Discover more from Other Feminisms
The Dyad is the Smallest Society
Marriage, Antigone, and figure skating duets
Remember to let me know if you’re interested in a summer book club. Writing this week’s essay is definitely tilting me toward picking A Wizard of Earthsea. Also, Anne Lowry, who wrote the excellent “Time Tax” essay at the Atlantic, is working on expanding the essay to a book and says, “Tell me about the insurance snafu ruining your life, the years you spent waiting for benefits, your immigration process, your FAFSA cluster, your healthcare nightmare.”
I like thinking through what stories we tell and what models we have for how we depend on each other (especially as I look forward to reading novels to my daughters). So I was struck by this discussion of the Greek dual in Sophocles’s Antigone.
For Commonplace, the new journal of The Catherine Project, Felix Bieneman talks about his experience trying to get this Greek feeling into English:
Sophocles uses the dual to describe the pair of brothers as well. In line 13, it's used for both in the same breath: “duoin adelphoin esterethemen. duo, miai thanontoin hemerai diplei cheri.” or. "Not since the two of us were robbed of brothers two / who died a double death upon a single day." Antigone and Ismene are a pair, Eteocles and Polynices are a pair, and here they're set up in opposition to each other: a pair of pairs. Sophocles emphasizes this by using the words duo (meaning "two") and diplei ("double") alongside the dual form of the words for “two,” “brother,” and “dying” (duoin, adelphoin, thanontoin). I carry it into English by saying "the two of us" instead of “we,” and by emphasizing the “brothers two” and their “double death.”
I enjoyed the whole article, and I liked thinking about where I would use the Greek dual (with my limited understanding of it)—which relationships have that intensity of shared dependence and connection?
It was particularly fun to read the essay in the same week that I saw the news that pair skating and ice dancing will allow same-sex pairs to compete. Part of the push for the shift is to be able to tell same-sex love stories on ice, but another part is simply to tell a wider range of stories through skating, which could include any relationship between two men or two women, not just a romantic one.
Although women have been lifting one another in synchronized skating for 20 years, learning to lift each other in ice dance presented Papadakis and Hubbell with a new challenge: finding creative ways to leverage their body weight and overcome the fear of injuring a friend. “It’s an athletic endeavor,” Hubbell said. “And there’s artistry behind it, but artistry is not inherently sexual. She and I are both quite sensual people. It can look like we’re trying to convey some sort of intimate relationship. But then we put on another piece of music, and it can look like two people who are best friends, or two people who are fighting.”
Which leaves me imagining what an Antigone/Ismene ice dance would look like (and what music you’d set it to) or what you’d do for Ged/Shadow… on ice!
I also like to imagine that same-sex ice skating, which will include both romantic and other relationships might give more room for male-female pairs to tell more stories in their performances than smouldering! sexual! tension!
When I used to watch So You Think You Can Dance, one of my favorite performances was “Gravity” with Kayla and Kupono, which used the male-female asymmetry of physical strength to frame a dance about addiction. I’m pretty curious to see what stories lend themselves to symmetry.
But to go back the the paradigmatic asymmetrical dyad, I liked this from Mary Harrington in Plough on what marriage is.
We need to re-imagine marriage as the enabling condition for radical solidarity between the sexes, and as the smallest possible unit of resistance to overwhelming economic, cultural, and political pressure to be lone atoms in a market. Households formed on this model can work together both economically and socially on the common business of living, whether that’s agricultural, artisanal, knowledge-based, or a mix of all these. This is an essential precondition for the sustainable survival of human societies. Our biggest obstacle is an obsolete mindset that deprecates all duties beyond personal fulfilment, and views intimate relationships in instrumental terms, as means for self-development or ego gratification, rather than enabling conditions for solidarity.
I like her emphasis on solidarity over partnership and her emphasis on the way the natural family begins by reaching across a natural divide.
Is way to find solidarity across that asymmetry to find ways to blend more and more, to grow to resemble each other?
Or is it to lean into some elements of your unlikeness, the way choristers hold harmonies?
What are the best stories you’ve seen centered on symmetrical foils?
…I really am talking myself into the Earthsea bookclub