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The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 4

Chapters 7 & 8

Summary

Nietzsche's central duality manifests itself again with the countering of the art of Homer with that of Archilochus. Homer is the great Apollonian naive artist, whereas Archilochus (writing in the sixth century) is a passionate and furious lyric poet. Modern esthetics calls this time period the meeting of the first "objective" poet with the first "subjective" poet. But, as Nietzsche believes subjective art to be totally without merit, and the Greeks thought of Archilochus as a great poet, then by definition he cannot be a subjective poet.

The idea that Archilochus is a subjective poet stems from the incorrect believe that lyric poetry is egocentric, when in fact it represents the Dionysian consciousness. Greek lyric was the first Greek poetry to speak as if from personal experience, using the first person voice and seemingly overrun with personal emotions. However, this 'I' is not the 'I' of the individual ego, but rather the 'I' of the unified consciousness. The explanation follows: Greek lyric always incorporated music, which is by definition a Dionysian medium. And, because the lyricist is under the influence of the Apollonian dream-state, he is able to create an image out of the music. "The inchoate, intangible reflection of the primordial pain in music, with its redemption in appearance, now produces a second mirroring as a specific symbol or example." It is this 'example,' not the real life experiences of the poet, that forms the reality of the poem. Thus, when the lyricist says 'I', he speaks not for himself, but for the universal suffering that he experiences through Dionysus.

The naive artist knows only the art of appearance, and so "he is protected against being united and blended with his figures." The lyricist, on the other hand, blends so perfectly with his art that when he speaks of his 'self,' it is not the waking, real self, but "the only truly existent and eternal self resting at the base of things." It is only when creating art as this universal self that the artist is an artist; for, "the subjectively willing and desiring man… can never at any time be a poet." Personal wills and desires are the enemy of art. The true artist is one who acts as a medium "through which the one truly existent Subject celebrates his appearance." We are merely players in a much larger game.

What makes Archilochus so different from Homer is the fact that lyric is essentially the poetry of folk-song, wherein "language is strained to its utmost that it may imitate music." Here it stands in contrast to Homer, whose language strives to imitate image and phenomenon, i.e. 'appearance.' Lyric attains its passionate heights through its union with music, and thus appears to be in opposition to the purely contemplative frame of mind. This logical progression would indicate that it has a will, which would render it subjective, for 'will' equals desire and individual emotions. However, while lyric poetry may appear as will, essentially it is not will. It is forced to appear as will only because it attempts to speak of 'music' in Apollonian symbols, which confer individualistic passions upon music that is, in truth, simply a conduit of the Primal Unity.

Lyric seems to be driven by will and desire only because language is unable to grasp the essence of music. "Language can never adequately render the cosmic symbolism of music, because music stands in symbolic relation to the primordial contradiction and primordial pain in the heart of the Primal Unity, and therefore symbolizes a sphere which is beyond and before all phenomena."

Analysis

Nietzsche's condemnation of subjective art is a bit shocking for the modern reader, who is used to thinking of art as being individualistic and self- expressive. Nietzsche writes, "…throughout the entire range of art we demand specially and first of all the conquest of the Subjective, the release from the ego and the silencing of the individual will and desire; indeed, we find it impossible to believe in any truly artistic production, however insignificant, if it is without objectivity, without pure, detached contemplation." We must note that Nietzsche's unforgiving conviction that subjective art is without merit is crucial for the success of his argument, as a subjective art could be created without the influence of the Dionysian. Nietzsche is striving to create a system wherein it is necessary that the Apollonian and the Dionysian elements converge in order to create art. Art that is subjective and created independently of the well of human consciousness, i.e. the Primal Unity, does not fit into Nietzsche's equations, and is thus discounted.

While we are tempted to discount Nietzsche's reading of lyric poetry as self- serving for his own theories, we must acknowledge that many modern scholars agree with him, although for very different reasons. When reading lyric poetry, one is tempted to relate to the deeply personal experiences that they seem to reveal. However, modern scholars argue that these seemingly passionate confessions are actually ritual words spoken for the community. Thus, when we read a Sappho poem that seems to proclaim her trembling love for another girl, we must realize that this poem was written as a ritual pre-marriage recitation, with full knowledge and consent of the community. There is nothing personal about these poems. They speak for the community at large. However, this community is not the same Dionysian unity of which Nietzsche speaks. Whereas Nietzsche claims that the 'I' of lyric poetry comes from the well of human suffering and consciousness, modern scholars agree that this 'I' is a ritual utterance, meant to represent all individuals in the community. Nietzsche's formulation is far more broad and abstract.

Much of Nietzsche's argument for the Dionysian nature of lyric rests upon his conception of music, which he fleshes out here for the first time. Music for Nietzsche is something that confounds words, which embodies the pain and contradiction of the Primal Unity. It compels men to use passionate words to describe it, and yet its significance runs far deeper than human passions. Everything the lyrist writes derives from music; "The poems of the lyrist can express nothing which did not already lie hidden in the vast universality and absoluteness of the music which compelled him to figurative speech." Taking the manifestations of music to be a significant cultural sign, Nietzsche takes the universal distribution of folk-music to be a sign of the dual Apollonian and Dionysian impulse of Nature. Furthermore, music reveals to us the fundamental limitations of language, which cannot even begin to describe its depths. This last point is important for Dionysus, who, as the god of breaking down boundaries, cannot function when language barriers separate people. Music is the language of Dionysus, who can speak to all people regardless of their analytical systems.

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