For non-specialist readers hoping for an overview, the book offers substantial introductory material on tragedy and ancient philosophy; it is energetic, engaging and thought-provoking without too much abstraction and with just enough detail to add flavour... Critchley has taught a long-running course at the New School in New York on which the current book seems to be based. It has something of the chatty vigour of a successful seminar discussion, while the bitty structure – 61 tiny chapters in a book of only 322 pages – evokes class-notes more than sustained argument. His book is certainly not a complete survey of extant Athenian tragedy... It is a pity that Critchley’s account of moral psychology is so gestural... Moreover, it is disappointing that we are told nothing about what the new, tragic philosophy will look like, or how exactly writing philosophy in a tragic mode will be different from writing what we normally call literature, or perhaps deconstructive literary criticism... There is something genuinely invigorating about Critchley’s eager open-mindedness, his willingness to step back from modernity to the ancient world and from philosophy to literature, to urge all of us to “become ecstatically stretched out into another time and other space, another way of experiencing things and the world”.
The prose can also be difficult to digest: “In a world defined by relentless speed and the unending acceleration of information flows that cultivate amnesia and an endless thirst for the short-term future allegedly guaranteed through worship of the new prosthetic gods of technology, tragedy is a way of applying the emergency brake.”
If you want to read about the myths and characters of the Greek plays, this probably isn’t the book for you. If you enjoy philosophising on catharsis and mimesis, you might admire this valiant attempt to unravel the mechanics of tragedy.