Sunday, 25 March 2007

The puerile-tragic

In a letter to Hegel from the mid 1790s, Schelling writes: "the real difference between critical and dogmatic philosophy appears to be that the former proceeds from the absolute I (which has yet to be conditioned by the object), while the latter proceeds from the absolute object of non-I." This is where Peter Szondi starts his discussion of the philosophy of the tragic, with Schelling pondering the two choices that proceed from this: either taking the absolute as the object of one's knowledge and "paying the price of absolute passivity", or else positing everything in the subject and negating everything in the object, "the striving for immutable selfhood, unconditional freedom and unbounded activity". Schelling rejects both possibilities in favour of a third: "you are right," another letter begins, "one thing still remains--to know that there is an objective power which threatens to destroy our freedom and, with this firm and certain conviction in our hearts, to fight against it, to summon up all our freedom and thus to perish.". "And yet," Szondi adds, "as though shrinking from the recognition of the objective, the young Schelling permits this struggle only in tragic art, not in life."

This willed resistance against the overwhelming force of the Absolute Other, when the Other is God, or Fate, or Necessity or suchlike, produces the sort of tragedy that Schelling and Szondi like. But when this Absolute is "the tragic" itself ... when, for instance, it is the notion of human dignity obtained by willed resistance against overwhelming force ... then it is precisely the undignified, the sardonic, the idiotic and contemptible, the willed juvenility of opposition that occupies this privileged position. This is the space of the tragic today: the puerile tragic.

1 comment:

Rich Puchalsky said...

Hi Adam,

I'll see if Google Account commenting works.

I think that you're on to something here. I've been re-reading both Frankenstein and The Anxiety of Influence, and both are highly invested in Milton's Satan as analogy for the writer -- tragedy as heroic struggle as in your first paragraph. That makes the writer out to be much more a hero and leader than writers really are, though, as opposed to how they would like to be.

Somehow, yes, when the struggle is against the absolute "notion of human dignity obtained by willed resistance against overwhelming force" -- it necessarily becomes juvenile, since that is the stage of development at which this attitude predominates in person-to-person interaction.

This is yet another reason why I like demiurge theory, which I know I'm an awful bore about but which I'm clearly going to keep rechewing until I write something more solid about it. The demiurge isn't a hero, like Milton's Satan. He's a flawed builder or maker. The struggle then has some of the same characteristics -- one can't "win", since no one can write the perfect text, no one can be perfectly free in one's creation, so in a sense it is a struggle against overwhelming force -- but the struggle is against oneself to a large degree.