This essay argues that in emotionally and politically fraught terrains tragic literature may offer an embodied, affective critique of the existing political order that is more effective than theoretical-didactic critiques. As a form that makes room for conflict, violence, and desire, tragic literature has the capacity to engender a non-utopian, engaged political critique that is truer to experience and less vulnerable to disintegration or attack than most modes of polemic political critique. As a dialectic, morally flexible form, it is able to contain its own contradictions; and as a genre embroiled in emotion and trauma, it can speak to all sides wounded by conflict without moralizing. It is in the hero's direct encounter with and response to conflict and violence, what Raymond Williams calls “its experience, its comprehension, and its resolution,” that the essay locates tragedy's potential for serious political work. The essay takes Hebrew culture as its primary example.

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