Featured Research: Tragedy and Redress in Western Literature

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Tragedy and Redress in Western Literature

In the first edition of our Featured Research section, Professor Richard Gaskin discusses his new monograph Tragedy and Redress in Western Literature.

This book offers a unique interpretation of tragic literature in the Western tradition, deploying the method and style of analytic philosophy. I argue that tragic literature seeks to offer moral and linguistic redress (compensation) for suffering. Moral redress involves the balancing of a protagonist’s suffering with guilt (and vice versa): I contend that, to a much greater extent than has been recognized by recent critics, traditional tragedy represents suffering (especially that of its protagonists) as incurred by avoidable and culpable mistakes of a cognitive nature.

Moral redress operates in the first instance at the level of the individual agent. Linguistic redress, by contrast, operates at a higher level of generality, namely at the level of the community: its fundamental motor is the sheer expressibility of suffering in words. Against many writers on tragedy, I argue that language is competent to express pain and suffering, and that tragic literature has that expression as one of its principal purposes. Literary tragedy offers us a form of linguistic compensation in what Bertrand Russell called ‘our long march through the night’.

The first part of the book contains materials that I have used over recent years in teaching the ‘Philosophy and Literature’ module; the second part of the book contributes to an ongoing argument for the position that I call linguistic idealism—the view that reality is essentially expressible in language, that it is the internal accusative of language.

Much of my work over the last decade, including this book, has been concerned to offer partial defences and applications of this thesis; my current project is to complete a work in metaphysics and the philosophy of language defending linguistic idealism quite generally.

Tragedy and Redress in Western Literature is published by Routledge.