Tragic aesthetics: Eighteenth-century tragedy and passive spectatorship

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Abstract

This paper pursues the central thesis that the construction of the eighteenth- century spectator of tragedy as passive opens the self to a radical experience of otherness and a compassionate relationship to the public sphere. The paper examines two related arguments: first, that eighteenth-century tragedy and aesthetic autonomy are related, and that the persistent dismissal of eighteenth-century tragedy as effete and its audiences as complacently bourgeois might be overturned by another look at Adorno’s ambivalent definition of aesthetic autonomy; second, that the tragedy of the early eighteenth century develops a special relationship to passivity, both onstage and in its characterisation of its own spectators, and that this passivity is understood to be a comment on tragic form. I conclude that passivity has a specific contemplative moral value in the early eighteenth century, and that its value is incorporated into ethical concepts of aesthetic apprehension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1217-1235
Number of pages19
JournalTextual Practice
Volume31
Issue number7
Early online date7 Nov 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2017

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