated by Western philosophical thought for the formation of an ideal, fully self-originating, self-sufficient, and masculine subject(-ivity) (Butler, Bodies that Matter), but “a changing relationship that, at the same time, unfolds as an ethical horizon—and challenge—for the (un)making of self, identity, and belonging” (Van Wolputte 251).
Central to this phenomenology of the (lived) body that recognizes embodiment as a methodological field for analyzing relationality within ever-changing horizons of temporality is the attempt to go beyond Western metaphysics, “to destabilize those unexamined assumptions that organize our pre-reflective engagements with reality” (Desjarlais and Throop 88; Csordas, “Embodiment as a Paradigm”; Csordas, “Somatic Modes”). From a critical phenomenological perspective, this move of turning toward the pre-reflective or the pre-objectified and pre-represented—yet not pre-cultural—assumptions constitutes an unsettling gesture that reveals the indeterminacy (even in-corporeality) of the embodied experience of the world due to its always already inter-subjective rather than subjective constitution. It is this accidentally or intentionally initiated move that exposes us to our ongoing engagements with embodied others, in ever-shifting (un)questionable inter-relations of multisensory attention, and “by particular existential modalities that range from imagination to memory to dreams to perception” (Desjarlais and Throop 90). Through this move we become enabled to recognize that our relation to the others’ (different) embodiment is one of ongoing, interdependent, complex becoming-s (un)equally exposed to vulnerability, sexism, racism, marginalization, dispossession. It is through this move that we are faced with the complicated historicity of already objectified, hence taken-for-granted, and politicized cultural constructs, (the “body,” the “sex,” the “self,” the “subject”), consequently with the impossibility to claim them as the origins of experiences hitherto considered naturally given but also with the possibility to question them, go beyond them. Thus the notion of embodiment entails indeterminacy, uncertainty, and ambiguity, rather than certainty and fixity. It reveals our impossibility to experience the world in its entirety; or, in more sociological terms, to fully acquire the norms of our society as if the latter were fully explicit and as if following them repetitively, almost ritual(istical)ly, was totally deliberate. This is why, irrespective of how intentionally might our intersubjective, culturally shared, even intimate acts be initiated, there is always something more yet to come.
Phenomenologically-oriented approaches such as the embodiment have been criticized as a-political: as giving priority to epiphenomenal appearance and bodily sensation, to consciousness and subjectivity at the expense of broader sociopolitical forces unequally affecting people’s lives. Yet, if embodiment is not mistaken as self-evident “bodiliness” or as mere “in-corporation” of, hence compliance with, the sociocultural norms; and if the turning towards the unexamined assumptions is not conceived as a linear (dis-)embodied thought from the pre-reflective to the reflective but, instead, it is seen as the attending to the performative power of the official and unofficial sociopolitical power relations which we are muddily and unequally experiencing, then embodiment may be seen as fully political: as the potential site of subversive resignification of dominant social orders (Butler, “Performativity’s Social Magic” 120 and passim). This approach, followed by several critical postcolonial and feminist researchers, has allowed them not only to locate the unofficial or tacit ways by which certain categories of citizens (Westerners and non-Westerners) are (un)officially rendered racialized, sexed/gendered, “feminized,” socially abjected, and unauthorized to speak, but also to study embodiment as an intersection of oppression and resistance, of reproduction and transformation, of vulnerability and endurance (e.g. Athanasiou; Comaroff; Mbembe).
In Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, written and played during the WWII, Creon’s order not to burry Polyneikes’ body sets the scene for “petite Antigone” to turn towards the so far “unexamined assumptions” about her status and to “destabilize” them: she has always been the little, dark-skinned, and silent girl for her older siblings, her nanny, and her uncle, the less pretty and sexy than her blonde, flirtatious sister Ismini, and the less conforming to the princely rules. She decides to bury her brother in spite of Creon’s law, through questioning her littleness—“I should not be the little girl this morning [of the burial]”; she denies to “listen to” Ismini’s plead to abstain because “she is only a girl” and because “dying for an ideal is men’s task,” and counter-argues that it is exactly this attribute, which “has caused her a lot of crying,” that makes her go against the law. Nevertheless, Antigone feels ambiguous about her always already sexed experience of girlness: she oscillates between revaluing affirmatively this otherwise painful identity, and thinking that she “might be still too little a girl” for such a (manly) act of resistance to the king’s law. Although she seems to have understood that her girlness is a socially attributed rather than naturally held identity, she is experiencing this ambiguity till her death: on the one hand, she refuses to obey to her uncle’s admonitions not to bury Polyneikes, and instead live happily her life with her future husband, his son Aimon; she keeps insisting on her decision despite Creon’s revealing her brother’s corrupt character hence his unworthiness of being publicly grieved—an act that would jeopardize both his power and the peace of her polis; and when Creon asks her whether she wants to do this move in order to turn people against him or for the sake of her kin relation to Polyneikes, she replies that she does so “for the sake of no one but myself.” On the other hand, during this dispute, Antigone realizes that the dominant sociopolitical order within which she had hitherto been (inter-subjectively) engaged as a girl, a sibling, a kin, a princess, and a future queen, was more complicated and ambiguous, contradictory and unstable, more demanding and authoritative, than she had thought of, or better not thought of, it; or that her “belief” in these roles, irrespective of their painful requirements felt to her very girly skin, was so far “unexamined”, taken-for-granted by her, due to their insidious and covert character—“real life is the unsaid” according to Creon. Thus, while she decides to bury Polyneikes and be punished by death, at the same time she is wondering whether his uncle’s admonitions were right—“Oh, Aimon, it’s only now I understand how simpler would it be to live [as a wife and mother]”—and whether she did really know the personal reason for which she would die.
To this day, “Antigone” is understood as a critic of the violent and arbitrary force of sovereignty (Butler, Antigone’s Claim; Tzelepis). Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, who finds herself caught up at the intersection of (critical) endurance and vulnerability, may also be seen as echoing contemporary feminists’ insistence on claiming their rights through acting as both enduring and vulnerable beings; they consider this stance a form of political participation different from, and of higher quality to, the one required by (even leftist) political parties, namely, that of the heroine.
Anouilh, Jean. Antigoni [Antigone], translated by Stratis Paschalis, 2nd ed., Gkoni Press, 2020.
Athanasiou, Athena. Agonistic Mourning: Political Dissidence and the Women in Black. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
Braidotti, Rosi. Patterns of Dissonance. Polity, 1991.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Routledge, 1993.
—. “Performativity’s Social Magic.” Bourdieu. A Critical Reader, edited by Richard Shusterman. Blackwell, 1999, pp. 113-28.
—. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Colebrook, Claire. “Incorporeality: The Ghostly Body of Metaphysics.” Body & Society, vol. 6, no. 2, 2000, pp. 25-44, doi:10.1177/1357034X00006002002.
Comaroff, Jean. Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance. The Culture and History of a South African People. University of Chicago Press, 1985.
Csordas, J. Thomas. “Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology.” Ethos, vol. 18, no. 1, 1990, pp. 5-47, doi:10.1525/eth.1990.18.1.02a00010.
—. “Somatic Modes of Attention.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 8, no. 2, 1993, pp. 135-56, doi:10.1525/can.1993.8.2.02a00010.
Desjarlais, Robert, and C. Jason Throop. “Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology.” Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 40, 2011, pp. 87-102, doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-092010-153345.
Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Allen and Unwin, 1994.
Mbembe, Achille. “Provisional notes on the postcolony.” Africa, vol. 62, no. 1, 1992, pp. 3-37, doi:10.2307/1160062.
Merleau Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
Tzelepis, Elena. “I Antigoni os morfi politikoy pathoys: Epaneksetazontas tis diatomes politikoy kai psychikoy” [Antigone as a figure of political passion: Rethinking the intersections of political and psychic]. Antinomies tis Antigonis: Kritikes Theoriseis toy Politikoy [Antigone’s Antinomies: Critical Readings of the Political], edited by Elena Tzelepis, Ekkremes, 2014, pp. 9-40.
Van Wolputte, Steven. “HANG ON TO YOURSELF: Of Bodies, Embodiment, and Selves.” Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 33, 2004, pp. 251–69, doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.143749.
Eleni Papagaroufali is Professor Emerita of Social Anthropology at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Athens, Greece). She is the author of two books in Greek: Gifts of Life After Death. Cultural Experiences (Patakis Publications, 2002), and Soft Diplomacy. Transnational Twinnings and Pacifist Practices in Contemporary Greece (Alexandreia Publications, 2013). She has also written numerous articles and chapters in Greek and foreign peer-reviewed journals and collected volumes on issues of gender, embodiment, and health.
by Myrto Tsilimpounidi
Welcome & enjoy the ruins, Athens, 2018
Photo by Julia Tulke / Reproduced with permission
“How do you know you really want to burry your brother, [dead name used]?” the doctor asked, staring straight into my eyes with his white male confidence.
“Oh well, because…” think of the script Antigone, you have been through this a million times.
“Because, I feel like an Antigone, trapped in the body of Sophocles’ Antigone. I am an imitation trapped in the fallacy of the original.”
“I see” the doctor replied. “And how long have you felt this way?”
“I understand” he said, “this is a long time, but, in order to be sure, you need to provide signed letters from 2 psychiatrists and live for a couple more centuries as Sophocles’ Antigone. Meanwhile, you can start by defying Creon’s laws and burry your brother as Sophocles’ Antigone.”
“You live with someone who has your name”
Photo by the author, 2017
Walter Benjamin claims that mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art, for the first time in global history, from its attachment to the original: “the work of art reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility” (481). Judith Butler insists: “all gender is an imitation for which there is no original” (307).
Antigone, there was never an original!
But if originality is a lie now, and you have suffered for so long being Sophocles’ Antigone, what happens to your suffering? Are you grieving the loss of your suffering?
It also begs the question: if gender is not real, how real can its oppression be? (Stryker 183)
“From suffering comes great art”
Photo by the author, 2019
Many representations of Sophocles’ Antigone rely on the heteronormalization of the figure:
she is gendered as a courageous woman,
she is gendered as a mad daughter,
she is gendered as a sacrifying sister.
In these representations, her participation in family and kinship structures is what makes her grief legible. These representations reproduce the institutions that inflict the pain in the first place.
Who is Antigone outside of these representations?
Photo by the author, 2014
I buried a friend in glitter once.
Instead of a coin to pay the guards of the underwater passage, I left a promise on his long, luscious eyelids.
The guards recognize only the power of capital, so they push back the boat with his dead body covered in glitter.
He died again and again and again.
I left the same promise on his eyelids again and again and again.
The guards pushed back again and again and again.
Reproduction, not the mechanical one.
Reproduction as a mode of (not) being.
Photo by the author, 2018
Antigone, can I be alone with you?
I can only understand you through negation.
Not exactly a man, not exactly a woman, not exactly inside the polis, not exactly outside of it, not exactly a citizen, not exactly a refugee, not exactly fury, not exactly grief.
Are we alone now?
Wait, is there a non-violent way to look at you?
Wait, do I have the right to look anymore?
Photo by the author, 2018
Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn, Schocken Books, 1968, pp. 217-52.
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and gender insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited by Henry Abelove et al., Routledge, 1993, pp. 307-20.
Stryker, Susan, and Stephen Whittle, editors. The Transgender Studies Reader, Routledge, 2006.
impounidi are a social researcher and photographer. Their research focuses on the interface between urbanism, culture, and innovative methodologies. They are the co-author of Reproducing Refugees: Photographia of a Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2020); the author of Sociology of Crisis: Visualising Urban Austerity (Routledge, 2017); and the co-editor of Street Art & Graffiti: Reading, Writing & Representing the City (Routledge, 2017) and of Remapping Crisis: A Guide to Αthens (Zero Books, 2014). Their photographic work has been exhibited in many venues around the world and she is also using the city as an open gallery placing work on urban walls. They are the co-director of the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research.
by Olga Taxidou
Peter Szondi’s somewhat aphoristic opening to his Essay on the Tragic, “Since Aristotle, there has been a poetics of tragedy. Only since Schelling has there been a philosophy of the tragic” (1), has been very influential in establishing and theorizing the distinction—sometimes binary—between tragedy as a poetological practice and tragedy as a philosophical discourse. And it is a binary that has plagued and shadowed tragedy (in the Artaudian sense) since its inception. This view sees tragic form as a poetic/performance genre that originated in ancient Athens and had various reincarnations throughout literary history (Roman, Classical French, Shakespearean) until it receives a radical rethinking in the highly philosophical and highly strung discourses of German Idealism and Romanticism. Through the contributions of the German Romantic thinkers (after Kant and through the crucial woks of Schelling, Hölderlin, Hegel, and ultimately Nietzsche), we have a rethinking of tragedy that is less of a rupture or a transition, as Szondi suggests, from poetics to metaphysics, and more of a fracturing or multiplying of the tragic, a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between aesthetics and metaphysics. The sense of the tragic and tragedy as a genre/form, through the workings of Idealism and Romanticism seem to be conflated with aesthetics acquiring a heightened position in both philosophy and political theory. What tragedy brings to the philosophies of modernity is an aestheticizing impulse.
Tragedy occupies the same central position that it has always had in debates about aesthetics and politics. From Aristotle and Plato onwards, the “ancient quarrel” about the ethico-political efficacy of poetry, or aesthetics more generally, has been enacted through the mediating function of tragedy (both as a form and as an idea). These concerns about the ethics of tragedy and its impact on the audience (affect, influence, manipulation but also potential radicalization), we could claim, are also rehearsed in the heated debates throughout modernity that fold over into the autonomy vs commitment debate (starting with Bloch in the 1930s and continuing through the works Brecht, Benjamin, Adorno, and Lukács into the Frankfurt School). In this sense, the tragic is also about the ideology of form. This form is, of course, theatricality, which adds a performance and performative aspect of this sense of the tragic.
After German Idealism and through the stage experiments of modernism, the linguistic turn of the philosophical thinking that shaped the tragic is infused with a performance imperative, in many ways embodying the performative turn of the tragic within modernity. This once again transforms the sense of the tragic from its quasi-existential ideas about unhomeliness, painful alienation, and focus on the individual subject (and his schism with the world, prompted partly by the Death of God), to a form that is embodied, gendered, phenomenologically experienced, and politically contingent. We can claim that it is not modernity that has brought about this new and more democratic/critical view of the tragic, but that it has been there throughout its long history. The huge influence of German Idealism itself can be seen as having a distorting effect on our understanding of the tragic.
The emphasis on tragedy as performance, and as an aspect of the relationships between the performative and the political, in many ways results from the stage experiments with tragic form from modernism onwards. This autonomy of performance, primarily from the literary text, that modernist theatre gestures towards is manifested at least partly through the experiments with tragedy, experiments which are now forged not solely by philosophers, but by playwrights, directors, performers, stage designers, composers, choreographers, and dancers. Indeed, this may represent one of the most radical aspects of this modernist encounter with the tragic, what, following Jacques Rancière, we might call a “re-distribution of the sensible,” where the conceptual, aesthetic, and political field of the tragic is opened up to include practising artists. This move proposes a significant shift in our experience of the tragic, where the hegemony of the philosopher as interpreter of the tragic is replaced by a series of poses by a dancer, a director, an actress, a composer, a scenographer or a stage object and/or installation. This shift has created a potential interface between the tragic and the performative, as through re-writing, adapting, re-staging, and in constant dialogue with the “originals” and their reception we have an inflection or improvization on the sense of the tragic that has engaged with the performative. This has helped to create an embodied, affective view of the tragic that once again conflates the political and the aesthetic; this time it is more an act or event or a gestus, rather than a textual/philosophical reading.
Antigone, both the play and the role, are absolutely central in these dialogues. What Oedipus Rex represented for Aristotle, Antigone represents for the thinkers of modernity and especially Hegel. Antigone becomes emblematic in the ways “she” embodies anxieties about the individual/collective state, about gender, about generational binaries, and always about theatricality itself. However, in as much as Hegel saw her as enacting the dialectic, the thinkers of difference and queerness (Lacan, Deleuze, Loraux, Rose, Butler) have tended to read her as going beyond the synthesizing function of that dialectic. As one of the most translated and performed of the Greek plays, it is constantly re-written. The adaptability, translatability, and performability of the play have propelled Antigone as a role/mask (both into the past and into the future) that bears the mark of the tragic; the tragic as critique—pleasure and pedagogy—as praxis “incarnate.” And in the longue durée of the sense of the tragic, Antigone, on and through whom the workings of gender, the state, and family have been incarnated, has become the marker of both the overbearing injustice in the world and the potential for change and revolution.
Szondi, Peter. An Essay on the Tragic. Translated by Paul Fleming, Stanford University Press, 2002.
Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. Translated and edited by Gabriel Rockhill, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
Rancière, Jacques. Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. Translated by Zakir Paul, Verso, 2013.
Olga Taxidou is Professor Emerita of Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and a Visiting Professor in Hellenic Studies at NYU. She has written extensively on modernist theatre and on theories of tragedy. She is the author of The Mask: A Periodical Performance by Edward Gordon Craig (1998, 2001), Tragedy, Modernity and Mourning (2004), Modernism and Performance: Jarry to Brecht (2007), and Greek Tragedy and Modernist Performance: Hellenism as Theatricality (2021). She also writes adaptations of Greek tragedies, some of which have been performed.