Antigone, Interrupted. By Bonnie Honig. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 321 pp. $29.99 paper.

Date01 September 2014
Published date01 September 2014
Antigone, Interrupted. By Bonnie Honig. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2013. 321 pp. $29.99 paper.
Reviewed by Leonard Feldman, Department of Political Science,
Hunter College, CUNY
Ismene did it. In a bold and fresh rereading of Sophocles’ Antigone,
Greek tragedy positively bristles with intrigue, conspiracy, and par-
tisan political conflict. Antigone also turns into something of a who-
dunit: Ismene, sister of Antigone, emerges as Antigone’s secret
co-conspirator and, crucially, the heretofore unrecognized guilty
party—responsible for the first burial of the traitorous but beloved
brother Polynices. Honig does not convert Antigone into an
agonistic democrat—indeed, crucial to the argument is the way in
which Antigone’s actions and words present an aristocratic critique
of the surprisingly democratic Creon. Rather, Antigone manifests
certain virtues for our democracy and these virtues appear through
her conspiratorial action with her sister. Antigone needs to be
retrieved from those readings of the play that present her as either
a lonely hero manifesting humanist ethics above and against unjust
law or as an extrapolitical figure of common human suffering and
grief. Antigone is neither the saintly embodiment of a higher law
nor a prepolitical devotee of private familial care—she is a thor-
oughly engaged partisan, a wily political actor.
In Honig’s innovative and compelling reading, Antigone stages
not a clash between ethics and law, or between higher law and
human law, but between two rival political frames—the Homeric/
aristocratic and the democratic. This conflict is seen most vividly in
the conflict over burial and mourning practices. Creon’s banning
of Polynices’ burial represents not (or not simply) the actions
of a tyrant violating the moral order, but (substantively if not
procedurally) the democratic approach to mourning and burial.
Thus, in one of the compelling ironies of the analysis, Antigone
becomes a rich figure for democratic theory, but not because she
represents a democratic position (of civil disobedience or anti-
statism) against a tyrant. On the contrary, Antigone brings an aris-
tocratic frame to bear against Creon’s position which substantively
has more in common with the prevailing democratic culture of
Athens. What makes Antigone a rich figure for democratic (as well
as, I would add, legal) thinking according to Honig is the way she
grieves. Honig points to the multiple senses of grieving—to mourn,
to express grief, as well as to invoke law in order to redress an
injustice. By repositioning Antigone as an engaged political actor
with alliances, strategies, and partiality, Antigone, Interrupted pro-
vides a corrective to the current “mortalist humanist” Antigone that
Book Reviews 695

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT