Introduction to the Tragic

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Introduction to the Tragic

The etymology of the term tragical leads us to the ancient Greek word tragos (τραγός) – “goat”, and hence to the word tragodia (tragedy) – a goat song dedicated to the sacrificial animal – because “tragedy” gets its name because at the Dionysian festivals the dithyramb singers and the Dionysian choirs accompanying the gods were dressed as goats (Regenbogen-Meyer, 2004: 633; Morizot-Pouivet, 2012: 538). Hence the tragic (Greek: τραγικός; Latin: tragicum; English: tragic; French: tragique; German: tragisch; Russian: трагическое) as an aesthetic category is in constant and direct connection with tragedy as a dramatic form.

The tragic in the ancient tragedy of its key representatives Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides is created in situations in which the protagonist or hero mistakenly comes into unfavorable situations and problems, which usually arise from his arrogance, pride, insolence, debauchery (hybris) or ignorance. The tragic conflict is therefore unsolvable and leads the action of the tragedy towards the hero’s tragic end. The conflict between the individual and the objective forces (divine or social) leads to failure and this is caused either by the unintentional behavior of the hero (as in the case of Oedipus in Sophocles), or by the conscious solution of the tragic hero/heroine related to the choice between two different view-points or two different moral codes (as in the case of Antigone, also in Sophocles). The tragic hero, most often, is thus the bearer of the “tragic guilt”, i.e. the “guilt without guilt”.

The tragic, on the other hand, in the classical Renaissance tragedy (William Shakespeare, Pedro Calderon de la Barca) and in the classicist tragedy (Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine) is linked to the tragedy of fate, i.e. the characters. That is why Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in his Aesthetics can point out that in this way the tragic becomes an expression of the hero’s subjective convictions that are contrary to social forces and world historical relations. In doing so, the conflict of the two one-sided positions, that of the individual and that of society, act equally strong and seem to become equally justified: “The original tragedy, then, is that within the limits of such a conflict the two opposing sides, taken for themselves, are right, while, on the other hand, they are nevertheless able to push the true positive content of their purpose and of their character only as a negation and violation of that also justified side, and therefore in their morality and on the basis of it they fall equally into sin” (Hegel, 1975: III, 602).

Because the tragic in art is mainly associated with tragedy as a literary (dramatic) genre, it is also associated with those situations in which contradictions inherent in human destiny arise that evoke strong emotions, that is, as Aristotle established, fear and sorrow (Aristotle, 1979). However, in such a definition of the tragic, there is always the danger for the tragic to be tied to only one epoch in which the tragic dominates, namely antiquity and the ancient epoch, and on that basis to build the “true” interpretation of the tragic and hence to transmit this interpretation to the following epochs, all the way to the present day.

Because the tragic in art is mainly associated with tragedy as a literary (dramatic) genre, it is also associated with those situations in which contradictions inherent in human destiny arise that evoke strong emotions, that is, as Aristotle established, fear and sorrow (Aristotle, 1979). However, in such a definition of the tragic, there is always the danger for the tragic to be tied to only one epoch in which the tragic dominates, namely antiquity and the ancient epoch, and on that basis to build the “true” interpretation of the tragic and hence to transmit this interpretation to the following epochs, all the way to the present day.

Because the tragic in art is mainly associated with tragedy as a literary (dramatic) genre, it is also associated with those situations in which contradictions inherent in human destiny arise that evoke strong emotions, that is, as Aristotle established, fear and sorrow (Aristotle, 1979). However, in such a definition of the tragic, there is always the danger for the tragic to be tied to only one epoch in which the tragic dominates, namely antiquity and the ancient epoch, and on that basis to build the “true” interpretation of the tragic and hence to transmit this interpretation to the following epochs, all the way to the present day.

Because the tragic in art is mainly associated with tragedy as a literary (dramatic) genre, it is also associated with those situations in which contradictions inherent in human destiny arise that evoke strong emotions, that is, as Aristotle established, fear and sorrow (Aristotle, 1979). However, in such a definition of the tragic, there is always the danger for the tragic to be tied to only one epoch in which the tragic dominates, namely antiquity and the ancient epoch, and on that basis to build the “true” interpretation of the tragic and hence to transmit this interpretation to the following epochs, all the way to the present day.

However, the psychological and psychologistical approach to tragedy and the tragic is most strongly expressed theoretically in the work of the German philosopher Johannes Volkelt (1848-1930) entitled Aesthetics of the Tragic (Volkelt, Die Aesthetik des Tragischen, 1897). In this work, Volkelt builds his psychological theory of the tragic as a special form of the aesthetic, emphasizing the psychological, subjective, and apparent side of the tragic, and speaks much less about the objective and essential side of the tragic. That is why Volkelt says that “artistic characters exist as artistic only if they are understood with the help of perceptions, dreams, feelings – that is, if they are formed on a mental basis and from a psychological content” (Volkelt, 1923: 2). This approach to the tragic is in the foundations of the so-called subjectivist and psychological approach to the tragic (Volkelt, Lips), an approach which together with the objectivist and metaphysical approach (Hegel, Schelling), as well as the combined approaches within the idealistic-moralist theory of Friedrich Schiller and the phenomenological-axiological theory of Max Scheler and Nikolai Hartmann, build the key theoretical approaches to the category of the tragic. In this context, Robert Zimmermann’s formalist theory of the tragic and the Marxist theory of the tragic, with their roots in the teachings of Marx and Engels on ancient tragedy and revolutionary tragedy, should be mentioned.

However, the psychological and psychologistical approach to tragedy and the tragic is most strongly expressed theoretically in the work of the German philosopher Johannes Volkelt (1848-1930) entitled Aesthetics of the Tragic (Volkelt, Die Aesthetik des Tragischen, 1897). In this work, Volkelt builds his psychological theory of the tragic as a special form of the aesthetic, emphasizing the psychological, subjective, and apparent side of the tragic, and speaks much less about the objective and essential side of the tragic. That is why Volkelt says that “artistic characters exist as artistic only if they are understood with the help of perceptions, dreams, feelings – that is, if they are formed on a mental basis and from a psychological content” (Volkelt, 1923: 2). This approach to the tragic is in the foundations of the so-called subjectivist and psychological approach to the tragic (Volkelt, Lips), an approach which together with the objectivist and metaphysical approach (Hegel, Schelling), as well as the combined approaches within the idealistic-moralist theory of Friedrich Schiller and the phenomenological-axiological theory of Max Scheler and Nikolai Hartmann, build the key theoretical approaches to the category of the tragic. In this context, Robert Zimmermann’s formalist theory of the tragic and the Marxist theory of the tragic, with their roots in the teachings of Marx and Engels on ancient tragedy and revolutionary tragedy, should be mentioned.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that almost at the same time the Bulgarian orthodox Marxist philosopher and aesthetician and president of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Todor Pavlov (1890, Štip, Macedonia – 1977, Sofia, Bulgaria) speaking in terms of the tragic, points to its complex nature and the fact that the question of the tragic is an open question when it comes to Marxist aesthetics and that “we have not only not solved it, but have not correctly posed a whole series of extremely important questions of our scientific aesthetics, for example the question of the character of the beautiful, the tragic, the comic, the sublime, the majestic, the melodic, the harmonious, etc.” (Pavlov, 1949: 382).

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