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Tony Grist

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The Death Of Tragedy [May. 31st, 2008|04:29 pm]
Tony Grist

We don't write tragedies anymore, even though we still write comedies.

We've handed the word "tragedy" over to the journalists for them to kick about.

When was the last time a serious writer wrote a serious play entitled "The Tragedy of X" or "X, A Tragedy"?

I'll bet it wasn't any later than 1920.

George Steiner has a book- which I haven't read- called The Death of Tragedy.  He says we  no longer write tragedy because we no longer possess a coherent religious or metaphysical world view. 


We're talking linguistic fashion not cultural shift. It's about a word dropping out of use.

We find the word "tragedy" pretentious, hi-falutin, embarrassing, devalued-

Probably because the canonical tragedies (The Greeks, Shakespeare, Corneille and Racine) are about kings and heroes- and- for all sorts of good historical and cultural reasons- we no longer believe in such cannaille

But we still produce dramas in which poor saps come an inevitable cropper. 

Dramas that move us to tears- that provoke emotional catharsis.

Isn't Brokeback Mountain a tragedy in all but name? 

And what's in a name?


[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-05-31 05:03 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I don't find the word "tragedy" embarrassing, but much like the word "love" it has become devalued in society, largely due to the media's overuse of it to attract and maintain viewer interest. "Crisis" is another one that's lost a lot of its impact.

Maybe media fatigue is responsible for us being so conditioned to see to real life as being one tragedy after another that we really don't have patience for the term in fiction anymore?
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[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2008-05-31 07:55 pm (UTC)
That occurred to me yesterday, glancing at the newspaper and wondering, "Why does everything have to be a 'crisis' these days?"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-31 08:02 pm (UTC)
The media have debased the language. They speak almost entirely in cliches. And eveything is overstated. "Unimaginable horror", "worst nightmare", "tragedy".
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-05-31 09:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, here in the States we are currently in the throes of a "housing market disaster", a "gas crisis", and an "economic nightmare". This is over and above the wars and natural disasters the media loves to talk about over and over.

It's gotten to where I need a nightlight and teddy bear for waking life, and look forward to the comparative comfort of my dreamlife boogey-men.
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[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2008-05-31 09:55 pm (UTC)
If I were a newspaper editor, I would use headlines like,

Mild Tragedy...
Credible Horror...
Minor Calamity...
Slight Disaster...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-01 10:08 am (UTC)
That would be sweet. :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-31 07:57 pm (UTC)
I have a feeling that WWI had something to do with it. Suffering and death on the scale it offered us- close-up- with every community in Britain affected by it- rather spoiled us for the heartbreaking story of a man who kills his wife because of a mix-up over a handerchief. If Othello is a tragedy, then what do you call the Battle of the Somme?
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From: ext_100436
2008-05-31 09:08 pm (UTC)
All the while I was reading your post I was thinking...hang about, what about Brokeback Mountain?

And you're right, of course it's a tragedy.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-01 10:10 am (UTC)
Lots of movies are tragedies. Citizen Kane is a tragedy, The Godfather trilogy is a tragedy. We just shy away from using the word.
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-06-01 02:16 pm (UTC)
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg x Peter Nichols - 1967
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-02 08:50 am (UTC)
I only know it by reputation but I'm sure you're right.
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