Whose Antigone?: The Tragic Marginalization of Slavery

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  • Antigone (Methuen Drama, Methuen Student Edition).

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This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. Can the subaltern smile? HenaoCastro umb. Abstract This article explores the relationship between theory and praxis by contrasting three different models of intellectual endeavor: totalizing, particular and decolonial.

This subtext demands understanding Oedipus as a political production from the speechless agency of dissident servants, a more subversive aspect of democratic politics. Contemporary Political Theory 14, — But the Theban servant walks away from the child as the foreign shepherd, from Corinth, approaches. Yet he allows Oedipus to be saved by this silent transaction. The Corinthian servant arrives and names the boy. His name registers both the damage done to him by his native fathers — the overtly emphasized story of incest and sovereignty kinship and the state — and the gift of a new life by the silent action in concert between two subaltern agencies — the less- explored story of political emancipation for a democratic audience.

In minute 14, when the Theban shepherd is already distant from the Corinthian shepherd, he turns and smiles. All of this passes in silence. One must now ask, what unspoken story survives in the smile of the subaltern who cannot speak, yet smiles? First, it makes speech irreducible to both the intention of the speaker and its historical context.

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The recipient audience of the speech that cannot be spoken co-participates in making utterances and their absence meaningful, offering or denying a counter-public space to their subtexts, which are not entirely governed by the one who pronounced them nor by the context in which they were uttered. And such texts, as Jacques Derrida puts it in his Of Grammatology , do not betray the original in their subsequent historical iterations.

On the contrary, they open up its yet unexplored traces — its silences — by re-contextualizing them under different conditions where they can become readable.

Antigone (Methuen Drama, Methuen Student Edition)

The second strategy is that of reading the speech in the silences dramaturgically. This tradition refers to slavery in Greek antiquity as irreducible to an image of speechless cheap labor providing material support for a vibrant democratic citizenry, into which politics is safely secured. Then I travel from the past to the present, from the dramaturgical interrogation of silences in this ancient text to the contributions such reading performs for contemporary democratic theory.

My rethinking of classics with the inputs of contemporary political theory is not new. Democracy depended on the material labor of those it relegated to speechless positions. However, the very same literary devices by which such speechlessness was reproduced, offered a textual platform for their disavowed speeches to appear in catachrestic forms, like that of a smile. Yet, despite this prolonged political relationship with the Existentialists, the conversation between Foucault and Deleuze marked a rupture, a frontier distinguishing the kind of intellectual endeavor embodied by existentialism totaliz- ing and post-structuralism particular.

For Althusser, the subject who thinks prior consciousness in order to act posterior praxis cannot address the discursive structures of knowledge that already act overdetermination upon the subject in order to make it into the originary site of action. As much as we use language to change the world, the language that we speak exceeds us and already changes us.

This was the frame under which the Maoists questioned Foucault and Deleuze. Gramsci , however, posed the question differently. He was trying to understand how the theory of the revolution connected to the praxis of the intellectual.

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For Gramsci, consciousness is not an epistemological point of departure but a political target. The relationship between theory and praxis is not an exclusive problem of thought, of knowing the symbolic terms by which oppression and unfreedom can be linguistically articulated.

It is a problem of failing to address the textuality of the feelings in which such counter-hegemony is already speaking, if doing so catachrestically. Their privilege, as European intellectuals, passes in silence. Decolonial intellectuals do not have the voice that the subaltern lacks, they are not the representative consciousness of their oppression, as if knowing how to name their domination and delimitate the stages of their emancipation.

Antigone (Methuen Drama, Methuen Student Edition)

Such voice, however, is not just there speaking without opacity. Decolonial intellectuals read the silences dramaturgically in order to become responsive to the textual complexity of the conditions under which subalterns could strategically circumvent speechlessness with the dramaturgical complicity of decolonial intellectual labor.

One reads also the silences that communicate with and against the speech in which they are organized. To expose the conditions by which subalterns cannot speak means not to return to the repressive hypothesis in which power is always interrogated by its negative effects, as that which censors, distorts, or excludes marginal voices. What it does, nonetheless, is to de-stabilize the positivity of such power, to pluralize it so as to hear the counter-power that inhabits the silence.

From Pierre Vidal-Naquet Foucault took something different, a more direct object of research in his interrogation of punitive practices: the institutionalization of torture. Foucault did not fail to understand the importance of this relationship for a history of the present. He revisited Greek antiquity driven by a classical historian who was concerned with the colonial use of torture in Algeria and by his own commitments with the struggle of prisoners in his activism with the GIP.

In addition, he delivered the lecture on the other side of the Atlantic, in an ex-Portuguese colony. The testimony of the servant could not be taken as truthful unless delivered by torture Foucault, , p. Torture was relevant because this erratic and excessive economy of power constituted, for Foucault, a sort of discontinuous pre-history to the normalization of a disciplinary regime of power in the prison, where Algerians were now put in France. Subaltern bodies are, once again, textual surfaces of power regimes in which they are never the agents of a different signifying chain. It is to say that more than one power speaks here, especially through the silences in which they are historically recorded.

The aim is not to read what is untouched by power, but to read the alternative power in what passes as being untouched. It might be, as the particular intellectual claims, that the lives of the subalterns are what they are because of their dreadful encounter with power. Yet, the decolonial intellectual adds, they are always something else, something that exceeds that power without, for that reason, escaping power altogether.

Attentive to the limitations of language, and the conditions by which subalterns are rendered speechless, decolonial intellectuals undertake a journey towards silence.

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They also know that the world is irreducible to the language speaking it, and that language can be found precisely where there seems to be none. The relations to deconstructionism here are manifest.


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In Of Grammatology Derrida, , p. This is one methodological point of departure for the theoretical practice of the decolonial intellectual. This story is neither an arbitrary invention of the scholar nor a transparent voice.

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The temporal gap separating an expectant and anxious Oedipus for the arrival of the Theban servant, the bearer of truth, offered him another invaluable opportunity to escape his destiny. Another servant, a messenger from Corinth, brought the good news to Oedipus. Oedipus acquired a life, a new being and belonging, because of the agency of the servants at the territorial margins of the polis. A messenger arrived from Corinth, the land in which Oedipus was hosted and saved, providing him with new bios, a new juridical-political persona previously murdered in Thebes by his own blood-parents but interrupted by the dissident act of the Theban servant.

At this stage of the play Oedipus still believes that Polybus is his natural father but the messenger reveals the truth.