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Daniels, Paul Raimond. Nietzsche and "The Birth of Tragedy.".

DANIELS, Paul Raimond. Nietzsche and "The Birth of Tragedy." Durham: Acumen, 2013. xv + 240 pp. Cloth, $90.00; paper $24.95--This new study of The Birth of Tragedy (BT) is organized into six chapters: influences on BTs composition; analysis of [section][section]1-6; analysis of [section][section]7-10; analysis of [section][section]11-15; analysis of [section][section]16-25; and the relation of BT to Nietzsche's later writings. The central task of the book is to interpret and defend the main thesis of BT: that "only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world justified."

One significant stumbling block to completing this task is Nietzsche's prominent use of Schopenhauerian terminology and motifs. What Nietzsche describes as the Apollonian, associated with clarity, consciousness, and control, bears evident affinities with Schopenhauer's account of representation, while what Nietzsche describes as the Dionysian, associated with chaotic energy, passion, and the collapse of distinctions, bears evident affinities with Schopenhauer's account of will. Yet Schopenhauer urges an aestheticist-escapist retreat from life, not its justification. How, then, can Nietzsche, by developing Schopenhauer's terminology, genuinely demonstrate that affirmation of life and its value is possible?

The solution to this problem that Daniels develops, rightly, is that the Apollonian and the Dionysian are understood more broadly than in Schopenhauer as all at once forces, forms of art, states of consciousness, and overall moods. Daniels usefully traces this way of understanding Nietzsche's free adaptation of Schopenhauerian motifs to the influence on him of Jacob Burckhardt's distinctive practice of cultural history, in which primary sources are not mined in order to explain events in political history, but instead are studied in order to find the vital intuitions and spiritual mood of an age. Nietzsche, then, is using the terms "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" primarily in order to characterize broad existential moods and modes of experience that were present within Greek life and in the Greek response to tragedy.

A further question remains, however, about how exactly a generally shared Greek understanding of life as inevitably marked by struggle and suffering is somehow transmuted via the experience of tragedy into an affirmation of life. The answer is that both the heroes of Greek tragedies and the chorus function for the audience as a coherent Apolline forming or housing of Dionysiac energies. Working as something like a vaccine, this Apolline housing presents the destructiveness of the Dionysian in a weakened form, so that increased resistance to it is possible while also recognizing its character and force. "Once the Apolline has mediated the Dionysian, that Dionysian power then transforms the Apolline and thus makes itself more pronounced. In this way, tragedy gives an honest experience to the pessimism of the world, but transforms our attitude towards that pessimism in the process of unveiling."

More broadly, Daniels also defends Nietzsche's stance that "value-laden intuitions" and "aesthetic engagement with the question of existence" are more important and successful in enabling the affirmation of life than are the theoretical stance and "conceptual interpretation of existence." This is the sense of BTs claim that only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence justified. BT itself, Daniels then argues, while usefully providing a general vocabulary for describing the phenomenon of aesthetic affirmation, nonetheless fails to promote it as significantly as it might. Instead Rilke, especially in the Sonnets to Orpheus, and composers such as Mahler and Scriabin provide fuller, more genuinely aesthetic-poetic realizations of a "tragic wisdom [that] can be confronted and affirmed through poetic epiphany and the surrender to art."

Overall, Nietzsche and "The Birth of Tragedy" is a valuable addition to the existing literature, particularly in its careful tracings of Nietzsche's appropriations of and divergences from Schopenhauer, as well as Burckhardt and Wagner, and in sketching the complex relations between Nietzsche's BT account of aesthetic affirmation and his later accounts of how to overcome nihilism. Daniels's accounts--somewhat reminiscent of Northrop Frye's defenses of the significance of metaphor and myth in the formation of values, as against theoretical science and demotic language--of the powers and importance of both art in general and the works of Rilke and Mahler in particular are illuminating. The specific mechanisms of aesthetic affirmation via the experience of tragedy are, however, not as fully explicated as they might be. Here Daniels remains too close to Nietzsche's own language of the mediation of Dionysian power by Apollonian form, instead of engaging also with more general philosophical and psychological literatures--for example, works by Dewey, Beardsley, and Adorno, among others--that might clarify this phenomenon by drawing on further vocabularies. Nietzsche's claims about the unique power of art to promote the affirmation of life are perhaps taken too much for granted, given that many people find life worth living more in virtue of relatively quotidian family relationships, friendships, and accomplishments than in virtue of the experience of art.--Richard Eldridge, Swarthmore College
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Author:Eldridge, Richard
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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