I’ve always hated tragedy (the story variety) and have never understood, from a classical standpoint, lacking education in that area, what it’s real wholesome purpose ever was.
Reading this comment from Wendell Berry recently made it click though:
The community wisdom of tragic drama is in the implicit understanding that no community can survive that cannot survive the worst. Tragic drama attests to the community’s need to survive the worst that it knows or imagines can happen.
What is wanting [today?], apparently, is the tragic imagination that, through communal form or ceremony, permits great loss to be recognized, suffered, and borne, and that makes possible some sort of consolation and renewal. Without that return we may know innocence and horror and grief, but not tragedy and joy. Not consolation or forgiveness or redemption.
-Wendell Berry, What are people for?, p.77
It seems the value of tragedy is that we are able to be “acquainted with grief” (to borrow the phrase from Isaiah 53) by proxy and then be more capable of imagining how live could go on after it. This is the sort of imagination we need developed to get past really terrible things when they DO come along. This sort of drama can give us something no preaching or theology proper can deliver.
The community is happy in that it has survived its remembered tragedies, has reshaped itself coherently around its known losses, has included kindly it’s eccentrics, invalids, oddities, and even its one would-be exile.
Holy smokes. I can’t believe he wrote that. The Rene Girard alarms are all going off. Berry’s defined purpose of tragic drama is deeply, essentially Christian. Why? Because the people of Jesus can kindly absorb the “one would-be exile” into the community. The pagan community will always, always make a scapegoat of this person and cast them out. That is how they are able to artificially restore order after tragedy. We could imagine nothing else until Jesus Christ came along (though it was hinted earlier). He short-circuits the power of the scapegoat and enables us to respond to tragedy with joy, healing, and love. Still, we need to flex this muscle so it will be strong when the time comes.