Introduction to the Tragic

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Introduction to the Tragic

In the West, on the other hand, the famous philosopher, literary and drama theorist George Steiner (1929-2020), although in his book The Death of Tregedy (Steiner, 1961) speaks of a post-tragic period in which we all live, however, he cannot but point to the enormous significance of the tragedy and the tragic even today. That is why I am quoting a longer excerpt from his observations with which this introduction to the category of the tragic can be completed so that the interpretation can be continued in more depth.

Hence, on the complexity of the tragedy and the tragic, George Steiner says:

“Tragic drama tells us that the spheres of reason, order, and justice are terribly limited and that no progress in our science or technical resources will enlarge their relevance. Outside and within man is l’autre, the “otherness” of the world. Call it what you will: a hidden or malevolent God, blind fate, the solicitations of hell, or the brute fury of our animal blood. It waits in ambush at the crossroads. It mocks us and destroys us. In certain rare instances, it leads us after destruction to some incomprehensible repose.”

None of this, I know, is a definition of tragedy. But any neat abstract definition would mean nothing. When we say “tragic drama” we know what we are talking about; not exactly, but well enough to recognize the real thing. (…)

Hence there is in the final moments of great tragedy, whether Greek or Shakespearean or neoclassic, a fusion of grief and joy, of lament over the fall of man and of rejoicing in the resurrection of his spirit. No other poetic form achieves this mysterious effect; it makes of Oedipus, King Lear, and Phèdre the noblest yet wrought by the mind” (Steiner, 1979: 16-17).

This quote also shows that tragedy and the tragic have their roots in the ancient tragic drama. Tragedy and the tragic have their first and fully developed systematic approach in Aristotle’s capital work On Poetics, a work in which not only the first definition of tragedy is given, but also the foundations of the interpretation of the category “tragic” are found. (Aristotle, 1979).

On the other hand, if we approach the tragic from a philosophical and aesthetic point of view, as we have already seen before, the tragic is the situation in which the object as a whole overcomes the subject, because the tragic hero (Self) always loses the battle with the object (the World). Thus, the tragic and the comic are always on different sides and between them is the beautiful which represents the reconciliation of the tragic with the comic, of the sensory with the rational, and that is the harmony that represents the balance between distant differences.

Furthermore, in the middle between the beautiful and the tragic is the category of the sublime where the object (the World) dominates the subject (Self), but not so much for it to destroy it as a whole (as in the case of the tragic). The sublime therefore contains elements of the beautiful, but also of the tragic, of which many aestheticians in the past have subtly written, especially Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, whose approaches I have interpreted in more detail in my book Aesthetics of the Sublime (Džeparoski, 2008: 28 -45). On the other hand, as Schelling asserted, “the essence of tragedy is thus an actual and objective conflict between freedom in the subject on the one hand, and necessity on the other; a conflict that does not end such that one or the other succumbs, but rather such that both are manifested in perfect indifference as simultaneously victorious and vanquished” (Schelling, 1989: 338).

But when it comes to the tragic, it should be constantly emphasized that in the tragic the Object, i.e. the World, always emerges victorious in the battle with the Subject, i.e. Self, and as the Hungarian philosopher and aesthetician Georg Lukács (1885-1971) said in his essay “The Metaphysics of Tragedy” (1911), the tragic hero necessarily loses the battle with the world and therefore “the heroes of the tragedy – so wrote a young tragedian – are long dead before they begin to die” (Lukács, 1973: 237). Thus, symbolically they are dead already at the moment they appear on stage, while spiritual or physical death usually occurs at the end.

Of course, the key distinction that should always be kept in mind in this brief introduction to the tragic, the difference that even Aristotle knew, is that the tragic in life, that is, in reality, and the tragic in literature or art are two completely opposite things. In relation to the first we are constantly overwhelmed by sorrow and sadness and in relation to the second – happiness and joy. But even in the happiness and joy resulting from the artistic and aesthetic experience of the tragedy, the feeling of uneasiness regarding the “unjust guilt” of the tragic heroes, nevertheless, paradoxically, ethically leads us to a kind of freedom and liberty, because as Schelling says: “The highest possible misfortune: by fate to become guilty without genuine guilt. That the guiltless guilty person accepts punishment voluntarily – this is the sublimity of tragedy; thereby alone does freedom transfigure itself into the highest identity with necessity” (Schelling, 1989: 342).

Of course, the key distinction that should always be kept in mind in this brief introduction to the tragic, the difference that even Aristotle knew, is that the tragic in life, that is, in reality, and the tragic in literature or art are two completely opposite things. In relation to the first we are constantly overwhelmed by sorrow and sadness and in relation to the second – happiness and joy. But even in the happiness and joy resulting from the artistic and aesthetic experience of the tragedy, the feeling of uneasiness regarding the “unjust guilt” of the tragic heroes, nevertheless, paradoxically, ethically leads us to a kind of freedom and liberty, because as Schelling says: “The highest possible misfortune: by fate to become guilty without genuine guilt. That the guiltless guilty person accepts punishment voluntarily – this is the sublimity of tragedy; thereby alone does freedom transfigure itself into the highest identity with necessity” (Schelling, 1989: 342).


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AuthorIvan Djeparoski
2021-04-03T19:28:37+00:00 December 22nd, 2020|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 133 - 135|0 Comments