Naming the unknown –– Antigone’s Claim by Judith Butler

What we have here is The Ambiguous Case of Antigone, where she is “unintelligible and unthinkable”. So… why do people even bother trying to understand her?

Here’s why I think so many people have attempted to define and classify Antigone as something, yet end up failing to some degree: because society and its people cannot deal with individual anomalies. They cannot deal with the appearance of something unknown, unable to be classified and put into order. In my opinion, it drives them insane like some kind of OCD for the whole of society, going along the lines of the exclamation “WHY WON’T YOU FIT?!”, similar to that of someone trying to complete a puzzle.

This form of anxiety and interest in the anomaly is greatly influenced by the idea that society fits together; everything is within society and has a place, name, and function in social structures. Because Antigone is such a far off point in the collation of humans in general, everyone looks at her like she’s some sort of rare extinct animal. I find that these specimens of humans or characters to be the ones who challenge what we or society believe as a whole. It’s interesting to think that in classifying Antigone, humanity might gain some understanding of what or who she is, and add her to the organized list of What To Name People.

But perhaps this isn’t the point of Antigone’s ambiguity, to be named, but rather to stay unnamed so as to always remain a mystery, an unidentifiable being that transcends society and social norms to give people something to fawn over and obsess about because she does not fit, and because she is special.

Ambiguity then, I think, is good for human kind. We do not know and we are uncertain.
But isn’t that the beauty of knowledge, that we might never know? I think so.

Read 2 comments

  1. Cherie! You just lit up a thought in my head!

    I definitely agree with you when you said “everything is within society and has a place, name, and function in social structures. ” and because Antigone doesn’t fit in anywhere, it gives her the power to do whatever she wishes because she isn’t necessarily apart of society. When a person is nameless and undefinable, it gives them freedom. However, the problem with that is because they are not apart of society they do not have a function which is in conflict with society ( and in Antigone, that would be Kreon). If society is a ship, Kreon being the leader and the citizens being shipmates, and each person has a duty to the ship to propel it forward, where does Antigone fit? Maybe this is why she had to die; because she had no function.

  2. I agree that there is value in ambiguity and uncertainty, for sure. After all, much of what I think of as the best literature has deep ambiguity, lots of space for different possible interpretations and filling-in by the reader. So yes, I agree that there is value in these things!

    And for Antigone, it’s okay because she is a fictional character.

    I think the problem comes in for those people who are considered to not “fit” and yet still have to live in a society in which people are supposed to fit or they are considered problematic. Having people exist on the margins or outside the boxes entirely can be good for society insofar as it can help push us to question those categories, but until we do those people end up suffering. I suppose all we can do is hurry up the process of opening up the boxes?

Comments are closed.