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Cynthia Willett HEGEL, ANTIGONE, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ECSTATIC DIALOGUE In his lectures on aesthetics, Hegel argues that drama is the highest form of art. Only drama can resolve, or sublate (auflieben), an opposition between objective and subjective poles ofaesthetic experience.1 This opposition takes its penultimate form in the difference between epic and lyric poetry. Subjective feelings expressed in lyric and the objective representation ofevents in epic are sublated in classical drama as ethical character and action. In this article I will examine both what Hegel does and does not say about the structure and function ofclassical drama in order to determine its role in the education of humanity, or what Hegel calls the "phenomenology of spirit." As it turns out, drama is not only a climactic moment in the development of spirit. The structure ofdrama also traces a paradigm and an historical origin for Hegel's dialectic. The ironic reversals and discoveries that emplot tragic drama also constitute dialectic. An immediate consequence of this parallel is mat, in accordance with Aristode's definition of tragic drama, dialectic demands the catharsis, or purging, of emotion from educated spirit.2 After establishing the analogy between dialectic and cathartic drama, I turn to the exemplary role that is played by Sophocles' Antigone in the Phenomenology ofSpirit. A reinterpretation of the play suggests that Hegel fails to see that emotional engagement, or the unsublated subjective feeling relegated to die lower art of lyric, in fact orients the dramatic action of Antigone. The resemblance between drama and dialectic suggests that desire can no more be purged from dialectic than from classical tragedy. As a consequence, Hegelian dialectic should be reconceived in terms of a notion of tragedy that is not cathartic but ecstatic. Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 268-283 Cynthia Willett269 In the AesUietks, Hegel places drama after epic and lyric as the third and final moment of the highest stage of art. Drama presents actions that are ethical and thus differs from the lyrical expression of feelings as well as the adventures narrated in epic (A, pp. 1158; 474). Hegel's definition of epic in terms of narration and description suggests that the language of epic functions as representation. Representational language externalizes, or objectifies, spirit's movement in a series ofevents which are related by the epic poet. This narration functions without the mediation ofa subject, which is to say without an "agent's inner will and character" (A, pp. 1160; 476). Lyric poetry, on the other hand, concerns feelings or "the inner life alone" (A, pp. 984; 254). In accordance with its subject matter, the language oflyric is not representational but expressive. Drama presents actions before an audience, such actions occurring primarily in the mode of speech (A, pp. 1159; 475). What we can characterize as the "speech-acts" performed in drama carry out intentions of, or ends soughtby, the main character. Drama advances dialectic because, as Hegel writes, "drama does not fall apart into a lyric inner life and an external sphere as its opposite, but displays an inner life and its external realization" (A, pp. 1 160; 476). First, events which occur episodically in epic attain the unity of a single action that comprises dramatic plot. Secondly, a "cleaned-up" version ofthe "chaotic" feelings expressed in lyric poetry develops into the intention of a character to adher to a universal ethical principle. It is important to emphasize that, according to Hegel, drama should not draw any of its effect from subjective emotions. Drama sublates lyrical feeling into ethical law. Only thus does drama bring together the epic-making events and lyrical subjectivity, notby wayofa mechanical synthesis, but in a metamorphosis enabling elements initially opposed to give rise to an original whole. The proximity ofdrama to dialectical thought appears in the contrast Hegel draws between dramatic action and action which is prosaic, or philosophically insignificant (A, pp. 1159; 475). Dramatic action, Hegel explains, "is notconfined to the simple and undisturbed accomplishment ofa specific aim; on the contrary, it rests entirely on collisions ofcircumstances , passions, and characters . . . which in turn necessitate a resolution of the conflict and discord" (A, pp. 1159; 475). On the other hand, a prosaic, or ordinary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 268-283
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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