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The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter 16

Chapters 17 & 18, page 2

page 1 of 2


Dionysian art shows us the eternal joy of existence, and the source of that joy lies not in phenomena, but behind phenomena. We witness that all individuals must come to a sorrowful end, but that we can find comfort and redemption by losing our individuality and becoming one great living being. While Greek Tragedy demonstrates this principle, it is apparent that the Greeks themselves never recognized the true meaning of tragic myth. We find this understanding in the actions of Greek Tragedy, but not in the words. If one were to only pay heed to these words, one will never surpass the level of appearances.

It was this Socratic obsession with words and logic that eventually killed tragedy. But, there is still hope. Once science has exhausted its logical limits, and its claim to universal validity has been destroyed by the realization that it has limits, a rebirth of tragedy becomes possible. Man yearns for a universal understanding and can find it in music.

The Attic Dithyrambic form of music shows how 'scientific thinking' destroys the spirit of music. In this new form of art, music is manipulated to imitate phenomena, such as the sound of battle or the sea. This is a totally degenerate form of music. For, "it seeks to arouse pleasure only by impelling us to seek external analogies between a vital or natural process and certain rhythmical figures and characteristic sounds of music." This musical style's attempts at imitation of phenomena has the effect of arresting our imaginations, as we stop trying to imagine a thing when we are presented with a supposedly realistic image of that thing.

Another un-Dionysian trait that was brought to its height in Euripidean drama was the prevalence of 'character representation.' Rather than expanding into an eternal type, Euripides's characters (as well as those of Sophocles, to some extent) must develop individually. As a result, the spectator is no longer conscious of the scope of the myth, as his focus is narrowed to the specifics of the play. Because the hero can no longer seek redemption in Dionysus, the new tragedy substitutes earthly comforts, such as riches or freedom, for metaphysical release.

There are three cultures, Alexandrian, Hellenic, and Buddhist, which exemplify the three types of culture, which are 'Socratic', 'artistic', and 'tragic'. The three planes of illusion (disguising the suffering of the world) maintained by these cultures in turn are: the delusion that knowledge can save the world, the seductive veil of artistic beauty, and the idea that beneath the phenomena of the world eternal life flows on indestructibly. Our modern world is entangled in the net of Alexandrian, i.e. Socratic, culture. Drunk with optimism and delusions of limitless power, a 'socratically' inclined culture is doomed to slave revolt and the degeneration of religion. However, with the knowledge that scientific precepts are but another veil of illusion that bring man no closer to solving the true riddles of the universe, a culture again values wisdom as its highest end. This new culture will seek an art of metaphysical comfort, not just material and phenomenological comfort.

Socratic culture begins to fail when it realizes the consequences of its precepts and once its confidence in the eternal validity of its foundation begins to slip. A scientific culture must be destroyed when it begins to grow illogical in its retreat before its own conclusions. Socratic doctrine as a basis for culture is fundamentally unsatisfying, for the man who depends only on rational thought for his comfort will go eternally hungry.

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I don't agree with this review of Nietzsche

by john2054, July 26, 2015

This is a powerful and influential book. Dealing with philsophy, geneology and anthropology. Nietzsche does a good job at combing the macro philosophies of his time, with the micro interpretations of the detail of these stories and songs. None of which this reviewer picks up upon. So then this review gets a fail from me!

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