Chapter

“Watch, Therefore”: Suffering and the Informed Citizen

in Courting the Abyss

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780226662749
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226662756 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226662756.003.0007
“Watch, Therefore”: Suffering and the Informed Citizen

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Historically there are three main justifications for the civic act of looking upon suffering: catharsis, compassion, and courage. In tragedy, pain is not supposed to excite spectators' identification with the victim, but to take spectators to a more barren place where representation clarifies what is possible in life. Drama is useful to the polis, giving citizens a chance to vent, a psychic safety valve for public health. The notion that suffering can be redeemed through a moral meta-narrative is rooted in Christianity's martyr complex and specifically its ultimate martyrdom, the crucifixion. A rich mix of attitudes can shape response to scenes of pain. One can find psychological relief or intellectual illumination in contemplating the painful extremities of human life, be aroused to sympathy and called to action of some sort, or vigorously vaunt in the thrilling terror.

Keywords: tragedy; drama; psychological relief; human life; thrilling terror

Chapter.  14467 words. 

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