Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nietzsche Birth of Tragedy Section 5

Section 5 ends with the famous quote "it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."  But to understand this we need to back up again to the beginning of the section, treating the section as an organic whole.  It is an under-discussed section of a very famous book, so perhaps worth the effort.  N. begins by saying that the real goal of his investigation (i.e. in the book) is to get some feeling for, and understanding of, the mystery of the union of the Apollinian and the Dionysian in the genius art product.  The solution is to be found in the germ of tragedy, and this is to be found, in turn, in the poetry of Archilochus.  The Greeks treated Archilochus in their images as someone to pair with Homer (although I have never seen such an image).  Together, they are the two forefathers of Greek poetry.  Homer is seen by N. as an Apollinian naive artist.  By contrast, Archilochus was "hunted savagely through life" (I cannot, in a cursory look, find any evidence of this.  N. may have been drawing from the poetry of Archilochus to come up with this idea.)  Here is an example of his poetry (translated in the Wikipedia article on Archilochus) "One of the Saiôn in Thrace now delights in the shield I discarded, Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good, But at least I got myself safely out. Why should I care for that shield? Let it go. Some other time I'll find another no worse."  I have always liked this tough-talking rejection of Greek ideals of heroism which insisted that a soldier never leave his shield on the battlefield.

N. then launches into a discussion of aesthetics.  "Modern aesthetics" he says, treats Homer as an objective and Archilochus as a subjective artist.  This, N. says, "helps us little," which is true enough.  It is clear from the poem quoted that Archilochus is interested in the interior life of the mind, i.e personal feelings, in a way that Homer was not.  N. says the distinction does not help us because "we know the subjective artist only as the poor artist, and throughout the entire range of art we demand first of all the conquest of the subjective, redemption from the 'ego,' and the silencing of the individual will and desire."  This perspective, this "we," is essentially Schopenhauer and his followers, and the position is Schopenhauer's aesthetics in a nutshell.  N. continues that no true artistic production "is without objectivity, without pure contemplation devoid of interest."  So we have an aesthetic, here, based on Kant's notion of disinterestedness, adopted later by Schopenhauer.  But then N. says "Hence our aesthetics must first solve the problem of how the 'lyrist' is possible as an artist."  The lyrist, like Archilochus sounds interested, not disinterested.  He refers to "I" and talks about his passions.  So is he then a non-artist?  If so, N. wonders, how do we explain that the Delphic oracle showed reverence for him.  After all, the Delphic oracle was Apollinian, and hence at the center of what N. would consider to be objective art.

N. then tries to solve the problem, surprisingly, by thinking about Schiller's comments on the creative process.  As N. puts it:  "before the act of creation he did not have before him or within him any series of images in a causal arrangement, but rather a musical mood."  So, on this view, assuming that Schiller was an exemplar of a great poet, the poetic idea only comes after a musical mood.  N. adds to this  the fact that the ancients took the lyrist and the musician to be unified, unlike modern (19th century) lyric poetry.  This, N. thinks, will allow us to explain the lyrist based on our "aesthetical metaphysics."

The solution to the problem of course is that the Dionysian artist is not egoistic or "interested" but rather identifies with the primal unity, the underlying realm of pain and contradiction that conditions all existence from Schopenhauer's perspective, and that such an artist, through music, copies this primal unity, but that in the Apollonian mode the music "reveals itself to him again as a symbolic dream image."  So, Schiller's description of the creative process reveals this movement from the musical mood to the poetic image.  This is a different kind of disinterestedness than that found in either Kant or in Schopenhauer.  (Schopenhauer keeps the musical and the poetic strictly separate. Music involves, at its best, disintegration of the self, whereas poetry is disinterested in Kant's sense.)  In the Dionysian process, the artist surrenders his subjectivity, but he also surrenders the kind of objectivity Schopenhauer describes as essential to both visual and poetic art!   The "I" of the lyrist is, from the standpoint of "modern aesthetics" (the aesthetics of Kant and Schopenhauer) a fiction.  Archilochus is actually (and, historically, this is accurate) a Dionysian, and when he is touched by Apollo, while asleep after the Bacchanalian orgy, he emits "image sparks" which are his poems.   For him, images grow out of "his state of mystical self-abnegation and oneness."  Unlike the epic poet who lives in his images and finds joy only in them, as a dreamer takes pleasure in illusion, "the images of the lyrist are nothing but his very self", and when he says "I" he is not referring to his empirical self but to the eternal self that underlies all things.  He might then perceive himself in his non-genius mode including all of his passions, but it is an illusion to think that it is the empirical self that speaks the "I" in the poem, and therefore the lyrist is not a subjective poet.  The genius is not Archilochus, but the world-genius who expresses himself (itself) in the symbol of the man Archilochus.  This means, as in Plato's Ion, that Archilochus, as subjectively willing man, is not the poet.

N. then says that he cannot follow Schopenhauer's own solution to this problem, although N. thinks he has solved it in the spirit of Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer's solution, based on a quote N. gives here, is not based on a distinction between the empirical self and the underlying "I" (the primal one), but between the subjective self plagued by desire and the self as subject of pure will-less knowledge who, unlike the first self, attains "unbroken blissful peace." So, for Schopenhauer, it is the alternation between the two that generates a song, and this is what the song expresses.  Schopenhauer thinks this a wonderful mingling of the willing aspect of the self and pure perception.  But N. believes that lyric poetry would then be "incompletely attained art" and would only arrive at its goal intermittently, largely because we have, on Schopenhauer's view, a mere mingling of the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic.

So, it turns out the the very distinction between the objective and the subjective, which Schopenhauer assumes, is rejected as a way to value and classify the arts.  The subject can be conceived "only as the antagonist, and not the origin of art."  The subject, instead, has been "released from his individual will" and is a medium for the primal one (a la Plato's Ion)  who celebrates his "release into appearance."  It follows that art is not "for our betterment or education" and further that we have our highest significance "as works of art."  That is, we are the works of art of the primal one, and this is why our existence is said to be only justified as an aesthetic phenomenon.  This overthrows traditional aesthetics.  And so N. says, rather shockingly for a book that begins with talk about a science of aesthetics, "Thus all our knowledge of art is basically quite illusory, because as knowing beings we are not one and identical with that being which [in art] prepares a perpetual entertainment for itself."  Again, the objective side, which Schopenhauer identifies with apprehension of the object as a Platonic Form, disintegrates.  But, N. adds, insofar as the genius artist does coalesce with the primal one he does know something of the eternal essence of art, becoming at once subject and object, at once, also, not only the poet but the actor and the spectator.

Schopenhauer's idea continued to influence aesthetics despite N.s relatively friendly attack.  It was promoted through the notion of the aesthetic attitude found in the work of Jerome Stolnitz (writing in the 1960s), and similar ideas of Monroe Beardsley.  Since then, the idea has come under considerable fire.  My question is, have the current critics of aesthetic attitude theory taken into account N.s own critique?


Tricia said...

Section 5 was a fun read for me as N. does provide a distinctive difference about what art is as compared to Sc. account. I am wondering if N. was influenced by the Early German Romantics of 1795-1802. I have some knowledge of them, and know that Schiller participated with the Jena Romantics.

Margot said...

Wonderful! I am trying to fully understand Nietzsches book but as a beginning philosopher, that is quite a challenge. This blog was really helpful.