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Antigone

February 20, 2016

antigone

 

The Theban royal family tree looks a bit like a flow chart.

It must be one of the few communities on earth where the most common cause of death is “an immediate family member”.

Next week I’m chairing a couple of seminars on Antigone and hopefully students will have read some kind of translation from Sophocles, Jean Anouilh’s play of the same name that is more of a critical commentary on Sophocles, and maybe they’ll watch the 1961 modern Greek movie starring Irene Papas.

The movie is – well – a movie.  It has chariots and scenery and stuff that you can’t fit on stage.  And the functions of the formal chorus are redistributed.  It has a very solemn and stony feel to it though.  It is neoclassical.  Apollonian.

Sophocles’ Antigone is the third and last play within what might be called a trilogy (though there’s no evidence it was conceived as such.   The play explains how after the unlucky reign of King Oedipus, family life, unimaginably – just gets worse.  In some ways, Antigone a bit like watching an EastEnders Christmas special.  No matter how dysfunctional your own family – these Theban royals have it worse.

Now Jean Anouilh’s play is very different.  It’s not so much a tragedy as an ironic commentary on the demand for tragedy.  Anouilh’s King Creon bends over backwards to avoid killing his niece while Antigone’s absolute level of commitment is strangely hilarious as well as terrifying.

Friedrich Nietszche never lived to see Anouilh’s play and probably would have hated it.  (He hated most things.)   Nietszche regarded Euripides himself as a kind of Anouilh – since Euripides added a kind of Socratic syllogistic element into the formal symbiotic tensions between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.  In other words, Euripides made tragedy self-conscious and self-knowing – a fatal but perhaps inevitable innovation.

If Antigone is about anything (and who says plays ever have to be about anything?) then it’s about whether honouring the dead is an absolute moral necessity?  Perhaps before next week I should re-read Judith Butler on mourning.  Whatever else we do next week, we need to recolonise a cultural context which regards decent funerals as the final vindication of life, the supreme and necessary declaration of identity.

Best start trying to become a clever person before Tuesday.

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