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  • Interrogating Antigone in Post-Modern Philosophy and Criticism
  • Julia Listengarten
Interrogating Antigone in Post-Modern Philosophy and Criticism. Edited by S. E. Wilmer and Audronė Žukauskaitė. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010; pp. 450.

Interrogating Antigone in Postmodern Philosophy and Criticism offers an array of contemporary interdisciplinary perspectives on the character of Antigone in the context of ethical and political questions raised by this unyielding ancient heroine who, over the centuries, has intrigued readers, troubled philosophers, inspired artists, and enthralled audiences. Editors S. E. Wilmer and Audronė Žukauskaitė bring together accomplished scholars from a variety of disciplines—including philosophy, psychoanalysis, art history, theatre, classics, and gender studies—to discuss critical shifts in postmodern interpretations of Antigone and to investigate her historical and current role in disrupting patriarchal structures and political hegemonies. Inviting readers to ponder “unresolved questions [that] lie in the play,” Wilmer and Žukauskaitė present a wide range of approaches to understanding, translating, and performing Antigone, effectively placing their discussion within a broader discourse about “geo-political conflicts,” as well as “gender and family relations, state power, individual and spiritual needs, and questions of identity” (1, 16).

Organized into four parts—“Philosophy and Politics,” “Psychoanalysis and the Law,” “Gender and Kinship,” and “Translations, Adaptations, and Performance”—the book pushes readers to reevaluate existing, sometimes controversial theories and to locate and identify the captivating power of Sophocles’ character. Laying out the premise for the volume and presenting an overview of each contribution, the editors offer an extended and carefully structured introduction—a scrupulous account of current, often conflicting arguments around the figure of Antigone. Pointing to clashes in interpretation, the introduction recapitulates Hegel’s famous argument about the dichotomy between Antigone’s divine and Creon’s human law and foregrounds more recent psychoanalytical debates—specifically, Jacques Lacan’s view of Antigone as a self-destructive “transgressor of external laws” (3) and Slavoj Žižek’s assertion that she is a “proto-totalitarian figure” (3). These readings, the editors emphasize, have been challenged by gender studies scholars, including Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler, who have shifted away from psychoanalytical models to spheres of political and feminist critique. The editors’ thorough introduction provides the necessary background for the interrogations of Antigone’s cultural meanings that are taken up in the essays that follow.

In part 1, “Philosophy and Politics,” the contributing authors together create a powerful and compelling case for reclaiming Antigone as an extraordinary political character through the lens of current philosophical discourse. Specifically, Tina Chanter rigorously argues against the Lacanian approach to Antigone as a “monstrous” figure, and instead reframes her as a radical political force whose “socially progressive legacy” (23) has inspired generations of political activists. In an insightful reading of Antigone as a political refugee, Cecilia Sjöholm examines her actions in the context of Sophocles’ other Theban plays, particularly Oedipus at Colonus, drawing on Hannah Arendt’s theory of the Greek polis and public space. Next, Žukauskaitė posits that Antigone’s transgression is not motivated by self-destructive desire, but rather can be identified “with the position of those who lack recognition in the public space” (80). Eugene O’Brien shifts this debate about Antigone’s political legacy to the sphere of ethics and responsibility, employing the inherent contradiction between the responsible and irresponsible and pointing to the shifting ethical value of what constitutes “the responsible act” in the context of Antigone’s politics.

Part 2, “Psychoanalysis and the Law,” offers a more diffuse selection of chapters (by Terry Eagleton, [End Page 299] Mark Griffith, Calum Neill, Ahuvia Kahane, Judith Fletcher, and Klaas Tindemans) that refashion Lacan’s psychoanalytical models from moral, ethical, and judicial points of view. Some of the corresponding issues raised in this section concern the impact of the play’s ambiguity on each viewer’s interpretation (Neill), as well as spectators’ often divergent reactions to both Antigone and the play, informed by their often conflicting subject positions and complex processes of identification with the main characters (Griffith). Looking at Antigone as “a cultural product of ‘a festival of the democratic polis’” (170), Fletcher hypothesizes that the original Athenian audience perhaps viewed Antigone as the voice of true democratic law, forced to...


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pp. 299-300
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