Talk: EARN15: Tragedy and Enlightenment (2016/10/12)

Poster:Betty TengPost date:2016-09-30
 Time: October 12, 2016   14:10-16:00

Venue: Research Building, Rm 250106

Title: "Tragedy and Enlightenment"

Speaker: Dr. Michael Chayut (Independent Scholar)

Chair: Dr. Shun-liang Chao (Department of English, NCCU)



Tragedy and Enlightenment are constitutive of Western culture and its heritage. Both are the most intensively discussed subjects in cultural studies and the humanities (along with myth and religion). My approach is historicist. I submit that the answer to the question: 'What is Tragedy?' lies in its history. I will show that in both occasions where tragedy assumed its pivotal unique form, history entered tragedy and shaped its plot, social role and development. For tragedy to be possible it must have a tragic audience. What was this audience? Why was the duration of tragedy and its special audience so short? I will argue that tragedy always arose in those rare periods (only two: fifth century BC Athens and Elizabethan and Jacobean England) which involved an unprecedented and pivotal transition from barbarism (symbolized for the Greek case by the Sphinx in the fifth century BC emblem reproduced in my poster) to Enlightenment (for which Oedipus stands in Greek tragedy). I also argue that tragedy and Enlightenment are mutually exclusive. For the case of Greek tragedy I will discuss Sophocles' Theban tragedies seen through insights derived from Nietzsche, Hegel and modern scholarship. For the case of English tragedy I will discuss mainly King Lear and Hamlet, using insights derived mainly from Foucault, Schmitt, Benjamin and modern scholarship. Greek tragedy ended in an anti-tragic Greek Enlightenment, symbolized for Nietzsche (in The Birth of Tragedy and Twilight of the Idols) - as well as for Hegel- in Socrates and Socratism (this was-according to both thinkers, and much modern scholarship,  the crime of Oedipus). English tragedy ended with the civil wars of the 1630s. With the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 and its aftermath, the age of collective empiricism (the establishment of the Royal Society in 1662) and early Enlightenment, there was an anti-tragic reaction and sentiment.



Dr Chayut completed a PhD in Chemical Physics at the Fritz-Haber Center for Molecular Dynamics at the Hebrew University, Israel, and was a postdoc in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He's taught at Hebrew University and Tel-Aviv University and published on the history and philosophy of science in journals such as The Journal of Physics and History of European Ideas


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