The Wire as Greek Tragedy

The Wire is the best TV series I’ve ever seen. Also among the raunchiest. In an aside in an eccentric piece comparing the Fairie Queene to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Cambridge English scholar Joe Moshenska sketches an even more eccentric comparison of Spencer’s poem to The Wire:

The Wire’s co-creator, David Simon, has repeatedly suggested that the show takes its bearings from a canonical literary tradition. Specifically, he has suggested that it was written as a modern equivalent of a Greek Tragedy, in which individuals act with a false sense of their own autonomy while in fact the meanings of their actions are determined by inscrutable and amoral higher forces (we have institutions that play this role, where once there were gods). Clues for this connection are scattered through the show, including a character who carries a copy of Prometheus Bound into a courtroom in order to achieve a spurious appearance of dignity and erudition. But it is worth noting that allegory is another form in which agents believe that they act for individual motives while in fact they are actualising the dictates of abstract forces that work through them: and The Wire, like The Faerie Queene, experiments dazzlingly with the fictional personae that it contains, tempting us at different moments to see them as fully realized individuals, or mere instances of social or conceptual types. Even if this is purely an instance of a connection created by my idiosyncratic hermeneutic anxiety, each of these works has helped me better to experience the other, and I generally wonder if we should allow more room for this sort of groundless but revelatory parallel when we write, as we often do when we teach.

I didn’t see any of this when I watched the series, but I don’t doubt it’s there. The Wire has density rarely found in any medium.

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