The Birth of Tragedy

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 9/11/2013

The death of Greek tragedy, on the other hand, left a great void whose effects were felt profoundly, far and wide; as once Greek sailors in Tiberius' time heard the distressing cry 'the god Pan is dead' issuing from a lonely island, now, throughout the Hellenic world, this cry resounded like an agonized lament: 'Tragedy is dead! Poetry itself died with it! Away, away with you, puny, stunted imitators! Away with you to Hades, and eat your fill of the old masters' crumbs!'
For Nietzsche, artistic creation depends on a conflict between two opposing forces each battling for control over the existence of humanity yet neither side ever prevails eternally,a natural balance always occurs, the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian.” Apollo is the Greek god of light and reason, and Nietzsche identifies the Apollonian as a life- and form-giving force, characterized by measured restraint, detachment and pessimism, which reinforces a strong sense of self. Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and music, and Nietzsche identifies the Dionysian as a frenzy of self-forgetting embracing its chaos and nihilism in which the self gives way to a primal unity where individuals are at one with others and with nature. For example, the Promethean myth, with its theme of active striving against the bounds of natural law, is strongly Dionysian. However, in its yearning for justice, the Promethean myth is also Apollonian.
"Wherever the Dionysian prevailed, the Apollonian was checked and destroyed.... wherever the first Dionysian onslaught was successfully withstood, the authority and majesty of the Delphic god Apollo exhibited itself as more rigid and menacing than ever."
Form is Apollonian, since form individualizes objects; thus, sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts. Rational thought is also Apollonian since it is structured and makes distinctions, but those objects are a phenomena so they are the world as "representation" or illusion or a dream. Schopenhauer identifies objects by his principium individuationis: this means that separate objects occupy discrete portions of space-time. So, since the noumenal is beyond time and space it is therefore one and undifferentiable; plurality can't apply to it and this noumenal is the conception of the world as "will" or reality which is Dionysian. Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man's individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man's instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind. In summary, while Apollo seeks to calm individual beings with neat boundaries, Dionysus constantly strains against these bonds. .
There is an old legend that king Midas for a long time hunted the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the king’s hands, the king asked what was the best thing of all for men, the very finest. The daemon remained silent, motionless and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter and said these words, “Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you forcing me to say what would give you the greatest pleasure not to hear? The very best thing for you is totally unreachable: not to have been born, not to exist, to benothing. The second best thing for you, however, is this—to die soon.”
The combination of these elements in one art form gave birth to tragedy, the Apollonian element gave form to the Dionysian rituals of music, dance and passion making it a coherent piece of art. The Dionysian element was to be found in the the chorus being satyrs, he argues, “here the illusion of culture was wiped away by the primordial image of man; here the real man revealed himself, the bearded satyr, who cried out with joy to his god.” for the audience; they participated with and as the chorus, "The Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature in their highest power—he sees himself magically changed into the satyr", the Greeks saw on stage was the embodiment of their united consciousness. While the Apollonian element was found in the dialogue and actors so the audience have an Apollonian dream vision of themselves, of the energy they're embodying. The Apollonian appearances represent a vision that the chorus generates and then celebrates in song. The chorus is the only reality of the drama.
"Art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue."
Appearance (Apollonian) is necessary in order to shield them from the full truth of human suffering (Dionysian) and save them from despair which otherwise would crush them. The two key aspects of tragedy are music and the tragic hero. The hero takes the suffering of the world on his shoulders and thus relieves us of the burden. The tragic hero also serves as an example to us, for he prepares himself for higher existence through his own destruction, not his victories. Whereas Apollonian art tries to deceive us with the idea of the eternity of the beautiful image through music we are able to access the Dionysian universality and become aware that the hero is only phenomenon, and the eternal life of his will cannot be destroyed by his death. Thus the Greek find self-affirmation not in another life, but in the terror and ecstasy in the performance of tragedies so man could live creatively in optimistic harmony with the sufferings of life. This relation emphasizes the harmony that can be found within one's chaotic experience. Art becomes a necessity for existence.
"We cannot help but see Socrates as the turning-point, the vortex of world history"
Unfortunately, the golden age of Greek tragedy was brought to an end by the combined influence of Euripides and Socrates. Rather than present tragic heroes, Euripides reduced the use of the chorus and gave his characters all the foibles of ordinary human beings making it more reflective of the realities of daily life. Socrates insisted that there must be reasons to justify everything. He interpreted instinct as a lack of insight and wrongdoing as a lack of knowledge for Socrates, so tragedy didn't "tell what's true", quite apart from the fact that it addresses "those without much wit", not the philosopher therefore required that his disciples abstain most rigidly from such unphilosophical stimuli with such success that the young tragedian, Plato, burnt his writings in order to become a pupil of Socrates.
“it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.”
For Nietzsche, this stance makes life meaningless because knowledge and rationality in themselves do nothing to justify existence and the world, they can't reach to the depths of human experience. Life finds meaning, according to Nietzsche, only through art. Art, music, and tragedy in particular bring us to a deeper level of experience than philosophy and rationality. Existence and the world become meaningful not as objects of knowledge but as artistic experiences.

The modern manifestation of the Socratic culture is the "culture of the opera." In opera, speech is melded with music to form a half-song. But, because the singer is torn between speaking clearly and showcasing his musical talent as a singer, his art is neither Apollonian nor Dionysian.

Nietzsche describes the Naive Artist who creates forms that have the most beautiful appearances, For example Homer is the greatest naive artist, he is inferior to the tragic artist, but also superior to the operatic artist. Nietzsche calls those works “an illusion of an illusion”, the first illusion is the representation of our real world and the second one is Apollonian element in the work of art itself, For example the artist Raphael's painting called "Transfiguration," which represents two states of appearance. "the bottom half shows us, with the possessed boy, the despairing porters, the helplessly frightened disciples, the mirror image of the eternal primordial pain, the sole basis of the world. The “illusion” here is the reflection of the eternal contradiction, of the father of things. Now, out of this illusion there rises up, like an ambrosial fragrance, a new world of illusion, like a vision, invisible to those trapped in the first scene—something illuminating and hovering in the purest painless ecstasy, a shining vision to contemplate with eyes wide open"

Nietzsche distinguishes three kinds of culture: the Alexandrian, or Socratic (rational thinking to save the world); the Hellenic, or artistic (mirroring beauty by illusion); and the Buddhist, or tragic (with its longing for nothingness and absence of will). We belong to an Alexandrian culture that’s bound for self-destruction because it doesn't fulfill the chaos inside the man, thus making the people slaves of reason. Those people will remain eternally hungry until they revolt on those foundations of reason.
People should take note: Alexandrian culture requires a slave class in order to be able to exist over time, but with its optimistic view of existence, it denies the necessity for such a class and thus, when the effect of its beautiful words of seduction and reassurance about the “dignity of human beings” and the “dignity of work” has worn off, it gradually moves towards a horrific destruction. There is nothing more frightening than a barbarian slave class which has learned to think of its existence as an injustice and is preparing to take revenge, not only for itself, but for all generations.
The only way to rescue modern culture from self-destruction is to resuscitate the Dionysian spirit. Nietzsche sees hope in the figure of Richard Wagner, who is the first modern composer to create music that expresses the deepest urges of the human will in a rebirth of tragedy.
But what changes come upon the weary desert of our culture, so darkly described, when it is touched by the magic of Dionysus! A storm seizes everything decrepit, rotten, broken, stunted; shrouds it in a whirling red cloud of dust and carries it into the air like a vulture. In vain confusion we seek for all that has vanished; for what we see has risen as if from beneath he earth into the gold light, so full and green, so luxuriantly alive, immeasurable and filled with yearning. Tragedy sits in sublime rapture amidst this abundance of life, suffering and delight, listening to a far-off, melancholy song which tells of the Mothers of Being, whose names are Delusion, Will, Woe. Yes, my friends, join me in my faith in this Dionysiac life and the rebirth of tragedy. The age of Socratic man is past: crown yourselves with ivy, grasp the thyrsus and do not be amazed if tigers and panthers lie down fawning at your feet. Now dare to be tragic men, for you will be redeemed. You shall join the Dionysian procession from India to Greece! Gird yourselves for a hard battle, but have faith in the miracles of your god! 

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