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In Private Lives, Public Deaths, Jonathan Strauss shows how Sophocles' tragedy Antigone crystallized the political, intellectual, and aesthetic forces of an entire historical moment--fifth-century Athens--into one idea: the value of a single, living person. That idea existed, however, only as a powerful but unconscious desire. Drawing on classical studies, Hegel, and contemporary philosophical interpretations of this pivotal drama, Strauss argues that Antigone's tragedy, and perhaps all classical tragedy, represents a failure to satisfy this longing. To the extent that the value of a living individual remains an open question, what Sophocles attempted to imagine still escapes our understanding. Antigone is, in this sense, a text not from the past, but from our future.
Jonathan Strauss is Professor of French at Miami University. He is the author of Subjects of Terror: Nerval, Hegel, and the Modern Self and of Human Remains: Medicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris (Fordham).