The Philosophy of Tragedy: From Plato to Žižek
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This book is a full survey of the philosophy of tragedy from antiquity to the present. From Aristotle to Žižek the focal question has been: why, in spite of its distressing content, do we value tragic drama" What is the nature of the 'tragic effect'" Some philosophers point to a certain kind of pleasure that results from tragedy. Others, while not excluding pleasure, emphasize the knowledge we gain from tragedy – of psychology, ethics, freedom or immortality. Through a critical engagement with these and other philosophers, the book concludes by suggesting an answer to the question of what it is that constitutes tragedy 'in its highest vocation'. This book will be of equal interest to students of philosophy and of literature.
genuine individuals. Details of characterisation that tend to differentiate actual individuals from the type with which they most closely accord, details that highlight the uniqueness of a real person – the kind of details that are stressed in caricatures or cartoons – must be suppressed or at least de-emphasised in good tragedy. (As we shall see in Chapter 7, the idea that Greek tragedy is about mythic types rather than psychologically detailed individuals plays an important 4 The idea that
heart, Shakespeare’s – and our – obsessive focus is on the question of why Hamlet does not act, on what is going on in that enigmatic soul. Typically, as with Macbeth’s ambition or Othello’s jealousy, there is nothing ethical about the ruling passion in the life of the modern tragic hero. Often, indeed, that passion is positively unethical, leading the hero to engage in evil acts in pursuit of his end. Like Hamlet, modern heroes can hesitate and dither, and so they lack the ‘sculptural’ solidity
in particular and art in general cannot provide knowledge – (5) in the schematic version of the argument – is based on the idea that the information it contains concerns only appearances, never the essence or form of things. One might be inclined to object that, even if that were true, accurate information about appearances is itself a kind of knowledge. Plato would reply, however, that that kind of ‘knowledge’ is trivial and superficial, that it is not the kind of knowledge that enables us to
individual with the healing balm of illusion’ (BT 21), saves us from understanding the true meaning of the opera. Only as an ‘Aesthetic Phenomenon’ Is Life ‘Justified’ The most famous – or infamous – sentence in The Birth is: ‘Only as [an] aesthetic phenomenon (nur als aesthetisches Phänomen) is existence and the world eternally justified’. It appears twice, in sections 5 and 24, although the second time round ‘eternally justified’ undergoes the significant modification of being replaced by
which always remains pretty much the same’, Plato observes, is not good material for art. Especially in writing for the tragic stage, playwrights prefer ‘excitable characters’ (604d–e). This is surely correct. Drama, indeed narrative as such, requires conflict, and the portrayal of conflict as conflict requires characters in states of high ‘excitement’. Literature in general and tragedy in particular are intrinsically committed to the portrayal of people responding to stress. Plato’s next claim