I came across a short essay by Albert Camus on “the future of tragedy”. Some highlights:
…the forces confronting each other in a tragedy are equally legitimate, equally justified… tragedy is ambiguous
Melodrama can thus be summed up by saying: ‘Only one side is just and justifiable,’ while the perfect tragic formula would be: “All can be justified, no one just.’
Tragedy occurs when man, by pride (or even by stupidity, as in the case of Ajax) enters into conflict with the divine order, personified by a god or incarnated in society.
Tragedy is born between the light and the shade, and from the struggle between them.
The hero denies the order which strikes him down, and the divine order strikes because it is denied.
Camus has me thinking: in general, the plays I see that try to take on an issue or political theme ultimately fail to wrestle with two sides of the issue. Most playwrights I know are fantastically liberal people. Wild, crazy liberals. They write plays that confirm or default to – even if unintentionally – a general liberal, humanist mindset. Even when these writers think they are representing the opposing side, it’s usually not where the real energy of the play lies.
But endings are tough… they can expose us as writers for who we are and what we believe in. What I’m tired of – yet have a hard time avoiding myself – is a kind of Spielberg-sentimentality at the very end of a play or film. Some kind of vague, warm and squishy affirmation of some positive humanistic value. “Love redeems” – that kind of crap. How can we avoid this? When writing drama, go big and go dark, says Camus.
It’s frustrating when playwrights are left out of the larger, national conversation. We are usually looked to last to say something relevant about an issue (with few notable exceptions). In terms of writing political plays with real impact – that go beyond our expected audience – we might need to work harder to legitimize and justify our opposing forces, on the right or the left.
This might demand we become more of an observer than a participant in political life. An activist by day, a dramatist by night.