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