In his short Forward to Richard Wagner, Nietzsche anticipates criticisms that may be directed at his first philosophical work. He associates himself closely with Wagner, referring to "Our esthetic publicity." He also assures Wagner (and us) that he has written a serious treatise on a serious subject: art.

Nietzsche cautions readers to avoid the temptation to see his essay as a mere comparison of "gay dilettantism" with "gallant earnestness." The real issue at stake here, he writes, is the much larger question of German hopes for the future. One must not dismiss the aesthetic question of art as simple or irrelevant; rather, it is at the core of the German national character, and may be its salvation.

Nietzsche directs this forward at those who are accustomed to thinking of aesthetics as a fringe discipline, a "merry diversion." Rather than being on the fringe, art is "the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life." Nietzsche appeals to Wagner as "my noble champion on this same path," someone who will understand and support his devotion to the aesthetic cause.

Nietzsche then begins his essay by stating that progression in the field of art is inextricably bound with the Apollonian and Dionysian duality. In ancient times, there was a fierce opposition between Apollo and Dionysus, Gods whom he calls "the two art-deities of the Greeks." Nietzsche immediately establishes that he is outlining his philosophy in ancient, well-respected terms. The opposition between these two Greek gods is similar to the "perpetual strife" that exists between men and women; just as this strife must be resolved in order to procreate, so must the Dionysian and Apollonian elements come together to make the highest art. And, while their differences may be destructive, they are also necessary to the process.

One key set of oppositions that is linked to Apollo and Dionysus is that of dreams and drunkenness. The land of dreams, associated with Apollo, as a light filled space, a place where man enjoys "the immediate apprehension of form." It is in dreams that man is healed and helped and that man receives divine intuition. However, dream forms are often symbols or metaphors, which Nietzsche calls "appearance". He compares the aesthetic dreamer to the philosopher, who knows that what he sees is not real, but an "appearance" whose interpretation can lead to truth.

Apollo is the god of measured restraint; one who is dreaming will not be carried away and assume that what he sees is real. We never lose track of Apollo's beautiful appearance, and thus are able to ride calmly through the storms of life. Schopenhauer's term, the principium individuationis, or 'principle of individuation', symbolizes man's separation from the chaos of life when under the protective influence of Apollo.

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