Modern Literature and the Tragic

Modern Literature and the Tragic

Modern Literature and the Tragic

Modern Literature and the Tragic

Synopsis

This book explores modern literature's responses to the tragic. It examines writers from the latter half of the nineteenth century through to the later twentieth century who respond to ideas about tragedy. Although Ibsen has been accused of being responsible for the 'death of tragedy', Ken Newton argues that Ibsen instead generates an anti-tragic perspective that had a major influence on dramatists such as Shaw and Brecht. By contrast, writers such as Hardy and Conrad, influenced by Schopenhauerean pessimism and Darwinism, attempt to modernise the concept of the tragic. Nietzsche's revisionist interpretation of the tragic influenced writers who either take pessimism or the 'Dionysian' commitment to life to an extreme, as in Strindberg and D. H. Lawrernce. Different views emerge in the period following the second world war with the 'Theatre of the Absurd' and postmodern anti-foundationalism. Key Features
• Broad coverage of drama and fiction by British, European, and American writers
• Provides readings of particular texts including Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Ibsen's Ghosts, Strindberg's Miss Julie, Brecht's Mother Courage, Chekhov's Three Sisters, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, Shaw's Saint Joan, Miller's Death of a Salesman, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and D H Lawrence's The Rainbow and Women in Love
• Combines literary interpretation with philosophical discussion, e.g. of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Derrida, Rorty

Excerpt

This book is concerned with literary responses to the tragic in the modern period. The tragic is, of course, derived from tragedy as a dramatic genre but it tended to have an independent existence almost from the start. Plato — a near contemporary of the major tragic dramatists — discussed tragedy without referring to any specific tragic drama and mentioned writers of tragedies only in passing, so that the tragic became an idea or a concept partially separate from Greek tragedy as a genre. On the surface, Aristotle in his Poetics is more objective and literary in his approach as he focuses on the form of tragic drama, and judged Sophocles' Oedipus the King to be the exemplary tragedy. It can be argued, however, that like Plato his real interest was in the tragic as an idea and that he valued the dramatic form of Oedipus because it could be aligned with his concept of the tragic, the play's plot — for him the most important element in tragedy — 'produce[ing] the distinctively tragic effect of engendering phobos and eleos [fear and pity]'. Aristotle in effect elevated himself above the writers of tragedy, just as Plato did, suggesting that he understood its nature better than literary practitioners. One consequence of this for later writers of tragedy was to make it difficult to separate tragedy in general from Aristotle's poetics of tragedy, even if the play he had selected as his model tragedy was not necessarily typical of Greek tragedy in general.

A consequence of Aristotle's view that the purpose of form in tragic drama is to engender certain emotions that he identifies with the tragic is that there was scope for creating alternative dramatic forms that could also engender these or related emotions, so that tragedy was thus able to transcend its Greek origins. This made it possible for later writers, notably Shakespeare, to produce works which were called tragedies even if they were significantly different in form from classical tragedy. It has been argued, however, that though Aristotle created a poetics of tragedy that still has powerful influence, it was only with the German . . .

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