Philosophy 422 Fowler 31 August 1992 Reaction to First Half of The Birth of Tragedy



In his retrospective Attempt at Self-Criticism, Nietzsche confirms his critics’ notion that The Birth of Tragedy is far from being his best work, and in some instances even lampoons his immature perspective and his willingness to be taken away by an undertow of Wagnerian nationalism, but he does not altogether revoke or ignore his premise of the Dionysian / Appolinian dichotomy. Nietzsche still is puzzled with the question, “What is Dionysian?” and he admits his answer from Birth is less than satisfactory, and he hopes the Attempt provides the opportunity to “speak more cautiously and less eloquently” (Nietzsche, 20). Interestingly, he regards the Greeks “as totally umcomprehended and unimaginable as ever” because he, indeed no one, can satisfactorily answer the question, “What is Dionysian?” This persistence reveals Nietzsche’s philosophical and philological stubbornness, and his conviction that the question he originates in Birth is the correct, the essential question to ask of the Greeks, and it is only the proposed answers which are faulty. In the Attempt, he maintains his pursuit of the answer to the specific question of the Dionysian, and importantly he does not back down and look for another approach to understanding the “uncomprehended Greeks.” The first half of The Birth of Tragedy effectively introduces the Dionysian / Appolinian division and, of course, the parallel issue of tragedy’s birth. He takes the puzzle of the Birth and fuses it into a puzzle of his own, crafting a polemic from the various paragraphs and sections and consciously stalling and challenging the reader either to follow painstakingly Nietzsche’s line of reasoning or to attempt a leap ahead toward one’s own conclusions; the former method, though often confusing and frustrating seems the surer path to understanding. At the end of Section 11, Nietzsche writes of “the second spectator” with whom Euripides could align himself in the misfired Appolinian “struggle against the art of Aeschylus and Sophocles”, but Nietzsche does not immediately reveal the identity of this second spectator. He closes the section, and opens Section 12 with “Before we name this other spectator, let us pause here a moment...” As though his argument had not been structured enough, Nietzsche manipulates the bait-and-switch style of a novelist, or a playwright, to lure and inspire the reader to reach the conclusion by the end of Section 12 that “Socrates was that second spectator” (Nietzsche, 86). In the first half (through Section 12) of The Birth, Nietzsche introduces and explains the struggle between the Dionysian, Appolinian, and Socratic divisions of tragedy. Socrates, as “the new Orpheus” opposes the Dionysian, but does not emulate the Appolinian, and each of the three has its own playwright / vanguard, and each has its own response to the notion of individuation.