Dissidence, collective relationality, and the pluralized bodies beyond one and the same
From the dance piece Speechless (2019) by Sofia Mavragani.
Can we think Antigone outside of the canon? Might it ever be possible for Antigone to be translated, refigured and performed outside the canon? Resistance includes resisting the fixing power of tragic traditions in European modernity. Dramaturgy, performance, and other artistic practices offer subjects, collectivities, and communities resources for destabilizing and contesting canonized “timeless” traditions. In this research project, aesthetic, mythopoetic, conceptual, textual, and activist themes are taken to be intimately intertwined in their ways of forging a language –or, perhaps, more aptly, heteroglossia– of grief, resistance, protest, and struggle over political signification.
From the play Antígona: Historia de objetos perdidos
by Chilean actress and dramatist Daniela Cápona Pérez.
Antigone (as text, performance, trope, figure, and myth) beyond the normative frameworks of (post)colonial modernity and pertaining to contemporary conditions of precarity, statelessness, and dispossession becomes a site of/for re-invention, re-inscription, struggle, and transformative potential. This dissonant gesture of reappropriation is a move that attends as it unsettles. What multiple and dissonant modernities Antigone’s restagings and reappropriations put forward? How do eccentric / ex-centric Antigones revisit key concepts of postcolonial and decolonial thinking, such as mimicry? How do they embody active citizenship?
Antigone in her unyielding desire to mourn in public the enemy of the polis which perverts the masculine order of universality, she is an impossibility that exposes the limits of the polis, or, in Hegel’s memorable phrase, she is the “eternal irony of the community.” In the ambiguous subtext of Hegel’s argument, feminine desire is both the deficiency that eternally remains outside of the community and the alterity that disrespectfully threatens to dissolve its order. And yet, even though she is excluded from polis, she does have a class privilege as a royalty. The Sophoclean Antigone treats slaves as less than humans compared to her brother whose death, as she characteristically claims, deserves memorialization due to his royal status but not that of a slave. Tina Chanter asks: “Is the failure to notice or attend to the assumptions Antigone imports into her defense of her brother a direct result of the impossibility of a white, European tradition confronting its own failure to see its endorsement of slavery and colonialism as an indictment of its claims to be civilized?” (Chanter, p. 62) What might the theatrical reinvention of Antigone by Syrian refugee women in Beirut indicate about the historicity of disobedience, the testimony of loss, but also the healing experience of (the) political (in) art? How does a rewriting of Antigone by Apartheid prisoners evoke another politics that is actively opposed to the regulative ideal of what is to count as a human according to the normative order of the polis? How does a reenactment of the Antigone of the Apartheid prisoners by Palestinian prisoners enact the problems of law under conditions, i.e. in detention, in which legal realities, in a Kafkaesque way, are falling apart?
The Freedom Theatre, Jenin refugee camp, Palestine
From The Island online – April, 17, 2020
Directed by: Gary M. English
Preformed by: Faisal Abu Al-Haija & Ahmed Al-Rokh
On the Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (The Freedom Fighters Detainees)
In continuing this line of reflection while turning to multiple translations and ex-centric reenactments of Antigone, additional points of entry are: How can we rethink democracy beyond pretenses of universalism and in its engagements with differential vernacular cultures of power, subjectivity, agonism, participatory politics and the construction of new publics? How can we reactivate democracy beyond the bounds of the Eurocentric classical canon and along its plural articulations and possibilities? Can democracy be understood as a lasting response to authoritarian othering? What kind of shifts in the concepts of ethics, politics and aesthetics would require such a view of democracy? How does resistance travel and differ (or does not differ) in different social, political, and cultural contexts?
In Judith Butler’s radical conceptualization, 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.” As a figure for politics that points to the very exposure of the limits of representability, Antigone enacts, first and foremost, the problem of the “figure,” of “standing for,” of “representing,” and thus the problem of “where one speaks from.”
As a figure of the unfigurable, she not only cuts across the limits of intelligibility but she also exemplifies a form of political agency that is fraught with the performative antinomies of reiteration, event, irony.
The long line of Antigones in Latin America is a case into the performativity of politicized loss. To quote from Sara Uribe’s Antígona González:
Who then is Antigone within such a scene and what are
we to make of her words?
Who is Antígona González and what are we going to do
with all the other Antigones?
I didn’t want to be an Antigone
but it happened to me.
What kind of performative promise is Antigone to all those who are excluded from public discourse and who nevertheless articulate their voice within and against the very system that marginalizes them? How can one mourn through their assumed criminality? Whatever becomes of all those who are banned from the body politic and remain unsought and unmourned?
Trailer of the film Son of Saul (2015) by László Nemes.
Could the illegitimate mourning of different Antigones be an opening toward the (future of the) radically irreducible other that has been left out and resists dialectical closure by the Same?
In Athena Athanasiou’s words:
The critical concept of mourning defines a political articulation of the present as haunted by (its) absent presences: namely, the disavowed but persistent remains of uncanny presences cast as absences through matrices of social disposability. It also pertains to the political conditions through which those spectral bodies out of place make themselves present, and present to one another, despite and against those forces that have disregarded them, and in ways not reducible to the normative presuppositions of self-presence. In this respect, I am calling for a conception of mourning that might become an occasion for mobilizing a critique of the present through fostering reflexivity about the phantomlike remainders and reminders of the historical regimes of racism, nationalism, sexism, homophobia/transphobia, able-bodiedness, and capitalist exploitation and precarity.
Thus, reconfigured as a performative mode of relationality that resists closure and finality, mourning addresses the agonistic (in)determinations of political temporality whereby vulnerability, brokenness and dispossession are ways of opening to transformative modes of sociality. This transformative potentiality remains hopeful, restless, and aporetic. It remains the place and time of critical poetics, responsiveness, and dissent in the midst of histories of subjection and abjection. Therefore, the urgency of addressing mourning in our present moment emerges as a politically saturated performative way of reimagining and resisting (in) the present, time and again, through transfiguring this present’s no longer and yet to come.
Ghostcatching, choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Paul Kaiser & Shelley Eshkar.
“Strange Fruit,” sung by Billie Holiday, poetry by Αbel Merropol.
If in Antigone what is at stake in the conflict with the state law is the ambivalence entailed in love and duty, the question might become how political subjectivity is reconfigured and expanded, as a collective performance of relationality and dissidence in contemporary conditions of vulnerability and resistance. What do the critical returns to Antigone’s figure —but also the critical departures from it— signify regarding the vulnerable bodies of resistance, at a historical moment of post-political devaluation of resistance and dissent? How are conditions of displacement and foreignness performed through Antigone’s body? The suggestion here is to read Antigone’s political mourning through the perspective of collective relationality and pluralized bodies beyond one and the same, even beyond the beloved body of the dead brother, and towards all the other others.
One of our skype research team meetings during the pandemic, that on November 17th, 2020, took place in between different time zones, those of Athens and Santiagο, but also in a charged atmosphere. This is a day commemorating the student uprising against the dictatorship of 1967-1974 in Greece with a public holiday, collective remembrances and massive rallies. In November 14th, 1973, students, with support from other workers syndicates, occupied the Polytechnic school in Athens against the oppressive military regime with the demand-slogan: Bread-Education-Liberty. In the early morning of 17th November, the regime caused a bloodshed sending a tank to crash the Polytechnic resistance movement. This year’s memorialization echoed a legendary Greek court ruling in the early fall that declared the far-right Golden Dawn party that had associations with the military junta, a criminal organization. On the other hand, the current conservative government of New Democracy, with the pretense of the pandemic, banned authoritatively any public gathering commemorating the Polytechnic uprising all over Greece. Michalis Chrisochoidis, the minister for citizen’s protection, in pathologizing collective protests characteristically announced that “the streets and demonstrations carry virus and produce illness”.
Achille Mbembe writes:
Before this virus, humanity was already threatened with suffocation. If war there must be, it cannot so much be against a specific virus as against everything that condemns the majority of humankind to a premature cessation of breathing, everything that fundamentally attacks the respiratory tract, everything that, in the long reign of capitalism, has constrained entire segments of the world
population, entire races, to a difficult, panting breath and life of oppression. To come through this constriction would mean that we conceive of breathing beyond its purely biological aspect, and instead as that which we hold in-common, that which, by definition, eludes all calculation. By which I mean, the universal right to breath.
How do we deploy the body – in all its markings of race, class, gender, and able-bodiedness – as a provisional and precarious performative resource for critically engaging with histories of domination and injustice as histories of the present? How do we rewrite histories of embodied resistance, especially those that bring forth situational, translocal, and hybrid imaginaries of radical democracy so the majority of humankind is not suffocated?
First page of the newspaper Avgi, November 17, 2021.
The main title reads “Democracy can not be put in quarantine,”
accompanied with a photograph of the Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973.
“Tragedy” returns and persists as a trope of (political and artistic) representing the social suffering of our times, but also the possibilities that are being raised or thwarted for embodied resistance and dissensus. The trope of the “tragic” also becomes a commonplace in the contemporary discursive milieus of the news, political analysis and humanitarian action. The aesthetics of the “tragic gaze” is abundantly employed as a means of regarding, spectacularizing, and depoliticizing violence across borders.
“Ηow to live a life in an inhabitable world?”, Judith Butler asks. Drawing on Max Scheler’s renderings on the tragic as a phenomenon under which certain experiences are gathered (On the phenomenon of the tragic), she speculates that the tragic has a viral character. Like the virus, she marks, the tragic encircles us and discloses a future of the world. How do we contest an inhabitable world of contemporary predicaments of power such as imperialist globalization, financialisation, capitalist governmentality, war biopolitics, and the emergence of authoritarianism in Western democracies?
Antigone/Antigone in the context of our research here becomes a performative resource of critical discourses in relation to witnessing, trauma, hierarchies of mourning, and the narrativization of the unspeakable.
The three photos above were taken by our research team member Alkisti Efthymiou during the feminist rally in Santiago, Chile, on March 8th, 2020. On the third photo, the text reads: “Go away from Ithaca, Penelope. The sea is yours too.”
The current Greek government in its law making function criminalized the constitutional right for public embodied protest. This ban was the precursor of another recent law in February 2021 against the public university that aimed to undermine drastically its autonomous and democratic character. From a space of free and critical thought, this law intents to transform the university to a disciplined and penitentiary mechanism. The governmental imposition of armed and in uniform police in campus captures the deeply repressive character of the neoliberal university they intend to impose. The governmental and media narrative that depicts the university as unlawful tries to criminalize it so it can be controled and cleaned from the ‘hegemony of leftist thought’. The newly formed movement against the policing of academic life in Greece is uniting voices with the international initiative ‘defund the police’. This is a police that produces racist violence as the movement Black Lives Matter has uncovered. The governmental directive “law and order” undermines the agonistic gains of a constitutionally democratic university. This aberration makes again relevant the all times revolutionary claim Bread-Education-Liberty.
How do we formulate our demands to the political order without reproducing the assumptions that have worked to expel us from it, but rather by means of radically reshaping the political itself? In what voice and from what position can the displaced “speak”?
“March March” by The Chicks.
Shot, choreographed by Donald Byrd, Spectrum Dance Theater, Seattle.
How revolutionary bodies are produced in the process of their alternative reiteration of hegemonic ideals? What modes of realities and corporealities are brought forward in the simultaneous acts of reinvention of and diversion from the regulatory prototype? Can we think of the body as an agent of a performative promise, that is, as the medium of the spectral futurity of the performative rather than the proper place –and inalienable property- of the subject’s actuality? On March 8 this year, during the international feminist strike, demonstrators (keeping the public health measures due to pandemic) were arrested in Syntagma square in Athens again on the pretense of the pandemic. The state and other agencies of power have typically attempted to discipline bodies that resist subjection and normalization. But bodies are not only subjectivated and docile; they rather enact agency, including the agency of being involved in, and intertwined with, the intricacies of power.
Feminist strike on March 8th, 2021, at Syntagma square, Athens.
Moto: “They do not silence us, quarantine does not protect us from the pandemic of gender violence.”
Photo: Eurokinissi/Τatiana Bolari
The body is a tentative, provisional, and precarious resource for recalling and bringing about historical temporalities. How are conditions of displacement and foreignness performed through the performer’s body? How might the performative arts and performative acts become a field where political subjection, resistance and hospitality are “scripted” and “rehearsed” in conditions of political violence? The genealogy of feminist dissidence that is performed in Sofia Mavragani’s dance piece Speechless, a piece on the borders of theater and music, echoes Emma Goldman, the late-nineteenth-century maverick feminist, on the feminist movement: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” (“Choreographies,” an interview of Christie McDonald with Jacques Derrida):
Speechless, concept and choreography: Sofia Mavragani,
performers, co-makers: Hara Kotsali, Giorgos Kotsifakis, Sania Stribakou,
music composition: Martha Mavroidi.
Athanasiou, A. (2021). Mourning’s work and the work of mourning: thinking agonism and aporia together. In McIvor, D.W., Hooker, J., Atkins, A. et al., Mourning work: Death and democracy during a pandemic, Contempary Political Theory, 20(1), 165–199. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-020-00421-5.
Butler, J. (2000). Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press.
Butler, J. (2021, March 24). What is an Inhabitable World?: Scheler and the Tragic [Online lecture]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4Erzi_fKOU&t=511s
Chanter, T. (2010). Antigone’s Liminality: Hegel’s Racial Purification of Tragedy and the Naturalization of Slavery. In Hutchings, K. & Pulkkinen, P. (Eds.), Hegel’s Philosophy and Feminist Thought: Beyond Antigone?, Palgrave.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1977). Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press.
Mbembe, A. (2020, April 13). The Universal Right to Breathe, translated by C. Shread. Critical Inquiry Blog. https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/the-universal-right-to-breathe/
McDonald, C.V. & Derrida, J. (1982). Interview: Jacques Derrida and Christie V. McDonald: Choreographies. DIACRITICS, 12(2), pp. 66-76.
Uribe, S. (2016). Antígona González, translated by J. Pluecker. Les Figues Press.