There is no escaping fate. Everything that is happening now is the result of an unbroken chain of events. There is no running away from suffering as long as we live. Our suffering like our fate is without motive. No explanation and no justification can be found of this world. We, the tragic hero, no matter how much we struggle and resist, are ultimately powerless to change the story’s outcome.
But without tragedy and suffering, life would be a barren waste, for it evokes in us an impression of fullness and proposes to the conscience a terrible reality, which it cannot evade. It is the highest literary art form, the summit of poetic art. The misery and despair of mankind, indescribable pain, the triumph of evil and the irretrievable fall of the good and the innocent are all present here. There are no happy endings. The hope that pursuing one’s desires can lead to lasting happiness, where the virtuous are in the end rewarded and the evil punished is all false, as morality rarely ever prevails.
But tragedy is unique, free of illusions, free of the kind of sugar coating that lets us deceive ourselves of the true nature of the world and forces us to confront the fact that the world isn’t governed for our good, that nature is indifferent to our plight, that we are not in control, and that life is inherently marked by endless antagonism in conflict. There is no final resolution, no happy ending, there’s no paradise for us to escape to, what we will find here is just the battlefield.
The idea of evil was born out of the human desire for meaning, powered by the festering negative feelings that humans felt in the face of meaningless pain.
As human civilization progressed, the true worth of tragedy was devalued, in part because our understanding of it had become corrupted by a certain type of worldview, a moralistic worldview, which had taken the form of Religion, with its elements of sin, guilt and evil. Everything, including art, came to be judged according to these moral criteria, and the most significant aesthetic achievements of tragedy were thereby obscured. What’s worse was that these moral standards were ultimately unattainable as such, and thus devalued not just tragic drama but life itself. How does this happen, why would human beings develop moral standards that lead to the condemnation of life?
The idea of evil explains that it is humans themselves that give birth to it, that they desired its existence, and therefore brought it about. But why would humans desire such a thing? People wanted reasons, reasons for pain, reasons for sadness, reasons for life, reasons for death. Why were their lives filled with suffering? Why were their deaths absurd? They wanted reasons for the destiny that kept transcending their knowledge. In other words, the idea of evil was born out of the human desire for meaning, powered by the festering negative feelings that humans felt in the face of meaningless pain.
What humans find unbearable is not suffering, but suffering without meaning or purpose. The real tragedy in earlier times was the example of an art form that stared the horrors of life in the face and yet remained free, not only from resignation in world weariness, but from the religious obsession of evil, guilt and sin. And that is why we should hope for modern rebirth of tragedy, an art form that would affirm life once again. Our highest dignity lies in our significance as works of art, for only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified.
Tragic drama seeks to affirm life, and life can only be affirmed as a whole in its totality, and this totality is structured around fundamental oppositions, oppositions, which are a source of endless conflict in all particular cases of life, but life itself could not exist if it was not fueled by these conflicts, and tensions in oppositions.
By the standards of morality, the world is cruel and unjust, by the standards of truth and knowledge, it seems obscured and elusive, if not deceptive, but if we view the world by the standards of art, all things can be made to appear beautiful. Art is unique in this capacity, it allows us to take even the most horrific and painful parts of life, and nevertheless transform them into something valuable and affirmative, even beautiful and divine, and this is what the function of tragic drama was. It presented us with the horrors of life, not in order to condemn life, but to celebrate life even in the face of its horrors.
Saying yes to life, even in its strangest and harshest problems, the will to life, rejoicing in its own to exhaust stability through the sacrifice of its highest types, not to escape horror and pity, but rather over and above all of horror and pity, so that you yourself may be the eternal joy in becoming, the joy that includes the eternal joy and negating. Tragic drama seeks to affirm life, and life can only be affirmed as a whole in its totality, and this totality is structured around fundamental oppositions, oppositions, which are a source of endless conflict in all particular cases of life, but when we take life as a whole, we find them unified and see that one cannot exist without the other, and life itself could not exist if it was not fueled by these conflicts, tensions in oppositions.
A free spirit who stands in the middle of the world with the cheerful and trusting fatalism in the belief that only the individual is reprehensible, that everything is redeemed and affirmed in the whole, a belief like this is the highest of all possible beliefs, this totality always contains within itself both life and death, happiness and suffering, creation, and destruction. It involves the affirmation of passing away and destruction that is crucial for a tragedy. It presents us with the beauty that shines forth despite all suffering, it shows suffering as even being necessary to beauty, and therefore teaches us, through aesthetic means, that the existence of suffering is not an objection to life.
Only a man who throws himself in one direction to the end, drunk by the thrills of his own isolation, only he can endure what the understanding of others will never achieve.
If we identify ourselves with the suffering that a tragic story depicts, our identification doesn’t end there, we identify also with the courage, virtue and nobility that the story depicts, and we identify with the beautiful form in which it is presented. In other words, we identify not just with the suffering individual, but also with the nobility of life as such, and even if particular individuals in a tragedy perish, life itself continues to stand triumphant and beautiful, and we share in its inexhaustible power.
Tragedy shows us that, despite all changes, life is at bottom indestructibly powerful and joyful. Far from leading to resignation, this can in fact lead us to feel embolden and empowered in our identification with the forces of life. Tragedy leads us to struggle beyond all limits, even when it seems overwhelmingly futile, even when the gods are our opponents, even if we’re told that the very laws of causality are working against us. The extent to which one can descend into the depths of darkness and accept the terrifying character of reality and still live is a sign of one’s feeling of power and indicates the height to which one can aspire to reach. That is the challenge we are confronted with.
The value of the work of art is not determined by whether it has a happy ending or not, life is something that does not need a happy ending to justify it, because its beauty eternally justifies itself, that is what tragedy teaches us. Showing bravery and determination in the face of adversity, against agony and suffering, against difficulty and danger, this is what the valiant devotes his life to. So let us not waste our time in idle discourse, let us do something, while we have the chance! Death should be a fulfillment to life, distinguished by a meaning and purpose emerging from the life that is ending. Creating value out of the abyss of life, through absolute will to power, which is the inherent condition of all life. Striving to overcome ourselves, to recognize what to value in life in the context of the reality of death and suffering inherent to life, ultimately to love our fate. Only a man who throws himself in one direction to the end, drunk by the thrills of his own isolation, only he can endure what the understanding of others will never achieve.
Sheroze Khan is a first year student of Computer Science at COMSATS Lahore.