So, yesterday we watched another TED talk, this one entitled "Are We In Control of Our Own Decisions?". This one was really interesting, but also very existential. In this TED talk, Dan Arieler, explained how a variety of things influence our decisions and why these things mean that we are not as in control of our choices as we think we are. When faced with tough decisions, we will often just go with the default option so we don't need to choose. Also, the variety of choices affect what looks better to us and, therefore, our choice.
So this TED talk did not mention tragedy once, but it was still related to the topic. One important facet of tragedy is that the characters are often not in charge of their fates. Tragic heroes will try to control their lives and avoid tragedy, but, clearly, this does not work out for them.
For example, Oedipus' whole goal in life is to not murder his father and marry his mother like the prophecy said he would. To do this, he leaves the people who he thinks are his family far behind and starts over in a new place-- that just happened to be where his real parents are from. All of his decisions end up being wrong no matter how hard he tries.
This is, apparently, a common theme throughout many tragedies, which makes a lot of sense. It is frightening to think that we may not be in charge of our lives or even our choices; this lack of control also offers an explanation for the sudden changes of luck and fate are possible.
This week in class we read "Oedipus Rex," and, let me tell you, it was quite interesting. Very interesting. I actually enjoyed the play but, wow, a lot of stuff happened.
I think most people know some sort of general synopsis of Oedipus or, at the very least, have heard of an "Oedipus complex." If you know what an Oedipus complex is, you already know why I call this play interesting.
The whole thing starts out relatively normal except that the city of Thebes is being ravaged in a variety of ways. The people of Thebes call upon their old hero, Oedipus, to save the city by finding out why the Gods are angry with them and fixing it. Conversations lead Oedipus to discover that the Gods are angry with whoever killed Laius, the former king, and, if that person is rid of the city will be saved. So, Oedipus becomes very determined to find out who killed Laius, and, through many interrogations and arguments, eventually comes to the realization that, not only did he kill Laius, but Laius was also his father making his wife his mother and fulfilling the very prophecy he had worked so hard to prevent. This horrible truth is revealed in front of the entire city even though so many people tried to warn Oedipus against pressing so hard for the truth. After this news is out, Jocasta-- Oedipus' wife and mother who had no idea she was both-- runs inside and kills herself dramatically. Oedipus steals a pin from her body and gouges his eyes out and the rest is pretty much history.
Hooray for happy endings.
Oedipus is a prime, classic example of a tragedy-- for obvious reasons. It's incredible how quickly Oedipus goes from hero to horrible. The effects of the tragic realizations, though, impact way more than just Oedipus. Jocasta is so shocked and horrified that she kills herself. Oedipus's entire family and children must now bear the weight and shame of something that was in no way their fault, and the entire city of Thebes is shaken and left in chaos.
By any definition, the story of Oedipus is a tragedy. The story demonstrates a major turn of luck for its tragic hero, all contingent on his blatant fatal flaw: anger. In addition, "Oedipus Rex" is the story of a man just trying to keep his position as hero of Thebes and questioning crimes long past and forgotten.
Wow ok, we read an essay called "Tragedy and the Common Man" like last week, but none of us knew there was supposed to be a blog on it until a week later, so I'm writing this now. Hooray.
This was an essay about how we tend to think of tragedy as a thing that only applies to kings or heroes and not us. However, the author argues, this is totally wrong. Tragedy applies to everyone. Tragedy is universally relatable; it must be otherwise it would not be so popular and widespread. This doesn't seem very profound or important. I think anyone could've told you that tragedies happen everywhere, to anyone. It's the rest of the author's argument, however, that was interesting and unique. The author defines tragedy as what happens when a person tries to claim or take back their place in society. To the author, tragedy isn't bad luck or sad events; instead, it is the result of bravery and questioning authority. Tragedy occurs when somebody-- anybody-- has the guts to take a stand and question what everyone else has just blindly accepted. In this view, tragedy is hardly a bad thing at all. Also in this view, tragedy is something that is applicable to every person as every single person is capable of calling something into question and seeking better for themselves.
I thought this was a really new and unique view on tragedy. Clearly, I had never thought of tragedy in this way or any similar way before. I would never have thought of tragedy as being driven by bravery and questioning, but, now that I have been exposed to this view, it kind of makes a lot of sense. I can't see how this relates to all tragedies, but, then again, nothing is universally flawless and I am no tragedy expert.
For me, the idea that tragedy was applicable to the common man was a no-brainer. That seemed really obvious. The author's explanation of what tragedy is, though, was very different and interesting.
So, I leave you with this quote from the essay which I think really sums up the whole argument: " The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies. In no way is the common man debarred from such thoughts or such actions."
In class we watched a TED talk by Alain de Bolton about measuring success. This TED talk talked a lot about how we don't strive for true success, we strive for what other people will perceive as success. Our views of success are skewed by society. de Bolton talks about how, in our modern, individualistic society, we are told that we can all succeed, and when we don't we feel bad about ourselves. The main point of the TED talk is that we should start measuring success in different, nicer ways and stop being so harsh and caught up in what other people think.
So, you may be asking yourself: what the heck does this have to do with tragedy? Don't worry, I asked myself that, too. In all honestly, I didn't really think this TED talk connected that well with this unit.
There was a section of the talk where de Bolton discussed how how our current society treats people who have screwed up or just had misfortunes is the opposite of tragedy. He said, basically, that there are two ways to look at or discuss bad things that happen: tabloid journalism or tragedy. Our current media points out bad things that have happened, and that's pretty much all. Often, they find someone to blame or call someone out as being bad or whatever. All this does is draw attention to the bad thing that happened. On the other hand, tragedy looks at bad stuff that happens and shows it a very different light. Tragedies evoke sympathy and do not point fingers at anyone for causing a bad thing to happen. Tragedies allow us to connect with the unfortunate and see them as human like us. This difference in portrayal is very important.
I suppose that specific part of this TED talk was helpful and did connect well with our unit. I had never thought about anything close to this idea. I would never have thought that tragedy and the popular media just had two very different ways of portraying the same events. I wouldn't have even thought about the fact that there are different ways to display tragic events.
Maybe if we stop pointing fingers at flaws and issues and started writing about bad things as just that again, we could change the way our society thinks and functions. Tragedy, it turns out, is not really a bad thing at all.
Here's what I think: a tragedy is a sad story, but it's more than that. A tragedy is a life-changing, world-altering, horrible event. A tragedy is something that affects more than one person. It is often large-scale with reverberating effects. A tragedy is sad, powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking. Not all sad stories are tragedies. Not all tragedies are sad stories. I think it's hard to define what makes a tragedy. It's hard to define what a tragedy really is, especially in literature where fine lines are everywhere. I know what a tragedy is, but I don't know exactly what makes some literary works tragedies and others not. I believe tragedy is written to evoke emotions and give people something to relate to. Maybe it is just written because it is true and people write what they know. I guess that's what the rest of this unit will be about finding out.
Now, according to Wikipedia, tragedy is a type of drama that displays suffering. However, an important distinction to make is that not all tales of human hardships are tragedy. Tragedies specifically evoke a sense of pleasure or emotional cleansing called catharsis. This seems to be what defines a tragedy and what separates tragedies from other sad stories.
Tragedies, as most people well know, have been around since the time of ancient Greece. Indeed, tragedy was a well-known Greek tradition. It turns out that people have been defining and distinguishing what tragedy is since ancient Greek times as well. Aristotle wrote extensively on what tragedy is. According to him, tragedies always involve a change in fortune, and this is more effective when it is a negative turn. The events of a tragedy should also be driven by some fault or flaw of the characters. Over time, of course, tragedies have changed and developed, as has their definition. What makes a tragedy a tragedy is a debated subject. No one really has a solid answer, it's all a matter of perspective and ideas.
We think of tragedies as horrific events or sob stories, but, really, a tragedy is more than that. A tragedy is a sad tale, yes, that can be in the form of a story, a book, a poem, a play, a musical, or whatever else that makes the audience feel connected and satisfied in a way. Tragedies are long-standing traditions that have changed greatly and yet remained the same through the years.