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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.1 (2002) 259-266

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Book Review

A Play in Three Acts

Judith Roof
Michigan State University

Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Judith Butler. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000


Antagone, feminist philosopher . . . Judith Butler
Ismene, a shyer feminist philosopher . . . Luce Irigaray
Creon, representative of patriarchal law . . . G. W. F. Hegel and Jacques Lacan, by turn
Guard, purveyor of structuralist perceptions . . . Claude Lévi-Strauss
Haemon, son of Creon, fiancé of Antagone, and defender of feminism. . . Michel Foucault
Eurydice, wife of Creon, feminist of previous generation . . . Juliet Mitchell Teiresias, blind seer . . . Judith Butler


The Wellek Library Lectures in Critical Theory, University of California, Irvine, May 1998 [End Page 259]


CHORUS: So many years and so many waves,
The times when feminists confronted the state

All gone now, a mere whisper
Of past discontent and radical action

The plain before us filled with assimilationist strivings
The Father's tools rebuild the Father's house.

The Law is still the Law
The Law that structures all, even questions and rebellions

How to escape? (Escape is defined by Law)
How to change it? (Change is understood in the Law's terms)

How to enable a different vision of things
When the Law holds even vision in thrall?

The Law whose writhing body
still bucks the dust of this post-Apocalyptic plain

Cover it once and for all
With the detritus of its contradictions

Bury it in the grit
Of its stubborn obsolescence and insistent oppressions

Bury the Law in the name of the Law
And hope that a new Law is born

Here comes Antagone, decked in reason, armed with the drama of Antigone. Antigone, the daughter/sister of her father/brother, the sister/aunt of her [End Page 260] sister/niece, the daughter/granddaughter of her mother/grandmother, Antigone represents defiance of one law as she defends another. Antigone's love is for her brother, not the state. Her defiance is an admirable and deadly stand against the forces of the inhuman.

The justice of Antigone's plaint is insistently misread, first by Creon, who, insecure in his own power, sends her to her death. For him, she is a woman whose will unmans men. Hegel, Lacan, and Zizek deny her love for her brother and ignore the disorder of her kinship ties. Antigone fascinates them; they write about her, but they are full of blindnesses. Like Creon, they condemn her to liminality and non-being and deny that her law might be law at all.

Hegel: Antigone is "the limit of the publicly knowable and codifiable" (39).
Lacan: She is "a problem of beauty, fascination, and death . . . a conflict internal to and constitutive of the operation of desire and, in particular, ethical desire" (46-47).

For Antagone, Antigone "figures the limits of intelligibility exposed as the limits of kinship" (23). Antigone's unintelligibility institutes a drama of the law. She enacts its Peripeteia by pitting one order against another, the older laws of kinship against the patriarchal state, the order of the gods against a Symbolic aligned with and dependent upon normative kinship relations. She speaks as a woman against men, against the state, against the inconsistencies of man-man laws upheld as universal. The complexity of her knotted, incestuous family brings the normalcy of exogamy into question, or it would if she could be seen as she is—the daughter of one brother and lover of another, if the anxious blindness of her various readers doesn't relegate her to that death in life decreed by Creon, who walled her alive in the tomb of the Father's command.

Antagone hopes that if the hidden alliances among normative kinship, the Symbolic, Law, and the State are brought to light, the example of Antigone might be "the occasion for a new field of the human, achieved through political catachresis, the one that happens when the less than human speaks as human, when gender is displaced, and kinship founders on its own founding laws" (82). [End Page 261]

But we've...


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