Antigone's Claim

Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death

Judith Butler
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 118
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  • Book Info
    Antigone's Claim
    Book Description:

    The celebrated author of Gender Trouble here redefines Antigone's legacy, recovering her revolutionary significance and liberating it for a progressive feminism and sexual politics. Butler's new interpretation does nothing less than reconceptualize the incest taboo in relation to kinship -- and open up the concept of kinship to cultural change.

    Antigone, the renowned insurgent from Sophocles's Oedipus, has long been a feminist icon of defiance. But what has remained unclear is whether she escapes from the forms of power that she opposes. Antigone proves to be a more ambivalent figure for feminism than has been acknowledged, since the form of defiance she exemplifies also leads to her death. Butler argues that Antigone represents a form of feminist and sexual agency that is fraught with risk. Moreover, Antigone shows how the constraints of normative kinship unfairly decide what will and will not be a livable life.

    Butler explores the meaning of Antigone, wondering what forms of kinship might have allowed her to live. Along the way, she considers the works of such philosophers as Hegel, Lacan, and Irigaray. How, she asks, would psychoanalysis have been different if it had taken Antigone -- the "postoedipal" subject -- rather than Oedipus as its point of departure? If the incest taboo is reconceived so that it does not mandate heterosexuality as its solution, what forms of sexual alliance and new kinship might be acknowledged as a result? The book relates the courageous deeds of Antigone to the claims made by those whose relations are still not honored as those of proper kinship, showing how a culture of normative heterosexuality obstructs our capacity to see what sexual freedom and political agency could be.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51804-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Antigone’s Claim
    (pp. 1-26)

    I began to think about Antigone a few years ago as I wondered what happened to those feminist efforts to confront and defy the state. It seemed to me that Antigone might work as a counterfigure to the trend championed by recent feminists to seek the backing and authority of the state to implement feminist policy aims. The legacy of Antigone’s defiance appeared to be lost in the contemporary efforts to recast political opposition as legal plaint and to seek the legitimacy of the state in the espousal of feminist claims. Indeed, one finds Antigone defended and championed, for instance,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Unwritten Laws, Aberrant Transmissions
    (pp. 27-56)

    In the last chapter, I considered Antigone’s act, what claim the act of burial makes, what act the claim of defiance performs. Her act leads to her death, but the relationship between the act and her fatal conclusion is not precisely causal. She acts, she defies the law, knowing that death is the punishment, but what propels her action? And what propels her action toward death? It would be easier if we could say that Creon killed her, but Creon banishes her only to a living death, and it is within that tomb that she takes her life. It might...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Promiscuous Obedience
    (pp. 57-82)

    In George Steiner’s study of the historical appropriations of Antigone, he poses a controversial question he does not pursue: What would happen if psychoanalysis were to have taken Antigone rather than Oedipus as its point of departure?¹ Oedipus clearly has his own tragic fate, but Antigone’s fate is decidedly postoedipal. Although her brothers are explicitly cursed by her father, does the curse also work on her and, if so, through what furtive and implicit means? The chorus remarks that something of Oedipus’ fate is surely working through her own, but what burden of history does she bear? Oedipus comes to...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 83-98)
  8. Index
    (pp. 99-104)