Of Tragic Figures and Comic Paradigms: A Set of Provocations

Mark Robson, Nikolaus Müller-Schöll

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In this unique collaboration, Nikolaus Müller-Schöll and Mark Robson engage in a dialogue by proxy: they speak to one another in an essayistic exchange of provocation and response about how to reframe the comic and the tragic.

In the first provocation, “The Necessity of a Figure”, Mark Robson pursues invocations of figure to rethink the philosophical history of tragedy and indeed ‘theatre’ (for which tragedy often stands in). The idea of figuration allows Robson to cross conceptual divides between the representational, the geometrical, and the embodied in order to move beyond any outmoded oppositions between performative and textual traditions. ‘Figure’ acts as a placeholder for a relationality at work in tragedy. Focusing in part on the work of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Robson also thinks figure with Artaud, Pavis, Mesguich, and Pascal to investigate its interplay of presence and absence and to propose a way of thinking tragedy, with Lehmann, beyond mimesis.

Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, in turn, counters Robson’s tragic figure with “The Comic Paradigm in the Experience of Modernity”. Where Robson reconceptualizes the tragic beyond representation, Müller-Schöll uses his provocation to privilege the comic (rather than the tragic) as the defining mode of thought that captures the experience of rupture so fundamental to modernity. In his essay, Müller-Schöll traces the philosophical and dramatic history of the comic in modernity through both their engagement with and attempts at containing the comic. The comic is constitutive for (post)modern thought because it encapsulates the potentially infinite movement of dissolution and deferral and thus provides its own proposition of negative dialectics. With the proposition of a comic paradigm, Müller-Schöll also moves beyond comedy as a genre and instead argues for the comic as event that follows the collapse of traditional structures and institutions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGenre Transgressions
Subtitle of host publicationDialogues on Tragedy and Comedy
EditorsRamona Mosse, Anna Street
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780429266393
ISBN (Print)9781032224695
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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