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Private Lives, Public Deaths

Antigone and the Invention of Individuality

Jonathan Strauss

Publication Year: 2013

In Private Lives, Public Deaths, Jonathan Strauss shows how Sophocles' tragedy Antigone crystallized the political, intellectual, and aesthetic forces of an entire historical moment--fifth-century Athens--into one idea: the value of a single, living person. That idea existed, however, only as a powerful but unconscious desire. Drawing on classical studies, Hegel, and contemporary philosophical interpretations of this pivotal drama, Strauss argues that Antigone's tragedy, and perhaps all classical tragedy, represents a failure to satisfy this longing. To the extent that the value of a living individual remains an open question, what Sophocles attempted to imagine still escapes our understanding. Antigone is, in this sense, a text not from the past, but from our future.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Note on Greek Transliterations

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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction: Tragedy, the City, and Its Dead

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pp. 1-15

Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone represents an immense effort to imagine the origins and limits of the political state. Law sets against law in the play, while a tenuous new order is won at huge sacrifi ce from their confrontation. For whom the city and by what right authority over it? the chorus ponders as the protagonists struggle to impose their image of the social order, create ...

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One Two Orders of Individuality

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pp. 16-35

Fifth-century Greek tragedies were not merely entertainments. For the playwrights and their audiences, these dramas were important civic events. Christian Meier has gone so far as to argue that Greek democracy was dependent on these plays, in part because they filled the role of a state apparatus that was otherwise missing in classical Athens and other cities.1...

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Two The Citizen

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pp. 36-48

The tragedies, then, mark the rise of a new sort of person, one defined not by his or her place within a familial structure but in relation to a larger notion of civic justice. Abstract as it may seem, this shift echoed changes in the legal system that accompanied the rise of the polis. In the Homeric period, or around the ninth century, it was the head of a household,...

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Three Loss Embodied

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pp. 49-61

In Antigone, different modes of individuation confront each other through a dispute over the treatment of a corpse, and the choice of this particular object does not seem to have been pure happenstance. Of the seven plays by Sophocles that remain, three revolve around the disposition and burial of the dead: ...

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Four States of Exclusion

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pp. 62-84

A strange fantasy, as we have seen, weaves its way through Hegel’s interpretation of Antigone, and this is not just some stray thread, but a crucial, if hidden, filament that holds his whole argument together. In this fantasy, the corpse retains some dim remnant of sentience, a pathetic neediness that is ready, when confronted by an unbearable injustice, to degenerate into ...

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Five Inventing Life

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pp. 85-100

In a sustained analysis of philia in Aristotle’s works, Martha Nussbaum has argued that the philosopher theorized a love that treats the beloved as an end in himself, valuing him because of his irreplaceable uniqueness. By emphasizing the importance of such friends’ “living together,” Aristotle seems, moreover, to have premised his notion of friendship on that of life, ...

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Six Mourning, Longing, Loving

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pp. 101-124

Hegel’s powerful and idiosyncratic reading of Antigone describes an intimate relation between the treatment of the dead and the meaning of the city. It also establishes the grounds for a sustained analysis of gender’s role in that meaning. But his interpretation is also marked by blind spots, curious and identifi able features of his argument that reveal themselves only ...

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Seven Exit Tragedy

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pp. 125-140

Everything that I have written so far, and indeed a huge body of work spanning centuries and disciplines, argues that Antigone is important. That Sophocles’s tragedy continues to generate scholarly debate in philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary studies, and feminist theory indicates that it is still timely. And if Antigone is so important, even now, that must be because ...


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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-198

Works Cited

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pp. 199-208


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pp. 209-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780823251346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823251322
Print-ISBN-10: 0823251322

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 1 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth