Antígona González by Sara Uribe, translated by John Pluecker
a creative review by Joyelle McSweeney
to go outside the gates; to retrieve the body of the brother; to be obscene, exposed, beyond the walls; to be obscene, off the scene, powerful and shunned; to walk in an empty circle forever; and, still as a sunless style, to stand in the middle of the circle, and cast no shadow; to make the sign of the sun with its tongue in its throat:
to search for the body of the brother, Tadeo. The closest thing to happiness for me right now, hermanito, would be for them to call me tomorrow to tell me your body has appeared. To follow the fragments, the dreadful path, which is also the mundane: the mundane horror of the dead which is continuous with the mundane horror of the living. To want what the dead want. To meet at that zero point. That’s the only thing I want now, a body, a grave. That refuge.
to go outside the gates; to become like the dead brother; to take his place in the round, bee-hived shaped sepulchre; to starve; to become the symbol for gold; a zero-place; the zero-mouth (Bolaño); to turn up your starved face; to signal the gods through the roof of the tomb:
to trace the dead by becoming like the dead; to trace their route, his route; to move through a channel made of absences: Like the dream, you were what disappears, and you were also all those empty places that do not disappear. To speak with Tadeo, who is absent, by speaking a language of absences. To move through those absences.
Tadeo González. Ausente.
Tadeo González. Ausente.
Tadeo González. Ausente.
outside the walls: to occupy the tomb; to make a para-site, an alternative to the would-be center of power (the king/the state). Here dead bodies gravitate; here dead bodies accumulate (you, your brother, your lover); the tomb is becoming steadily more crowded with the dead; while the palace is drained, evacuated. You claim a here, you make of a non-place a here, while Creon is left alone there, within the now-empty corridors of power, within the empty walls of the state. The empty skull of the state:
What is power? They is power. Their presence. I realized Tamaulipas was Thebes / and Creon this silence stifling everything. But we is counter-power. The first person plural, the choral voice, has long been a tool of protest and poetry, a way to speak to, from, and for those harmed and suppressed by a grid of interlocking hegemonies—a way to activate the numerical power of the masses. In this case, the chorus speaks simultaneously as themselves and as the disappeared, the priceless/ disposable, victims of the juntas, of the narcowars, of punitive economic and migration policies, of the violent depredations of politicians, police and corporations on both sides of the US-Mexican border and throughout Latin America:
Somos los que deshabita desde la memoria. Tropel. Estampida. Inmersión. Diáspora. Un agujero en el bolsillo. Un fantasma que se niega a abandonarte. Nostotros somos essa invasión. Un cuerpo hecho de murmullos. Un cuerpo que no aparece, que nadie quiere nombrar.
Aquí todos somos limbo.
We are what vacates from the space of memory. Horde. Stampede. Immersion. Diaspora. A hole in a pocket. A ghost who refuses to abandon you. We are that invasion. A body made of murmurings. A body that doesn’t appear, that no one wishes to name.
Here we are all limbo.
Not all ‘in limbo’, but all limbo itself, indivisible, a cancelled yet ineradicable stratum, a static absence that disrupts the well-lit field of presence, of state power, of capital. An adjustment of Satan’s more heroic claim myself am hell, but following a comparable spatial logic, and claiming for this would-be non-place the status of Here.
ANTÍGONA GONZÁLEZ by SARA URIBE
Antígona González is a book of refractions, appropriations, conjurations, fragmentations, of ghost cerements stitched and re-stitched, until there is no telling where one voice begins and another ends: Who is Antígona González and what are we going to do with all the other Antigones? Who says this? Uribe is the latest artist to find herself and her heroine moving along the long, dismal path of this we, abjected from the light of power’s bona fides and onto a sacred, spectral plane of grief, abnegation and reluctant counterpower: I didn’t want to be an Antigone // but it happened to me. The book splices Latin American and European versions of Antigone, human rights reports and scholarly texts, along with the account of our present heroine; its voice thus amplifies even as it grows more specific. Devastatingly, Antígona finally communes not with Tadeo but with the other bereft searchers who have massed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in the dubious hopes of recognizing a loved one among a group of corpses. The repeated choral declaration Somos muchos in the book’s final passages evokes dismay as well as power. It is a wail as much as a roar. Reflecting this ambivalence, the choral voice undulatingly splits and reforms; on its final page, the voice of Sophocles’s Antigone issues from the chorus’s now singular throat: ¿Me ayudarás a levantar el cadáver? Will you join me in taking up the body? As the first Antigone hurls out this challenge to her sister Ismene, Uribe here throws her moral challenge to her reader(s). The white space around this question terrifyingly undecided; is it heavy with silence, or loud with groans as a long, dismal column of sisters bends to the work?
ANTÍGONA GONZÁLEZ by SARA URIBE, translated by John Pluecker
Translator John Pluecker has accepted Uribe’s challenge, becoming an accomplice-sister to Antígona and to Antígona, bringing this text into English via a tight weaving of direct speech and quoted/retranslated sources. Amid this multiplicitous structure, Pluecker has aimed for a seamlessness of touch which imbues a sense of focus, momentum and ‘all-of-a-pieceness’ to this pieced-together work. Elaborate notes make sure the choral/archival aspect of Uribe’s project is not lost on the Anglophone reader, and also discloses the heretofore spectral presence of performance, as Uribe’s multivocal work was in fact commissioned as a monologue for Sandra Muñoz and performed on site in Tamaulipas. Pluecker’s translation multiplies the work’s already multiple audience and referents, its speaking-sisters and addressee-sisters—and thus its political reach and potential future contexts. It thus reiterates the logic of the book itself, with its sad yet empowering collocation of “all the other Antigones.” The continuity of this translation with the action and method of the book reminds us that Antigone’s act was itself a forbidden translation, a crossing of a boundary, a ‘carrying-across’, etymologically speaking. In Pluecker’s afterward, he offers this synopses of the gravity his task:
Translation becomes a response, a lifting, a hand offered to help to bear the weight. Translation is never enough, though often too much or all that we have to offer. One becomes many.
Translation has made him one of the other Antigones.
Joyelle McSweeney is the author of eight books of poetry, drama, fiction and essays. Her most recent books are: The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults (Goth eco/poetics); Dead Youth, or, the Leaks, a verse play which won the first Leslie Scalapino Prize for Innovative Women Performance Artists; and Percussion Grenade, poems and a play. With Johannes Göransson, she edits Action Books, teaches at Notre Dame, and lives in South Bend, Indiana.