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Ethics of Tragedy: Dwelling, Thinking, Measuring

Ari Hirvonen
Adjunct Professor in Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory at the University of Helsinki

B & W 229 x 152 mm | Perfect Bound on White w/Matte Laminate | 344 pages | Paperback ISBN 978-1-910761-09-0 | E-book (PDF) ISBN N/A | 30 January 2020

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Ethics of Tragedy is a profound analysis of Greek tragedies, especially refugee tragedies and Sophocles’ Oedipus-trilogy, that presents the sense of tragedy in a time of rapacious capitalism and ecocatastrophe. Ari Hirvonen argues that theatre is a public space for tragedies, politics, democracy and justice, bringing together thinking and poeticizing, limits and transgression, fate and freedom. Instead of justifying the existing political order, tragedy disrupts, dissents, and exceeds it. Understood in this way, ethics is revealed as a fundamental part of tragedy.

Drawing upon Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger and Lacan as well as Butler, Irigaray, Lacoue-Labarthe, and Badiou, among others, this book is both a meditation on the theatricality of tragedy and a critique of tragic judgment. Despite being a philosophical treatise, Hirvonen rejects readings that reduce tragedies to philosophical ideas, moral principles, aesthetic dogmas, or heroic identities. Instead, he argues that tragedy reveals a non-essentialist ethics.

In the midst of hegemonic capitalist realism, we have lost the capacity to measure. As a disruption of our ways of sensing and the making sense of the world, tragedy inspires the art of measuring in a world without measures.

Readership: Philosophers, psychoanalysts, legal scholars, literature and theatre scholars, and those who practice theatre.

The stakes are high: this reading shows the lasting importance of Greek tragedy to see the world in a new way and, more particularly to reintroduce measure and thus (ethical) thinking in a world that no longer accepts bounderies and tragic experience. In doing so Ethics of Tragedy prepares for a new ethics. A must read.

— Philippe Van Haute, Professor of Philosophical Anthropology, Center for Contemporary European Philosophy, Radboud University

This is a hugely important intervention into our thinking about tragedy and how such thinking holds up a black mirror for our times. Ari Hirvonen is the Jari Litmanen of philosophy. Highly recommended.

— Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy, New School for Social Research

table of contents

Introduction: Our Dwelling Place

Angels and Capitalist Discourse
No Ethics?

Ch. 1 / Measuring Poetically

Sacred Names

Ch. 2 / Where Now Is Athens?

Death of Tragedy?
Interability of Tragedies
Measuring of Justice

Ch. 3 / Being in Exile

Refugee Tragedies
Children of Heracles .
Oedipus, the Refugee
Sanctuaries for Refugees

Ch. 4 / Tragic Catharsis

Fear and Pity in Tragedy
Cathartic Purification
Phenomenologial Catharsis
Desire and Catharsis

Ch. 5 / Tragic Conflict and Beyond

Freedom Fighter
Ethical Life
Absolute Justice

Ch. 6/ Heroine: The Supplement

Sexual Difference
Eternal Irony
Human Vulnerability
Agonistic Humanism

Ch. 7 / Law and Dust

Antigone—The Eternal Refugee
Valid Law
Certain Legality
Unwritten Laws

Ch. 8/ Uncanny Stranger

Dasein as Deinon
Ethics of Being

Ch. 9 / Unconditional Desire

The Real
Antigone’s Desire
Glimmering Crime
Infidel Criminal Fidelity

Ch. 10 / Caesura

Deconstructing Figures
Interruptive Silence
Law of Tragedy

Ch. 11 / Scene

Reading Tragedy
Tragic Transport
Material Tragedy
Rhythm and Tragedy
Scene as Assembly

Ch. 12 / Theatre Truths

Concrete Tragic Situations
Ethical Catharsis

Conclusion: Capitalism and Tragedy



author bio

Ari Hirvonen is Adjunct Professor in Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, and Principal Investigator at the University of Helsinki (UH), Finland. He has acted as Professor in Jurisprudence and as Vice-Dean for Research and Doctoral Education at the Faculty of Law (UH). He has been Senior Researcher in the Finnish Academy’s Centre of Excellence in Foundations of European Law and Polity. He has published widely on legal phenomenology, socio-legal studies, political theory, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and aesthetics. He was the director of a ‘Law and Evil’ research project and co-editor of Law and Evil: Philosophy, Politics, Psychoanalysis (Routledge 2010). He is the founding member of the Helsinki Lacan Circle. 

how to cite

Example using Chicago Manual of Style:


Ari Hirvonen, Ethics of Tragedy: Dwelling, Thinking, Measuring (Oxford: Counterpress, 2020)


Hirovenon, Ari. Ethics of Tragedy: Dwelling, Thinking, Measuring. Oxford: Counterpress, 2020.