‘If there are to be global goals, goals that cross boundaries to inspire the multitudes, where might they be found? … So should idealists across borders persist in seeking the universalist grail—the moral equivalent of “The Internationale”? Some settle for anti-fascism; others strive to resurrect the lost traditions of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism; a few scavenge among the ruins of communism. Nearly three decades after the collapse of the communist phantasm, the left has still not recovered its voice, let alone composed a melody you can’t get out of your head.’
Category Archives: tragic politics
“For a few brief weeks in France [in 1968], not just a government but an entire system was called into question.”
“The idea that Communism or socialism required a dictatorship by a minority was widely accepted among radicals in the 1960s and 1970s. … The Afghan Communists were simply doing what the Left globally knew had to be done if they really wanted to change the world. Their tragedy is, in an acute and terrible form, the same one replicated elsewhere.”
‘The Red Brigades who took Moro hostage sought to prevent a reformist solution to Italy’s institutional impasse. Their actions, or at least the anticommunist blowback it produced, did help block the PCI’s path toward power. But while they thought that this would radicalize the Italian political landscape, they were sorely mistaken. The violence of these years ultimately expressed the decline of the extra-parliamentary left. … Moro’s death was the swansong of the postwar “First Republic,” marking the failed reform of the Christian Democratic order. This brought not renewal, but protracted decline and fragmentation. The debris continues to litter the present, in an Italian political system devoid not just of credibility, but of hope.’
Watching the other day Nicholas Hytner’s promenade staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I heard Cassius say: “Men at some time were masters of their fates./The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars./But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (1.2.140-3).
The reference to fate reminded me of a recently published essay. Since I have been following with special interest the progress during this decade of Simon Critchley’s book on the philosophy of tragedy (read: sophistry) as an alternative to the tragedy of philosophy, I was particularly glad to read “Tragedy’s Philosophy,” a “rough torso” of his project, in Fisher & Katsouraki, eds.: Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy (2017). Regarding the understanding of tragedy as misfortune the philosopher brings up fate: “Tragedy requires some degree of complicity on our part in the disaster that destroys us. It is not simply a question of the malevolent activity of fate … Tragedy requires our collusion with that fate. In other words, it requires no small measure of freedom. … Our moral of tragedy, then, is that we conspire with our fate. That is, fate requires our freedom in order to bring our destiny down upon us” (31). Therefore he suggests that we see “the bloody events of the contemporary world in a tragic light,” and reiterates: “To see political events tragically is always to accept our complicity in the disaster that is unfolding” (36). The question of tragedy today should not be limited to a particular dramatic genre. “A tragic sensibility obliges us to see our implication within the struggles of the present and our responsibility for them. If the present is defined by disaster, then tragedy shows us our complicity with it” (40-1).
This ethical argument reminds me of Critchley’s political point in an interview where he recalls that Raymond Williams in his book Modern Tragedy (1966) “makes a link between tragedy and revolution and it’s a kind of melancholic link. He says, for example, something like: ‘We need to understand revolution tragically’. If we see revolution as a throwing off of repression and the experience of liberation that’s all very nice but we see just half of the picture. Revolution is always a dialectical process where revolution undergoes inversion in counter-revolution. So a tragic understanding of revolution would show the experience of liberation as always risking flipping over into a new experience of oppression and terror and the two things are intrinsically linked. Liberation and terror are intricated, are dialectically interdependent and that’s what a properly tragic understanding would lead us to. If we want to maintain something like revolution or rebellion then we have to see it tragically in terms of the inversions to which it is subject.”
A tragic understanding admits that revolution is subject to counter-revolution, that liberation is risking oppression. Drawing on Williams, Critchley makes the melancholic point that, when terror destroys revolution, instead of blaming destiny, we must accept the complicity of liberation, keeping in mind that freedom conspires with fate.
May 12, 2018
“ETA, the Basque separatist group, is dissolving itself, it stated in a letter published on Wednesday, closing a history that included one of the longest terrorism campaigns in modern Europe, which killed over 800 people in Spain. … The news reflected what has been evident for years, that ETA is a spent force, its ranks decimated by arrests, its popularity minimal in the Basque region along Spain’s north coast. In their long struggle, the government has won.”
Bruce Robbins on Perry Anderson’s Gramscian hegemony between Thucydidean realism and Stoic melancholy.
“The tragedy is already staged in a system where innocence suffers. The good among both will suffer. Colonialism, enslavement, and racism are tragic so long as we understand that that the suffering of the damned is ignored or, for the most part, doesn’t matter. It is a lived reality of not mattering.”
“The revolutionary, many Nicaraguans say, is suddenly facing a revolution of his own.”