Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy


While discussing the history of tragedy as a form of art in Ancient Greece, Nietzsche lays the ground for a broad cultural dichotomy in Western civilization between the Dionysian and the Apollonian (loosely defined: reality undifferentiated by forms versus reality as differentiated by forms).

Nietzsche argues life involves a struggle between these two poles, each battling for control over the existence of humanity.

The tragedy of Ancient Greece was considered by Nietzsche to be the highest form of art, due to its mixture of both Apollonian and Dionysian elements into one seamless whole, allowing the spectator to experience the full spectrum of the human condition.

The issue at stake is, therefore, to experience and understand the Dionysian side of life without destroying the obvious values of the Apollonian side.

 

Questions to consider:

* What in this world today could be counted as a resemblance of the Dionysian - be it a pale, partial version of the ancient Greek experience?

* Is Nietzsche's identification of the Theoretical Man as an optimist grounded? Western civilization is also familiar with Ecclesiastes' bitter proverb: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;  the more knowledge, the more grief.

* Is it possible for the individual to cultivate a Dionysian approach to life while being part of a society that has seemed to forgotten it altogether?

* To what extent do art and some religious experiences reveal truths that are not constituted as knowledge?

 

Reading (the page numbers relate to the uploaded edition - Ian Johnston's translation):

Chapter 15 (pp. 52 - 55): On how the Apollonian has taken over the Dionysian in world history starting with Socrates, going into modern civilization through the sciences and the arts.

Recommended reading: Chapter 7 (pp. 28-33) - Nietzsche's account of truth in the Greek tragedy as an interplay of the Dionysian and the Apollonian.

 

A copy of the book is available for download in the Files section.

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  • Jeryl

    "When it comes to play, humans don’t play around.

    Other species play, but none play for as much of their lives as humans do, or as imaginatively, or with as much protection from the family circle. Human children are unique in using play to explore hypothetical situations rather than to rehearse actual challenges they’ll face later.

    And in doing so, they develop some of humanity’s most consequential faculties. They learn the art, pleasure and power of hypothesis — of imagining new possibilities. And serious students of play believe that this helps make the species great.... in the last 25 years or so, researchers have developed this notion more richly and tied it more closely to both neuroscience and human evolution. They see play as essential not just to individual development, but to humanity’s unusual ability to inhabit, exploit and change the environment."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/science/zeal-for-play-may-have-propelled-human-evolution.html?_r=0

    April 23, 2013

  • Jeryl

    I believe, someone requested a few citations Re: Nietzsche's "anti-essentialist" view:

    557 [masked]) The properties of a thing are effects on other “things”: if one removes other “things,” then a thing has no properties,i.e., there is no thing without other things, i.e., there is no “thing-in-itself.” 558 (Spring-Fall 1887) The “thing-in-itself” nonsensical. If I remove all the relationships, all the “properties,” all the “activities” of a thing, the thing does not remain over; because thingness has only been invented by us owing to the requirements of logic, thus with the aim of defining, communication (to bind together the multiplicity of relationships, properties, activities). 559 (Nov. 1887-March 1888) “Things that have a constitution in themselves”—a dogmatic idea with which one must break absolutely.

    Nietzsche, Friedrich [masked]). The Will to Power (Kindle Locations[masked]). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    March 8, 2013

    • Jeryl

      556 [masked]) "A “thing-in-itself” just as perverse as a “sense-in-itself,” a “meaning-in-itself.” There are no “facts-in-themselves,” for a sense must always be projected into them before there can be “facts.” The question “what is that?” is an imposition of meaning from some other viewpoint. “Essence,” the “essential nature,” is something perspective and already presupposes a multiplicity. At the bottom of it there always lies “what is that for me?” (for us, for all that lives, etc.) A thing would be defined once all creatures had asked “what is that?” and had answered their question. Supposing one single creature, with its own relationships and perspectives for all things, were missing, then the thing would not yet be “defined.”

      March 8, 2013

    • Jeryl

      556 [masked]) In short: the essence of a thing is only an opinion about the “thing.” Or rather: “it is considered” is the real “it is,” the sole “this is.” One may not ask: “who then interprets?” for the interpretation itself is a form of the will to power, exists (but not as a “being” but as a process, a becoming) as an affect."

      The origin of “things” is wholly the work of that which imagines, thinks, wills, feels. The concept “thing” itself just as much as all its qualities.— Even “the subject” is such a created entity, a “thing” like all others: a simplification with the object of defining the force which posits, invents, thinks, as distinct from all individual positing, inventing, thinking as such. Thus a capacity as distinct from all that is individual—fundamentally­, action collectively considered with respect to all anticipated actions (action and the probability of similar actions).

      March 8, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "Buddhism already has, and this distinguishes it profoundly from Christianity, the self-deception of moral concepts behind it, it stands, in my language, beyond good and evil." ~ Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

    "Although Nietzsche viewed Buddhism as superior to Christianity, and went so far as to call eternal recurrence "the European form of Buddhism", he considered both religions nihilistic. Buddhism, which fights ressentiment, was a convenient whip for Christianity born out of ressentiment. Inasmuch as Buddhism attempts to view the world as it is, without the distortions of metaphysics, Nietzsche believed that it offers no moral interpretation of the suffering that necessarily attends the human condition: no one is responsible for that suffering. Yet this did not amount to a recommendation, for Buddhism is nonetheless a religion for the end and fatigue of a civilization, the consolation of weary spirits longing for a dreamless sleep. Sakyamuni Buddha was not an Ubermensch"

    David Loy

    March 8, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "Such a conclusion is not surprising for someone who learned his Buddhism largely through Schopenhauer: But we have learned much more about Buddhism since Nietzsche's day, enough to consider a Buddhist response: in what ways was Nietzsche right, from a Buddhist perspective, and where might he have gone wrong?

      The answer is complex, of course, and there is much that Buddhists can learn from Nietzsche, the first post-modernist and still the most important one. In order to reach that answer, however, it will first be necessary to gain some understanding of anatman, the 'no self' doctrine central to Buddhism and to the still-widespread misunderstanding of Buddhism as nihilistic. "

      David Loy. Beyond good and evil? A Buddhist critique of Nietzsche
      http://ccbs.ntu.edu.t...­

      March 8, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "Of the various ways for us to approach anatman, one of the most insightful is through modem psychology. Buddhism anticipated its reluctant conclusions: guilt and anxiety are not adventitious but intrinsic to the ego. That is because our dissatisfaction with life derives from a repression even more immediate than death-terror: the suspicion that 'I' am not real. For Buddhism, the sense-of-self is not some self-existing consciousness but a mental construction which experiences its own groundlessness as a lack. On this account, our most problematic dualism is not so much life fearing death as a fragile sense-of-self dreading its own nothingness. By accepting and yielding to that groundlessness, however, I can discover that I have always been grounded, not as a self-present being but as one manifestation of a web of relationships which encompasses everything."

      David Loy. Beyond good and evil? A Buddhist critique of Nietzsche. http://ccbs.ntu.edu.t...­

      March 8, 2013

  • Laurence M.

    This was a wonderful discussion. It seems to me that the playful, "frohliche" style that N later adopted, which incorporated poetry, aphorisms, song, jokes, is itself intended to be a Dionysian participatory-ecstatic release from the failures of the up-till-then, too, too Apollonian European philosophy. Intended not to destroy, but to refresh that tradition....ah!

    1 · March 5, 2013

    • Jeryl

      An Eastern AND Western comparative philosophical take on "play", as arising out of the groundlessness (emptiness / voidness) of Being (and/or Non-being):

      "Play. For Derrida, the death of God unleashes limitless play; he goes so far as to call play "the absence of the transcendental signified." But whether our God has died or not, we are already playing. The question is not whether we play but how. Do we suffer our games as if they were life-death struggles, because they are the means whereby we hope to ground ourselves, or do we dance with the light feet that Nietzsche called the first attribute of divinity?." ~ David Loy. Indra's Post-Modern Net

      http://ccbs.ntu.edu.t...­

      1 · March 7, 2013

  • Jorge

    I may have been remissed by not including the notion of "enantiodromia" last evening. A significant emergence to reflect when encountering the tension of opposites (ie: dionyssian--apollonian).

    2 · March 5, 2013

  • Rob M.

    Very thoughtful and well contributed discussion as always!

    March 4, 2013

  • Jorge

    Thank you Eran and everyone for the conversation.

    March 4, 2013

  • Christy

    Always such a pleasure. Thank you Eran and also Jeryl for the ongoing comments beforehand.

    1 · March 3, 2013

  • Christy

    I'm on my way! Or trying to be. Well stuck in traffic.

    March 3, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    getting back into town later than expected. see you next time. thanks.

    March 3, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "A more fundamental contrast, Nietzsche hints, is between a weak or sickly pessimism (also to be called ‘nihilism'), and a ‘pessimism of strength'. Nietzsche emphasizes with particular urgency in this retrospective the role of pain and suffering as basis for cultural responses that have widely different metaphysical meanings. The pessimism of strength is an antidote to Schopenhauer's pessimism of resignation; it does not seek to annul pain and suffering"

    DOUGLAS BURNHAM AND MARTIN JESINGHAUSEN, NIETZSCHE'S THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY (A Reader's Guide)

    "Nietzsche writes about tragedy as the great  life-affirming alternative to S hopenhauer's negation of the will. One cen be honest & free of optimistic illusions as Schopenhauer was, and still celebrate life as fundamentally powerful & pleasurable as the Greeks did"

    Walter Kaufmann,  p 59 Vintage edition, BoT

    March 3, 2013

  • Ping

    +1 guest

    March 3, 2013

  • Rick G.

    Still on the waiting list. Hate to miss it if this group goes Dionysian tonight, if I show up what's the chance a spot will be available?

    1 · March 3, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "By contrast with this practical pessimism, Socrates is the prototype of the theoretical optimist who, with his faith that the nature of things can be fathomed, ascribes to knowledge and insight the power of a panacea"

    "But science, spurred by its powerful illusion, speeds irresistibly toward its limits where its optimism, concealed in the essence of logic, suffers shipwreck. For the periphery of the circle of science has an infinite number of points; and while there is no telling how this circle could ever be surveyed completely, noble and gifted men nevertheless reach, e’er half their time6 and inevitably, such boundary points7 on the periphery from which one gazes into what defies illumination. When they see to their horror how logic coils up at these boundaries and finally bites its own tail—suddenly the new form of insight breaks through, tragic insight which, merely to be endured, needs art as a protection and remedy."

    Nietzsche (p. 96-98, Vintage Edition) Ch. 15, BoT

    March 3, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "The problem posed for us moderns is the opposite one to that encountered by the Greeks. Whilst they had to tame the Dionysian – to make it productive in the domain of culture – we have to find a way to break open the ever tightening straightjacket of modern culture by letting ourselves get back in touch again with the primeval life forces of Dionysian sensuality. We have inherited from the Greeks a desire to control nature, but thereby have lost absolutely what we set out to control – a very topical message still for the twenty-first century. "

      DOUGLAS BURNHAM AND MARTIN JESINGHAUSEN, NIETZSCHE'S THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY (A Reader's Guide)

      March 3, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "The root and the epitome of separation is the discrete, isolated self of modern perception: the “I am” of Descartes, the “economic man” of Adam Smith, the individual phenotype of Darwinian competition for resources, the skin-encapsulated ego of Alan Watts. It is a self conditionally dependent on, but fundamentally separate from, the Other: from nature and other people. Seeing ourselves as discrete and separate beings, we naturally seek to manipulate the not-self to our best advantage. Technology in particular is predicated on some kind of individuation or conceptual separation from the environment, because it takes the physical world as its object of manipulation and control. Technology, in effect, says, “Let us make the world better.”

      Charles, Eisenstein. “The Ascent of Humanity: Civilization and the Human Sense of Self.”

      March 3, 2013

  • Sara Lua C.

    Really looking forward to tomorrow's discussion. Hoping for a spot to open up!

    March 2, 2013

  • Ping

    With 1 guest

    March 2, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "If ancient tragedy was diverted from its course by the dialectical desire for knowledge and the optimism of science, this fact might lead us to believe that there is an eternal conflict between the theoretic & the tragic world view & only after the spirit of science has been pursued to its limits & its claim to universal validity destroyed by the evidence of these limits may we hope for a rebirth of tragedy"

    "[theoretical man] combats Dionysian wisdom and art, it seeks to dissolve myth, it substitutes for a metaphysical comfort an earthly consonance..a deus ex machina of its own, the god of machines and crucibles, that is, the powers of the spirits of nature recognized & employed in the service of a higher egoism; it believes that it can correct the world by knowledge, guide life by science, and actually confine the individual within a limited sphere of solvable problems, from which he can cheerfully say to life: “I desire you; you are worth knowing"

    ~Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy

    March 1, 2013

    • Jeryl

      @Laurence: The BoT is actually considered by most Nietzschean scholars like Walter Kauffman and even Nietzsche himself, as his worst piece of writing but it does set up the basic themes for Thus Spoke Zarathustra and his later work. Nietzsche would probably agree with the "florid" part of your criticism but maybe, not the "nonsense" portion. I think the book, despite it's ornate and somewhat heavy-handed delivery, still speaks volumes to our current society's existential malaise and struggle with materialism. But with most, if not all, of Nietzsche's works, you gotta digest the good with the bad and sometimes it's difficult to tell when he's being ironic or literal.

      March 2, 2013

    • Jeryl

      I would agree that most Western philosophers, especially those in Academia, whom by the very fact of having the "free time" of being able to do nothing but "Philosophize"­ for a living, usually come from privileged and sheltered backgrounds and have no clue what it's like to live in the less privileged parts of our society, be it urban ghettoes or third world countries, and usually either ignore it (wealth inequality, slavery, etc..) completely or make asinine Romanticized generalizations like the above quote from Socrates.

      March 2, 2013

  • Sara Lua C.

    I look forward to ponder over life's biggest questions together with this dynamic group.

    February 28, 2013

  • Jorge

    The tension of opposites. This is existential living .....

    1 · February 25, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "For all the value that the true, the truthful, the selfless may deserve, it would still be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for life might have to be ascribed to deception, selfishness, and lust. It might even be possible that what constitutes the value of these good and revered things is precisely that they are insidiously related, tied to, and involved with these wicked, seemingly opposite things—maybe even one with them in essence. Maybe! But who has the will to concern himself with such dangerous maybes? For that, one really has to wait for the advent of a new species of philosophers, such as have somehow another and converse taste and propensity from those we have known so far—philosophers of the dangerous “maybe” in every sense."

      Nietzsche, Friedrich [masked]). Beyond Good and Evil. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

      February 25, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "And now here comes the thunderbolt of the Orphic image: Dionysus looking at himself in the mirror sees the world! The theme of deceit and that of knowledge are conjoined, but only thus they are resolved. The God attracted by the mirror, by this plaything where unknown and multicolored images appear – the vision nails him unaware of danger – he does not know he is contemplating himself. And yet what he sees is the reflection of a God, that world where God expresses himself as appearance….The antithesis between appearance and reality, between necessity and play, is resolved here in a sole image, where all is divided and joined, where vision illuminates what thought muddies"
      ~ Raphael, Orphism and the Initiatory Tradition

      "The spectacle thus unites what is separate, but it unites it only in its separateness"
      ~ Guy Debord. Separation Perfected, The Society of the Spectacle

      February 25, 2013

  • Carmen F.

    Out of town again =(

    February 25, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "To the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of paradox and extremes, of passion and masks, of ecstatic joy and vengeance, of tragic drama and of madness. But that was long ago. or was it? After two millennia of Christianity and five hundred years of scientific rationalism, Dionysus and his modern substitutes persist in our imagination as images of “the Other.” He is everything that America has cast into the shadows: woman, race, nature and the body."

    Excerpt From: Barry, Spector. “MADNESS AT THE GATES OF THE CITY: The Myth of American Innocence.

    February 15, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "European settlers brought a legacy of puritanical intolerance to the New World. They developed literature, theology and political rhetoric that gradually coalesced into a mythology of divinely inspired new beginnings, heroic destiny and good intentions—the myth of American innocence. However, these stories covered over a legacy of racism and violent imperialism. Fear of the dark, Dionysian strangers at our doors—first Indians, then witches, then slaves and their descendants, then communists—both stimulated our anxieties and held them in check. Nearly four hundred years later, these mythic narratives have not lost their hold upon us. Now the fear of terrorism helps to define us as "not them."

      “The Other provides a unique window into American history, and especially our current political madness. This irrepressible aspect of both soul and society may re-emerge at any moment, bringing either mass chaos or longed-for healing. The choice is up to us, because Dionysus is part of us.”

      February 15, 2013

  • Michelle

    Here is to team Dionysian!!! Yet, dear team members, isn't the ecstasy delivered through the veil of separation being lifted? If we just can't help but long for that dopamine at ever increasing delighting amounts, shouldn't we be letting go to the ecstasy of finding ourselves in our Appollian comrades and they in us? Or... to hell with that...too much work for a Dionysian...let's just break out the Hafiz and amplify the ecstasy by mirroring our "truths" in each other. Fire ceremony at my house!!!!! Hampe Mama Cocha!!! Am also called to share with all, and to my skinning dipping sister in particular, one of my favorite Romantic era Dionysian rants sobered through Appollian English culture. Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey. In those earlier days of seeking like others, I once dated a guy in college largely because he had lines[masked] tacked above his desk : ). Not enough space to post. Lines 37-48, and 88-102. Off to more drunken snow shoveling...

    1 · February 9, 2013

    • Christy

      Oh I went to bed all warm and happy knowing someone else here is a big goober like me who reads Alan Watts. <3!

      1 · February 10, 2013

    • Christy

      P.S. Michelle, I'll check that poem out post haste.

      February 10, 2013

  • Christy

    Oh I do hope to come to this one. Birth of Tragedy was my intro to philosophy, required reading in a class where no one else did the reading. I was THAT guy. And I remember getting halfway through and having to stop everything to get up, drive to the ocean, take off all my clothes, and fling myself into the water. It was just that wonderful. Naturally, I continued to make no friends in that class.

    1 · February 8, 2013

    • Jeryl

      hahaha….Actually, you were secretly recruited to combat the rising tide of materialist-minded, overly rational/analytical Apollonian types in the group and judging by your rather spontaneous irrational outburst of ecstatic mystical union with the ocean, I think you will fit right in with Team Dionysius! Balancing the force is a full time gig.

      1 · February 8, 2013

    • Christy

      Hah! I knew it! Well played. I was already seduced to the dark side, but I'll take another dip just to be safe.

      1 · February 9, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "In the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to the greatest exaltation of all his symbolic faculties; something never before experienced struggles for utterance—the annihilation of the veil of māyā, oneness as the soul of the race and of nature itself."

    "….let your imagination conceive the multitudes bowing to the dust, awestruck—then you will approach the Dionysian. Now the slave is a free man; now all the rigid, hostile barriers that necessity, caprice, or “impudent convention” have fixed between man and man are broken. Now, with the gospel of universal harmony, each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, and fused with his neighbor, but as one with him, as if the veil of māyā had been torn aside and were now merely fluttering in tatters before the mysterious primordial unity."

    ~ Nietzsche, Friedrich. Section 1. The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music. Trans. Walter Kaufmann

    January 22, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "Moving from the ethereal to the vulgar, “spirits” also refers to spirits, those high-alcohol drinks that, in their initial effects at least, tend to make most of us rather spirited. Hegel refers to his own work as a “bacchanalian revel,” a carefree drunken festival. Nietzsche similarly refers to his philosophy as “Dionysian.” To Nietzsche, the Dionysian referred to “letting go,” to losing one’s sense of rational individuality and gaining a sense of oneness with the larger cosmos. To Hegel, the revel meant letting our thoughts and feelings follow their natural course, which he thought would naturally lead to the recognition of ourselves with others and the world as Spirit. "

      Robert C. Solomon [masked]). Spirituality for the Skeptic : The Thoughtful Love of Life (Kindle Locations[masked]). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

      January 22, 2013

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