A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
Abstract: Hegel’s theory of tragedy is often considered to be primarily a theory of the objective powers involved in tragic conflicts—for Hegel, these are paradigmatically competing ethical notions—and of the rationality which underlies and drives such conflicts. Such a view follows naturally from a close reading of Hegel’s discussion of classical Greek tragedy in his Lectures on Aesthetics. However, this view gives rise to the question of whether Hegel’s theory of tragedy can account for the significance of tragic experience, in particular the experience of tragic suffering; it has been argued repeatedly that it cannot. In contrast, I want to suggest in this paper that a theory of tragic experience can be derived from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. This Hegelian theory of tragic experience, I argue, should be understood as complementing rather than challenging Hegel’s theory of objective tragic conflict. ‘Oh I’ve learned/through blood and tears!’ (Creon, Sophocles’ Antigone)
1. According to Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, classical Greek tragedy typically revolves around a conflict between diverse ethical spheres which complement each other in the ethical life of the Greek polis—most importantly, the sphere of the family on the one hand, and of political and public life on the other. Tragic protagonists are heroic individuals who identify with only one sphere of ethical life, and pursue their one-sided ethical purpose in an absolutist and uncompromising way, such that it excludes and conflicts with its complementary ethical force. In the very attempt to act ethically, they thereby end up not only acting unethically—because they are violating the complementary ethical law— but moreover destroying themselves. Through this self-destruction, however, the original ethical unity of the polis is restored and affirmed, over and above a state of imbalance in which one-sided purposes are defended in an absolutist fashion. This abolition of one-sidedness and restoration of unity manifests a certain kind of justice. In coming to see a tragic play as a manifestation of such justice, its spectators can feel reconciled with the destruction of the tragic protagonist. More specifically, they can feel reconciled with the world that brings
European Journal of Philosophy 19:1 ISSN 0966-8373 pp. 85–106 r 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
about his or her destruction, since, in doing so, this world proves to be fundamentally just.1 Following this representation of the Hegelian understanding of tragedy, it would seem that from Hegel’s point of view, the essential content of a tragic play—the content in virtue of which it is a tragedy—is a conflict between equally justified ethical powers. In a tragic conflict, these powers enter a state of imbalance which is subsequently restored to balance. However, if this were correct, Hegel’s theory of tragedy would appear to be neglecting what is certainly one of the most important aspects of every tragic play: the experience which the tragic protagonist undergoes, in particular, his or her tragic suffering. The depiction of an individual’s tragic suffering would seem to be accidental to tragedy. Moreover, according to Hegel’s theory, the value of tragic theatre for its spectators would be grounded solely in the rationality of the tragic conflict and its solution, and in the sense of reconciliation which the observation of such rational justice affords. But there would be nothing valuable, from Hegel’s point of view, in the spectator’s exposure to the tragic protagonist’s experience of suffering. The complaint that Hegel’s theory of tragedy fails to do justice to the fact that individual suffering belongs to the essence of the tragic, and that it is at least in part the spectacle of such suffering which makes tragic theatre valuable for us, has been made repeatedly. Thus in his classical piece ‘Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy’ A. C. Bradley cautiously points out that Hegel might have been slightly neglecting the significance of the tragic protagonist’s experience of suffering: ‘[Hegel] seems to be right in laying emphasis on the action and conflict in tragedy rather than on the suffering and misfortune. [. . .] But, sufficient connection with these agencies being present, misfortune, the fall from prosperity to adversity, with the suffering attending it, at once becomes tragic; and in many tragedies it forms a large ingredient, as does the pity for it in the tragic feeling. Hegel, I think, certainly takes too little notice of it; and by this omission he also withdraws attention from something the importance of which he would have admitted at once; I mean the way in which suffering is borne’.2 In a similar vein, Sebastian Gardner, in his essay ‘Tragedy, Morality and Metaphysics’ argues that Hegel fails to give a satisfying account of the value of tragedy. Gardner defends the view that at the heart of tragedy lies a subject’s experience of his or her opposition to the objective world: ‘tragedy is constituted by an experience modelled on the traditional, unmediated opposition of subject and object’.3 It follows that if there is such a thing as tragic value, it must arise in relation to the subjective experience of the individual who faces the world in a tragic conflict. Now for Hegel, the value of tragedy is grounded in the rationality and justice of the solution to which tragic conflicts necessarily proceed, and the sense of reconciliation which the observation of such solution affords. However, this rational and just solution is not itself part of the tragic experience of the individual involved in tragic conflict. Therefore, Gardner concludes, Hegel’s theory fails to give a satisfying account of tragic value: ‘[. . .] Hegel does not demonstrate the attunement of tragic and moral consciousness [i.e. the consciousness which observes and comprehends the rationality and justice of
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
one achieves self-knowledge. By violating one’s supposed enemy. tragic experience consists for Hegel of two sequential elements. Within this account.4 There can be no doubt that Hegel’s theory of tragedy. if this is supposed to belong to the experience of tragedy. I would like to suggest that there is a way of both adhering to Hegel’s theory of tragedy. and escaping devastating criticism. Tragic experience begins with alienation. downplays the significance of tragic experience and tragic suffering. . Thus in the context of tragedy. extraneous reflection on the experience. Gardner and Bradley are right to point out that the tragic protagonist’s experience is an essential part of tragedy. I shall now try to show. This recognition is self-recognition: recognition that what one previously considered alien or hostile is in reality one’s own or part of one’s identity. However. . one inflicts pain and suffering on oneself. by appreciating that Hegel’s theory of tragedy as it is presented in the Lectures on Aesthetics has its complement in a Hegelian theory of tragic experience. by bringing into view the peculiar nature of the experience of those individuals who are involved in them. This can be achieved. tragic loss and suffering is not in vain and can be recuperated. This account of tragic experienced just outlined can be developed. This self-recognition has typically no reconciliatory effect. there appears to be reason for thinking that natural consciousness resists the upward movement towards the standpoint of speculative philosophy: all that Hegel may justifiably claim. I shall argue in the following. because it comes too late: it occurs only once one has inflicted devastating and irredeemable harm on oneself.
2. which can be derived from Hegel’s discussion of tragic conflict in the Phenomenology of Spirit. if it had nothing substantial to say about the phenomenon of tragic experience. While the Phenomenology is in agreement with the Lectures regarding the paradigmatic constitution of tragic conflicts.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
tragic conflict]. as it is presented in the Lectures on Aesthetics.
. it moreover presents a perspective on such conflicts which is absent from the Lectures. from Hegel’s reading of tragedy in sections a and b of the chapter entitled ‘The true Spirit.
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. placing almost exclusive emphasis on tragic conflict and the particular logic underlying it. and in feeling this pain. followed by recognition. as Hegel’s account implies. I shall try to show that the Phenomenology can be used as a basis for formulating a Hegelian theory of the peculiar nature of tragic suffering. and not to be the result of subsequent. Such tragic self-recognition is achieved through suffering. the value of a subject’s tragic experience lies in the self-recognition which such experience affords. through tragic suffering. It would have to be considered a serious weakness of Hegel’s theory. however. In order to know that. The ethical order’ in his Phenomenology of Spirit. one realizes one’s error and thereby comes to know one’s own identity. we need to refer to Hegel’s speculative metaphysics [. is that his account describes the revisionary interpretation of tragedy which the speculative standpoint demands’. if in no other. According to the account I wish to propose. More specifically. therefore.].
and it does this by on the one hand depicting how this ascent is experienced from the point of view of consciousness itself. On this basis. The Phenomenology’s account of tragic experience thus follows a complex analysis of Greek ethical life and the individual citizens’ relation to it in the section entitled ‘The ethical world. tragedy is the medium through which the identification of the Greek individual with the ethical order of the polis is turned from an immediate. the world of the Greek polis of Athens and its ethical life is the paradigmatic manifestation of such an immediate unity of human subjectivity and objective world. Human and Divine Knowledge.7 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. epistemological.6 However. at least—itself contain tragic heroes and tragic conflicts. lies the identification of the citizen with the ethics of the polis. For Hegel. Thus the Phenomenology shows how tragic experience is an essential. This is what Hegel calls
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. reflects the essential political and ethical structure of the world in which these plays are performed and watched: the world of the polis. Hegel then develops and analyses in the following section (‘Ethical action. the Phenomenology. At the heart of the ethical life of the Greek polis.5 The Introduction suggests that the ascending movement sets out from the assumption of an essential division between subject and object—which is later on seen as manifesting itself in all kinds of contexts. the real world of the polis does not— usually. since it is dedicated to the task of delivering the ‘Science of the experience of consciousness’. while this ensures that the Greek spectators of tragedy can identify with the tragic protagonists. and on the other hand revealing the dialectical logic which underlies this ascent. For Hegel. the world depicted in Sophocles’ play.or herself.88
The Phenomenology represents the ascent from consciousness to Spirit. Tragedy has an educational significance because the spectators can learn from the sufferings of the tragic protagonist without having to suffer themselves. quasi-natural unity into genuine knowledge. It is through tragic suffering that the Greek individual ascends from immediate to reflected identification with the ethical order. the powerful thesis put forward and demonstrated in the Phenomenology is that within the world of the Greek polis. and in Greek tragedy in general.8 and Lectures on the History of Philosophy.10 is concerned with depicting how the Greek citizen’s unity with the objective ethical order of the polis is experienced by the Greek individual him. In this respect. or at least an integral part of the overall education and development of Spirit towards ultimate self-knowledge. Human and Divine Law: Man and Woman’. According to the reading I wish to propose. and which is not visible from the point of view of the ascending consciousness. the Phenomenology’s chapter on the Greek spirit is in accord with the portrait of the ancient Greek world which Hegel offers in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History. in contrast to the Lectures.9 However. Guilt and Destiny’) the tragic experience of one of the most famous protagonists of all of Greek tragedy: the heroine of Sophocles’ play Antigone.—and culminates in the overcoming of this division after having attained the position of Science. religious etc. ethical. the movement also occurs in the reverse order: as an ascent from an immediate unity of subject and object to a reflective division between the two. However.
. on Hegel’s account.
which admit of no rational justification. rather than constraint. the performance of which is considered to be demanded by the gods of the underworld. in which both the freedom of human beings. existential law. and their subjection to eternal. and is therefore the ground of the citizens’ existence. as Hegel puts it. since it represents the freedom of the polis. citizens. The female role is associated with the family and burial rites. hence on a natural basis. they complement each other: ‘each preserves and brings forth the other’. In this aesthetic. The existence of these two ethical spheres is necessary and sufficient for the persistence of the polis. the ethical roles that the citizens are supposed to perform are allocated on the basis of their sex. Greek citizens are also free as participants of ethical life.
. immediate. the figure of Antigone in Sophocles’ play is a perfect exemplification of the Greek citizen’s ethical disposition. In the ethical life Sophocles depicts (it is not clear whether Hegel thinks that this depiction is faithful even to the specific realities of the Athenian polis). The female. political sphere is the purpose of the citizens’ existence. represents the eternal or divine aspects of human existence. as citizens perform distinct ethical actions. divine laws is actualized. it is natural. For they are naturally disposed to follow the political laws. to
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. is the political and public one.16 However. it is only in this way that they form an ethical whole.13 Thus for them. expressed in the citizens’ participation in political decisions. birth and death.11 They are therefore essentially ethical beings. and have no conception of the good as apart from the way it is defined by the ethical laws of the polis.14 This is why Hegel calls Greek ethical life ‘beautiful’: for the Greek citizen. depending on their sex. eternal and unchanging nature. public. on the other hand. they are thereby constituting a part of a larger ethical whole.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
the Greek citizens’ ‘ethical disposition’: they identify with the customary laws of the polis—laws which are designed to foster the good of the political community as a whole—to the extent that they regard them as absolute ethical norms. non-reflective sense. the sphere of laws created by humans. The sphere of the male citizen.15 the unity of both is what beauty consists in for Hegel. Consequently. to behave ethically. rather than eternal. rather than just a burdensome duty. following the laws of the polis is a natural disposition. the ethical laws of the polis assume the status of quasi-natural laws. the fact that these laws therefore have a quasi-natural validity for her is expressed in a more specific way in Sophocles’ play.12 This identification with the political community and its ethics is achieved through custom and habit. She accepts the customary laws of the polis as authoritative without seeking to justify them rationally. on the other hand. lawgiving and administration. In Hegel’s reading. His or her actions therefore manifest a perfect unification of spirit and nature. for them.17 Hegel explains this by means of the terms of ‘ground’ and ‘purpose’:18 The male. as a pure human particularity in its most universal. Both of these ethical spheres are justified only as complemented by the other. existential sphere. Greek individuals are educated in such a way that following the ethical laws of the polis becomes ‘second nature’ for them. natural. Thus the ethical action of women represents the citizen with regard to his or her most ‘existential’ features of being born and dying.
but left to be devoured by dogs and birds. human error now disturbs and shakes this ‘beautiful ethical life’19—this is where the tragic conflict begins. However. Antigone faces the Chorus of old Theban citizens one more time. The
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. because of her devotion to the divine law. looking death into the eye without flinching. as Antigone had envisaged in the beginning. issues the decree that Polynices. remembered by her city as a heroine who died for a just. his political decree violates a divine law. the citizens’ life in the polis thus embodies a tranquil harmony. Antigone. through public stoning ‘inside the city walls’.
3. in particular knowledge of one’s own identity. Antigone’s brother who attempted to attack the city and usurp the throne. that she is literally all alone and ostracized. shall not be buried. Creon. one cannot have a noble death without cooperation by the city. is the point at which she breaks. No longer is she now the fiercely determined heroine. in Hegel this ‘great mistake’21 is not a moral transgression. but a lack of knowledge. goes ahead and performs the burial rights for her brother. Hegel’s theory of tragedy has a strong Aristotelian component. above all. She takes no precautions to hide her action. He decides that she is to be put to death by being walled up alive in a cave outside the city walls. before she is taken away alive to her own grave.24 rather than. With the two ethical spheres complementing each other. is determined to bury her brother in spite of Creon’s decree. not only between the two ethical spheres. and was killed in the attempt. Sophocles’ play Antigone. Antigone is oblivious towards the political.90
which the opposing ethical sphere is just as essential as the one they are themselves representing. recently appointed king of Thebes. Creon is oblivious towards the divine. Antigone. because a traitor’s corpse is not to be honored through burial. In issuing this decree. She thereby proves to be ignorant of or at least negligent to the political necessity to punish traitors and to ostracize them from the ethical community. because it introduces the moment of Antigone’s self-recognition. This scene is most remarkable.25 However.23 consequently she is sentenced to death by Creon. In her great speech to the Thebans. but also between the individual citizens and the polis as the ethical whole in which they reside.28 However. divine cause—almost as a mythical figure.
. who both commit this error.27 This is the expression of a wish she had been harboring all along: the wish for a noble death.20 Like in Aristotle. denied any cooperation by her sister Ismene. in Hegel’s reading. The point at which Antigone realizes that she is being denied a noble death by the citizens. presents two central characters. To die a noble death means to be honored in and after one’s death: to be honored publicly by the city.26 Antigone pleads that she be recognized and. Creon shows obliviousness towards the divine necessity of burial.22 There follows a clash between Creon and Antigone. In regarding human error as an essential element in the emergence of tragic conflict. on the other hand.
’31 The first time Antigone feels genuine pain is when she finds herself deprived of political reward for her action. Antigone now begins to lament her fate and. which knows that nothing counts but right. but a lonely death. Hegel’s theory has a strong Aristotelian component here. it signifies the return to an ethical frame of mind. and being respected and recognized by the polis even in her death. she remains a shining figure of unearthly resolution throughout the play.29 and ‘a recognition is most beautiful when it comes to be at the same time as a reversal’.
. the hidden motive underlying them. It is easily overlooked that as it turns to this point in Sophocles’ plot. Only now does Antigone’s suffering begin. in the following way. up to the point at which she realizes that she will not die a noble. that Antigone realizes who she really is. makes her realize her political nature: she is a citizen of the polis. Again. For Aristotle. Her suffering.’’ With this acknowledgment there is no longer any conflict between ethical purpose and actuality. but as a fighter for the divine law. ‘‘Because we suffer we acknowledge we have erred.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
death she is now facing is not the one she had been envisaging. Despite her depraved heritage—being the offspring of an incestuous union—and her fatal decision to bury her brother. expresses genuine fear of death. Antigone expects to be honored by the city. in making this shift. noble death—public stoning rather than being hidden in a cave outside the city. . However. the tragic character’s recognition is as essential to the tragic plot as his reversal of fortune. It is the hope for such political respect which had been driving her actions all along. for the first time in the play. However. is an essential part of her identity. induced by the rejection of the citizens. hidden in a tomb
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and the wish to live. Hegel’s analysis shifts its attention from the conflict between objective ethical powers to Antigone’s subjective tragic experience. quasi-natural participation of the citizens in the ethical order. Antigone is no longer a participant.30 This is precisely what occurs in Antigone. then. This is what Antigone’s reversal consists in: being transformed from a heroine into an outlaw. This is what she had been oblivious to by conceiving of herself as a lone warrior for the divine law who defies the political sphere altogether. rather than hostile and alien. quoting a line from Sophocles’ play: ‘The ethical consciousness must [. But it is also at the moment of her self-recognition that Antigone’s fortune is reversed. Hegel describes Antigone’s moment of self-recognition and acknowledgment of the political power as ethical. bringing out how closely Antigone’s suffering is linked to her self-recognition. But it is through this pain that she for the first time realizes that she has such a political identity.] acknowledge its opposite as its own actuality. must acknowledge its guilt. but condemned to be ostracized from the city. this self-recognition and selfidentification with the polis is qualitatively different from the unity between citizen and polis which manifests itself in the unquestioning. In reality. and that she recognizes the political to be an essential part of her own ethical identity. rather than being wiped from public memory. Her suffering leads her to understand who she really is. It is through her suffering. a heroine’s fame. Hers ought to have been a public. . Hegel’s analysis makes one of its most powerful observations.
but as she acts in accord with that notion.’35 The insight that she has lost her ethical identity altogether is ultimately the reason why Antigone kills herself. In acknowledging the ethical legitimacy of the political. instead of holding on to her standard of the divine and acknowledging that her own action fails to meet it.34 Antigone must therefore accept that she has not merely betrayed the political. Hegel summarizes this movement towards self-recognition. but lost the right to participate in the ethical life of the polis through ethical action. ‘aesthetic’ unity of Greek citizen and polis which is constitutive of the traditional ethical order of the polis: it is reflected rather than immediate. she has also betrayed the divine as ethical power. and therein realizes that in violating the political law. She has achieved knowledge of her political identity.92
outside the city walls. It is noteworthy that Antigone’s changing relation with the divine law therefore follows roughly the dialectical model of experience which Hegel maps out in the Introduction to the Phenomenology. she suffers. One might object at this point that even if Antigone has to realize that she has betrayed and thwarted her political side. and now accepts the political definition of the divine. However. but that in so doing. which she understands as being in opposition to the law of the city. She thus comes to recognize the political as an essential element of her own identity.
.37 In acting in accord with the law as she understands it.36 Antigone’s tragic experience then. and moreover accepting the political definition of the divine. of something which is initially merely in-itself becoming for-itself./not with the living. of being totally abandoned: ‘I have no home on earth and none below. Antigone has a notion of what the divine law is in itself. and cognitive rather than practical. unreflective. Her painfully acquired self-knowledge thus has the form of ‘unreality’32 and mere ‘sentiment or disposition (Gesinnung)’33—a mere frame of mind. this identification is different from the immediate. Antigone likewise accepts the political definition of the divine. Antigone returns to what Hegel calls the ‘ethical frame of mind’: she identifies herself again with the ethics of the polis. However. to summarize. it is important to note that as Antigone learns about her political identity. she has violated herself. the definition which is accepted and established in the polis. Her alienation from the polis thereby turns out to be an alienation from herself. She thus feels that she has put herself in the situation of having severed her bonds both with the city and with the gods. For Hegel. Realizing that she is being denied political reward for her supposedly pious action by the citizens of Thebes. of which tragic
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Accordingly. not with the breathless dead. this changes her understanding of the divine and its law. she clashes with the political power and is sentenced to death. could she not still find courage in the fact that at least she remained faithful to the divine law throughout? However. as it is presented in the Phenomenology: it exemplifies a progression towards self-knowledge. too. In realizing her political nature. she changes her standard. she realizes that her action is mixed with political motives. tragic experience thus follows the logic which underlies the experience of consciousness in general. begins with her dedication to the divine law. in his introduction to the Phenomenology’s account of the Greek spirit and its tragic self-recognition. too.
it seems that in Hegel’s view. while consolidating the ‘ethical frame of mind’.
. and in particular tragic suffering. and themselves as being a part of that unity. it allows them to understand the ethical order as a unity of particular ethical powers. must leave behind it the beauty of ethical life. It is only with the rise of the sophists and ultimately the seminal figure of Socrates. that this power develops the fully destructive force that will eventually make the ethical order of the polis implode.39 Their position is in this respect similar to that of the philosopher of the Phenomenology who follows and observes the upward movement of consciousness towards absolute knowledge. but also contributes to its corrosion in the long run.
4. tragic experience as it is expressed in classical Greek tragedy. To return to the overall question of whether one can find in Hegel an account of the significance and value of tragic experience. this allows us to explain. and by passing through a series of shapes attain to a knowledge of itself. relates to his theory of tragic conflict. Tragedy has an educational effect: it furthers the Athenian citizens’ knowledge of the nature of the ethical order of the polis and their own relation to it. however. It is clear that they cannot be considered as alternative or even incompatible theories.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
experience is a part. it must be explained why Hegel offers us two different
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. since both of them are present in the Phenomenology. However. according to the argument just outlined. However. One is the question of how Hegel’s theory of tragic experience. in the following way: ‘Spirit is the ethical life of a nation in so far as it is the immediate truth—the individual that is a world. why tragic theatre is central to the political life of Athens. While tragic experience culminates in self-recognition and return to identification with the ethical order. the Athenian citizens can gain the same insight by merely watching and identifying with the tragic protagonists. no longer immediate and manifest in action. gaining insight into its identity without having to share its despair as it loses its truth. the germ of destruction has been introduced into the ‘ethical frame of mind’: subjective reflection. too. On the other hand. It must advance to the consciousness of what it is immediately. Through tragic experience. but cognitive and without immediate practical implication.’38 On the one hand. In particular. then. this identification is a higher-order one. within Hegel’s theoretical framework. as it is presented in the Lectures on Aesthetics. This gain of selfknowledge is the value of tragic experience from Hegel’s point of view. is an experience of self-recognition for Hegel: the experience of coming to know oneself through suffering. But while the tragic protagonists have to learn this lesson by going through suffering. does so in a way which is at the same time destructive. However. two important issues remain to be addressed at this point. as it comes into view within the context of the Phenomenology. hence their self-knowledge. tragic theatre is not merely affirmative of the Greek ethical order. tragic theatre.
45 Against this background.46 The negation of heroic but misguided ethical agents does not result in a state in which anything of ethical value has been destroyed. does this theory of tragic experience apply to other tragic plays as well? And if so. It does not itself imply or lead to a restoration of the ethical balance
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. as Hegel calls it. we can understand why in the Lectures on Aesthetics. shows us the self-destruction of heroic individuals pursuing one-sided interests. ought to be understood as representing different perspectives from which the phenomenon of tragedy can be considered within Hegel’s system. or could they be modern ones as well? I shall begin with the first concern. while art manifests. art is a part of Absolute Spirit. on the one hand. His thesis is that while Greek tragedy. too. it demonstrates on the other hand the persistence and self-preservation of the ethical order or ‘substance’. philosophical reason understands nature as being ideal and hence spirit. the difference between the two forms impinges on their content. In this sense. as such to be placed alongside Religion and Philosophy. Hegel looks at the phenomenon of tragedy. it would therefore also be right to say that art manifests philosophical truth in a sensuous medium. I would like to suggest that Hegel’s theory of tragic conflict on the one hand. in being unified with nature. By manifesting the reconciliation of spirit and nature. the self-recognition gained by the tragic individual through his or her suffering does not represent such a reconciliation and restoration of unity. this insight is a mere ‘Gesinnung’. mainly with regard to how it can be understood as a manifestation of reconciliation and unity over and above discord and opposition.43 From the point of view of the Lectures on Aesthetics.42 the most important subject of all art is therefore the human being. the Idea is the Ideal. Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics discuss art as a form of Absolute Spirit. genuine ethical order. and conclude with some considerations regarding the second one. the unity of natural form and spiritual content. only the human figure can be an adequate sensuous. as being unified with itself.47 In contrast. and shares its content—although not its form—with philosophy: through philosophical reasoning. through this negation. rather than destroying ethical powers. The other concern is that even if Hegel presents a convincing analysis of the tragic experience of Sophocles’ protagonist Antigone. is restored. we come to understand the rational and spiritual essence of the world. rather than intuition. it is in particular the Chorus which represents the self-preserving ethical substance: the Chorus persists as individuals perish: ‘It [the Chorus] is the substantial which persists in its substantiality’. and his theory of tragic experience on the other hand.94
perspectives on the phenomenon of tragedy. and why the Lectures on Aesthetics focus on one of them exclusively. and hence of reconciliation with the world we live in. On the contrary. intuitable expression of spirit. would these be only ancient Greek tragedies.
. For Hegel. art affords us a sense of feeling at home in the world. a unity of spirit and nature. a balance of mutually completing. in its sensuous medium. and are thereby reconciled with it through thought.40 Hegel defines beauty—the value he takes to be peculiar to art—as the sensuous manifestation of the absolute Idea.44 In this way.41 For Hegel. While the tragic individual comes to recognize his or her essential unity with the ethical order. However. In this sensuous form.
is based on a strong and immediate identification of individual citizens with the polis and its ethical order. fury about his father’s mercilessness. and the pain they
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Creon considers himself an all-political man. is driven to the strength of his family bonds.
. Creon’s wife Eurydice stabs herself. beauty—it is obvious that tragedy will be significant as a form of art and of artistic value only as far as it can be seen and comprehended as an affirmation of the ethical substance and its beautiful balance. but misses him and. As Antigone considers herself as wholly pious. over and against the tragic individuals who purport to embody ethical powers. In the Phenomenology. and can no longer participate in or substantiate it in his or her actions. kills himself. Tragic experience.or herself from the ethical order. In the same play.49 As a consequence. unaware of ´ . but knowledge which is impractical. from which no actions can issue. and to what extent is it compatible with modern tragedy? For Hegel.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
and substance. and as a medium for self-knowledge. since the tragic individual has at this point irredeemably isolated and alienated him. His son Haemon. Only in virtue of this affirmation can tragedy make a legitimate claim to belong in the category of art as a form of absolute spirit. according to Hegel. that the task of art is to demonstrate the persistence and reality of unity and reconciliation in a sensuous medium—is to exhibit. is significant and valuable because it furthers the education and development of consciousness towards self-knowledge. on the other hand. In a dramatical encounter—which happens offstage and is only reported by a messenger—Haemon raises his sword against his father. He or she has gained knowledge.
5. It is only through these losses. her counterpart Creon. and disgust at himself for having almost committed parricide. in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Since self-alienation can only arise where there is unity to begin with. The Greek polis. tragic experience as outlined above is particularly endemic to the world of the Greek polis. tragedy can be seen both as a manifestation of the reality of reconciliation and affirmation of unity. as discussed above. the political mirror-image of her fanatically pious determination. the polis and its relation to its individual citizens is in fact the perfect setting for the development of tragic experience from unity to alienation and back to self-identification. Thus from Hegel’s point of view. But it is necessary to consider the scope of the theory at this point: does Hegel’s theory of tragic experience apply to Greek tragedy more generally. in the broadest sense. comes to learn about his identity as father of a family in a painful way. Hegel’s theory of tragic experience is developed from a close analysis of Sophocles’ play Antigone. its natural place within Hegel’s system is therefore. now in outrage about his own action. then.48 It is not only the character Antigone who undergoes this experience in her relation to the polis. but destroy themselves in the attempt. On the premise. Antigone’s fiance commit suicide by a mix of grief over Antigone’s death.
he tries to prove that he cannot be guilty of having killed his father. Oedipus survives. The feature which primarily defines Oedipus’ character in this play is his unstoppable will to know.52 he boasts that when he solved the riddle of the Sphinx.96
inflict. through sight. Tiresias the seer is in fact blind. to uncover the truth: he first solves the riddle of the Theban sphinx. the death of Oedipus—that it would be highly implausible to see this culmination as a restoration of balance and order. but nothing is in order with him.50 Another character of ancient Greek tragedy which it is obvious to mention at this point is the Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus. that Creon realizes he has not merely a political identity. The plot culminates with Oedipus’ self-recognition.57 not to be repeated. Oedipus relies much more on his skills of hearing and reasoning. this is not merely an expression of his frustration with how useless they have been for him.53 and by relying on a rumor and a simple mathematical equation. as he pursues his investigations. According to this interpretation.55 Rather. Rather.54 However. then resolves to find the murderer of Laius.56 ‘unspeakable’. Oedipus’ act of blinding himself at the end of the play constitutes the very culmination of the entire plot. when Oedipus eventually gouges out his own eyes. Hegel’s own discussion of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus in the Lectures on Aesthetics is sparse. if one focuses on the peculiar experience and suffering which Oedipus undergoes in the course of the play.51 and it is difficult to find a convincing way of making the play fit with Hegel’s interpretation of tragedy as manifestation of rational justice and reconstitution of ethical order. and abuses him because of his blindness. and throughout the play.58 No ordinary form of knowledge is adequate for this content: one can neither speak of it (and hence think it). However. to see’. nor hear it. In his case. rather than seeing. the point at which Oedipus finally achieves selfknowledge. He dismisses Teiresias even though the latter speaks the truth. The main reason for this seems to be that the conflict which drives the plot of Oedipus is not a conflict between universal ethical powers which are embodied by individuals and which persist beyond the destruction of these individuals. A recurring theme within the play is different forms of knowledge: knowledge through hearing. This is not just because Oedipus’
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. gaining self-knowledge means gaining knowledge of unspeakable monstrosities. but depends on his family. in order to set Thebes free from the grip of the plague. However. an interpretation in accord with Hegel’s theory of tragic experience comes into view. It is ‘too dark to hear. what he finds out as a result of his investigation is beyond his imagination: unknowingly. and the play shows him struggling to come to know this aspect. the content of the self-knowledge he is about to acquire is of such a kind that it can properly be known only through suffering. too. nor see it. in Oedipus. through reasoning. but this self-knowledge is achieved by such terrible suffering—not.
. however. we are faced with a conflict within Oedipus himself: a crucial aspect of his own identity is concealed to him. he himself has committed the murder of his father and moreover married his mother and fathered his own siblings. nor will it ever be in order again. the point at which the unraveling of its knot is complete: that is to say. it was ‘the flight of [his] own intelligence’ which ‘hit the mark’.
the suffering is voluntarily self-inflicted. the self-knowledge which Oedipus acquires is not knowledge of a mere contingency. On the other hand. However. With the example of Oedipus’ tragic experience. from Hegel’s point of view.60 Like Antigone. If tragic experience as it occurs in classical Greek tragedy furthers self-knowledge through suffering.63 More generally. then. since this is achieved through the suffering arising from—intentional or unintentional—self-violation. knowledge through sight (in fact. has a twofold nature. it obstructs and renders impossible at the same time any form of genuine reconciliation with oneself. too. since it is attained through suffering. the difference is that in his case. self-knowledge through suffering. Oedipus had been trying to identify himself almost exclusively through his intellectual faculties. we can see even more obviously than in Antigone that tragic selfknowledge. Oedipus says he would have stopped his ears. he refers to his feat of having solved the riddle of the Sphinx—again.
. What he neglects is his physical identity. and when Oedipus refers to his past actions. and thereby forces upon himself the knowledge that he is not just an intellectual being. not just an intellectual one. if only it was possible). it becomes obvious that the self-recognition achieved through tragic suffering need not consist in a selfidentification with an existing ethical whole. a feat of knowledge and intelligence. Rather. they are moreover associated with a side of Oedipus which he had been systematically oblivious towards throughout the play: his actions.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
crimes are too abominable to be grasped in any conventional way. that he has a physical identity. is this also true. he rages against his own ‘physical’ self. but someone who acts and has acted. on the other hand.64
6. On the one hand. practical identity. has acquired. he must violate his body. of the experience undergone by the protagonists of modern tragedy?
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. retrieval of oneself.61 In raging against the one who has committed the crimes of murdering his father and defiling the city of Thebes. In order to make himself truly aware that he has committed the deeds he learns about. Oedipus is forced to accept—or forces himself to accept—that he has a physical. as it were: the one which he acquires.59 The plot of the play itself is the story of an investigation.62 In Oedipus. then. his reason and intelligence. and more importantly. and the knowledge these two faculties afford. Rather. such as the polis in Antigone’s case. thus steps into the place of ordinary perceptual knowledge. of some random character-trait or particular detail of his past life. the harm which makes this knowledge possible is irredeemable. Tragic knowledge. since it consists in self-recognition. and recognize his identity with it through the pain he feels. it constitutes a return to selfidentity. Oedipus attains self-knowledge through suffering. something which cannot be left out in the constitution of a self. through his actions. it seems that tragic self-recognition always takes as its content an essential feature of human identity. has committed deeds.
. Rather. all absolute authorities. political law in the Greek polis.67 Most importantly in our context. Creon or Oedipus. or a restoration of the ethical substance of the polis. Richard III does not learn anything about himself through his actions or experiences. the modern one typically acts in full consciousness of his own identity. are not necessarily. since modern tragedy arises in a world governed by the principle of subjectivity. norms or ends will be inward: ‘love. the tragic hero can be a villain. this does not need to imply a restoration of objective order and balance beyond the hero’s death. etc. or not even typically ethical ones in the sense that they constitute and underlie the order of a political community.66 Consequently. A figure such as Shakespeare’s Richard III. modern tragic experience. he or she is already fully aware of his or her subjective individuality. The modern tragic individual no longer needs to acquire greater self-consciousness through tragic suffering. rather than identifying their own good immediately with the good as defined by the political community. Modern tragedies. are based on conflicts between such convictions. Rather. unlike Antigone. however—to some extent going beyond Hegel’s own discussion of modern tragedy in the Lectures on Aesthetics in this respect—that from Hegel’s point of view. In classical Greek tragedy. represented by the Chorus. In modern tragedy. . and the actions and fate resulting from them. they are peculiar to this particular individual. in the central focus of modern tragedy stands an individual subject and his or her particular interests and convictions based on love. Thus if the hero perishes as a result of the tragic conflict.
. Hence in modern tragedy.98
For Hegel. the interests and convictions which make up the modern tragic hero’s conflict. I would like to suggest. such as the principle of the family and the public. It follows from this that the conflict represented in a modern tragedy cannot culminate in a complete reconciliation of objective ethical powers. values and interests of one individual. for instance.]. . the ethical substance of the polis survives the self-destruction of the tragic heroes. for Hegel. Rather. the self-knowledge of the modern subject is not
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and often enough they are even immoral interests. the polis. Moreover. and knows this to be the case. for the modern subject. according to Hegel’s interpretation. the eternal salvation of the individual as an end. as a rule. as Hegel takes it to be typical of classical tragedy. This also means that the modern subject does not accept or succumb to the claims of any external authority. morality and conscience’. according to Hegel. [. Unlike the classical tragic protagonist. and even in most cases reconciled with his or her character traits. the conflicting convictions and interests of the tragic hero are not necessarily reflected or embodied in external institutions and powers (although this may be the case. such as the polis and its objective ethical laws. is unlikely to have quite the same structure as the experience undergone by the protagonists of classical Greek tragedy. is motivated by nothing than ambition and a certain perverse pleasure in brutality. religious faith or moral conscience. the hero’s own conscience may for instance be reflected in an enemy’s army which comes to his destruction). however. it is. what sets the modern age apart from antiquity is above all the principle of subjective freedom:65 the modern individual demands to find their own particular interests satisfied.
the modern individual may not always be in possession of full self-knowledge.68 Moreover. On the other hand. to become king. and the urgent desire to overcome it. But this scene shows. Hence to the extent that the Phenomenology. in which he reminds himself of his feelings of loyalty and friendship for the king. against/the deep damnation of his taking-off’. this opposition is not only selfimposed by the subject. as Bradley puts it. On the one hand.70 However. and the wife and children of Macduff. is in reality part of the subject.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
necessarily so complete as to preclude his or her undergoing an experience which is structurally similar to that of the protagonists of classical Greek tragedy.69 as Bradley puts it. he ponders that the murder will be all the more abominable because of the king’s great virtues: ‘his virtues/Will plead like angels. consequently. As we saw above. makes him a terrifying character. encouraged by his wife. whose suffering the play is most concerned with. but it initiates a series of painful experiences—the ‘pathway of despair’ Hegel speaks of in the Introduction of the Phenomenology— in the course of which the subject learns that what it considered to be in opposition to itself. Macbeth is tortured by his own conscience which abhors his deeds. later on. they have no strong impact on him. and may have to learn about him. tragic experience of the kind outlined above cannot be entirely alien to the modern subject. is driven by ruthless ambition. Hegel thinks that it is one of the most poisonous tendencies of modern thought in general to hold on to a strict opposition between subject and object. he. because of his suspicions that they may obstruct his aims. ‘how little [Macbeth] knows himself’. However. in which the need for philosophy originates. It seems to me that from Hegel’s point of view. he arranges the murder of Banquo. in part at least. Moreover. and Macbeth changes his mind and gives in. and the coldblooded calculation with which he arranges them. the modern individual may be subjected to this kind of experience in two different ways. The bloodiness of Macbeth’s deeds. as long as Macbeth’s scruples are merely the object of his theoretical reflections. it is in this opposition. the object. Lady Macbeth manages to dissolve his doubts quickly. even with regard to his or her own individual. as the Phenomenology sets out to show. while Macbeth progresses towards his aim by shedding the blood of innocents and causing unspeakable grief and pain. the present king. murders Duncan.
.71 It is only after he has committed the murder.or herself in a painful and tragic way. trumpet-tongu’d. the murder of king Duncan. I would like to conclude by briefly suggesting how one might read Shakespeare’s figure of Macbeth along these lines. that Macbeth learns how
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. in Shakespeare’s play he himself is the one who suffers most—or rather. The scene which precedes the murder (Act I. In order to achieve this. tragic experience is the experience of acquiring self-knowledge through self-inflicted suffering: a suffering which arises from one’s erroneously conceiving as alien or hostile what is in reality part of one’s own identity. subjective character and identity. This becomes most obvious with his first murder. Macbeth suffers because he ‘knowingly [makes] mortal war on his own soul’. relates the experiences of modern consciousness. Scene VII) opens with a monologue of Macbeth. a successful general in the Scottish king’s army. Macbeth. together with his wife.
on others). Macbeth’s conscience strikes back with its most powerful weapon. he declares: ‘I am in blood/Stepp’d in so far. then: Hegel’s system considers tragedy from two different points of view. Macbeth is similar to Antigone and Oedipus: he learns a painful lesson about himself.74 In this respect. and contributing in no way to his reconciliation or redemption. were it not for his pain. and has visions of an ocean of blood. according to the interpretation I am suggesting. represents to himself in graphic images such as the one of the ocean of blood—that his guilt is too great to be ever redeemed. but this insight comes too late and therefore remains a mere ‘Gesinnung’. dyed red by his own hands. From the point of view of the Lectures. should I wade no more. Macbeth believes—or rather. The other point of view is the one which emerges when Hegel presents the tragic collision
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Macbeth realizes that for him.
powerful the appeal of his own conscience is in reality. One is the point of view presented in the Lectures on Aesthetics. Already after the murder of Duncan. This Hegelian perspective on the tragedy of Macbeth may also point towards an answer to a question which is particularly urgent with regard to the figure of Macbeth: is there anything of value being affirmed in this dreadful spectacle of a villain destroying the lives of innocents. there is no return to a sane and peaceful state of mind. however. Of course it remains questionable. this realization comes too late to have any bearing on Macbeth’s action. but for the prize of inflicting irredeemable harm on himself (and.73 Having been offended in the most violent way. why do we appreciate watching it? The Hegelian answer. It begins to torture him in the form of his own imagination:72 he hears voices crying ‘Sleep no more’. having no bearing on Macbeth’s future course of action. would be that Macbeth attains a substantial piece of self-knowledge through the sufferings he subjects himself to. To conclude. There is thus something of value being affirmed in the spectacle of Macbeth’s selfinflicted suffering: his achievement of self-knowledge. He probably would not have attained this self-knowledge. then. of course. and whose balance is restored through the destruction of the individuals in whom the imbalance is embodied. After having murdered Banquo. However. Macbeth’s own rich and ceaseless imagination. and finally destroying himself? And if not./Returning were as tedious as go o’er’. tragedy is significant in so far as it manifests the reconciliation of previously conflicting ethical powers. Macbeth’s experience therefore exemplifies the Hegelian structure of tragic experience outlined above: Macbeth acquires self-knowledge through suffering. Hegel here considers tragedy as a conflict between complementary ethical powers which enter a state of imbalance due to human error. The pain which this weapon inflicts on him forces Macbeth to acknowledge the reality of his own conscience. whether the value of Macbeth’s self-knowledge is substantial enough to compensate for the suffering of others which is necessary for it to be attained. then. that.
should be seen as an essential complement to his theory of tragic conflict. Hegel’s theory of tragic experience. 14 See PR: §144. 5 See PG: §87. §89.peters@ecla. According to my argument. 15 See VPG: 308/LPH: 261/2. 19 PG: §441. 4 Gardner 2002: 243. 9 VGP: Esp.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
between two ethical powers within the context of the Phenomenology of Spirit. implies a certain kind of reconciliation with oneself. it comes too late in order for the individual who achieves it to enter a state of genuine. I argued above. then. §467.de
1 For an excellent account of Hegel’s understanding of the essence of tragic conflict. 7 VPG: Especially 275–338/LPH: 232–289. is the experience of gaining self-knowledge through the suffering which arises from self-alienation. VPG: 308/LPH: 261/62. 12 See VGP: 469–470/LHP: 408/9. 11 See VPG: 307–10/LPH: 260–266. 20 See Aristotle. livable reconciliation. VGP: 469/LHP: 408. VGP: 469/LHP: 408. but
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.: 33/34. This experience. 17 PG: §463. symbolical air: she does not even do so much as burying her brother. 21 Aristotle. 23 Seth Bernadete has pointed out that Antigone’s actions have a peculiarly ostentatious. 6 See PG: §80. 8 VPR: Esp. 2 Bradley 1961: 81–2. Poet. 10 PG: §88. 16 See PR: §144 Add. too. 96–154/LPR: 455–498. §82. which comes into view in the context of the Phenomenology. Poet. 18 PG: §439. 3 Gardner 2002: 242. tragic conflict comes to be associated with a peculiar type of experience suffered by the individuals involved in such conflicts. 441–515/LHP: 384–448. the charge that Hegel’s theory of tragedy is oblivious to the significance of tragic experience and suffering appears unjustified. 22 See PG: §466. §88. But since it is acquired only for the price of significant harm and suffering.
.75 Julia Peters European College of Liberal Arts Berlin Germany j. see Houlgate 2007: 146–178. Such self-knowledge. In this context.: 33/34. 13 See PR: §151.
rather than held in opposition to it. 26 Sophocles.102
merely sprinkles some dust over his corpse.: 30–31. the form of pity which is relevant and appropriate for tragedy is the
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.: 64 [86–99]. that a genuine clash and destruction occurs. but rather Thebes or Troy for example) and participants of an ethical order which is similar to their own— and therefore fear that they might encounter a similar fate. see Sophocles. but it is the political power. Creon defines the political as standing in opposition to the divine law. 31 PG: §470/471.: 102/103 [806–71]. 35 Sophocles. Not only will they be purged of pity and fear. that Antigone is not the only one in the play who is painfully wrong about her own ethical dispositions and identity. The experience of seeing the tragic hero suffering has therefore a kind of cathartic effect on them. Ant. This comparison is being rejected and ridiculed by the assembled Thebans.: 102/103 [806–71]. It is therefore not merely Antigone who wrongly conceives of the divine as being opposed to the political. Ant.
. See Sophocles. 36 See PG: §66. Poet. 32 PG: §471. It is only because the error is shared on both sides. Through his decree not to bury Polynices. even in her first exchange with her sister Ismene. 30 Aristotle. but they will have learned something about their own identity and relation to the polis which will make them refrain from courses of action that will end in tragic collisions. See also Aesth. 38 PG: §441. 33 PG: §471. where Hegel emphasizes that he would like to qualify Aristotle’s doctrine. 29 See Aristotle. on the other hand. 39 Again. 37 It must be emphasized. 25 Sophocles. functions as a mediator between the divine and the ends of the polis. Genuine fear. her political counter-part.: 100 [766–80]. See Bernadete 1999: 16. Hegel’s theory is close to Aristotle’s in this respect. which conceives of itself as standing in conflict with the divine law. he is aware from the beginning that the divine is to be integrated into the polis. Hegel argues here. Ant. and by punishing Antigone for doing so nevertheless. However. shares her error in a reverse way. Antigone exclaims. Ant. Poet.: 103 [839–71]. but a part of his own reason and freedom’. 34 While Antigone fights in the spirit of her anti-political interpretation of the divine law. His way of relating to the divine is contrary to Antigone’s: unlike her. Poet. If this were the case. although this must be understood in a slightly different way than in Aristotle.: 30. 27 Antigone compares herself to the mythical figure of Niobe.: 17/18. The Athenian spectators of tragedy will pity the protagonists for their suffering. Creon. the seer Teiresias. Ant. working as a religious adviser to Creon. as it were. which is enough for her purpose. 24 See Sophocles.: 60 [18–36]. Teiresias shows no particular sympathy or understanding for her. Accordingly. in contrast. Ant. Antigone derides Ismene when she implores her to keep her decision secret—one should do the opposite. Ant. her obliviousness towards the political would not have been fatal.17. See Aristotle. Similarly.: 228–229. they will identify with them—in the sense that they see them as citizens of a polis (even if not of Athens. must be fear of an ‘ethical power’ which is ‘not external to [man]. again. Furthermore. even though representing the divine like Antigone. 28 See Sophocles.: 84 [498–512].
58 Sophocles. the ethical powers are not.) 51 See VAe: 545/LAe: 1214 52 See Sophocles. (Sophocles.: 238 [1286–96]. 57 Sophocles. Oed. the family and the state. But once that has happened. 62 Stephen Houlgate suggests an interpretation according to which the plot of Oedipus can be read in accord with Hegel’s theory of tragic conflict: as manifesting an antagonism between two equally justified ethical powers which enter. and neglects the possibility that there are things which would better be left unknown. 47 Aesth. §411. but his own lack of privacy.’. 40 See Aesth.: 243 [1369–97]. the right to know. which perfectly accords with the absence of all desires in Oedipus. and whose
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Ant.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel
spectator’s sympathy with and admiration for the individual who identifies with the ethical power. and the self-recognition acquired through tragic suffering. she is still surprised by what kind of death awaits her—and as we saw. But in this case. while she knows for certain that she will die.: 227.: 32–34 41 See Aesth. [842–62]. Oed. 49 See Sophocles. the mediator between the city and the gods. 61 Although it may be argued that Antigone. . this makes all the difference. 53 Sophocles. that he finally understands and acknowledges his mistake.: 122 [1206–36]. Enz.: 208.: 237 [1263–85]. due to human error and misguided action. Ant. still.: §556.: §558. 50 At first sight. a state of imbalance which is subsequently returned to balance. §557. 42 See Aesth.: 34. 55 Sophocles. Oed. §557. 43 See Aesth. leads him to look away from the body. His crimes have their origin in the privacy of the body . and on the other hand. 44 See Enz. rather than simply compassion for any suffering creature. makes attempts to reverse his course of action and set Antigone free before it is too late.: 231. Oedipus is engaged in a relentless hunt for knowledge. . . Oed. It is only when his family is affected that the hit strikes home.: 239 [1297–1312]. too.: §556. 45 See Enz. the right of the unknown. he laments. Creon. This could be understood as an effort on Creon’s part to restore and reestablish the ethical order of the polis through his actions. 60 Sophocles. Oed. 48 See Schmidt 2001: 112.
. Enz. Creon’s actions are half-hearted. as in Antigone. reconciliatory significance of tragedy.: 240 [1313–28]. 54 Sophocles. 59 Seth Bernadete comments on this trait of Oedipus in the following way: ‘Oedipus’ knowledge is divorced from his own body. Nothing.: 38–40. He somehow is pure mind’ (Bernadete 2000: 76). However.: §556. the unconscious. knows exactly what she is heading for as she decides to bury Polynices.: 181 [380–407]. 46 See Aesth. after all. Oed. but the crimes he committed are bodily crimes.: 181 [370–379]. Oed.: 126 [1301–25]. Creon appears to represent something like a unity of the affirmative. Creon is paralyzed: ‘I don’t even exist—I’m no one. and they are detected through his body.: 38–40. on the one hand. he is persuaded to do so by Teiresias. but rather. Oed. 56 Sophocles.
Oedipus no longer conceives of himself as a knower—and since his previous identity was exclusively based on his knowledge. 64 In PR: §118. That is to say. he presses further. Oedipus realizes that a purely intellectual form of knowledge—a knowledge which is only based on non-corporeal evidence. His atrocious self-mutilation can then be understood as an attempt to give due to the right of the unknown. he abandons the standard altogether.: 112. rather than between the ‘principle of the wide awake consciousness’. it is not entirely convincing. however. Oedipus comes to recognize himself.
. for their contributions and discussions. he acknowledges the power of the unknown. Macb. 65 PR: §124 add. If my reading is right.: 33. see Aristotle. 66 PR: §124 add. 67 This contrasts with Aristotle’s demand that the tragic heroes should not be distinguished by ‘vice and wickedness’. but this does not reconcile the conflicting aspects of his identity. 74 Shakespeare. Moreover. 73 Shakespeare. 68 Differenz: 21/Difference: 89. I would suggest that Oedipus’ conflict is one between his intellectual and physical or practical identity.: 62. Macb. 72 Bradley 1956: 357. Fall Term 2008. it does not seem right to describe Oedipus’ self-recognition and self-mutilation as a restoration of a state of order and balance. is essential to tragedy because such consciousness does not shy away from suffering as long as it is a consequence of one’s own actions. the unconscious: in blinding himself and thereby closing off the most important source of self-knowledge. and Cristina Groeger for proofreading. Macb. to be eventually faced with the horrible truth. but should rather be in the middle between the particularly virtuous. 71 Bradley 1956: 357.104
knowledge will cause him harm. 69 Bradley 1956: 359. For the reasons suggested above.) However. 70 Shakespeare. this means that he is reduced to nothingness. Continuing to ignore this principle. then Oedipus’ hamartia does not lie in his excessive concern with knowledge and neglect of the importance of ignorance.: 44. just like Antigone realizes that piousness amounts to nothing unless it respects political laws. while it is possible to find evidence for this interpretation in Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics. Poet. moreover. that the willingness and necessity to identify oneself with one’s actions. Heroic consciousness. (See Houlgate 2007: 156–158. but embraces it fully. but rather in the particular ignorance which his apparent obsession with knowledge is paired with: Oedipus lacks self-knowledge. is peculiar to ‘heroic’ consciousness.
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and the principle of the unknown or subconscious on the other hand. the right of the unknown. independently of whether they have been committed with full intention or not. rather than holding on to a purely intellectual and nonpersonal knowledge as a standard even after having realized that the knowledge which is required in his own case does not conform with it. and alien to us moderns. After having become aware of his disastrous lack of self-knowledge. but no knowledge at all. and the particularly wicked man. and remains ignorant of the knower’s own physical identity—is not just a limited kind of knowledge. 63 Moreover. 75 I would like to thank Stephen Houlgate for inspiring discussions on the topic. and Gernot Mueller and an anonymous referee for extremely helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Hegel states. I would also like to thank my students at the European College of Liberal Arts Berlin.
Vorlesungen ueber die Aesthetik III. Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. —— (1986). (2002). ´ dez and S. Harris and W. Oxford Lectures on Poetry.). Lectures on the Philosophy of History. —— (1961). —— (1986). —— (1986). Houlgate. IN: St. Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind. Sacred Transgressions: A Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone. Shakespearean Tragedy. —— (1988). Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Miller. M. W. Augustine’s Press (Aristotle. Muenchen: Fink (Aesth. Hamburg: Meiner. Bernadete. M. Vorlesungen ueber die Geschichte der Philosophie I. Poet. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (VAe). Vorlesungen ueber die Philosophie der Geschichte. Macb. Jenaer Schriften. Shakespeare. Bradley. Vol. Bermu (eds). The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy. F. —— (1986). Translation: (2007). Oxford: Clarendon Press (Enz. South Bend. in J. Davis. Cerf. IL: Northwestern University Press. Houlgate (ed. ‘Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus’. —— (1986). Translation: (1999). T. Nisbett. G. S. trans. Sibree. Translation: (1977). Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Translation: (1977). IN: Indiana University Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press (LPR). (1956). Translation: (2007). Vol. C. trans. II. —— (2000). Haldane. —— (1991). in G. (2007). A. Translation: (1998). Evanston. H. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. ‘Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy’. ‘Tragedy.
Other Sources: Aristotle (2002). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. The Argument of the Action.
. South Bend. L. Bernadete and M. W. in S. Oxford: Oxford University Press (PG).
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. trans. Cadolzburg: ars vivendi (Shakespeare. (2001). A.A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel REFERENCES
Works by Hegel Hegel.). in S. Bristol: Thoemmes Press (LHP). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (VPR). ‘Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy’. W. by Peter C. in A. S. Phaenomenologie des Geistes. Gardner Gardner. Inwood. Translation: (2007). Vorlesungen ueber die Philosophie der Religion II. Hegel. S. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (VGP). Hamburg: Meiner. Macbeth.). Hodgson. London: Macmillan. Translation: (1878). S. trans. ed. I. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (Differenz). Art and Morality. C. J. trans. reprinted from the 1892-5 edition. (2004). Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. London: Routledge. trans. S. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (VPG).). H. On Poetics. —— (1996). Enzyklopaedie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830). Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Augustine’s Press. Bloomington. Philosophie der Kunst oder Aesthetik. E. Knox. Morality and Metaphysics’. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. S. Oxford: Oxford University Press (LAe). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (PR). (1999). V. London: George Bell & Sons (LPH). Bernadete. trans. IN: St. Bradley. ‘Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie’. Albany: State University of New York Press (Difference).) Hegel and the Arts. F.
IN: Indiana University Press. Ant. (2001). New York: Penguin (Sophocles. New York: Penguin (Sophocles. Oed.106
Schmidt. Bloomington. trans. The Three Theban Plays. trans.
2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.). Fagles. D. R. Sophocles (1984a). On Germans and Other Greeks. in Sophocles (1984).). R. Sophocles (1984). ‘Antigone’.
. Fagles. ‘Oedipus’. in The Three Theban Plays.