Friday, March 13, 2009

Antigone's Anguish

I went to the preview performance of Eamon Flack's adaptation of Antigone at the Perth International Arts Festival the other night. This contemporary re-telling of Sophocles's 441BC classic Greek tragedy was visually stunning and compelling. It raised for me different themes in a re-visiting of this work of timeless conflict.

If you were asked to choose your allegiances to healthy old traditions or to an unhealthy new order, which would you choose? What happens in a time of crisis where decisive direction is required to prevent the schism of a state yet the decision itself is the cause of divide, dishonor and betrayal driven by the passion of love?

In Antigone, Kreon chooses to dishonor one of his two dead sons to unify a divided kingdom and in doing so divides his own household. Antigone's conflict is one of obedience to a law she believes to be wrong, even if for the good of the State, in loyalty to a now dead brother. In the classic tension of agency and communion, of the individual in society, the dissonance of evolution is reflected in every player's decision. Loyalty to personal principles highlights the poignancy of the tragedy.

This reminded me of the fallacy of the evolutionary developmentalists that higher order systems are by assumption superior. Their superiority is determined by their quality. We resist growth actively when growth is pathological. In the recurrent themes of the tragedies throughout literature, if the tyrant king is our only option to the chaos of competing factionalism, the moral wo-man ultimately chooses factionalism rather the emergent oppressive fascism. From Shakespeare to Serbia, from Ibsen to Iraq a populous may live in fear, but may also rise to liberation, when there is the slight prospect of the choice of health in its growth.

This version of the play reminded me again of the intricacy of transition in evolution and how structures that allow for natural societal emergence in health outlive the insistent fear of evolution by escape. The forces of phobos disguised as eros evoke thanatos as the expression of agape. These four way dynamics are now to be seen as one set in a single principle of many parts. What is invisible to many is played out in this play.

In the words of composer Rachael Dease's compelling chorus (that ends the play):

Time, age us, teach us.
We are still learning,
To be wise

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