on The Birth of Tragedy

Some particularly interesting quotes from Raymond Geuss' introduction:

1. "The highest form of culture we know, Nietzsche thinks, is that of ancient Greece, and the most perfect expression of that culture is fifth-century Attic tragedy, but the depredations of time make our knowledge of that culture at best fragmentary and indirect" (x).

2. "Roughly speaking, The Birth of Tragedy asks: how can we remedy the ills of 'modern' society? Nietzsche's answer is: by constructing a new 'tragic culture' centered on an idealized form of Wagnerism" (x).

3. "The synthesis of Apollo and Dionysos in tragedy (in which the musical, Dionysiac element, Nietzsche claims, has a certain dominance) is part of a complex defence against the pessimism and despair which is the natural existential lot of humans" (xi).

4. "Modern individuals have developed their talents and powers in an overspecialized, one-sided way; their lives and personalities are fragmented, not integrated, and they lack the ability to identify with their society in a natural way and play the role assigned t them in the world wholeheartedly. They cannot see the lives they lead as meaningful and good. Schiller, Holderin, Hegel, Marx, Wagner, Nietzsche, (and many other lesser-known figures) all accept version of this general diagnosis. Theoretical and practical reactions to this perceived problematic state differ enormously. Some (like the later Schiller) thought that what was needed was a new elitist classicism; others (such as Marx) thought that only radical political action directed at changing the basic economic structure of society could deal effectively with the situation. The strand of response to this perceived problem that is most important for the genesis of Nietzsche's view is Romanticism" (xii-xiii).

5. "Early Romantics had been obsessed with one or the other of two such idealized past societies. Some gave their allegiance to an idealized antiquity, presenting some version of the ancient city-state as the model for a harmonious and satisfying human life; others, and this came to be thought the more characteristically Romantic option, followed the lead of the poet Novalis in praising the purported all-encompassing unity of the Catholic Middle Ages. There are strong elements of both of these views in Wagner, whose ideas about the work of art are strongly informed by his reading of Attic tragedy, but who tends to derive the plot and setting of his music-dramas from the Middle Ages" (xiii).

6. "Archaic Greek society, Nietzsche claims, is different from and superior to the modern world because archaic Greece was an artistic culture, whereas modern culture is centered on cognition ('science') and 'morality.'" (xiv).

7. "Nietzsche's utter contempt for 'democracy' seems to be one of the most basic features of his intellectual and psychological makeup. It certainly antedated the development of any of his characteristic philosophic views' (xv).

8. "In contrast to Wagner's view that the artistic culture of ancient Greece could not be revived because it deserved to perish--founded as it was on slavery--and that a fully satisfactory work of art 'of the future' could belong only to a society that had abolished not only chattel-slavery but its modern equivalent, the wage-slavery characteristic of capitalist societies, Nietzsche asserts that slavery is an essential feature of any society that aspires to high cultural attainments. He does seem to think it is rather a shame that this is the case, but he never suggests that the price is not worth paying" (xvi).

9. "The situation, however, is even more complex, because while dissolution of our identity and individuality is in one sense what we fear most, it is also potentially the highest and most intense kind of pleasure" (xviii).

10. "The pleasure we experience in various mundane orgiastic experiences when the sense of separate, differentiated self is lost is a vague analogue of the real pleasure (and horror) of genuine self-dissolution. Finally, just as dissolution of identity is both horrible and pleasurable, so equally knowledge that our identity is an illusion doomed imminently to be dissolved is both attractive--which explains partly the appeal of tragedy--and repulsive. In fact, Nietzsche claims, full, undiluted knowledge of the metaphysical truth about the world would be strictly intolerable to humans; it would produce in us a nausea in the face of existence that would literally kill us" (xviii-xix).

11. "The paradoxical duality in tragedy mirrors an underlying metaphysical paradox: what we take to be most real about ourselves, our very individuation as separate beings, is nothing but an illusory appearance generated by a non-individuated metaphysical entity (the Will (cf. Schopenhauer)). This is what makes tragedy the highest form of art, and, as such, 'the true metaphysical activity'" (xix).

12. "The production of individuated Schein is the work of 'Apollo' and it is this work that allows the spectators to survive. Tragedy requires the cooperation of Dionysos with Apollo, of music and words. Pure or absolute Dionysiac music would be too direct an expression of this truth; we survive a Wagnerian music-drama only because of the illusions Apollo creates" (xxi). (Note: This idea of Nietzsche's is later dismissed by Geuss as mere Wagner propaganda; it was the Master's way of elevating his music above symphonic composers such as Beethoven.

13. "The non-individuated reality behind all appearances, what Nietzsche calls das Ur-Eine, or the Primordial One, is itself a kind of artist. In an image taken over from Heraclitus Nietzsche writes that this primordial unity is like a child playing in the sand on the beach, wantonly and haphazardly creating individuated shapes and forms and then destroying them, taking equal pleasure in both parts of the process, in both creation (Apollo) and destruction (Dionysos). Our world is nothing but a momentary configuration of shapes in the sand" (xxiv)
(Note: it would be good to notice how Geuss does not suffuse his introduction with qualifiers such as "Nietzsche claims that..." or "According to Nietzsche..."; instead he states the main premises of the work as if they were his own)

14. "The archaic Greeks are 'pessimists', but 'pessimists of strength', not, as Nietzsche claims in the main body of TBOT, pessimists in the sense in which Schopenhauer is a pessimist (and what Nietzsche now calls 'pessimism of weakness'). That is, he seems to think that what is finally significant in a philosophy is whether or not it contributes to an affirmation of this world, and that one can in some sense distinguish issues of pessimism/optimism from issues concerning affirmation or negation of this world, our world of everyday life. Since both Schopenhauer and Christianity agree that this world is not to be affirmed, they are really instances of the same kind of weakness, and the difference in their metaphysical views (that the Christian thinks the underlying reality of the world, God, is to be affirmed while Schopenhauer thinks this underlying reality, the Will, is to be negated) is irrelevant" (xxvi-xxvii).

15. *parallels with Jung* "The idea specifically derived from TBOT which has become perhaps most influential in the twentieth century is the conception of the 'Dionysiac' and its role in human life, i.e. the view that destructive, primitively anarchic forces are a part of us (not to be projected into some diabolical Other), and that the pleasure we take in them is real and not to be denied. These impulses cannot siply be ignored, eliminated, repressed, or fully controlled. As Euripides' Bacchae shows, they will have their due one way or another and failure to recognize them is just a way of, eventually, giving them free rein to express themselves with special force, destructiveness, and irrationality" (xxx).
Written on August 12, 2007