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The Death of the Character

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This paper takes the opportunity, occasioned by the publication of Bonnie Honig’s profound meditations on the figure of Antigone, to dwell on the implications of the many interpretations of this ancient Greek character in modern and postmodern theory. From Hegel to Honig, we have seen a wide variety of readings of this crucial and excruciated girl, this virgin, this hero, the emblematic female, embodying family for Hegel (Phenomenology, Aesthetics), pure desire for Lacan (1997), queerness for Judith Butler (2002).

This talk will focus on what is lost when we read Greek tragedy for “character,” for the individual who speaks--as a character. I would like to consider the costs of such a perspective on Greek tragedy, one which reifies the individual, sees her as possessed of ethics, of virtues, of choices. Are we retrojecting a Cartesian selfhood, a possessive individualism, a ”humanism”? If Luce Irigaray (1984) says of Antigone that she is “young, true,” in protest against the girl’s appropriation by both Hegel and Lacan, can we not resist the temptation to turn words into persons? Although I do not want to return to a disciplinary sternness, something that Honig is at pains to critique throughout her generous and expansive set of essays on Antigone, I want to come back to an older philological text, R.F. Goheen’s The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone (1950), implicate this reading with Nicole Loraux’s observations on voices in mourning (1999), Anne Carson’s new translation of the play (2012), and think about the ways in which tragedy is a web of words, a rhizome.

Can we use the occasion of meditations on Antigone to think new kinds of connections that emerge as we read tragedy, dwelling on loss, grief, mourning, and politics engaged in by swarms, multitudes, collectivities in which there is no name?

Session/Panel Title

Tragic Interruptions

Session/Paper Number

8.1

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