Destruction of the Supremely Human


Traditionally, tragedy presents a conflict between a man of ‘high estate,’ who expands our sense of human greatness by suggesting that humanity, confronting the chaos that typically marks the tragic world, can find within itself a new order for life and a nonhuman force that finally insists upon the limits to humanity’s knowledge and power […] But out of the destructive confrontation between man’s assertion of his own order and the re-imposition of an extra-human and perhaps inhuman order arises an expanded sense of both man’s power and of the forces that exceed it. Traditional tragedy, then, seems to lie in a tense balance between free will and fate, the destruction of the supremely human and the revelation of a divine order.

Jeffrey Cox, from Companion to Tragedy

Tragedy occurs when two antagonistic forms of energy encounter each other’s force in such a way that the hierarchies which hold them in place undergo radical disturbance.

John Drakakis and Naomi Liebler, from Tragedy  

[In tragedy] the renewal of life, the restoring and reaffirming of common meanings, is not necessarily a cynically recuperative gesture. Nor need it involve pushing the hero’s agony off-stage. It also represents a political hope and a sense of continuing collective life, a capacity for faith even at the darkest of historical moments, which transcends any mere individualist fixation on the protagonist.  

Terry Eagleton, from Sweet Violence

The fundamental struggle [of tragedy] is to wrest meaning from suffering, and the perennial question of tragic pleasure – the exaltation that accompanies the witnessing of awful events – can be related to tragedy’s affirmation, despite everything, of both cosmic and social orders against the unknown and against all those “others” that threaten stability. But tragedy is always raising questions about those very foundational assumptions, even as its form tends to their resolution.

Peter Burian, from “The Shaping of Tragic Plots

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