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Tragic Manhood and Democracy

Verdi's Voice and the Power of Musical Art

David A. J. Richards received his A.B from Harvard College in 1966, a D. Phil. from Oxford University in 1971, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1971. He is the author of numerous articles and 11 books, including A Theory of Reasons for Action (OUP, 1971), The Moral Criticism of Law (1977), Sex, Drugs Death and the Law: An Essay on Human Rights and Overcriminalization (1982), Toleration and the Constitution (OUP, 1986), Foundations of American Constitutionalism (OUP, 1989), Conscience and the Constitution: History, Theory and Law of the Reconstruction Amendments (Princeton, 1993), Women, Gays, and the Constitution: The Grounds for Feminism and Gay Rights in Culture and Law (Chicago, 1998), Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity (NYU, 1999), Identity and the Case for Gay Rights: Race, Gender, Religion as Analogies (Chicago, 1999), Free Speech and the Politics of Identity (OUP, 1999), and Disarming Manhood: Voice and Resistance in Garrison, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, and Churchill (Ohio, in press).

He is Edwin D. Webb Professor of Law at New York University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and (with Carol Gilligan) “Sexuality, Voice, and Resistance: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Neurobiology, and Politics.” His books have received awards from the Institute of Criminal Justice Ethics and Choice magazine, and he has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley, California and at the Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado and a member of the Society of Fellows and Institute of the Humanities at NYU. In 1998 he was the Shikes Lecturer in Civil Liberties at the Harvard Law School; he is past vice-president of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. He has appeared on PBS, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and authored the readings for the Justice and Society Program at the Aspen Institute (in which he participated), taught by Supreme Court justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. He is currently working on a history of the American struggle for gay rights from Bowers to Lawrence, and a collaborative work (with Nicholas Bamforth, Fellow in Law at Queen’s College, Oxford University) on patriarchal religion and democratic constitutionalism.

What is tragedy? This work argues that it is, at once, art and science – an absorbing art and precisely observed empirical inquiry into human psychology, whose subject matter is the dilemma of manhood under democracy.

The author expands discussion of the idea of the tragic to include music drama in general and the operas of Verdi in particular, and explores the indispensable contribution of tragedy to an understanding of personal and political psychology through discussion of: the political theory of structural injustice resting on the suppression of voice (underlying evils like racism, sexism, and homophobia), a developmental psychology of gender (drawing on the work of Carol Gilligan [the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology, Boy’s Development and the Culture of Manhood]), and an interpretation of tragic art (including the expressive role of music in it).

Exploration of the tragic impact of patriarchy on democratic voice is at the heart of the power and appeal of Verdi’s innovations in musical voice. At its core is a complex psychic geography of patriarchal practices imposed on personal and political relationships (parents to children, siblings to one another, and adult men and women). Such practices – fundamental to the family, politics, and religion – enforce demands by forms of physical and psychological violence directed by men and women at anyone who deviates from its demands. Verdi’s tragic musical drama speaks of an emotional loss that literally cannot under patriarchy be spoken, namely, what the author calls the tragedy of patriarchy – a divided psychology that lives in the tension between patriarchal practices and democratic principles.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-041-5
Hardback Price: £45.00 / $65.00
Release Date: October 2004
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-042-2
Paperback Price: £16.95 / $29.95
Release Date: October 2004
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Part 1 Tragedy, Musical Voice and Democracy
1 The Idea of Tragedy and the Dilemma of Democratic Manhood: Verdi's Analytics of Traumatized Voice Under Patriarchy
2 Tragic Art: Patriarchy in Ancient Athens and Verdi's Italy
Democracy and Tragedy in Ancient Greece
Democracy and Tragedy in Verdi's Art: The Code of Honor as Subject Matter
Verdi's Life and Psychology
3 Music as the Memory of Suppressed Voice in Verdi's Mature Operas
4 Verdi and Italian Nationalism

Part 2 Hearing the Underworld
5 Parents and Children
(1) Fathers and Daughters
(2) Fathers and Sons
(3) Mothers and Sons
(4) Mothers and Daughters
6 Siblings
(1) Brother to Sister
(2) Brother to Brother
(3) Sister to Sister
7 Lovers
(1) Male–Male Relationships
(2) Female–Female Relationships
(3) Male–Female Relationships

Part 3 Between Patriarchal and Democratic Manhood
8 Tragedy as the Dilemma of Democratic Manhood
Between Patriarchal and Democratic Manhood

Table of Cases

In this complex but rewarding book, Richards (law, NYU) challenges the ill effects that patriarchal societies have placed in the way of individual voices of both men and women, and the ways in which tragedy, as fashioned by ancient Greek playwrights, has occupied a problematic ground between patriarchy and democracy. Beginning with a consideration of some major Greek tragedies, the author moves on to discuss ways in which patriarchal demands mute true voices, and he contrasts the patriarchal and democratic concepts of manhood. Turning to the operas of Verdi, whom he considers ‘the greatest tragedian in the history of opera,’ Richards finds – specifically in the music – the expression of a psychological truth that works against the demands of patriarchy on those who find them supremely painful. Richards’ interdisciplinary approach calls on the fields of history, literature, sociology, psychology, and political science, and he also offers his own reflections on matters at hand. For him, Verdi’s operas are a locus in which characters can express in music the voices that patriarchy has suppressed and thus show the destructive force on women but, more centrally, on men. In Verdi’s music Richards finds ‘emotions and memories that cannot otherwise be discussed’. Recommended.

Characterizing tragedy as an art and a scientific investigation into human psychology, Richards uses it to approach the dilemma of manhood under democracy. He expands tragedy to include music drama in particular and the operas of Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) in particular, and explores its contribution to a truthful democratic understanding of the personal and political psychology of manhood under democracy.
Book News

This brilliant, original book illuminates how the reigning conception of manhood ineluctably leads to tragedy. In Verdi’s operas, Richards finds a parallel to Greek tragedy – a musical art, honed at a moment of historical transition, that reveals the irreconcilable antagonism between patriarchy and democracy. He explains why Verdi’s operas move us so powerfully, and shows us how Verdi’s music dramas give expressi on to a voice that is psychologically and politically vital. This is creative scholarship at its best, a book written at a place where disciplines intersect. Illustrating how Verdi’s operas illuminate tragic breaks in human relationships, the author also shows how a personal and political psychology elucidates Verdi’s genius. For opera lovers, this book is a gift; to novices it extends an invitation to discover in music drama a way of ‘hearing the underworld’ and thus coming to understand emotions and experiences that we resist knowing.
Carol Gilligan, University Professor, New York University, and author of In a Different Voice and The Birth of Pleasure

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