Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nietzsche Birth of Tragedy Section 8 The Satyr as Human Archetype?

Nietzsche leads section 8 with a distinction between the idyllic shepherd often to be found in 18th century poetry and painting and the Greek satyr.  Both come from a longing "for the primitive and the natural" but only one is authentic, the other (the shepherd) is just "the flattering image of a sentimental" flute-player.  The satyr is "the archetype of man, the embodiment of his highest and most intense emotions, the ecstatic reveler enraptured by the proximity of his god" Dionysus.  

It is a puzzle however that the satyr is chosen for this role.  Our "highest and most intense emotions" are not often associated with "a symbol of the sexual omnipotence of nature."  Images of the satyr in Greek pottery show an erect penis. We can see the satyr as a representation of fertility and rebirth.  Yet we know that N. is serious about calling the satyr "archetypal" since he also refers to the satyr as disclosing "the true human nature."  The true self, for N., is something sexual, sublime and divine (a uniquely Nietzschean combination), and not whatever is offered by "the man of culture."  The man of culture and his anemic pastoral shepherd count as lying caricatures of man.  

The satyr chorus represents reality more truly than the man of culture (e.g. the college professor) does.  (I cannot help thinking here of the hippie of the 60s and of the hipster of today as attempts to capture this in lifestyle terms.)  He gives us not "a fantastic impossibility spawned by a poet's brain" but "the unvarnished expression of the truth."  So, N. distinguishes between "this real truth of nature and the lie of culture...",  the first associated with the "core of things," and the second with "the whole world of appearances":  the core is not just different from the world of appearances however but depends on it:  It "abides through the perpetual destruction of appearances."  Unlike the man of culture, the Dionysian "wants truth and nature in their most forceful form." 

The chorus in a Greek play, the satyr chorus, is an ideal spectator in the sense that it beholds "the visionary world of the scene," while the viewing public is able to "imagine, in absorbed contemplation, that he himself" is a chorist.  So the chorist is the Dionysian man contemplating himself, as if an actor visualizing his or her role.  So the satyr chorus is a vision of the Dionysian spectator, and the world on stage is a vision of the chorus.  The viewer then is no longer able to see the so-called reality around, including the world of "the man of culture."  The spectators have two aspects: they can be seen as Dionysian or they can be seen as men of culture: alternatively put, they can play either role.  Insofar as they are Dionysian they partake of the vision of the chorus and are one with the chorus.

It follows, for N., that "the poet is a poet only insofar as he sees himself surrounded by figures who live and act before him and into whose inmost nature he can see":  i.e. the poet must be like the Bacchant in being inspired by Dionysus.  This imagery is taken almost directly from Plato's Ion but with no intention of irony of the sort found in Plato. Just as the Platonic rhapsode or the good actor is out of his or her senses insofar as he/she sees himself/herself in the imaginary realm of his/her poet's heroes, so too the inspired poet, is entranced by what he/she sees on his/her internal stage. 

Similarly, N. adds that "for a genuine poet, metaphor is not a rhetorical figure but a vicarious image that he actually beholds in place of a concept." [The implication is that something important was lost when the mythological proto-concepts of the Gods became the dry goods of Platonic Ideas:  when Aphrodite goddess of beauty became merely the concept of Beauty.]  Similarly, again, the character is more than a mere collection of traits but "an obtrusively alive person" who continues to live and act, unlike a merely painted figure.  Homer is better than other poets because "he visualizes so much more vividly."  The wrong way to talk about poetry falsely abstracts from this vivid experience of the character as alive.  In short:  "let anyone have the ability to behold continually a vivid play and to live constantly surrounded by hosts of spirits, and he will be a poet."  To speak "out of other bodies" is to be a dramatist. The audience in Dionysian excitement sees itself as essentially one with the "host of spirits" i.e. with the manifestations on stage of Dionysus himself.  This is the beginning of drama:  to see oneself as transformed into another body.  The rhapsodist, then, who sees his images as "outside himself as objects of contemplation" [unlike Ion] does not understand his true role.

The audience experiences "the magic of this transformation" as a group.  Isn't it strange that N., such a fierce individualist, is fascinated by the group Dionysian experience. "Such magic transformation is the presupposition of all dramatic art."  To repeat:  "the Dionysian reveler sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr, in turn, he sees the god," and this vision is "the Apollinian complement of his own state."  The Dionysian chorus "discharges itself in an Apollinian world of images."  However, we should not then identify this world as Apollinian.  As N. puts it, "being the objectification of a Dionysian state, [the theatrical experience] represents not Apollinian redemption through mere appearances but...the shattering of the individual and his fusion with primal being." The drama embodies Dionysian insights, and that separates it from the epic. 

All of this explains the chorus of Greek tragedy, i.e. why it is older than the action on stage, what it means that it was originally made of goatlike satyrs, and that it is "in front of the scene [i.e. the stage]."  The scene [i.e. the activity on stage] is a vision, and the chorus is the reality that generates the vision using "dance, tone, and words."  The chorus serves but does not act:  it is there to see how the god both suffers and glorifies himself.  The chorus, being a Dionysian expression of nature, pronounces "oracles and wise sayings," both sharing its suffering and its wisdom, which is to say, "the truth from the heart of the world." This explains the notion of the satyr as wise, rapturous and also as representing the simple man.

Dionysus is the real stage hero who was merely imagined as present in early tragedies but is shown as visible in later drama. At that point the chorus "was assigned the task of exciting the mood of the listeners" so that when the actor in a mask appears they do not see that but rather "a visionary figure."  They see "the approach on the stage of the god with whose sufferings [they] had already identified" and they transfer "the whole magic image of the god that was trembling before [their souls] to that masked figure.."   It is as if reality has been dissolved into a dream world of unreal spirits.  
But a dialectic occurs here between the chorus and the stage action. The stage action represents "the Apollinian state of dreams in which the world of the day becomes veiled, and a new world, clearer, more understandable, more moving than the everyday world and yet more shadowy, presents itself to our eyes..."  There are, then, two styles in each drama, the Dionysian style of the chorus and the Apollinian style of the stage.  The first is, as Goethe puts it, eternal sea, changeful strife, glowing life.  The second has "the clarity and firmness of epic form" we would find in Homer.

In response to the aesthetics of everyday life it might be said that everyday life is suspended in tragic theater (less so in comic theater), from a Nietzschean perspective.  If what N. says is true about art in general, then art happens at another level than the aesthetics of everyday life.  But this does not mean that everyday life is out the equation since, on the other hand, it can be seen as
"changeful strife and glowing life," the Apollonian merely abstracting from that, and the Dionysian, in turn, causing a kind of reverse experience in which everyday life (including its non-everyday extremes, both the extreme moments of life and the moments of suffering), becomes reintegrated by way of the redemptive force of Dionysus.  Or at least, that is an initial thought.


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