I'm in Scotland trying to get used to this laptop. But as Eliot himself said more than once, he is not the only or best reader of his work. I think reading Eliot through his own prose produced a long limitation and even at times distortion of his work. I don't think we can assume either that he knew Antigone better than any other prepared reader or that his views of it necessarily tell us anything about his work. They may or may not, but quoting Eliot to understand Eliot is not always illuminating and is sometimes the reverse, especially on issues where he says conflicting things at different times.
P.S. The idea of Creon as protagonist is not universally shared, and there are differing views on it. I agree partly but not entirely with Carroll, but right now writing on this thing is very slow.
>>> Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]
> 4/2/2009 3:13 AM >>>
Thanks for the spirited and very informative reply, Carrol.
I learned a lot from it. The fact remains, however, that
Eliot thought what he thought, and it seems to me that
he may have seen his own work, and especially TWL
as reflecting the idea that the social ethos has a role in
shaping the mind of the more conscious individual. In effect the
genesis of TWL, and perhaps of much of E.'s anxiety at the
time, may well have been WWI and its effects on the culture.
The general malaise and angst of the time are reflected in the poem.
Some of it comes from his personal experience, undoubtedly,
though it has undergone artistic accomdodations to fit in the poem.
But some of it, mainly the subtext I think, reflects the influence
of the ethos on Eliot, his mood, his thinking.
As for Antigone, don't forget that Eliot used it as the base element for
The Elderstatesman, which, as a synthesis of theatre and poetry,
is probably his most successful play, even if The Cocktail Party
seems to have gotten most of the attention.
As I remember, there was a production of TCP in the mid-80s
with renowned British actress, the late Sheila Gish pllaying Celia.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carrol Cox" <[log in to unmask]
To: <[log in to unmask]
Sent: Wednesday, April 01, 2009 9:57 AM
Subject: Re: Mostly OT: For the dimly lit: Re: The
> Eliot, quoted by Peter: "The tension within the society may become also
> a tension within the mind of the more conscious individual: the clash of
> duties in Antigone, which is not simply a clash between piety and civil
> obedience, or between religion and politics, but between conflicting
> laws within what is still a religious/political complex, represents a
> very advanced stage of civilisation: for the conflict must have meaning
> in the audience's experience before it can be made articulate by the
> dramatist and receive from the audience the response which the
> dramatist's art requires."
> Eliot's pre-1910 education in history and philosophy stuck with him for
> a long time. This is pretty pure Hegelianism, and since Hegel there has
> been both enormous advances (some quite recetnly) in the knowledge of
> ancient Greek history and considerable change in the understanding of
> _Antigone_. Hegel's views on Antigone were so powerful in the 19th
> century that they even led scholars to question lines in the poem which
> conflicted with the Hegelian Antigone.
> Whatever we think of Hegel's view of history in general (it has much to
> recommend it) or of his dialectics (also highly admirable in many ways),
> his interpretation of Antigone, echoed here by Eliot, was profoundly
> wrong, in almost every detail.
> The assumption is that there is a conflict of religion and law, an
> assumption which requires that we see Antigone as being _obliged_ by
> religious conviction to bury her brother. That is obviously untrue. At
> her extremity, Antigone says (quoted from memory but quite accurate), I
> would not have done this if it had been my husband or my son, for had it
> been my husband, I couldf marry again, and had it been myson, I could
> have had other sons, but all my brothers are dead and my parents are
> dead and I will never have another brother. Quite pious this!
> One can get some grasp of Antigone's motives from a heroine of a much
> later tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi: Faced with certain death, and
> responding to her murderer's attempt to cajole her into accepting death,
> she replies, "I am the Duchess of Malfi still." That is, You can kill
> me and I cannot stop you, but I wouild not be me if I went to death
> willingly. Antigone says in effect: What ami I? I am a sister. What does
> it mean to be a sister? It means to bury one's brother. You can kill me
> but you cannot make me not be Antigone. I am Antigone still!
> More. The tragic protagonist of _Antigone_ is not Antigone but Creon,
> and it is Creon who occupies the stage almost uninterruptedly through
> out, while Antigone has only relatively few scenes, and much happens
> after her death. She has no tragic flaw; she represents no tension. She
> is not the central character but, rather, the conditition of Creon's
> tragedy, the reality which he defies and which detroys him. And she is
> not a martyr, not, that is, one who dies to bear witness a truth, for
> when the Chorus tries to comfort her with thoughts of how she will be
> viewed by others like other tragic figures from myth, she replies
> angrily, Don't mock me, you fools, I'm being murdered and you dare to
> try to comfort me. (Not a quote but a paraphrase of the feeling in her
> Creon and his son Haemon clash, and when Haemon points out that the
> people are on Antigone's side, Creon affirms that his word is what
> counts, and Haemon replies (differing translations, but one at least
> catches the feeling here), "It is no city where one man rules." Not, "It
> is a bad city where one man rules" but it is no city at all: Creon would
> be a fine ruler on a deseret island Haemon tells him.
> It is Antigone not Creon that stands for law and order; it is Creon wh
> destroys order, who threatens the very being and nature of the Polis,
> that public space in which men meet to persuade and be persuaded (Hannah
> Arendt). The tragedy is the tragedy of the hubris of Creon attempting
> to control the future.
> Near the end of the play a character who has not even been mentioned
> suddenly appears, gives one short speech, disappears and kills herself:
> Creon's wife and Haemon's mother, who kills herself on learning of
> Haemon's death. If you follow the action and do not read the play as a
> 19th-c novel you will see his sucide as not a private affair of a
> despairing lover but as a political act directed against Creon, as is
> the suicide of Creon's wife. Creon says to the Chorus, i.e. to the
> people of Thebes whose opinion he had despised, I want to die. He wants
> to die because his future has been destroyed through the death of his
> son and of his wife. (Cf. Antigone's earlier reference to husbands,
> sons, brothers.) And the chorus replies (in effect) Shut up you old
> fool; don't wish to die; don't wish to live - you have lost the right to
> choose your future.
> Sophocles was not as committed to Athenian democracy as Aeschylus had
> been, but he was committed to it, and he dramatizes in Antigone the
> tragedy of the would-be Tyrant, the enemy of the demos.