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The Changing Nature of Nietzsche's Gods and the Architect's Conquest of Gravity JAMES E. FORCE IN The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche draws the famous distinction between the two "art-sponsoring" deities, Apollo and Dionysus. His philosophical intention in contrasting the two deities has been the subject of much discussion, many different interpretations having been put forward by scholars to clarify his point. In this paper I examine a recent interpretation of Nietzsche's gods, by Jerry S. Clegg.' I argue that Clegg,s reading is clever but unconvincing and suggest in my critique a more plausible interpretation of Nietzsche 's powerful metaphor. I The varying interpretations of Apollo and Dionysus have, in large part, been engendered by the many ways in which Nietzsche contrasts the two deities. At different times, he distinguishes Apollonian and Dionysian artistic genre, psychology, artistic style, and ontology. In relation to artisitic genre, for example, Apollo is designated "the God of all plastic powers,''~ whereas most music (save that which portrays "Apollonian conditions" such as the regular rhythm of waves gently lapping on a beach) is the special province of ' "Nietzsche'sGods in The Birth of Tragedy,"Journal of the History of Philosophy lo (October 197~): 431-38. In my summaryof the manypointsof contrastbetweenthe Apollonianand Dionysiandeities I followCleggclosely. " The Birth of Tragedy, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy'of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing (Garden City, N.J.: DoubledayAnchor Books, 1956), p. el. For the German, see Nietzsche, Werke in Drei Biinden, ed. Karl Schlechta, 3 vols.(Munich:Carl Hanser Verlag, 1954), 1:23. [179] 18o HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Dionysus. ~ Psychologically, the Apollonian figure is a dreamer of beautiful illusion, in contrast to the Dionysian figure, who is a drunken, ecstatic reveler in the primal joys of life. 4 Stylistically, the opposition reveals itself in the difference between the Dionysian poetry of the dynamic, vibrantly alive, primitive chorus and the dreamlike, carefully tailored, Apollonian tragic "scene." The two are, in a stylistic way, "completely separate spheres of expression. ''5 Finally, in a metaphysical contrast, the Apollonian consciousness is an illusory veil that aims to screen out and gloss over the ontologically prior Dionysian mode by the categories of beauty and individuation that conceal the abyss and essential oneness of nature. Central to this Apollonian screening function is the notion that the two gods are in reality ontologically opposing "art forces." Overemphasizing any one of these contrasts is a perilous course. Crane Brinton, for example, has attempted to sketch the opposing gods as a study of "romantic against classic" artistic genre. 6 But this is too superficial to account for the generic difference of Apollonian "plastic arts" versus Dionysian music that Nietzsche emphasizes. As Arthur C. Danto has pointed out, it is a mistake "to identify either of these art forms with a specific artistic genre. ''7 Danto rightly contends that because there is Apollonian music there is room in the distinction for Dionysian painting. Nevertheless, Nietzsche says that Apollo is god of all plastic arts. Though not to be ignored, generic differences are not, apparently, basic to Nietzsche's distinction. According to Clegg, Walter Kaufmann has interpreted Nietzsche's contrast in terms of ontological doctrines of thesis and antithesis, s and certainly 3 On the first page of The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche identifies Apollo with the visual "plastic arts" and Dionysus with the nonvisual "art of music" (Birth, p. 19; Werke, 1:2x). But Nietzsche admits that "music had long been familiar to the Greeks as an Apollonian art, as a regular beat like that of waves lapping the shore, a plastic rhythm expressly developed for the portrayal of Apollonian conditions. Apollo's music was a Doric architecture of sound--of barely hinted sounds such as are proper to the cithara" (Birth, p. ~7; Werke, a:28). 4 Birth, p. 19; Werke, l:el. 5 Comparing the way in which Admetus, brooding on the memory of his deceased wife, would project those memories onto a similar-looking person to the way in which the audience at a Greek tragedy would project feelings of suffering onto the God-character in a tragedy, Nietzsche states that "instinctively he would project the shape of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 179-195
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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