Suzanne Buffam, “On Antigone”

Law spoke, says the poem.

Law spoke, creating the world in which I live. A world where I enjoy Internet access and am sometimes of help to human beings.

Law spoke, and I constantly feel awkward, fearful, uncertain of boundaries. Not so much on account of specific laws or law enforcement. But the structure of the world in which I live has given some to believe themselves privileged, to believe themselves inherently lawful. What is left for the rest of us? For myself, I must always prove who I am.

On Antigone
Suzanne Buffam

Law spoke
And the land bit its lip.
Why spit in the wind?
Love too is a law.

Is my distance from my country also a distance from the text? It does not seem beyond the poem: Law spoke / And the land bit its lip. And, I would add—here I have to thank my students for their detailed, thorough close reading of Antigone—it fits with Creon’s obsessive insistence on loyalty. His prohibition, his penalty of death for burial of a traitor, means to make everyone loyal, ending the possibility of civil strife. He does not see friendship as possible without patriotism first; the private, in his vision, becomes completely beholden to what is public.

The law empowers him, beginning the creation of a class empowered by the law.

The defense of the private only begins with some recoiling in pain, then committing to disbelieving, angry protest. What is unnatural, a servitude where feelings are not permitted, extends to the land. It makes perfect sense Antigone would be shut in a cave and hang herself there, staining the land with Creon’s sin. But it also makes perfect sense she would appear in the midst of windstorms or leave nearly no trace of her work. All things beyond the polis mirror the protest of the private, for that is where the private has been exiled.

Until it returns, marching on all seven gates at once. Why spit in the wind? / Love too is a law. One cannot deny the private without denying oneself. Authoritarianism falls apart because of the very wildness it must let in. The “decadence” fascists most bemoan is the mere exercise of fundamental rights. Love too is a law, and would that it made sense. Unlike Creon, unlike those who desperately want to speak law to mask their insecurity, there is the acceptance of pain, of letting go. I think of some of the coldest things that I’ve seen done–people completely shutting out the humanity of another–and it’s so obvious that a will to violence is masked by a pretend stoicism. Love too is a law, where error and imperfection abound.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.