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Wurmser, L. (2015). Prologue: Psychoanalysis and Tragedy: Awe, Hubris, and Shame, and Their Clinical Significance. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):1-12.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):1-12


Prologue: Psychoanalysis and Tragedy: Awe, Hubris, and Shame, and Their Clinical Significance

Léon Wurmser, M.D., Ph.D.

¡Dura ley! ¡fuerte caso! ¡horror terrible!

quien pensa que huey el riesgo, al riesgo viene;

con lo que yo guardaba me he perdido. (Calderon, 1623)

Throughout the history of Western civilization, tragedy as art form has held a uniquely dignified place and exerted a spiritual influence far out of proportion to its size. Our own clinical theory has been marked, if not formed, by references to the central themes of a few tragic works of art—Oedipus, Electra, Hamlet, Macbeth, Rosmersholm, to name just those Freud referred to. It is obvious that tragedy, as art, evokes and reflects a very important personal experience.

The connotations of tragic are: an irresistible compulsion rooted in blindness, transgression of limits, most massive guilt and shame and ensuing punishment from without and from within, crisis and catastrophe, awesome suffering, a heroic attempt to solve the conflict but with inevitable failure, an air of total effort and total defeat, an eerie sense of globality and doom, and a clash of universal human values. Pervasive is the search and yearning for justice and the bitterness about injustice.


It is little known that Plato made a passing, though very relevant, remark about the essence of tragedy in the.monumental work of his old age, the Laws (p. 817). He calls the “imitation (or representation, mímesis) of the best and noblest life the really truest form of tragedy”.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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