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Measuring Anne Carson’s Antigonick

By Harriet Staff

Well, Anne Carson’s newest objet d’art is out from New Directions. Antigonick, as we mentioned a while back, is a new translation of Sophocles’s Antigone; the text itself is hand-lettered by Carson, and “features stunning drawings by Bianca Stone printed on translucent vellum pages that overlay the text.” Vellum!

Over at the ND blog, Tom Roberge points to an interesting post by NYU professor and author Nicholas Mirzoeff, who invoked Antigone when writing on his own blog in January about the Occupy Movement in Greece. “Several months later,” writes Roberge, “Mirzoeff received his own [Google] alert, this one from Amazon, letting him know that Anne Carson’s translation of Antigone, called Antigonick, had been published. He promptly read it and composed” (text in brackets by Roberge):

Alex Tsiras of Syriza said of Greece “we are going directly to hell,” meaning a living death underground. Which is what happened to Antigone. As Carson reminds us, the myth has power today because it still affects us. She uses words like ‘anarchy’ where the standard translation uses “unruly.” She talks of the “state of exception.” How to measure that?

In the nick. In the nick of time. By Nick.

Eurydike, Creon’s wife, mother of Haimon who Antigone was to marry, has famously few lines in Sophocles. One speech, five lines.

Carson has her speak much longer, with a riff on Virginia Woolf. Then she asks a question about Antigone [formatting has been altered; Carson hand lettered the text and it’s impossible to properly convey the aesthetic online]:

‘But how can she deny the rule to which she is an exception? is she AUOTIMMUNE? [sic] No she is not. Have you heard the expression THE NICK OF TIME? What is a nick?

What indeed? The OED gives us an astonishingly long entry. It refers to a notch, a cut, a groove, whether in a machine, a tool, wood or an animal. It can refer to the vagina, as in various Jacobean dramas cited by OED. Then it is also the precise moment, later the nick of time. It is essential, what is aimed at. You can also go to the nick, a jail or prison, and be beset by Old Nick, the devil.

At the end of the play, Nick [a character in Carson’s translation, described as ‘a mute part (always onstage, he measures things)] still on stage measuring. Measuring the collapse of autoimmunity, the collapse of debt’s capital, the capitals of debt.

Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.