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Tragedy highlights what is perishable, what is fragile and what is slow moving about us. In a world defined by relentless speed and the unending acceleration of information flows that cultivate amnesia and an endless thirst for the short-term future allegedly guaranteed through worship of the new prosthetic Gods of technology, tragedy is a way of applying what Walter Benjamin saw as the emergency brake. Tragedy slows things down by confronting us with what we do not know about ourselves: an unknown force that nonetheless unleashes violent effects on us on a daily, indeed often minute-by-minute basis. Such is what psychoanalysis calls a symptom, whose source is unconscious. Such is the sometimes terrifying presence of the past that we might seek to disavow but which will have its victory in the end, if only in the form of our mortality. In the words of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie, Magnolia, ‘We might be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us’. Through its sudden reversals of fortune and rageful recognition of the truth of our origins, tragedy permits us to come face to face with what we do not know about ourselves but which makes those selves the things they are. Tragedy provokes what snags in our being, the snares and booby traps of the past that we blindly trip over in our relentless, stumbling, forward movement. This is what the ancients called ‘fate’ and it requires our complicity in order to come down on us.
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