- Die Tragödie. Eine Literaturgeschichte des aufrechten Ganges Von Bernhard Greiner
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”—quipped the inimitable Mark Twain, and in recent years it seems that that tragedy would respond in the same [End Page 302] manner. As scholars have turned with renewed energy to reassess George Steiner’s obituary (The Death of Tragedy, London 1961), tragedy has appeared in monograph titles and as the theme of conference proceedings, which treat its out-of-fashion aspect either as an invitation for renewed consideration (Terry Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic, Oxford 2003), as a call to shift focus from genre proper to the tragic as a mode (Rita Felski, Rethinking Tragedy, Baltimore 2008), an opportunity to historicize the loci of the tragic (Christoph Menke, Die Gegenwart der Tragödie. Versuch über Urteil und Spiel, 2005), or as a challenge to concede a family resemblance amongst various branches of tragedy studies rather than confine consideration to the genre itself (Fulda and Valk, Die Tragödie der Moderne: Gattungsgeschichte— Kulturtheorie—Epochendiagnose, Berlin 2010). By calling attention to the lasting popularity of the genre on the stage, Greiner’s magisterial volume also responds to this discussion. He suggests—by way of the intended tension between title and subtitle and in his brief opening remarks—that tragedy appeals to us as it presents the puzzle of human autonomy in a complex and ever-shifting field of determination. In lieu of an introduction, Greiner presents a set of four approaches: moral judgment / the autonomy of man, the nature of the tragic, sacrifice and theatricality, and the effect of tragedy. As these connect to the emphases of the recent studies, they not only set forth the main thematic concerns but invite exploration.
The volume’s structure resembles that of his previous study on comedy. Greiner first explores a handful of exemplary Greek tragedies (Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Euripides’ The Bacchae), then turns to the early modern corpus (Shakespeare, Marlowe, Racine, the Trauerspiel of the Baroque). A theoretical section follows each of these parts, on the “three paradigms” of Greek tragedy, Aristotle, Hegel, and Nietzsche; and on Walter Benjamin’s study of the Baroque Trauerspiel. Greiner maintains a double focus as he lays out the genre’s lengthy and distinguished history: the ever-evolving theory of the tragic and of tragedy serves as a steady guide to the survey of exemplary works. Such a feat is a rare treat in introductory volumes of this kind, and it is one of the book’s greatest strengths; that Greiner’s discussion remains lucid and succinct, another.
The bulk of the volume comprises detailed close analysis of representative German-language tragedies that recapitulates the familiar narrative of the genre’s history with flair and nuance. Especially commendable is the study’s insistence that the essence of modern tragedy lies in its penchant for self-reflection, and Greiner’s admirable skill in converting philosophical and sociopolitical questions into ongoing experimentation with the tragic form as well as with the nature of the ‘tragic’ itself. Thus Greiner discusses Gottsched and Lessing as having carved out a space for the tragic in the enlightenment period, and Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe and Goethe’s Faust I in relation to the emergence of the autonomous subject; Schiller’s Don Karlos, Wallenstein, Maria Stuart, and Die Jungfrau von Orleans feature in their relation to the sublime; Kleist’s Penthesilea and Goethe’s Faust II are treated as two opposite but possible responses to the inadequacy of the classical form for modern content. Subsequently, Greiner discusses tragedy as “jenseits des Subjekts,” arguing that in the nineteenth century only a “negative Ästhetik” (604) of tragedy is possible: Büchner’s Dantons Tod and Woyzeck, Hebbel’s Agnes Bernauer, Grillparzer’s Die Jüdin von Toledo, and Hauptmann’s Rose Bernd all demonstrate “die Aufhebung der Tragödie als Deutungsmuster des Menschen und seiner Wirklichkeit” (604). The selection of works from the twentieth century includes Hofmannsthal’s Elektra, Wedekind’s Lulu [End Page 303] dramas, Kaiser...