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Euripidean Assemblages

Nancy Worman

Barnard College

The representational strategies that dominate many of Euripides' dramas amplify aesthetic and affective intimacies and proximities at the edges of the human (especially skin/clothing, living/dead, human/object).  These strategies also often foreground tragic embodiments as constellated and contiguous formations that Deleuze and Guattari might have recognized as "assemblages" – that is, as combinations, extensions, or layerings of bodies and other entities (Deleuze and Guattari ([1980] 1987, cf. Deleuze and Guattari [1972] 1977; also Grosz 2008, Wohl 2005, Seeley 2012). Because of such wildly revisionist schemes scholars have often celebrated their theorizing as radical, and yet these schemes then to both fetishize and marginalize the feminine (not to mention the "native," etc., see Lattas 1991). This too they may share with Euripides' representational strategies, which often pull up close to female characters and expose them to tactile, intimate, boundary-dissolving transformations and "becomings" – body-to-thing, human-to-creature, and so on. If, as Lattas argues, Deleuze and Guatarri's assemblages allow "post-modernist male philosophers to become sorcerers, woman, and animal" (1991: 107), then we should be equally wary of assuming that Euripides' aesthetic radicalism avoids similar presumptions.

In this paper I shall show how such emergent assemblages operate and examine the politics of their aesthetics in two plays of Euripides that foreground their centrality in relation to plotting: Andromache and Hecuba. I shall also demonstrate how Euripides' attention to the "feel" of emergent or merging edges dovetails with menacing sensory and affective dynamics, when characters come into desperate contact with each other or significant objects while violence looms (see Deleuze 1988; also Thrift 2004, Classen [ed.] 2005, Clough and Halley [eds.] 2007, Paterson 2007, Purves [ed.] Forthcoming). At such moments semiotic materialities, meaning visual manifestations of figurative relations, precipitate on stage at the edges of bodies, as connection and closeness render metaphors visible and tactile. Clothing may take on resonance as a second skin, or, alternatively, as an alienating carapace to be violently wrenched from the body. Solid objects may, in turn, appear porous, malleable, or saturated with human features, becoming prostheses or proxies for the characters that interact with them.

In Andromache pivotal scenes foreground bodies and objects in groupings that render concrete and enacted proximities forged by violence and misdirected or misused. As if materializing a figure like catachresis or transferred epithet, such assemblages reorganize bodies, things, and their characteristics (e.g., surfaces, postures, positions) in relation to each other, so that the skin of Andromache – here a suppliant with slave status –  becomes worn metal or rock (e.g., 113-16, 266-68, 533-34), while the statue of Thetis to which she clings exerts a vibrant pull, serving as both a fulcrum and a proxy for enactment. In Hecuba mother and daughter hover on the edge of violence and death, the threats to their bodily integrity seeming imminent enough to be annexed to their semi-human inhabitations (e.g., 150-54, 204-10, 402-40). Their violent futures appear already at hand, as avatars, prostheses, or declinations of their present selves – the foal torn from the breast, the bleeding neck bent over the tomb, the ivy arms, the old skin pushed and dragged. This merging is reinforced later on, when Hecuba responds to the news of Polyxena's slaughter with tactile metaphors (e.g., touching, wiping, 585-90) and "feeling with" (cf. Marks 2000: 153), shaping a ghostly emergence that does not stop at the skin but opens out onto impending contiguities and assemblages.

These plays share with others a uniquely Euripidean mode of tragic representation, one that foregrounds such assemblages as central to tragic aesthetics and its brutal politics. The body's accessories, intimate handling, and "edges" serve as vibrant indicators of female characters' dangerous or wrong dispositions or their menacing at the hands of others. This shaking up of affective experiences and skin disturbances fosters its own novel perversions, an aberrant politics of aesthetics that resists the balanced unities of conventional embodiments and their plottings.

Session/Panel Title:

Deterritorializing Classics

Session/Paper Number

22.4

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