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Less Than Tragic

Less Than Tragic

(p.65) 3 Less Than Tragic
Weak Planet
C. L. R. JamesFrank StellaAmitav Ghosh Dilute Melville
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 begins with the reported demise of still another genre, tragedy. It argues that tragedy is still flourishing in modernity, but in a weaker form, less invested in catastrophe as a necessary end, and becoming user-friendly and user-amended as a result. Featuring Moby-Dick as a case of tragedy at maximum strength, the chapter traces some non-tragic sequels emerging at a tangent from Melville's novel, linking C. L. R. James, Frank Stella, and Amitav Ghosh in an ongoing search for less-than-tragic forms. Especially important to these three is genre-switching, a reversal of background and foreground that allows James to alternate between his hands-on dedication to cricket and his archive-researched faith in the black Jacobins; Stella, between the high-concept abstraction of his painting and the artisan routine of his printmaking; and Ghosh, between the devastations of the opium trade and the vibrant pidgin tongues spoken by the migrant labor of the Indian Ocean. These authors and artists keep alive the idea of catastrophe, but also keep it at bay by taking a second look. Finding a flip-side more habitable, they bring to light a dimension of the world not paralyzed by tragedy and only sometimes under its jurisdiction.

Keywords:   tragedy, non-tragic sequels, Melville, C. L. R. James, Frank Stella, Amitav Ghosh, genre-switching, background to foreground, migrant labor, pidgin English

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