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The Birth of Tragedy

Summary

Chapter 19

Summary Chapter 19

This misconception is the idea that 'primitive man' existed in an idyllic state of nature, wherein he was naturally good and artistic. Thus, opera is motivated by the entirely unaesthetic need to optimistically glorify the primitive man. Nietzsche's scorn for the common man is evident: "The premise of the opera is a false belief concerning the artistic process, in fact, the idyllic belief that every sentient man is an artist." Nietzsche identifies a dangerous trend in opera that seeks to satisfy the artistic demands of the laity, who should have no business defining artistic trends.

Having established his framework for what is artistic and what is not artistic, Nietzsche continuously frames that which he criticizes in the terminology of non-art. When discussing the operatic imitation of Greek art forms he writes, "what a cheerful confidence there is about these daring endeavors, in the very heart of theoretical culture!" The creators of opera were doomed to failure because of their Socratic mind-set, as Nietzsche explains it. Their "cheerful optimism" in their ability to restore Greek art forms is reflected in the optimism of opera itself. We may point out that Nietzsche himself is cheerfully optimistic about his ability to discover the "true" nature of Greek tragedy by means of analysis. By writing his essay as he does, he condemns himself to be bound to the very Socratic tendencies that he despises.

Nietzsche makes an extreme case against the "fantastically silly" reality represented by opera in order to lay the ground for his staggering revelation: German music will bring about the rebirth of tragedy. Furthermore, German philosophers (Kant and Schopenhauer) have already laid the groundwork, as they have attacked the Socratic certainties of science. He describes German music as "a demon rising from the unfathomable depths," in order to contrast it with the superficial beauty of other musical developments. This demon cannot be made to speak, and thus is aligned with the Dionysian. Nietzsche reserves the rediscovery of the dark, universal spirit of Dionysus for German music alone, setting it apart from all other cultural art forms. Nietzsche does not specify the ways in which German music is more 'demonic' and less 'silly' than music from other countries, as he takes it as a given. Furthermore, this rebirth of tragedy in German music is not a function of Germans imitating Greeks, but rather, Germans rediscovering the tragic spirit within them what has been overshadowed for so long by intrusive, foreign influences. Nietzsche's aesthetics are strongly nationalistic.