Tragedy without Apology, Pleasure without End
Tragedy might well be the primal scene of Western literary theory. Initially, the mass consumption of tragedies in the Dionysian festivals of Athens went on for well over a century without eliciting much theoretical concern as far as we know, until Plato decided to object to the audience’s psychic derangement by its favorite poets and performers. This first shock of critical thinking about tragedy came in the context of Plato’s larger attempt at a kind of hedonic orthodoxy; that is, asserting the philosopher’s right to claim that one can distinguish objectively between true and false pleasures (casting most of the sybaritic variety as mere instances of “relief,” illusions of pleasure predicated upon the removal of pain [Republic 584a7–c12]), and that the utopian Kallipolis should monitor very stringently the kind of pleasures its citizens experience in the performance space. Pleasures have consequences in the ordering of the soul, Socrates argues, and the tragedians just scramble our psychic harmony, eroding rational hegemony (cf. Republic 605b 3–6, 606d1–7). One wonders if any actual Athenian took that critique seriously; at any rate, the state business of drama cranked on all the same for a few more centuries. But Aristotle of Stagira certainly took it seriously, at least if one assumes his Poetics can be read as a concerted response to Plato. However, whereas Plato speaks of tragedy in effect as a “concerned citizen” in the context of the Athenian polis and its powerful performance culture, Aristotle seems rather uninterested in performance, a feature dismissed as “spectacle” (opsis), which pursued blindly to its own ends produces the monstrous, not the tragic (Poet. 1453b1–11).1 In this regard, Aristotle seems almost to agree with Plato; but there is no agreement on the matter of pleasure. Aristotle tactically reduces the hedonic agenda to mapping the specific differences of genres and locating the telos of tragedy in plot structure (muthos—Poet. 1450a15, 22–23). For one should seek not just any kind of pleasure from tragedy, but only that which is specific to it (Poet. 1453b10–11), a pleasure linked to the mechanisms of plot, the specific coefficient emotions of pity and fear, and bringing about a katharsis—whatever that means (Poet. 1449b24–28). And so Western literary theory went from the broad social-political critique of Plato to the structural-defensive strategy of Aristotle, and we have been apologizing for tragedy ever since—mostly by approaching it in terms of a branding exercise for some unique and user-friendly hedonic payload, the imagined benefits of catharsis, and the tidy parameters of genre.
One of many remarkable strengths of Mario Telò’s book Archive Feelings: A Theory of Greek Tragedy is that it is decidedly unapologetic, untidy, explosive, and diverse in its hedonic interests. It does not seek an easy way to make tragedy a reparative exercise. It does not rehash the exegetical arguments surrounding the Poetics, as if that would be the key to understanding all Greek tragedy at long last. In fact, in his return to the scène originaire, Telò largely dumps Aristotle in favor of a host of postmodern thinkers who make arguments of a kind that would send the Stagirite staggering for their complexity and unsettling implications. From the start, Telò comes out as fully anti-cathartic, refusing to play the game of retrofitting that vexed concept to suit his interpretation. He dumps the Athenians as well, no longer seeking the archaeological return to the Theater of Dionysus as the only horizon of true understanding, as if tragic emotions could only be effectively understood and validated when performed—as musicologists say—on original instruments. Following in the footsteps of Simon Goldhill’s seminal Reading Greek Tragedy, Telò’s “ardent reading” of the plays does not fixate on performance context, but returns the modern reader of tragedy to center stage, inviting us to step up our game in close reading with all its anachronic possibilities, and to jump into the frame of interpretation by rethinking critical writing itself. His rich engagement with a wide range of competing and even contradictory thinkers equips us to take on more boldly the idea, to quote Paul Hammond, that “tragedy is, par excellence, a deconstructive medium.”2
Central to the book is the question: “What if the pleasure of tragedy is produced not by release but by the lack of it—by a sense of stuckness rather than intensity as such?” The turn, then, is towards a conception of “pleasure in thwarted restoration” which Telò explores through a multifaceted recourse to the Freudian death drive and its later explorations by Jacques Lacan, Leo Bersani, Kaja Silverman, Slavoj Žižek, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and especially Jacques Derrida, whose Mal d’Archive motivates and informs the archival core of Telò’s book. After its programmatic introduction, “Re-impressions of Greek Tragedy: Toward an Anti-cathartic Aesthetics,” the remaining five chapters comprise extensive readings of Greek plays toying with their chronological order and what it means to read backward and forward within this tragic archive. The chapters are divided into the sections Archival Time, Archival Space, and Archival Endings, and the last chapter in particular shows Telò at his most dexterous. He uses Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est to initiate a discussion of “orgasmic anti-catharsis,” featuring the blood-spurting endings of four canonical tragedies: Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’s Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus, and Euripides’s Bacchae, plays whose disturbing imagery Telò entwines around his exploration of jouissance, and he ends with a discussion of paintings by Cy Twombly. In his epilogue, Telò enlists Toni Morrison to show how far the implications of his new reading of tragedy can take us, and offers a lucid self-analysis of his commitment to the radical possibilities of tragic language: “Twisting the practice of close reading into a liminal exercise between critique and post-critique, I have relished the excess that oozes from formal edges” (279). Such a confession shows how Telò will be our guide to a brave new literary world of tragedy without apology, of pleasure without end.
Archive Feelings is vast and vortical, and as coeditor of the series in which it appeared, I felt it urgent to invite other scholars and critics to take up the challenge it throws down. I am grateful that Mario’s work and reputation for collegial interchange readily attracted a band of willing participants, each one a scholar and critic fully up to the task and eager for a place at the table. So, we present to you, dear reader, that scariest of things in the context of tragedy: a royal feast. There is no need to summarize at length what soon will follow for your reading pleasure, but let me highlight a few characteristic gestures of our hungry guests.
First to the table is Sean Gurd, who characterizes this book as an attempt to create a “discursive machine” that will “run next to certain tragic texts.” Gurd attempts to characterize Telò’s recourse to the Freudian death drive that runs this machine as similar to a ‘pataphysical appropriation of a psychological theory, one that combines “both hyper-rationality and deliriousness to produce results that are simultaneously ludic and profound.”
Next seated is Dan Orrells, who retraces the modern disciplinary formation of Classical Studies and the place of Greek tragedy within it, showing that at best this academic canonization exposed the paradox of tragedy as a place of the imagined Other (slaves, women, barbarians) within the Athenian polis, and its performance as an inevitable negotiation between ancient and modern. So Telò is certainly right to take up the close reading of tragedy to make it do something new, using the rigor of philology to enact “a gallery of gorgeously obscene thought experiments.”
Karen Bassi follows by targeting the uncritical, conservative nature of the “psychic equilibrium” catharsis was long thought to establish. But she then returns to Aristotle’s mention of Iphigenia Among the Taurians to suggest there is another sense of catharsis, one more amenable to Telò’s project: a signaling of “the inevitability of death in its temporary postponement,” a thought that casts Aristotle, Derrida, Freud, and Telò himself in a repetitive loop regarding the death drive.
Paul Kottman, from his end of the table, then returns us to Peter Szondi’s distinction between a poetics of tragedy and a philosophy of the tragic, and kicks the argument back to the larger frame of a philosophical interest in human suffering. From this perspective, he wonders if Telò, in his “anti-cathartic” approach, is still too indebted to the very same Aristotle he is trying to unhorse, since one could simply skip over Aristotle and address directly Plato’s concern about our stuckness in irrational pleasure-in-pain and put that into dialogue with Freud.
Helen Morales challenges Telò to state just what his project means for feminists, specifically in relation to the “‘emancipatory force’ of death-driven aesthetics,” the “jouissance of [Telò’s] hermeneutics,” and the question of a catharsis based not on an “ejaculatory” model like his, but rather on “a kind of ethical attunement.” She raises the poignant question, “Is there room for intersectionality in the death-drive?” She asks as well what would happen if we chose as a model for the pleasurable-pain of tragedy not ejaculation, but menstruation, another meaning of katharsis deployed by Aristotle.
“Archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives,” Derrida says;3 and in that spirit, we feel this Syndicate symposium will help to archive not just the reactions of various scholars to Telò’s extraordinary book, but his own willingness—I should rather say, outright eagerness—to engage dialogically with his readers. Though the book is a conventional monograph in appearance, it reveals itself to be a rich and disturbing tapestry of conversations between disciplines, continents, centuries, and myriad points of view. So now, for your consideration we spin that tapestry out further into the future through the internet’s endless archive.
We should perhaps object more often to Aristotle’s assumption that “spectacle” leads to monstrosity, while the tidy intellectual mechanics of plot lead to tragedy proper. What would he have made of Seneca’s tragedies, unstaged and unstageable as they appear to have been?↩
P. Hammond, The Strangeness of Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2009), 4n7.↩
Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago University Press, 1996), 18.↩
Postdramatic Tragic Experimentation with Archive Feelings
Mario Telò’s remarkable book is not an interpretation of Greek tragedy. It is a thought experiment in what one can do with Greek tragedy and in what Greek tragedy can (be allowed to) do (if you just let it). It is not a book that seeks to disinter hidden meanings from the text as a traditional literary critic might endeavor. Rather, it is a book that enacts and performs the postdramatic possibilities of Greek tragedy in the twenty-first century. About fifty years ago, in an essay titled “Putting on the Greeks,” the French intellectual Roland Barthes summed up the dilemmas of performing Greek tragedy:
We never manage to free ourselves from a dilemma: are the Greek plays to be performed as of their own time or as of ours? Should we reconstruct or transpose? Emphasize resemblances or differences? We always vacillate without ever deciding, well-intentioned and blundering, now eager to reinvigorate the spectacle by an inopportune fidelity to some “archeological” requirement, now to sublimate it by modern esthetic effects appropriate, we assume, to the “eternal” quality of this theater.1
Barthes encapsulates the challenge to modern writers, directors, actors, and theater practitioners when producing Greek tragedy: what does it mean to be “faithful” or not to the original? This is a specifically modern question which has only become pressing since the late nineteenth century: not since antiquity had Greek tragedy been performed in theaters with all the paraphernalia regularly in ancient Greek. In the Renaissance, Greek tragedies were translated into Latin, and consumed in Latin. Greek myths were often recorded in Latin versions (by Roman writers like Ovid and Seneca) or ancient historical events (documented, for example, in Plutarch’s Lives, which were widely read in Latin, French and English translations): these are just some of the sources of early-modern tragedy. Shakespeare, Racine, and Corneille were not troubled by the issue of faith to the Greek original. They read a wide range of ancient and modern authors and knew full well that ancient mythological stories and historical events could be told in multiple ways—that a myth could mean more than one thing, just as ancient playwrights rewrote myth to suit their own questions and agendas. Ancient myth and history were an archive of creative possibility.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, something changed: Classics emerged as a university discipline and transformed how we engage and interact with the ancient world. The rise of the professional scholar—and the birth of the classicist was a leading protagonist in that academic drama of the nineteenth century—saw to it that standards of proof and evidence in scholarly writing were discussed in new ways. A crucial aspect of these often dry debates was refiguring the relationship between the ancient and the modern worlds. As subjects like classics and history became university and college disciplines, a new emphasis was put on the differences between the present and the past. Historians began to see the past as a foreign country, as another world. The ancient world was meant to look different from the modern. For the historian or the classicist to be objective, they had to put aside any personal or subjective feelings about their ancient objects of analysis and be willing to see the ancients as they “really” were, no matter how objectionable, bizarre, immoral, or even obscene. And yet, at the same time, older arguments about the exemplarity of the ancient Greeks and the Romans, in particular, persisted: classical antiquity seemed to provide timeless models of culture and paradigms of artistic excellence for us moderns which transcended the boundaries of periodization.
To historicize or to idealize: that was the question. It was in this strange scholarly context that certain universities such as Oxford and Cambridge in the late nineteenth century started performing ancient Greek drama—in ancient Greek, because classical scholars had developed a profound interest in the historical otherness of the ancient world and because there seemed to be something timelessly worthy about ancient Greek culture. Other universities mimicked the idea—my own, King’s College London, started performing its Annual Greek Play almost seventy years ago in 1953. The interest in performing Greek tragedy, then, reflected the institutionalization of classics as a specialist discipline in the late-Victorian university: scholars were becoming fascinated by all aspects of Greek culture, beyond construing the language: how were the plays originally staged and performed? The performance of Greek tragedy allowed nineteenth-century scholars to think that they were getting at a deeper understanding of ancient Greek society, as if they were enacting ancient Greek culture. And yet, every production had to wrestle with the problem of how to represent the gods, how to do the Chorus, how to pronounce the Greek . . . These problems encouraged creativity and radical changes to the “original” material, so that there was continual debate about how “faithful” or how “free” productions could and should be. The performance in Greek of Greek drama offered a way for classicists, their students, and their audiences to think, more broadly, then, about the relationship between antiquity and modernity: how close to / how far apart from one another are they? The performance of Greek drama since the nineteenth century reflects an ancient tradition and a new chapter in the history of theater. The very idea, then, of putting on a Greek tragedy is a paradox—both very ancient and very modern.
Professor Telò’s Archive Feelings is a fascinating meditation on Greek tragedy precisely because it responds to this paradoxical reception of the ancient Greeks. His book does not to seek to put Greek tragedy into its historical context and position the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the social and political world of fifth-century Athens. And not just that: Professor Telò departs from the most influential reading of Greek tragedy, first developed by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE that a tragic play should have a plot with beginning, middle, and end that culminates in a cathartic conclusion for its audience. Professor Telò doesn’t want tragedy to leave us purged and satisfied at the end of the performance. His contention is, indeed, radical: Greek tragedy has evolved into a worldwide theatrical phenomenon for many reasons but one being for the historical sketch I outlined above. All too often, Greek tragedy is performed in upmarket, bourgeois venues that exclude vast swathes of society. In fifth-century Athens, tragedy was designed to be a radical democratic experiment, even if Athens, whose economy relied on slaves and didn’t allow women a political voice, was hardly democratic in our sense of the word. Classicists have long been fascinated by the powerful and destabilizing voices of the remarkable women and non-Greeks who people Greek tragedy, which nevertheless would have been performed in a theater in a city which was riven by social hierarchy, asymmetrical power relations, and xenophobia. For Professor Telò, Greek tragedy isn’t meant to take its audiences through a problem to arrive at a solution. Tragic art is not improving. Tragedy is not meant to speak the unspeakable, to express what we find so difficult to voice. It is not a “safe space.” Greek tragedy is anti-cathartic. It should not be an artform of the liberal bourgeoisie of the neoliberal age. Indeed, just as that age seems to be shaking and quivering as commentators such as Adam Tooze and Paolo Gerbaudo are pointing out, so Professor Telò’s book sets out a vision for a new age of tragedy. The climaxes of the most famous tragedies should offer no catharsis, no settlement, for its audience, but should leave them suspended, offended, stained, decentered, and actively questioning. We shouldn’t be going out for an evening at the theater! Archive Feelings is a theory about how reading or viewing Greek tragedy unleashes a profound question at the center of our selves. And yet, Professor Telò’s discussions of Greek tragedy are crafted close readings of the ancient Greek texts in all their ludic, terrifying complexity. Professor Telò is that professional scholar who reads the Greek closely—but to make it do something new.
To take one example out of many: when he examines a culminating scene of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, we watch/read Clytemestra recounting her slaughter of her husband Agamemnon. Clytemnestra describes placing a “boundless net” around Agamemnon and striking him three times. She says that Agamemnon “gasps out his life” and “blow[s] out a sharp slaughter of blood,” which “hits me with a black drop of murderous dew—me rejoicing not less than a sown seed rejoices with Zeus-given liquid sheen in the labors of the bud” (lines 1382, 1388–92). Aeschylus’s language is certainly not for the fainthearted. Classicists have argued that Clytemnestra’s unsettling abuse of the language of nature—sowing seeds—reflects her perversion of political, social, and sexual relations: she has killed her husband. Others have seen a sexually sadistic Clytemnestra on stage. For Professor Telò, “Agamemnon’s liquid rejoinder is directed at Clytemnestra” who is “rejoicing,” as if sexually aroused by “the abject pleasure of being sprinkled with bodily fluids” (244). At the climax of the play, we have yet more climax, a sense of boundlessness, of endlessness. There is no end, no catharsis, but a sense of radical possibility. Greek tragedy is not to be contained within its theatrical box, safely framed as a pleasurable evening out. Rather, its language inveigles itself into us, gets under our skin, and penetrates us. As Professor Telò says, “Agamemnon’s liquid rejoinder is directed . . . at us too—the spectators/readers.” In taking up “most of lines 1389 and 1390, engulfing the verbal and metrical flow,” Agamemnon’s “sharp slaughter of blood” just keeps on flowing, oozing, and staining. The close, philological reading of the Greek, reflecting the rigorous professional training of the classicist, is also an unsettling provocation. Tragedy cannot be slotted into its historical place. Tragedy continues to affect, scandalize, and change us. There is no catharsis here. Tragedy is permanent revolution.
Archive Feelings is not interested, then, in explaining the Aristotelian unity of the Greek tragic plot. Rather the book comprises a series of remarkable experiments in close readings of moments from various plays, exploring them for what they do to us, to the boundaries of our selves. Reading Archive Feelings is to experience the effect of the tragic text. If it isn’t about traditional drama, Archive Feelings is a postdramatic performance, a mode of stagecraft and visual art which has sought to wreck the sense of a plot with beginning, middle, and end, an artform which has turned the tragic texts into enactments of multiple meaning and interpretation and refusals of representation. Brecht, Arnaud, and Schechner have all wrought something new out of the old Greek myths. Telò’s Archive Feelings offers its own provocative reading performance, a pleasurably painful, painfully pleasurable cabaret of avant-garde acts, a gallery of gorgeously obscene thought experiments that ask us to question who we are and who we might become. The next time you go see a production like Sarah Kane’s electrifying Phaedra’s Love or spend twenty-four hours at Hotel Medea or experience Jan Fabre’s orgiastic and ravishing Mount Olympus, bring Archive Feelings along with you, and watch and read, read and watch. Then ACT UP yourself!
R. Barthes, “Putting on the Greeks,” in Critical Essays, trans. Richard Howard (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972), 59.↩
Aristotle, Derrida, Freud, Telò
What is tragedy to us? More specifically, what is Greek tragedy to us? By “us” I mean contemporary readers of the ancient texts and, if more complexly, viewers of contemporary performances of the ancient plays. These questions lie at the heart of Mario Telò’s Archive Feelings, A Theory of Greek Tragedy. Structured around the centripetal force of catharsis in Aristotle’s Poetics, the book offers a radical revaluation of this foundational term in the history of classical scholarship on tragedy. Telò reviews this history, going back to Jacob Bernays’ explanation of catharsis as a process of “healing restoration.” Noting that this process is analogous to Bakhtin’s conception of the carnivalesque, tragedy produces an irruption in normative social structures only to—eventually—reinforce their dominance. Telo’s book is a manifesto against this conservative psycho-social narrative.
As Telò notes, this narrative is teleological insofar as catharsis is explained—and defended—as the restoration of an earlier state of “psychic equilibrium.” But this begs the question of what constitutes this earlier state. And of how it is defined. I, for one, have never experienced it. In any event, according to this dominant view it is by virtue of this “restoration” that the pain of experiencing a tragedy becomes—eventually—pleasurable. Note that pleasure is a given and, it seems, uncontroversial, expectation. Transferred to its social register, pleasure names the maintenance of the status-quo; psychic equilibrium, in other words, is the reward of social conformity. But if this is the case, tragedy has little to offer in the pursuit of social justice or political resistance. This is the dilemma that Telò’s book faces.
Why are scholars of tragedy continually called back to the Poetics or, conversely, why can’t they seem to proceed without it? This repeated return to a source is itself a target of Telò’s work, premised on the fact that the desire for authority and mastery inherent in such a return only foretells its lack of fulfillment. Catharsis is thus not so much an aesthetic desideratum as it is a placeholder for a conceptual and theoretical project triangulated by psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and deconstruction. Telò is not offering a revisionist reading of the Poetics. Nor is he asking yet again what Aristotle meant by catharsis. Nonetheless, his Introduction sent me back to Aristotle in what is clearly a symptom of disciplinary obedience, the very thing he cautions against. But doing so helped me to better understand Telò’s project. We know that the Poetics is something of an orphaned text and that it is lacking in consistency. In his commentary, D. E. Lucas speaks of “a collection of odds and ends.”1 Within this collection, the meaning of catharsis seems to proceed in five halting steps. (1) Imitation (to mimeisthai) is innate or natural (sumphuton) in humans from childhood (1448b); (2) Learning (manthanein) is the greatest source of pleasure (chairein) for humans (1448b); (3) Imitation (mimêsis) is a primary source of learning and hence of pleasure (1448b); (4) Tragic imitation brings about “the catharsis of pity and fear and other similar emotions (pathêmata)” (1449b); (5) Hence, the “release” of such emotions in response to a tragedy facilitates the pleasure of learning. Catharsis is thus part of a universal pedagogical theory of imitation that Aristotle sums up as “learning and inferring what each thing is” (hoti houtos ekeinos 1448b). Any potential threat to emotional stability or emotional health is mitigated in the claim that this process is innate or natural in humans. Relatedly, the promise of “learning what each thing is” is predicated on a belief in ontological security. Both are subject to Telò’s dominant critique, i.e., that appeals to origins beget conformity.
But there is one other appearance of catharsis in the Poetics (1455b). In a discussion of the criterion of plausibility in the tragic episodes, Aristotle notes that in Euripides’s Iphigenia among the Taurians (IT) Orestes is saved from being sacrificed by a feigned rite of ritual purification (katharseôs). In this instance, catharsis is part of a play within the play or a mimêsis within the mimêsis, resulting in a reprieve from death. Using the expiation of blood guilt (Orestes’s killing of his mother) as an alibi, the false ritual has the desired effect: the escape of the principal characters from a land in which all Greeks are to be put to death. If the catharsis of “pity and fear” has a role to play in this scene (as at 1449b), it facilitates this fantasy of escape as a deferral of death. Deeply embedded in the mimêsis itself (as a plot device), “purgation” does not restore the subject’s psychic equilibrium. Rather, it signals the inevitability of death in its temporary postponement. In other terms, catharsis marks the always uncertain moment that divides life from death.
Aristotle thus prefigures Telò’s theoretical debt to Derrida and, through Derrida, to Freud. Or, in a favorite image from the book, the four are caught in something of a repetitive loop. I summarize these debts too briefly here. In Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Derrida describes the archive as caught between preserving and destroying its objects; it names a compulsion for completeness that can never be realized. Freud presents memory as locked in a cycle of repression and repetition, a cycle that betrays a similar compulsion. Both are symptoms of the death drive, the yearning for an (impossible) return to a prior originary state. In other words, both respond to a desire to preserve the past—and by extension to control it—as it inevitably recedes or, in Derrida’s phrase, “slips away.”2 For Telò, this is the predicament of Greek tragedy and the unexpected source of its pleasure. Repeatedly mining the traumatic events of a mythical past, the Greek tragedians produced what he calls an “anti-cathartic aesthetics.” The reception history of Aristotelian catharsis is thus turned on its head; the return to psychic equilibrium is exposed as a consoling fiction. In its place, Telò proposes the emergence of “archive feelings,” an aesthetics rooted in the emotional and physical effects of tragic language and conditioned by longing and loss. These feelings, manifested in looping, hoarding, and binging (among other obsessions explored in the individual plays) are sources of a “non-teleological pleasure.” If I understand it correctly, this pleasure is derived in the incessant need to restore (or store up) what has been lost or what is lacking in life. Telò notes that this death-driven aesthetics is operative in capitalist consumption, in the repetitive attraction of social media, and in the impacts of the Anthropocene. It also produces the inescapable pleasure of reading the novels of Toni Morrison. Tragedy has its modern and postmodern forms.
In Telò’s reading of Iphigenia in Tauris (chapter 4, titled “Archival Crypts”), he focuses on the series of near or “suspended” deaths that drives the plot, beginning with Iphigenia’s escape from her own sacrifice at Aulis. These “undead” characters—defined by their desire to escape the gruesome graveyard that is Taurus—are part of what Telò calls “an archive of deaths” or, following Derrida, the “archive-as-crypt.” Strewn with objects—skulls, a letter, a sword, a statue—this archive comprises the family history of the House of Atreus from the cradle to the grave. As Telò argues, it is a history that cannot be erased by or concealed under the escape plot (with its false premise) or by the play’s so-called “happy ending.” All winds blow back to Aulis. Thus, life in the play is caught in a state of suspended animation, a state that describes the act of sacrifice itself, with its oscillation between preservation (of the collective) and destruction (of the victim). For Telò, this state is epitomized in the image of the ship stalled in the harbor in Taurus. And in what is also true for the end of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, he concludes that “the future promised by Athena is nothing but the repetition of a repetition” (195). Or, as I suggest above, it is nothing but a mimêsis within a mimêsis.
“Restlessness” is another important thematic in the book and one that models the restless energy of Telò’s own reading practice. It is a practice that foregrounds philology but does not promise a more perfect understanding of the tragic text as a historical or cultural artifact. To return (again) to the Poetics, if humans learn their earliest lessons through imitation (as sameness or similitude), Telò insists that learning is enabled through embracing and interrogating imitation’s difference—as expressed in language—rather than negating it. His is a “philology as feeling” as opposed to a philology of domination (emphasis in the original). This approach to tragedy reminds me of Frank Ankersmit’s distinction between “looking at” and “looking through” historical texts where the latter claims unfettered access to a prior reality or, in other terms, to an originary event. In contrast and by analogy, “looking at” a literary text means foregoing such claims. Telò marshals the tools of lexical semantics, metrical patterns, and rhetorical tropes in order to “read archivally.” Contingency, ambiguity, uncertainty, and lack (of authority and mastery) constitute the pleasure of reading tragedy in the “thwarted restoration” of what never existed in the first place (i.e., “psychic equilibrium”) (7). Telò returns to the Poetics in order to start over again.
What fuels the repeated return to Greek antiquity and to the Classics as the standard-bearer of Western exceptionalism? Telò’s answer is expressed in part in an overt rejection of historicist research, i.e., of looking through the tragic texts: “My argument is not historical” (7n24). This rejection does not lead to an impasse. Rather, Greek tragedy becomes a vehicle for exploring the relationship of form to content, guided by a belief in the universal (and trans-historical?) explanatory power of psychoanalysis, a belief that still haunts its reception. In promoting the universal over the historical, or psychic processes over data collection, Telò is free to chart a path of “similarity and proximity . . . between antiquity and modernity” (7). But similarity and proximity are not reducible to inheritance and influence (or intertextuality). As a consequence, the charge of anachronism—so common in Classics and other historical disciplines—is moot. If this is a risky business from a disciplinary perspective, it is also courageous. Somewhat paradoxically, this risk is abated by the mediating voices of contemporary cultural and literary theorists. These include not only Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, but also queer theory, post-humanism, the new materialism, and Afropessimism (among others). In a note late in the Introduction (103), Telò states that his “eclecticism is programmatic” and that it serves a “somewhat unified post-modern sensibility enacted in the very reading of tragedy’s densely wrought language.” Appearing in a late note, this programmatic statement becomes something of a cautionary note after the fact. If the archive names what eludes completion, the note acknowledges the analogous impossibility of a “unified” reading.
In the back and forth between getting close to the tragic texts (the “closest reading”) and moving away from them (the theoretical framing), the book also refrains from treating the individual plays as works with beginnings, middles, and ends, as Aristotle describes them. This is apparent in the layout of the book, with chapter titles that don’t include the standard references to playwrights or to the titles of individual plays. The reader must consult the index where, under the names of each of the three major playwrights, she is told to “see specific titles.” Here too the method is modeled in the presentation. For those who both do and do not know the “specific titles” of the thirteen plays under discussion, their absence puts emphasis on the theoretical framing, arranged according to Archival Time, Archival Space, and Archival Endings. These archival dimensions take the place of the plot—what Aristotle calls the “soul” (psychê) of tragedy—and of catharsis as tragedy’s desired effect. Instead of beginnings, middles, and ends, Telò’s readings effectively anatomize the tragedies in order to reveal their death-driven rush toward an unreachable telos, whether we are talking about the end of the plot or the equilibrium of the human psyche. In both cases, the soul is undone.
Philosophy and the Tragic
Back to Plato?
Mario Telò’s Archive Feelings: A Theory of Tragedy is comprised primarily of elegant formalist reading of Greek tragedies. His book is worth reading for the quality of those chapters alone. Because his expertise in this area exceeds mine, I shall devote my few remarks to a broader consideration of Telò’s overall stated aim, especially as that claim is articulated in the book’s opening chapter.
Archive Feelings returns us to questions raised in the earliest debates over the significance of tragedy: namely, to the inheritance of Plato and Aristotle. In the short space available to me, I want to contrast my understanding of the stakes of Aristotle’s and Plato’s remarks on tragedy with that of Telò, to at least sketch what I think his framing of the issues risks missing – especially with respect to what might be revealed about what I shall call Telò’s real plea. In doing this, my point is not so much to intervene in a debate about how to properly read Aristotle or Plato – I will not try to convince anyone, in other words, that my reading is the correct one. Instead, my aim will be to outline an alternative way of thinking about the issues that Telò raises, by drawing attention to what I see as an under-analyzed relation to the Aristotelian inheritance in Archive Feelings.
But to do that, I should first state what I think Telò’s own proposal is.
In the Aristotelian theory of catharsis,” Telò writes, “mimesis is the distancing frame capable of transforming pain into pleasure, protecting the spectator/reader of tragedy from being ‘hurt’; it is what ultimately places the subject in a safe position” (4-5). Telò sees Aristotle’s views on mimesis in tragedy as underwriting the central importance of catharsis. The “fundamental tenet of catharsis,” he claims, is “its tending toward some kind of healing restoration” (6). Telò’s “goal,” as he puts it:
is to suggest an alternative to reparative or redemptive tragic aesthetics by asking. What if the pleasure of tragedy is produced not by release but by the lack of it – by a sense of stuckness…? What if, in other words, the absence of psychic restoration after pleasurable pain is tragedy’s main allure? (7).
Although Telò turns to Sigmund Freud’s enigmatic notion of a ‘death drive’ in dealing with this question, he is well-aware that what he calls “a rehabilitation of Plato’s aesthetics” (4) also looms large. For Plato, the pleasure taken in tragedy is its satisfaction and stimulation of a nonrational appetite for grief – “the fulfilment of a ‘hunger for tears’” (5). Telò approvingly cites Rana Saadi Liebert’s Tragic Pleasure from Homer to Plato: (Cambridge UP):
Aristotle does not resolve so much as contain the tragic paradox within the realm of representation, where it remains the case that an encounter with painful objects gives pleasure because of and not despite their pain.1
Telò marshals a set of thinkers whose views on tragedy are quite disparate — Adorno, Derrida, Deleuze and above all Freud – to make the following claim:
By placing the death drive, as theorized by Freud and others after him, at the center of my model of anti-catharsis, I locate the pleasurable pain of Greek tragedy in an alluring destabilization without release, which is effected not only by moments of formal anti-closure, but also by the aesthetic power attached to fantasies of never-ending undoing by the subject. (10)
I hope that this brief reconstruction gives some sense of the measure and aims of Telò’s book.
On the one hand, the canvas on which Telò paints is quite large – Greek tragedy, Plato, Aristotle, Freud, Derrida and Delueze. On the other hand, the ambition of Archive Feelings is also deceptively modest: Telò aims to show that Freud – and before him, Plato – were on to something, in their consideration of a pleasure taken in pain, an “alluring destabilization without release.”
By calling this ambition modest, I want simply to note: Would even the most rigid Aristotelian (or ‘contextualist’ reader, such as J.P. Vernant or Froma Zeitlin, Telò’s other foils) need to deny the plausibility and possible implications of such a destabilization? That is, if “Aristotle does not resolve so much as contain the tragic paradox within the realm of representation” – as Liebert, I think rightly, states – then why should that give us any reason to think that such containment requires a denial of the reality or significance of an “alluring destabilization without release”? By the same token, why would attending to that “alluring destabilization” need to take the form of what Telò wants to call “an anti-cathartic aesthetics” (4, my emphasis)? These are my basic questions; toward the end of these remarks, I want to suggest ways to think about these questions as symptoms of something under-analyzed in Telò’s book.
It was Peter Szondi, in his Essay on the Tragic (trans. Paul Fleming, Stanford University Press, 2002) who distinguished between a “poetics of tragedy” (Aristotle, or an Aristotelian tradition of poetics, broadly conceived) and the “philosophy of the tragic” that emerged around 1800 in the writings of Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel. One thesis that suggests itself in Szondi’s distinction between poetics and philosophy, tragedy and the tragic, is that the relation between tragedy and philosophy cannot itself be resolved poetically because it is a problem for philosophy qua philosophy. Put another way, the sheer existence of tragedies – what that existence means — cannot be resolved by responding to the poetic questions: ‘What is a tragedy?’ ‘What is that kind of artwork?’ ‘What are tragedies’ distinctive features?’ The more fundamental problem posed to philosophy by the very existence of tragedies as a distinctive aesthetic practice concerns what the tragic poets themselves know, or reveal, about human existence, pain, death, eros, loss and so on. Plato was of course the first to see this problem clearly2
Now, it is remarkable how often – in discussions of Plato – Plato’s specific critique of tragedy in Republic Book 10 gets conflated with the broader critique of mimesis with which Book 10 opens. I suspect that the overwhelming influence of Aristotle’s Poetics, since the Renaissance, is largely responsible for this conflation. Let me call this the ‘Aristotelian forcefield.’ Due to this forcefield, it can seem to modern readers as though Aristotle’s robust defense of the cognitive significance of mimetic arts in the Poetics – above all, tragedy (since tragedy was, for both Plato and Aristotle, “the deepest, most significant and philosophically interesting of all mimetic artforms”)3 — is also a riposte to Plato’s critique of tragedy.
However, it can be instructive to separate these strands of argumentation.
When Plato has Socrates declare that mimetic works are “dim reflections” of reality, or that they are deceptive (books 2 and 3, especially) or that they lack a practical purpose, he does so in ways that make clear how little a challenge mimetic practices finally pose, in Plato’s framing, to Socrates’ ability to grasp them through the deployment of the very concept of mimesis – mimesin holon (Book 10). But when it comes to tragedy, what really worries Plato — “the chief accusation” against tragedy – arises not from this critique of mimesis, but instead from the tension between the rational part of the soul, and the grief that cries out from the mournful, nonrational part of the soul in response to tragic performances:
What is by nature best in us, because it hasn’t been adequately educated by argument or habit, relaxes its guard over this mournful part because it sees another’s sufferings, and it isn’t shameful for it, if some other man who claims to be good laments out of season, to praise and pity him; rather it believes that it gains the pleasure and wouldn’t permit itself to be deprived of it by despising the whole poem. I suppose that only a certain few men are capable of calculating that the enjoyment of other people’s sufferings has a necessary effect on one’s own. For the pitying part, fed strong on these examples, is not easily held down in one’s own sufferings.4
Again, notice: What underlies Plato’s “chief’ critique of tragedy has little to do with the mimetic status of tragedies. Plato’s deeper worry is more general: tragic (and comic) poets have a proto-philosophical knowledge — they know the causes of human suffering, the kinds of losses humans bear, and the kind of psychic responses to loss to which humans are susceptible. Jay Bernstein puts this point well:
Like the philosopher, tragic poets have a synoptic vision: tragedy (and comedy) is a view of the world as a whole. The tragic worldview perceives human life as inherently self-contradictory, as continually bound to opposing goods and impossible differences, as bounded by irredeemable loses; what is self-contradictory or seeped in loss cannot be cognitively mastered, but it can, and should be, understood, felt, acknowledged, accepted. In tragedy we understand through feeling; and what we feel, finally, is grief. Tragic knowledge is performative and sensible as opposed to philosophical knowledge that is thetic and intelligible. There is indeed an ancient quarrel between philosophy and tragedy: what Plato finds truly intolerable about tragedy (and comedy) is the thought that such a view of the world be ultimate and final, that human life be lamentable or absurd.5
Now, so far as I can see, nothing in Aristotle’s Poetics – neither the significance of catharis, nor the centrality of mythos – is meant to directly refute Plato on this point. Instead, Aristotle begins the Poetics on a different note entirely, by rescuing mimesis from the critique to which Socrates subjected all mimetic practices – to show what mimetic activity makes intelligible, and how.
Indeed, it is remarkable that Aristotle’s treatment of pity and fear – our affective response to tragedy – does not directly confront Plato’s “chief accusation” in Book 10 of The Republic. Aristotle instead stressed that plot-structure [mythos] is the “soul” of tragedy, and he connected this to an account of the impact of tragic dramas on audiences. Tragic plots – thought Aristotle – present a shared understanding of the worldly conditions for the protagonists’ actions and sufferings, a collective understanding of the things in view of which the drama’s main events might occur. The events in a tragic plot must be plausible, after all, and they must unfold on account of one another in some intelligible way. If a tragic story moves us, Aristotle thought, it is because the events depicted seem to us ‘likely enough’ and rational in this way, as if they could happen to any of us. What we watch happen in a tragedy is not likely enough to justify ‘real’ fear, but the events are too close (and too significant) to ignore. The way audiences are moved by what happens – indeed, whether audiences are moved – thus gauges this collective understanding of matters generally, and confirms the “universality” of a shared human condition.6 Our affective response, Aristotle insists, is linked to the ultimate rationality of the events themselves, and the meaningfulness of the world in which they occur.
I rehearse all this, because I see Telò as, first, wanting to return our attention – with Freud’s help – to that feature of tragedy about which Plato worried, namely the pleasure taken in pain, the sub-rational appetite for grief which tragedy waters and upon which it feeds. And, second, Telò wants to do this by – he says, repeatedly – contesting the Aristotelian inheritance, which he regards as somehow obscuring or as opposed to, the Platonic inheritance I am briefly excavating. But, for reasons I have been suggesting, this second aim seems unnecessary for – even a non-sequitur with respect to – the achievement of the first aim.
I could not help but wonder, as I read Archive Feelings, if Telò is himself – contrary to his stated intention – revealing the extent to which he is under the influence of what I called the ‘Aristotelian forcefield.’ That is, I wonder why Telò feels compelled to frame his intervention as “anti-catharic” at all? Why not simply skip Aristotle altogether – since, as I just noted, Aristotle himself does not stop to answer Plato’s “chief accusation” against tragedy? Why not, that is, rehabilitate relevant aspects of Plato’s real complaint against tragedy’s watering of the nonrational part of the soul, and then place that in direct dialogue with Freud’s death drive and its contemporary elaborations? Doing this would give Telò everything he needs to stage a transhistorical dialogue about tragedy and affect, linking Plato and Greek tragedy to Freud and his readers.
The answer to these puzzles seems to be that Telò sees catharsis as analogous to the pleasure principle, or the Freudian “life instinct.” Telò writes:
When, in the Poetics, Aristotle introduces catharsis as the purgation of fear and pity that tragedy achieves through these same emotions, he seems to assume an instinct for survival and self-mastery (expressed in what Bernays calls the ‘restoration of psychic equilibrium’), which, in his schema, the assault of tragic emotions activates… it can be assimilated to the Freudian life instinct. (13)
Here, I must confess that I cannot find in Aristotle’s text this assumption of a psychic instinct for survival and self-mastery. And, since this is Aristotle we are talking about, if such an ‘instinct’ had been noticed by the philosopher, then we can be sure it would have received systematic treatment at his hands. But I do not want to object to Telò on the basis of ‘Aristotle scholarship’ alone, since Telò himself is not proposing a ‘scholarly’ reading of Aristotle in defense of any claim he is making. Instead, and this is what I want to draw attention to, there seems to be some transference going on between Telò, Freud and Aristotle.
I suspect that part of the transference has to do with the extent to which Telò does not want our affective responses to tragedy to be limited by any assumption of mimetic distance, or for that matter, by a “poetic” theory at all. For, mimetic distance – Telò thinks – risks obscuring the death-driven ‘archive fever’ which makes any attempt to recover a traumatic past by ‘mimetically staging’ it both a symptom of our longing (for what is lost) and an incessant reminder of that loss. Thus, insofar as Aristotle builds a bridge between mimetic presentation and catharsis-as-release-from-longing, Telò feels himself called to take a stand – in the name of what is forever lost.
Let me put this another way. At the level of the letter of his text, Telò’s objection to Aristotelianism is that something in Aristotle’s ‘theory’ of catharsis blocks a proper understanding of tragedy as death driven. I hope I have already said enough to indicate why I find no evidence in Aristotle – or for that matter in Telò’s treatment of the Aristotelian inheritance — to substantiate this suggestion. But I now want to say how, I think, the letter of Telò’s text betrays a different wish. That is, the spirit of Telò’s text makes a plea to which its letter stands opposed.
The book’s subtitle notwithstanding — Telò’s real plea, I suspect, is not for a better ‘theory’ of the affective force of Greek tragedies, one capable of contesting the Aristotelian inheritance. Instead, Telò’s real, if unavowed, plaint is that we should hear, beneath any talk of mimesis and catharsis, the tragic facts of life to which both are indebted
Is there a more succinct statement of these facts than that of Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus?
Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human suffering and unites it with the human sufferer. Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human suffering and unites it with the secret cause.7
When suffering is identified in a sufferer, the mind is arrested by pity; terror arrests the mind, too, insofar as the cause of such suffering remains secret.
The real obstacle posed by the Aristotelian inheritance, for Telò, is not – contrary to the letter of his text – that Aristotle illicitly posits an instinct for self-mastery capable of “healing restoration” and of returning us to life instincts in the wake of being ‘arrested’ by fear and pity.
The real obstacle by which Telò – and all of us – find ourselves frustrated, in this regard, is that nothing in the Aristotelian inheritance can come to the rescue when we find ourselves thus arrested. And that is something we must find ways to lament. 8
Rana Saadi Liebert, Tragic Pleasure from Homer to Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017), 12. I agree with Liebert’s statement, but for reasons – I think – that are different from Telò’s endorsement; more on that in a moment.↩
So, I disagree with the second half of Peter Szondi’s opening claim in An Essay on the Tragic, that “Since Aristotle, there has been a poetics of tragedy. Only since Schelling has there been a philosophy of the tragic” (1). I see Aristotle’s Poetics as a response to the problem of a more fundamental connection between tragedy and philosophy, as first formulated by Plato, in his critique of tragedy. I have in mind Socrates’ “chief accusation” against tragedy: the contrast between the ultra-stoicism of the deliberative part of the soul, as taught by philosophy, and the lamentation that flows from the mournful, pitying part of the soul in response to tragic performances [Republic 606a-c]. That said, Szondi’s identification of the philosophy of the tragic with German philosophy is certainly justified and understandable, in view of his discussion, especially, of Hegel’s “tragic dialectic.” Telò, for his part, does not discuss the German philosophy of tragic (Hegel, Hoelderlin and Schelling are nowhere mentioned), just as Szondi does not include Freud in the lineage he traces from Schelling to Benjamin. It remains striking that ‘theoretically informed’ treatments of Greek tragedy which draw especially upon Freud (and Lacan) largely avoid the German philosophy of the tragic from Schelling to Benjamin, and vice-versa. Why the mutual avoidance?↩
Stephen Halliwell, The Aesthetics of Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 240.↩
Plato, The Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 606a-b↩
J.M. Bernstein, “Tragedy,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature, edited by Richard Eldridge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).↩
Aristotle’s repeated emphasis on the “universality” of these elements in tragedy is connected to his remark that tragedy is “more philosophical” than history in the simple sense that, out of the morass of particular or contingent ‘happenings’ in human affairs, an audience can discern the general sorts of things that ‘someone like us’ might typically do or say.↩
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Penguin, 2016), 189.↩
I find Alasdair MacIntyre’s work on Aristotle and modern ethical life to be a good model for carrying out such a lament philosophically. Jonathan Lear’s recent responses to MacIntrye, which put Aristotle and Freud in conversation, are important in this respect, too, for adding psychoanalysis to the list of ways to mourn.↩
Archive Fever and Feminism
One of the great boons of Mario Telò’s book is to insist on the messiness of Greek tragedy, its excess, and its resistance to being parceled up into neat narratives and tidy interpretations. His particular target is the old idea, taken from Aristotle (in one widespread understanding of Aristotle’s theory of catharsis) that tragedy is cathartic in the sense that its pleasures lie in the audience experiencing a sense of release. Tragedy is, goes this line of interpretation, reparative. Archive Fever contests this approach, and, indeed, all readings of Greek tragedy that see in the plays redemption, the restoration of order, and laying the groundwork for future happiness. For Telò, tragedy’s pleasures are much grimmer than we have typically allowed: the genre is, he argues “an aesthetic expression of the death drive,” one that mires its characters, and its readers, in self-destruction, compulsive repetition, and pleasure-in-pain.
I should put my cards on the table at this point and confess that I am not, I think, Telò’s ideal reader. Some of his denser engagements with Freud and Derrida are beyond my ken, and I found the term “archive” rather slippery, or perhaps just too capacious. And there was rather too much masochism and ejaculatory jouissance for my liking. As I got stuck into the book, I fretted that I hadn’t fully grasped the theory; by the time I had finished it I fretted that my sex life is too vanilla. Both are likely to be true, but let’s not dwell on that. Despite my inadequacies it was clear to me that one of the central arguments of this big, bold, and brilliant book, is spot on. The pleasures of reading Greek tragedy (or viewing, but Telò is more concerned with reading than viewing) do not lie per se in any release and relief that come at the end of the plays. Archive Fever presents an impressive challenge to functionalist readings of Greek tragedy that understand the tragic violence in the dramas as being in the service of restoring order at the end. Richard Seaford’s argument that at the end of the Bacchae “salvation [is] brought to the polis by the death of Pentheus” is a good example of such a functionalist reading; Telò must be right to contest it.1
My questions have to do with the other central argument of Archive Fever, that the pleasures of tragedy lie in its frenzied repetitive looping, the sense of stuckness that it implicates us in, and its resistance to normative and fixed readings. In a nutshell, I want to ask: What does this mean for Greek tragedy and feminism? The book’s index (its own archive) does not have entries for feminism, gender or ethnicity, despite Telò’s obvious familiarity with feminist work (Toni Morrison, Anne Carson, Judith Butler, Bonnie Honig all feature, as does the iconic feminist movie Thelma and Louise), and despite the attraction that some of the Greek tragedies have held for feminists, within and beyond the academy. I want to discuss three areas, then, where I would like to know more about whether and how Telò’s approach is compatible with feminist approaches. The first concerns the “emancipatory force” of death-driven aesthetics, and whether it is emancipatory in ways that further feminist goals. The second ponders the “jouissance of [Telò’s] hermeneutics,” the medium-is-the-message part of the analysis. And the third, related, question, asks what happens if we eschew an ejaculatory model of catharsis for one that understands catharsis instead as a kind of ethical attunement. Subtending these questions is a broader desire to know about how the political ideologies of Greek tragedy, however, complicated and fraught these may be, align, or don’t align, with Telò’s reading of the aesthetics of Greek tragedy. Presumably aesthetics cannot be separated from power relations, and attendant moral issues. Is there room for intersectionality in the death-drive?
In her chapter “Tragedy and Feminism” in the Blackwell Companion to Tragedy, Victoria Wohl sums up why Greek tragedy has proven so appealing for feminist viewers:
the radical potential of tragedy’s critique [is] its implication that liberatory alternatives subsist within the very structures of the hegemonic.2
Examples of this might be found in Antigone’s challenges to Creon (and to the state) in Sophocles’s Antigone, Clytemnestra’s avenging of her daughter’s sacrifice and seizing of power in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, and in the Chorus’s observation that male poets tell myth from a perspective that is biased against women, and Medea’s destruction of her faithless husband in Euripides’s Medea. It is worth pondering Wohl’s insight alongside Telo’s explanation of where he sees tragedy’s “emancipatory force”:
Reacting against the very idea of containment in all its forms—even ecstasy when it closes in and stabilizes—tragedy, through its death-driven aesthetics, carries emancipatory force, claiming a place for futility, suspension, undulation, frozenness, mere duration, and a purposeless sensation within the realm of public feeling. (281)
I would like to know more about how futility, suspension etc. are emancipatory. If I understand Telò correctly, part of their emancipatory force is that they refuse overly neat and calcifying narratives. And they militate against teleology. But it is precisely in the teleological that Wohl’s liberatory alternatives can be found: in Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband, in Creon’s ruin, in Medea’s jeering at Jason and spectacular escape. Telò invites us to read the final tableau in Euripides’s Medea and the celebrated representation on the Cleveland Vase of Medea’s escape in the dragon chariot, as portraying not her escape, but, like the iconic final image of Thelma and Louise where the two women are suspended over the Grand Canyon, “intimations of the crash, fear of and for disaster [that] produce a pleasure-in-pain” (110). I agree that these intimations are there, but would suggest that it is part of Euripides’s outrageous boldness in creating the fear that she might fall, but the realization that she doesn’t. This is less a “stuckness,” or “suspension,” than the sheer exhilarating appreciation that, for once, a tragedy allows a murderess woman to fly off to safe haven in Athens. I am not wanting to oversimply the ending to Medea or any other Greek tragedy, especially those of Euripides which, as Francis Dunn has observed are markedly and intricately inventive;3 I am wanting to preserve a reading of the ending that is meaningful for feminist viewers.
Am I trying to smuggle in what Telò calls “normative” narratives? Perhaps, if feminist interpretations are normative. What separates out a normative feminist interpretation or appropriation from a non-normative, or queer, one? Perhaps there’s another way of apprehending Telò’s emancipatory reading. Can there be something liberating in mere duration, purposeless sensation etc.? Can this be a form of feminist refusal? It is hard for me to see how. Moreover, why is resisting a teleological narrative per se emancipatory, especially if some of the teleological narratives resisted work to feminist (i.e., emancipatory) ends?
The second issue: for Telò in his writing, the medium is the message. In the epilogue to the book he explains:
In the jouissance of my hermeneutics, in the spiraling energy of my analyses, I have tried to reproduce the feeling of the death-driven modes of aesthetic reception that I seek to uncover. Twisting the practice of close reading into a liminal exercise between critique and post-critique, I have relished the excess that oozes from the formal edges. (279)
Indeed, parts of it read like John Henderson, if Henderson were writing while trapped in the Freud Museum and high on molly. (I mean this with immense admiration for both scholars and only slight alarm). There are some close readings that take my breath away. The reading of the Argo in Euripides’s Medea through and against the description of the Argo in Accius’s Medea, the kommos in the Libation Bearers with the idea of in-cess (of archiving oneself in one’s own body), the analysis of Pentheus body in The Bacchae, and many more. The poetic, affective and exegetic power of Telò’s writing is palpable. However, in the chapter “Tragic Jolts, Jouissance, Impossibility” I wonder whether Telò’s approach blurs the line between pointing out the eroticization of suffering in tragedy, and turning tragedy into pornography. There is something about the cumulative effect of honing in on select descriptions, and couching the dynamics of eroticized suffering as ejaculatory jouissance that I found staining, of tragedy (not by tragedy—and of me the reader).
What would happen if we went not with ejaculation as our model for the pleasurable-pain of tragic dynamics, but with menstruation; as Telò notes, Aristotle used the term catharsis for both ejaculation and menstruation. Might the aftermath be not sadness (“post coital tristesse”), unless the person was mourning not being pregnant, but relief from the pain? Less messily, what would happen if we were to take catharsis not as meaning some kind of emotional cleansing, release, and reparation, but, following Charles Segal and Stephen Halliwell, as something like an emotional refinement that is in the service of ethical attunement? From this perspective, catharsis is not so much something teleological, something ejaculatory (or menstrual), something that involves release, relief, and reparation, but something akin to emotional clarification through the intellectual engagement demanded by Greek tragedy. This brings us (back) to the questions of how the aesthetics of tragedy are enmeshed in, create, and are created by, our moral experiences of tragedy. The exhilaration, the pleasure-in-pain if you like, of Greek tragedy for me at least has never been in cathartic release, but in the intellectual and ethical responses it demands of us, as well as the emotional ones. In the discussions with other audience members afterwards, or in my head, while I am reading. It is in the worrying about my pleasure taken in Medea’s escape, my recognition of how this implicates me. It is in our attempts to understand tragedy, something tragedy demands of us, that its pleasures and intrinsic worth lie. Despite some of my reservations about his approach, I can think of few people with whom I’d rather have these discussions than Mario Telò.
R. Seaford, “The Social Function of Attic Tragedy: A Response to Jasper Griffin,” CQ 50.1 (2000): 30–44.↩
V. Wohl, “Tragedy and Feminism,” in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. R. Bushnell (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), 157–58.↩
F. Dunn, Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama (Oxford University Press, 1996).↩
The Discursive Machine
I think Mario Telò’s Archive Feelings contains the most original theory of tragedy in a generation. Not since Simon Goldhill’s writings on Athenian democratic ideology—which Telò repudiates—has work appeared with such potential to seed a whole new way of thinking about Attic tragic theater. Telò’s characterization of tragedy as an instantiation of something like the Freudian death drive, and his assertion that the pleasure of tragedy comes not from mimesis or cathartic release but from an almost-inorganic instinctual repetition leading to the absence of release, a glorious reveling in being stuck, gives us a radically new viewpoint which should have far-reaching consequences. Gone is the placid smile that for Hegel adorned the surface of even the most horrific tragic text thanks to the mediating and mollifying power of form; rather, there is a terrible grimace as things fall once more into the abyss. Here, trauma and loss ever repeat, subject to always new and always failed attempts to domesticate them. Tragic aesthetics are concerned with the “pleasure-in-pain of wanting but being unable to fill the gap, to make up for the lack inherent in memory” (19). This seems truer to my own experience of tragedy, and of the delighted dissatisfaction that has forced me to return to it again and again for more than thirty years. I love tragic difficulty, tragic rebarbativeness; I love that I hate it, that I resonate with it and yet see nothing of myself in it all at the same time. Archive Feelings also strikes me as offering a theory of tragedy for our time, when the human world seems stuck, unable to escape the torture chamber it has created for itself, utterly and hopelessly besotted with the never-ending agony it subjects itself to. What could be truer to this moment than a dramatic form that cannot escape its own traumatized sense of history, that leaves us with nothing but excruciating joy?
As with every new theory of tragedy, Archive Feelings embodies the results of a new relation to tragic texts. This is not surprising, for one must approach texts differently to earn different results from them. Aristotle abstracts and finds tragedy to be a philosophical theory of what normally happens; Hegel sublimates and finds that tragedy reconciles conflict through form; Nietzsche historicizes and discovers a hymn to life in all its aspects, one which is inevitably impossible in the modern world; Freud symptomatizes and uncovers in tragedy an attempt to deal with suppressed memories and infantile desires; the mainstream of tragic studies contextualize and reveal an expression and questioning of shared cultural assumptions. What does Telò do in Archive Feelings? His own term for it, inspired by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, is ardent reading, and it rejects “the notion that critics should, or even can, place themselves outside of or beyond the text” (36). Attendant above all to “out-of-joint syntax, dislocated semantic configurations, and subliminal patterns of signification,” he “never takes the text as a given but constantly puts it under pressure—not to challenge or battle it, but to keep tragic form always moving, in a perennial, burning, anti-cathartic state of being done and undone” (37).
I do not want to doubt or question the lucid methodological description that Telò offers in these words, and I enthusiastically applaud the assertion that this kind of scholarship does not describe form so much as produce it. But without diminishing the importance of ardent reading, I think there are productive processes at work throughout Archive Feelings that this concept does not encapsulate, and which may in fact make the book the distinctive and decisive contribution that it is. I also suspect that it will take more time and words than I have here to adequately characterize it. So here is the first draft of my attempt to do so: the distinctive approach that Telò has developed here is to construct a discursive machine that works with implacable logic, and then to make it run next to certain tragic texts; the rhymes and resonances between these two discourses are the moments of focus thanks to which his sense of tragedy as an “archive fever” emerges. I do not think that these few words will achieve a complete characterization of this procedure. I can hope only to make a start, which I propose to do by taking a brief look at the book’s engagement with Freud and the theory of the death drive. This is where the book begins, and it is in a sense the platform from which everything is launched. Freud characterized the death drive as the most primitive of instincts, prior to and in some ways more fundamental than the “pleasure principle.” While the latter is an instinct to pursue pleasure and avoid unpleasure, the death drive compels us to return over and over to earlier moments in an organism’s being; it can be discerned in the clinically observable “compulsion to repeat” traumatic events. It is via a meditation on the Freudian death drive that Telò arrives at the insight that “tragedy’s repetitive engagement with the traumatic tales of myth implicates this dramatic form in what we can call a traumythic compulsion. In every instantiation, Greek tragedy stages its obsession with primal scenes and ‘sources,’ seeking to import through its very constitution their traumatic contents and the traumatic energy of the origin as such” (18). Given the centrality of this theme in the book, one might in fact be tempted to say that Archive Feelings represents a renewal of the Freudian position. But I cannot bring myself to believe this, for the simple reason that I do not think Archive Feelings in any way represents an “application” of Freudian theory to tragic textuality. Telò’s engagement with Freud is consistently mediated by the critical tradition, including the work of Derrida and Silverman, among others, so there is no question of an “orthodox” or “literalist” Freudianism here. Nor would one want or expect there to be: the death drive and its consequences are elaborated through a series of further critical reflections and developed, via these elaborations, into a new theory. This is typical of Freudian engagements in the contemporary humanities, and I do not mean it as a criticism when I point out that much of what characterized Freud’s doctrine is bracketed off here: his extraordinary powerful and prescient texts are valued not for their insights into the structure or nature of the individual psyche but for their figurative force, for the fact that they articulate, underwrite, and can serve to critique public narratives and discursive blockages. Freud’s Lamarckianism, his belief that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, the entire neuro-physiological model which he consistently presumes, and even his entirely realist belief that there is an unconscious, are matters of doctrine that are no longer adopted when the major topoi of his thought are deployed in cultural criticism.
A concept like the death drive serves as a dynamic engine for critical discourse, and it is neither surprising nor blameworthy that Telò can benefit from it without adopting the physiological theory Freud himself relies on in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to disclose it. But the consequence must be that this is not a substantially Freudian reading of tragedy. Rather, it is something else, something which takes a figure from Freud and then unfolds a discursive machine on its basis, drawing on its power without committing to its substance.
Let me offer an example of a similar kind of intellectual endeavor, drawn from an obscure and perhaps idiosyncratic source: Christopher Dewdney’s “Parasite Maintenance,” published a number of times but perhaps most accessible in his 1980 collection Alter Sublime. In this short essay, Dewdney proposes a striking thesis (one adapted as well by William S. Burroughs, among others):
The subsequent pages of Dewdney’s essay argue, in a scientific language complete with precise drawings of neurons, synapses, and the cerebral cortex, how language has come to occupy its human hosts as an autonomous and living parasite; and how, in the case of English, that parasite strictly enforces the limits of the thinkable. He then proceeds to show, in the same highly scientistic language, that “the poet” has the capacity to find and record expressions that exceed those limits, in effect countering the censoring power of the “Governor” and liberating us from the prison house of language. Dewdney’s reasoning is tight, precise, and cast almost entirely in terms drawn from what at the time were contemporary views of neurophysiology and linguistics. But it would be a mistake, I think, to take this as a neurophysiological argument. Rather, it is a poetological argument that uses the language of neuroscience; and it makes a claim that does not stand or fall on the strength of the “neuroscience” it cites. As Christian Bök put it in an article published in Open Letter in 1997, “Dewdney utilizes the poetry of ‘pataphysics in order to parody the metaphysics of science.” The “’pataphysics” to which Bök refers was invented by Alfred Jarry in the late 1890s. One of its originary gestures, which is vividly adopted by Dewdney in parasite maintenance, was to use the language of prestigious sciences to make decidedly non-scientific claims. Crucial to the mechanics of ‘pataphysical language use is the appearance, and sometimes even the fact, that this language use be systematic. Bök’s invocation of parody notwithstanding, ‘pataphysics is not a joke, and its application of scientific language is usually in deadly seriousness, even if the results can seem playful. Better than the word “parody” to describe the relationship between science and ‘pataphysics, as Sean Braune pointed out, is the word parasitical: “’pataphysical language is parasitical on science in the sense that it is an unwanted guest who sits beside science’s table and metabolizes what science discards; its truths are often the rejecta of science, formed into surprising and unrepeatable objects.”2
If you feel like I’ve just eaten my own tail, so to speak, in claiming that Parasite Maintenance is ‘pataphysical and that ‘pataphysics is parasitical, you’re starting to get it: Dewdney’s project, like ‘pataphysics, depends on creating figural machines that are self-perpetuating and autonomous, combining both hyperrationality and deliriousness to produce results that are simultaneously ludic and profound.” Crucially, I think, Dewdney’s message is simultaneously articulated and embodied in the essay, which uses scientific language poetically in order to adumbrate an escape from its constraints: if the language of Science can seem to constrain thought, the language of poetry can circumvent those constraints, even as it works or plays with it, as Dewdney does here.
I am not proposing that Archive Feelings is a ‘pataphysical work. It is a criterion of ‘pataphysics that it be deliberate; one cannot retroactively characterize activities as ‘pataphysical except under extremely specific circumstances. But ‘pataphysics lies ready to hand as an example of the same move that is evinced in this excellent book’s handling of the death drive: Freud’s terminology and conceptual armature is adopted for its fecundity, and allowed to develop and grow in entirely new directions, directions that do not need to have much to do with their original soil. Long after the death drive did its work within the Freudian corpus, it is doing real and significant but very different work in Telò’s theory of tragedy. And while I do not think this book reveals the thinking of an orthodox or doctrinaire Freudian, it is not a heretical misuse of Freudian ideas, either: indeed, the logic by which cultural critics return to the death drive, even when we no longer accept the major underpinnings of the Freudian system, seems very much in the spirit of the compulsion to repeat, which as Telò so beautifully characterizes it represents a drive on the part of the living, organic being to return to what it no longer is, to soils that can no longer sustain it. And, like Dewdney’s ‘pataphysical essay, Archive Feelings exemplifies what it describes. For while Archive Feelings represents a major new theory of tragedy, it seems to me that it would be wrong to call it a theory about tragedy. Archive Feelings does not characterize or even describe tragedy or tragic texts. Rather, this is a thinking that returns to tragedy much as tragedy itself returns, compulsively, to traumatic myths. Indeed, Archive Feelings not only compulsively returns to tragedy; it compulsively returns to Freud, and the same agony of the inescapable archive, which is also an extraordinary and confounding joy, seems to be at work in Telò’s engagement with both corpora. The inability to “make up for the lack inherent in memory” is diagnostic of tragedy, but it is also diagnostic of the return to tragedy, and of the very attempt to theorize “return itself.” The ardency of the readings here is tragic, the result of a nostalgia for the non-self, the inorganic other, the death before life.
C. Dewdney, Alter Sublime (Coach House, 1980), 75.↩
S. Braume, Language Parasites: Of Phorontology (Punctum, 2017).↩
3.10.22 | Mario Telò
Response to Sean Gurd
The image of the “terrible grimace” replacing Hegel’s “placid smile” as he revels in the “mediating and mollifying power of tragic form” could not have better captured the shift in our aesthetic perception of tragedy that I sought to provoke in Archive Feelings. When Gurd says, “I love tragic difficulty, tragic rebarbativeness; I love that I hate it, that I resonate with it and yet see nothing of myself in it all at the same time,” his language is not simply an odi et amo but an amo quia odi, which boldly expresses the contradictory feelings, even the “ugly feelings” that, for many of us, tragic formal textures exude when we read the plays or we see them animated onstage. There is a disconnect between the non-scholarly experience of watching or reading tragedy and the practice of writing about it. While, as I say in the introduction, I believe that audiences are different, that there is not (and cannot be) unity in their responses, literary-critical analyses and theoretical accounts tend to steer clear of the ugly feelings; they do not seek the language and the conceptual apparatus for the rebarbativeness that Gurd speaks of. While allowing for multiple forms of open-endedness, ambiguity, deferral, and so on, scholars working on tragedy, especially classicists, do not usually take stock of the aesthetic and affective consequences of this open-endedness, the amo quia odi that stems from it, or its implications, which take us back to the famous pages on tragedy in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. We all agree that tragedy elicits multiple responses, but this multiplicity seems always to be encompassed within the horizon of Aristotelian catharsis, which, notwithstanding the instruments that Freud and Lacan gave us for understanding tragedy differently, exerted its fascination even on them. De-emphasizing the normative ideas of cleanliness and purification inherent to catharsis, scholars such as Victoria Wohl, in her brilliant 2015 monograph,1 consider the possibility not just of pleasure and pain but of pleasure-in-pain, something that Plato himself contemplated. While Wohl’s great reading of Hecuba (a notoriously “ugly” play) takes account of its sadistic pleasures, and she also beautifully reads the auto-immunitarian politics of Orestes, for the latter play she comes back to Aristotle in the end.2 I am not saying such an Aristotelian reading is not compelling; it is. But I wonder whether the impetus to go back to Aristotle and thereby marginalize tragic rebarbativeness has something to do with resistance to the death drive, which, through the force of its name, is taken as a suicidal instinct, even though it need not be.
As Gurd rightly points out, Archive Feelings also attempts to show how Greek tragedy can speak of and to our time and to the sensation of no-time (not just no future) generated by the crises of capitalism and neoliberalism. Although I did not write this book during the COVID pandemic but during the second year of the Trump presidency, it was a time when Gurd’s formulation was already applicable: “the human world seems stuck, unable to escape the torture chamber that it has created for itself, utterly and hopelessly besotted with the never-ending agony it subjects itself to.” (It is significant that as Freud worked on Beyond the Pleasure Principle between March 1918 and March 1920, the Spanish flu killed millions of people worldwide, including his own daughter Sophie.)3 The phrase that Gurd uses to recapitulate this complex of feelings—“excruciating joy”—is perfect for defining the kind of anti-Nietzschean, anti-ecstatic aesthetics that I seek to model. It makes me think of Georges Bataille’s “joy in the face of death,” a concept frequently evoked in the book that captures, for me, our current condition of closely contemplating, with a mix of fear and desire, horror and perverse exhilaration, an impending but never fully materialized extinction. There is a strong reluctance, among most critics, to read tragedy in this way, to recognize expressions of “excruciating joy.” This seems a form of disavowal—and thus an indirect confirmation of what I call the death-driven force of tragedy; its triggering power, if you will; its capacity to challenge and immediately reactivate our predisposition toward the reassuring dictates of the pleasure principle. Most readers do not want to see tragedy as reflecting, or nourishing, our never-ending agony, our stuckness, our inability to escape the “torture chamber” in which we are confined, (un)sheltered.
“Can Greek Tragedy Get Us through the Pandemic?,” a headline in the New Yorker (September 1, 2020) asked in reference to Zoom performances of various Greek tragic plays organized by the Theater of War Production, which, in the writer’s words, “has spent years bringing catharsis to the traumatized.” Although I do not wish to diminish the importance of such initiatives or deny the potential of tragedy, in some manner, to address trauma, I worry that the reparative impulse leans toward a reinscription of the normative, of a reassuring status quo ante that, even if one could recapture it, would not necessarily be desirable. Theorists working in queer theory and also in critical race theory who do not have much sympathy for psychoanalysis (José Esteban Muñoz and Jack Halberstam, for example) share my rejection of the reparative, a concept at odds with the idea of possibility intrinsic to utopian à venir. To me, catharsis seems a quintessential instrument of reparation; it is hard to conceptualize an anti-reparative catharsis, a sense of regained equilibrium that coexists with and is also contaminated by an aestheticized sense of our never-ending agony, our stuckness.
Already in its Freudian version, the death drive is not a suicidal instinct but a broad force of negativity, of undoing. In The Force of Non-Violence (which appeared almost at the same time as my book),4 Judith Butler uses the idea of the death drive to discuss the “impression of overwhelming and unprecedented human destructiveness,” which Freud noticed in his time, as we do in our own. In a 1915 essay on World War I written Before the Pleasure Principle, Freud calls this “destructiveness” a “blind fury,” which, as Butler notes, he “takes from Greek tragedy.”5 This observation invites us to locate the anti-cathartic in the Erinyes of the Eumenides. My reading suggests that we see ourselves in the Erinyes, whose “excruciating joy” is our own, as is their “hopeless besottedness with never-ending agony.” From a different perspective, the death drive is for Butler a force that struggles against the constraining power of the superego, a constraining power that is destructive in its own right. We can see the death drive as a destructive force against destructiveness, a mania, or madness, needed for political change.
For those who think of the death drive as a suicidal impulse, I would also emphasize, with Gurd, its figurative force as a principle of existential and consequently aesthetic stubbornness or recalcitrance (like that of matter or tragic poetic form itself), which, as Gurd puts it, “can serve to critique public narratives and discursive blockages.” This is, after all, what Lee Edelman means when he assimilates the death drive to the condition of the queer, the Real that exceeds the hetero-sexist Symbolic.6 But perhaps a consideration alongside Rancierean dissensus—a resistance against the consensual force of the representational—is most helpful in illuminating the death drive’s figurative valence and its emancipatory potential as a politics of refusal, which, for me, is essential to Greek tragedy and constitutes its most cogent political legacy.
I agree with Gurd’s meta-reading of archive fever as an apt description not just of the psychic-affective-aesthetic dynamics that I locate in tragic texts, but also of the “discursive machine” fabricated by my practices of too-close-reading (to repurpose D. A. Miller’s phrase)7 and radical formalism. In a sense, I aspired to bridge the gap between scholarly and non-scholarly experiences of tragedy, not shying away from those dynamics but drawing energy from them, importing affect into critique and criticism, and building a critical discourse shaped by an “excruciating joy,” a feverish energy. I wanted to show the possibility—as well as the urgency—of critique and criticism that inhabit a certain agitation, that perform the perverse exhilaration of the tragic by letting themselves be affected or infected by it. This perverse exhilaration of the tragic is implicated with the death drive; consequently, criticism conceived as a pulsating performance and circulation of tragedy’s ugly feelings is itself a death-driven process, the enactment of a jouissance, the dramatization of an ongoing rushing more important than its notional destination. In this additional respect, I agree with Gurd that in the book “the death drive serves as a dynamic engine for critical discourse.” My attraction to the pre- or post-linguistic, to form as a de-formation, can be seen to parallel the motion toward the inorganic or a primordial undone-ness that Freud associates with the death drive.
This leads me to another point in Gurd’s comments, the connection he establishes between my ardent reading and his own ‘pataphilology, in which, as he says,
In my analyses, the subject vertiginously gets lost, or utterly disappears, in the knots of subliminal verbal formations or de-formations, in the affective or formal figurations of the (Lacanian) Möbius strip, in the chronological heterodoxies of suspension, achrony, and the Deleuzian coexistence of actual and virtual. I am not afraid to say that my version of ‘pataphilology reclaims a certain impressionism, which was a critical taboo when I was in graduate school. In a forthcoming book, I define this impressionism as “a practice that heeds evanescent potentialities as well as the affective, visceral excess that informs poetic form yet exceeds it, coming through in the gaps of representation.”9 It is a mode of reading that capitalizes on a paradoxical post-critical paranoia or over-analysis, as it were—on “whispered suggestions, shadowy feelings, tenuous connections, murmuring resonances, hazy shadings of meaning or non-meaning, insinuations.”10 Of course, the subtitle of Derrida’s Archive Fever is “A Freudian Impression”; my fervent impressionism—philo-logical in the etymological sense but also para-philological and pataphilological—is another expression of archive fever as a “discursive machine,” another metacritical embodiment of the anarchivic aesthetics of Greek tragedy.
Embracing Gurd’s characterization of Archive Feelings as not a theory about tragedy, but of tragedy, I interpret the “of” more as a subjective than an objective genitive. That is, what the book seeks to demonstrate, through the archive fever circulated by its readings, by its ardent affectivity of reading, is that Greek tragedy is a theory, a theory of the return—a concept that, in in its capaciousness, perhaps helps us bring together the various psychoanalytic or post-psychoanalytic positions mobilized in the book. Greek tragedy—or, at least, the Greek tragedy that I read in this specific moment, in this moment of crisis—shows the possibility of reconciling Freud with post-Freudians and even anti-Freudians and dramatizes the affective texture of the ongoing, inevitable (re)turn to Freud (or the various Freuds contained in Freud) in critical theory (anti-humanistic as well as post-humanistic). Gurd captures the archive feelings that I ascribe to tragedy when he speaks of “the result of a nostalgia for the non-self, the inorganic other, the death before life.” I would add that this “non-self” is another self, predicated on exiting the constrictions of the self, one that does not disavow its inorganic origins and ultimate destination, one that embraces death in life, or lifedeath.
V. Wohl, Euripides and the Politics of Form (Princeton University Press, 2015).↩
V. Wohl, “The Politics of Enmity in Euripides’s Orestes,” in Greek Drama IV: Texts, Contexts, Performance, ed. D. Rosenbloom and J. Davidson (Oxbow, 2012), 224–69.↩
See E. Rottenberg, “At Witz End: Theory in a Time of Plague,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 38.2 (2021): 115–17.↩
J. Butler, The Force of Non-Violence (Verso, 2020).↩
S. Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” SE 14: 111–40.↩
L. Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke University Press, 2004).↩
D. A. Miller, Second Time Around: From Art House to DVD (Columbia University Press, 2021).↩
S. Gurd, “Introduction: Elements of ’Pataphilology,” in ’Pataphilology: An Irreader, ed. Gurd and Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei (Punctum, 2018), 55.↩
Resistant Formalisms: Aristophanes and the Comedy of Crisis, forthcoming.↩