Nail, Brian W.
Models of sacrifice and the art of Christian tragedy.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis is a literary investigation of sacrifice in works of tragic literature and the Bible. In Part I, this thesis critiques René Girard’s scapegoating model of sacrifice and demonstrates the interpretive limitations that his theory of sacrifice imposes upon works of tragic literature and the Bible. In the first chapter, this thesis examines Eurpides’ play The Bacchae. Contrary to Girard’s assessment of works of classical Greek tragedy as texts that come to the defense of the tragic victim, I argue that this play participates in an elaborate re-mystification of scapegoating. Next, I conduct a tragic reading of the first twelve chapters of Exodus—focusing specifically on the birth of Moses and the story of the Passover. Contrary to a Girardian reading which simplifies the conflicts in Exodus to an irreducible opposition between Egypt and Israel, a tragic reading of the biblical narrative reveals a much more complex relationship between these groups. Using Christopher Fry’s play The Firstborn as a literary framework for investigating the biblical narrative, I read Moses as a tragic figure who struggles to come to grips with his own identity as a man raised by Egyptians and yet born an Israelite. Most importantly, Fry’s play dramatically highlights the sacrificial costs of the Israelites’ deliverance in Exodus—namely the infanticidal genocide of the firstborn of Egypt. In Part II of this study, I describe an alternative to Girard’s model of sacrifice which appears in the Gospel of Mark as well as in the work of Flannery O’Connor. In my reading of the Gospel of Mark as a work of Christian tragedy, I argue that at the Last Supper Jesus poetically improvises a model of eucharistic sacrifice that radically reconfigures the relationship between humans and the divine. According to this eucharistic model of sacrifice, the sacred is configured within the very materials of artistic representation. Consequently, the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel not only transfigures the opposition between oppressors and the oppressed but most importantly the opposition between the sacred and the profane. This study concludes with an investigation of the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor. Through a close reading of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and Wise Blood, I argue that O’Connor’s work employs a model of eucharistic sacrifice to bring about a moment of transfiguration that defies interpretive closure. Finally, this thesis argues that by exploring this eucharistic model of sacrifice it may be possible to conceive of new approaches to imagining the relationship between readers, texts and the sacred.
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