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Peter Miller, “Destabilizing Haemon: Radically Reading Gender and Authority in Sophocles’ Antigone” (163-185)

tl;dr version: Creon offers his son the choice between being subservient/masculine or independent/feminine; the gender ambiguities in Haemon’s suicide are a response (and perhaps escape from?) this forced choice.

undergrads could read this with some help on the theoretical background

stakes: fuller understanding of political ideology of play through illuminating under-examined figure.

This is an extremely interesting reading of the frequently-neglected character of Haemon, focusing on the relationship between his scene with Creon and the Messenger’s description of his attempted patricide and suicide. The theoretical framework draws on Althusser, as well as Butler’s critique of Althusser, but the article is largely accessible to readers without that background.

That Creon is increasingly obsessed with gender as the play unfolds is frequently remarked upon by students. Miller maps this obsession onto Creon’s political ideology, which locates the power of the state increasingly in his own person. Thus rather than a model of power familiar to the democracy, in which citizens alternate ruling and being ruled, Creon’s model for ruling, and therefore the subject identities he offers to the ruled, is rather that of the family, in which a son is always subservient to his father. Miller shows how Creon’s language in the Haemon scene genders the concepts of loyalty and subservience and their opposites: “masculinity is tied to loyalty (and thus only available to those who are loyal) but also, counterintuitively, to subservience (and thus only available to those who accept Creon’s autocracy); conversely, femininity is characterized as disloyal, but independent and active” (167). Creon’s lines questioning Haemon at his entrance (631-4) offer Haemon the choice of these two subject-identities: masculine, loyal son or feminine, disloyal rebel; the scene goes on to fill out and emphasize these two identities as the only available from the ruling ideology.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article comes as Miller analyzes Haemon’s ultimate appearance as the continuation of this exchange with his father. The textual analysis in this section (tying the two passages together) is great; and I found it entirely persuasive. Once that connection has been established, Miller can read the suicide, with its arguably ambiguous gender implications, as a response to the choice of identities he posited in the earlier scene. Often read as a consummation of marriage, and thus allowing Haemon to assume, in death, a masculine role, Miller argues that the suicide can also be seen as a self-defloration, thus aligning Haemon (whose name after all means “blood”) with more feminine associations. This “transgendered” identity in turn becomes (on Miller’s interpretation) the individual’s resistance to Creon’s interpellation, or the ideologically-determined subject identity with which Creon has constrained Haemon’s options.

I found the final part of the article the least convincing; here Miller evokes an essay by Judith Butler (evidently inspired by the events on Tahrir Square) on collectively-determined political identity. Here more than with the earlier use of the concept of “interpellation” the theory seems only uncomfortably bolted on to the reading of the text Miller is offering. I’m also a little skeptical about calling the messenger’s account of the suicide “subversive” as if there were some reality or non-subversive account available to us. But overall the article made me think about Haemon and his function in the play in a new way, and that’s not an easy feat!

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