CRPLA Seminar: Victoria Rimell (Warwick), 'Philosophers' stone: enduring Niobe' (Note change to hybrid event!)
Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and wife of Amphion king of Thebes, the lesser-known point of comparison for Antigone in Sophocles’ tragedy, was the hyper-fertile mother of either 12 or 14 children. When she boasted of her maternal superiority to Leto, mother only of the twins Apollo and Diana/Artemis, Leto punished her by ordering Apollo and Artemis to murder all her offspring, before Niobe was whisked back to her homeland and transformed into a weeping rock on Mt Sipylus. As her story is told in its longest surviving narrative form, in book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Niobe the weeping rock seems to epitomise the limit of the human where metamorphosis is located, Lacan’s ‘zone between two deaths’. In A. Benjamin’s response to Hegel’s Niobe in Towards a Relational Ontology, she is ‘that other who, in standing in stone on the outside, complicates assimilation insofar as she is positioned outside any structure of recognition’. In opposition to the Virgin Mary, who stands in Hegel for, as Benjamin puts it, ‘that specific logic of love’ in which ‘love is positioned by the necessity of its accession to universality in which reconciliation, completion, and self-sacrifice occur’ (131), Niobe is ‘impossible to love’, or renders impossible an ethics or politics based on love, defined as a being-at-one-with-the-other. In this paper, I take up the challenge that Benjamin seems both to acknowledge and elide, that of being alongside Niobe not (only) in her hubris, her rage and in the initial impact of her children’s murder, but in her final state of perpetual suffering. My reading will move between Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Ovid, and contemporary artworks, and between philosophy, psychoanalysis and trauma theory.
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