Tragedy as Philosophy



About the Summer School

A seminar with Simon CritchleyAugust 2-9, 2014

Next summer’s Tilburg Philosophy Summer School will explore the relation between philosophy and tragedy in particular and philosophy, drama and aesthetics more generally.

My orienting claim will be that philosophy, as a discursive invention, beginning with Plato, but extending along the millennia into the present, is premised upon the exclusion of tragedy and the exclusion of a range of experiences and affects that we can call tragic. The view I will try and develop in daily lectures will be that this exclusion of tragedy is, itself, tragic, and this is perhaps philosophy’s tragedy. I want to defend tragedy against philosophy, or, perhaps better said, argue that tragedy articulates a philosophical view that challenges the authority of philosophy.

My general question is the following: what if we took seriously the form of thinking – we could call it adversarial, conflictual or dialectical – that we find in Greek tragedy, and the experience of partial agency, limited autonomy, agonistic conflict, gender confusion, moral ambiguity, and deep traumatic affect that it presents? How might that change the way we think and the way we think about thinking? Might that be tragedy’s philosophy as an alternative to philosophy’s tragedy? Might that be what Nietzsche meant when he described himself as the first “tragic philosopher”?

In addition to the texts of Attic tragedy (with a particularly obsessive emphasis on Euripides) and Gorgias (who will emerge as a kind of hero in the seminar), we will read selections from Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Schelling, Nietzsche, and Heidegger before turning to more recent articulations of tragedy in Jean-Pierre Vernant, Bernard Williams, Terry Eagleton, Judith Butler, Anne Carson, and Bonnie Honig.

Students with an interest in the history of philosophy, drama (tragedy, comedy and its other genres, ancient and modern), aesthetics, psychoanalysis and political theory are welcome to apply.