Teaching in the face of tragedy

Terrible human tragedy surrounds us, be it in Ukraine, UvaldeIts intersection Casein Drive and Quintana Southwest San Antonio or North Water Street and East Junau Avenue in Milwaukee or the road near the house.

I would like to suggest here that those of you who are humanitarians consider teaching about tragedy, although I acknowledge that such a subject can create a sense of trauma in students who have been subjected to horrific episodes of abuse, violence, assault, torture and loss.

We should study tragedy because it is not therapeutic, because it does not bring catharsis, but because it will give rise to empathy and sympathy and because no other subject helps us to better understand our human condition or human character and how some people mean survival and Found inner strength. In the face of pain, suffering and sorrow.

Whether you are a historian, an art or literary critic or theorist, a philosopher or a religious scholar, consider wrestling with human tragedy in your class and the ways artists, playwrights, novelists, philosophers, theologians and others have imagined it. , Illustrated, explained, and tragedy explained.

Survive long, and I suspect that all people go through tragedy: excruciating pain, irresistible pain, and traumatic loss.

It is not an accident that many great works of literature in the world are tragedies. Some describe a version of the fall and expulsion of mankind from Eden. Others are stories of tragic heroes, powerful and often admirable personalities whose suffering grows out of judgment error, ignorance or arrogance. Then there is the deeper tragedy where misfortune grows from opposing notions of rights, duties or justice.

The reversal of fate, which grows out of fate or the jokes of the gods, is the focus of many literary tragedies. As Bird of Stratford wrote LearThe saddest of Shakespearean tragedies: “Like flies to helpless boys we are to the gods, they kill us for their sport.”

Modern literature focuses less on the fall of the elite than on everyday tragedies: hope shattered, illusions shattered, dreams rejected, love betrayed and bonds of family or friendship, sometimes a little more than accidents or mundane characters. Errors such as arrogance, greed, cowardice, jealousy, hatred, delusion or selfishness.

These democratic tragedies do not occur among the powerful, but rather between ordinary women and men and often take them as subtext, such as the tragic romance of 1957, An Affair to Remember, which may not have intervened in the tragedy.

The essence of the tragedy, in such works, lies in imperfect imagination, imperfect hope, and possible unreal. In contrast to the great ancient Greek tragedy, tragedy, suffering and loss do not compensate for knowledge or self-understanding or awareness of one’s own inner strength or for a kind of immortality in the case of Oedipus or Antigone.

All that remains is a Darwinian or existentialist message about the chaos of nature and its lack of meaning or purpose. This leaves the victims of the tragedy with only pain and frustration.

Often, as in naturalistic novels, personal misery is attributed less to personal weakness or defective character than to some inevitable force – heredity, for example, or the work of nature or capitalism. A mechanical determinism and an extreme pessimism characterize these works. In the face of such irresistible power, the only appropriate response is condemnation, resignation, inaction or destiny.

Some tragedies are intensely personal, others are collective and are caused by war, displacement, inequality, or natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, or forest fires, or slowly, such as droughts, deforestation, or desertification.

Tragic loss to even the most privileged experience. We all mourn, we all mourn, we all weep, we all weep. But it goes without saying that all tragedies are created equally. Yet, it reminds us that nothing, not our wealth and savings, but our dignity or virtues can keep us away from tragedy.

Many of the most famous quotes about tragedy are satirical or tragic. Oscar Wilde has a sneer Lady Windmeier Fan: “There are only two tragedies. One is not getting what he wants, and the other is getting it. ”

Then there are almost repeated phrases almost sure misattributed To the poet William Butler Yeats: “Being Irish, he had a lasting feeling of tragedy, which kept him in a state of temporary joy.”

Or f. A line blaming Scott Fitzgerald: “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

The main topic of popular psychology is the advice to overcome tragedy. These works usually reaffirm the Stoic belief that adversity gives rise to energy, often exacerbated by the Christian notion of suffering aristocracy.

Americans, we are sometimes told, especially those who are allergic to tragedy, find out, yes, American. William Dean Howells said that “what the American public wants in theater is a tragedy with a happy ending.”

How, as Henry James observed in his study of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s biography, Americans can truly realize the tragedy in a country where “manor, no old country-house, no personage, no straw hut or ivy ruins; no cathedral, no abbey, No small Norman churches; no great universities or public schools কোন no Oxford, no Eaton, no Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sports classes … ”

Are Americans the enemy for tragedy?

That’s according to Hal Brands and Charles, professors of global affairs at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. AdeleA senior fellow at the Center for United States Studies at the University of Sydney, argued in an important, yet neglected article, published in 2017, before the epidemic, cultural conflict over racial discrimination and the war in Ukraine.

Entitled “The End of History is the Birth of History,” the essay contains prophetic words: “Americans have forgotten that global historical tragedies are real. They will soon receive a reminder.”

That, of course, was the message sent by Christian The realist Reinhold Nebuchadnezzar (and, in a different, deeply satirical form of Henry Kissinger’s principled realism) even called Nebuchadnezzar the arrogance and hypocrisy of American foreign policy and rejected any illusion of American innocence and virtue. The great ethicist and theologian has reaffirmed the nation’s historic mission to protect and expand democratic values ​​in a fallen, conflict-prone world.

Critics of Nibuhr have portrayed him as a liberal in the Cold War, even a pioneer of later neo-conservatives, believing that the world’s evils could not be attributed primarily to the environment or the economy and to his will (in some cases, but not in Vietnam). The ability to promote an American hegemony world. But that view is certainly confusing. After all, Nibuhar was a social worker and a staunch advocate of labor rights and civil rights and a staunch enemy of anti-Semitism.

Brand and Adele Arguing that the American elite, in the context of World War II, understood the reality of the tragedy and, recognizing how tragic the breakdown of the world order could be, took aggressive steps to build a new rights-based international system. But, the authors insist, “Americans are serial AmnesiactusAnd three-quarters of a century after World War II, that tragic sensitivity disappeared. “Americans have lost their sense of tragedy,” Brands and Adele Write “The US-led international order has been so successful, for so long, the Americans have come to grant it.”

The authors point out that “even a casual survey of modern history” reveals the fragility of international discipline, which breaks down for countless reasons: Related to other diversity of the industry.

Yet this disintegration, and the great power struggle that, in turn, served as a source of inspiration for efforts to maintain a stable international order, from the peace of Westphalia in 1648 to the Vienna Congress in 1814 and 1815, until the 1940s. , When the United Nations was founded and Breton Woods has created the international monetary system.

Brand and Adele Argue that the lessons of the 1940s have faded and are increasingly “replaced by a worldview that is equally foolish, dangerous, and historic.” In light of the many U.S. interventions since the 1983 Grenada attacks, I think their insistence that the United States has somehow backtracked on the preservation of the world order is highly exaggerated. Indeed, one could argue that American activity, not inaction, has played a central role in undermining the stability of the international system.

And yet, I think this society has not adequately confronted the reality of tragedy: tragedies that have largely flowed from unbridled gun violence, poverty and unequal access to health care and high quality education, and tragedies that have been helpful. The use of American military force

The American failure to face the reality of tragedy is most evident in American popular culture. It is more than three decades ago that media studies scholar Mark Crispin Miller described the essence of American popular culture as “intentional realism”. This was long before the jukebox musical dominance of Broadway, the Marvel superhero films that ruled the country. Cineplex, And that algorithm-driven video streaming controls the small screen. I seldom see any signs of tragic sensitivity in our mass culture

Perhaps our recent confrontation with many real-world tragedies will re-acquaint Americans with a tragic sensibility that is not reprehensible or pessimistic, but it nevertheless acknowledges that there are crimes and injustices that are tragic and should not be ignored. I can only hope so.

We cannot escape from history or avoid our social responsibility.

But if this society is to truly face the tragic situation within us, we must play our part in humanity, awaken the consciousness, open the mind, and lead a difficult conversation that is informed by artistic, literary, philosophical, and theological insights. Done. Our forebears combined with the latest thinking today.

Teaching tragedy does not mean surrendering to what Susan Santag calls Death Porn or rejoicing in the sorrows of others. I am sure that this is an essential task: grasping with some of the deepest mysteries of life: why pain, suffering and evil exist and why some suffer completely unjustly, much more than others.

If humanity fails to fight these broad philosophical, theological, and moral issues, these disciplines will indeed be associated with irrelevance.

Steven Mintz Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

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