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The Birth of Tragedy

Summary

Chapters 22 & 23

Summary Chapters 22 & 23

While Nietzsche criticizes the reduction of the role of theater to that of a moral influence, he sees at least some cultural value in this form. However, in his day, even this moralizing function of theater had been abandoned. Art had become an entirely frivolous exercise, much discussed but of little cultural value or use. We can understand now why Nietzsche felt it necessary in his preface to justify his study of art. His assertion that art could be life affirming and the key to the satisfaction of man's metaphysical yearnings ran contrary to the prevailing artistic conception of his day, or so he claims. Nietzsche portrays himself as a virtual one-man army, fighting to rescue culture from the dusty pit into which it had fallen.

Lest his readers doubt that they were living in a cultural wasteland, Nietzsche endeavors to show how the Socratic abandonment of myth leaves man hopelessly unfulfilled. The modern man has lost his sense of wonder, and with it the ability to receive nourishment and reassurance from myths. Living in a world of abstractions, he has no anchor to tether him to the universal consciousness or history of his people. A culture without myth as its base is artistically impoverished and lacking in natural creative power.

Nietzsche reassures his readers that all hope is not lost, for while Germans live in a Socratic culture, the German character still retains a sense of the "primitive power" of myth. In championing the "primitive," Nietzsche contradicts himself. In the preceding section, he criticized opera mercilessly for representing the primitive Greek man, and yet here he is guilty of making a fetish of the primitive nature of ancient men. His discussion of the importance of myth for the modern man reaches a patriotic fervor when he writes, "But let him never think he can fight such battles without the household gods, without his mythical home, without a restoration of all things German!"

With this in mind, we must note that Hitler, who came to power some sixty years after Nietzsche wrote this essay, placed great emphasis on the glorification of the primitive man and of the powers of myth. One of the goals of his propaganda machine was to construct myths around which the German people could come together as one people. This is not to suggest that Nietzsche was a Nazi before his time. However, his ideas had influence far beyond the philosophical realms.