The Tragic Flaw in Modern Interpretation

November 16th, 2021 by Diana Coman

This started as a comment below Hannah's article, The Tragic Flaw, but it kept expanding and adding so many links that leaving it there seemed more like an abuse of the comment box than anything else. The part that acted as focal point is this:

In fact, it seems as if the greater a man is, the more simple and accessible must be his tragic flaw, the better to let far lesser men hope for overcoming him. A Bovary in his simpish surmountability succumbs to the blind trust of puppy love, but a peerless warrior of Achilles' caliber must have a literal inch or two that offers his demise.

It's a search, of course, for balance, more practically the attempt to find a cause for fighting, rather than following, the hero.

I doubt it even gets as far as any sort of fighting or as deep as actually looking for a tragic flaw. It's just a cheap cop-out in the vein of imagining metaphysical cause for phenomena as an excuse to resist and avoid having to change oneself. Such avoidance is also quite all of the "fighting" going on, at best at times. So yes, it's no surprise to me that all of the flaws others imagined from a distance and then tried to pin on (their own image of) MP had nothing to do with MP himself. Lacking the substance of actual experience and interaction, all that remains to such proffered flaws is the non-substance of imagination or psychogenic noise by its proper name. As a result, all imagined flaws will turn out by necessity more revealing of the one imagining them than of the target and so quite hysterical at times, for sure. But all this is precisely why an account of actual experience living with the man is so much more descriptive of who he was and as a result so much more welcome to have and so much more worth reading than all the imagined flaws, insults and praises put together. And I for one am quite glad to read these sharp glimpses of experienced unusual set out in Hannah's piercing and evocative writing style.

Back to the supposed search of a tragic flaw though and its modern apparent transformation into an approach of resisting change through finding faults with the (correctly perceived) agents of change: given that the very goal of this sort of smearing others with imagined faults is simply avoidance, the smearing itself can't be looked at and named directly as such, either. Hence, it always tries to pass for something else entirely and, preferably, whenever possible, for a still standing, actual bridge of painstakingly built-up meaning, namely the presence of a tragic flaw in this case as that's what the smearing will be framed as and preferably called, too. And never mind that such misuse of the term is effectively squandering (and quite quickly at that) the meaning of it - the smearer will gladly squander quickly what others accumulated slowly, as that's the most he can do with it anyway, he doesn't have any other use for it.

Squanderers, smearers and avoiders aside for a few paragraphs, the tragic flaw is quite literally fatal in that it stands for a human's mortality and as such it is indeed, as Hannah says, "the world's own flaw". All the stories (one could say from Achilles' on, but I don't think that's necessarily the start) say as much and simply illustrate over and over again the many ways in which this fundamental flaw of the world is observed in specific instances.

Whether or not one illustration of a tragic flaw picks a plainer or fancier detail to hang it all on is more a matter of the context and perhaps the story's or the writer's style. I don't see it as having all that much to do with the greatness of the hero or even with the depth of the story itself. It's not as much that Achilles had to have a "literal inch or two that offers his demise" but simply that even the nymphs' attempts to protect from death their own sons are ultimately doomed to fail for they can only ever offer partial protection at best, never full protection. For all of Koscei's power, he was doomed to lose it at some point, for all the gain of youth without old age and life without death, the hero was still doomed to have his own mortality catch up with him in the end, for all of Achilles' invincibility, he was doomed to lose that one last battle of his life and so on and on, forever and in each instance because that's what and how life is, containing in itself right from the start the one single certainty of death.

If those currently imagining flaws in the perceived agents of change may be indeed conceived in any way as touching at all on the fundamental concept of tragic flaw, then it's merely through their following (more like parasitising), even if unknowingly, of the old model of marking the heroic death as a major issue:

The problem of heroic death is marked for the exact same reason menstruation is a major issue. It is a very early understanding of "the hole through which the night comes", a fundamental and irreparable breach of the cosmic order.

Such marking is not meant though to balance anything, nor to equalise anything, it's just the marking of an existing, quite unbalanced reality. Moreover and most importantly, in such marking there is no prescription at all as to the course of action or even of interaction with the said hero. All the balancing and purposing attempts have nothing to do with the notion of tragic flaw and this is the surest sign that those looking frantically for flaws in anyone better than them that they encounter are not at all looking for anything as deep as it might seem at a first pass, on the strength of superficial similarity with the people of long ago.

What the modern are frantically looking for is not at all the tragic flaw but merely the cancel button. Or at least the undo button, if it comes to that.

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4 Responses to “The Tragic Flaw in Modern Interpretation”

  1. hanbot says:

    Ahahaha, on reading the frantic look for the cancel button I of course recalled the cancellable toaster.

    I suppose this is just my ex post scripto reasoning, but the search for balance would seem a (somewhat more consciously accessible, for the morons in question, perhaps?) gate that allows the rejection of a need for change. Practically, I can't imagine the frantic "moderns" processing anyone or anything else without an immediate self-comparison filter, that "how does the news relate to me" knee-jerk-made-sole-font-of-meaning.

    At any rate, I specifically if unexaminedly avoided using "fatal" instead of "tragic" flaw, so indeed I may be trying to fit unrelated pieces together.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    Perfect link and quite on point,too - given that a toaster is so scary as to require a cancel button, imagine what sort of CANCEL array of buttons should come with a truly scary person! Basically the self-comparison filter is flattened directly into anxiety (it's also cheaper that way) and the knee-jerk reaction is to... cancel the threat because that's how it always works (and anyway, "what else is there to do??").

  3. What of "the world's own flaw" that deification of a mortal blocks the worshippers from moving beyond repeating the conceits of the fallen in perpetuity? I celebrate no one's loss, but religion is a death of the mind. Aside "blame" and "cancelling", in time it'd be useful to consider what missteps there were in TMSR. One can find my opinion of what they were in the logs, of course. I wish you both well.

  4. Diana Coman says:

    I wish you well, too and I'm glad to hear from you. For what it's worth, I did check from time to time but last time I looked it redirected me to, although I can see that the blog is back now.

    I guess that there have to be some perspectives from which I seem to have deified MP or worshipped him. I did neither. We grew to be friends, we worked together, I certainly valued his insight, his wisdom and his experience, I respected him but I never considered him perfect nor ever claimed he was and there are quite a few places on record where we disagree or argue with one another (and no, he doesn't "win" all these arguments, either), not to mention the times when we even mock one another. Worth perhaps noting also that one full set of back and forth lampooning (yes, even vitriolic at times) was even *gathered and added to the logs* by MP himself so I really do wonder - how does one reconcile this action of his (let alone the existence of such type of texts in the first place) with the idea that either he was asking/looking for being worshipped/deified or otherwise that it was somehow the way he built tmsr?

    Setting aside the above for a bit, I can agree that dogma is indeed sterile as a mechanism, as you describe it. Religion seems to me at best a "dumbed down version of the story & rules so that everyone can follow" (and in this inherently socialist, nobody-left-behind, at that) but in practice more often a low-effort option essentially, not as much a *cause* of mind death as the *sign* of a mind that is too tired/depleted/old/whatever-else to carry living on its own. Perhaps this is what you mean by "a death of the mind" - one of the possible failure modes and if so, I agree. It's not the only one either and the currently common overspecialisation and overfitting approach seems to me just as much of a failure mode and even quite similar in approach, only in more modern terms.

    I'll add to the above that worship of technology is no better (and not only because one might even argue that "death" still applies anyway) and moreover, overspecialisation and compartmentalisation that wilfully set out to ignore some parts of the world (because "too much to handle" or "not my business" or "I don't like that part" or "aiming too high" or whatever else) seem to me just different flavours of the same failure mode, not really different in any way.

    Perhaps the fundamental difference of perspective comes from whether one considers people mainly passive (e.g. something may or may not block them) or mainly active (they may block or unblock themselves). If one is talking of mainly passive people, it follows indeed that the environment should be looked at to find the crucial missteps for a failed outcome. And I can see it if you argue that this was the very essence of the biggest misstep in tmsr, baked in even from the very start, namely assuming that an active mindset can be somehow "grown" in people. It can't and the very same steps that lead to a thriving outcome when that active assumption is true lead instead to a very sterile outcome when the assumption is false. In the tmsr case, what were meant to be flexible structures allowing recognition and as such easing fruitful interaction were misused instead as inflexible, self-inflating props, ultimately stultifying interaction and even action. On and on it goes, starting from this very root cause, one can certainly find plenty of missteps since the whole environment is effectively trying to go one way while almost everyone involved wants -but doesn't even openly acknowledge it- to go in precisely the opposite direction.

    Wrapping it all up, I certainly agree that hubris is basically the sign of losing touch with reality and as such spelling ruin in short order. I don't see it belonging to MP but merely pinned on him and at most tolerated at times by him - perhaps that tolerance is easily misunderstood as "he believed it, too". I also agree that setting out to make something impossible or even simply too ambitious for one's resources (of all sorts) is likely to fail. Perhaps more importantly, setting out to make something ill-defined is almost guaranteed to fail, too. I don't think though that the solution to these and all the other ways in which something is guaranteed to fail can ever be found in setting out to make something stunted from the start, with parts of reality excluded even as a possibility at a later time. And not because of some dogma of mine that doesn't let me "believe" x or y might succeed but simply because in my experience ignoring parts of reality *always* backfires sooner or later, all the worse when it backfires late rather than early, no matter for how long one enjoyed the apparent "win" of not having yet to face the backfiring. Getting something right is also no "free pass" to ignore other relevant parts.

    From my point of view, if there is any working solution (and I don't even claim to be convinced there is one, necessarily), I'd say it has to aim quite purposefully to protect and even actively increase the number and breadth of future options, while doing what can be currently and measurably done but never at the expense of the very possibility of options or parts that are not yet within reach or grasp. This is what I'll try to aim for, at any rate.

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