Daybreak – Review

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Daybreak is Nietzsche’s first “real” book, where Nietzsche settles on a unique style of writing. He no longer writes essays, ordering his thoughts on a line, but peppers the whole book with aphorisms. It may frustrate the reader who is new to Nietzsche since he won’t find any main thesis. Instead, Nietzsche puts together his ideas into a web, helping you connect more ideas together to create a range of thought with more dimensions.

Yet there is a main spirit in Daybreak. Nietzsche explores human moral life in new ways; he opts out old ideas of the soul, free will, and categorical imperatives for naturalistic explanations of the body, climate, diet, and the instincts. He does not show any crude materialism, as you might think, but deals with subtle and spiritual things. The human species is dynamic, constantly changing throughout the ages, as does all nature. Nietzsche rejects the dichotomy between “matter” and “spirit” present since at least Plato’s time; instead, the “lower” world of the body and the land creates the “higher” world of the mind, art, and culture.   

But what is most important is this; Nietzsche wishes to open a new chapter in human history by “reevaluating all values” as he might later put it, and he takes his first steps in Daybreak. Nietzsche is no nihilist; if anything, he is excited and hopeful. He goes on a new adventure and invites you to join him. I certainly had fun reading Daybreak, though it was a hard book to read, because I learned many new ways of looking at the world.

Moral History
Nietzsche spins a yarn of human history to explore how morals came about. Nietzsche is fond of writing this kind of speculative history, where he writes a fairy tale of sorts to describe some deeper process unfolding through the ages. He did in the tale of Greek Tragedy and he will do it again in the tale of Master and Slave morals. I am not fond of this kind of history, and maybe you are not either, but remember! Ancient humans told their history in myths and parables, and judging by Nietzsche’s approach, we still think of our history this way, whether we like it or not.

Nietzsche posits that primitive humans developed habits and customs depending on the best way to live off the land. Morals came about in this way. We may roll our eyes; such a theory is typical today, but Nietzsche takes us through a few twists and turns. There is more to this story, since morals greatly evolved alongside the humans they came from.

Early humans based their morals on community and tradition – what everybody else did before them – and anyone who rejected that tradition was evil. Then, something radical happened: Socrates and Christianity. Socrates determined morals by using logic and a set of universal principles meant to improve the individual. If a custom or tradition was wrong – well, it was wrong, no matter how sacred. Early Christians jettisoned the old Roman and Jewish traditions of their ancestors. Instead, they devoted their time to saving their souls [1].

Ancient Athens condemned Socrates a corrupter of youth and the Ancient Romans saw the early Christians as evil. I find it ironic how, two thousand years later, Christians base so much of their morals on communities and traditions that have little to the with Gospel. And now they condemn rebels as evil, as they were once rebels themselves. American conservative Christians are easy to pick on; their morals come from a sense of national identity that often has a deep racial history. Using the Bible to condemn abortion or gay marriage is the afterthought.  

Well, what about life today? Nietzsche takes several issues with modern morals. In general, he seems to regard them as stale and causing a malaise in the mind of Europe’s people. Yes, you can easily point to how Nietzsche blames Christianity for giving us a “bad conscience”, which he does. But he describes how great Christians developed more subtle and profound morals. For example, the French thinkers of the Enlightenment refined their character, thought, and manners to create a sublime culture [2].

Spirit From Matter
Sigmund Freud was famous for describing how human thoughts and actions, even our loftiest aspects, come from a dark subconscious world of primitive passions. He was not the first. Nietzsche did it before Freud and Schopenhauer did it before Nietzsche. The word (or leitmotif) Nietzsche uses throughout the book is arriere pensee, or hidden thoughts. Even beyond our instincts, our volition determines what we think and see, and just as important, what we do not think and see [3]. We do not really know what we want.

His most striking writings concern kindness, self sacrifice, and human rights. At first, great nobles feigned kindness and honesty as a tactic; it gave them more safety and increased their power by gaining allies. Yet over time, hypocrisy slowly transformed into genuine kindness [4]. On the other end, a disciple who eagerly immolates and sacrifices himself for his god is far from humble. He gains a euphoric feeling of power and becomes exalted by being associated with his god [5]. The ideas of duty and rights we revere today were created when people of greater power and rank formed a relationship with people of lesser power [6].

Nietzsche diagnoses the illness of the soul much like a doctor diagnoses an illness of the body. He examines a person to find cancerous thoughts and emotions lurking beneath the reasoned arguments, and beyond that, Nietzsche traces the cancer’s origin in the body and environment. And much like a doctor, Nietzsche advises small steady doses for even the worst of illnesses; a change in diet, habit, and exercise [7].  

If we have illnesses, and most of us do, fear not. Nietzsche rejects the belief in a soul, and with it the belief that people are “complete and perfect facts”, that we have one essential thing that defines us and that we can never change. Instead, Nietzsche describes our minds like gardens, full of different kinds of growing plants. We have some control as gardeners, and we are even responsible in cultivating our feelings and impulses. And we must change, as a snake sheds its skin. If we do not grow and learn new things, if we do not change our minds, we cease to have minds [8].

In general, we have some grasp of our different powers: our talents, our skills, our knowledge, our health, and so on. But we do not know our full capabilities. Our environment is so important, Nietzsche says, because it can conceal, weaken, or develop out powers. Nietzsche urges us to study our environment very carefully, which includes everything I mentioned above from circumstances to the land to diet, so we can cultivate our powers to reach the greatest possible heights [9].

What is Feminine
Nietzsche has relations with women and the female gender role that are – complicated. The stereotypical Nietzsche fan is quick to shun women and all that is feminine, but Nietzsche thinks differently. As early humans became more “feminine”, such as becoming more beautiful, frail, timid, sensitive, and discerning, they also became more intelligent and civilized [10].

I find Nietzsche very striking at this point because he subverts assumptions we hold to this day. Even now, we see building civilization as something “masculine”, a task accomplished by Mr. Fix-It and Bob the Builder. We imagine the beginning of civilization as a big manly thing, where a king whips slaves into building a monument. Even liberal minded people, who do not like to put men above women, assume men rule over culture and women rule over nature. But Nietzsche paints a different and more arresting picture.

And Nietzsche even questions gender itself in the first page, describing it as transient as morals. I paraphrase; when we gave a sex to all things, we thought not we were playing but believed we gained a profound insight. Only later did we admit, just a bit, that we made a huge error. We gave a moral character to everything in the world in the same way. One day, declaring something good or evil will be as relevant as describing the sun as male or female [11].

Our Limits
Late in Daybreak, Nietzsche arrives at the end of the world. He reaches the limits of human intellect and even of truth itself. These ideas are difficult for us to hear, since our advancing science and technology tends to make us optimists. Indeed, we assume no knowledge is beyond us. Sooner or later, if only we try hard enough, our leading physicists will discover the Theory of Everything and we will find a way to travel faster than light. But our limits to knowledge are deeper than whether we can make spaceships. Humankind has a limit.

Language itself is a problem. It helps us create all sorts of new ideas, yes, but words box our thoughts into the discreet concepts. Our thinking only goes as far as our language lets us. And when we do discover something, when we wish to expand our language, we have to deal with all the old state concepts our language has, concepts that prevent us from thinking in new ways [12]. What is logic but a word game? Is truth itself just a word?

As much as we think we like science, we have a problematic relation to it, and it has a lot to do with old habits in how we think of ourselves. Long ago, we assumed ourselves to be the highest creature on earth; nature’s final goal was to create us. We assumed nature existed to serve us and all the knowledge we could find would only benefit us. To this day, we seek answers with science to solve our many problems from global warming to why we feel depressed. But science does not care about how we feel or what we feel entitled to, and people resent science for that fact. Many people who claim to love science treat it lightly and would hate science if it ever saw through them [13].

Knowledge can also be dangerous and harmful to us. Learning something new is not always a good thing, as Oedipus shows us. Nietzsche expresses this idea most clearly in his famous Don Juan aphorism. What is our destiny, a people who put the pursuit of knowledge above everything else? We will seek all knowledge, no matter how trifling, until we become so bored we seek knowledge that will hurt us. We will yearn for “hell”, a final terrible answer, but we will not find it, and will forever be frustrated [14].  

How can we overcome our morals and limits in knowledge? Nietzsche has a couple of ideas, but we need to take small doses to get such a radical change in values. The change may be so slow we may not even realize it when we get there. There is no fast and easy way; “great revolutions” are a farce caused by malicious and impatient political invalids [15].  

Let us slowly supplant moral feelings and judgments, Nietzsche says. Let us follow the duties imposed by reason, and re-establish the laws of life. Maybe we can borrow the foundation stones for new ideals yet to be born. Let us then rule ourselves as if lords of an estate, our small experimental state [16].

Nietzsche ends Daybreak with his most uplifting prose. As birds fly to the horizon, we may fly as far as we possibly can to realize our potential, but even the greatest of us will find a perch. Our greatest ancestors did the same. Yet new birds will fly farther, far above our heads and our failures. Where are we all flying? We do not know [17].  

Work cited:

  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Dawn of Day. Translated by John McFarland Kennedy, Anodos Books, 2017. Pgs. 10-16.
  2. Pg. 88
  3. Pg 170
  4. Pg. 111
  5. Pg. 104
  6. Pg. 130
  7. Pg 153
  8. Pgs. 181-183
  9. Pg. 128
  10. Pgs. 18 & 71
  11. Pg 9
  12.  Pg. 27
  13. Pg. 143
  14. Pg. 128
  15. Pg. 169
  16. Pg. 151
  17. Pg. 183
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The Untimely Meditations – Review

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Last time we met Nietzsche, he wrote The Birth of Tragedy, which was a striking unique book but one that toasted his career as a philologist. Now, Nietzsche changes from professor to pundit; he wrote thirteen essays from 1873 to 1876 about German culture and politics, four of which became the Untimely Meditations. The title is apt, since Nietzsche throws his darts against his fellow Germans for their faulty practices of history, science, and philosophy.

Nietzsche writes boldly, often abrasing David Strauss and Georg Hegel with sharp wit, but presents many nuanced ideas about how we create history and think of “the truth”. The more I read Nietzsche, the more I wonder how anyone could think of him as some kind of wanna fascist. From the first page, Nietzsche refutes the “might makes right” idea his fellow Germans had; the Germans thought they had a greater culture than the French simply because they won the Franco-Prussian War. And I hate to disappoint fans of Jordan Peterson, but Nietzsche gets very “postmodern” in the second essay, where he even questions truth herself.

I do become frustrated when reading Nietzsche at times. The man praises Voltaire and Schopenhauer for writing clearly and simply, but Nietzsche himself writes as densely as Hegel. He litters the book with odd metaphors and does not explain exactly what is a Philistine, even though he attacks almost everyone with the label. He does not make his thesis obvious the way a “good” essayist does, but rather builds up to it over time, as if he wrote music or drama. I think this style of writing is amazing but it adds to my frustration at times. You cannot write like Nietzsche if you need to pay the bills. Nietzsche had a pension. I do not.   

The World of the Future
We see the Last Man for the first time, where Nietzsche shows how horrible Strauss’ “world of the future” and Hegel’s “World Spirit realized” would be. Humankind would become mediocre in old age and comfort; everyone would cultivate the life of a bourgeois gentleman; humans would become so weak and loathe life so much they would make the species extinct. In this way would the Last Judgment and “perfection” of the humankind come to pass [1]. Nietzsche ridicules Strauss’ vision with a parody of domestic life; newspapers litter the study desk, wives and children whine in the corner, and Rohl plays music for the home [2]. Nietzsche devoted his life to helping us avoid that doomsday prophecy. I honestly think we should heed his warning.     

From what I see, Strauss tries to have his cake and eat it too. He rejects Christian doctrines of Heaven and miracles for a historical account of the Bible, adopts a naturalistic worldview, but insists on Christian morals. You can see the same hypocrisy among many thinkers, in the 19th century and today, Christian and atheist alike. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Strauss insists, but Nietzsche cites the theory of evolution to call the hypocrite to question [5]. Nietzsche seems to show some Social Darwinist strains, but he is largely right, simply stating the facts. I have an iPhone 10 because we did not treat people the way we wanted to have been treated.    

I notice a small detail but an important one. Strauss “likens the world to a machine, with its wheels, stapers, hammers, and ‘soothing oil’” without irony [3]. This strained metaphor instantly evokes Blake’s dark Satanic mills: “I suppose the world is called a mill, because it is turned about on the wheels of time, and grinds and crushes those that most admire it.” [4] Strauss describes samsara, in essence, and he wants to turn the wheel! The unthinking Strauss wants people to grind out their lives in a dull materialistic existence. I infer Nietzsche calls Strauss a Philistine for this reason, that Strauss has no deep interest in the truth or culture but twists them to promote his “world of the future”. At least Strauss should have had a vision noble, not base.

As for Hegel, you have good reason to ridicule him. He seems to have fancied the Prussian state as the highest reality humans have achieved in history. His myth looks bright on the surface but is really a negative totalitarian ideology. Who dares threaten the World Spirit from achieving her goal? The person who wants humankind to gain knowledge of everything and become perfect is a perverse person. If Hegel’s dream comes to pass, our adventure ends; we have exhausted all our potential; we can only become extinct. Nietzsche predicted the Europeans of his day would not reach absolute knowledge nor realize heaven on earth, but would fall into terrible darkness, which is what happened in the 20th century [6].   

Modern Education
Nietzsche’s critique of university education is relevant today.  He reminds me of Marx, who famously cried how every human relation in the modern world was reduced to callous cash payment. We still raise our children to “become something”. We say “doctor or lawyer” while the German two hundred years ago said “good citizen, professor, or statesman”. We cram a child with so much dry knowledge he ages before his time, becoming weary and cynical before he could ever explore the world for himself [7]. We educate a university student to specialize in one field so she can fill the right cubicle after she graduates. “Siloing” is as old as dirt.

Modern education is, in essence, propaganda. A child must “become something” so he can be useful for the state, and to that end we fill his head with “facts” that defend the state, military, and economy. You can even see in real time how today’s bosses and professors become old Prussians during an interview. If you want to be a lawyer, they expect you to have been studying law while in the womb, to strive your whole life to obtain one lowly stupid job, and do nothing else. You must always be “politically correct”; by that I do not mean being decent to racial minorities but never being eccentric or dangerous, in other words “appropriate”.   

Nietzsche presents his own unique plan on how to educate a person, to cultivate her into a “solar system” of sorts. Indeed he wants to train her in a wide and deep range of knowledge like a Renaissance Man, but direct it towards a genius, not to “becoming something”. Part of educating a person means discovering the “paraphysical laws” of her solar system. In other words, learning the full depths of a person [8]. As cool as Nietzsche’s plan sounds, you clearly cannot devote so much time for every person. Schoolteachers share my lament; they wish they could nurture every child in the classroom, attend to every need, but their crushing duties prevent them.   

Pitfalls of History
I most enjoyed reading the second essay, where Nietzsche talks about studying history and the nature of truth herself. Probably it is because Nietzsche laxes his polemic against a Germany that no longer exists to delve deeper in philosophy. He starts the second essay with its most striking idea, that it is important for humans to forget. History repeats herself; the more things change the more things stay the same, but if you know that you will never do anything. Yet people repeat history anyway, because we let our passions blind us, “through love and the shadow of love’s illusions”. But he who destroys illusions in himself and others is punished by the ultimate tyrant, Nature [9]. See Donatian Sade for more details.   

We humans did not have a history during most of our time on Earth. We lived “ahistorically”, much like in Nietzsche’s metaphor of the beast; he is a creature blind to the world but assured in himself and confident, precisely because Nature turns in a circle and he forgets each time the circle completes. It seems like we cannot make up our minds if beasts are to be pitied or envied [10]. But when we built civilizations, we slowly got this idea called progress, and created history once we drew time as a line not of a circle. Regardless, we live in the imperfect tense.

Nietzsche describes three ways we study history: monumental, critical, and antiquarian. We practice monumental history by creating fables of grand heroes fulfilling a great destiny. American history in children’s books is a fine example. When we write history this way, we can unite a country’s people to achieve a high goal in politics or culture, but we must lie by omission. We must smooth out inconsistencies in history [11]. We practice critical history by finding fault in a story, like what Howard Zinn does in A People’s History of the United States, something modern scholars today call “deconstruction”. But we can only destroy with critique, and if we don’t create new values to replace the old ones, we only sketch the bars of our prison.

Pedants practice antiquarian history, which we most often abuse by collecting so many “facts” without sorting them in a meaningful way. The modern scholar is overwhelmed with so much trivial knowledge he remains pinned to his armchair. Nietzsche describes the scholar of his time as this sort; he dallies with the different arts of the present and the different artifacts of the past. He forms a shallow opinion in line with the state, then the press distributes his wisdom to people who are not scholars as “facts” [12]. And Nietzsche loathes journalists for butchering language, but I do not have the space to show how journalists butcher language today.

I think Nietzsche makes his boldest claims about truth. Humans do not have beliefs because of what is true and false. Humans have beliefs because of what values they hold. And those values come from the primitive passions in the human heart. You cannot judge anything, let alone history, and claim to be objective, yet we must make judgments to decide how to act best [13]. I interpret this to mean we are caught in a catch 22. We even make the effort the gain more knowledge because we value the act of pursuing knowledge as a good thing.

Nietzsche insists we do three things, a “threefold must”, to solve the riddle. We must recognize modern consciousness itself as a part of history; we must examine science itself through the scientific method; and we must solve the problem of history [14]. Nietzsche, for his part, has his own way of viewing history. Rather than seeing history as a line of progress, he sees history as a mountain range, with peaks marked by people of great genius and achievement. The irony, it is a rather “ahistorical” view of history

The Aim of Culture
I find the third essay easier to discuss and summarize because Nietzsche has thoroughly depicted his world by the time you reach this point. I care little for the fourth essay where Nietzsche waxes lyrical over Wagner and, once more, pines on the arrogant man to revive Greek tragedy and unite the German people to create a higher culture. Wagner does neither, and a heartbroken Nietzsche attacks Wagner in disgust in his later work.

Nietzsche goes into greater detail attacking the scholar of his time, and contrasts that typical man with Schopenhauer, what you could call a “true philosopher” or a “man of genius”. The banker rules the modern world, and likewise the aim of modern life is to make money. As a baker makes pastries and a pharmacist withholds medicine from sick people, a professor in university guards a society’s culture as a gatekeeper to make a living. What we call “intellectuals” decide what values a society accepts and what values it does not.

A genius, however, must go against the grain to pursue his muse. He must, in a way, reject the culture of his fellows, and he must go against the history his fellows create. Nietzsche uses the metaphor of a fish swimming upstream. Humans in large groups become a kind of golem with a mind of its own, with a collective will so strong no one can stop it. You can reject the golem’s will, but it comes with many dangers. Nietzsche lists three: you may become so lonely you lose touch with reality, you may fall to despair knowing the truth, and you may harden your heart in jaded hatred, turning from an independent thinker to a stifled dogmatist [15]. No matter what, a genius will always be untimely and problematic.

Nietzsche finally arrives to his central thesis. We should not seek to merely preserve ourselves as animals do according to Darwin, and neither should we “become something” like the state wants. Rather, we should cultivate a great culture that lets genius flourish [16]. He does not only mean genius as a person of tremendous creative power but the whole culture should itself have a kind of genius. But Nietzsche is inconstant. If we achieve a culture that nurtures genius and a genius goes against her culture, then what happens?   

  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Untimely Meditations. Translated by Anthony Ludovici and Adrian Collins, Pantianos Classics, 1909. Pg. 86
  2. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 39
  3. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 45
  4. Hermannus, Hugo. Pia Desideria. 1624. Pg. 29
  5. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 26
  6. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 83
  7. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 119
  8. The Untimely Meditations. Pgs. 99 – 101
  9. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 76
  10. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 51
  11. The Untimely Meditations. Pgs. 58-59
  12. The Untimely Meditations. Pgs. 62-64
  13. The Untimely Meditations. Pgs. 71-73
  14. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 81
  15. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 103
  16. The Untimely Meditations. Pg. 123

The Birth of Tragedy – Nietzsche Review

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The Adventure Begins:
Once upon a time in a faraway land, two creative impulses, Apollo and Dionysus, merged together to birth Greek tragedy. Apollo came to the Greeks first, bearing them beautiful illusions to help them celebrate life in spite of all its suffering. Homer was Apollo’s champion, weaving a dream world of seductive images through his epic poetry. The Gods of Olympus embodied human life in all its forms, casting a glorious cheerful light.

But Apollo’s gift was an illusion; the god carefully guarded the boundaries that set individuals apart, and he punished the heroes of old for threatening the illusion with their excesses. Oedipus outwitted the Sphinx, and so was punished by fate for being too smart. Belaphron boasted of being equal to the gods, so Zeus swatted him from the sky as we swat swat flies, leaving him to die crippled and blind. Apollo put moderation and symmetry above all else to protect his elegant but fragile kingdom of dreams.

Dionysus later arrived to Greece from the east, and he brought to the Greeks ecstatic dithyrambs, tearing away the veil of everyday life to reveal a “Primal Oneness”. He revealed the truth this way, that all living things are different tones of the same singer, different twirls of the same dancer, returning everyone to the same lifeforce they came from. The Greeks first rejected Dionysus, which can be revealed in the Doric building they crafted with all their severe restraint, but later they accepted the god as one of their own. Only then could the Greeks create tragedy.

First, the Greeks invented a chorus of singing and dancing musicians, directly inspired from the folkish dithyrambs, and later built a stage with its actors and costumes. Aeschylus and Sophocles championed Dionysus through this new art form, Greek tragedy. Dionysus spoke through the chorus, drawing the audience into rapture, revealing them the truth in all its greatness and terror, while Apollo spoke through the actors on stage, redeeming the audience with a beautiful illusion.

Greek tragedy was indeed wondrous but it was too intense and volatile to last, declining as swiftly as it rose. Socrates destroyed tragedy by equating virtue with beauty and insisting that everything must be consciously understood through logic to be valid. The playwright Euripides brought Socrates’ lessons to the stage, shrinking the chorus to a minor role and having characters use logical argument to resolve the plot. Tragedy could not mix with the style of New Comedy, because the story of the tragic hero’s downfall was as amoral as Nature herself, and because music was the key to all the magic that made tragedy such a great art.

Thus spoke Nietzsche, beginning his mission with the sermon on the Greek mount.

On the Greeks:
Nietzsche undermined the ideal image of the ancient Greeks we held on to since forever. We thought the Greeks were a simple noble people; when a scholar said “Greek”, we imagined columned buildings balanced to perfection, we pictured a civilized man in a toga, we recalled Aesop’s fables and Aristotle’s maxims of moderation, and so on. But Nietzsche revealed these Greeks to be an illusion, and when we scratched the surface we saw a history of conflict. The wild satyr reared his head, and we reeled back in horror. We never saw the Greeks the same way again, but it was the smallest wound Nietzsche gave us when he struck his first blow against “Western tradition”.

Nietzsche also scrapped our old image of tragedy. Our classical views of Greek drama came from Aristotle, who said the Greeks underwent a catharsis when watching tragedy, and were morally purified through pity and terror. But Nietzsche rejects this view, since Aristotle saw art as a way to morally edify a person, which revealed his debt to Socrates and Plato. Nietzsche insists, again and again, that tragedy is aesthetic, like everything else he calls “true art”, making it something higher than a moral lesson.

Attack on Philosophy:
We modern people of “the West” wish to believe we are an Enlightened and liberal people, but we have our hang ups that make us short of the ideal, like everyone else. For instance, we cling to a chauvinist “Western Canon”; in fact, we imagine it whenever someone says “philosophy”. Even today does Dave Robinson, in Introducing Philosophy: A Graphic Guide, credit the Greeks for inventing philosophy, setting them apart from their older wiser parents, Egypt and Babylon. The Greeks, he claims, were the first people to explain life with reason and science, not religion, mystery, or tradition like their elders did [1].

Maybe he is right, but the Greeks paid a terrible price in creating philosophy. Nietzsche devotes the second half of the whole book explaining exactly what happened. What we call “philosophy” is really a history of science evolving over thousands of years, both the ways we solve problems with science and the general worldview science gives us. Socrates was no professor; the Messiah truly founded a religious movement, delivering the Greeks from their bondage under Apollo and Dionysus.

Dionysus gave the Greeks a gospel of pessimism. It is best not to be born, second best to die soon. Everything that comes into being must be prepared to meet a sorrowful end. We may try to gain as much knowledge and control of the world as we can but, like an expanding light in a dark room, the more light we shine the more darkness lies around the edge. You are nothing more than a brief flashing thought in infinite darkness. Do we curse the earth and gnash our teeth? No. Through tragedy, we gather round Life, joyfully dance with her. We little creatures will die but new vibrant species replaces us, and circle completes itself; eternal she will always endure, in ecstasy and tragedy at the same time [2].

Socrates gave the Greeks a gospel of optimism. By using rational thought and observing cause and effect, we can learn every secret of the world and human nature. Not only that, we can dare improve human nature through virtue and reason [3]. Nietzsche dubs Socrates the prototype of theoretical man, a person who postulates two logical theories: science and ethics. Only then, did we have what we call “philosophers”.

Do not take the two whores, those fair-faced hypocrites, lightly. Every philosopher tried to explain the nature of reality, then used his conclusions to mandate a code of conduct. In truth, the philosopher formed his passions and prejudices growing up in the right place at the right time, then abstracted them into theory. I said nothing new; we take this idea for granted, but we should not. If Alfred Whitehead is right, and all philosophers are footnotes to Plato, then the Western Canon is damned. Nearly every man in it fell for the same error.

Mother Right:
Nietzsche, when in his youth, was well acquainted with Johann Bachofen, the controversial author of Mother Right. Bachofen chronicled human history in several stages, when humankind grew from primitive “lunar” matriarchies, societies built from a mother’s unquestioned bond with her flesh and blood, to “solar” patriarchies, societies built from a male heir’s private property. Nietzsche was fascinated by Bachofen and paid him many visits during this time. The ancient Greeks in The Birth of Tragedy lived during the last moments of Bachofen’s “Dionysian” era, when the ancient feminine force finally died.

Do not assume Bachofen is some kind of feminist. Most scholars, especially women scholars, find Bachufen’s theory dubious and note he was no more progressive than a typical man of his day. In truth, Bachofen considers patriarchy superior to matriarchy, and believes the father conquering the mother was a positive step forward for the human race, thinking it properly established civilization.

Nietzsche takes a different view. He laments the death of Dionysus, clearly a woman in drag, and all tragic wisdom she held, as a terrible loss for humankind. The male philosopher, or theoretical man, replaced her, but none of his science or ethics could fill in the gap. Patriarchy was a regression. Nietzsche litters his book with images of mothers and children; the honest gaze of truth comes from the flashing eye of a goddess; Mothers of Being are the innermost core of things; the Primal Mother is eternally creative; the sublime Greeks are eternal children, and so on [4]. Nietzsche yearns for the Mother to return through the child Wagner in the third part of the book.

Nietzsche At the Crossroads:
Nietzsche dubs Socrates and Euripides the villains who killed Greek tragedy, at least that’s how we read it. But it would be better if we see Socrates and Euripides as antiheroes. Nietzsche, for all his fiery emotions, treats the two men in an ambiguous way. Socrates was a vortex who changed all human history; he made everyone into a fool; no one could endure his piercing eye; his confidence in philosophy was so strong he died by his principles. Eurpides had a great critical faculty and rich talent, and he remade Greek theater to resolve the many problems he saw in it [5].

I appreciate Nietzsche’s nuanced take on history, and it reveals something more profound. What if killing tragedy was, in a way, needed? What if it was all part of a larger story of human growth? We are a very young species; we could not believe in naive myths as a growing child cannot cling to its mother’s breast forever. We tried science and, though she served us faithfully, we are aware of the limits of reason. This how religion truly died. You see a similar tale in the history of master and slave morality; we live under a naive master morality at first, later critique it through slave morality only to find its limits. We now face a challenge unlike any before us and the stakes were never higher.

Where do we go? It is the biggest question I have when reading Nietzsche’s works, even when I read The Greek Music Drama. Nietzsche himself seems to have devoted his life to answering that question. We are not the pinnacle of life on earth but a bridge between the ape and… something higher, the strange controversial Ubermensch. Whatever that is, Nietzsche begins his life’s work by giving us the skinny of our human condition at the moment. We lost something very important and philosophy plagued us ever since. How do we get out of our rut? If we bring back tragedy with all her wisdom we have a chance to overcome our problems , to move beyond childhood and adolescence to become something higher than we think possible.

Self Critique:
Nietzsche even gives grief to modern scholars. He neglects to give careful citations to back up his claims, rhapsodies in excess at times, and makes cartoons of his villains. He simply refuses to tame his passions with the dull moderate tone grad students use in a master’s thesis. To this day, a Cambridge professor like Michael Tanner chastises Nietzsche for being sloppy with details. But Nietzsche does not care. He speaks of Sophocles or Socrates like he speaks of Apollo and Dionysus; he describes creative forces and archetypes, not real people [6]. Like Blake and Shakespeare, he enchants us with imagination and scorns shallow realism.

Nietzsche heaped more scorn on himself in An Attempt at Self-Criticism for two big reasons. First, he was still under the powerful sway of his fathers, Kant and Schopenhauer. You can see this in how Nietzsche compares Apollo and Dionysus to the phenomenal and noumenal world, and he describes how art as redeems us from the ceaseless torments of living. Most of all, he despises how his old views reveal influences from Plato and Christianity [6].

Second, Nietzsche is deeply embarrassed by the love he had for Wagner at the time. Now, he is so embarrassed with Wagner I can see him blush from over here. Nietzsche spends the third part of The Birth of Tragedy getting excited over Wagner; Greek tragedy will be reborn under Wagner and Germany’s culture will be great again! As we know by now, that did not happen. Nietzsche is so angry at himself he spends the very first pages of Untimely Meditations attacking the chauvinist Germans for thinking their culture was superior to to the culture of the French, but that is a story for another time.

And my own self-criticism: I dislike my article. I feel it is too dense, too dry, too academic. I am afraid no one will want to read it. Each time I write about “difficult” subjects like politics and philosophy, I sink into this habit of writing so dryly. I feel that I must write “well” if I want my articles to be “good quality”, and that pressure, which I impose on myself, is my bugbear. I write as badly as Michael Tanner does in the Introduction of my copy.

I should not write as if I am speaking to a nameless crowd, but write as if I am speaking to a person I know. I should write down my notes first, expand them, and only at the end write a summary of the book. I should write about my personal thoughts and feelings, what all of this means to me, because I read Nietzsche to improve my art. I should mark citations the very moment I copy my notes from paper to computer document so I will not become tedious. If only scholars wrote as poets do.

Works Cited:
1. Robinson, Dave, and Judy Groves. Introducing Philosophy: A Graphic Guide. Icon Books, 2007. Pgs. 6-7.

2. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy. Edited by Michael Tanner. Translated by Shaun Whiteside, Penguin, 1993. Pgs. 39, 46, 52.

3. The Birth of Tragedy. Pgs. 72-73

4. The Birth of Tragedy. Pgs. 53, 76, 80, 81

5. The Birth of Tragedy. Pgs. 73, 58, 59

6. The Birth of Tragedy. Introduction. Pgs. xxvii-xxviii

7. The Birth of Tragedy. Pgs. 8-9