An open stage for the city

An open stage for the city

Film still from Germany in Autumn [Deutschland im Herbst] (1978).


Antigone is not a character. And it would be short-sighted to analyse her as a political paradigm, a philosophical concept or a particular psychic structure. Antigone’s figure is a gesture, an open invitation to discuss on the limits, foundations and prerequisites of the political. As Elena Tzelepis proposes, in dialogue with Nicole Loraux, through tragedy the city “directs the contradictions and sufferings of the political” (Τζελέπη, 2014, p. 16). The city has a scene for reflection, and theatre works as a condition through which the political organisation can “afford” to reconsider itself; specifically its unbearable aspects (Loraux, 1987, p. 33). This scene of/for the polis, especially in the case of the influencing Antigone, remains always open to new enactments and views.

Mimesis serves as the ultimate tool towards this purpose of renegotiation. Or, to be more precise, mimesis, working as a constant gesture, is in this case the means and the purpose.

[See mimesis, phantasms, simulacra,
imitation, mimemes, icons, copy of a copy,
in Derrida, J. (1981). Dissemination (Trans. B. Johnson).
London: The Athlone Press.]

By having awareness of its mimetic, performative and aporetic language/acting, and by introducing this tragic consciousness to the dialogue, tragedy is the genre that can consciously and effectively problematise the ethico-political core of the city (Critchley, 2019, pp. 36, 41, 51; Τζελέπη, 2014, pp. 11–13). Through repetition and différance, through writings that have no genuine source or meaning, Antigones proliferate the rephrasing of crucial questions regarding the political and reveal its endless possibilities and aporias. This explains why Antigones were able to open up translocal and intersectional fields of critique that also travel through time. In this framework, the appropriate challenge would be to listen to Antigones’ claims instead of presuming Antigone as a meaningful presence.

Gender performativity in Antigones’ contexts constitutes a paradigmatic moment of the aforementioned function. Antigones can be read as an infinite repetition of gender enactments, a continual gender postponement and switching:

Antigones are girls, played by men, dressed as women, talking as men, claiming manly positions, defending womanly arguing… What if this repetition, this – aware of itself – mimetic mechanism is at the heart of the eternal ‘irony of the community’? (Ταξίδου, 2014, pp. 354, 368; Τζελέπη, 2014, p. 33). What if “aware of itself” means “not claiming originality”, not trying to desperately veil mimesis and rescue authority?


Trailer of Antigone Sr. / Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (L) by Trajal Harrell.
Source: Tanz Im August


Athina Papanagiotou