Tragic Realism, Finitude, and Evil

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  • Title: Tragic Realism, Finitude, and Evil
  • Author(s): John Pauley
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Arts in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Arts Theory and History
  • Keywords: Cognition, Finitude, Meta-cognition, Tragic Realism, Evil
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 3
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2326-9952 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-1779 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Pauley, John. 2019. "Tragic Realism, Finitude, and Evil." The International Journal of Arts Theory and History 14 (3): 1-14. doi:10.18848/2326-9952/CGP/v14i03/1-14.
  • Extent: 14 pages


This essay first assumes that natural language is the main medium of thought in human beings. From here, the manner in which language creates meta-cognition is explored in relation to the narrative art of tragic realism. This exploration leads to the conclusion that while meta-cognition creates the possibility of high-level thinking and human engagement, it is also crucially limited. The first limitation can be found in the fact that human beings must interpret their own narratives and this opens the door to mistakes in self-articulation. The second limitation is closely related to the first: meta-cognition, as a capacity of human mind, cannot justifiably affirm normative concepts. These limitations form the possibility of tragic realism. The second half of the essay explores meta-cognition in relation to human evil within tragic realism. Louise Erdrich’s novel “The Round House” is analyzed for a comprehensive notion of evil that is bound to limitations in meta-cognition. The evil in question is “ecological” and so resists the ideology of individualism.