The distinction between eroticism and pornography in the tragedy is as significant as the distinction between the sublime and the beautiful. As an object of contemplation, the tragedy does not propose the active participation of the spectator in the events that unfold onstage, but instead the spectator’s watching and listening. This disqualifies the pornographic imagination. If eros is to be an element in the production of tragedy, it is as an approach to the Platonic Idea or Form of eros, rather than titillation: eros as an exemplar of Will. As Schopenhauer writes in the Manuscript Remains, “Perhaps the reason why common objects in still life seem so transfigured and generally everything painted appears in a supernatural light is that we then no longer look at things in the flux of time and in the connection of cause and effect. … On the contrary, we are snatched out of that eternal flux of all things and removed into a dead and silent eternity. In its individuality the thing itself was determined by time and by the [causal] conditions of the understanding; here we see this connection abolished and only the Platonic Idea is left.” In an erotic tragedy, we are not sexually attracted to the bodies or events on stage, but always remain distinct, the “subject of pure knowing” which is the end condition of aesthetic experience.
There is an echo here of Brechtian alienation: the spectator is encouraged to “think,” not “feel,” though we must be careful to avoid the definition of “thinking” as a purely intellectual, conceptual, and abstract process. The “dead and silent eternity” in which the aesthetic experience places us, in a singular relationship with the object of our pure knowing as a subject, defuses the possibility of a one-to-one empathy of the spectator and the performer. We think and perceive also with our bodies, concretely, and are raised from them in this experience to contemplate an Idea or Form of eroticism within a tragic context. Far from reflecting or embracing culture and society, the experience of the erotic tragedy repudiates both culture and society — it is always irrelevant, and embraces that irrelevance as its raison d’être.
Obviously, there is no question of catharsis: the overwhelming aesthetic experience leaves the spectator and the performer in a crisis, released into the world with new erotic and tragic knowledge that cannot be explored within the confines of the dark theatre as a public space. There is no release, only a recognition of catastrophe. The knowledge which is the end result of the aesthetic experience is better carried by both spectator and performer into the world, and best, into the darker bedrooms of the private arena. The proofs of the validity of the aesthetic experience can be found only there. It is the obligation of the artist to invite the spectator into the tragic form of eroticism, there to experience it as disinterested contemplation, to lead to interested action as a means of confronting, for the self, a post-catastrophic world, and to transcend, together with the lover, the tortures of that world.