Office: Dodd 200E Email: email@example.com Phone: 310.206.8344
"None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn't meddled the way he did. He should have just accepted things as they are instead of trying to interfere with destiny. You see, you can't interfere with destiny. That's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's going to happen anyway and you'll just suffer." (Tracy Flick [Reese Witherspoon], Election)
That wonderful quote hilariously captures the essence of my current research interests: fate and freedom in Greek tragedy, in particular the tragedies of Aeschylus. This question of determinism, of the limits of human will in a world and cosmos beyond our control, has been a staple of criticism from antiquity to the present. Sartre famously asserted that we are condemned to freedom: thrown into a world alien to us for being beyond our possession, we have nothing but our choices. The terrifying and liberating experience of commitment to our decisions, without metaphysical guarantee, is what makes us elementally human. In his own arresting words: "Those who conceal from themselves this total freedom, under the guise of solemnity, or by making reference to determinist excuses, I will call cowards. Others, who try to prove their existence is necessary, when man’s appearance on earth is merely contingent, I will call bastards." Such a bold claim as this almost perfectly describes the world of Greek tragedy. But can we reconcile the radical freedom of existentialism and the seemingly fatal world of tragedy, where gods and curses and necessities wreak havoc on individual choice?
My current manuscript project examines the ethical and existential implications of fate and determinism in the tragedies of Aeschylus, revisiting the thorny question of free will. Ultimately, I challenge the orthodox view that tragedy emphasizes the problem of choice in a cosmos over-determined by gods and fate. Aeschylean tragedy, I propose, stages the question of free choice in a cosmos that is undetermined and open. Crucially, it accentuates how characters with complex desires and prejudices confront the maddening uncertainty of a world without gods to underwrite their decisions, to pull their hair as they poise to chop off their leaders’ heads – where, to borrow Sartre’s insights once again, they are condemned to freedom. Does Aeschylean tragedy portray a godless world? This uncertainty, I argue, is its ethical framework. And it is in the space between what we know and what we cannot quite be sure about that action – and freedom, and tragedy – takes shape. Tragedy concerns this reading and misreading of the world, as well as the spectral possibility that every reading is in some way a misreading. My aim with this project is to offer not only a new answer to the question of Aeschylus’ supposed religiosity, but also a new way of conceptualizing the nature of fate and free will in tragedy in general.
The following courses I am offering this academic year (2011-12):
Greek 2-3 (Introductory Greek), Greek 131 (Homeric Hymns), Greek 206 (Ethics, Existentialism and Sophocles), Latin 108 (Roman Elegy), Classics 30 (Classical Mythology), Classics 144 (Conviction, Conversion, Confession), CL 375 (Teaching Apprentice Practicum)