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diacritics 34.3 (2006) 90-110

María Zambrano and the Survival of Antigone
Andrew Bush


In June of 1978 the French philosopher Sarah Kofman arrived at the Arsenal in Strasbourg to see a performance of Antigone.1 As it turned out, she and the other fifty-odd members of the audience would be participants—in the catharsis, of course—but more concretely, from their very entrance along a rickety stairway, they were actualizing a mise-en-abîme, as one would say of the performers that they were to actualize a mise-en-scène: "And you cannot avoid the feeling of the fragility of the 'ruin,' of the collapse that threatens you at every moment" ["L'espace" 1146].2 Kofman further observed, "if you have the fortune(?) to be in the first row, you will have— throughout the whole performance—your legs suspended in the void," while the players, too, performed "on gangways, scaffolding, on 'planks' without guardrails" ["L'espace" 1147]. The fragility that obtained within was, in fact, visible at the very approach to the Arsenal, a "veritable military ruin": the first glance "at scorched walls, at broken panes," recalled "a house bombed out during the last war" ["L'espace" 1145], which, even after Vietnam and Algeria, still meant the Second World War. But for Kofman, not simply French, the recollection of that wartime while climbing, dangerously, to an attic, evoked other memories: "you dream of Anne Frank, of all those Jewish women forced to hide, to live clandestinely in order to survive through the hellish night. And you think that a Greek tragedy thus translated—that can still concern you" ["L'espace" 1146]. The site of destruction, of the last war in Strasbourg or Thebes, of a Strasbourg superimposed on the abyss of Thebes, of Antigone's Thebes translated in time and space to Strasbourg, is also the site of a certain survival. Though Anne Frank herself died in the camps, other Jewish women, among them Sarah Kofman, hidden in the midst of Paris [see Kofman, Rue Ordener], lived on.3 But these ulterior destinies are not the concern of the performance. Rather it is the action of the survival, more precisely, the passivity or passion of survival that defines the site, the scene or abyss as a ruin. "Something attains the category of ruin," writes Spanish philosopher María Zambrano, "when its material collapse serves as a base for a sense that extends triumphantly; survival, no longer of that which was, but rather of that which did not attain being [Algo alcanza la categoría [End Page 90] de ruina cuando su derrumbe material sirve de soporte a un sentido que se extiende triunfador; superviviencia, no ya de lo que fue, sino de lo que no alcanzó a ser]" [El hombre y lo divino 235].4

One may be more precise with regard to Zambrano. Her consistent concern has not been the articulation that "did not attain being," but rather of that which attained nonbeing, that is, for her, the survival of the sacred, the reality of nonbeing and its relation to human being. Translation as a survival of the sacred constitutes a paradoxical enterprise inasmuch, as Zambrano argues, as that discourse is necessarily "of being": "To say and to be are in perfect correlation on this horizon of the logos: being is that which is properly speaking itself [Decir y ser están en este horizonte del logos en una perfecta correlación: es el ser el que se dice propiamente]" [El hombre 191; emphasis in the original]. Thus, if the sacred survives at all in human discourse, it will be heard in that which speaks improperly. The sacred survives in the ruins of speech.5

At Strasbourg and in Antigone, that is, L'Antigone de Sophocle de Hölderlin tra-duite par [Philippe] Lacoue-Labarthe, Kofman approached the limits of the logos as an internal breakdown of the unified discourse of reason. Following Lacoue-Labarthe, she designates the resulting abyss as "the space of the caesura" that "shatters that...


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