Antigone and the ethics of kinship


Sophocles' Antigone has elicited many superlatives. Hölderlin considered the play to be the most difficult, the most enigmatic and the most essentially Greek of plays. This chapter treats a matter of enigma in the play, one that is crucial to understanding the central stakes of the drama. Its main purpose is to propose a novel account of this enigma in order to permit a discussion of two of Luce Irigaray's readings of the play. This discussion aims to shed light on Irigaray's two readings by considering them in relation to the proposed solution to the enigma. In broad terms, the chief thematic focus throughout is the question of the relation of ethics to kinship, and to genre or sexed kind. One passage in particular has prompted the view that the play is extremely enigmatic; it is a passage that has been read with astonishment by many commentators and taken to demand explanation. This is Antigone's defense speech at lines 905-914. Here, she famously provides what appear to her to be reasons for her burying her brother Polynices against the explicit command of her king and uncle, Creon. Her claim is she would not have deliberately violated Creon's command, would not have intentionally broken his law or edict, had this edict barred her from burying a child or husband of hers. She says that if her husband or child had died "there might have been another." But since both her mother and father are dead, she reasons, "no brother could ever spring to light again." 1 Reasoning of this sort has a precedent in a tale found in Herodotus's Histories, and Aristotle cites it in Rhetoric as an example of giving an explanation for something that one's auditors may at first find incredible. 2 To Aristotle, then, Antigone's defense speech appears to have been "rhetorically satisfactory," as Bernard Knox says. 3 However, such a reception is rare among commentators. © 2010 State University of New York. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Rewriting Difference: Luce Irigaray and "the Greeks"

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