Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tragedy part 2 continued...

If we really wanted to make this interesting, we could give our madman a weapon of mass destruction. He could tell you that if you refuse to choose, then he shall destroy the entire world together with all humanity and human culture. If we allow this, then you place yourself in a Christ-like position, as savior of the world, if you choose, at the price of taking sin upon yourself (for it is said that Christ literally became sin taking upon himself all the sins of all mankind, past present and yet to be born).

Now remember, Oedipus hears a prophecy that he shall kill his father and marry his mother, and when he discovers that it has come to pass, he puts out his own eyes.

One instructive assignment would be for you to write this as a story, and compose the dialogue which transpires between parent and child.

Sometimes, life itself is our cruel captor, forcing upon us terrible choices. Consider the expectant mother who is told that her fetus is seriously abnormal and the child will be born into a dreadful, pointless life of suffering and misery. You are then offered the choice of terminating the pregnancy or giving birth to the child.

I personally knew a man in his eighties who was diagnosed with cancer. He had the choice of undergoing very uncomfortable chemo and radiation therapy, in the hope that he might gain several extra years of life. He chose instead to take his one year of life expectancy, in relative comfort. During that year, he was able to do a little traveling, eat well, take a drink or two.

While you are pondering your predicament with your madman, I will now tell you what Milan Kundera says about Oedipus.

Originally Posted by The Unbearable Lightness of Being (TUL0B)- page 177

Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiently that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.
I am always mindful of Socrates point that no person willingly desires what is bad. Everyone by nature desires what they deem to be good (even madmen).

I am also always aware of Plato's Euthyphro problem: "Is the good good, ipso facto, by fiat, simply because God loves it, OR is there something objective, some inherent quality, in the nature of Goodness that inspires God to choose it. God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Sarah asks Abraham to father Ishmael. Madmen try to play God, but God never plays the role of madman.

Another movie I am going to suggest for consideration in this exploration of tragedy is Indecent Proposal. I shall mention more about that movie later, and it will be a SPOILER, so, forewarned is forearmed.

Originally Posted by Did they really know
TULOB page 176 -

Then everyone took to shouting at the Communists; You're the ones responsible for our country's misfortunes...

And the accused responded: We didn't know! We ere deceived! We were true believers! Deep in our hearts we are innocent!

In the end, the dispute narrowed down to a single question: Did they really not know or were they merely making believe?


Is a fool on a throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?


It was in this connection that Tomas recalled the tale of Oedipus:

Oedipus did not know he was sleeping with his own mother, yet when he realized what had happened, he did not feel innocent. Unable to stand the sight of the misfortunes he had wrought by "not knowing," he put out his eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes.

When Tomas heard Communists shouting in defense of their inner purity, he said to himself, As a result of your "not knowing," this country has lost its freedom, lost it for centuries, perhaps, and you shout that you feel no guilt? How can you stand the signt of what you've done? How is it you aren't horrified? Have you no eyes to see? If you had eyes you would have to put them out and wander away from Thebes!

The analogy so pleased him that he often used it in conversation with friends, and his formulation grew increasingly precise and eloquent.

I will now turn to what Milan Kundera says about Oedipus in The Art of the Novel

Afterwards, I will try to gather my thoughts and bring some of this to bear upon our original question regarding the nature of Tragedy (ancient, Elizabethan, and modern) and the connection between Tragedy and Deity, fate, destiny, predistination, necessity, chance and freewill choice.

Since each post is limited in string length to something like 100,000 characters, I shall continue this in a new post.

(continued as post #14 "The Art of the Novel" - Milan Kundera below)

Curiosity as the highest insubordination

Aren't you slightly curious about what Kundera has to say, and where this inquiry might lead in the minds of various readers who take up the challenge? My suspicion is that it could be quite rewarding for some, say Mono.

But the secret to success is to hold our judgment in abeyance and not jump upon one detail in isolation and make some judgment or pronouncement regarding it. We must try to see the forest for the trees, and not commence to chopping wildly at the first tree we encounter which does not suit our fancy.

Even if it is the case that what I write each day is wrong or foolish or in bad taste, at least I make an extreme effort each and every day of my life to think hard and write hard and at least try to come up with something new. There must surely be some socially redeeming merit, earning me an "A" for effort, if nothing else. And when we crawl out on that limb, ever day, trying to come up with something new, we face criticism from many. It is a risky business to try and be original. But, at least, it is a business, if only monkey-business. It is preferable to idleness and burying our one talent in the sand, like that fellow in the parable.

Perhaps, one day, there shall be a mighty Judgment Day in cyberspace, and a virtual Shakespeare or Socrates will float down from heaven, click on our profiles, one by one, and sort each and every post in the scales of a balance, the worthwhile and interesting on the right, and the vacuous and trivial on the left. And on that fearful day, shall we see those ill-fated words "You have been weighted and found wanting" being traced by some divine finger upon our monitor?

Here we are, arch-enemies, dueling in cyberspace with our light-sabers. The fate of the entire universe is at stake! But which of us is Darth Vader? The real key to victory does not lie in chopping off one hand, because the cyborg surgeons just sew on a new, better hand. Anyone who feels like it may post in this thread, and single out one sentence or paragraph or comment, and disagree with it, and disagree violently. But the real victory will not be for someone to take their hachet and chop down one tree in the forest, and fashion it into a fancy coffee table. The real victory will be with the person who posts one single link. And that link will point to their entire work, where they do it right, the way Sitaram should have done it but failed, analyzing tragedy and fate and necessity and freewill from ancient to modern times, in one breathtaking night of power where we soar up to the highest heaven of heavens and bargain with Moses, and soar down to the lowest hell to learn unspeakable mysteries. Yes, imagination is the highest form of blasphemy. But I shall share in their victory, for my poor thoughts and failures will have served as their jumping-board of inspiration.

This is kind of a fun thread, is it not? We allow our minds freedom to wander far and wide over many things.

But then, Nabokov warns us that "Curiosity is the highest form of insubordination."

Mono, what do you say, since you are in on this.... shall we continue with our inquiry and allow our minds to range freely over the centuries, over all the many volumes in Borges "Library of Babel", or... is this curiosity of ours too insubordinate?

I will grant you that my what-if scenario does not fit the classical definition of Tragedy, and I do not claim that it has the makings of a literary masterpiece. It is an exercise, to get people to think long and hard about what is really important to them. Even silly mental exercises can lead to profound results, occasionally. As a teenager, Einstein imagined himself riding on a beam of light. Some people might see that as preposterous. But somehow, his armchair experiment led him to his more serious theories.

I just did a google search on : "sophie's choice" tragedy 

and I come up with over two thousand links where people have chosen to speak of it as a tragedy. Perhaps it is not a tragedy by classical definition, but nevertheless a number of people have used the words tragedy to describe it, and you must admit, my example bears more than a little resemblance to the scenario in "Sophie's Choice". My example, by design, bears some resemblance to Oedipus, since it involve incest and self-inflicted blindness, and murder (patricide), if you add in the option of world destruction.

Perhaps the tragedy of Tragedy itself is that it has evolved into something second-rate for the general consumer public. Music becomes Muzak. 

Which work do you feel most worthy to be called a modern Tragedy? I am sure there are several worthwhile candidates to consider. Perhaps Death of a Salesman

Which movie in the past 50 or so years comes close to a classic definition of tragedy (and no fare citing movie version of Shakespeare or Sophocles)?

After all, this is just a thread, not stone tablets coming down from Mt. Sinai. We are just having some fun, at least I am.

These posts get into the search engines and potentially attract a wide audience of readers. Even poor posts of foolishness, like mine for example, can be good showmanship in the sense that they lure unsuspecting readers with poor taste to the forum, but then, little by little, they wake up to the foolishness of what I write, and move on to be genuinely educated by the posts of the truly knowledgeable. Think of it as Plato's Noble Lie, which ultimately makes good citizens out of everyone.

"The Art of the Novel" - Milan Kundera

(a continuation of Milan Kundera on Tragedy from post # 11 above)

We have seen what Milan Kundera says about Oedipus in The Unbearable Lightness of Being(TULOB). 

Oedipus is a figure who becomes aware of his crime and then seeks his own punishment of self-inflicted blindness.

Now, let us look at what he says about crime and its punishment in The Art of the Novel (TAOTN).

Kundera discusses the Comic and the Tragic in the world of Kafka.

We may see Kafka as that elusive fellow which Socrates spoke of in the Symposium, the one who is master of both Comedy and Tragedy.

Originally Posted by The Art of the Novel, Part 5 "Somewhere Behind" - page 106

(In The Castle) it is a small consolation to the engineer to know that his story is comic. He is trapped in the joke of his own life like a fish in a bowl; he doesn't find it funny. Indeed, a joke is a joke only if you are outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside, into the guts of the joke, into the horror of the comic.

In the world of the Kafkan, the comic is not a counterpoint to the tragic as in Shakespeare; it's not there to make the tragic more bearable by lightening the tone; it doesn't accompany the tragic, (the Comic) destroys (and annihilates the Tragic) in the egg (while it is still inchoate and nascent) and thus deprives the victims of the only consolation to be found in the (real or supposed) grandeur of tragedy. The engineer looses his homeland and every body laughs.

(Sitaram experiments with adding a soundtrack of applause and laughter to Silence of the Lambs)

Originally Posted by TAotN, Part 5 "Somewhere Behind" - page 105

Raskolnikov cannot bear the weight of his guilt, and to find peace he consents to his own punishment of his own free will.

In Kafka, the logic is reversed. The person punished does not know the reason for the punishment. The absurdity of the punishment is so unbearable that to find peace the accused needs to find a justification for his penalty: the punishment seeks the offense.


Originally Posted by The Bible as Shakespeare before Shakespeare

David Zane Mairowitz: Well of course Jews in Prague at that time are Jews anywhere in Eastern Europe at that time who were always considered to be the outsiders and did not have all the rights that non-Jews had, and couldn't work wherever they wanted and so on. And for someone like Kafka, who immediately accepts the moral judgement of society against himself, if somebody points to him on the street and said, 'Dirty Jew', instead of defending himself, he takes that upon himself. One thing we know about Kafka is that he was always fascinated by animals. You find animals in his stories all the time. Of course he transforms himself into a cockroach and a dog, and a mouse, and so on. And a lot of this has to do with real epithets that were used against Jews at that time on the streets. Someone would see a Jew and say, 'You dirty dog', or 'You're nothing more than a cockroach', or something like that. For Kafka, this became a kind of literal condemnation which he accepted into himself. OK. 'You point a finger at me and call me a dog, the next thing I have to write is a story about a dog,' in which a dog has human qualities; or he transforms himself into a cockroach. A lot of this has to do with the anti-Semitism that was absolutely rampant all around him at the time.


the mythical Bible, that is, the (Old Testament) is a huge book of stories where man is ... totally rotten, it's not at all like the New Testament. In the Bible you see no-one is saved, the (essential nature of man) is to fail, to be evil; David is an adulterer... So I think Kafka knows about that but he has the freedom that Jews have (this is my opinion of course, it's not at all something that I can theorise in a way that would be orthodox). I think there's a kind of freedom that Jews have because there's no dogma. You know, the Bible is Shakespeare before Shakespeare; it's just a mass of Macbeths, of King Lears, of Richard IIIs, but it's a vision of mankind which is absolutely merciless, and so it's true to reality. So I think that it gives Jews the freedom to look at human beings as being tempted. They're tempted beings. They're not saved, they're tempted.


Originally Posted by Abandonment - Blanchot:

The tragic heroine is thrown against necessity; she is abandoned to what she cannot know and cannot determine. Freedom, necessity: the former breaks against the latter. The grandeur of tragedy lies in her rebellion. She is dashed to pieces - but for a time, she brought herself into a splendid freedom. 

Hamlet is a mutation of the violent revenge tragedy, a play focused on dilemma and not revenge. Its protagonist does not have the reassurance of the mastery of thought or of action; Hamlet vacillates – not because he is planning perfect actions; when he acts, he does so rashly and his actions miscarry. Nor is it to give him time to think for he allows thinking to fall back to that region where decision is impossible, to a madness of indecision, a yes-no without resolve. 

‘To be or not to be …’ Hamlet longs for death, but he fears hell; he will not take his life for fear of what will happen to him after death. But if he cannot make an alliance with death, he cannot live, either. He cannot open a path to resolute decision; he does solitary combat with the absurd. 


Hamlet ‘understands that the “not to be” is perhaps impossible and he can no longer master the absurd, even by suicide’. ‘Hamlet is precisely a lengthy testimony to this impossibility of assuming death’; ‘To be or not to be’ is a sudden awareness of this impossibility of annihilating oneself’. Hamlet cannot escape; to exist, not to exist are each as impossible as one another. In the third act of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet cries ‘I keep the power to die’; Hamlet does not have this power. Freedom does not triumph over fate, but is overwhelmed by it. 


What can be retrieved of Greek tragedy today? Schelling and Hölderlin understood each in his own way the fatedness of the tragic for our age. 

‘Our age’: but what does this mean? Schmidt, to whose excellent On Germans and Other Greeks I am indebted here, gives a clue: Kant argues that limits do not merely belong to human experience but are its condition; then it is possible to write what might be called a ‘tragedy of reason’. See the opening sentence of the first Critique with the reference to the ‘peculiar fate of reason’.

By the way, take a look at what L. James Hammond has to say about Tragedy and "the desire to die".


Oedipus' Tragic Choice

If you did choose to do the exercise of the "what-if" scenario, and if you chose self-inflicted blindness, then it seems to me that you choose to imitate Oedipus in his horror at the thought of incest. Why does Oedipus blind himself. Does Oedipus have a choice?

For me, the greatest tragedy in Oedipus is that he chose to blind himself when he could have chosen to get on with his life.

If I were in the what-if scenario, I would definitely choose incest over blindness, and if faced with the choice of blinding myself vs. the destruction of the human race, I hope I would have the courage to preserve the human race at any personal cost to myself.

Hamlet resists the temptation to harm himself, and in the end, he gains revenge and justice, even if it costs him his life.

There are honorable and valiant ways to sacrifice ourselves, and then there are tragic and selfish ways.

Is this a personal attack? I feel you are singling me out unfairly, and I think I have something to offer to many people. My "what if" scenario is hardly any different from the "Would you..." thread, and the "Have you ever thread..." except that mine has some useful purpose behind it, whereas those threads are motivated by amusement and idle curiosity. I posed the scenario to dramatize that Oedipus blinding himself is possibly of his own free will, and possibly the most tragic aspect of the drama, rather than the fated incest and patricide.

What I notice is that you never post anything positive towards me, but you do post things which seem negative or critical. Is it really the case that you personally feel that I contribute nothing worthwhile to anyone in what I write?

Your first post to this thread seems to be saying that I have "poor taste". If someone posted that their favorite novel is one that you dont care for, would you tell them they have poor taste. America is a nation that dines at McDonalds and watches sitcoms. Poor taste is not a crime, and perhaps to understand classic tragedy, we must see it in the context of the poor drama of today.

The Bible is about things like Lot impregnating his daughters, which is incest. And Oedipus is about incest and patricide. I am merely trying to explore via a "what if" scenario, what people would choose if their back is against the wall.

Obviously, you and I are not equals, for you have the power of a moderator, to ban, to delete, to lock threads. For that reason alone we cannot really argue as equals.
So why is it, since you have such power, that you sometimes exert yourself to stress your own tastes values and beliefs? Is that the function of a moderator. We didnt get along together in your monthly book club, so fine, I stay clear of that since that is your territory.

Am I in some violation of forum rules?

I do not inquire into your personal life, nor do I inquire into any other forum members personal life. It seems to me to constitute a form of ad hominem.

If I my contributions are not welcome here, then I would appreciate it if Admin or Logos would contact me and explain. 

But with all due respect, I do not feel that it is appropriate for any forum member to inquire into the age, gender, marital status, address or other personal information of another member.

If you want to punish me for standing up for what I feel are my rights of freedom of expression, then there is little I can do about it. But I feel that it is a loss to at least some forum members who have thanked me, if you single me out and make me feel unwanted and uncomfortable.

What more can I say?

Please explain why my gender or marital or parental status has anything to do with my posts. No one is forced to read my threads, and as Logos mentioned once, anyone is free to place a member on ignore. I have never tried that option.

I am trying to be fair and civil and respectful to others. So forgive my candor.

his entire thread has to do with Tragedy (ancient, elizabethan and modern) in relation to fate, destiny, predestination, necessity and freewill, and it arose because of my involvement with another thread in Sophocles.

It is perfectly reasonable for me to point to a modern work like "Sophies Choice" as an example of something we call "tragic". It is perfectly reasonable for me to pose a general what-if scenario to the general readers (which, by the way, is totally impersonal... I do not single out any individual and cross examine them).

In what sense to Sher's posts relate to the questions and problems raised in this thread? It seems to me that Scher is not even interesting in these issues. If someone has some profound point to make about tragedy, or fate, or necessity, or murder or incest, it seems to me that they should be able to do so without bringing it to a personal level.

I am a work now, but I would like to discuss these matter in a civil fashion at some later point in time. 

I have my reasons for feeling as I do, and I shall discuss them at a future point, if I am given that opportunity.

Thank you for your time and interest and giving me the benefit of the doubt.

I realized that it would be intellectually dishonest of me to pose the scenario and not answer it myself. So I did answer it. If it were EXACTLY as I posed it, I would choose incest over self-inflicted blindness because things like incest and rape scar emotionally, but CAN be overcome... whereas blindness or chopping off someones hand is permanent....

I think Oedipus made a mistake to blind himself rather that get up, dust himself off and move on...

I thing Jeremy Irons made a mistake to not pick up and move on....

I think the victims who survived the Holocaust who did not move on made a mistake, and rabbi Harold Kushner for one agrees with me, and offers cogent reasons.

People who choose suicide, based upon some religious belief, are tragic... I think it is closely related...

Whatever your problem... it is better to make the choice that allows for survival, for moving on...

Unless your choice means that the human race as we know it will end... in that case, it is tragic if you choose your personal health and survival over that of your species, or your nation.

Suicide bombers choose the "self-inflicted blindness" side of the coin every day, around the world, and see themselves as saints and martyrs. I cannot see the point of putting out your own eyes, when it won’t change the past. And I cannot see living in a room like Jeremy Irons, staring at a photo day after day, when the deed is done.

I realize this will come as a shock to all of you (and you will think I am making this up) but there is actually a major religion in which the holiest prophet marries a 6 year old and consummates the marriage when she is nine (but this is not pedophilia by any stretch of the imagination) and that same prophet receives a divine command, from on high, that his adopted son should divorce his wife, so that the the father might marry her (but by no stretch of the imagination is this incest.) My mistake is not turning to religion to learn good, wholesome family values. Hey, fair is fair. If you are going to step forward as a model for how everyone should think and feel and impose that upon me and every else, then it is only fair that I hold up for everyone to see the culture and heritage and values which produced such a fine moral specimen. Woah! And while we are on the topic of divinely revealed scriptures. What did old daddy Lot do in Sodom and Gomorrah when the sodomites came to abuse his two guests? I will TELL you what daddy Lot did. He said "I have a young daughter here, and I will give her to you to do with as you like. Only do not harm these guests." Hmmm... now how do you fit that into your reasoning about what decision parents make?! I would be interested to see how you wriggle out of this one! And Lot was the ONLY ONE to escape, with his two daughters, from the destruction. Ah, but then those wrong doing kaffirs have corrupted the scriptures. We really should keep our distance from that can of worms.

You know, anyone with even the smallest smidgen of intellectual honesty, reading the above paragraph, would concede that I have really put a totally different spin on this whole issue.

And as for Schers remark that "this is no game thread", well... I am a bit confused. You mean it is "OK" for this forum to have threads where people gratuitously gossip about drug experimentation and adultery, for no purpose other than idle amusement.... thats OK, BUT ... If you are discussing literary works where the topic is drug addiction, or incest, or rape, or pedophilia, and such points WOULD NOT be gratuitous, but would have some conceivable socially redeeming value, .. why then it is "NOT OK"... Er? How do you figure all that?

And I am glad you know me so well that you can say what a good description of me is. I guess ad hominem is something that one only gradually outgrows.

Of course, Jesus said it is better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand, than to go to perdition, which is probably why we see so many one-eyed fundamentalists.

I suppose the real value of this thread will be to analyze me. I am sure there are many who feel eminently qualified.

Well, I can’t fight city hall. Sorry to have bother you all. I shall post no further in this thread.

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