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Wurmser, L., M.D., Ph.D. (2015). Epilogue: Psychoanalysis and Tragedy: Awe, Hubris, and Shame, and Their Clinical Significance. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):136-137.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):136-137


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

Léon Wurmser, M.D., Ph.D.

Looking back and summarizing a wide spectrum of thinking about tragedy and what is essentially tragic, as it is relevant for psychoanalysis, I make a few concluding remarks:

We can distinguish between a) the original concepts of tragedy as a particularly influential form of enacted and read drama, culminating in extreme suffering; b) the tragic compassion, terror, and pathos in the audience, evoked by the enacted tragedy; c) the tragic vision of life and world as a form of value philosophy; d) the tragic conflict described as an exemplary phenomenon in history, i.e., as value destruction, specifically as the dialectical turning of a high value into destruction or of the principally unsolvable conflict of opposite but leading values; e) the popular overextension of the term used for any swift, unexpected disaster; and, finally, f) the tragic experience as a central psychopathological phenomenon, a complex of archaic conflicts, images and events, as exemplified by the tragic character.

The tragic worldview (Weltanschauung) sees something essential about the human soul in irreconcilable conflict, and, therefore, brings us again and again against (or to) the ambiguity, the great paradoxes of ethical life. Thus it inquires into the reasons for suffering, seeks their meaning—and finds answers in the basic conditions of human existence. It sees the origin of tragic experience in such unappeasable unsolvable conflicts, especially in the conflict between one good and another good, between one value and another value—values that are not easily judged to be the higher one, such as between right and duty; between loyalty to somebody close versus the demands of a higher institution, like state or religion; between love and power; between issues involving shame versus those inducing guilt, or, characteristically since Aeschylos, “right against right” (e.

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