Reading notes on Nietzsche selection in Goldblatt and Brown.
Oct. 6, 2009
[slightly revised from March, 32009 version]
Nietzsche has an unusual approach to aesthetics.
Unlike Plato, Kant, and even Hegel, Nietzsche
sees humans as essentially sensuous beings, and is not critical of that aspect of ourselves.
Hegel, he pays particular attention to history and tends to see history in terms of dialectic, that is,
in terms of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
Like Hegel, he is also interested in forwarding the
science of aesthetics, although it would be a stretch to think of his method as truly science-like.
Unlike any previous philosopher, he defines art in terms of a duality. That is, art is not just one
thing, it is two things interacting with each other. (However, his duality could be seen as similar
to that we have seen between the beautiful and the sublime in Burke and Kant.)
the ancient Greeks, whom he had studied extensively as a philologist (he was Professor of
Philology at the University of Basel, Switzerland), he named the two basic elements in fine art
after two Greek Gods, Apollo and Dionysus (also spelled Dionysos).
He sees this duality in
terms of dialectic:
the Apollonian and the Dionysiac sides alternate between conflict and
reconciliation, somewhat like a typical good marriage.
He prefers understanding art in terms of
these symbols rather than in terms of concepts.
Like Sibley, he does not think that such concepts
as “art” can be defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions.
Still, he does think
something valuable can be said about art’s essence and about what makes great art great.
Nietzsche speaks of Dionysus and Apollo as art-sponsoring deities.
This is not exactly the way
the ancient Greeks saw them, but he realizes this, and I do not think that that matters very much.
He believes that Apollo represents the plastic arts:
i.e. painting, sculpture, and perhaps
Dionysus, by contrast, represents the art of music. (We will see later that this does
not include the Apollonian musical art, which focuses on calming music and the cithara.)
However, instead of seeing the Apollonian and the Dionysian in terms of the Greek gods it might
be better to see them as creative tendencies or powers that are essentially physiological.
main theme of this essay is that, although the two art tendencies were in dialectical conflict they
eventually came together in ancient Greek tragedy, which Nietzsche believed was the highest
form of art in ancient times.
He also thought that the music of Wagner was the highest form of
art in his own time, and that it represented a rebirth of ancient Greek tragedy. Nietzsche was a
close friend of Wagner’s and was a leading figure in the Wagnerian cultural movement that was
sweeping the German-speaking world at that time.
Nietzsche goes on to understand these art tendencies as associated with dream and intoxication.