What the Ancient Greeks teach us

Emily Wilson in The New Statesman:

Simon Critchley’s latest book ends with an anecdote about a public conversation he had with the actor Isabelle Huppert. “Of course, what theatre is about is aliveness, a certain experience of aliveness,” she told him. “That’s all that matters. The rest is just ideas.” The remark left him “internally stopped” at the insight that theatre is indeed an “experience of sensory and cognitive intensity” that is “impossible to express purely in concepts”. The story explains the genesis of Critchley’s book: it articulates a struggle by a person trained as a philosopher, dedicated to the study of concepts, to explain his fascination with theatre in general, and ancient Athenian tragedy in particular.

Critchley has a longstanding interest in the relationship of literature and philosophy: as an undergraduate at the University of Essex, he began a degree in the former before switching to the latter. A philosopher of an eclectic kind, he is interested in continental thinkers such as Heidegger and Levinas, but has also published on football, suicide, subjectivity, David Bowie, Wallace Stevens and humour. Critchley’s central goal in his new book is to suggest a way of doing philosophy that acknowledges and somehow participates in the “aliveness” of theatre. At the same time, he offers a vibrant introductory ramble through Athenian tragedy and its reception in Plato and Aristotle.

More here.