"And Why Not?" Hegel, Comedy, and the End of Art

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Towards the very end of his wide-ranging lectures on the philosophy of art, Hegel unexpectedly expresses a preference for comedy over tragedy. More surprisingly, given his systematic claims for his aesthetic theory, he suggests that this preference is arbitrary. This essay suggests that this arbitrariness is itself systematic, given Hegel’s broader claims about unity and necessity in art generally and his analysis of ancient as opposed to modern drama in particular. With the emergence of modern subjectivity, tragic plots lose their necessity and so their redemptive conclusions; comic plots disintegrate into mockery and entertainment. In many cases, the dramas in question consequently fail to be art. This does not, however, mean that art ends: insofar as it inspires humans to a better understanding of their unity with the divine, it will continue to meet its mandate. But the lack of necessity in modern drama means we are free to prefer happy endings. Hegel’s seemingly arbitrary preference is, in the end, systematically justified.
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