Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo van Hove, and the Art of Resistance
Antigone Undone offers an urgent and mesmerizing account of the creative and destructive power of great art.
In 2015 Will Aitken journeyed to Luxembourg for the rehearsals and premiere of Anne Carson’s translation of Sophokles’ 5th-century BCE tragedy Antigone, starring Juliette Binoche and directed by theatrical sensation Ivo van Hove.
In watching the play, he became awestruck with the plight of the young woman at the centre of the action. “Look at what these men are doing to me,” Antigone cries, expressing the predicament of the dispossessed throughout time. Transfixed by the strange and uncanny power of the play, he finds himself haunted by its protagonist, finally resulting in a suicidal breakdown.
With a backstage view of the action, Aitken illuminates the creative process of Carson, Binoche, and Van Hove and offers a rare glimpse into collaborative genius in action. He also investigates the response to the play by Hegel, Virginia Woolf, Judith Butler, and others, who too, were moved by its timeless protest against injustice.
"This is a work of brilliance and intimacy. Will Aitken shows us up close what happens when some of the most ingenious and learned minds working in the performance arts immerse themselves in a masterpiece of the Greek stage. The result is raw, intellectually engaging, and exhilarating." Sarah Nooter, author of The Mortal Voice in the Tragedies of Aeschylus
"Aitken champions a way of making and seeing the arts that heightens their relevance and brings Sophocles’s 2,500-year-old play into readers’ contemporary lives and world." Publishers Weekly
"Aitken does something remarkable in his new book: he brings together a keen critical eye and an open heart, and--in doing so--creates a unique hybrid of critical essay and memoir." - Montreal Review of Books
"This thoughtful and disturbing memoir poignantly illustrates how, for good or ill, the power of art can transform human understanding." - Quill & Quire
"For author Will Aitken, the classics are very much alive. His Antigone Undone is about what happens to us when supposedly dusty works of art don’t just resonate but skewer us straight through. At first glance, this book is an examination of Antigone’s lasting relevance — and we do learn about the play’s meaning, its fraught history — but Aitken is really giving us a personal testament, not a lesson: a testament to the rough, mysterious power of art. By the end of his brief, brilliant book, Aitken himself is nearly undone — and Antigone emerges as a 2,500-year-old juggernaut more mysterious and magnetic than before."
— 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction Jury (Michael Harris, Donna Bailey Nurse, and Joel Yanofsky)