The poet and essayist Anne Carson is fascinated by the difficulties of translation—both the translation of ancient Greek to modern English (she is a professor of classics) and the translation of ancient ideas into modern thought. Her brilliant version of Sophocles’ Antigone, Antigonick, is both a commentary on the alien nature of Greek theater and a mournful rumination on all the ways Antigone’s story echoes through history.
But Antigonick is also a comic, in a way, punctuated by gorgeous watercolor-and-ink illustrations from the young artist Bianca Stone. Unlike a traditional graphic novel, where the illustrations work hand-in-hand with the text to tell the story, in Antigonick the art fights against Carson’s translation. Stone’s wild-eyed horses, distant figures in the snow, and cinderblock-headed figures are connected to Antigone’s story only in the most impressionistic, elliptical of manners. Indeed the art even literally obscures the words, printed as it is in full color on vellum pages overlaying Carson’s hand-lettered text.
The result is a beautiful, bewildering book, wondrous and a bit scary to behold, that gives a reader much to think about without making it clear how she should feel. The disturbing painting above appears just before Carson’s chorus mulls on the purpose of a chorus—a purpose that also applies to a translator, a writer, and an artist:
How is a Greek chorus like a lawyer
They’re both in the business of searching for a precedent
Finding an analogy
Locating a prior example
So as to be able to say
This terrible thing we’re witnessing now is
Not unique you know it happened before
Or something much like it
We’re not at a loss how to think about this
We’re not without guidance
We’re very excited to have Bianca Stone illustrating the September issue of the Slate Book Review.
Previous SBR comics:
Antigonick by Anne Carson and Bianca Stone. New Directions.