November 14, 2011
English 2200: A History of Theory and Criticism
Lecture: Friedrich Nietzsche
1869: Receives Doctorate in Philology (language formation) from U. of Leipzig
1872: Publishes “The Birth of Tragedy”
1889: Suffers mental breakdown
1897: Under care of sister, Elizabeth
-Why is tragedy so popular?
-Catharsis: Purging of emotions/dealing with and getting rid of negative
emotions. Catharsis is intensely pleasurable, yet evokes pain. Is catharsis
pleasure and pain at the same time?
-We try to keep tragedy out of our own lives, so we turn to tragedy so that we
can experience those emotions through a novel/movie
-We want to gain insight from human experiences, even tragic ones.
-If we like tragedy because it is relatable but yet keeps us at a safe distance, why
do we like massive scale tragedies like Hotel Rwanda? We feel just as deeply
about movies like this even though it’s hard to relate to for most of us.
-The goal of Aristotelian tragedy = Truth and Insight
-Does Nietzsche take any ideas from Aristotle?
-Some of Nietzsche’s works were required Nazi readings during WWII. He wasn’t anti-
semitic, but his sister was, and after his death she worked to make sure that the Nazi’s
took on some of Nietzsche’s thoughts as their own. It took a long time after WWII for it to
become acceptable to talk about Nietzsche.
-He loved art, held it in highest regard. Also a poet and composer (apparently a bad
one). He saw himself as an artist and creator above all.
-He believes that reality is meaningless, cold and brutal. By creating art (tragic art is
best), we can affirm our reality and escape our brutal realities.
-Tragic art makes sense of our emotions and makes us feel a communal connection to
-If everything in the world is crap, how do we get past this? Denial. Nietzsche saw this
as an important Christian value. He believed that Christian values were “useful lies”, like
saying “My life sucks right now, but I know God has a plan for me” is just a lie that we
tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, it isn’t really true. We deny so that we can
go on with living.
Apollonian and Dionysian
-These are the two warring factions in Nietzsche’s views.
November 14, 2011
-Apollo was the sun god, the god of seeing, prophecy, and truth. Dionysus was the god
of wine and partying.
-Nietzsche does not favour either view. You need both in order to live a balanced life in
-These two views are metaphysics to Nietzsche. Dionysian view is ‘below the surface’
like in psychoanalysis. It isn’t overtly stated.
-He believed that the death of tragedy occurred with the Socratic philosophy (logic) that
is raised to a level of truth.
-Big Truths are illusions that overlay small truths. So Apollonian views are “Big Truths”
and Dionysian view is all the “small truths” that the Apollonian view tries to cover up.
-eg. Big Truth (Apollonian): “You get your very own office, you’ll have so much
space, privacy, etc.!”
-small truth (Dionysian): Walking in to your “amazing” office early in the morning
to be greeted by dozens of centipedes all over everything.
-We try to ignore Dionysian truths, so we can have Apollonian ones.
-“Humanity is mighty architecture of genius”
-Says that all humans can be artists.
-Apollonian views are what we follow in order to deal with the Dionysian parts of life.
The Dionysian parts are the brutal realities (children starving, genocide, etc.) Anything
that makes you think that there’s really no point to life is Dionysian. But the Apollonian
way of looking at life makes the Dionysian parts manageable for us; it keeps it so we
don’t go totally crazy.
-If we got rid of the Apollonian and only had Dionysian, we would all become so
depressed that we’d all go insane. You need both to function.
-Tragedy is before individualization. Tragedy (particularly Greek Tragedy) is the balance
of Apollonian and Dionysian
-a solid becomes a gas without being a liquid in between (chemistry)
-The brutality of the Dionysian view is sublimated into a gas by Apollonian views.
Made less important/urgent to us.
-It is also no good if Apollonian views is all we had. But it seems to be becoming that
way a little (when asked what class wanted to accomplish before they die, 80% said
they wanted to be famous).
-From childhood, we are all trying to find an Apollonian view for every Dionysian one we
experience. Children play “the why game” to do this (Why is the sun yellow? Why is it
raining? Why do we have weather? etc. etc.)
-Too much Apollonian makes life not worth living. Seeing Dionysian things gives us the
drive to alter, change.
-However, sometimes the Apollonian views we tell ourselves don’t cut it; if a loved one
dies, you wonder why you’re so far away from family getting a degree when it’s not as
November 14, 2011
important as love and family. The Apollonian view of “Go to school, get a job, work,
make money” doesn’t cut it at these points.
-“The world and existence is justified through aesthetic phenomenon”
-The world is more powerful than we are
-Painting is wanting to see reality in art (Apollonian). But abstract Painting doesn’t give
us any “Truths” we have to find them on our own (Dionysian).
-Dreams are proof that we are all artists. But dream reality is an illusion. We can’t put
dreams into Dionysian: reality view, because we wake up. Dreams can remind us of
Dionysian things, but they aren’t themselves.
-p.778 “the hero is no more than an image of light projected on a dark wall”
-hero of Transformers: Shia LaBoeuf on a dark wall
-Dionysian views help us create great art, which is part of why we need it to stick
around. It helps us change the world.
-Narratives that are told to us since childhood are interpolating us to expect future
events and resolutions (girls: growing up and meeting Prince Charming, etc.)
-Our society relies too much on Apollonian views.
-Nietzsche ends “The Birth of Tragedy” with a hopeful possibility that there may be a
rebirth of tragedy that gets us away from relying so heavily on Apollonian views and
neglecting Dionysian ones.
-Oedipus cuts out his eyes after learning that he killed his father/married his mother
because he can not hide behind the Dionysian. There is no Apollonian thing to cover up
what he did.
-Suffering is affirmed in the Prometheus quote on p.779: Are we expected to kill
ourselves just because everything isn’t perfect in the world? No. Suffering is affirmed
-We have to tell ourselves little lies (Apollonian) so that we can get up in the morning.
These lies don’t completely draw out our ideas about Dionysian things, but they make
-Where does individuality come in? What good is it? Are people inherently good?
-principium individuationis: Apollo is trust in individuation (776)
-Bond between humans is reunited in Dionysian. Through drugs, dancing and singing,
drinking, we become one with our neighbours. The same, not just in sync, but the
same. As well, we are reconciled with nature.
-These are Dionysian. Why do we cover these up all of the time then? In the
Apollonian values of work, grades, etc. we cover them up.
-Explains idea of “What if there is no afterlife”
-Demon comes to you and says that when you die, you will relive this exact life,
over and over and over. You will do the exact same thing that you did in your
first life; nothing ever changes.