Epochal discordance : Hölderlins philosophy of tragedy

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The truth of substance does not, Hegel stresses, lie in one-sided specificity, but in reconciliation Vershnung ; and it is through reconciliation that tragedy offers a vision [Anblick] of eternal justice. In this context, Hegel comments on the Aristotelian katharsis of the emotions of fear or terror and pity to the effect that what purifies them is a shift in their content, so that fear becomes trained on the ethical power which is at once a determination of free human reason and eternal and inviolable, while pity is no longer mere condolence, but recognizes and affirms the justice of the tragic characters suffering.

Nevertheless, and particularly in tragedy, the. Unlike Hlderlin, he summarily dismisses the East which certainly had its own great dramatists, such as Kalidasa as having failed to realize the principles of individual freedom and self-determination, or of the free right of subjectivity.

Even though historically it evolved from the sacred origins of Greek tragedy being specifically linked to the Dionysian cult , and even though this origin is in tension with the mythic content of Attic tragedy, the chorus remains essential to its modality of representation. In contrast, any attempt to reintroduce the chorus into modern tragedy is incongruous, since here the action does not issue from an originary, undivided consciousness.

At its purest, the conflict that drives the action arises between the state, as ethical life in its spiritual universality, and the natural ethicality of the family, as happens in Antigone which Hegel characterizes rapturously as the most excellent, satisfying work of art.

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The true development of the action, Hegel concludes, is the sublation of contrariety, or the reconciliation of the powers in conflict, so that the tragic fate and suffering of the protagonists reveals its rationality, and the spectator finds herself reconciled to it.

Quite apart from its historical closure, then, classical tragedy, as Hegel understands it, is also subjected to a philosophical closure which allows for no ultimately incomprehensible and unreconciled negativity, nor for what Hlderlin will refer to as the bare recounting, in suffering, of the empty measures of time. In modern tragic drama, by contrast, action is not motivated by ethicality, but by purely subjective purposes, while the characters, who are psychologically far more developed, reflect inexhaustible human diversity.

They often lack inner clarity and steadfastness and are given, instead, to vaccillation and discord. A tragedy driven by these subjective factors is, Hegel finds, more saddening and distressing than intellectually satisfying; and poetically the development of a character in terms of the formal necessity of [his or her] individuality is preferable his example is the old King Lears progression from. Modern tragic drama accomplishes no reconciliation capable of revealing eternal justice.

When justice is done, it is of a more abstract and coldly legalistic nature thus Goneril and Regan in King Lear are punished cruelly but appropriately.

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The outcome of the action, however, may not be the result of any sort of justice, but merely of unfortunate circumstances and twists of fate in which case there is no reason why it could not just as well be fortunate. This does not, of course, keep it from reaching sometimes unparalleled literary heights, as it does, in Hegels judgment, in Goethes Faust which he characterizes as the absolute philosophical tragedy or in Shakespearean tragedy he singles out Hamlet, in particular, to comment on.

It also does not keep it from continuing its important work of confronting systematic philosophy with the challenge of the negative, even though it can no longer do so within the parameters of ethicality. When the young Nietzsche entered into the tragic turning of philosophy with The Birth of Tragedy published in and preceded by several closely related, unpublished essays ,46 he broke with Hegels then-dominant interpretation and redefined the tragic paradigm for philosophy. This rethinking is indebted not only to the important influence of Jacob Burckhardt, who had called attention to the sinister forces at work in the Greek polis,47 but also and above all to Nietzsches intensive reading of Hlderlin.

Like Hlderlin, he had attempted in to write a tragedy centered on the figure of Empedocles it did not advance beyond a cluster of plans ; and it is also intriguing that Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks breaks off at the threshold of addressing the thought of Empedocles. Whereas Hlderlin had, in his Sophocles translations, affirmed the continuing life of Greek tragedy and sought to make it speak to modernity, Nietzsche, like Hegel, recognizes the death of tragedy. Although, in The Birth of Tragedy, he envisaged its possible rebirth out of the spirit of Wagnerian music, he castigates himself in the distanced retrospect of his Attempt at Self-Criticism for tying hopes to what left nothing to be hoped for and for his advocacy of a music that he came to consider not only as the most unGreek of all possible art forms, but also as dangerous due to its being an intoxicating and, at the same time, befogging narcotic.

For Nietzsche, the death of tragedy did not just follow from the exhaustion or dialectical surpassing of ethicality; tragedy died violently and, indeed, in a tragic manner.

Euripides, as Nietzsche understands him, was one of those rarest of artists he speaks of in the Attempt at Self-Criticism and who, he notes, might have formed the proper audience for his own book , in that he was both a highly gifted creator and an incisive analytical thinker. Tragedys workits very life, as Nietzsche understands itis stifled in being cast as a work of reconciliation that culminates in the sublation of contrariety within ethical life.

Its proper work is one, not of reconciliation, but of presentation. What tragedy presents is ultimately Dionysian truth, which is inherently conflictual, given that the Dionysian and Apollonian primordial art energies which recall Hlderlins aorgic and organic energies or principles require one another; they can come fully into their own only in an intimacy of strife. Along with morality or Hegelian ethicality, he castigates the scientific attitude die Wissenschaftlichkeit as a fear of and flight from pessimism, and thus as a ruse against truth.

An intellectual pre-disposition for the hard, the terrible, evil, problematic [aspects] of existence, out of its [own] wellbeing, overflowing health, its plenitude. Such a courageous vision, however, would be seared and blinded were it to gaze nakedly into the abyss; for awful night is no less destructive to sight.

They constitute an Apollonian mask whose beauty allows tragic truth to be envisaged.

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Even morality or ethicality must ultimately be viewed as an appearance Erscheinung. As Nietzsche explains, with reference to Raphaels painting The Transfiguration of Christ, appearance or luminous semblance der Schein is, at its most fundamental and preartistic level, a sheer reflection Widerschein of the traumatized vision expressed by the mythic saying of Silenus to the effect that it would be best for humans not to be born, and second-best to die soon , or of the eternal contradiction [echoing the Heraclitean polemos] that is the father of all things.

Humans are caught up in this reflection in that they are constrained to experience it as physical reality, and as their own illusional substance. The supposedly nave classical artist personified above all by Homer creates out of an utter self-dedication to and absorption in this visionary world.

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With this mirroring of beauty, consummated by Homer, Nietzsche comments, the Hellenic will fought against the talent for suffering and for the wisdom of suffering [which is] correlative to artistic talent. In Gnter Figals.


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In an achievement of a full reconciliation, art itself would die; for, as Figal puts it, this would annihilate the appearance which nevertheless sustains [art]. They are Sophocles two Oedipus tragedies and Aeschyluss Prometheus. In Oedipus Tyrannos, Nietzsche calls attention to the sovereign serenity that results from following the intricate dialectical process by which the protagonist attains self-knowledgea serenity that mitigates the horror of the myth.

In Oedipus at Colonus, this same serenity becomes supernaturally exalted; it transfigures the aged Oedipuss sheer passive exposure to suffering into highest activity, whereas his earlier active stance as a solver of riddles and a decisive ruler only ensnared him in passivity. In this resolution of the seemingly inextricable knot of the Oedipus myth, Nietzsche sees the divine counterpart of dialectics.

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However, the resolution remains part and parcel of the projected image, the healing phantom of light that conceals the myths deeper import: namely that Dionysian wisdom is destructive of nature as well as of the natural self. The Prometheus myth, by contrast, exalts the glory of active transgression, of the hybristic pride of the artist who challenges and rivals the gods.

Aeschylus, with his characteristic concern for justice, or for the sovereignty of apportioning Moira, seeks metaphysically to reconcile the two worlds of suffering, that of the transgressor and that of the violated gods. However, his poetic interpretation of the myth is once again a luminous and ethereal image mirrored in a black lake of suffering.


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  • The Dionysian insight expressed by the Prometheus myth concerns the titanic drive to carry finite individuals or singular beings higher and higher, beyond any defining identity and Apollonian measure. This transgressive drive entails the necessity of suffering. Even though Aeschylus is, in his concern for justice, an Apollonian artist, his Prometheus, Nietzsche finds, is ultimately a Dionysian mask. Matters are certainly not improved by his further assimilation of Aryan transgression to the figure of man, and of Semitic sin to that of woman.

    However, the fundamental Dionysian import of both myths, uniting them in their mutual opposition, underlies his further statement that between them there exists a degree of familial relation as between brother and sister. For Nietzsche, fire remains the symbol of the best and highest humans can share in, of the radiance of human achievement.

    He speculates that early humans would have considered mans disposition over fire, previously received reverently as a heavenly gift, to be sacrilegious. Thus, fire, for Nietzsche, marks both an active and creative transgression and the punishing pain that such a transgression or sacrilege necessarily entails. In this conjunction he finds the ethical basis for pessimistic tragedy. Heidegger is the one major twentieth-century thinker to have engaged with Hlderlins thought and work as a whole, in particular his thought on tragedy, not in the interest of scholarly interpretation, but of orienting his own philosophical itinerary.

    Given this special intellectual relationship, his two explicit and searching discussions of Sophoclean tragedy, in Introduction to Metaphysics of and in the lecture course on Hlderlins hymn Der Ister,71 are examined in the concluding chapter of this book. Of these significantly different analyses, only the second, focused exclusively on the first stasimon of Antigone, is informed by a dialogue with Hlderlin, whereas the first, which is concerned with the intimate interrelation between being, unconcealment, and Schein, as both radiant appearance and semblance, is indebted to both Schelling and Nietzsche.

    This strife is enacted, for Heidegger, within the domain of knowledge or of intellectual discipline Wissen and Wissenschaft ; and he cites, in this context, the Hlderlinian saying that King Oedipus may have had an eye too many. Such a study can, of course, not possibly be undertaken here. Suffice it to remark that the textual basis it would require is not limited to works that, however briefly or even obliquely, refer to tragedy.

    Schmidt offers a detailed account of these, which is valuable in that it places them in historical as well as biographical context. Semblance, deception, delusion, errancy stand in a determinate relation of essentiality and historicality. A further text that would arguably be especially relevant although it does not mention tragedy is the essay written on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Rilkes death What are Poets for?

    Wozu Dichter? They want to lead out of the externalizations and omissions of the time by building a precinct [literally, an ante-courtyard, Vorhof] in. The historical determination of philosophy, say the Beitrge, culminates in the recognition of the necessity of making Hlderlins word heard. Given the focus of this study on Hlderlins philosophy of tragedy, however, rather than on Heideggers reading of Hlderlin, or on the mediating role of that reading for the philosophers own understanding of the tragic, it will be necessary to resist the temptation to enter upon a study of any of the indicated texts.

    The one Heideggerian text that will nevertheless be considered here, if only in part, as a kind of supplement to the and texts to be examined, is The Saying of Anaximander of Beings, Heidegger writes in The Saying of Anaximander, come into their own as cast into errancy [sind] in die Irre ereignet ; and errdom a coinage to correspond here to Heideggers usage of the German Irrtum is instituted by being itself as the essential domain of history. Beings crave abiding presence or the constancy of continued existence,81 and they do so insofar as they are released into errancy.

    In answering this question, Heidegger interprets Anaximanders notion of to; crewvn as the oldest name in which thinking brings being to language. If presencing then happens in accordance with kata; to; crewvn, it accords with the relational draw Beziehung by which being both releases and claims what comes to presence. Heidegger finds this thought of to; crewvn, which although in a still inchoate way thinks being and beings in their differing, akin to the thought of Moira, the One, and logos in the thought of Parmenides and of Heraclitus, and he also hears its resonance in the Platonic notion of idea and in Aristotles energeia.

    If the experience of being articulated here is tragic in an essential sense, it might seem that Heideggers understanding of the tragic has come to repudiate the ethical domain of action or of human destiny. This appearance, however, is superficial; for an oblivion of the differing within manifestationthe differing that the tragic thought of being seeks to bring to languageis, for Heidegger, at the root of the rampant totalization which he discusses as the single will to conquer and as the errant confusion or Wirre that afflicts contemporary world history.

    It may seem somewhat surprising to turn, in this context, to Reiner Schrmann as a late-twentieth-century theorist of the tragic and tragedy given that, in Des hgmonies brises, he dismisses Hlderlin rather summarily as a thinker who fails to recognize tragic singularization or the conflictual character of presencing; and he does so on the basis of little more than a brief and casually interpreted quotation. More importantly, tragedy retains, for Schrmann, its contemporary philosophical relevance, so that his work constitutes, in this respect, an answer to a question Simon Sparks raises with reference to Walter Benjamins view that tragedy has reached its epochal closure.

    Can one.