Nietzsches The Birth of Tragedy: A Readers Guide

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Birth of Tragedy Summary

This is a concern because so many readers fail to distinguish between the Apollonian-Dionysian dialectic in Nietzsche's treatment of Homeric poetry and the Apollonian-Dionysian dialectic in Nietzsche's treatment of the lyric poetry that flowers into tragedy. On this model, Apollonian illusions shield us from the ugly, Dionysian truth.

My concern is that although Daniels notes differences between the Apollonian-Dionysian dialectic as applied to epic poetry and the Apollonian-Dionysian dialectic as applied to lyric and tragic poetry 85, 98 , he nevertheless sees the Dionysian as a will-negating truth 86 akin to a "lethal poison" 99 that needs "the seductive, soothing language of Apolline art" merely to be endured 4.

What is missing in Daniels' account is the fact that Nietzsche assigns to the Dionysian arts of music and dance the capacity to affirm the suffering and death that characterize human existence.

In other words, Dionysian art itself is capable of transfiguring the terrible truth of Dionysian wisdom. That Daniels overlooks this aspect of Nietzsche's project is evidenced by the absence of any substantive discussion of musical dissonance. While not incorrect, such a limited understanding of Dionysian music renders it subservient to Apollonian myth and overlooks the independent role it plays in the aesthetic justification of existence.

Thus, Nietzsche argues that music enables us to experience joy even in the destruction of the Apollonian hero BT 16 and so move beyond the pity and fear that Aristotle thought was the proper response to the tragic performance BT Daniels' relative neglect of musical dissonance also limits his ability to defend what he calls his "affirmative reading" against the "Schopenhauer reading" of BT.

Nietzsche's 'The Birth of Tragedy'

The latter interpretation, articulated most notably by Julian Young, argues that the Apollonian solution to the problem of suffering is superficial and relies on self-deception, and so even though Apollonian art might enable us to deceive ourselves into thinking that life is worth living, it actually is not Daniels rightly rejects Young's reading, first, by arguing that the Apollonian element in tragedy is not a mere veiling of the Dionysian, but rather a life-affirming representation of the Dionysian itself. Second, Daniels responds to Young by introducing an important distinction between descriptive pessimism, which merely describes the suffering that characterizes existence, and prescriptive pessimism, which prescribes that we ought to deny life given the truth of descriptive pessimism On the one hand, this distinction allows Daniels to explain the way in which Nietzsche is, like Schopenhauer and Silenus, a pessimist in the descriptive sense but not, in contrast to Schopenhauer and Silenus, a pessimist in the prescriptive sense.

On the other hand, Daniels argues that the Greeks did not, as Young claims, "deceive or delude themselves" about the value of life because they were able to conflate the "is" of description and the "ought" of prescription into a unity This is because the is-ought distinction is neither Greek nor, as Daniels claims, Schopenhauerian Instead, it is something that we scholars use to explain how Nietzsche's aesthetic Greeks both embrace and reject aspects of Silenic wisdom and how Nietzsche both follows and breaks with Schopenhauer.

In contrast, Nietzsche argues that no evaluative or prescriptive judgment follows from the fact that suffering is an ineluctable feature of existence, and musical dissonance is such an important phenomenon for Nietzsche because it, like tragedy itself, reveals the way in which human beings can experience suffering as a stimulant to life.

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However, because the audience identifies first and foremost with the chorus, Nietzsche argues that they are able to experience the ecstatic Dionysian reality of the self actually being part of one whole unity that can survive the destruction of one single individual just as a waterfall would survive the destruction of single rain drops. Through this experience, we as audience members are comforted even in the face of terrible pain and suffering.

Too much of this ecstasy, however, would decend into dangerous intoxication and barbarity. We are unaware why we are comforted watching tragedy because we are shielded by the Apollonian surface of the work that deceives us into believing that tragedy is about the fate of an individual in a world of other individuals.

The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche | LibraryThing

When the Ancient Greeks left the theatre, argues Nietzsche, they felt "strangely comforted" and yet "ready for action". Nietzsche claims that in the hands of Euripides, who was writing after Aeschylus and at the same time as Sophocles, tragedy as he defines it died. He argues that "Socratism" entered his work, with Socratism being a view that reality is Apollonian all the way down, meaning that in theory, science and technology are capable of solving every problem in the world.


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If this is true, then there is no need for any kind of "metaphysical comfort" that one finds in the experience of the Dionysian. Nietzsche argues that modern culture is based on this kind of illusion, failing to realise that pain and mortality are as inseperable from our lives as for the Ancient Greeks. He suggests that we need a rebirth of tragedy, and says that we might find it in the form of Wagner's music dramas - a man whom Nietzsche was friends with and greatly admired.

Birth of Tragedy study guide contains a biography of Friedrich Nietzsche, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Phenomenology existentialism.

Douglas Burnham, Martin Jesinghausen. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. Paperback Seiten. This is an introduction to one of Nietzsche's most important works - a key text in nineteenth-century philosophy.