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by Sophocles.; Anne Carson; Bianca Stone

  Print book

Interesting but puzzling   (2013-01-21)


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by jcorelis

It's difficult to decide what audience this book is aimed at. It is really three books in one: a English language version of Sophocles' Antigone by Anne Carson, a designed book (non-standard, artistic layout, paper, binding, printing) by Robert Currie, and a book of illustrations by Bianca Stone. Though each aspect of the book considered in itself is well and professionally done, the three don't really seem to gel. The book is handsomely produced, to be sure, especially considering its reasonable price, but I found the design distracted from the text and kept wishing I were reading a plain, standard font -- somehow the stylized, hand-printed letters made it difficult for me to visualize the play in performance. The illustrations are of good quality and excellent reproduction, but they seem to have only a vague, and often not even that, relation to the text. Maybe the idea is for the illustrations to work against expectation by not meeting the reader's expectations of what illustrations should do, reflecting the way the text works against the reader's expectations of what a translation of Sophocles should be; if so, I for one found that the technique didn't work. As for the translation, it's an interesting experiment in using a diction radically different from the standard "translationese" to engage the audience's interest and to breathe new life into the text. In this aspect, and occasionally even in its style, it's reminiscent of Ezra Pound's Sophokles: Women of Trachis. I don't know if Anne Carson has read that book, but I wouldn't be surprised if she had, especially since it is published by the same publisher. Though Antigonick can be called only a very free translation, the reader familiar with the Greek text will notice that, like Pound's version, it has a closer relationship to the original than might at first appear. The language of the translation is vivid, even racy, and will certainly engage a modern audience, though there are some mis-steps, or things which may or may not be mis-steps: for instance, Antigone's address to Ismene as "O one and only head of my sister ..." has an ineluctably comic effect for those who remember Housman's parody of Aeschylus ("O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots head of a traveler ...") If the comic effect is unintentional, it's inept; if intentional, it's a joke few members of a contemporary audience are going to get. And does the author really intend the bathetic potential of the lines given to various chorus members at a particularly poignant juncture of the action: "Here comes Creon ..." "Dragging his ..." "Dragging his ..." "Dragging his what ..."? I'm all for working against expectation, but this seems rather over the top. Despite these strictures, I thought this version is worth reading and at its best (again like Pound) points the way to a form of poetic diction which can be an effective solution, or partial solution, to the notoriously intractable problem of presenting the mood of ancient tragedy to a modern audience. I'd be interested in seeing how a performance of it works. Recommendation: if this book were the standard text of the play alone, I'd probably give it four stars, and I'd recommend it for the text to people interested in ancient drama in modern translation. But as it is, my three star recommendation is for a book that seems less than the sum of its parts: three different good books which don't succeed in working together closely enough to make one excellent book.

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