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The Smile of Tragedy

Nietzsche and the Art of Virtue

Daniel R. Ahern

Publication Year: 2012

In The Smile of Tragedy, Daniel Ahern examines Nietzsche’s attitude toward what he called “the tragic age of the Greeks,” and shows it to be the foundation not only for his attack upon the birth of philosophy during the Socratic era, but also for his overall critique of Western culture. Through an interpretation of “Dionysian pessimism” (the need to risk suffering and death), Ahern clarifies the ways in which Nietzsche sees ethics and aesthetics as inseparable and how their theoretical separation is at the root of Western nihilism. Ahern explains why Nietzsche, in creating this precursor to a new aesthetics, rejects Aristotle’s medicinal interpretation of tragic art and concentrates on Apollinian cruelty as a form of intoxication without which there can be no art. Ahern shows that Nietzsche saw the human body as the vessel through which virtue and art are possible, as the path to an interpretation of “selflessness,” as the means to determining an order of rank among human beings, and as the site where ethics and aesthetics are inseparable.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: Literature and Philosophy

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi

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pp. 1-7

The “ancient world” is one into which, Nietzsche says, “I have sought to find a way, into which I have perhaps found a new way.”1 This study is an attempt to follow the trail. Often the path dissolves into fragments of youthful unpublished text that, as indicators of his direction, leave nothing but...

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Chapter 1: Dionysian Pessimism

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pp. 8-33

Fourteen years after completing The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche “appended”1 his “Attempt at a Self-Criticism,” wherein, despite the defects of this “strange and almost inaccessible book” (BT SC 1), he still recognized the task to which he had “by no means . . . become a stranger” (BT SC 2). This task, though...

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Chapter 2: The Good and Beautiful Body

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pp. 34-69

It would be anachronistic to say that during the tragic age there was a recognized “intimacy” between ethics and aesthetics, since articulating such intimacy hinges on an inclination to distinguish them in the first place. The tendency to separate the “beautiful,” or the central concern of aesthetics, from “the good life,” or the aim of the ethical, is as common among ourselves...

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Chapter 3: The Socratic Cure for Life

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pp. 70-107

We turn now to a pessimism which is perhaps more properly described as a kind of despair. Rife with a cautious and world-weary suspicion of the value of ever having walked the earth, this is the pessimism Nietzsche associates with the decline of Greek culture. For the purposes of clarity, we...

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Tomorrow and the Day After Tomorrow

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pp. 108-122

In taking up what I imagine Nietzsche meant by classical or “Dionysian pessimism,” the event of human suffering is, no less than this pessimism itself, “inseparable” (GS 370) from what we call “Nietzsche’s philosophy.” That there can and, most likely, will be great pain in our lives points to...


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pp. 123-140


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pp. 141-144


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pp. 145-168

Back Cover

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pp. 169

E-ISBN-13: 9780271055657
E-ISBN-10: 0271055650
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271052502
Print-ISBN-10: 0271052503

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Literature and Philosophy