After Dionysus: A Theory of the Tragic

After Dionysus: A Theory of the Tragic

After Dionysus: A Theory of the Tragic

After Dionysus: A Theory of the Tragic


William Storm reinterprets the concept of the tragic as both a fundamental human condition and an aesthetic process in dramatic art. He proposes an original theoretical relation between a generative and consistent tragic ground and complex characterization patterns. For Storm, it is the dismemberment of character, not the death, that is the signature mark of tragic drama. Basing his theory in the sparagmos, the dismembering rite associated with Dionysus, Storm identifies a rending tendency that transcends the ancient Greek setting and can be recognized transhistorically. A tragic character in any era suffers in the manner of the ancient god of theater: the depicted self is torn apart, figuratively if not literally, psychologically if not physically.

Storm argues that a newly objectified concept of the tragic can prove more useful critically and diagnostically than the traditional tragic "vision". He develops a theory of the tragic field, a model for the connective and cumulative activity that brings about,the distinctive Dionysian effect upon character. His theory is supported with case studies from Agamemnon and Iphigenia in Aulis, to King Lear, and The Seagull. Storm's examination of the dramatic form of tragedy and the existential questions it raises is sensitive to both their universal relevance and their historical particularity.


The subject of this book is "the tragic," as a condition of existence and a process in art. Emphasis is placed on how this quality is made theatrically manifest through a particular kind of depiction of dramatic character--that is, how it is artfully interpreted so as to find a reflection in the representation of human selfhood on the stage. The tragic, which has a purely aesthetic history that extends to the same Dionysian ceremonies that gave rise to tragedy, is a phenomenon that transcends the period of its Greek beginnings. It continues, in fact, to stand for those rending and separating forces which, though originally associated with the malign influence of its patron god, are nonetheless eternal in human experience. The nature of the tragic has, certainly, been a highly contestable subject in critical and philosophic discourse, and a primary goal of this book is to provide a context in which this concept can be understood--and also utilized--in a more concrete fashion.

My first objective is to establish, in Chapter 1, the Dionysian associations of "the tragic" and then, in Chapter 2, to differentiate this term from the other two with which it is commonly confused or conflated-- namely, "tragedy" and tragic "vision." Proceeding from a conviction that tragedy itself should not be characterized solely in literary or formalistic ways, my approach here includes the historical and philosophical contexts that, when taken together with factors of dramaturgy, create a set of interactive coordinates. In advance of Chapter 4's discussion of the tragic as both an ontological condition and an aesthetic process, Chapter 3 evaluates the current status of vision as a theoretical and diagnostic concept.

Apart from the controversial aspects of the tragic itself, two other terms--"cosmos" and "character"--are central to my investigation and may also be perceived as contestable or unstable in certain contexts. In an . . .

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