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  1. #1
    Regular Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2009

    The Paradox of Tragedy

    How is it that we can find intense enjoyment in the theatrical portrayal of suffering?

    EG. Movies saw,hills have eyes,hostal and stuff like that.

    Tragedy: a type of drama dealing with tragic events, often involving the fall of an honourable or important protagonist. Examples include the ancient plays Oedipus Rex and Medea, and the Shakespearean plays Othello and King Lear.

    Aesthetics: the study of the feelings, concepts and judgments that arise from our appreciation of the arts.

    Paradox: something which appears absurd but may be true; a self-contradictory statement.

    Direct response: our immediate or first reaction to something.

    Meta-response: our reaction to our direct response.

    The Issue

    The paradox of tragedy is: how is it that we can find intense enjoyment in the theatrical portrayal of suffering?

    This question was asked by Plato (Greek Philosopher, c. 429–347 BC), who grew up in Ancient Greece where the art form began, and it has been explored by many philosophers since. It is an old philosophical question, and not a particularly sexy one, but the path to the answer can provides us with insight into our reactions, emotions and morality.

    Some Argy-Bargy

    The paradox assumes that the pleasure response to well-written tragedy is universal, but there will be people who find no pleasure in the portrayal of tragedy at all. That said, we will proceed as it seems that it is generally the case.

    David Hume (Scottish philosopher and historian, 1711-1776) in his essay Of Tragedy, observes that 'The more they (the audience) are touched and affected (by the portrayal of tragedy), the more they are delighted with the spectacle; and as soon as the uneasy passions cease to operate, the piece is at an end.' At first he recalls a theory of Jean-Baptiste Dubos (Described as 'the godfather of modern art criticism’ by Frieze Magazine, 1670-1742), which is that any stimulation will be pleasurable compared with a complete absence of stimulation. Hume notes, however, that if the distressing stimulation were real - as opposed to acted - it would not be received as pleasure, so Dubos' theory does not answer the paradox of tragedy.

    Hume next looks at an idea advanced by Fontenelle (French author, 1657-1757), that pleasure and pain - while outwardly different - derive from the same cause. Tickling, therefore, when intensified can become pain, and pain diminished can become pleasure. Hume wonders if being a spectator of the portrayal of suffering provides the diminution that Fontenelle suggests could turn pain into pleasure. Hume sees some merit in the argument but then proceeds to reject it. Hume says that if being a spectator provided the required diminution, then being a spectator of real suffering would invoke the pleasure response as well - which it doesn't; and if the portrayal of fiction provided the required diminution, then the epilogues of Cicero - which portrayed fact - would not invoke the pleasure response - which, he says, they do.

    Hume suggests that beauty can make the vile pleasurable. For example, an horrific act committed from a noble motive may invoke a pleasurable response, and that this response could rise within us until it predominates, overwhelms or 'converts' the displeasure into pleasure. Hume suggests that in this way, a pleasurable response could be summoned by the artful portrayal of misery, and that the pleasure response to tragedy is therefore not a paradox.

    In The Pleasures of Tragedy, Susan L. Feagin (US philosopher and author) provides an alternate theory to explain the pleasure response. Feagin's theory differentiates between a direct response and a meta-response - see the definitions above. Feagin suggests that our initial or direct response to the depiction of tragedy is the unease, horror and sadness that we might expect, and that our pleasure response is a meta-response to that direct, and sympathetic, response. Feagin says that our reaction shows us to be the kind of person we would like to think we are, that we find the events depicted to be distasteful, and that this discovery yields a meta-response of pleasure and satisfaction. Where Hume saw the answer in a conversion on one level, Feagin sees the answer as a response on a second level.

    Feagin sees our pleasure response as appropriate as no-one really suffers in the depiction of tragedy, but to be pleased with the feelings one had to tragedy in real life would reveal 'a smugness, self-satisfaction and complacency' that was inappropriate.

    Feagin also sees us able to derive pleasure from the 'shareability' of the experience of art, the feeling that we are united with others in the experience. She also says that her theory can explain the perceived importance of tragedy over comedy, as tragedy calls forth feelings which are at the basis of morality, tragedy works on two levels - a direct response and a meta-response, and the circumstances portrayed in tragedy are always significant - three features that comedy does not generally share. She rejects the view, however, that tragedy gives a true picture of human life, whereas comedy does not.

    Feagin then looks at her theory to imagine its potential problems. She sees two categories of people who would present a challenge, 1/ the 'selfish sentimentalist' who takes pleasure in the art but has no sympathy for tragedy in real life, and 2/ the 'unimaginative moralist' who is sympathetic and morally aware in real life, but cannot find enjoyment in art. Feagin's way around this is suggested by her category descriptions. In the first category, the selfish sentimentalist, Feagin says that the direct and meta-response to the art would be genuine, but that concern for self could overtake concern for others in real-life. In the second category, the unimaginative moralist, Feagin says that 'the key to the solution is that this moralist is unimaginative, for it takes more effort of imagination to respond to a work of art than it does to respond to real life', and that 'too little ... has been written on the role of imagination in art appreciation'.

    Feagin concludes with an exploration of the asymmetry of our reactions to art and real life. Why don't we receive pleasure as a meta-response to real-life tragedy? Feagin suggests that the asymmetry is due to our recognition that at the two contexts - one imagined and one real - are so different.


  2. #2
    Enthusiast Conker's Avatar

    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    In jail, livin free

    Re: The Paradox of Tragedy

    Big, long words.....I'm dizzy. XD

    But yeah, I think it's basically because we like to feel emotianal. And also that it brings out our feelings and reminds us of personal stuff.

    I didn't really read all of it, but yeah, that concludes what I think.
    "Don't fight here, this is the war room!"[/center:2k0p3guh]

  3. #3
    Devoted Veteran

    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Re: The Paradox of Tragedy

    How is it that we can find intense enjoyment in the theatrical portrayal of suffering?

    EG. Movies saw,hills have eyes,hostal and stuff like that.
    I just stopped here. It's a movie, not real and is made for entertainment.

    I don't know anything else you said though.

  4. #4
    Veteran Enthusiast
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Midlands, UK

    Re: The Paradox of Tragedy

    Almost all human beings share a small amount of sadistic pleasure, what you're describing is simply the dramatisation of this in a grander form, I don't see how it is a paradox at all. If the person to whom the tragedy was occurring was finding a sense of enjoyment then one could argue it, but not to all onlookers.

    Also, "Urgh, Hume".

  5. #5
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    Dec 2018
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  6. #6
    Enthusiast OblivionFall's Avatar

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    Dec 2008
    Namco Museum 2013

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