The Birth of Tragedy – Nietzsche Review


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


Dr. Fabiszewski Answers Life’s Biggest Questions


MOLLY: It’s so good for you to be with us for this interview, Dr. Fabiszewski. So many students and young adults are trying to navigate the world during these dark and troubling times while so many extreme ideologues battle it out on media platforms to win as many souls as they can.

FABISZEWSKI: That is exactly what is happening today. So many different kinds of churches emerged over the last decade, each with their own scripture, congregation, logos, proselytizing, and attempts at converting people to their cause. The biggest examples that come to mind are media outlets: Brietbart, Infowars, the “skeptic” community on YouTube, The Young Turks, Jezebel, and Buzzfeed just to name a few. No church worships a god yet we haven’t seen so much persecution, partisanship, and religious fervor since the English Civil War.

Meanwhile, our professors at University have cloistered themselves in their ivory towers. They rarely use reason and education as an antidote to the toxic info-wars (as it were) outside. This forces drunk, stoned old satyrs like me to take the battle of the books to the street when I’d rather be fucking one of my freshman. When reason sleeps, monsters are born. Our professors hide in the classroom while bullies stand on the tub. Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee! But Milton is of the Devil’s party in Hell so poor old fools like me have to stand in his place.

MOLLY: Do you suggest that professors must take the pulpit and become preachers themselves?

FABISZEWSKI: Yes. It is inevitable, but they can still use reason and nuance to some extent to enlighten us all and not merely preach to the converted. Or they can be me: the gadfly who the nonexistent God attached to the State, always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. Kids out there can use my answers as a short guide to life; a down to earth manual free of academic jargon and twisted abstractions, or get triggered by it. I don’t care as you dance, laugh, and think about it.

MOLLY: So let’s get to it, Dr. Irasmus Dominico Gregorovic Alexander Fabiszewski’s Guide to Life! Let’s start with one of the biggest questions out there. Is there a God?

FABISZEWSKI: How the fuck is anyone supposed to know! Assuming gods do or don’t exist with such certainty is ludicrous. Atheists and theists are retarded; the debate is that pointless. This is one of the dumbest, most cliché questions out there so I’m glad to get it done over with. Hopefully none of my others answers will be as long as this.

The quests for spiritual answers are deeper than this, and there are different levels of being woke. The least woke position is thinking your dogma and scripture, word by word, is the only correct one and your soul goes to heaven after you die. The atheist version is taking life painfully literally, like believing there is only the physical universe, being “rational” will solve everything but everyone else is just too irrational and stupid, and only the so-called “hard” sciences matter. Ditch your Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and William Craig; they’re pleb tier garbage. Read Heraclitus, the Buddha, and Spinoza instead.

Every deeper view of the world is something like this: the universe is constantly changing through creation and destruction, new miracles and horrors begin and end all the time. The universe is awesome and awful, it’s all part of the greater package. You are part of that cycle, always growing and self-generating, you will one day return from whence you came and transform into something new. Life is best lived without expectations or submission to people who try to make you live your life as they want you to; it’s best to be surprised by joy and live doing what you love. The best understanding of God is being totally loved by someone and receiving that love with gratitude. Wow, C.S. Lewis was more woke than I thought.

MOLLY: Whew! That was a big one! You seemed to cover all the basics at once!

FABISZEWSKI: You bet I did, sweetheart!

MOLLY: So what about philosophy versus science? Which one is better?

FABISZEWSKI: Science is part of philosophy. Everything that uses the human brain and heart is part of philosophy in one way or another, and thus can’t be truly boxed in a narrow discipline or way or thinking.

MOLLY: Speaking of academics, is academia useful or a waste of time?

FABISZEWSKI: Depends on how you use it. Studying different academic ways of thinking is useful in learning how to critically think about the world around you and analyze it in a thorough and nuanced way. But reading books too often makes you near-sighted, both physically and mentally. I made this mistake when I was young. Your body needs to move, work, get knocked around a bit. Your body needs to touch and smell; it can’t do with just a mental image. You’re not a mind in a body, as much academic writing trains you to assume; you’re a body.

MOLLY: Are the so-called soft sciences and philosophy itself a waste of time? More right wing pundits seem to value only the so-called hard sciences.

FABISZEWSKI: Philosophy is fun, best done while dancing, laughing, and fucking. Get dirty. Right wing pundits are tedious, joyless boors, who can’t even realize that there are no “hard” sciences without “soft” sciences. The very distinction is ridiculous; pundits made it up only to demean and demonize something they’re scared of and don’t understand.

MOLLY: Nietzsche is one of your favorite philosophers. Can you tell us more about him?

FABISZEWSKI: Don’t quote Nietzsche or even try to live by him until you actually read him. I’m talking to you, edgy atheists!

MOLLY: Is it okay to punch Nazis and cops?

FABISZEWSKI: Yes, but be prepared for a long, violent, difficult fight. Mind viruses like fascism and racism are hard to cure. Nazis want to fight and they won’t rest until they get their asses kicked.

MOLLY: What is the meaning of life?

FABISZEWSKI: Forty-two. Duh.

MOLLY: What about the social justice politics that’s been going on recently? And the people for social justice and against it?

FABISZEWSKI: I’m all for social justice. The fact people are still as bigoted as they are today is why aliens don’t contact us. Our monkey brains can’t see past our made up factions, or even see how absurd morals and politics are most of the time. I’m a university professor who is always high, so of course I’m a degenerate-commie-pinko-Marxist-Leninist-Illuminati-reptoid-Jew-pedophile who brainwashes innocent children into thinking people who look weird or different to them are people too.

But I can’t applaud how progressives go about their social justice quest. Their politics are naïve and useless. Standing against thinks like cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions while standing for things like safe spaces is fine, but cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions are superficial manifestations of deeper problems, and can’t be solved by just “educating” liberal-minded people (which most Americans are) on how bigoted they are. When I was a student, we progressives went for the state’s jugular. We stood strong against the cops who enforced racist laws and turned the fire hose on black people. We forced sexist bosses and politicians to acknowledge women as human beings. The fact such direct, effective leftist politics has been so demonized in American culture by the right wing is proof the right wing have a big advantage. We are fighting by their rules when we shouldn’t.

And the worst part is so many progressive have such a defeating attitude. The far right, ironically, has the most slave morality (as Nietzsche would call it). Whether you’re talking about Neo Nazis, white nationalists, so-called Men’s Rights Activists, Pickup Artists etc. they’re philosophy is never “How can I be a winner?” but “Why am I a loser?” Progressives have the same bad habit. – All political factions do in fact as resentment and hatred over hurt and loss bring people together and are easy to exploit. – If progressives want to win they need to spend more time enacting solid plans that truly empower themselves and the people they’re fighting for. Our dear leader Donald Trump said, “I don’t like losers.” It’s the only thing I agree with him on. But that’s just me talking, a privileged white male shitlord who fought in politics before my students were born.

MOLLY: What would you tell any of your students who are alt right or against social justice?

FABISZEWSKI: Pepe memes are pleb tier. They’re neither original nor insightful, and are as common as dogshit in a park. As Walt graded Jesse in Breaking Bad, “Ridiculous! Apply yourself!” This is why you fail my classes.

MOLLY: Do we live in a simulation? You know, like in the Matrix?a

FABISZEWSKI: Probably, but who gives a fuck.

MOLLY: What do you like more, Star Wars or Star Trek?

FABISZEWSKI: Star Wars. It’s a silly fantasy for kids but Star Trek pretends to be serious sci-fi when it isn’t. Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov it ain’t!

MOLLY: Any advice to your students about sex and relationships?

FABISZEWSKI: Fuck to your heart’s context but don’t delude yourself into thinking you love someone. You’re too young and stupid to know what love is let alone share a mortgage with someone.

MOLLY: A lot of your students are New Age? Any words to them about that?

FABISZEWSKI: New Age is a bullshit fantasy. It sounds profound at first glance but the more you think about it the dumber it gets, like the racist fantasies of right wing blowhards. Being a badass in video games is a fantasy for little boys, being a badass in video games is a fantasy for men. Being a princess is a fantasy for little girls, being a Wiccan princess with goddess powers is a fantasy for women.

MOLLY: How many genders are there?

FABISZEWSKI: Only two. You conform to what society thinks you should be or you don’t and act as your own person.

MOLLY: What would you suggest to your students who want to become academics in the future?

FABISZEWSKI: Value humor, wit, and play. Stodgy idiots of all stripes devalue humor and satire as something superficial. They’re wrong and should die in a way that makes people laugh at them. Humor gives an extra dimension to experiencing life through irony. It redeems us of our proverbial original sin.

MOLLY: What TV shows would you recommend to children?

FABISZEWSKI: I have two daughters. I recommend them Hey Arthur while they’re young kids, Batman the Animated Series for when they’re older kids, Daria for when they’re teens, Rick and Morty for when they’re young adults, and Bojack Horseman for when they’re mature enough to understand life.

MOLLY: Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist?

FABISZEWSKI: Optimist. After two centuries of soggy and pretentious cynicism and angst, Renaissance and Enlightenment ideals should once more emerge. Personally, I take life in stride, admire power and strength in the creative sense, attract towards dynamic people and artworks that convey an ongoing process of growth and deepening, love to be around people who enlarge me and make me laugh. I do not neglect the dark and difficult sides of life, neither do any of the people I admire. I revel in the dark and difficult in life; it gives me strength and challenges to overcome, and I feel no greater joy than when I overcome terrible things.

MOLLY: Last question, who is the Ubermensch?

FABISZEWSKI: The Ubermensch is not a person. It is an achievement when a human being overcomes the cycles of fear, hatred, and resentment inherent in the human condition and lives fully and joyfully as a creative being. It’s like Nirvana except way cooler.

MOLLY: Thank you for your time, Mr. Fabiszewski. You’re wisdom is truly appreciated.

FABISZEWSKI: No, thank you. May the Force be with you, always.

Dr. Irasmus Dominico Gregorovic Alexander Fabiszewski is a revered and long-standing Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorodo-Boulder. An iconoclastic thinker, Dr. Fabiszewski eschews more academic approaches to philosophy in favor of direct real world learning experiences. His favorite philosophers are Socrates, Spinoza, Sade, and Nietzsche, with honorable mentions to Osho, Alan Watts, Deepak Chopra, and Terrance McKenna. He is the notorious instigator of marijuana festivals on campus, once forcing the University to close down for a week. His favorite hobbies include smoking marijuana, having orgies with his students, getting drunk, getting high on psychedelics, looting capitalist centers during riots, and annoying people in festivals and protests.

Molly Jane Wesley is a senior at the University of Colorodo-Boulder, Mastering in Philosophy and Fine Art. A long-standing colleague, favored student, and Assistant Professor to Dr. Fabiszewski, Molly has ambitions of starting a jewelry and arts and crafts business on Etsy and founding an alternative pharmacy of witchcraft and alternative medicine. Molly enjoys getting high on Miami Beach during vacations and starring in pro-sex feminist pornography.