Neither Sensible, Nor Moderate: Revisiting the Antigone

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Abstract

In this essay, I try to conceptualise meaningful forms of resistance in the present by revisiting Sophocles’ Antigone, one of the most important texts of western literary tradition. I focus on Antigone’s compulsion to act against Creon’s decree, which turns Sophocles’ heroine into a metonymical expression of (civil) disobedience, sacrifice, and mourning—to my mind, the constitutive elements of effective resistant subjectivity. In my analysis, Antigone’s resistance is transformed from a deeply private, filial duty, essentially seen as heroic, into a rich, public expression of collectivity and solidarity. To illustrate this, I capilatise on Judith Butler’s designation of Antigone firmly in the political, and then proceed to make use of Bonnie Honig’s recalibration of her disobedience as one which transcends solitary action to express the collective, democratic feeling of a whole polis. I then mobilise a three-pronged theoretical framework. Firstly, I analyse the clash of Antigone with Creon through the prism of Jacques Derrida’s work on law and violence. Secondly, I explore the possibility of a biopolitical framing as developed by Giorgio Agamben since, at its core, the clash in the play is enacted within the parameters of a vitiated habeas corpus: from the moment Antigone confesses her misdeed she is treated by Creon, the sovereign, as a non-human—as an animal or, indeed, a miasma. In the last section of this essay, I mobilise the work of Howard Caygill with a view to analysing what I perceive as three discernible yet concatenated stages (or aspects) in the formation of Antigone’s resistant subjectivity: her full awareness of what it means to disobey (hence to resist), her acceptance of sacrifice, and, finally, her commitment to the political potentialities of mourning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalHumanities
Volume7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

This is a fresh reading of the Antigone, a canonical text of western culture, from within the prism of contemporary politics.

Keywords

  • Politics
  • Neoliberalism
  • resistance and activism
  • sacrifice
  • Derrida
  • Butler
  • Agamben
  • liberalism
  • miasma
  • Caygill
  • Honig
  • Antigone
  • Democracy

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