Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, and systematics

Having already started the Untimely Meditations, and especially having read On the Use and Disadvantages of History for Life, The Birth of Tragedy makes a lot of sense. I don't say he's right about the nominal subject, but this early work participates in major trends in his thought. The dialectical mockery of the Apollinian, the Dionysian, and the Socratic works at a fundamental level in ways that remind me of Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach. What Nietzsche reaches for in the Socratic participates in the monumental, antiquarian, and critical disadvantages. Fundamentally it is science as the antithesis of art/life that is the enemy.

The commencement of the Apollinian/Dionysian dialectic automatically causes me to place myself in the Apollinian, the ordered illusion, because I don't fundamentally understand the Dionysian. Nietzsche's resolution of the two, however, makes it clear that these are alike in their fundamental conformance to deity. At the point where Euripides enters the scene, it becomes very clear that the Socratic is the misuse of the Apollinian, the disadvantage of the ordered sense of the world because it no longer seeks to place and arrange the cosmos -- instead it seeks to strip away all illusions, all appearances, everything that is manifest, the phenomenal, in an attempt to understand and rationalize the cosmos. The Platonic deprecation of shadows in favor of forms, an elevation toward the noumenal, is likened to the stripping away of the veils over the world, a descent of sorts in search of the noumenal. The Socratic replaces the Apollinian, and rather than the story of conflict that demands the continued existence of the Dionysian, Nietzsche presents a story of the destruction of illusions necessary for life in favor of the merely comprehensible. Which causes me to be wary of myself because I've been taught to be the Socratic.

Nietzsche's contempt for the common culture, or the culture of the ordinary masses, is founded precisely on their lack of comprehension of art. He condemns Euripides for placing the mere spectator upon the stage, removing both the Dionysian participation in the chorus, and its Apollinian dream. He would think worse of reality television, the audience that loves to watch itself be horribly and extraordinarily ordinary, than he does of the Euripidean audience that loves to watch itself sublimely elevated into a form where they can become better ordinary selves. The drama of the gods and the godlike spectacle of the tragic characters have not merely disappeared; they have been discarded by the intelligent common man who could not participate in their art. This contempt returns in the Untimely Meditations, and is especially reserved for those who cannot serve life by forgetting, and cannot remember in ways that serve life -- whose memories bind the future to strict repetition of the past, to the limitations of their sense of good taste, and to their critical leveling of its path. A tame, restricted and ordinary future.

There is a systematic drive that serves life, that is amenable to art, that may be Apollinian, and there is certainly a more common systematic drive that serves the sort of mere scientism that Nietzsche designates by the Socratic. Deconstruction, in the wrong hands, is subject to a similar observation. Analysis that serves to tear down, to void the complex of significations that make a thing what it is in pursuit of the thing itself, misses the point. Nietzsche says that the artist will rather cling to the discarded veil, and this is not to make a shallow thing of art, but to make an artless thing of divinized science. In the analysis of theological history and its materials, and the construction of theology as a system, it is the failure to respect art and serve life that destroys the usefulness of theology. I've been asked, jokingly, not to give up on systematic theology because I'm reading Nietzsche. I think it is a reasonable request, but I plan on doing it one better. The reason I am reading him is precisely the destruction of systems. What Badiou recalls out of Nietzsche as the urge to idolatry, to envisioning God in ways that cause us to cease looking at God, is the ironic result of much that is Socratic in systematic theology. The illusion that we can remove the illusions. But if systematic theology is to respect God, it must be the chorus and not the spectator. It must not be on stage, and it must not be outside of the action. It must see and cherish the new thing that God does, and participate in it, rather than binding theology to what we have understood of the history in which God has acted. The only order that works in the long term is order held in tension with chaos in a system which respects the appearances, but respects God more.

Comments

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  2. Not where I was going at the time, but also a reasonable comment on Nietzsche. Although you had as well leave Marx out of the picture, since any "enlightened" society stumbles upon bread and circuses and the play of popular mythology below the level of thought. The protection of property, or the idea of security, or general appeal to religious morality works as well because these are below the level of thought, and evoke gut reactions. However, I think you may also have missed the point of tragedy and its violation in the Birth of Tragedy, even if you hit on a reasonable aspect of Nietzsche's contempt.

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  4. I hadn't read it until you asked. I can see its influence on Nietzsche, but it also has much of what I might call a Socratic move with respect to Christianity, the old Jeffersonian deism, bolted on top of a post-Renaissance deontological ethic of rationalist humanism.

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  7. Which makes a lot of sense with Zarathustra as well.

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  9. Citation is not argument, and you and I don't know one another well enough for any implicit suggestion you may be making to come across. Can I help you? Are you going somewhere?

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