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Interrogating Antigone in Postmodern Philosophy and Criticism$
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S. E. Wilmer and Audrone Zukauskaite

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199559213

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199559213.001.0001

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Biopolitics: Antigone's Claim

Biopolitics: Antigone's Claim

Chapter:
(p.67) 3 Biopolitics: Antigone's Claim
Source:
Interrogating Antigone in Postmodern Philosophy and Criticism
Author(s):

Audronė Žukauskaitė

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199559213.003.0004

The Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Žižek interprets Antigone as a figure driven by some pathological desire, being attached to the Other (Polyneices) without the mediation of symbolic rules and laws. In this sense, Antigone's decision to bury her brother is seen as an authoritarian or even totalitarian act. On the other hand, the same gesture, which is seen as pathological, can also be interpreted as an ethical act par excellence: Antigone's transgression is an ethical act, which intervenes into social reality and changes the very coordinates of what is perceived to be possible. These coordinates, it is argued, can't be explained either in terms of kinship, or in terms of the unconscious. The very idea of transgression acquires meaning only in a more general framework of the analysis of power relationships. But what kind of power relationships could we have in mind and what is Antigone's position in it? The Chorus describes Antigone as ‘inhuman’ and it is necessary to decide how to interpret this ‘inhumanness’. Lacan points out that inhuman ‘literally means something uncivilized, something raw’. It is precisely this ‘raw flesh’, this ‘inhumanness’, on which the chapter's interpretation is focused. Two thinkers, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, are very important in order to reconsider this ‘rawness’ of Antigone not as an insignificant feature, but, probably, as the main conflict of the tragedy. This ‘rawness’ or biological life of man, which Foucault made the main object of his research, appears to be not the ‘natural condition’ of human life, but a result of power relations. Agamben develops Foucault's ideas further, establishing a clear connection between what he calls ‘bare life’ and modern state power. The question, asked in the chapter, is this: are these theories of sovereign power relevant in interpreting the Sophoclean play? Can it be presupposed that the limit, for which Antigone stands, is ‘the trace of an alternate legality that haunts the conscious, public sphere as its scandalous future’ and that comes into existence in modern times?

Keywords:   biopolitics, bare life, homo sacer, the state of exception, universal transgression

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