16 July 2006

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. trans. Francis Golffing. New York: Doubleday, 1956.

Nietzsche seems to have two major themes in this book-- that Greek tragedy was a result of the conflict between opposing ideologies, and that its decline began with the ascendance of one over the other. I think there are several connections/parallels between his description of Greek tragedy and the rise of the novel.

Nietzsche tells of the Dionysian ritual, with its use of music, and makes the claim that tragedy began with this. The music was provided by the chorus, which sang the story. The rituals of Dionysis, we are told, brought about a state like intoxication, in which the sense of individual was lost in the larger community of being; the chorus was the whole audience, and acting out the play provided an intuitive glimpse of the metaphysical belief system. Plays, at this level, were probably no more than current responsive reading rituals.

This changed with the Apollonian influence, which was the power of dream, not intoxication; the power to see clearly, as embodied in the epic, and in sculpture, and to notice, rather than lose, the individual particulars, described, rather than participated in, reality. Dionysis symbolized process, Apollo, the ideal as manifested in forms.

The blending of these two cultures brought mythology to the stage. Instead of just having a drunken camp-fire songfest, as Dionysis would, Apollo told the stories of great beings, who had lived up to the ideal despite great consequences. These stories, however, only held the stage for two generations before losing contact with the orgiastic Dionysian spirit of music which had spawned them. Apollo took over when Socrates denied that Dionysis could provide true wisdom, but suggested that, through the knowledge of particulars, Apollo could. I agree with Nietzsche and Blake, that Socrates was mistaken, as does an entire sect of Hinduism.


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