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The Invention of Dionysus and the Platonic Midwife: Nietzsche's BirthofTragedy JAMES I. PORTER 1. PROBLEMS OF PERIODIZATION: NIETZSCHE'S "APPEARANCES" DOESThe Birth of Tragedy, read closely, support the commonly held axiom of interpretation that it belongs to the "pre-critical" writings in his oeuvre? Much, of course, depends upon how we construe Nietzsche's assault on metaphysics in his later, critical--as opposed to his "pre-critical"--phase. The vigorousness of that assault has never been doubted; but its scope and its effectiveness are open to a certain amount of disagreement. There are plentiful signs that Nietzsche's early attitude towards metaphysics, well before The Birth of Tragedy , is complex and enlightened. But the evidence remains for the most part untouched, and the work of interpretation needed to unearth and evaluate Nietzsche's views remains a glaring lacuna in Nietzsche scholarship (the philologica, from the late 6os to early 7os, are a case in point)? The dates, if need be, can be pushed back into the early sixties, when Nietzsche's antimetaphysical stance is already clearly formed: "That God became man only indicates that man shouldn't search for blessedness in the infinite; rather, he should ground his heaven on earth. The delusion of a world beyond has cast human spirits and minds in a false relation to the earthly world: it [that delusion] was the product of a childhood of peoples" (letter to Krug and Pinder of e7 April 186e; emphases added). 2 Here his position is constructivist: any Two works relevant to Nietzsche's philological assumptions at the time of The Birth of Tragedy , "Homer and Classical Philology" (1869) and "Introduction to the History of Greek Tragedy" (lectures from 187o), are briefly discussed below. 2KSB #3ox (Friedrich Nietzsche, S?imtliche Briefe. Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari). See Thomas B6hning, Sprache und Metaphysik m demfriihen Nietzsche (Berlin and New York, 1987), 6. [467] 468 JOURNAL or THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY 199 5 Jenseits or world beyond is of our own making. The precocious instincts of the seventeen-year-old, perhaps already influenced by Kant, would be powerfully confirmed by Lange four years later. Adopting the perspective of a "Kantian" materialist, Nietzsche could affirm in 1866 that inner and outer sensations alike are the "products of our organization," and that the concept of a thing in itself, divorced from its primary support in this organization (which is also its source), threatens to plummet into pure meaninglessness.s Indices like these are exceedingly important records of Nietzsche's early, spirited attack on metaphysical assumptions--the postulates, or hypostases, of being, substance, the subject, reason, etc., for which Nietzsche had nothing but the greatest mistrust. Consequently, these early skeptical doubts ought to have an indisputable bearing on Nietzsche's "late" writings. But they only hint at the complexity of his views early and late. Metaphysics, Nietzsche recognizes , is a falsification; but at the same time it is a symptom of deeply-seated needs (Gemiithsbediirfnisse). It may be an edifying construction (Erbauung) and a kind of conceptual poetry (Begriffsdichtung), but for all that it is not something that can be simply waved away either (letter to Deussen of April/May 1868; KSB #568). Nor, for that matter, can the metaphysical residues in Nietzsche's thought be simply waved away even in his latest writings, if we rely on Nietzsche's own and in many respects compelling definitions of what these residues amount to. Dating Nietzsche's suspicion towards metaphysical assumptions is evidently not a problem. Locating the logic of his position, or of the inflections that it takes in various contexts, is a distinctly more challenging task. The attempt to parcel out Nietzsche's career into periods or phases according to his supposed "acceptance" or "rejection" of metaphysical assumptions is doomed to fail. Not only does this misstate the problem, as though metaphysics lent itself to one kind of response or the other, it blinds readers to the complex and often self-contradictory gestures performed by Nietzsche's writings throughout his career. Nietzsche continuously found himself in a dilemma when it came to the question of metaphysics. For there is a profound paradox in having to...


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