Irigaray's Reading of Antigone

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    The story of Antigone, as interpreted by Irigaray, I find to be very flawed. Not only did I find her arguments lacking textual proof but also counter productive.

    In The Eternal Irony of the Community, Irigaray criticizes Hegel's dichotomous claims on femininity vs. masculinity, especially with regards to divine vs. human responsibilities. Summing-up his theory she claims, "Just as man must strive to make this negativeness into an ethical action by sacrificing his life for the city - in war for example - so woman must be that external and effective mediation that reconciles the dead man with himself by taking upon himself the operation of destruction that the becoming of mind cannot manage without (Irigaray, 215)." And then later elaborates that a main difference between men an women lies in the concept that, "... the brother has already been invested with a value for the sister that she cannot offer in return, except by devoting herself to his cult after death (Irigaray, 217)." She discredits the idea that woman and men must play these specific roles, or at least it seemed that way until she leaped into the story of Antigone.

    It is with Antigone that she went astray. In her attempt to disrupt the male paradigm, she jumped over who Antigone really is and simply created a reading that is befitting with a female paradigm. Her ultimate claim is that Antigone acted the way she did because of mother issues. Really? Mother issues? Antigone as a character is the epitome of a woman breaking all the rules of a phallocentric model of what is femininity. And yet, Irigaray brings it all back to the mother, essentially making Antigone even more feminine. Irigaray in her critique of Freud was effective in showing what sexual development might look like if viewed through the lens of a female-centric world, an alternative to the male-centric one provided by Freud. In the case of Antigone, however, I find this style to be ineffective. Firstly, there is little textual proof to back her claims and secondly, it is counter productive. Why is it better that Antigone acts as a result of her mother, rather than her father? The end result is still a rigid dichotomy of sexes. Antigone is the one person who can't be classified into just one category and she certainly can't be explained as re-acting to the choices and actions of others, especially not her mother or father. Below are some of the more ridiculous claims that Irigaray makes concerning Antigone:

"However guiltless, she feels she bears the burden of her mother's fatal marriage, feels guilty for being born of such terrible embraces (Irigaray, 218)." Firstly, this is a quantum leap she is making and one in which she provides not a single shred of evidence. To claim that she feels guilty for her mother's actions is completely unwarranted. This also implies that Antigone feels she is responsible to and should act in accordance with other people, that she is submissive. Her defiance of Kreon should prove otherwise. And while technically she feels a responsibility towards her brother, it is a familial responsibility one that would extend to any member of her family. Her actions regarding her brother are not out of submission to her brother but rather a realization of her own values and the fact that she had to act true to herself.

"Whatever her current arguments with the laws of the city may have been, another law is still drawing her along her path: identification with her mother (Irigaray, 219)." Again, Irigaray moves the central focus away from Polyneices, a man, to Antigone's mother, a woman. It is demeaning to Antigone to claim that her actions meant to honor a fallen family member and her refusal to subject herself to Kreon's unjust laws are all a result of her desire to be like her mother and to connect with her.

"Thus the sister will strangle herself in order to save at least the mother's son (Irigaray, 219)." Again, all that Irigaray has done is rewrite the story so that it is centered on Jocasta. She also claims that Antigone is mimicking her mother in her suicide. Rather, it is more likely and textually proven that she was avoiding a fate she wished not - a marriage to Haimon. It is a shame that Antigone should be read as acting in submission to anyone or that her actions are intended to mimic.

    According to these arguments, Irigaray is discrediting all of the qualities that make Antigone recalcitrant and interesting as a potentially masculine and feminine character. All she accomplishes was a paradigm shift from a male one, from Freud, to a female one. Antigone's actions were intended to obey the divine laws but they also had drastic consequences for human laws, as she well knew. She blazed a new path in the man's world, in the woman's world, for the divine, for the human, for the family, for the nation. This is why Antigone is such a great character. She is capable of classification in both sexes, as Hegel describes them at least. Irigaray is too preoccupied with creating a female-centric reading of Sophocles that she misses the point. Antigone is immune from analyses from a male or female lens because she isn't just one or the other. Her actions stem from different rational and emotional responses and have implications for this life and the next. This shouldn't be minimized in an attempt to give greater weight to the role of women in the play.

    This is Irigaray's fatal flaw in her reading of Antigone. In trying to discredit the phallocentric representational economy, she over zealously created the female version of one. In that respect, she is just the other extreme of Freud and therefore no better.

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I would definitely agree with you. Irigaray's inclusion of her reading of Antigone is counterproductive to her overall argument. Irigaray's implication that Antigone was submissive to any human is problematic because her rebellious character answers only to the will of the gods and what she personally feels is the right course of action. Antigone refuses to obey the law of Kreon for two primary reasons.

The first and foremost is the fact that Kreon's law is contradictory to divine law. The divine law suggested everyone was to be buried after death in order to be judged by the gods. While defecting from the will of the gods is a different matter altogether when reading into Greek tragedies, I still believe this raises an important question of the role of religion in a phallocentric representational economy. Is there a role at all? Is the belief in a higher power free from the phallocentric lense?

The second reason pertains to what Kaitlyn has already stated: Antigone's actions were inspired by her personal disposition to help a fallen family member. Irigaray's argument that this was an action exclusively illustrating Antigone's longing to be like her mother has weak support. Personally I believe that creating a strong connection between Antigone and Jocasta is unwarranted because the two never even had an open dialogue in the version of the play we read. Irigaray lacked convincing evidence that any bond between the two, other than mother-daughter (grandmother-grand-daughter), existed to begin with. As previously stated: "she is just the other extreme of Freud and therefore no better."

Antigone appeals to many facets of sexuality, gender, humanism, divinity, patriarchy, matriarchy, family, and state, which as Kaitlyn says, makes her very difficult to categorize. But rather than being a person who “is immune from analysis from a male or female lens” her complexity allows her to be viewed through all lenses. Her multiplicities transgress simple dichotomies and make her very real and intriguing. While her simultaneous embrace and dismissal of Freud’s and Irigaray’s theories seem contradictory I believe that this is representational of human nature and character.

I agree that Antigone is the type of character that can be viewed through several lenses. However, the "lens" that Irigaray viewed Antigone from completely destroyed everything that made Antigone this universally appealing character. One reason that she was so appealing was that she was a female, with some traditional Greek masculine characteristics. Irigaray strips her of these characteristics. She makes Antigone submissive and "feminine". Based on Irigaray's interpretations Antigone is not much different from her sister, Ismene.

I think that Irigaray tries to hard to counter Freudian theories and in some cases utterly fails.

While reading these portions of the text, I got the same impression that all of you did in this post. I actually saw it as a bit uncharacteristic of Irigaray. While we have been very harsh on her writing style and ambiguity in expressing a clear message or thesis, she has been very adept in her ability to disrupt the phallocentric lens. In Antigone, Irigaray is provided with a character that breaks out of the usual gender dichotomy and goes to undermine masculine dominance. However, Irigaray is unable to effectively use this to her advantage in her analysis, and I don't want to retread any ground that Kaitlyn articulated well in her post, but she regresses her argument in looking at Antigone.

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