“Facing what disappears: what does not disappear.”

“Facing what disappears: what does not disappear.”

Woman protesting against forced disappearances in Mexico, 2020.
Her mask reads “¿Dónde están?” [Where are they?].
Source: Diario de Querétaro


Where was the body found?


“I didn’t want to be an Antigone
but it happened to me.”

Who found the dead body?

This phrase is not written by a contemporary author, but by Colombian activist Antígona (or Diana) Gómez, in the online letters she keeps sending to her father who was kidnapped and eventually found dead. Gomez insists in her uncompleted lament. Her militant mourning does not get to an end, but keeps demanding justice for bodies who keep disappearing. Her phrase is used by poet Sara Uribe in her stage poem Antígona González (2012). Departing from the increasing violence in the border state of Tamaulipas, Uribe’s own birth land, and the massacre of 72 Central American migrants, Antígona González searches for the disappeared body of her brother Tadeo; and for all those bodies who disappear in the unclaimed drug wars.

Was the dead body dead when found?

How is it possible to write poetry in a country in war? How is it possible to write about violence without imposing it anew through language? What are the limits of lyricism, fiction, and representation in front of the horror show of bodies who disappear or are exposed, in fragments? “What thing is the body when someone strips it of a name, a history, a family name?” How can the absent body be re-membered through words?

How was the dead body found?

“We live in the age of the agony of languages,” writes Raúl Zurita.

Who was the dead body?

Beyond any claim of writerly authenticity, or authority, Uribe mobilizes the strategies of “appropriation, intervention, and rewriting”: she doesn’t talk about but within the other; she composes a field where manifold dissonant voices can be heard.

Who was the father or daughter or brother
or uncle or sister or mother or son
of the dead and abandoned body?

She incorporates fragments from articles, interviews, testimonies, documents, or from the blog “Menos días aquí”: a collective platform of volunteers who investigate violent deaths taking place every day in Mexico and take notes of the precise murder conditions (when those are known):

The lifeless body of a man was found in the
La Venta reservoir. Though it has yet to be
identified, his left arm had a tattoo with the
name “Josefina,” and on his right arm was
written the name “Julio.”

Punctuation dismembers language, recalling the very destiny of the bodies. “Instrucciones para contar los muertos.” Instructions for counting, or narrating, the dead. The twofold meaning of the verb contar: to narrate, but also to count. Uribe narrates, but also counts, the suffering (within the voices) of the Others, inscribing her own positionality:

Count them all. Name them all so as to say:
this body could be mine.
I’m also disappearing, Tadeo.

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

The classic canon gets deterritorialized and recontextualized. In this intertextual palimpsest, the chorus of social agents dialogues with fragments from Antigone’s theoretical and theatric trajectories. “I will always want to bury Tadeo”: her insistent, uncompleted lament (as in the case of Antígona Gómez) echoes the final words of Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa. “Will you join me in taking up the body?” Displaced from the hypothesis (if you lend me a hand to bear the corpse away / εί τον νεκρόν ξυν τήδε κουφιείς χερί) to the question, Sophocles’ paraphrased verse brings to mind communities of mourning and search.

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

“Who then is Antigone within such a scene and what are we to make of her words?” Antigone’s scream (grito), as Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim is translated in Spanish, urges for the return of the myth to the present, temporally and locally contextualized through Rómulo Pianacci’s observation that:

The interpretation of Antigone is radically altered
in Latin America – Polynices is identified with the
marginalized and disappeared.

Is it, as Pianacci writes, “a Latin American tragedy?” This is Moira Fradinger’s thesis: problematizing normative reception theories, Sophocles’ heroine in Latin America is initially cannibalized as a colonial heritage, but subsequently comes back from within and recreates herself.

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?

Through a process of rumination, Fradinger points out, Antigone constitutes a tradition of at least two centuries in Latin America, with dense South-South interactions and often avoiding references to the ancient Greek “source text.” To provide only a few but telling examples, González cites Antígona Furiosa or Antígona y Actriz by Colombian author Carlos Satizábal. AntigonaS: Linaje de Hembras by Argentine author Jorge Huertas is performed in Mexico; the Widows by the Chilean Ariel Dorfman, self-exiled in the US, are staged at a memorial site of the Brazilian dictatorship. Twenty-first century Antigones come back in plural. And they perform absence.

How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the body was dead?

Polynices, from embodying the national enemy who collaborates with Amerindians (as in Antígona Vélez by Peronist Leopoldo Marechal who writes in Buenos Aires of the 1950s and venerates the colonial “Conquest of the Desert”) to becoming more and more identified with the disappeared.

Did you wash the dead body?

Rivers become crypts, watery graves that wash out corpses.

Did you close both its eyes?

The desert also becomes script. In Antígona: Las voces que incendian el desierto by Perla de la Rosa, the desert is the ultimate refuge for women’s survival.

Did you bury the body?

In de la Rosa’s play, Thebes is Ciudad Juárez, a place of wild femicides.

Did you leave it abandoned?

Here Polynices is a disappeared woman. Antigone is exiled from the polis and state power pretends not to have blood in its hands.

Did you kiss the dead body?

Antigone is a living dead: suspended, metoikos, stranger to both life and death.


Marios Chatziprokopiou