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Nietzsche's Gods in The Birthof Tragedy JERRY S. CLEGG Tug BIRTH OF TRAGEDY BEGINS with a discussion of "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" art forces which has puzzled commentators and fostered divergent accounts of what this famous duality involves. The major source of the commentator 's problem lies in the multiple ways Nietzsche characterizes his distinction . He appeals at different times to contrasts in genre, in psychological states, in stylistic features, and in ontological status to illustrate the two art forces. Apollo is the god of the plastic arts; Dionysus is responsible for most music. Apollonian artists are akin to passive dreamers; Dionysiacs are likened to frenetic bacchanals. The Apollonian artifact tends to be dear, simple and restrained; ambiguity, formlessness and loss of individuating detail mark Dionysian products. Apollo is in some sense a derivative agency who screens the more basic work of Dionysus, who represents the "original artistic force" which caUs into existence the entire world of phenomena. Any one of these different contrasts is not likely to provide a viable interpretation that does justice to all the points Nietzsche insists upon. Crane Brinton's dismissal of the duality as a mere restatement of the difference between dassic and romantic styles, for instance, does nothing to explain the association of Nietzsche's gods with different genres. 1 "Classic" and "romantic" are terms which can be applied to works of art within a genre. Some paintings may be romantic, others classic; yet Nietzsche holds that none of the plastic arts are Dionysian. It would, for a similar reason, be futile to insist upon the psychological differences as encompassing the duality Nietzsche has in mind. The psychic state of an artist cannot identify the artifact he makes. If those of a dreamer's temperament are prone to make pictures and statues, that is a contingent fact which has to be explained. Thus one cannot say that "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" denote only psychological types. They refer to specific kinds of artifacts as well. These problems might suggest that an appeal to a difference in genre is Crane Brinton, Nietzsche (New York, 1956), p. 39. [431] 432 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY sufficient to explain Nietzsche's duality. This, however, is not so. Music is primarily Dionysian for Nietzsche, but he points out that rhythms duplicating those of waves beating on the shore are Apollonian. Danto holds for this reason that there is room in Nietzsche's contrast for a Dionysian painting. 2 Nietzsche, however, makes no mention of such a possibility. Apollo is "the god of all plastic energies" (Section 1). Some music is also Apollonian. Thus it would seem that a difference in genre can neither be ignored nor taken as basic to the duality Nietzsche has in mind. Kaufmann has argued that Nietzsche's duality should be read in the light of Hegel's ontological doctrines on the polarity of thesis and antithesis. 3 Apollo, he suggests, represents a principle of form while Dionysus represents an antithetical principle opposed to all form. This Hegelian view of the two art forces does very considerable violence to Nietzsche's text and does not explain the derivative status of Apollo. Nietzsche does write of Apollo and Dionysus as "antithetical" deities, but he never suggests that they might merge in Hegelian fashion to form a synthesis. Indeed, he emphasises their utterly and eternally separate status. On the first page of The Birth of Tragedy he compares them to male and female principles which are usually at odds with each other and that "run parallel" in their courses. He never suggests there might be a hermaphroditic union of these principles. Rather he calls them "essentially separate art forces" (Section 16), and he argues that Apollo is responsible for "screening" the work of Dionysus. When the screen of Apollonian illusion is broken by the demonic spirit of Socrates a synthesis is not produced; Socrates and Dionysus then become "antithetical" (Section 12). The relation of screen to what is screened is not the Hegelian relation of thesis to antithesis. Hegel's principles are equipollent forces which can operate within a single entity; Nietzsche's principles are not equipollent and are not native to a common artifact. Thus neither the essentially...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 431-438
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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