A play about the end of the roaring 1920s and the return of a renegade artist, Djuna Barnes's The Antiphon (1958) is both a family drama and a reflection on the state of 1930s and 1950s American politics. Written in blank verse, the play's poetic style and wealth of inter-textual references to personal and public history attest to Barnes's aesthetic savvy and modernist sensibility. Not only does the play rely on the kind of role-switching associated with Platonic dialogues whereby materiality is excoriated to give way to purer, loftier ideas, but it also deploys a quest for state (or family) justice as a theatrical performance that is strong on stylized politics, but short on ethics and ideas. In its blending of the political and the abstract, The Antiphon evokes what Alain Badiou refers to in Rhapsody for the Theatre as a "theatre of ideas" that combines an artistic "heresy in action" with a "figurative reknotting of politics" (13). In The Antiphon, such "reknotting" not only points to the destructive politics permeating 1930s and 1950s America, but also exposes Barnes's search for a method that would simultaneously rupture and transcend the very limitations of art forms by transforming politics into a philosophically-charged theatre of ideas.


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pp. 150-165
Launched on MUSE
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