Antígona González

Sara Uribe
Translated by John Pluecker
Les Figues Press ($17)

by Gabrielle Civil

At a time when the discourse of “bad hombres” and “building a wall” has poisoned U.S. society, Mexican writer Sara Uribe’s Antígona González emerges as an anti-toxin and prescription. A brilliant meditation on the wages of violence in contemporary Mexican society, the text takes up the classical figure of Antigone to speak out, remember, and reclaim the dead:

Me llamo Antígona González y busco entre los
muertos el cadáver de mi hermano.

My name is Antígona González and I am searching
among the dead for the corpse of my brother.

Translated with aplomb by John Pluecker, the text arrives in a fine bilingual edition, and was longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Antígona González can be read as a lyric essay or series of prose poems and fragments. Originally commissioned by actress and director Sandra Muñoz in 2012 for premiere in northern Mexico, it is also a subtle performance text.

In Sophocles’ original play, Antigone seeks a proper burial for her brother Polynices, in defiance of her uncle King Creon’s decree. Here, Antígona González (identified as Sandra Muñoz, Sara Uribe, and others) still operates in defiance of the state, but she has no body to bury. Instead, she remembers her brother Tadeo, and this memory must serve as a hedge against oblivion:

Tadeo . . . te pienso todos los días, porque a
veces creo que si te olvido, un solo día bastará para que
te desvanezcas.

Tadeo . . . I think of you every day,
because sometimes I think if I forget you, just one day
would suffice for you to vanish.

Throughout the text, memory operates as an urgent holding place, a site of both bittersweet nostalgia and urgent personal/political resistance. Ultimately, memory mobilizes action as the individual becomes collective:

Vine a San Fernando a buscar a mi hermano.
Vine a San Fernando a buscar a mi padre.
Vine a San Fernando a buscar a mi marido.
Vine a San Fernando a buscar a mi hijo.
Vine con los demás por los cuerpos de nos nuestros.

I came to San Fernando to search for my brother.
I came to San Fernando to search for my father.
I came to San Fernando to search for my husband.
I came to San Fernando to search for my son.
I came with the others for the bodies of our people.

Working in the style of documentary poetics, Uribe comes to report on an entire landscape of violence. She incorporates language from news bulletins, blogs, e-letters, and first-person accounts to link the personal and systemic and to showcase the lost and found:

Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero. 22 de abril
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . encontraron a tres jóvenes
ejecutados, justo en las faldas de un cerro.

Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero. April 22.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
three youths were found
executed at the base of a mountain.

Her project encompasses documentation and reclamation, not just of those lost, but also the people who loved them:

: No quería ser una Antígona
pero me tocó.

: I didn’t want to be an Antigone
but it happened to me.

This powerful sentence appeared posthumously in the journals of Columbian activist Diana Gómez, who also called herself Antígona Gómez. These words demonstrate how the identity of Antigone, truth teller and seeker of justice, is not an aspiration, but a tragic consequence.

The timeliness and timelessness of Antigone becomes another facet of Uribe’s text. As revealed in a copious notes section, Uribe references famous Latin American productions of the play and weaves in fragments from Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death, María Zambrano’s La tumba de Antígona [Antigone’s Tomb], Marguerite Yourcenar’s Fires, and more. In his excellent afterward, Pluecker also discusses his integration of various English translations of Antigone to mirror Uribe’s praxis.

Pluecker writes: “Translation allows both for difference to continue to exist and for us to work alongside each other as neighbors, people deeply implicated in a shared story.” This ethic of recognition and cooperation models the work of the U.S. reader and reinforces the overall message of Antígona González.

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; y que los corruptos . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . pudieran estar en mis zapatos, en los zapatos de
todas sus víctimas aunque fuera unos segundos.

No, Tadeo, I wasn’t born to share in hatred. What I want
is the impossible: for the war to stop now; for us—for
each of us wherever we find ourselves—together to
build ways to live with dignity; and for the corrupt . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . to be in my shoes, the shoes of
all their victims, even if only for a few seconds.

May these powerful words be part of our cure, in the United States, in Mexico and beyond.

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