In the THE, Barbara Graziosi reviews Miriam Leonard's Tragic Modernities.
Leonard discusses have a deep investment in tragedy; others, however, refer to tragedy (or drama) only in passing, as a culturally competent gesture en route to making a point about something else. Leonard scrupulously acknowledges how tangential tragedy sometimes seems: “Arendt refrains from explicitly characterizing the drama as tragedy”; “there seems to be something at least contingently ‘tragic’ about this document”; “Heidegger addressed no single work to the topic of tragedy and never formulated a theory of the tragic”.
At the same time, Leonard makes large claims about the importance of tragedy in modern intellectual history: for example, while Heidegger may never have devoted a work to tragedy, “it would not be difficult to characterize his philosophical outlook as tragic”. This raises the question of Leonard’s own aims: just as the thinkers she discusses lionise tragedy en route to their own ends, so Leonard focuses on their engagements with tragedy (such as they are), in order to make a point of her own: the political power of tragedy does not reside in its original context of performance alone, it also – and fundamentally – shapes modernity.