Paper Topics 1, Spring 2013

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 1000-1500 words (about 3-4 pages), double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Sophocles, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Thucydides thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Thucydides.

1. In what sense can we understand the tragedy found in “Oedipus the King” as a response to the problem of nihilism?  Be sure to explain what tragedy in general is and how it relates to the problem of nihilism.

2.  What is the tragic conflict in “Antigone” and should we see this conflict as tragic (i.e., as irresolvable and/or inevitable)?  Given your answer, what sorts of consequences follow for the principles that ought to guide forms of political action or engagement? Hint: You may want to draw upon or criticize Bonnie Honig’s article to address this question.

3. In his descriptions of Pericles’ early speeches, Thucydides presents an account of the Athenian virtues. What is this system of values, and how do they compare to the forms of values that the character Antigone represents? Which system of values is more useful for political life? Explain your answer.

4. One common interpretation of the ritual of Greek tragedy (and the Festival of Dionysus in general) is that it functioned as an “exception institution.” The Festival, on this reading, was a specially carved out space and time where the Athenians can encounter, experience, and express emotions that are not permitted in normal polis life. One implication of this idea is that the Festival of Dionysus played a “constructive” role in Athenian democracy, primarily by allowing disruptive ideas and emotions to be vented in safe, harmless, or even socially constructive ways. In this essay, examine Honig’s discussion of Creon’s grief (pp. 27-31). According to Honig, what does Creon’s grief have to tell us about efforts to develop exception institutions to help keep disruptive emotions in check? What implications might this position have for understanding or criticizing the way our own society contains, expresses, or avoids forms of grief?

5. According to Honig, the play “Antigone” “explores the conflict between two economies of mourning and membership…but sides with neither (p. 29). The play illustrates the costs of forcing people into the notions of discipline and interchangeablity found in democratic life while simultaneously acknowledging the limits (e.g., the self-indulgence) of the Homeric/aristocratic mode of mourning and membership. Now, Honig argues that this reading does not simply leave us with an “empty undecidability,” but instead generates a “deep criticality” (p. 26). Do you agree? In other words, does Honig’s reading of the play help sustain a deep and critical engagement with democratic and aristocratic values and ideals, where we both assess the worthiness and the limits of these values? Or does her reading instead generate a form of epistemological/value nihilism, where the lesson of the play is only that we have no way of determining which set of values we ought to embrace? Explain your answer.

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