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TRAGEDY AND THE ETHICAL SUBLIME IN "THE FRAGILITY OF GOODNESS" Author(s): Allen Dunn Source: Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal

, Vol. 72, No. 4, A SYMPOSIUM ON: The Fraglity of Goodness (Winter 1989), pp. 657-673 Published by: Penn State University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/01/2014 01:35
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feature and not an accidental constituent that"thedaring and exrestson theassumption herargument be an essential value of transient mayactually posed pursuit in thebestlife"(420).artificial fragility. Allen Dunn is AssistantProfessorof Englishat The University His most recentworksinclude "Forgettingto RememberPaul de Man: Theoryas MnemonicTechnique in de Man's Resistance to Theory and Derrida's Humanities Mémoires. ofdoggishness. Midsummer Studies.124. The vulnerability of humangoodness. gods of indifference to was fortheGreeksemblematic animalwhich oftheplayHecuba's translaw.Fall 1988.104 on Sun.227.lives suspendedbetweenbeast and god. ISSN 0038-1861 Soundings This content downloaded from 41." of thedivine"and the"self-sufficiency ciency "thehumanbeing. geancedeprives an her from a woman into a the transform this.TRAGEDY AND THE ETHICAL SUBLIME IN THE FRAGILITY OF GOODNESS AllenDunn MarthaNussofGoodness Дт the conclusion of TheFragility baum recounts the suffering of Euripides'Hecuba and her forhismurder violent ofPolymestor as revenge ofher blinding to thisbloodyvencommitment son.*'Southern Review. defined creatures by its open and againstbothof theseself-sufficient of its most basic character the relational vulnerable nature.4 (Winter 1989).theirtimeof the limits bothas a reminder ofthebeauty ofthis and an invocation sothispredicament.according functions. argument presents of humanvalues. of Tennessee. and "The Indian Boy's Dream Wherein Every Mother's Son Rehearses His Part: Shakespeare's A 1988. dog. As she summarizes cial being. ingredient which tragedy and extremity The spectacle of suffering to Nussbaum's then. Hecuba's single-minded and as ifin recognition of herofherhumanity. of thismiddlegroundis a concerns"(416). 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . NightsDream" Shakespeare 72. In Nussbaum's human reading ofhuman to theprecariousness is implicit formation testimony the "self-suffilocates between Nussbaum virtue that a virtue.

moment of the hubristic after an indictment is. in which she finds the vision of moral against godlike autonomy the rationalized like Plato and Kant."the possibilities of thisplay fragility. Of guarantors specifically of Nussbaum's hereis notagainst course.227. In Kant'saesthetics. Schiller which is be sure. not surprisingly. standin nature:as markers oftheboundary ofsocialdiscourse .124. implicit tragic pathos of reason. argumentation. supported upon.and Burke. to whatNussbaum Contrary implies. presumption seem reaabout tragedy Nussbaum's assumptions Although modern(that are not sharedbymany influential sonable. Whereshe finds critics like the of Kant. contingent. very complex dependent on themoral and KantlikeNussbaum placesa specialemphasis of tragedy. is Kantian ethics himself.Tragedy all is more she literature). adequate to the relational of the social to the world.658 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn Of theHecuba she says.they of literais. spect find thevindication a vindication of humanautonomy. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . if not a aesthetic. Kant of thegenrefrom thatof Nussbaum is. by.104 on Sun. theexhowever. and eventhepotential munity. complexities ofactivity humansocial and passivity that characterizes rhythm of thanmoreformal The interaction. vision(and espeshe is arguing thatthetragic a perspicuAristotle's of that vision)can provide cially reading ous alternative to an ethics that claims to have a rational. fragility community. ally argues. ethicsof philosophers Moreprecisely. Following Burkeand otherinfluential This content downloaded from 41. callsintoquestionnot systematic unity.Nussbaum's argument but the moralarguments claimsof conventional only specific also thevery theverbalmethesearguments take. doglike animality. Enlightenment/Post-Enlightenment) interpreters different view a distinctly and amongthosewhoembrace ture. shapewhich diumin which moregenerare (and they presented. all.based on theautonomy ofrational selfof discovering thatthe reflection but upon thejoy and terror of comthedestruction selfsomehowsurvives and transcends oblitertheconfusion ofreason. implications the of almost limitation affirms exactly opposite perience tragic a call to reof whatNussbaumfindsthere.but also as pledges or and as warnings againstcatastrophe of a human excellence" (421).thethrust argument but whichargument has few defenders. 18thationof thebody.

including Aristotle'sdescriptionof that pathos.The sublime indicates first of human practices is not easily separated the vulnerability invulnerableand oftenoppressive social infromthe seemingly whichsupportthose practices. same way thattheymightoperate in forensicsor everyday That is. The rage of the tragic stitutions hero is directedas much at the capriciousnessof social institua paradoxtionsas it is at ironiesof fate. of the the destruction at ical mixtureof elation and sorrow means of human goodness.and theEthicalSublime 659 Tragedy Kant names thismomentof paradoxical self-afcritics. an anachronism. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . as an implicit Nussbaum is undoubtedlyrightto read tragedy the of aspired to by Plato. reinforced by the aestheticdistanceinherent Nussbaum argues thatthe emotions of pityand fearoperate in as she translatesthe term) in the tragiccatharsis(clarification.Kant.and the concept might thereforebe assumed to be of little releof Aristotle'spovance to Nussbaum's patient reconstruction etic ethics. and Schiller ories of tragicsublimity address this ambiguityby suggesting that the discoveryand is both threatenedand faempowermentof an ethical identity of all that cilitatedby community. theycement a bond of immediate solidaritybetween and an observerwho realbetween the sufferer like individuals. I will argue. found history Tragedy sight the ambivalenceof a doubly splitperspective: thatis.1 firmation An Aristoteliansublime is. There is.104 on Sun.124. izes that she is vulnerable to the same suffering. an insightinto the and god-likeinsight. life. both human limitation tells Aristotle as that of events us. and fromthe perspectiveof the sublimeit experiences thatlimitationas both pathos and empowerment. This ambivalence is institutional in tragicspectacle. godlike self-sufficiency repudiation but the real social tensions that it addresses arise not as the This content downloaded from 41. of course. the audience both shares and transcends the tragic hero's limitation. is. however.227.I thinkthat tragicemotions do not simplyor imbased on a mutual recognitionof a solidarity mediatelyaffirm The plot of tragedyinvitesus to participatein human fragility. century in the face of danger the sublime. deeper than any inlogic its audience with leaves in itself.However.that the pathos of tragedy. is more ethicallyambiguous thanNussbaum's account impliesand thatthelike those of Burke. leaving aside the vexed question of what Aristotlemightmean by catharsis. accordingly.

My point is not that Nussbaum must enter Aristotle in the currentdebates over postmodernismin order to make her argumentcontemporary but thather ethics in so faras it draws support froma reading of tragedy mustdeal withthe ambiguitiesthere. an aesthetics which is between the difference aware of its own impossibility. He is impossible and that the illuconcludes thattrue community which we ourselves are alwaysopcommunities to commit sory to which conceal theircontingency. however.660 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn resultof philosopherswho secede fromthe community but as a as the result of the demand for differentiation. Lyotard begins with the same premise as Nussbaum does: diverse: theycanhuman practicesare heterodox. sated withrevenge. individuation. She has achieved a This content downloaded from 41. ♦ * * AlthoughNussbaum reads the conclusion of theHecubaas an invocationof community based upon a mutual recognitionof human fragility. but at the same time never reducible to these structures. pressociologists sure thatproduces the quintessential^ modern and potentially tragicdemand thatthe individualshould be in the community.124.especiallysince these ambiguitiesfigureso largelyin the modern reception of that genre. The tragicvision of the and artificiality of human meaning.227. by a single rule.contingent.2 to the extent they pressive Since Lyotard's ethics of contingency is supported by a postmodern aesthetics of the sublime. always in excess of them. It this would is within the community. fragility is sublime to the extent that it addresses both of these demands. since even theirinternalprinciplesare contingently appropriate rather than necessarily true. The essential ambiguity of the tragic evidence of human contingencyis illustratedby modern theoristsof the sublime such as Jean-FrancoisLyotard. Lyotard. sublime critics would surely read the same scene as the triumphof autonomous individuality. as Nusssituated by its contingentand relational structures. mocks her blinded betrayerwho grovels before her in animal helplessness.104 on Sun. not be either described or prescribed by a unifiedlogic. say.of human culture.Here the heroine. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . painfully and ethical visions Nussbaum's may provide another Lyotard's instance of sublime incommensurability. draws dramatically different conclusions fromthispremise. baum puts it.

104 on Sun. and trust. as Nussbaum presents it. is friendship eitherto embrace the fragilegoodness whichgives human endeavor its excellence or to seek refugein a spurious godhood (or doghood) whichwill protectus fromriskat the cost of isolating us fromhumanity. Schillerclaims." and. They embrace it. Doggishness arrivesas a release.227. Although she seems to admit that godlike revenge may be a Nussbaum assumes thatwe willfindsuch behavior temptation. "I back. He would see her defianceas evidence of a supersensuous willwhichdisdains not only externaladversity but the blandishments of her mothIt is erly instinctsand her own instinctfor self-preservation. "What do I care how I die? I have myrevenge. are forced to ask what human life could be happier" (416). a level below the thresholdof human community. She directsour attention not to Hecuba's hebut to her loss of humanity.124. them on This Use freespit your prophecies yourself. denied her.we a welcome gift.inclination. In response to Polymestors'prophecythatshe will be transformed into a bitch with blazing eyes. withthe openness to riskthatthatconditionrequires.just the typeof reading which Nussbaum warnsus against. Our choice. If wefindit foul.According to roic self-affirmation Nussbaum. This content downloaded from 41. internalcontradiction. finally godlike no the that has been so long justice manding. and artificiality but because of this." dom is seductive. Ratherthanelevatingher. finally. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .and theEthicalSublime 661 Tragedy and she can provisionalmasteryover the reversalsof fortune. A romantic critic like Schiller would undoubtedly describe Hecuba's empowermentas her triumph over the contingenciesof sensuous existence. In her murderof her own children she gives us evidence of an absolute freedom.of a will whichis not bound by custom.If we choose to embrace fragilehumanity.NeitherHecuba nor Polymestorcan "endure to be human. longer begging. foul and thatas a resultwe will be obliged to reconstruct and affirm a world of shattered human values.we must do so not just in spite of its contingency. a world of love.thatmakes Euripides' Medea such a sublime figure.her revengereduces her to his level. This is. of course.or self-interest (173). she replies. this is a loss which she shares with Polymestor. thissame self-opposition. with welcome a while dedeath indifference. habit.

greedytreachery in fact.It is important from the fluctuations.her sense of of the honor is contrastedwiththe crowd-pleasing pragmatism Greek rulers such as Odysseus and Agamemnon and the of Polymestor.Her supplicationof Odysseus. nature of human ing contingent that construct a stage upon whichthe vulnerablecommitments informeverydaylife appear exceptional and heroic. instance. as the of nomos mourn notjust the loss of trustand friendship. Hecuba remindshim of the time This content downloaded from 41. for instance.104 on Sun.662 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn however. The construction alternative worldsis a godlikeactivity thatis made possible by a in not constrainedby neof the which we are recognition ways It is the alienation cessity. The Chorus informsus that the Greek assembly was undecided about whether it should sacrifice Polyxena until Odysseus spoke. we Hecuba. to rediscover such "ordinary" commitmentsas friendshipand motherhood as heroic acts. When Odysseus appears to take Polyxena forsacrifice. tudes of these institutions aleatory or In for of a more abstract fate. divine. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .the huwhichis destroyedby tragicpathos is never the same as manity whichwe recoverand reconstruct. even withinthis dynamicof loss and recovery." as the Chorus calls him.227.sets the termsfor the conflicts whichwill follow. or denylike distance thatwe can even imagineeitheraffirming In to order the values. we must a position of godlike detachment occupy. saving implicitin tragic extremity which allows us. a momentof theatrical displacementand distance in which the human can finditself again. The sublime moment thus worksnot as the alternativeto the human world but as its necessarydouble. that hypocrite Odysseus. Yet.the waysin whichwe have a choice. at least temporarily.Tragic pathos the humanity is so paradoxicallywelcome because it releases us fromhuman bonds thathave been corruptedand distortedby modern secuto separate the vicissilarized social institutions. "that hypocritewith honeyed is only fromthe perspectiveof a godIronically.124. foundationsof social order are identifiedin the play: we lament the loss of a heroic society wherein these relationships would be valued in a waywhichtheyare not among the tentsof the Greeks. and contemplatethe waysin whichwe are not bound by continof gency. We are continuallyreminded that the values for which Hecuba stands are the values of royalty.

one would assume. as Nussbaum suggests. that it was dictated Greek by loyalty grounds Hecuba's revengeand thejudgment scene whichit precipitates because theyputjustice beyond the treachery of are satisfying words. She compares Odysseus' debt of honor to her withhis obligationto the "mob" at the assembly and prays "O gods. ultimatelysafe from compromise implicitin any public forum. For Hecuba and.negotiation. but Odysseus remains grotesquelyunmoved.and theEthicalSublime 663 Tragedy she saved his lifewhen he appeared in Troy disguised as a beggar. but he excuses himselfby clinging to the letter of their contractand not its spirit: "But note: I said your life. I think. Odysseus. opportunism. When. providingtheycan please a crowd!" She then turns to demand of Odysseus. as several criticshave noted. This content downloaded from 41. Agamemnon. on what feeble grounds can you justifyyour vote of death? Political necessity?" Hecuba's speech moves the Chorus. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . It removes human fromthe contingenciesof a public discourse. are liable to envisionanachronismswhichare less trivial thanat first for Euripides theymightseem.104 on Sun. criticsand philosophers).124. "Tell me. Her violence implies that her aristocratic code of honor is beyond the rationalizing of orr ators and politicians (and. we begin to reconstructthe we happier world in whichHecuba's goodness mightflourish.not your life. quibbling and rhetorical seduction. He insiststhathe feels kindlytowardHecuba and thathe is willingto honor his debt by saving Hecuba's life.227. Hecuba argues. Now that their fortunesare reversed.beyond the place where it can be argued. Thus. these politicianswho cringe for favorsfroma screamingmob and do not care what harm they do theirfriends. distortedand adapted to the demands of a crowd. Odysseus should act as she did and free her daughter. Polymestor disguising his betrayalof Hecuba in proclamationsof friendto excuse his treachery on the ship and then later attempting his to the state. and Polymestor representvarying degrees of ethical in is many ways Odysseus' double. spare me the sight of this thanklessbreed." daughter's The tragicsublime liberates us fromthe letterof the law so thatwe mayrecoverits spirit. It destroyswhatis merelyformal or institutionalin human relationships. His response is a masterpieceof forensicquibbling. a commitments discourse of compromise.

From a modern perspectivethismonarchy merelyrepresentsa world in which public institutions. of the basic human emotions of pity. The modern audience is likely to share Hecuba's nostalgia but unlikely to think throughthe politicalimplicationsof her longing forthe return of the Trojan monarchy. (Here he explicitly argues against Nussbaum's notionof a he characterizesthe Greeks purelyhuman nomos. However. We cannot constructa more virtuousworld withoutmakingdecisions about the value of specificinstitutions. Nussbaum treats the virtuousbehavior of Hecuba and Polyxena as if it were inof themselves dependent of the factthattheycontinueto think as if such virtuemight be as royalty.664 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn thathappier worldis an aristocracy in whichpublic discourse is not vulnerable to the distortionsof crowd pleasers like Odysseus. and courts of law have not turnedjustice into a sophistryriddled with quibbles and technicalities. however.featureof Euripides' vision.not a incontingent. gives tends to overlook Hecuba's frequentrecitationof the glories thatwere hers when she was queen of Troy.)By an indictment ofjust such a democraticcompromise. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . assemblies." he claims.more elemental formofjustice is a necessary. Whether we accept this argument or not.gratitudeand honor" tity (84). it demonstrates thateven the most basic human relationships cannot be understood independentlyof larger social considerations.104 on Sun. the factthatsuch modern institutions are condemned in favor of a purer. Hecuba's royalty thus becomes a symbolof all that is suppressed in such negotiation. David Ko vacs has recentlyargued thatHecuba is organized around the confrontationbetween Trojan dynasts and Greek democrats. and traditional a worldwhere the gods stood forthe sancmorality.a world in whichboth law and This content downloaded from 41. Hecuba's sublime independence. "are the survivorsof a vanished world of wealth. Tragic sublimity vokes a world beyond places her above the politics of negotiation. "The Trojan women.Hecuba's commitment to the to her family is indistinguishable fromher commitment Nussbaum her its Yet that monarchy family identity. as relentlessly secular and public minded: "They willnot allow any privatemotivesor feelingsto influencethe public and impersonal pursuitof theirnational interest"(82). dynasticpower.227. as easily found in the just more secular and utilitariandemocracy of the Greeks.

Both heroines act in solidarity is a which denied contrast.227.because it providesa voice forall who feel excluded from as the negotiatedjustice of public life.124.and theEthicalSublime 665 Tragedy are protectedfromcompromising rationalizapersonal identity safe fromsuch negotiation. family representationand consewhose blood bonds provide a conspicuous alternative quently to mediated public morality. and she is a woman in an avowedlymasculinistculture. Her actions our focus fromexcluded classes of people to the excluded shift individual. Her assertionsof her queenly prerogativedo not have to be weighed against a discourse of public good. and his democratic his interest tivism. Hecuba's dual identity the middle two social extremes and slave against aligns queen ground where public mediation is possible.his moral relain abnormal psychology. Hecuba's infanticide in Similarly.Antigonespurns Ismene because Ismene proposes compromise and negotiation. She represents both the highestand the lowest social classes. destroysPolymestor'sfamily This content downloaded from 41. structioncompelling.her bond with her dead brother. there is an importantway in which the of tragedyitselfinvitesand even compels the kindsof structure and modern readingswhichhe assails. society" anti-egalitarian Euripidean scholarshipis in dishe because critics have insisted upon making claims. array. Like Antigoneshe manages to be in societybut not witha missing determinedby it.her status as outsider the pathos of her situation.They have assumed his secularism. We do not have to translateHecuba's claims into the crowd-pleasingdiscourse of democracy. and unsubstantiated complex assumptions about Euripides' modernity. That is. the resentment like is of an aristocratic heroine Hecuba emotionally suffering because it providesa vehicleforothertypesof resentpowerful ment. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . exThrough her revenge she is able to translateher systematic of power into an assertion of a clusion from the institutions provisionaland yetsublime momentof autonomy. confirmed. Kovacs presents his reading of the Hecuba as an explicitly anti-modern reconstructionof a mythic world view "shot values of an essentially through with the status-determined (120).This intensifies is triply but it also magnifiesher gestures of heroic independence.104 on Sun. I While find much of Kovacs' historical reconsympathies.

universal)humanity. In her perspectiveeventsappear as pure contingency. Here "inci- This content downloaded from 41."not "random" or "confusing. focuses on Aristotle'selevation of acing of Aristotle'sPoetics tion or plot (muthos) over character(ethe) and upon the function of pityand fearas tragicemotions. not share thisvulnerability.104 on Sun. The wellmade plot. Nussbaum presents plot or action as the tragicheroine mustsee it. Aristotleinsists. there is an order and necessity to events.and thismakes her suffering unpredictable and undeserved.her own family. From the audience's point of view. as an implicitrebuttal of the platonic notion that an individual charactermightpossess a goodness that is exempt from the vicissitudes of time and human relationships.according to Aristotle. tragicsuffering and to with the heroic and in thismoment sufferer.has an organic unitywhich links beginning. missing The tragicheroine's momentof sublimedetachmentand her withthe auambiguous social statusthusmake her relationship dience of tragedymore complex than Nussbaum implies.666 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn order to assert the sanctity of her own motherhood. is "unified. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Nussbaum is not clear. implies.she argues.227. but the verymode of tragicrepresentationalso adds to this commoves the audience to plexity. For Nussbaum. and she omitsany mentionof Aristotle's lengthydiscussion of the well-made plot."and above all it has a must have a cerpleasing proportionsince "organic structures tain magnitude" (2322).and thismay explain whyhe rankstragicplot above tragiccharacter(although I am not sure whatit would mean to apply thisrankingto other typesof nontheatrical representations). as caprice of fate.124. Aristotletells us that this necessityis based upon a truer which is more general and therefore logic of probability than the logic/causality whichis actuallyobservable in the accidents of real historicalevents.middle and end witha logic of causal necessity. The dramaticpower of tragic is thatit comanagnorisisor revelation. pity identify of identification a common she sees a solidarity which affirms she her read(and.Accordingly. about how the audience of tragedyshares and does however. Nussbaum is surelycorrectin assertingthatAristotleinsists on the tragiccharacter'svulnerability to time. bines the perspectivesof audience and character. Aristotleelevates plot over character.

more precisely. Plots give even chance eventsthe appearance of design. Whetheror not I think thatit is thisdouble perspecthisis truein all narrative. "but only its proper pleasure.and the poet has to produce it by a workof imitation[mimesis]" (2326).and. theperception of the tragicheroine. it also distinguishesthese emotions in the tragicspectatorfromthe similar emotionsevoked in a public assemblyor trialwhere thereis no chance no apparent plot in the proceedings and therefore fora similardistance and double perspective. Schiller and Kant both insist that the exaltation of the sublime results not from danger itself but of danger. Pityand thatrenfearare not naturally pleasurable: it is representation it is ders them so.104 on Sun." Aristotle insists.227. as I have already argued.and theEthicalSublime 667 Tragedy dents have the greatest effecton the mind when they occur unexpectedlyand at the same time as a consequence of one another" (2323). such emotions are described in termsof a practicalratherthan This content downloaded from 41. If poetic mimesismakes pityand fearpleasurable." "The tragicpleasure is thatof pityand fear. tive thataccounts forthe pleasure thatAristotlefindsin tragic the termsof the tragedies whichNussbaum discusses. Incidentally. totle might agree. representationwhich protectsand distances us fromthe veryemotions which it enthis is one place where Kant and Arisgenders. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .control and reversal. Representation(although fromthe representation not necessarilyreason) provides the space fora stagingof the autonomous constituent which is found in more tension of a is a reflection general plot all all emplotment(50). or more specifically. involvesboth a god's-eye view of the action and a sympathy fora characterwho cannot share thatpoint of view. as opposed to the experience Thus.124. of tragedy. "Not everykind of pleasure should be required of a tragedy. Paul Ricoeur has argued that the paradoxical conjunction of necessityand featuresof tragic surprise. freefroma rationalizedand therefore compromised discourse of social meaning. thisincongruity of perof the victim which is us a double view tragic spectives gives own of with the victim's view herto but not identical parallel self as both determinedby and yet free fromthe determinations of fate or. Nussbaum's acwherein count of tragic pity draws heavily upon the Rhetoric.

668 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn an aesthetic psychology. Nussbaum argues that tragic identificationmust be Tragic heroes prompted by a similarperception of similarity. of the bad community whichthe tragicheroine rejects because we both are and are not membersof thatcommunity. is Alcibiades more idiosyncratic than Philoctetes? No doubt all human sympathy is dependent upon a percepbut tion of shared human traitsincludingshared vulnerability. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . pity to integratethe sufferer worksto produce social homogeneity. and in doing so it affirms remains an Yet Hecuba deliberation. by definition. not as a community. not as judges. even beyond the formaldistance imposed by a well-madeplot. public discourse. In such public deliberations. This content downloaded from 41.and she herself disdains the hypocritical honey-tonguedoratoryof the Greek We Hecuba as someone who is compelled to assembly.104 on Sun.227. Hecmakes her exuba's momentof defiance. our pityhere is indistinguishable fromour admiration. Nussbaum narrative that Aristotle finds speculates superior to histragic toricalnarrative because tragiccharactersare less idiosyncratic than historicalcharacters. ceptional and. In the Rhetoric Aristotleinsists that is a between between pity relationship equals. public instance of preciselythe emotion that tragedy resists.Accordingly.this perception of equality to realize prompts the observer of another person's suffering thatshe is vulnerableto the same typeof misfortune. pity whichswaysa courtof law or an assembly. mustbe good enough but not too good: "theymustbe good in a representative not an idiosyncratic way. Odysseus makes it clear to her thatshe has no place among the Greeks. the adequacy of into the community.Our identification in We the condemnation can thusjoin any taintof negotiation. not as memand certainly is preservedfrom bers of social institutions. an individual apart.notjust her suffering. identify and who has managed to turn stand outside of the community her position of weakness into a kindof strength. Yet. withtragicsuffering cannot be accounted for by assympathy that the hero is suming tragic simplyidenticalwithhis commuin the Rhetoric.Furthermore. the kindof pity kind of described The nity.124." and theirimperfections must "enhance our identifications" (386-87). idiosyncratic. people of similar social station and similarinterests. We can identify withher independence but only as individuals.

This shared of the various incommensuresides in the integrity humanity rate and vulnerablepracticeswhichtragedyhas displaced. Like Aristotle.but we imagine themas partof a comof and not as partof the trammeled mon humanity contingency a flawedsociety. universalThese include the assumptionof a non-rationalizable ity which precludes any version of moral relativism: she believes that if "we are each led individuallythrough the best procedures of practical choice. and it is preciselybecause theyhave been displaced.that theyhave such a transhistorical appeal. tragicpityfunctions as an apodictic. that the happiness of which she has been deprived is none other than the happiness we all desire. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . In the tragicdestruction of specific human relationships Nussbaum finds positiveevidence of universalpracticeswhichexceed theirhistorical occasion.Nussbaum's descriptionof tragicpitysuppresses thistensionbetweenindividualand institutionby insistingthatthe tragicheroine is alwaysalready one of us.227.she can welcome contingency and the pityit engendersbecause theydo not threatenthe fundamental assumptions with which she begins her argument. in Nussbaum's reading of tragedy. one that is somehow beof those institutions and can yond the historicalparticularity thus somehow resolve the tension which exists between individual and community. At the momentof utmost social difference. We remember instead what such assemblies mustalwaysomit: the unrepresentableclaims of the individual who stands on the social periphery. alienation. Thus.104 on Sun.Nussbaum findsthe most evidence of shared an invocationof what is missingand thereforemust be presumed to have been present. and individuation. as Nussbaum calls them.The sublime moment of heroic defiance places the tragic heroine forever outside of human community.AfterHecuba's revenge. we will turn out to agree on This content downloaded from 41.124. preciselybehistorical cause theyhave been foundimpossiblein a particular situation. the Greek assemblyand all its wranglingseem merelyirrelevant:we do not imagine a new and betterassemblywhere ruined queens are treatedwith more respect.and theEthicalSublime 669 Tragedy The solidarity affirmed based by tragicpityis thus ironically on both a shared resentment of faulty and human institutions an affirmation of an ideal humanity. In the momentof pitywe imagine these vulnerable relational goods.

124.104 on Sun. one assumes.leads her to of the tragicvision. Most contemporarytheoristsof the sublime renounce any notion of a transcendental self. findsa similarincommensurability Nussbaum's ethicalnaturalism depends heavilyupon organic to the biologsocial harmony which liken moral and metaphors of livingorganisms. an incomof discourses.the classical disbetween beautyand sublimity tinction depends upon it. no person respondingto a demand forjustice can know thejustice of her own response.but theyembrace the sublime notion thatany public discourse on values is implicatedin an hubristic attempt to represent the unrepresentable. They maintainthat even the most provisional discourses about the most limitedof human goods cannot assume or demand consensus withoutviolentlysuppressing a knowledge of autonomyof suffering of reason and desire into the which translatesthe frustration eitherof these momentsof of a which exceeds selfhood proof ethics as in science" (lln).227. Her faithin the transhistorical dent value of certain human practices. overlook the more disquietingimplications the way in I she overlooks as have been Specifically. Nussbaum feels free to dedicate her argumentto an attackon the presumptionof reaof a rationalized son and. more specifically.670 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn most importantmatters." she asserts. Having made these assumptions. on the presumption and self-evimoral autonomy. for instance. "The problems of human life. Whereas Nussbaum findsan inmensurability between discrete (ethical) practices. The adequacy of our responses to the victim's complaintcannot be representedin language. According to Lyotard. arguing.and while poststructuralical functioning ists like Lyotardattackwhattheysee as the bogus metaphysical assumptionsof such notions of naturalunity. The correlativeto this stand against epistemological relativismis the rejectionof any historical(and. Theoristslike Burkeand Schillerdescribe beautyas a state of edenic whichblurs the distinction between naturalorder and harmony This content downloaded from 41. whichtragedy'sindictment of rationalautonomygives rise to a sublime vision of pathetic autonomy.however. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Lyotard commensurability in language itself. "have not altered verymuch over the centuries" (15n). since thereexists between victimand society permanentdissonance. cultural)relativism.

child.trapper. By reason witha spectacle beyond human comprehenfrustrating sion (as in Kant's mathematicalsublime) or by frustrating desire with a spectacle of nature's danger and indifference. the sublime wakes the human subject fromthe bliss of an unselfconscious unityand promptsa painfulbut stimulating self-reflection. Both versions of the moral naturalist'smetaphor suppress the specificallysocial and institutionalmalaise that threaten moral harmony. world has power while the agent as hunteraspires to "uninterand controland seeks to eliminatethe power of ruptedactivity the external. by being imagine yielding pleasant water.227.104 on Sun. metaphorsfor human goodness. to and cultivated to earth. It is much easier forthe flowerto inclinetowardthe sun thanforthe modern Hecuba to inclinetowardthe tentsof the Greeks in the hopes of obtaining justice.Contemporary politicsare difficult and yettheyare the elementsthatimpingemost to romanticize. they are the elements to whichwe must yield if yield we must. For them the sublime provides a correctiveto such theiranxietyover the obliviousness. places of glancing light and flowing water" (421). The plant incorporates whichmakes the two states of "passivityand activity" a rhythm can admit that the external as The agent plant contiguous. female (or withelements of both male and female)" with the conventional notion of the moral agent as a "purely active" hunter.and sun but much less pleasant to imagineyielding to bureaucraticinstitutions. Nussbaum's stress on organic contiguityseems to suppress the exhilarationof this moment.male. I This content downloaded from 41.and theEthicalSublime 67 1 Tragedy human purposiveness.wind. They differ however.instead.and despite the fact that such theorists stressthe role whichreason plays in makingpossible thisinterdependence of the human and the natural.over the lack of self-consciousness which such an edenic state implies. Nussbaum contrastsher versionof the "agent as plant. but it blurs the distinction It is between an elemental fate and the caprice of Realpolitik. I am not advocating a brute.theirdescriptionsof beauty as a kind of ecological balance resemble Nussbaum's fromNussbaum. This is a lovelyimage.124.male mastery. dramaticallyupon the individual." Nussbaum concludes her argumentwithan evocative plea for an "art that encourages our souls to remain plantlike and fragile. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .

extensive category which (potentially) includes tragedy as one of its moments.fromthe hypocrisy breeds.672 SOUNDINGS AllenDunn am suggestingthatthereis a virtuein the momentof discriminatingdisengagementthatdiscovers distance and difference. of appetite (in the supersensible destinythrougheither the frustration dynamicsublime) or the confusionof understanding(in the mathematical sublime). Staging these moments of exemplification.I believe that through moral exemplification we can achieve provisionalbut veryimportantmomentsof ethicalconsensus. as our different readings of tragedymake clear.and. take seriously the ways in which specific ethical practicesmay require. They emphasize the reliefthatsublimity brings of habit. Thus. Burke and Schillerput more stressupon the social implicationsof the sublime than does Kant. as fromthe compromisesof public life. pendence.a resistance to consensus.turnsout to be no simple matter. the momentof crisisthe tragicprotagonistis deprivedof her rapport with nature and with society but is recompensed with the discoveryof a self that exceeds either social or natural determination. fromthe contempt that familiarity Kant emphasizes the sublime's abilityto engender a sense of By contrast.sexual and even historicalboundaries. arguing nian tragedies and in modern readings of those tragedies. however. a productive misunderstanding. I am using the term"sublime" here (in an admittedly modern reading of tragedythat stresses featuresof referto a typically tragic drama that Nussbaum overlooks.or necessarilyentail.124. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .The most importantethical debates today are staged across cultural. Burke in particularstresses. and in many of these debates in preserving our sublime differences we have as much interest in which to as we do in finding agree. theoristsof the sublime find evidence for a Kantian freedom at of social depreciselythe point at whichNussbaum findsan affirmation in Atheas it is reflected I the both am that sublime.also observes thatthe sublime destroyshydescribe the sublime as an All threetheorists pocrisyand sentimentality. and Burke's A Philosophical intotheOrigin ofourIdeas oftheSublime Enquiry This content downloaded from 41. From a sublime perspective. reflectsa paradoxical need to be both included in communityand yet distinfails to guished fromit. Such staging of modrequires thatwe take seriouslythe self-contradictions ern secular society.227. Nussbaum's account of tragic exemplification address this predicament which is characteristicof modern secular societies. Like Nussbaum and unlike Lyotard.104 on Sun. See Kant's "The Analyticof the Sublime" in TheCritique of Judgement. however. Nussbaum presents tragedyas the immediate confirmation loose way) to nity. ways NOTES of commu1. state fallfroma pleasant but potentially stupifying tragedyis a fortunate of harmony.

TheDifférend: of Minnesota Press. Theory of Minnesota Press. 1966. . David Grene and Tragedies.since such argumentswould inevitablyimply normativeand implicitly transcendental notions of human agency and intersubjectivity. III. 2. and On theSublime. Den Abbeele. Princeton: PrincetonUniversityPress.227.Chicago: University Chicago Press. This content downloaded from 41. 1956. Boulton. 1986. Ed. J. 1984. 1984. Kathleen McLaughhn and David Pellauer.J. 488-555. Nicomachean ofAristotle. 1989. RhysRoberts. GeoffBenA Report on Knowledge. Greek Vol. Immanuel. Elias. University intotheOrigin Burke. Bollingen Series LXXI.Friedrichvon. See Lyotarďs/ш/ Gaming. Lyotard argues that the experience of modernity is essentiallysublime because modern societyhas lost the metaphysical foundationsthatonce provided a model forconsensus. Unlike Nussbaum. W. The Postmodern Condition: and History Vol. Bernard. JonathanBarnes. Critique of Judgement. New York: FrederickUngar. of Minnesota Press.124.104 on Sun. 1984.Trans. 1987. Euripides. Jean-Francois. Minneapolis: University Trans. Jonathan Barnes. ThePostmodern and TheDifférend. Condition. Naiveand Sentimental Poetry Julius A. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. TheComplete ofAristotle. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Schiller. Wlad Godzich.Trans. Jonathan Barnes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Ricoeur.Trans. Paul. land. New York: MacKant. Hecuba.Edmund. J. Trans. Minneapolis: University and History . millan. we must perpetuallyrediscover the sublime incommensurabilityof various assertions of moral and political authority. W. Ed. TheComplete Works Aristotle. 1984. Ross. D. 2. 2. David.and theEthicalSublime 673 Tragedy and Schiller's "On the Sublime" and "On the Pathetic. Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press. Rhetoric. 1985. TheHeroic des. 1984. Poetics. MarthaC. 20. he sees no hope for arguing for a limited consensus based on the limitedautonomyof specificsocial/ethicalpractices. 10. William Arrowsmith. 1958. Theory of Literature. TheSublime: ofCritical Engof Michigan Press. . Monk's TheSublime. MinofLiterature. 19 Jan 2014 01:35:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 1.see Samuel H. H. Ed. Princeton: Princeton Press. in theHippolytusand Hecuba ofEuňpiMuse: Studies Kovacs. Notre Dame: University and Beautiful. Bywater. the classic historical overviewof the aestheticsof the sublime. neapolis: University A Study Theories in XVIII-Century Monk. A Philosophical ofourIdeas oftheSublime Enquiry of Notre Dame Ed.Vol. Samuel H. . Trans. TheComplete of Richard Latimore.Trans. Georges Van Phrases Lyotard. ningtonand Brian Massumi. Press. Ann Arbor: University Luckand Ethics in Greek Nussbaum. Vol. Bollingen Series LXXI. Timeand Narrative. Trans. WORKS CITED Ethics. 1960. in Dispute. Bollingen Series LXXI.he claims. TheComplete ofAristotle. Vol. TheFragility Tragedy ofGoodness: and Philosophy. Trans. Press. T. 1951.Trans. Works Vol. Works Vol. Ed." For Beautiful. 2. Withoutsuch foundationsor metanarratives. JustGaming.