“born of love, not hatred”: Anne Carson’s Antigone

Antigone-CarsonYes, I did go to see Antigone at the Edinburgh Festival because Juliette Binoche was in the title role (I loved her work with Kieslowski, though unfortunately this time, images from Chocolat kept surfacing in my mind).

And I made a discovery: Anne Carson’s new translation of Sophokles’ text was wonderfully fresh. The language was crisp, real and punchy, and the text made graceful patterns in the surtitled performance I saw. The chorus definitely stole the show, searingly truth-telling from beginning to end.

Ivo van Hove’s production has closed, but you can still dig into the process that shaped the translation. This spring the paperback version of Anne Carson’s Antigonick (Bloodaxe does it again!) came out – her graphic version of the story with striking images by Bianca Stone. You can watch a reading of it online, with Carson herself as a particularly dry and wry chorus. Or head straight for her next production: there are a very few tickets left for Carson’s version of Euripides’ Bakkhai at the Almeida in London, which closes on 19 September.

Anne Carson doesn’t just “teach ancient Greek for a living”; she is most interesting and most elusive, as Sam Anderson found when he tried to pin her down.

Her own words explain her text best, from her introduction to Antigonick:

the task of the translator of Antigone

dear Antigone:

your name in Greek means something like “against birth” or “instead of being born”

what is there instead of being born?

it’s not that we want to understand everything

or even understand anything

we want to understand something else

I keep returning to Brecht

who made you do the whole play with a door strapped to your back

a door can have diverse meanings

I stand outside your door

the odd thing is, you stand outside your door too

that door has no inside

or if it has an inside, you are the one person who cannot enter it

for the family who lives there, things have gone irretrievably wrong

to have a father who is also your brother

means having a mother who is your grandmother

a sister who is both your niece and your aunt

and another brother you love so much you want to lie down with him

“thigh to thigh in the grave”

or so you say glancingly early in the play

but no one mentions it again afterwards…

I don’t know what colour your eyes were

but I can imagine you rolling them now

let’s return to Brecht, maybe he got you best

to carry one’s own door will make a person

clumsy, tired and strange

on the other hand, it may come in useful

if you go places that don’t have an obvious way in, like normality…

o sister and daughter of Oedipus, who can be innocent in dealing with you?

dear Antigone,

I take it as the task of the translator to forbid you will ever lose your screams


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Posted in books, Edinburgh Festival, Illustration, theatre
3 comments on ““born of love, not hatred”: Anne Carson’s Antigone
  1. […] As to the actual translation of the poems; this was a great introduction if you’re new to Sappho, but there is a lot more out there to choose from. I’m going to read Anne Carson’s If not, Winter next, as I loved her interpretation of Antigone. […]

  2. […] Information about the Anne Carson translation, “Antigonick”, was described at Found in Translation. […]

  3. […] Emma Corrin’s portrayal of Diana in “The Crown” is an attempt to get at this interiority and, in many ways, she succeeds. She shows us both the shy naivety of the teenager and the burgeoning resilience of the young married woman, and her depiction of Diana’s mental health struggles feels real and compassionate. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which she, too — to borrow from Anne Carson’s description of Brecht’s “Antigone” — stands outside of Diana’s door. […]

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