ANTÍGONA GONZÁLEZ: a book, a translation, a body, many bodies, an allegory of bodies and of the past posturing the present. It is, in essence, a repetition. Antígona González voices the stories of people in Tamaulipas who have lost someone to the war against crime in Mexico. Antígona González was commissioned by Sandra Muñoz in 2011, during the aftermath of the discovery of a mass grave in San Fernando that held 196 people likely killed by the narcos. On September 26, 2014, 43 students disappeared in Iguala, likely taken by federal authorities, and they were never seen since. In the past decade, more than 20,000 people have gone missing in Mexico. In Antígona González, Antígona González is someone looking for a loved one. She will not stop looking and repeats her search, her questions, her loss, until the disappeared body she loves reappears, whether dead or alive. Until the desaparecidos have returned and no one else is taken.
Antígona González is and is not one and the same. She is many, she is also the title of the book written by Sara Uribe in 2012 and translated into English by John Pluecker in 2016. The book tells the fictional story of Antígona and Tadeo González, intertwined with existing texts taken from news articles, theater scripts, blogs, and Antigone theories and appropriated into the voice of one “I,” which is the voice of others. Voices speaking about the missing body, the denied body; voices demanding, through the voice of Antígona, a response from those who have taken bodies away, and who keep them hidden. Antígona González is both fictional and real. In her book, Uribe’s Antígona specifically searches for the body of her brother Tadeo. This fictional story is the same very real story of many people in Northern Mexico, and elsewhere. A well-known story in Latin America, it is lesser known in the United States of America, and outside America.
: ¿Quién es Antígona dentro de esta escena y qué vamos a
hacer con sus palabras?
: ¿Quién es Antígona González y qué vamos a hacer con todas las
: No quería ser una Antígona
per me tocó.
: Who then is Antigone within such a scene and what are
we to make of her words?
: Who is Antígona González and what are we going to do
with all the other Antigones?
: I didn’t want to be an Antigone
but it happened to me.
Throughout history the figure of Antigone has represented the invisible, unheard voices of those prevented from mourning the people taken away from them. She is the protagonist in Sophocles’s fifth century BC tragedy, which starts with the death of her two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, who killed each other while fighting over the throne of Thebes. After their death, the new ruler Creon grants Eteocles a funeral and dooms Polynices’ body to lie unburied on the battle ground and be devoured by animals. “But no signs of any wild beast or any dog that had come and torn your body.” Antigone refuses to allow her brother — and the rejected peace he represents — to be dishonored and forgotten.
In an interview with David Buuck, Uribe says that she intended “to build three avenues of meaning” in Antígona González:
1) The history of Antígona and Tadeo González as a representation of the thousands of stories of the families of the disappeared in Mexico (for that reason it re-positions and includes the actual words of the victims) 2) The relationship between this Tamulipecan Antigone and the long line of Antigones in Latin America, and 3) The construction of a poetics in which a lyrical and sterile “I” would not take precedence.
Through these three layers Uribe sagaciously shows the power and failure of language in her creation of an “I” that contains multitudes without erasing the individuals that constitute it. Antígona González brings to the forefront the feeling body and the writing body, the expressing (of) body and the vulnerability of bodies, showing the danger that some bodies are subjected to. Uribe anchors an “I” in bodies through language. The “I” is one — she is Antígona, Sara, Sandra, you — and the “I” is also more than one, as it infinitely multiplies in a rhizomatic way. She is mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, and more. “I” behaves as a word and as a letter, acknowledging the individual/collective pain experienced by thousands. “I” in Antígona González is also a site of speaking up:
Soy Sandra Muñoz, pero tambíen soy Sara Uribe y queremos
nombrar las voces de la historias que ocurren aquí.
I am Sandra Muñoz, but I am also Sara Uribe and we want to name
the voices behind the stories that take place here.
Collectively, the “I” searches, through language, for a way to make despair, mourning, coping, and anger (but not hate) heard: “I pray for those who are good and for the others, / because even if they have no heart, I do.” Through the multitude of voices bound together in the “I,” appropriation becomes a positive force, honest to both difference and commonality. No one is spoken for, as the “I” functions as a kind of limbo, wherein people can speak, read, and extend themselves to one another.
Importantly, this letter-word, “I” — a stand-in for a speaking, searching, present body — is made to speak by an absent body. The “I” asks “WHERE ARE THE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE WHO’VE BEEN ABDUCTED?”; “WHO WAS THE DEAD BODY?”; “WHAT MADE YOU DECLARE THE DEAD BODY DEAD?” — and thus, it asks who am I, how am I without you? The meaning of “who” and “where” blurs as “you” becomes the location of the missing body, and “I” becomes the location of the search effort.
¿Qué cosa es el cuerpo cuando alguien lo desprovee
de nombre, de historia, de apellido? Que era una
probabilidad. Cuando no hay faz, ni rastro, ni huellas,
ni señales. Que los iban a traer aquí ¿Qué cosa es el
cuerpo cuando está perdido?
What thing is the body when someone strips it of a
name, a history, a family name? That there was a chance.
When there is no face or trail or traces or signs. That
they were going to bring them here. What thing is the
body when it’s lost?
“What thing is the body when it’s lost?” A memory and a description? Language seems the only way to search for it, to ask for it back. Uribe explains:
[I]t is the word, language, which re-positions us in the public sphere, thus the need to name the voices of the bereaved, to gather them together, to accompany them and to allow others to accompany them, the need for community. That is why Antígona González speaks, why Sandra Muñoz speaks, why each reader speaks, why each one of the fragments and testimonies that make up the text speak.
I read Antígona González on the bus to and from work on Sunset Boulevard, the same road five days a week, the same bodies on the bus, and through repetition along those repetitive drives, new words became known words.
Translations are written so that people in different languages can see what they otherwise could not. Translating is more than repeating words — it is extending words and what they refer to. In the same interview with Buuck, Pluecker says: “I don’t see translation or the reading of translation as the end of the process of dialogue, but rather as an invitation to readers to engage in further investigation.” And in his afterword to the translation of Antígona González, Pluecker writes, “translation becomes a response, a lifting, a hand offered to bear the weight.” I would like to extend Pluecker’s words by reiterating what Uribe had said: that, through language, the reader speaks. The reader is asked to take up this book — a story and a body — to gain new voices that continue to tell the story of Antígona as others vanish, are taken away, or are consumed by exhaustion.
In Ancient Greek, Antigone can be understood as “instead of mother,” “anti” meaning “in front of” or “instead,” and “gunè,” woman. Allegory is inherent in her name. Throughout time, Antigone has been a holder. She holds justice for the dead as a mother holds a child. She holds hope and holds us in it. Antígona González shows heartache and exhaustion through the repetition of the same story, of history, of the same sources, of the same exact words; although the repetition may at times seem manic, it holds on, inspiring every “I” not to give up. She has hope, and today I repeat Antígona too:
No Tadeo, yo no he nacido para compartir el odio. Yo
lo que deseo es lo imposible: que pare ya la guerra;
que construyamos juntos, cada quien desde su sitio,
formas dignas de vivir.
No Tadeo, I wasn’t born to share hatred. What I want
is the impossible: for war to stop now; for us — for
each of us wherever we find ourselves — together to
build ways to live with dignity.