Friday, May 24, 2013

Life is a Spiral; It's Ends Never Meet

Here I am reproducing my Edit Page article in 'The Speaking Tree' column of Times of India published some years ago and available on their website:

The Sophoclean tragedy, Oedipus the King, ends with the chorus saying: "Count no man happy till he dies". After having been an involved spectator of the tragic life of Oedipus, a man in conflict with himself and his destiny, the chorus, representing common men and women of Athens 500 years before Christ, comes out with, as it were, a verdict on man's ambiguous destiny and articulates these words of wisdom as borne out of the trials and tribulations of the protagonist. The idea is to make us realise that tragedy, whether personal or social, ennobles the man, chastens him, makes him accept reality and in the process makes him better.

However, equally true is the fact that the elements of caution, fear and seriousness that such wisdom necessarily carries, go against the restless and inquisitive spirit of man. Rather, there seems to be a continuous struggle between the wisdom, which is essentially pessimistic and debilitating, trying to ground the individual to reality and his urge to create new realities. This leads us to the other side of experience where tragedy is not an ennobling but an embittering experience. It instructive to note that in the western dramatic tradition, the idea of tragedy having an ennobling impact on man is generally put forth through ploys like the chorus or chorus-like characters representing the viewpoint of laymen.

But the protagonist himself, who acts out his conflicts and meets a tragic end, generally remains embittered at his fall. The artist who creates such a character and plot, despite all the moral undertones at the end, is usually 'suspected' to be on the side of the tragic hero, even though his character's choices do not conform to social norms. As a result, we find two kinds of responses that tragedy offers. First to take the experience as a grim reminder of 'the special providence in the fall of a.sparrow', to borrow a phrase from Hamlet, and thus to remain in awe of unknown forces working against man and his purposes.

Or to consider the experience as a result of personal imperfection that can be corrected in all probability The first choice has a practical completeness about it, while the second emanates from a mind agitated and resentful at its incomplete endeavours. But is a man's insistence on endeavouring to 'prevail' over his destiny likely to end in the repeat of tragedy only? On the face of it, this appears to be an open and shut case, but perhaps it is not so. Because though history appears to repeat.and move in a circular fashion, in reality the circle is never complete and events actually take the form of a spiral movement, where ends do not meet.

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