Monday, May 13, 2019

The tragedy of the tragic

Absolute tragedy is very rare. It is a piece of dramatic literature (or art or music) founded rigorously on the postulate that human life is a fatality. It proclaims axiomatically that it is best not to be born or, failing that, to die young. An absolutely tragic model of the condition of men and women views these men and women as unwanted intruders on creation, as beings destined to undergo unmerited, incomprehensible, arbitrary suffering and defeat. Original sin, be it Adamic or Promethean, is not a tragic category. It is charged with possibilities both of motivation and of eventual redemption. In the absolutely tragic, it is the crime of man that he is, that he exists. His naked presence and identity are transgressions. The absolutely tragic is, therefore, a negative ontology. Our century has given to this abstract paradox a tangible enactment. During the Holocaust, the Gypsy or the Jew had very precisely committed the crime of being. That crime attached by definition to the fact of birth. Thus even the unborn had to be hounded to extinction. To come into the world was to come into torture and death.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 129

No comments: