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  • Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy by Paul Raimond Daniels
  • Vinod Acharya
Paul Raimond Daniels, Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy.
Durham: Acumen, 2013. xv + 240 pp. isbn: 978-1-84465-243-3. Paper, $39.95.

Paul Raimond Daniels’s Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy is an engaging, instructive, and clearly written study of Nietzsche’s first book. It is a particularly fine achievement given the difficulties, in terms of both style [End Page 294] and content, that Nietzsche’s text presents to the reader. Daniels’s aim is to present BT as an ideal introduction to Nietzsche’s philosophy, and, in light of its problematizing of the relation between art and truth, to argue that BT is crucial for evaluating the aims, successes, and shortcomings of Nietzsche’s later philosophy (ix, 2). Furthermore, Daniels presents an “affirmative” interpretation, arguing that BT champions a life-affirming worldview that finds its highest expression in ancient Greek artistic culture and tragedy. So a persistent concern of Daniels’s book is to defend BT against a Schopenhauerian reading.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter examines the various influences on BT, and the last chapter delivers an appraisal of BT and Nietzsche’s later philosophy, assuming, as Daniels does, that Nietzsche’s fundamental task in his later writings remains essentially the same as in BT. The middle four chapters follow the progression of BT, offering interpretations of Nietzsche’s account of the birth and death of ancient Greek tragedy, and his hope for the rebirth of tragedy in modernity. Daniels’s discussion is interspersed with informative commentaries on Greek gods and myths, individual artists, historians, and writers, and particular works of Greek tragedy and comedy that Nietzsche refers to, is influenced by, or the knowledge of which he presupposes in his reader. This feature of Daniels’s text is especially beneficial for a newcomer to ancient Greek culture or to Nietzsche’s philosophy in general, since it provides the context for the argument of BT and helps concretize some of its more esoteric claims.

Daniels traces Nietzsche’s overcoming of Schopenhauer in BT to the way Nietzsche interprets Anschauung, or the intuitive apprehension of the world. This is a particularly innovative aspect of Daniels’s argument, since according to some recent scholars it is precisely the emphasis on Anschauung that marks the similarity between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (see Anthony Jensen, “The Centrality and Development of Anschauung in Nietzsche’s Epistemology,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies 43.2 [2012]: 326–41, and Béatrice Han-Pile, “Nietzsche’s Metaphysics in The Birth of Tragedy,” European Journal of Philosophy 14.3 [2007]: 373–404). I agree with Daniels’s position on this issue. He argues that Schopenhauer’s philosophy, despite emphasizing the primacy of the subject’s preconceptual, intuitive understanding of the world, ultimately attempts to bring this intuitive interaction to the level of conceptual articulation and abstract knowledge (62). Nietzsche, in contrast, affirms the primacy of Anschauung by seeking an aesthetic or poetic expression of intuitive insights, whether he is presenting [End Page 295] the mythological figures of Apollo and Dionysus, their mutual struggle, or the intuition of tragic wisdom (63, 162, 186).

What does this difference really amount to? And why insist on an aesthetic expression? Daniels’s interpretation of “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense” (156–66) clarifies these issues and also helps to demystify Nietzsche’s approach to Anschauung in BT. It establishes the following points: the intuitive experience of the world is of a metaphorical (aesthetic) nature, and is more fundamental than conceptual thought and language; concepts are worn-out metaphors, rigidified due to their repeated use, and therefore mostly stripped of the sensuous force that intuitions retain; and intuition is always of this world, not of the “Platonic Idea” of the object beyond the phenomenal world, as Schopenhauer thinks. (Daniels is not explicit about this last point, but it is implied by his valuable discussion of Jakob Burckhardt as historicizing and temporalizing the metaphysical primacy of Anschauung in Schopenhauer in anticipation of Nietzsche’s views [22–29, 119–20].)

Given all this, intuition must be valued more than concepts, not primarily...


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