Tragedy




Apollo        -          Dionysus
Inflate         -          Deflate
Complete    -          Lacking




“The true goal is veiled by a phantasm: and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, nature attains the former by means of an illusion.”

This mechanism, Nietzsche had argued, could be observed in the functioning of tragedy itself. Too much (“Dionysian”) insight into the reality of life leads to despair and inaction: “Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet.” 

The action of tragedy shows the most powerful individuals trying, and failing, to have an effect on the “eternal nature of things.”

But juxtaposed with this most powerful representation of the vanity of all effort is the tragic chorus, assuring its spectators that even in their efforts to change nature, the tragic heroes, like those spectators themselves, are its products and elements, and the realisation that one is a part of everything that lives makes life “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable” and therefore worth living after all.

A main reason for Nietzsche’s continuing admiration of the Greeks is what he takes as their ability to exploit mechanisms of this sort. Having glimpsed the truth, personified in The Gay Science as Baubo, they were, according to his unsettling view, revolted by it. Accordingly they turned away from its pursuit. They made the preliminary stages of its conquest their final purpose: “Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for this is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, word, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial - out of profundity.”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 119
 



Nietzsche seems to have believed that there are some ultimate facts, some noninterpretive truths, concerning the real nature of the world. But he denied that these facts could ever correctly be stated through reason, language, and science.

Yet he also believed […] that tragedy, primarily through the musically inspired, “Dionysian” chorus, can intimate the final truth that the ultimate nature of the world is to have no orderly structure: in itself the world is chaos, with no laws, no reason, and no purpose.

Tragedy gives a non discursive glimpse of the contrast between “the real truth of nature and the lie of culture that poses as if it were the only reality,” a contrast that “is similar to that between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the whole world of appearances.” It shows that the orderly, apparently purposeful world within which we live is a creation we have placed between ourselves and the real world, which pursues its own course without any regard for our views, and our desires.

But what makes tragedy even more remarkable in Nietzsche’s eyes is that in the very process of revealing this painful truth, it offers a consolation for the negative and desperate reaction this is bound to generate. It shows that ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it. 

It leaves its audience, which at least for a moment ceases to regard itself as separate from the rest of the world, with the “metaphysical comfort … that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearance, indestructibly powerful and pleasurable,” and that its blind, purposeless, constant ebb and flow is to be admired and celebrated.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 42-3
 


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