Tuesday, 20 December 2011


To pick out a phrase from yesterday's post: le dieu caché. This, of course, is Lucien Goldmann's phrase, and the title of his study of Pascal and Racine.  It's worth thinking a little more about it.  Because 'hidden' is a passive, we perhaps need something else (autocached, perhaps) for a secret that is folded away into the interstices of things by itself.

Goldmann isn't very interested in this, of course; he's more concerned to frame the debate as to whether tragedy is possible in a century dominated by one of two fundamentally 'optimistic' world-views: Communism and Christianity:
Each of these three doctrines—rationalism, hedonism and tragic vision—is basically individualistic, the third even more so than the others since it defines man in terms of his absolute but impossible demand for transcendence … Other doctrines, whether that of Augustinian Christianity or that of dialectical materialism, change the very position of the problem by replacing the question What ought I to do? by the essentially different one of How ought I to live? [263-4)
That distinction looks pretty superfine to me, but perhaps I'm missing something.

For Goldmann, man becomes aware of tragedy when he ‘suddenly becomes aware, by a movement which, strictly speaking, is outside time, of the contradiction between the imperfect values of man and the world and the perfection of those to be found in God.’ Attempts to reconcile this problematic—as, for instance, the rationalist might insist that this world can be made perfect, or the Romantic might hope to retreat from the world into art—are wrongheaded. We must, it seems, live in the world, with all its suffering and horrors.
For if we refuse the world absolutely and unilaterally then we deprive it of any possible meaning, and reduce it to the level of an abstract anonymous obstacle, without form or qualities. Only an attitude which places itself within the world in order to refuse the world can, without abandoning anything of the absolute character of this refusal, still allow tragic man to know the world on which he passes judgment and thus justify his refusal of it by keeping his reasons for doing so constantly in mind. [18]
The tragic man robbed of community is reduced to soliloquy, or to talking to God who doesn’t talk back: indeed, that God can be both absent and present is what Goldmann means by calling him ‘hidden’: ‘at the very moment that God appears to man, then man ceases to be tragic. To see and hear God is to go beyond tragedy.’

Still, I'm minded to challenge the notion that Christianity is 'optimistic'. I can see that as a description of Islam, or Judaism (whose messiah is still to come). But surely Christianity its precisely about the revelation not of God so much, as of the fact that God can suffer pain and die (or at least, that Deity is not immune to suffering and death, and these things are part of the divine as of the mortal realm) -- that God is not in our future, but in our past; that we are belated. If this isn't tragic, I don't know what is. More, it is precisely the collective aspect that makes it tragic. It says: this is how things are for all. The indvidualist at least has the satisfaction of thinking: 'when this suffering is over for me, it is over.'

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