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Jules Brody FREUD, RACINE, AND THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF TRAGEDY . . . there is no one who would not rather grieve while of sound mind than rejoice in folly. —Augustine, City of God, XI, xxvii, 2 Let me specify at the outset what my title does not imply, the following pages do not propose a contribution to the psychocriticism ofRacinian tragedy,1 and after this short preamble I will have no further occasion to mention the name or the approach of Charles Mauron, the author of an important and influential study entitled L'Inconscient dans l'oeuvre et L· vie defean Racine (1957). Mauron views Racine's theater as little more than a document on the mental state of its author, the veiled expression of his obsessions and complexes, the record of what he calls the "personal myth" of the man, Jean Racine. The problem with what Mauron and his followers call "psychocriticism" is that it most often degenerates into a pathography, a personalized description of what is after all an epidemic disease. To the extent that, in Nietzsche's terms, man is himself a disease, to the extent that neurosis has become the modern equivalent and the secular counterpart of original sin, Jean Racine qua neurotic in Mauron's psychocritical portrait ends up looking like everybody else.2 Mauron's approach, in the words of RogerJudrin, succeeds in extracting from "an author whom we know well, a man who is hardly worth knowing."3 My purpose is quite different. I will have occasion here to evoke and to examine not the average sensate Racine who emerges from Mauron's study—the anguished orphan who never resolved his Oedipus complex —but an exceptional Racine, a man of genius, who, far from re- 2 Philosophy and Literature sembling everyone else, transcends the boundaries of time and history to join up, by a roundabout circuit, with another man of genius, who was also the author of a profound tragic vision: Sigmund Freud. But here again unlike Mauron, I will not be concerned with Freud the clinician, the discoverer of the Oedipus complex, or the theoretician of the unconscious. The Freud who will occupy the center of this study is the thinker, the historian, the sociologist, the philosopher, in a word the "moralist" in the literary, French sense of the term: the man who had his eye trained on the tensions and disjunctions between the moral constraints to which our collective life is subject and our actual mores as they may be observed in our behavior.4 The Freud I will want to query here is the one who, during his last years, seemed bent on getting to the bottom ofwhat he called the "banal" truths.5 The question, for example, "of what men themselves show by their behavior to be the purpose and intention of their lives. What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so." In vain, he concludes. For this program "is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm. There is no possibility at all of its being carried through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it. One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation.' "6 In Freud's analysis, the search for happiness is impossible for several reasons. To begin with, the limitations inherent in our physical constitution ; our satisfactions are episodic and short-lived by their very nature, and in this respect sexual pleasure is prototypical of the rest. Pain and sickness, on the other hand, relentlessly assail our bodies, which are destined for decrepitude and death.7 Victor Hugo voiced this idea long before Freud: "L'humanité s'affirme par l'infirmité" ("Humanity affirms itself by its infirmities"). As for the world around us—with its floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and pollution—it is the declared and natural enemy of our well-being. And yet, even if we possessed the secret of immortality, even if we could achieve mastery over physical nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 1-23
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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