Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Spirit of Music: Nietzsche's Irresolvable Conflict

"We have art to save us from ourselves from the truth."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Abstract: Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy through the Spirit of Music outlines the relationship between the “image-maker or sculptor” art of Apollo and “imageless art of music” of Dionysus, both gods of music. Nietzsche argues that both of these gods represent forces in nature that are in open conflict in Greek Tragedy both energizing the art form and leading to its destruction. Nietzsche explains how this irresolvable conflict creates a void that gives way to Socratic aestheticism.

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche criticizes classicist nostalgia for Greek culture, stating, "Greek tragedy perished differently from all the other, older sister-arts: it died by suicide, as a result of the irresolvable conflict, which is to say tragically."1 He argues that Greek tragedy is not simply in perfect harmony with the "unity of man with nature" as described by Schiller as "naive."2 Nietzsche states that the Greeks' view of the "image-maker or sculptor and the imageless art of music" is reflected by their respective deities of art, Apollo and Dionysus.3 He contends that the duality of these drives works in open conflict to produce Greek tragedy and the spirit of music. Nietzsche argues the conflict causes Greek tragedy to destroy itself, giving way to the reflection and reason for which the Enlightenment reveres the Greeks as "noble, simple, elegant and grandiose!”4

Reality and Illusion: Conflict of the Will

Nietzsche argues the view of Greek art as "naive" exemplifies the prevalence of the Apollonian's dominance before tragedy. The Apollonian dream gave meaning and significance to the lives of the Greeks with illusion. Tragedy gives them the ability to imagine themselves as "restored natural geniuses."5 Nietzsche theorizes that the chorus in tragedy was originally always satyrs, or goat-men. Through this dream, "the illusion of culture was wiped away by the primordial image of man," linking the Apollonian dream with Dionysian instincts.6The Apollonian dream is an illusion of individualism, capable of "greatness, always of significance." The Dionysian is an intoxication and a re-immersion into a common organic whole. The Dionysian impulse leads to the collapse of the Apollonian principium individuationis, joining the group's affirmation of the meaning of their existence.7

Martha Nussbaum argues that "the energies that Nietzsche associates with Dionysus reveal to the spectator" cause individuals to forget themselves "through a process of sympathetic identification with the hero - the 'horror or absurdity of existence.' For the hero embodies in his person the inexorable clash between human aspirations and their natural/divine limits: his demand for justice in an unjust universe entails terrible suffering.8 Greek tragedy energized the Dionysian celebration of the reality of pleasure and pain in human existence and the Apollonian illusion provided a protective spirit. Together, the forces of the two gods form the spirit of music, which is "a direct copy of the Will itself."9A balance between the two artistic drives of nature create "artistic jubilee" and "the destruction of the principle of individuation" becomes an "artistic phenomenon."10 However, Nietzsche argues that the Greeks' human condition is anything but simple optimism. Becoming entirely absorbed in either force leads to the destruction of the other, bringing about tragedy's death.

Schopenhauer's Pessimism: The Struggle Between Will and Representation

Martha Nussbaum argues that Schopenhauer's concept of the will is not "intelligent" because it "exercises neither perception nor thought." The will is not "artistic: because it neither "makes things up nor transforms itself." The will is not "aware of itself as being at all or other beings as the distinct beings they are."11Schopenhauer denounces willing as suffering and considers art a way to "lose ourselves" in the object.12 Nussbaum argues that "Tragedy, in Schopenhauer's view, is an especially valuable art form because, in addition to nourishing the aesthetic attitude, as do all forms of art, it reminds us, by its content, of the many motives we have for turning toward art, and away from the will."13 Nussbaum argues that "Schopenhauerian pessimism" concludes that "nature as a whole" is "infected" with "guilt" and "delusions" and that the "experience of spectatorship" exemplifies detachment from will that gives us "new motives to reject and blame life as both evil and false."14

Nietzsche on the other hand sees music's Dionysian embodiment of the will to be essential to tragedy's energy because the suffering of nature and the will are inescapable. Nietzsche's criticism of Schopenhauer's arguments apply to the problem that "The magic of these struggles is such, that he who sees them must also take part in them!"15 Nussbaum says "Nietzsche's view is, then, not the simple inversion of Schopenhauer's" because he agrees with Schopenhauer's belief that an "honest gaze" discovers the world's "arbitrariness and absence of any intrinsic meaning" but he disagrees about the "consequences of this discovery for humanity's view of itself."16 Schopenhauer's human being "becomes nauseated with life, and with himself for having lived a delusion." While Nietzsche's human being, noticing the same things, "is filled with Dionysian joy and pride in his own artistry." Without intrinsic order, Nietzsche argues how wonderful it must be that man could invent "stories," "schemes," and "dances" through "the artistic possibilities of man" without "a designing god."17

The Loss of Myth in Music

Schopenhauer argues we understand music, the language of the Will, directly, and feel our fantasy stimulated to create an analogous example that will give shape and body to this spirit-world which speaks to us and which, although invisible, is so full of movement and life. Nietzsche argues that the Dionysian impulse is best realized in music, which has no clear boundaries, unstable and is non-representation. It is immersion in wholeness of nature, intoxication, non-rationality, and inhumanity. Its frenzied participation in life itself copies the will. As lyrics imitate music Nietzsche asks, "'As what does music appear in the mirror of imagery and concepts?' It appears as Will, understood in Schopenhauer's sense, which is to say, in opposition to the aesthetic, purely contemplative, will-less mood." Nietzsche says however that "music, by its essence cannot possibly be Will, because as such it would have to be banished entirely from the realm of art - for Will is that which is inherently un-aesthetic - but it appears as Will."18

Nietzsche's interpretation of the Apollonian is directly influenced by Schopenhauer's principium individuationis (principle of individuation). Man separates himself from undifferentiated immediacy of nature. The detached, rational representation of Apollo creates the myth of order in the world. Like sculpture has clear and definite boundaries and seeks to represent a reality that is perfectly stable, which is a myth. The eternal appearance of the Apollonian artistic potential emerges as music "stimulates us to contemplate symbolically Dionysiac universality, and it causes the symbolic image to emerge with the highest degree of significance."

The lyric provides the illusion of Apollo's refinement, sobriety and emphasis on superficial appearance that gives birth to myth.19 Nietzsche says that "only the spirit of music allows us to understand why we feel joy at the destruction of the individual." He uses this argument to illustrate the eternal phenomenon of Dionysiac art, which expresses the omnipotent Will behind the principal individuationis, as it were, life going on eternally beyond all appearance and despite all destruction.
However, an imbalance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian causes mystic participation in art and myth to be lost.20 When the Apollonian dream represses Dionysian realities, the harmony between the two wills is lost. The Apollonian illusion of a perfectible self leads spectators to become detached from the experience of the tragedy, causing it to become art instead of ritual. Greek tragedy reduced the prevalence of the chorus and the reflective nature of Euripides' human drama emerged.

Socrates' emphasis on rationality eliminated the value of myth, suffering, and instincts to human knowledge. Unmediated imitation of nature no longer is possible when the deities represent two art-worlds that "differ in their deepest essence and highest goals."21The emptiness left behind in the absence of tragedy causes a turn to "tragic resignation and a need for art."22

An Honest Gaze at Aesthetics and the Need for Art
Nussbaum says that Nietzsche argues "it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."23 Nietzsche argues that Dionysian music can exist on its own while it tolerates the Apollonian images and myths. Nietzsche says "lyric poetry is dependent on the spirit of music… music itself in its absolute sovereignty does not need the image and the concept, but merely endures them as accompaniments."24 However, these images and myths are important in satisfying the "need for art" because "without myth every culture loses the healthy natural power of its creativity" because "Myth alone saves all the powers of the imagination and of the Apollonian dream from their aimless wanderings…"25

"The myth protects us from the music, just as, on the hand, it provides music with its highest freedom."26 Nietzsche argues that the function of the tragic myth is to distract us from the music, so that the music can express its metaphysical essence with a freedom that would otherwise overpower us, not affect us.27 The role of music, in Birth of Tragedy, is uniquely endowed with the capacity to frustrate both those who argue that Nietzsche values art for providing illusions and those who view Nietzsche as praising art for its capacity to disclose profound truths.28

Music emerges, in the eyes of Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche, as the one direct way in which we can possess authentic experience of these universal realities; in a sense, music comes directly to us out of the fundamental realities of the universe. Tejera goes as far to argue that "it is only in the Dionysan mysteries, in the psychology of the Dionysan state, that the basic fact of the Hellenic instinct finds expression, its will to 'life.'"29
The Rise of Reason: Socratic Aestheticism
Classicism's nostalgia for "Greek serenity," Nietzsche argues, may exaggerate "the cheerfulness of the theoretical man."30 He asserts that tragedy exhibits the Greeks' struggle with pessimism. Dionysian forces give the Greek spectator a healthy, direct experience of human suffering and reality while the Apollonian provides the audience with the protective spirit-of-tragedy dream. Nietzsche says these natural forces which manifest in "music and tragic myth are equally an expression of a people that are inseparable from each other." Nietzsche argues this shows how Greek tragedy addressed the human needs of Greek society and was not simply "naive" expression.31 Nietzsche reminds readers that the shared world of the two gods required a struggle between two wills even when they were balanced symbolically. While tragedy is an art that is completive of existence, "immersion in the sheer beauty of appearance" challenged by "pain and contradiction in life."32

In tragedy's death, "what is tested, then, is the very Apollionian clarity that obstructs access to the Dionysian vision of the world and to the joy of beautiful appearances."33 Benjamin Bennett argues that "tragedy is art intensified to the point where it must display and affirm precisely that truth which it is the nature of art, from primitive myth on, to conceal.34 As the chorus gives way to dialogue, myth eventually gives way to Socratic aestheticism, recognizing the conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian. Martinus Nijhoff outlines the problem of the connection between the two forces:
Out of this synthesis, Nietzsche was quick to see, of the epic with the lyric, of the visual with the musical, of the chorus with the protagonist, was born the dramatic dithyramb which we call Greek Tragedy. And tragedy, Nietzsche has massively implied, is the art-form in which our painful consciousness of existential insignificance-- the ground of pessimism-- is overcome, reflectively and satisfactorily. In this art-form, man is projected as fusible with the primal, self-reflective artist-begetter of the world as a whole. Nietzsche is saying that it is of the essence of art both to get at what is primordial and be self-reflective while, also, reaffirming the significance of the human.35
Socratic aestheticism finishes the imbalance between the Apollonian and Dionysian forces and collapses under pessimism because it can no longer affirmed by "metaphysical consolation." Nietzsche argues that the "metaphysical illusion is an instinct which belongs inseparably to science, and leads it to its limits time after time, at which point it mud transform itself into art; which is actually, given this mechanism, what it has been aiming at all along."36

Conclusion: The Tragedy of Synthesis
"For where art is concerned, that despotic logician now and then had the feeling of a gap, of an emptiness, of a partial reproach, of a duty he had perhaps neglected. As he explains to his friends in prison, one and the same dream apparition often came to him, always with the same words, “Socrates, practice music!” 

-Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

The struggle between Apollo and Dionysus symbolically represents the needs that art fulfills for an audience, a connection to myth and a connection to truth. In the naïve spirit of Greek Tragedy, philosophers purport that this struggle was once a synthesis of the two ideals that energized a collective chorus. Nietzsche’s analysis of the Schopenhauer’s Will and its place in art, however, provokes the question of whether the Greeks were dealing with their own pessimism about truth, art, and the society that surrounded them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Germantown celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month year-round

Originally published on and WHYY Newsworks

As the city honors its history of jazz music this month, Germantown’s jazz schedule looks no different than usual. Jazz Appreciation Month highlights what Germantown appreciates every month and even every week.