Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Antigone in Afghanistan

Antigone And The Body Of Polynices - Project G...Image via Wikipedia
Back in March, I went to the ASLCH (Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities).  I was giving a paper on Dworkin's notion of integrity and how his deafness to contemporary literary theory caused him to overplay the importance of authority (an idea my sister and I played with in a less academic, more literary context, here).

What I presented on actually has a little bit of relevance to this post, but not much --- more relevant was a fantastic double panel that I went to on legal theory and the Oedipal cycle.  Lots of interesting papers, including a theory proposed that I hope is right that Ismene was responsible for the first burial in Antigone.

Coming out of a paper on reinterpretations of Antigone, there was an interesting discussion of Seamus Heaney's translation of Antigone which, in the context of the Iraq War, made Creon into a George W Bush.  Heaney's version has been criticized for this, since for most interpreters of the play, one of the most important things is that one can sympathize with both Antigone and Creon.  This line of thinking is tremendously importance in political theory and philosophy, thanks largely to Hegel, who argued that both Creon and Antigone expressed sphere of law that were both legitimating and totalizing and therefore drawn into an inevitable conflict.

The discussion was interesting, but in the light of a broader discussion of the contemporary relevance of the Antigone story, I started to wonder whether Afghanistan might be a more interesting story.  In particular, I thought it would allow us to explore an issue which divided the left in a way that the Iraq War doesn't --- not the Afghanistan war itself but what to do right now.

This is what I wrote that evening.  I'd meant to refine it, but I decided that if the analogy works it only works in an absurdist obliteration of tragedy, so I've left it like that.  I offer it today, in homage to the news today that drones have killed Al-Qaeda's #3 operative.

Antigone in Afghanistan

There is a body on a hill.  Antigone and Ismene are just now arriving at the bottom of the hill, each from an opposite side of the stage.

Antigone:  You came.
Ismene: I did.
A:  Because I asked you to.
I: If you'd like.
A:  Well, you're here.
I:  If you'd like.
A: And you know why.
I: I'm here.

The hill shakes and there is an explosion.  The body is blasted into several pieces.

I: Well, what's the point now?
A:  I don't know but it seems that there must be a point.
I:  I don't see it.
A: Ah, but it's there.

Antigone points to where the body originally lay.

I:  Or else it's there.

Ismene points and points and points and points to the scattered body.

A: Let's get to it.
I: I'd rather not.

Enter CHORUS 1, the chorus of tribal elders.

Chorus 1:  
There are many ways a body can die,
It can die in its senescence,
its doddering childhood,
slipping away amid smelly hospital sheets,
choking toothlessly on its dinner.
It can die blue with an umbilical cord
wrapped around its neck.
It can starve, or end infested with maggots.
Bodies can perish collectively,
buried by the earth, incinerated en masse
instantly or slowly.
We have heard that some deaths can be delayed,
That there is a way to die with dignity.
We have heard this.
Some deaths are called meaningful.
Some deaths are called meaningless.
We have heard that there is something called a soul.
We have heard it bears death with dignity.
We have seen bodies die.

Then there is that, there.

When bodies die, the parts
they are composed of stop
working together.  They also come apart.
There is no set order in which this happens.
Lately, we have seen metal bodies,
buzzing and whirring.
They buzz and whir and hiss and click.
Sometime later, another body comes.
This too is metal.
It explodes, but it does not die.
Metal bodies do not die.
This is not a function of their permanence.
In fact, there parts also cease to function, and also come apart.
In fact, the function of some metal bodies
is to come apart, to make other things come apart.
This introduces the process of decay into organic bodies.

But what is this that is walking towards these bodies.
You, who are you?
What are you doing?

Antigone ignores them.  She keeps walking.  Ismene turns around

I: We're walking up the hill.
Ch 1: Why?
I: To bury that those things there.
A (stopping, turning):  that thing there.
Ch 1: What is that thing?
A: A body.
I: Or bodies.
Ch 1:  Whose?
A:  Our brother's.  We're here to get it.
Ch 1: Why?
A:  That is what you do with the bodies of brothers.
Ch 1: But why here?
A:  Because that's where the body is.
Ch 1:  I wouldn't go up there.
A:  Why not?  It's perfectly safe.

Another explosion off stage kicks up dust.  The hill, with Antigone and Ismene on it, is obscured in dust.
Enter Creon, on the back of a jeep, with entourage.

Creon:  Hello?  Who is this?  What is this going up that hill?

Indeed, Antigone and Ismene's outlines are becoming visible.

Ch 1:  It's two bodies.
C: Whose?
Ch 1: We don't know.
C: I can make them out now.  Why --- those are my nieces --- you there!  What are you doing there? What are you doing there?
A & I:  We've come to bury our brothers.
C:  That won't be necessary.
I: Why not?
C: I've already buried one of them.
A: And the other?
I: Others.
C:  That won't be necessary.  I've forbidden it.
A:  We know.
I: But why?
C: That's a state secret.
I: But we all know it -- [she speaks in a mocking, officious tone]  the state must have the right to total control over the disposition and disposal of bodies living and dead.
A:  But the state has always recognized that this right is limited by the limits of the state.
C:  Which are where?
A:  That's just my point.  Who are you?
C:  I'm Creon.  Your uncle.
A:  And who am I?
C:  You are Antigone.  My niece.
A:  And who is my father.
C:  That would be Oedipus, the old king.  But I see where you're going.  He isn't king anymore.  There was another between him and me.
A:  You mean our brother.
C: Precisely.
A:  Which one?
C:  I don't dispute the gist of where you're going, but that's beside the point.  The state, you should know, is hardly the same as the king.  Kings change, you know.
A: And that's my point, precisely.
C:  I see where you're going.  You're going to say that despite established order and procedures, the established laws of patrimony were violated.  But that's beside the point.  Patrimony, like patriarchy, is sometimes subverted.  And sometimes for the better.
A:  That's hardly my point.  I'm talking about that thing you just thought to use against me.  I'm talking about the subversions and the breaks.  I don't care who the king is.  How could I?  I care about family matters.
C:  Family matters are matters of state.
Ch 1:  Then why not leave them in the family?
C & A together:  What?
Ch 1:  Why not keep it in the family?
C & A:  What?
I:  They asked, why not leave it in the family.  They're wondering why we're hear on this hillside.  And frankly, so am I.
C:  As am I.
A:  You wonder why?  You brought us here.
C:  No, I didn't.  It was your brother.  Your brothers.  And your father.  I'm trying to get us out.
A:  I thought you said you all were one and the same.
C:  We are, when considered as orderers of the state, when considered as directors of these men here.

He points to Chorus 2, the Chorus of Soldiers, which is entering the stage, behind Creon's entourage.

C (continuing):  Who are they but marchers.  They need marching orders.  And we give those marching orders.  It is necessary to maintain the fiction that we are one and the same.  Your brother <Creon points and points and points> violated that fiction.

A:  And so we can't bury him you say?  Maybe he violated that fiction, but aren't you violating it to?
I:  But why do we need that fiction?
C & A:  What?
Ch 1:  Why do you need the fiction, the fiction of a body, a body you need to desecrate?  What is desecration?  Why do you need the fiction, the fiction of a body, a body you need to bury.

Chorus 2:
We are able bodies!
We are able bodies!
We do not know why we are here,
But we know that we will do
What it is we need to do.
We are able bodies!

Chorus 1:
There are many ways that able bodies can die.
They do not die in senescence.
They do not choke on food.
They are filled full of lead,
They are exploded on roadsides,
They die with opium in their eyes,
alcohol in their veins.
They die repenting to themselves
What they've done to bodies,
Able bodies like their own,
What they've seen able bodies do to able bodies.

Chorus 2:
What we've done to able bodies
Has been done to able bodies
Since before your bodies were still able bodies.
We are able bodies.
We can't worry beyond those bodies,
The bodies of ourselves,
Of our friends and brothers, of our enemies.
We worry ourselves less with desecration
Than with survival, with procreation,
A form of recreation
That disposes of our bodies with pleasant disportations,
before their final disposition.
It's a diversion of sorts.

C:  So you see my point.  What would happen to their cheerful dispositions if there were disabused of the fiction that your brother violated.  Without these dispositions, what good would be their disportations, procreations and other recreations?  Which reminds me, you two should be back at home.
I :  I wouldn't mind staying here a while.
A :  We've business to do.
C:  I wouldn't do it if I were you.  Guards!

A few members of the entourage walk up the hill, seize Antigone and Ismene.  They drive off along with Creon, followed by Chorus 2.

Enter Chorus 3, the Chorus of Dead Brothers.

Chorus 3:
We are the dead brothers!
Our bodies are damaged.
Our bodies were bandaged.
Bandages were hardly enough.
We are the dead brothers!
Why did we come here?
We were promised diversions,
diversions and recreations,
procreations, fornications.
What happened to that?
Our diversions turned to dust.
Our spirits to damaged bodies
went downward, turned inward
were broken.
were broken.

Ch. 1:
Why did you come here?
No one wanted you.
You talk of dead brothers.
Where are our dead sons?

Ch 3:
Look closer,
You'll see them.
Look closer,
You'll see them.
Here they are amongst our ranks.

Ch 1:
But you're the unforgotten.

Ch 3:
Oh no, we're quite forgotten.

Ch 1:
But we've heard them grieve you.

Ch 3:
We assure you, we're quite forgotten.
The dead are all the same.

Re-enter Antigone:

A:  I've slipped away from Creon.  Forget Ismene.  She's doing the gods know what but there's work still to be done.
Ch's 1 & 3: Are you sure that's wise? Didn't you hear Creon?
A:  I don't care for Creon.  It's enough I know I'm right.
Ch's 1 & 3:  Right about what?
A:  About responsibility.
Ch's 1 & 3:  We thought that this was about your brother.
A:  That's secondary.  Far more important is responsibility.  We have a responsibility to you.
Ch's 1 & 3: To who?
A: To both of you.  We have a responsibility to finish what we started.
Ch's 1 & 3:  And what did you start?

Antigone faces audience
I understand my presence is far from welcome,
but listen.  I'm quite sincere about why I've come.
My brothers, this is their war, 
I begged them, I implored them
not to do what they did.

Ch's 1 & 3:  For our sake, we wish you'd succeeded.
A:  And for your sakes and my sake, I wish I had to.
But listen, Uncle Creon, he doesn't understand!
He says forget the past!
But how can I forget the past?
The past, it haunts me, its memory haunt me.
I can't but help but be haunted by memories of the past.
I wish it were different.
I wish I could move forward.
But if I can't move forward, then better I understand.
Why are we were?
What was it for?
Surely, it was senseless, was meaningless,
lacking in significance,
And yet it claimed by brothers lives.
Ch. 3: And our lives.
Ch. 1: And our sons lives.
A: And you lives and their lives.
Look, I know what you think.
You think: aristocratic girl with her causes;
But it's much more than that.
It's so much more than that.
I see you <she gestures to Chorus 3>
and I see you <she gestures to Chorus 1>
and I see my brother right there <she points, points, points>
And I ask myself, what for?
Uncle Creon says: <she pulls a serious face>
"Its an unjust war.  There's no reason we're there."
And I tell him, "I know,"
And I really do know.
Ch 1: But our country lies in ruins.
Ch 3: And our bodies lie in ditches
A:  And it's my fault that we are here, my desirable fault.
Ch 1: It's not your fault you came here.
Ch 3: We'd want you in America.
A:  But yet I feel it's my fault, and I want something more.  I want to make things right.

Antigone throws dirt over each of the parts of her brother

A:  I hope that that's enough.

exit Antigone.  With a grand drumroll and a fanfare, enter Creon and Entourage, followed by Chorus 2.

C:  Aha!  I thought as much!  He's been buried!  Against my orders, against my express wishes!

Ch 3:  Please bury him.
Ch 1: What's the harm in burying him?  And while you're at it, please help us. 
C:  Silence!  Don't you know?  This is an unjust war!  We shouldn't even be here.
I know what you think.  You think:
"His pride is imperious."
You think
"He's just another claimant."
But I really mean it.
I look at you <he gestures to Chorus 3> and you >
And I ask myself, Why?
And I look at the boys behind me, still alive and kicking,
And I ask myself, why?
I ask myself, why?
If it was wrong when we entered, is it wrong not to leave, so I ask myself, why?

Creon turns back to the body on the hill.

But who did this unjust thing.

Choruses 1, 2 and 3:  It was Antigone.
C:  Who did this thing.
Ch's 1, 2 & 3. It was Antigone.
C: I'll get to the bottom of this if it kills me!
Ch. 1, 2 & 3:  It was Antigone.
C:  Call Tiresias.

A huge television descends from the sky.  Tiresias appears on the screen, a blindfold around his eyes.

Tiresias:  Creon is soft on terror!  Creon is a loser!  Creon is a fascist!
C <ignoring him:>  Who buried the body?
T: <ignoring him> Creon is a wimp!
Creon is a commie!
Creon is a socialist!
And Creon wets his bed!
C:  Who buried the body?
T: I can't say.
C:  Who buried the body?
T:  I won't say,
You Lilly-livered pansy,
I was here Oedipus started it.
I goaded him on.  And it was the right thing to do.
But I'm not responsible for what happened since then.
I told him it would happen, while I goaded him on.
C:  I don't care for your pontifications, I just want your augurs.  I want you to tell me, who buried the body?
Choruses 1, 2, 3 & Tiresias (in unison):  Antigone.
C Tiresias>  If you don't start talking soon, I'll assume it was you.
All:  Antigone.

Enter guard with Antigone and Ismene each tucked under one of his burly arms.

Guard:  Now listen, Mr. Creon, I don't want you to be angry, but there's something I must tell you if you promise not to yell ---
I was minding my own business, doing something or another <he looks bashfully at Ismene, who smiles back at him>  when I suddenly noticed the body was gone!  Well, not exactly gone, but covered up with dirt.  And I looked and I saw her [he brandishes Antigone] which didn't surprise me, but then I looked back at her <he points to Ismene, who smiles broadly.  He nods bashfully and looks away>.  And I realized I'd been had!
C :  Why did you do this?
A:  The will of the Gods is more important than your will.
I: To help my sister!
A:  Silence, hussy!  You had nothing to do with this.
I:  How dare you diminish my role?
A to C: I did this on my own.
C (ignoring A) --- As I have told you, this is treason.
A:  This is a family matter.
C:  It is treason.  Whatever the nature of the original defense, it's unseemly.
T:  Creon is soft on terror!  Creon coddles criminals!  His own niece is a criminal!
C: Take her away.

She is hauled off by some of the entourage.
Enter Haemon

Haemon:  Stop!  Don't you know I love her?
C: Degenerate!
H: I wish you'd spoken to me before you'd done something so foolish.
C:  It isn't foolish to ensure the masses . . . listen.
H:  This should have been a family matter.
C:  Tell that to him <he points at Tiresias>
H:  But why did it come to this?
C:  Listen, it wasn't I who tore the polity apart with this absurd war.  I'm just trying to end it.
H:  I understand that.  But consider the consequences.
C:  The law applies to all.
H:  It's a stupid law
Haemon runs offstage.

I:  Let me be with Antigone.
C:  We've other uses for you.  Antigone will die.
Ch's 1, 2 & 3:  For what? For whose sins?
Ch 1:  For her youth?
Ch 2:  For her brothers?
Ch 3:  Her father?
C:  It pays to be sure the state is obeyed.
But still in my leniency, I'll not kill her.
We'll brick her up.
Forbid the cameras come near her.
How that'll torment her.
And give her food enough,
The Gods won't say we haven't tried.
I: Oh, let me die with her!
C:  We've other uses for you.

The Guard leads Antigone away.

Enter Chorus 4, the Chorus of Women

Chorus 4:
They think we speak with one voice,
That's what they think.
Do we love Antigone.
Well, some of us.
But do we pity her?
Yes, we pity her.
Why wouldn't we?
She's been through the ringer with you.

Chorus 1: Whose women are you?
Ch 4: We are own own.
Ch 2:  Can we get your number?
Ch 4: We are one, we are two, we are three, we are four.
Ch 3:  We're dead you know.  Pity us, too.
Ch 4:  We pity you.
Ch 3:  Mourn for us.
Ch 4: Don't push your luck.
<turning to Creon>
But listen.  We've come to tell you, we're leaving you.
C:  Oh no, you won't.
Ch 4:  We've come to tell you, we've had it with you.
C:  I thought you said you didn't speak with one voice.
Ch 4:  On this we do, prick.
C:  Shit.  What can I do?
C:  Shit.  What can I do?
Choruses 1, 3 and 4:  You must undo what you've done.
C:  But I've done nothing.  I've tried to undo what they've done.
All Choruses:  For once, he's right.  You must undo what the state has done.
C:  But I can't.
All Choruses:  We fully agree.  You can't.  Nonetheless, you must undo what you've done.
C:  But how?
All Choruses:  That's what Antigone and Ismene were trying to do here.
C:  But they were so naive.
All Choruses:  Again, we fully agree.  Nonetheless -
C: So what am I to do?
All Choruses:  There's the girl.
C:  Who?
All Choruses:  You know.
C: Oh.

He leaves alone.

Combined Chorus:
It seems so pointless.
Life is pointless.
This is the sort of thing that gets overlooked,
When we think of the suffering that happens.
We want a reason.
There should be reasons, shouldn't there?
We think if it's pointless,
What's the point of not suffering,
When not suffering is so difficult,
We want something more.
We can't accept
Suffering without something else.
We can't stop
Suffering, so we look for something else.
Those who act unjustly.
Let me not be like them.
Let me not think
My deeds are done in recompense
For what has been done.
Let me bee free of the madness
That taints Cadmus's house.
Keep me free of the pride
That pollutes Cadmus's house,
That thinks suffering demands a response
Apart from itself.

There's a cry of pain offstage.

Combined Chorus:  What?  What's the matter.

Creon runs onstage.
C:  I am too late.  It was too late.
Ch: What happened?
C:  When I got there, she'd already done it.
Ch: Done what?
C: Sucked on the stock of a gun.
She was already gone.
But there was more.  W
hen I entered, there was Haemon,
and his eyes, their death reproached me
as they swooned and turned upwards,
went blank, turned stone.
And before that, his last words were so very stupid,
it was like he was already stupid before he went dumb:

"What's the point?
Do you see now?
Why don't you see it?
Now I've finally shown you,
Now you have to understand."

But that was so stupid.
He could have said anything,
He could have done anything,
If only he had.
He didn't need to believe me,
He didn't need to be like me,
He didn't have to bereave me,
To prove he could belie me.
He could have done anything
If he'd just done something.
Anything at all.

Creon runs off-stage

Combined Chorus:
Let me never be like the cursed house of Lauis,
The cursed line of Cadmus.
It think it's not earth-sprung.
The flowers of Afghanistan spring from the bones of bodies,
they cling upon the hillside, grow stubborn and strong.
The sun sets on Afghanistan,
the sun, celestial body, it careens across the heavens,
eccentric Phaeton.  But nonetheless the sun sets.

Does it go to America,
The sun, celestial flower?

Chorus 2:
My heart longs for America.
Chorus 3:
Our hearts, they say behind us, grow stubbornly in mountains,
The stones upon the mountains --- they're holding us down.

Combined Chorus:
We'd tell you more if we just could.
There's nothing more to say in fact.
We wish we knew how not say what the Cadmeans said.
But it's too late, so on we move,
the world leaving them behind.
It seems Haemon's right.
And now we're done singing.
The song itself is broken.
And so that's why the corpse remains.
But our song is done.

All leave.  The exploded body remains, multiplies.
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