World
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11 World The truth of subjectivity has to be lived apart from the world. Such is the tragic vision of Jansenism and its many heirs, from Kantian moral autonomy in a political kingdom where means are justified by ends, to Levinas’ defense of subjectivity as separation in a world dominated by the political horror of war. There are many other heirs. But how far apart are subjectivity and the world? Here we confront the most acute dialectical paradox of Racine’s Phèdre. If the lesson of Racine’s tragedy is that life in the world is impossible, that the true life transcends the world, then I am still obliged to live in the world. The world is the only reality of which I can be sure and there is no question of a mystical intuition or a higher state 12 of authentic awareness within the tragic vision. I live immanently in a world which is real and of which I can be sure, yet I experience a demand for transcendence that exceeds the world, but also my powers of cognition: the incomprehensible source of the moral law in Kant, the transcendent ethical demand of the other in Levinas. Hence the need, in Pascal, for the wager, which is not some intellectual game for a sceptical, urbane, seventeenth-century audience , but is rather the best bet of that which I cannot be sure. The tragic vision is a refusal of the world from within the world, as Lucien Goldmann writes, “Tragic man is absent and present in the world at one and the same time, exactly as God is simultaneously absent and present to man.” The human being, like Phaedra, is a paradox: we are ineluctably in the world, but we are not of the world. That is, we are not what we are in. Such is the curse of reflection. We are confronted with a world of things, but we are not at one with those things, and that experience of not-at-one-ness with the world is the experience of thinking. In other words, the human being is an eccentric creature, an oddity in the universe . Such eccentricity might be described as tragic, but it might be even better approached as comic. 13 Without God, the drama of Racine’s Phèdre is reduced to being some story about a crazy woman trying to commit incest at court. We have to believe that Racine believed. Yet, what if we do not believe what he believed? What if we want to accept a tragic vision without God? Can that thought really be endured? Can it? Really? We will have to find out for ourselves ...