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Philosophy Essay: “Critically analyse how Nietzsche’s two-drive theory relates to his ideas pertaining to art and philosophy”

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The following essay was written as coursework for my ‘Critical Perspectives: Historical Perspectives’ module, which is essentially a philosophy module. It’s the only A* I’ve got for an essay at Uni so far, I’ve posted the feedback sheet I got for it, so I hope it’s of help to someone writing about Nietzsche/philosophy/any essay at all!

And I am maybe a tiny bit proud of myself, possibly.

Anyway, enjoy, let me know what you think! I do have other essays but I haven’t posted them on here because I didn’t, and still don’t, think they were a high enough standard to share. If anyone is interested, I’ll send them a copy of another essay I wrote which only got a B, as a point of comparison perhaps!

Critically analyse how Nietzsche’s two-drive theory relates to his ideas pertaining to art and philosophy.
In the same way Nietzsche’s theory on Apollinian and Dionysian drives presents a duality of seemingly opposing ideas that in actuality “cannot be reckoned with other than as a pair,” (Burnham and Jesinghausen, 2010, p.33), so too do the realms of aesthetics and philosophy depend upon one another within the Birth of Tragedy (henceforth BT). Where many thinkers prior to this, especially Plato, simply employ art as a device with which one can exemplify aspects of philosophy, Nietzsche argues that it can unite a menagerie of metaphysical concepts in a way that scientific pursuits may not, eventualizing in the discovery of truth itself. To investigate this it is necessary to consider; how and why an ‘anti-structural’ thinker such as Nietzsche employs a duplex conceit that he recognizes “smells offensively Hegelian”, the significance of his borrowing from Greek mythology and thus the classic, theological stratus from which he sought ascension from and the nuances which nudge such contradictions into accordance with one another. Whilst the mature Nietzsche self-deprecated his first work, even re-writing the foreword in “An Attempt at Self-Criticism” in 1886, I would argue that the cacophonous form infamously chastised reflects ideally his own notion of affirming differences rather than suffering to ‘correct’ them. Firstly, however, we must establish the significance art holds to Nietzsche that he should begin his philosophical writings with seeking to gain “much for the science of aesthetics” (p.222).

To Nietzsche, who “started shaping his own philosophy of art under the influence of Schopenhauer” (Taminiaux, 1987, p.85), the pertinence of art is already substantiated in The World as Will and Representation. Herein, art is appropriated as the medium through which we can come to know the ‘thing-in-itself’ without being governed by the will operating in science’s strive towards understanding phenomena logically. Nietzsche acknowledges this, writing in An Attempt at Self-Criticism (1886) that “the problem of science cannot be recognized in the context of science,” (p.5) and rather “only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified” (section XXIV). Art, through taking a subject, separating it from the constraining spheres of space and time, and placing it in such a perspective that is synecdochical to the whole, can help in the achievement of truth and most importantly, in the case of Tragedy, coping with truth. Take the Tragic artist’s chorus where “ the true human being [i]s disclosed, (…) the satyr chorus represents existence more truthfully (…) and completely than the man of culture does who ordinarily considers himself as the only reality” (p.230). Identifying with the satyric chorus (classically followers of Dionysius), the audience shares in experiencing the strife endured by the Apolline characters (bound in stereotype) thus negating from the horrors inflicted by the senseless Dionysiac life/will and fundamentally, veiling spectators from the true nihilism of life that Schopenhauer had previously diagnosed. Taminiaux’s 1987 essay comparing the two philosophers states that “the Apollinian and the Dionysian (…) is understood by Nietzsche according to Schopenhauer’s duality between Representation and Will” (p.94). Schopenhauerian ‘will’ is easily transposed to the Dionysian faculties of primordial unity, ecstasy and satisfaction, as does the former, ‘representation’, contain attributes of the imagistic, illusory and illuminating Apolline. The perfected reciprocation between these, as with aesthetics and science, is crucial in Nietzsche’s considerations.

Through the course of the book Nietzsche unravels how his aesthetic study of Tragedy can be “inextricably linked to his philosophy of human existence in general” (Devir, 2010, p.1). In the opening paragraph he establishes that the ‘Apollinian/Dionysian dichotomy’ should not be considered as ‘concepts’, rather, they are personified as “intensely clear figures of (…) Gods” (p.222), and he refers to them as “tendencies run[ning] parallel to each other,” (ibid. Emphases added). This is noteworthy for several reasons; Burnham and Jesinghausen (2010) remark that “concepts to Nietzsche are nothing but dried up metaphors, (…) they have stopped corresponding with that which they are aiming to capture,” (p.1) and yet “the assumption is that metaphors are the closest linguistic form of human correspondence with the outside ‘true nature of things,’” (ibid.). Syllogistically then, the creator of metaphors, the poet, writer and composer (note that Nietzsche encompassed all three), stands in closer proximity to understanding ‘true nature’ than the creator of concepts, the philosopher (Plato/Socrates perhaps). This also elevates the language Nietzsche uses to greater import, we will return later to how resonant the musical allegories he utilizes in the book truly become in light of this. Secondly, in distancing his faculties from conceptualization he both apotheosizes the drives (they do not merely represent dreams/intoxication, plastic/poetic and so forth, they are a literal embodiment as such), and simultaneously ascribes them to the historical field they have jurisdiction over. The latter takes into consideration Schopenhauer’s belief “that space and time individualize phenomena” (Taminiaux, 1987, p.86).” BT culminates into a study of what eventualized the ‘death’ of Tragedy and seeks a modern ‘rebirth’ of the balancing relief it provides. In Niezsche’s mind, for Hellenic society Tragedy provided catharsis through the ideal coalescence of Dionysiac and Apolline art forms until the conception of Socratic, (Apolline) ‘theoretical optimism’ iconoclastically denied Dionysian chaos, disrupting the delicate balance between the drives. Likewise, “Christian teaching (…) negates, judges, and damns art” (Nietzsche, 1886, p.8) so modernity must adopt it’s own emulation of Tragedy in order to overcome it’s Socratic/Apolline equivalent; Christianity, “As a (…) man of words I baptized it, not without taking some liberty – for who could claim to know the rightful name of the Antichrist? – in the name of a Greek God (…) Dionysius” (p.9). Using Schopenhauer’s own belief system, Nietzsche illuminates a means of escapism from the asceticism and resignation Schopenhauer deemed necessary through an alternate medium from Tragedy, music.

Nietzsche’s studies in Greek philology appear to have provided the idiosyncrasy absent in Schopenhauerian considerations. It is interesting, then, to consider that Apollo was classically characterized as the god of music, often depicted with a golden Lyre. Masing-Delic’s (2004) distillation of the Dionysiac and Apollinian into ‘The Music of Ecstasy and the Picture of Harmony,’ articulates and epitomizes the tenor of music in Nietzsche’s god-headed book. Why then, does he champion a “Dionysian art of music” (p.222)? The deifying of the drives can account towards part of this, characteristics are not exclusively confined to one figure and may be shared, but this is rather reductionist. Nietzsche’s Greek philologic knowledge deems it unlikely that he simply ‘overlooked’ such an inherent theme, based in both syntax and Hellenic culture. A cross-examination of the classic myths associated with Apollo and Dionysius, of which Nietzsche was undoubtedly well-versed, helps us to understand why he chose them, despite this indiscretion. Apollo, “the glorious divine image of the principium individuationis” (p.223), famously competed with the flute player Marsyas to establish whom was most musically talented. Dionysius, on the other hand, infamous for his “singing and dancing crowds” (ibid.) made no such distinguishment between friends, strangers and even enemies, (such as Agave, an aunt who denied his mother’s relations with Zeus and thus his status as an Olympian) in terms of incorporating all into his musical entourage. Hence, Dionysius embodies the specific musicality to which Nietzsche’s dual theory depends, not that of the tonally-ascribed, Apolline harmony of dreams (Traum) but rather of the fervent (Rausch), hedonistic and all-encompassing music, typical of Dionysian festivities. Furthermore, both stories conclude with the portrayal of how an excess in either approaches is fundamentally detrimental. Of the former, when both musicians ‘drew’ from equal proficiency, Apollo demanded that the deciding challenge should be which of the musicians could best simultaneously sing and play. The individualities of their differing instruments meant that Marsyas could not do both with his flute as Apollo could with his Lyre, and resultantly Marsyas was flayed alive. Conversely, Dionysius exploits group mentality incited by wine-delirium to drive Agave to kill her own son, unable to identify – and individualize – her maternal reasoning amidst the frenzy of her peers. He chooses instead deindividuation to enact his wrath. Thus, through these tales Nietzsche also elucidates the prominence he ascribed to the interdependency of the drives.

So far we have established that BT was written in the hope of bringing about societal reform through a revival of Tragedy’s regulation of Apollinian and Dionysiac drives. Music, too, is integral, a recurring motif with great consideration applied in it’s representation. Burnham and Jesinghausen (2010) identify with, and further this, stating that “leitmotifs (are) taken directly from opera into text.” ( p.108) particularly through the boat/sea analogy first used in page 223. These leitmotifs link directly to to Allison’s (2001) claims that “Wagner’s interest in classical drama and Schopenhauer, his theories of total art, and a music of the future all helped to develop Nietzsche’s own concepts” (p.9) and quite rightly – as we have found – elements of all these exist within the text. If Wagner was indeed the “embodiment of artistic genius” (ibid.) to Nietzsche, as many perceive, then he is the common denominator marrying together establishments made so far; to the Nietzsche writing BT, the alignment of Apolline and Dionysiac drives is encapsulated in Wagnerian music, and if accepted could relieve nineteenth-century German society from the falsities of Christianity. Indeed, the original preface to the book is literally dedicated to the composer. However, Nietzsche later revokes this, becoming disillusioned and ashamed that his text had become such a pastiche of Wagnerian music, and “In the ‘dithyrambs’ of Zarathustra (…) [the] opposition of the two gods was [also] repudiated and the will to power was proclaimed as the (…) only basic force of the universe” (Luyster, 1977). Indeed, the dualistic theory he spent so long constructing he tears down in later texts, recoining his definition of ‘Dionysius’ as already exhibiting the characteristics of the union with Apollo, ‘das Ureine’ – the primordial one. What can serve the union of these constructs into one?

The answer lies in the nuances of the wording and workings of Nietzsche, for which Hegelian theory provides a valuable comparison towards uncovering. Unlike Hegel’s dialectic, where the comparison of thesis to antithesis synthesizes understanding, the Apollinian and Dionysian are not mobilized by realising opposition. Where Hegel applies “negation, opposition or contradiction, Nietzsche substitutes the practical element of difference,” (p.9) (Deleuze, 2006). Similarly to how Apollo exploited the idiosyncrasies of his opponents instrument, so too do the Apolline and Dionysiac utilise their differing traits; instead of negation, they come together, like attraction between positive and negative poles, part of a whole magnet. This coherence, the Dionysian revealed in Apolline form, Burnham and Jesinghausen (2010) explain is like “pessimism and optimism (…) no longer opposed as negative/positive binary opposites. The conceptual oppositions are not original, but derivative; they are (…) already intrinsically valued” (p.16). One could understand Tragic art as ‘seeing a pessimistic world in an optimistic light’. This illustrates the reasoning behind Nietzsche’s selection of deities from the plethora of Olympians – why not prometheus and epimetheus, more distinctly demarcated? – it is because of their likenesses that their differences can be resolved. The need for a third factor of synthesis is annulled. Nietzsche wrote of “Greek tragedy as a Dionysiac chorus which discharges itself over and over again in an Apollonian world of images.” so while expressed in the Apolline, the Dionysiac is not changed, rather, made more palatable. In the same way that mythologically Dionysius was born twice, once of his mother, and secondly in Zeus’ thigh so too we can assume Nietzsche conceives the rebirth of Dionysius in Apolline form with the same name but wiser and bettered from the first experience of life.

Writing of a proficient philologist, it is difficult to ignore the ironic wording of Nietzsche’s deprecation of BT as “arrogant and rhapsodic” (p.4). For a book attempting to illustrate the philosophic order a Dionysiac perspective attains, I would suggest that the Apolline form of a philosophic writing in a ‘rhapsodic’, leitmotif-ridden, chromatic arrangement represents a self-explaining, metafictional model of how Nietzsche’s two drives are symbiotically linked to, and inseparable from, art and philosophy. His peer-critics simply overlooked that the innovative and poetic form BT takes “is intended to be symbolic of what Nietzsche wants to say” (Burnham and Jesinghausen [2010] p.11). I would argue that the book and all the parallels it contains are the ‘rerum concordia discors’ – the discordant concord of things – that Apollonian and Dionysian discourse represents, materialized, and fundamentally Nietzsche should have embraced his later aphorism to be “master of the chaos [BT represents]”.

Word Count: 2200 (excluding references and page numbers)

Primary Texts

Nietzsche, F., (2008) ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, in Cahn, S., and Meskin, A.,(eds) Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology, Blackwell: Oxford

Nietzsche, F., (1995) ‘Part 1:On tragedy Attempt at a Self-Criticism, The Birth of Tragedy’, in Grimm, R., and Molina y Vedia, C.,(eds) Philosophical Writings, Continuum: New York

Secondary Texts

Allison, D., (2011 ) Reading the New Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy, The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Genealogy of Morals. Roman and Littlefield: Oxford

Burnham, D., and Jesinghausen, M., (2010) Nietzsche’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy’: A Reader’s Guide, Continuum: New York

Deleuze ., G (2006) Nietzsche and Philosophy. Columbia University Press: Columbia

Devir, P., (2010) ‘Apollo/Dionysus or Heraclitus/Anaxagoras? A Hermeneutic Inquiry into Nietzsche’s View of Tragedy.’ Papers on Language & Literature: a quarterly journal for scholars and critics of language and literature (46:1), pp. 61-78.
Available at:

Luyster, R., (1997) ‘Nietzsche/Dionysius: Ecstasy, Heroism, and the Monstrous.’ Journal of Nietzsche Studies (21:1) pp.1-26
Available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20717751?uid=3738032&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103345899573

Masing-Delic, I., (2004) “The Music of Ecstasy and the Picture of Harmony: Nietzsche’s Dionysus and Apollo in Turgenev’s “Pesn´ toržestvujušcej ljubvi”’
Scando-Slavica (50:1) pp.5-22
Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com.v-ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk:2048/doi/abs/10.1080/00806760410011079#.UtGvmvRdXKA

Taminiaux, J.,(1987) ‘Art and truth in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche’, Man and World (20:1), pp. 85-102.
Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01248634?LI=true#

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