Art History 4433—Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism Professor Daniel R. Guernsey Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (1872) I. Preliminaries: A. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)—went insane in 1889 1. Late nineteenth-century German philosopher, active from 1872-1888. Most of his works date to the 1880s, including: Dawn, 1881 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883-85 Beyond Good and Evil, 1886 Twilight of the Idols, 1888 (title based on Richard Wagner’s opera, Götterdämmerung, or Twilight of the Gods) 2. At age of 24, Nietzsche was appointed professor of Classical philology (linguistics) at the University of Basel, Switzerland (important intellectual center). Befriends German composer Richard Wagner in 1868. Nietzsche taught at Basel from 1868-1879. B. Nietzsche’s Reputation and Significance: 1. Forerunner of 20th-century Psychoanalysis, Existentialism, and Post-Modernism: a) Psychoanalysis: Nietzsche influenced Freud’s and Jung’s theories of the subconscious. b) Existentialism: pessimistic view of human nature and civilization. Questions human claims to know absolute truth and rejects the existence of God. Human life is fundamentally one of anguish in the face of imminent death. It views human reason as frail in an absurd, chaotic world. Humans act alone, creating meaning in an alien, irrational world devoid of God. c) Post-Modernism (contemporary linguistic theory in France—Derrida, Foucault): i. Critique of the “Enlightenment Project”—questions modern progress ii. Language theory: words neither have stable meaning, nor adequately describe reality II. The Birth of Tragedy, 1872: A. Reception: Criticized by professional philologists. Critical reception ruined N’s academic career. BT subverts academic practice—polemical style and lack of footnotes. a) BT blends philology with his passions for philosophy (Schopenhauer) and music (Wagner). i. Schopenhauer—pessimism based on duality of appearance (reason) vs reality (chaos) ii. Wagner—music the means of spiritual renewal, rejuvenation of art and nation B. Significance: BT was the first study of Greek primitivism. For Nietzsche, the irrational was the basis of ancient Greek civilization, not high-minded reason and ethics. a) critiqued J.-J. Winckelmann/Enlightenment—humanistic culture of reason/ethics
2 C. Values and Art: Nietzsche states in BT that his main question was one of “the value placed on existence.” a) Moral values—those supposedly derived either from the supernatural dictates of religion, or from an ultimate knowledge of the good, were insufficient to sustain and justify human existence. The new evolutionary biological view of man (Charles Darwin) was undercutting a supernatural sanction of moral values. b) Art—For Nietzsche, art justifies existence through its continual renewal. Art was the basis of human values—created by man alone—as a means to justify human values in the absence of religion, or of ultimate knowledge. Hence, art solves the existential condition of life: human suffering. Aesthetic pleasure/beauty (Apollonian) grows out of pain and suffering (Dionysian). III. The Birth of Tragedy A. Apollonian (Appearances) dreams, illusions, reason, law Olympic pantheon Sophrosyne (boundaries/moderation) individuation/separation civilization language/sculpture/painting (form) optimism
Dionysian (Will—Reality) intoxication, ecstasy, irrationality, lawless Titanic pantheon hubris (transgression/excess) unity (individual destroyed/selfabnegation) barbarism music (formless) pessimism—pain/suffering/cruelty
B. The need for illusion to maintain and perpetuate life. Varieties of illusion (pp. 109-110): 1. Knowledge (theoretical/scientific/Socratic man)—Alexandrian culture 2. Art (aesthetic man)—Hellenic culture 3. Metaphysics (religious/tragic man)—Buddhist culture e.g., “It was in order to be able to live that the Greeks had to create these gods from a most profound need” (BT, p. 42) C. The aesthetic nature of the world: appearances organized by the Apollonian impulse to create illusions. Essential disjunction/detachment of illusions from reality. D. The historicization of pessimism: 1. Tragedy (past)—Science (present)—Rebirth of Tragedy (future) 2. The “turning points of world history”: a. Aeschylus/Sophocles—Birth of Tragedy b. Euripides/Socrates—Science/Death of Tragedy c. Wagner/Nietzsche—Rebirth of Tragedy For Nietzsche’s discussion of Prometheus, see pp. 69-76 (Kaufmann translation). Nietzsche presents a balanced view of Prometheus, while linking him explicitly with Dionysian rebellion. V. Conclusion: Nietzsche’s views on the instability of language derived fundamentally from his ontological (ie, nature of being) and epistemological (ie, nature of knowing) diagnoses of the world. That is, Nietzsche believed that the world consists of Apollonian appearances (including language and reason) and Dionysian reality (natural desires and “lust for life”). Although reality can be directly intuited, conventional knowledge (mediated by language and reason) exists within the realm of appearances and is hence an aesthetic creation.