Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tragic Reasoning as Ego Annihilator

“The task is to bring to light what we must ever love and honor....”

- Nietzsche

Suffering, trauma and tragedy have been respected in virtually every culture for their ability to act as a gateway to rebirth in terms of the human psyche. The tragic does this primarily by allowing reality direct confrontation with the ego. The burning light of reality proceeds to evaporate large portions of the ego’s protective shell. Less ego and fewer defenses mean more reality can be perceived. Circumstances of the human condition are more clearly revealed, in all their tragic beauty. This then, is a primary goal of tragic reasoning – to allow the diminishment of the ego and its repair mechanisms. By becoming less, one becomes more – an expansion that makes room for Being to come forward.[i] One can never become entirely free of ego or the need for defenses, but often, awareness alone is enough to achieve diminishment. Initially, this diminishment may result in disillusionment, yet there also comes a loss of restrictive character armor, and a conscious choice to abide in the face of terror.

The existential hero who is able to sustain tragic reasoning gains a clearer perspective: “Instead of hiding within the illusions of character, he sees his impotence and vulnerability. …”[ii] Paradoxically, tragic reasoning brings home an important lesson. Fleeing something inevitably brings it about. Trauma makes action imperative, and so reveals its terms. In stripping away everything else, trauma delivers the subject over to a drama, the initial terms of which can be schematized as follows:

1. To be a subject is to be at issue in a conflict that is defined by a single contradiction: the area of one’s greatest concern is also the area of one’s greatest paralysis;
2. There is a destructive force in us to which we are wedded. That tie is deep and powerful. The traumatic event brings to fruition one’s inability to break it;
3. We aren’t what we know about ourselves – we’re what we do in the face of that knowledge. This is the difficult truth that now defines one’s relationship to oneself.

Tragic joy is the experience that comes to those who might sustain the integrity of this process. They know the truth: there is no exit from the tragic, only a progressively deeper entry into it. Rage has been replaced by compassion. Compassion, in contrast to pity, is that emotion that relates to others in terms of the necessity of the tragic journey, and the attempt to help them sustain it. We now know that to reverse their private hell, every suffering subject must go through the same journey. Compassion is relating to all others in terms of creating that possibility. Qua perception, it means seeing all the ways others are suffering and try to hide or flee that suffering. Qua action, it means offering them overtures to the tragic by relating to the wound in the other rather than to all things the other has become and done in order to flee it. Thus, compassion is that way of relating to others that preserves the tragic logic of change. Our own suffering opens us to the suffering in others as what must be sustained. The logic of suffering is the only logic of change capable of reversing the traumatic wounds that form the origin of the psyche.
“Hence also the torments of life become tuneful tragedy, solemn and soft with music, and garnished with rich dark pictures. But higher still than the activities of art, the intellect in its purity, and the moral sense in its purity, are not distinguished from each other, and both ravish us into a region whereinto these passionate clouds of sorrow cannot rise.”[i]


[i] Tolle E: A New Earth. New York, NY: Plume, 2005.

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