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Poetics of HistoryRousseau and the Theater of Originary Mimesis$
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Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823282340

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823282340.001.0001

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Poetics of History

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

, Jeff Fort
Fordham University Press

This chapter continues the argument from the previous chapter, developing it through a more detailed reading of the Letter to d’Alembert on the Theater, in which Rousseau’s well known condemnation of the theater occurs. Lacoue-Labarthe argues that Rousseau in fact does not condemn imitation as such, his target being rather imitation that seeks to produce effects of pleasure and complacency by way of flattering identifications. It is in this light that Rousseau critiques catharsis as a harmful illusion of relief from evil that leaves the evil in place. But when one turns to what Rousseau says about tragedy, and Greek tragedy in particular, another perspective emerges: catharsis and Aufhebung as a speculative sublation of historically embedded conflicts. Greek tragedy was not merely theater, but the staging of a originary agon between two kinds of “Greece,” one of which is absolutely anterior to theater as such and so is purely archaic. In this sense, Greek tragedy for Rousseau is a philosophical scene par excellence, the scene of a historical dialectic.

Keywords:   Aufhebung, catharsis, dialectic, Greek tragedy, Letter to d’Alembert, mimesis, Rousseau, theater

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