AbstractTragedy’s overwhelming presence, presaged by the conspicuous absence of Aristotle’s treatise on comedy, has dominated the debate between philosophy and poetry ever since Plato, making tragedy the dominant paradigm for philosophical and performance practices. Over the last century, the gradual blurring of genre distinctions has led to George Steiner’s declaration of the ‘death of tragedy’ and to J. L. Styan’s recognition of the emergence of ‘dark comedy’, giving rise to a growing body of research on comedy. Nevertheless, despite the unprecedented attention, the prejudices against comedy run wide and deep, from philosophical neglect to high-brow conceptions of art all the way to underlying economies of power and social regulation. In consequence, comedy has been side-stepped as an inferior genre or mode, or rehabilitated as a truer or newer form of the tragic. The present study attempts to frame this prejudice as the result of theories of aesthetics and ethics which systematically exclude the comic vision, claiming that it is possible to trace a distinct corollary between the development of theories of genre and the development of philosophical aesthetic categories. The emphasis on the beautiful and the sublime, and its corresponding brand of ethics, can be linked to the flourishing of theories of tragedy, while the systematized rejection of the ugly, the ridiculous, and the ethically ambiguous can be shown to correspond to the floundering of theories of comedy, which remained largely neglected for over two thousand years. Much more than mere literary genres, the terms comedy and tragedy, when applied to the history of Western civilization, reveal the extent of our penchant for the speculative to the detriment of the actual.
Anglia – de Gruyter
Published: Mar 8, 2018
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