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NIETZSCHE, FOUCAULT, TRAGEDY by Deborah Cook In the birth of tragedy Nietzsche advocated a return to the tragic vision of the Greeks—a vision which had succumbed to the will to rationalization and systematization characteristic of philosophy since Socrates.1 The Socrates of The Birth of Tragedy is the figure Nietzsche chose to exemplify the tendency found in "the unshakeable faith that thought, using the thread ofcausality, can penetrate the deepest abysses of being, and that thought is capable not only of knowing being, but even of correcting it" (BT, p. 95). This tendency had been preceded by the works of the first (and last) tragedians: Sophocles and Aeschylus. It was to the tragic vision found in the works of these writers as a reconciliation of the Dionysian and Apollonian drives that Nietzsche exhorted us to return. For Nietzsche, Greek tragedy died by committing suicide. It was the tragedian Euripides who, eschewing music and myth—the Dionysian and the Apollonian—ended the life of the genuinely tragic: "Dionysus had already been scared from the tragic stage, by a demonic power speaking through Euripides. Even Euripides was, in a sense, only a mask: the deity that spoke through him was neither Dionysus nor Apollo, but an altogether newborn demon, called Socrates" (BT, p. 82). That the tragic still continues to elude us is perhaps best demonstrated by its sudden and prolific appearance in our current vocabulary. Everything is tragic, so nothing is. The idea of the tragic as a lost dimension of thought and experience is also echoed in the work of Michel Foucault. Since the Renaissance, 140 Deborah Cook141 according to Foucault, the tragic dimension of our experience of phenomena such as madness has given way to a critical and moral one. Yet with Nietzsche himself Foucault believes that he has discovered a return to the tragic dimension ofexperience. This return marks a pronounced shift in our experience of madness—that Other which, in various ways and at various times, has been excluded from thought, analysis, rationality , society, and literary works. The return to the tragic not only appears in the work and life of Nietzsche but also in the works and lives of artists such as Goya, Sade, Nerval, Artaud, and Hölderlin. In this essay I shall analyze the matrix ofideas that connects Nietzsche, Foucault, and tragedy. This analysis is all the more compelling in that Foucault's debt to Nietzsche has not only been acknowledged but is constantly profiled throughout his work. Some of Foucault's later notions such as genealogy and power are derived in part from Nietzsche's work. In Foucault's earlier writings—Histoire de L· folie à l'âge classique2 and Les Mots et les choses,3 for example—it is not so much Nietzschean ideas that are in evidence, although these too play a role, but the figure of Nietzsche himself and his last cry in which he proclaimed himself "both Christ and Dionysus" (HF, p. 555). It is Nietzsche the man who fascinates Foucault in his discussion of the tragic and the possibility of its recuperation. I shall begin my discussion by describing this so-called lost dimension of experience and proceed to explorejust what it might mean to revive tragedy in the modern age. In Sein und Zeit, Martin Heidegger characterized the history of philosophy from the time of the early Greeks (Heraclitus and Parmenides) as the history ofthe forgetting ofBeing.4 He charged that philosophers, from Socrates on, had concentrated not on Being but on beings. For Nietzsche, the history of philosophy since Socrates can be characterized as the history of the forgetting of the tragic. It is this history of the loss of the tragic dimension ofexperience that also opens Foucault's Histoire de lafolie. In the first chapter of that work, "Stultifera Navis," the ship of fools is portrayed as the painterly symbol for the tragic dimension of madness as it was perceived in the Renaissance. Madness "does not come from the solid earth with its solid cities, but rather from the incessant disquiet of the sea, from its unknown paths which harbor so much strange knowledge, from that fantastic plain, the other side of the world" (HF...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 140-150
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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