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NIETZSCHE ON TRAGEDY AND PARODY by Drew E. Griffin In "Zarathustra Is a Comic Book,"1 Kathleen Marie Higgins examines the comic in Nietzsche and suggests that comedy is the proper ground for understanding Nietzsche's discussions of tragedy, die buffoon , and die deatii of God. She is certainly right that die comic pervades Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But she mistakes the relation of comedy and tragedy when she takes the book as a predominately comic tragicomedy2 and when she uses Nietzsche's quotation of Aeschylus in the attack on tragedy in die first aphorism of The Gay Science. Why—we must ask—does Nietzsche use a tragedian to attack tragedy, and why does he misquote Aeschylus? I diink the answer to these questions, that Nietzsche is parodying Aeschylus, shows both the importance Nietzsche continues to find in tragedy and his need for the new Zarathustra to replace the old Prometheus. The Gay Science begins with tragedy, discusses tragedy diroughout, and ends witii the aphorism "Incipit tragoedia" that will soon open Thus Spoke Zarathustra. And central to die whole book, and tiius to its references to tragedy, is die idea of a gay science: philosophy with laughter. But Nietzsche does not mean comedy when he writes of laughter, and he does not see comedy as the ground of tragedy. Rather, in their serious task, philosophers must laugh at and parody themselves. The relation of tragedy to comedy, Zarathustra to Prometheus, and philosophy to poetry, all suggest Thus Spoke Zarathustra belongs not to tragicomedy, but to a new literary genre: parotragoedia. Throughout the first two books of The Gay Science, Nietzsche does Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 339-347 340Philosophy and Literature emphasize comedy. Aphorisms 1 and 153 particularly seem to support Higgins. "Homo poeta," Nietzsche writes in 153, "I myself, the one who has most single-handedly made this tragedy of tragedies, insofar as it is finished; I, the one who first tied the knot of morality in existence and pulled it so tightly that only a god can loosen it—as indeed Horace requires it!—I myself have killed all gods in the fourth act—out of morality! What should now become of the fifth! Whence now take the tragic solution!—Must I begin to mink about a comic solution?" (GS 153; 3.496)3 With the death of God announced at die beginning of book three, tragedy becomes impossible. For a few months, Nietzsche felt unable to write the final books of The Gay Science (KSB 6.156, 159, 161-62, and 167). Then, in the spring of 1882, he quickly wrote book four, introducing not only die eternal return but also its proclaimer, Zarathustra. An aphorism in this fourth book helps with 153: "To know how tofind the end.—Masters of the first rank disclose themselves in that they know, in great things as well as in small, how to find the end in a complete way, be it the end of a melody or of a thought, be it the fifth act of a tragedy or action of a state" (GS 281; 3.525). Nietzsche, who found book three comic, now knows how to complete the tragedy; Nietzsche, who was not sure how to finish and seemed to believe a god was necessary—but god exists no more!—now turns to Zaratiiustra. By revealing Nietzsche's continued use of tragedy, book four shows that Nietzsche is commenting in 153 on book three and intends no general statement about tragedy. Aphorism 1, "The teachers of the purpose of existence," also seems to support Professor Higgins. In the future, one might combine wisdom with laughing, but "for the time being," Nietzsche writes, "it is still completely different; for the time being the comedy of existence has still not 'become conscious' of itself; for the time being it is always still the age of tragedy, die age of moralities and religions" (GS 1; 3.370). Tragedians are no different from the poets (who were always the valets of some morality). Nietzsche reminds us of their fate: "It cannot be denied that in the long run laughter and reason and nature have become master over every single one of these great...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 339-347
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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