Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reclaiming Klytemnestra: Revenge or Reconciliation

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reclaiming Klytemnestra: Revenge or Reconciliation

Article excerpt

Komar, Kathleen L. Reclaiming Klytemnestra: Revenge or Reconciliation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. 224pp. $34.95 hardcover.

In Reclaiming Klytemnestra, Kathleen Komar examines late twentieth-century revisionist myth making associated with Klytemnestra of the House of Atreus, the classical figure notoriously blamed and slain by her offspring in an act of violent matricide. Komar strives to unveil attempts to reinstate women archetypes in the literary and mythic landscape, thus making cultural change possible, and in so doing her study queries the manner in which contemporary women authors from Germany, Italy, Canada, and the United States "rethink Klytemnestra, why they are committed to doing so, and how they deal with violence enacted both upon and by women" (2). Komar's study aligns itself with significant works of feminist criticism such as julia Kristeva's "Hethique de l'amour" (1977), Alicia Ostriker's "The Thieves of Language: Women Poetsand Revisionist Mythmaking" (1985), and Judith Butler's Antigone's Claiin (2000).

The main text is divided into four chapters and presents the status of the Klytemnestra myth in historical context. In the first chapter, Komar traces and compares various characteristics of "the mythical Klytemnestra," given in classical texts by Homer, Stesichorus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. This leads to her conclusion that the classical versions of the myth highlight "that a critical founding moment for Western culture hinges on the subjugation of women in the service of a new patriarchal order" (49-50).

Turning her attention to "Klytemnestra in the pre- and early 1980s," Komar traces contemporary interpretations of the mythical character in Martha Graham's ballet Clytemnestra, and in two novels, one by Christa Reinig (Entmannung), the other Nancy Bogen's Klytemnestra Who Stayed at Home. This chapter also includes close readings of Dacia Maraini's play I sogni di Clitennestra, and a monologue authored by Christine Bruckner entitled "Bist du nun glucklich, toter Agamemnon?" These texts suggest striking thematic similarities in that they not only view marriage as limiting women's choices, but they also lament the lack of women's control over their bodies. Some of the more radical narratives highlight castration and other violent acts as inescapable, twentieth-century scenarios. Close readings of Christa Wolf's Kassandra, Marie Cardinal's Le fasse empiete, Severine Auffret's Nous, Cletemnestre, and an analysis of the collaborative work by Judith Piper and Nancy Tuana entitled The Fabulous Furies reVue form the basis of the third chapter. …

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