Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us

Simon Critchley. Pantheon, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4794-7
New School philosophy professor Critchley (What We Think About When We Think About Soccer) takes on ancient Greek tragedy’s philosophical implications in this dense, demanding study. A self-described “non-classicist,” Critchley finds in the classical form a bracing alternative to his own discipline. If philosophy is rational and sensible, then tragedy plays are ambiguous, “giving voice to what is contradictory about us... and what is limited about us.” Informing readers unfamiliar with classical literature that in ancient Greek plays “tragedy requires some degree of complicity on our part,” he points to the “highest exemplar of tragedy,” Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, in which the protagonist, seeking to defy a prophecy that he will commit patricide and incest, unknowingly commits both. In this way, the play shows how “we both know and don’t know at one and the same time,” and how free will allows people to follow a preordained fate. These aren’t easy ideas, and this book is not one to be read casually. In his acknowledgments, Critchley writes of initially exploring his ideas in lectures and conversations, an exploratory process evident throughout this intelligent, rigorous book. Dedicated readers will have the sense of being at a thoughtful scholar’s side as he works through an intractable intellectual problem. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/05/2019
Release date: 04/16/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-525-56464-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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