"And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
"And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” (Judges 16:29-30)
Tragedy is hard to pin down. It seems to be a framework for writing a play but eludes further definition. Extracting meaning from tragedy is awfully difficult, if there is any meaning, we can only see it in how the characters react to the conflicts and upheavals as the play unfolds. We like stories mostly because we like the process of how the storytelling leads us away from the banal little decisions in our own lives and into the mighty struggles of the tragic heroes. We know they’re fictional but the emotions of Antigone and Creon and Jason and Medea, they’re more-than-real. Odysseus murders the suitors come courting his wife.
The great tragic questions will never go away. The need for them and the stories which arise from them will only grow more interesting as time goes by. We aren’t evolving as fast as the technology we create. We’re good at adapting the terrain for our technological creations: building great bridges for our cars, titanic offshore drilling platforms kept in place by massive motors, guided by global positioning satellites, all to feed those cars and trucks, hydraulically fracturing the earth to extract gas.
We aren’t so good at doing the same for ourselves and our fellow creatures. Making the world nicer for human beings and the Siberian tigers might be worth some effort but we won’t do it. That space station, endlessly circling over our planet, that’s not our first step on the route to the stars. That’s a test tube, a preliminary experiment for how to live in a world of hard radiation and airlocks, an aquarium for human beings. It’s preparation for a ruined planet. The space agencies put a lot of work into ensuring astronauts are emotionally balanced and capable of enduring the stresses of such an environment. Every drop of water on orbit is worth its weight in gold. Meanwhile, down here on earth, homeless schizophrenics off their medications walk the streets and our society can’t cope.
All around us in this society, people are detonating, seemingly at random like so much unstable explosive and it’s not confined to America. The revenge fantasy is deeply ingrained in us all. I suppose people have always felt alienation and prayed the prayer of Samson, blinded, shorn and paraded before his enemies.
Literature may not have the answers. Politicizing this seemingly senseless tragedy is just stirring the pot and has no bearing on this situation. To their credit, both Romney and Obama have risen above the partisan crapfest which followed the shooting of Gabby Giffords. But if literature has no answers, it has not ignored the problem. Eventually Samson will grasp the pillars.
I don't have any answers. I don't even know how to phrase the question or even if there is a question. Kafka said once we've accepted evil, taken it in, evil doesn't make any more demands on us about its existence.