Antigone, Interrupted by Bonnie Honig

By Bonnie Honig

Sophocles' Antigone is a touchstone in democratic, feminist and felony conception, and probably the main commented upon play within the historical past of philosophy and political concept. Bonnie Honig's rereading of it for this reason consists of intervening in a number of literatures and unsettling a lot of their governing assumptions. Exploring the facility of Antigone in quite a few political, cultural, and theoretical settings, Honig identifies the 'Antigone-effect' – which strikes those that enlist Antigone for his or her politics from activism into lamentation. She argues that Antigone's personal lamentations should be noticeable not only as indicators of dissidence yet really as markers of a rival international view with its personal sovereignty and power. Honig argues that the play doesn't supply easily a version for resistance politics or 'equal dignity in death', yet a extra confident politics of counter-sovereignty and team spirit which emphasizes equality in existence.

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With the word and deed of ritual, materiality, and speech act, with the stone marker, the cemetery plot, and the coffin, with the prayers, eulogies, and rituals for the dead, the family inserts itself into nature’s processes, interrupts them, and claims even the dead for human community. In Hegel, these so-called universals underwrite a contested kinship structure in which it is the sister’s duty to bury the brother. It may also be that burial as a humanist obligation is what makes a sister of the woman.

This is different from the Holocaust-centered catastrophic thinking that Rancière criticizes in certain French philosophers. Or at least its genealogy is different. In contrast to the “universality fathered by Oedipus,” Victoria Wohl argues, “there might be a different humanist tradition” (2005: 158–159). This alternative humanism is “mothered by Antigone” and it “exposes the limits and limitations of the masculine universal” (2005: 159). For Wohl, “critique” stands out as the trait Antigone brings to humanism.

Ethics, that is, is philosophy’s atonement for its “old pretension of philosophical mastery” (1999: 135). In short, when Antigone laments, or when philosophy laments with her, politics disappears. Still, Rancière does at one point here indulge his own inner Antigone (we all have one). 11 This commitment is thematized by Hegel in a passage of the Phenomenology usually read as a commentary on Sophocles’ Antigone. For Hegel, the function of burial, the purpose of interment (from in terra, literally “in the ground”), is to inter-rupt the natural processes by way of which the dead become organic parts of nature.

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