14. Apollonian & Dionysian [SER]

Van Gogh Night Sky

Nietzsche’s first philosophical dissertation (The Birth of Tragedy), has been one of his least extolled works. In it, this homme de lettres reverts to Ancient Greece, and outlines what he believes became a key source of its theater plays’ eventual vicissitudes. The pinnacle of Nietzsche’s book was his introduction of the duality between the Apollonian and Dionysian. These modus vivendi are grounded upon two Greek gods; Apollo and Dionysus respectively. Nietzsche categorized the former as the rational, ordered and will-powered (hehe) psyche. On the other hand, the latter was categorized as the emotive, instinctive and sensual psyche.

Once these dichotomies were incorporated into the Greek form of art, most prominently theater, Nietzsche considered this to be the zenith of its form and genre. Nietzsche holds art in high esteem, deeming it to be a redemptive metaphysical act of human nature, in lieu of religion; which Nietzsche would later disparage in Beyond Good and Evil. De facto, he chiefly focuses on Greek Tragedy. Within these plays, a chief component is the chorus, which is represented by a consortium of individuals who narrate the action. It is this chorus, which also represents the Dionysian side, due to a loss of self-awareness, as it is responsible for removing our individualities, which come to define us. Omnipresently, metaphysical questions, such as the questioning of our mind and morality, is subtly addressed; represented by the Apollonian side. This synergy culminated in the highest form of art as Nietzsche put it; as the plays were able to present a myriad of otherwise unacceptable and frowned-upon truths and morals, in an appealing manner.

Once this “consolidation” of human nature has reached a stalemate however, the art synchronously degenerates in quality. He illustrates this through Euripides; whose plays shifted from Greek tragedies to plays centering around the “Everyman”. As the name suggests, these plays would involve dramatic reinterpretations of cyclical, daily occurrences. Since the audience could relate to the protagonist, they could pass moral judgment onto his actions. Euripidies’ plays were also minutely organized and structured, unlike the archaic and often tumultuous Greek tragedies. These plays hinged too much on the Apollonian side, failing to bring us the aforesaid appealing metaphysical truths and morals.

His anachronistic concepts have transcended other fields of study as well, ranging from the humanities to language. In politics for example, Nietzsche cited that societies which are too contingent on the Dionysian side, often result in barbarian and violent societies, whilst those too contingent on the Apollonian side are too licit and structured. However, when these dichotomies are unified, Nietzsche asserts that a buoyant society will be at hand. Similarly, within the last century, Western society has become too rigid, due to its radical and inflexible governmental laws; which is becoming increasingly devoid of a Dionysian nature.

Let Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian constellations serve as a requiem for duality in our lives and society in general.

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