Germanic Languages | Literature & Culture: Special Topics
G625 | 16659 | F. Breithaupt

Topics: The Disappearance of the Tragic

Whereas the loss of quite a few literary forms and genres has been
duly noted, the large scale shift and disappearance of „the tragic“ in
the past century deserves special attention. Like few other genres,
„the tragic“ shaped both one of the most dominant literary genres
(tragedy) and an experience of life (“c’est une tragédie...“). To be
sure, the tragic is still accessible today, though it’s significance
has greatly diminished. Why? And what are the implications? Since the
tragic is connected with a range of elements, such as the heroic, the
strong sentiment, and selfhood, we will need to ask how these have
been affected, as well.

To reach this question we will study tragedy in its heydays in
antiquity and, mainly, the literary period that begins with
Shakespeare and ends with Romanticism.
Sociologically, we may ask to which degree „the tragic“ was connected
with aristocratic political regimes and war experience. Culturally, we
will question the changes of selfhood. Aesthetically, we will wonder
which form of experiences has been connected to tragedy. Cognitively,
we will examine how tragedies channeled and thereby shaped empathy.

In particular, we will aim to gain an understanding of two central
attempts to define tragedy: Aristotle’s Poetics and German Idealist
Philosophy (Hölderlin, Schelling, Hegel). We will discuss a range of
tragedies by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Schiller, Kleist, Hebbel and
Hofmannsthal (the final selection will be determined by the entire
class). And we will also include recent attempts to define or
contextualize the tragic.

Participants should acquire the following longer texts:

Aristotle, Poetics
Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik (Lectures on Aesthetics), Vol 3.
Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie (Birth of Tradegy)

Suggested readings include also:

Peter Szondi, Poetik der Tragödie
Vivasvan Soni, “Trials and Tragedies”
Ph. Lacoue-Labarthe, “Caesura of the Speculatif”