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On Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy with Andrew Mitchell

Andrew J. Mitchell is professor of philosophy at Emory University. He has appeared on Entitled Opinions in the past, and he is back today to discuss Nietzsche's “The Birth of Tragedy” with our host, Professor Robert Harrison.  Songs in this episode: “Echo” by Glass Wave “Tenerè” by Agricantus Image: a scene from the Franco-Prussian War

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This is KZSU Sanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison,
and we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
[ Music ]
The year is 1869 and a 24-year-old doctoral student
at the University of Leibsick on the basis of a strong letter of recommendation
from his advisor, receives an offer of a chair in classical philology
at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Thanks to that offer, he's granted a doctoral degree
without writing a dissertation.
How good is good?
One year later, he is promoted to full professor at Basel University.
That same year, 1870, the Franco-Prussian War breaks out.
He enlists on the German side,
and while serving on the front, he writes an essay called
"The Dionysian World View," which was never published.
Two years later, he published the Birth of Tragedy.
Nietzsche was 27 years old,
and that book essentially aborted his academic career.
Stay tuned, a show on the Birth of Tragedy coming up.
[ Music ]
I was specially pleased to be joined today by Andrew J. Mitchell,
whom I hold in as high esteem as any philosopher
who has not yet passed over to the other side.
Andrew Mitchell was a frequent guest on entitled opinions in the early years
when he was a teaching fellow here at Stanford.
Today, he is professor of philosophy at Emory University,
who works on post-Kantian German philosophy
with a focus on aesthetics and metaphysics.
He's a prodigious translator, as well as the author of two major books on Heidegger,
but we'll save that discussion for another time
when we get Andrew back to talk about his splendid book,
"The Four Fold," reading "The Late Heidegger."
Andrew, by my calculation,
it's been 12 years since our last confession,
it's great to have you back on entitled opinions.
Wow, if that's true, it means I've aged.
I don't like confronting that fact.
Yeah, thanks for having me. It's great to be back.
You and your co-translator, Sean Kirkland,
have just retranslated the birth of tragedy in English
for volume one of the complete works of Nietzsche.
The complete works of Frederick Nietzsche, exact title.
It's a multivolium critical scholarly edition,
which Stanford University Press has finally,
after a lot of delay started to bring out in English.
The complete works of Nietzsche is a very entangled affair I gather,
both here and in Europe, and we don't want to get bogged down
in editorial history, but can you tell us which early writings
of Nietzsche are contained in the two volumes that you and Sean
are translating?
Yeah, thanks.
Well, it has all of his early writings from 1870 through 1873-74.
This includes the birth of tragedy,
sort of the centerpiece, but all of the essays leading up to that.
Two public lectures he gave in Basel on the Greek music drama
or Socrates and tragedy.
It has the Dionysian worldview essay,
which is where he first introduces the figure of Dionysus
into his thinking.
It has a book he wrote,
somewhat under the prompting of Wagner called on the future
of our educational institutions,
but then he decided not to publish.
It has five practices to five unwritten books,
which is sort of a Boredation kind of compilation of
crevices that includes Homer's contest,
the famous essay people might know.
It has his book philosophy and the tragic age of the Greeks,
and it has the essay on truth and lies in an extra moral sense.
That's a lesson.
That's a lesson.
There's 500 pages of notes supporting all these.
That's a lot of text and some really crucial ones there.
It's so long as we're able to do it.
It's a dream come true.
I can imagine.
Before we talk about the birth of tragedy,
I have never read the essay about the Dionysian worldview.
Is that interesting as a prelude to the birth of tragedy?
It's amazing.
I mean, one of the things you learn from reading these early essays
is the genesis of the thinking of birth of tragedy
and most people think of birth of tragedy as in a sense about the
Epologian Dionysian distinction,
but Nietzsche's early thinking of the Greeks wasn't about that at all.
The first essay we have, or the first lecture is from 1870,
the Greek music drama, and even the name, the signals that this is
the Wagnerian music drama associated with Wagner.
And he's looking at tragedy as an example of Wagnerian music
The second public lecture has the criticisms that Socrates
were familiar with to a certain extent.
But then, as you said, after the outbreak of the war,
Dionysian worldview gives us a rethinking of the whole Greek
milieu with the introduction of Dionysus as this figure of excess,
or of what he calls the "vernal drive," the "fruillings tree,"
the spring desire for coupling and mating, and so forth.
And that's where we first get this antagonistic opposition,
or this cooperation, antagonistic cooperation of the
Dionysian and the Apollonian, that becomes the centerpiece of the
birth of tragedy.
I'm curious about his experience in the Franco-Prussian war,
where he enlisted in the nursing service because he actually becomes a
Swiss citizen in order to teach at Basel University.
So he couldn't actually enlist as a, you know, for a combat.
And he experienced some horrors there seeing mutilated
bodies, he describes these in letters, and he's really looked at,
you know, the horrible in a very direct way.
I'm wondering, does that have something to do with his writing about
Dionysus at the front, you know, where he speaks in the birth of tragedy
about Dionysus is also a god of horror in many ways, no?
It's shocking to see his life playing out the same logic of the
He writes about the horrors of the battle of Wurz,
yeah, just briefly on the Franco-Prussian war, this was a battle where
Bismarck sort of provoked the French into attacking the Germans.
There wasn't a Germany at the time, it was a collection of
principalities of Prussia being the largest mutdominant in
Bismarck was there.
And he leaked sort of an insult against a French diplomat and made sure it
was promulgated in the press.
And this led the French with, you know, roughly goes to proclaim war,
and that allowed Bismarck to unify Germany.
That led to the unification of Germany, the siege around Paris led to the collapse of
the government there in the formation of the Paris Communion.
So it's a significant historical event.
And Nietzsche writes, he was serving as a kind of field medic,
driving, transporting, ailing combatants to hospitals.
And he writes to his mother about the horrors that he's seeing.
And there's a passage where he writes that it's so much,
it's so overwhelming that he's throwing himself into his academic
plans for the coming year where he's going to be teaching Greek rhetoric or Greek
meter and rhythm.
And so we even have the notebook that he kept at that time.
And you could see a facsimile of it on the
And you could see there's notes about Dionysus and the Greek things.
And then suddenly it breaks into some rhythmic considerations of Greek poetry.
It's fascinating.
So he's seeking this kind of alkalonian buffer against this tangent excess.
It's even the French introduced a new kind of rifle in that battle.
I forget what it was called, Chasseur or something.
And he would pick up the spent shells of his French rifle and send it to his friends and his mother as a souvenir from the field.
In that whole process he contracted a renewal, what did they call it?
He had dysentery and a kind of...
So he was explosive from two directions.
I think he might have had some medical complaints before that.
But I think this event was sort of the beginning of his lifelong troubles at a biological medical level.
Yeah. Did he also contract syphilis during that war?
Then I'm not sure of or cancer.
All right.
Well, but he had enough going on without it.
He had enough.
So there's also this French...
France-Germany dynamic.
That we really should talk about because it's something there also in the birth of tragedy, I believe,
where this sort of tribute to Wagner, the sort of idolization of the spirit of German music and the resurrection of the German spirit as it were.
And France representing very much the counter power and the more established power in Europe at the time.
To what extent is there German nationalism at work in Nietzsche's birth of tragedy, which he would then quickly repudiate later?
Yeah, in a few years.
It's 100% German nationalist, I would say, in very much anti-French.
So the French were the cultural elite, they dominated cultural discussion.
The Germans ate French manner.
This is all...
Everyone was like in the court of the sun came, you know, trying to comply and conform to French dictates French custom French French fashion and styles,
of obvious reason. But that kept the German submerged and without sort of a voice of their own.
And so we like to think of Nietzsche as the good European, as he says, but he was not very much a good European at this time.
He was anti-French, anti-Italian, anti-romance, in a sense, Roman language, romance culture, and pro-German.
And this is throughout the book and explicitly in the last third of the book.
Even the critique of Europeities, which we'll get into, Europeities was the favored classical trigidian of Racine,
Racine the court trigidian of, you know, in 14th.
And the attack on, if you're any Racine play, you read as a professor where he extols how great Europeities is.
So even the critique of Europeities is kind of a slap in the face of French culture.
Right. Well, that's great.
Well, we'll get into these issues maybe a little further work ahead of ourselves, because here, as I mentioned,
this guy, 24 years old, gets his perlative letter of recommendation by Richard, as he was his dissertation advisor.
And he gets his amazing offer, and he's supposed to be the wonder philologist, and he has not published very much at all,
just a couple of essays, I think, in Richard's journal.
And then, you know, in 1872 comes out with this book on Greek tragedy, where he is now.
And he wants everyone who was expecting him to establish, you know, these kind of superlative credentials that he had on the basis of which he received that offer.
And instead, he publishes a book which is by any measure, a rather, what could I say, it's dismissive of the very discipline of classical philology,
as the German academia had understood it up until then, it's a very bizarre first book to publish for someone in his position, would you agree?
Absolutely. I mean, you have to understand what philology is. I mean, it's sort of the history of the study of the history of languages and grammatical changes, a philologist would look at papiry and do source work and try to do it.
So, source work and try to speculate about, or maybe not speculate, but sort of sketch out where a missing papyrus has a variant of a text that makes it into a subsequent one, or how Greek grammar or has changed, how dipthongs emerge or the dicama, and then they disappear.
It's the epitome of the dustiest, most scholarly, high-bound kind of work you could possibly do in the academy.
It makes like grammatic grammar look sexy, it's dry, and there's a kind of humility about it in that, but there's also huge egos at stake, because there's a unquestioned authority in German 19th century academic life that goes with it.
So, expectations were for more of this sort of addition work and careful meticulous scholarship. Nice exactly what you don't get in the birth of tragedy, right?
There's no footnotes in the book for one. Worse, he never cites anything in ancient Greek, but with the notebooks I'll show that he's working with ancient Greek terms and so forth at this time, but the book has no evidence of that.
Section 1 starts with a long quotation from Wagner's Meister Singer, is in it. He quotes, I think the person most quoted in the book is Drutta, and then second most after that Wagner, which isn't common for a philological work in the 19th century or any other.
It would be like if I were an ancient Egyptologist and my book comes out and I'm citing Kanye West talking about having sex with the Pharaoh, or I talked about baking, camel bread, the grain that supposedly from Egyptian tombs, or even worse than that.
But rumors that the first bakers of this grain, how they used to think about the world or something. The books were insane.
It's what he counts as source material for his claims or what he counts as evidence for his claims is nothing that would ever stand a academic test.
He's talking about rumors in ancient Greece about this or that, or he talks about in his dreams he's had this experience and everyone would agree that you can realize your dreaming and cry out I want to dream on, and then he uses that as the basis for conclusions that he draws from it.
It's anything but scholarly.
Basically, it's a book that could have been written by someone who was not a classicist at all, perhaps, right? Or that going too far back.
No, I think that's right. I think Avon Mary, you have to be a particular Wagnerian to write anything.
And then he offers some translations that are also bewildering.
Yeah, he uses published translations when he cites things, which isn't, you know, if you're trying to show how great of a biologist you are up and coming, you probably want to cite this material in the original, or if you're going to even
be able to write a translation to give a translation, have it be your own that was very close to the original, to be literal, and we have something completely different.
It's just whatever published popular translation happens to be at hand. He's citing.
He has the Greek text in his personal library. We have an index of everything he had in the library, but he cites popular translations sometimes that are rather paraphrastic.
Yeah. Well, so two questions. Did he do this out of a sense of your responsibility that he was so enraptured with Wagner and his budding friendship with Wagner, and that he just got swept away with this type of romanticism in his soul?
And he just neglected, or was he trying to really make a statement to the profession or to whoever that he had no intention to become a typical of a philologist of that sort?
Yeah, they're not exclusive. It's both. He's trying to make an argument that can't be proved or is about the unprovable in some sense.
And he's not shy about it.
So let's talk a little bit about the argument now, Andrew, because for all its defects as a work of philology, the birth of tragedy is a major work for classes I'm still today and way beyond the profession of the classics.
So there is some kind of explosive insight that the book brings out, especially in the context of 19th century, idealization of the Greeks as all about order and measure and beauty and restraint and that whole kind of good thing and vision.
And so what are the contributions it makes that have assured that this book is still being read and will continue to be read?
But even though he doesn't provide a lot of evidence for his arguments, his arguments seem to have some kind of solid basis in the Greek experience.
Well, the Greeks have stood for a kind of formalism. You know, as you mentioned, Gerta, this kind of vinewire classicism is all about form, self-control, containment, transparency, self-knowledge.
Gerta's, if it's in the end, and towers, for example, he re-writes the European play, and every character speaks perfectly their mind, totally clearly and transparently, it brings tears to your eyes to just to see how genuine someone can be, that they know fully who they are, what they want to say, and they say it elegantly.
It's perfectly contained, formerly beautiful. That's exactly what Nietzsche explodes in the birth of the tragedy.
The emphasis is on excess, the irrational, what interrupts and destroys the form.
Right, form is just one side of the equation. In fact, a derivative one, a reaction against the formless, seething undercurrent of the Dionysian.
And this notion of the Dionysian is, in a sense, the key here.
How much of his concept of the Dion, of the God Dionysus, as the God of excess, of intoxication, of primordial unity, even pre-formal, you know, oneness of being.
How much of his concept of Dionysus is indebted to Schopenhauer, whose loom's large in the birth of tragedy, obviously.
And his thesis about the world as will and representation, where I mean, I think it's too easy to say, "Well, yeah, there are Dionysus stands for the will and Apollo for the world of representation or measure and form and so forth."
The third one, a truth to that. Yeah, Schopenhauer modulated through Wagner. And so the metaphysics of the book, what he calls the artist's metaphysics, is sort of taken from Schopenhauer's notion of the will, but translated into what he calls life.
Yeah, and so life becomes the matter of, well, dispersal and recuperation. There's individuals all around, we're all individual, and everything individual, everything dies.
And that death is horrible and hard to bear, right? This is the selenian wisdom that best is not to have been born. Second best to die young. I say third best to smoke.
But the horror of confronting that idea of your own death or the meaning of life, that's part of life for him. So when we die, we return to that natural unity.
And so the dispersal and the individuals and then nature recuperates that. So he's thinking of this expansion and contraction of nature or this dispersal and recuperation of the many and the one as a dynamic that we don't need to fear.
The key to tragedy for him or the purpose of tragedy for him is, in a sense, a consoling one. It provides solace for life because we see that even in this death of the individual, we return to a prior whole and that this punctuated, would a syncopation of life is to be celebrated.
Nothing is, in a sense, lost. It's reclaimed and it makes its way back to its home in nature. And this is exactly what he ultimately comes to reject later as he makes clear on the preface of the book.
Yeah, that preface being written what 14 years later, I don't know how many. Yeah, or 16, 14.
The idea is really that tragedy shows the individual hero and the chorus as the chorus functions as a communal group and ready to experience the hero as individual, but then that individual hero ultimately dies.
It suffers a downfall and that's the collapse of the individual in particular. And so tragedy is like a celebration of the syncopation of nature and that provides solace.
When you say it's a celebration, is that maybe going too far given that the subtitle of the book is Hellenism and Pessimism and that he's maybe suggesting that we can affirm life despite the horrors that it entails and despite all the endless misery and suffering that life is all about that.
Without celebrating it, you can actually affirm it as something that must be born. And yet at the same time, it's not a reason to turn against it, nihilistically, or in some sense.
It's not even a search for consolation for the suffering of life, but trying to find what is most alive within the experience of suffering itself.
I think that's true and I think everything you said is true and that's what we want it to be except for it is explicitly presented as a consolation and solace.
So everything else about the affirmation of life, we'll carry that forward, but thinking that there was something that needed to be corrected in the first part is in the first place is what he rejects.
So in the first part of the book, I mean, I think the book really gets underway around section That's when he kind of all the fluff that begins, I don't know, fluff is that, but it's somehow he gets to the core of his understanding not only of Greek tragedy but of the rise of socratic philosophy in those sections, let's say, between a seven and 15.16.
Okay, so we have the Dionysian Apollonian dialectic and we don't have to rehearse that. I think most people are familiar with Dionysus and Apollo.
We have the role that music plays as the origin of tragedy where it would have been like the chorus and this chorus.
As far as I understand Nietzsche, it's not that there was a performance originally, but that the whole community, a small village community, they would all be dancing, swaying and be under the spell of the God.
I mean, the presence of the God of Dionysus may be the spring thing where you get a kind of group intoxication and Nietzsche suggests that out of that spirit of dancing music would emerge almost magically some kind of the hero.
That hero would be sacrificed at the downfall, as you mentioned, and that it was all a kind of somewhat psychedelic experience in the earth.
It was a part of the Lord really.
It was a part of the sense.
He compares it to St. Bydes, dancers, and pandemics of this sort of dancing with Tarentella, all of this sort of thing.
But yeah, the Dionysian is a kind of formlessness versus the individuation of the Apollonian form.
Music is lauded as this non-representational art par excellence, and it's contrasted with the image making arts and the image making arts are definite and have lines that you know, supposed to color out of and so forth, and that's on the side of Apollo and sculpture as well, highly articulated things.
Whereas music is non-representational music is the universal of which images can only ever be one particular example or representation.
He thinks this in with regards to Wagner and the opera Tristan in his old like section 19 and 20, if I were about.
He says, "Could anyone ever stand with stand hearing X-3 of Wagner's Tristan with no imagery? It would overwhelm you. It would change you in one of the early drafts of it."
He says, "It would change my notion of the human if someone were able to endure this amazing music without the images."
So the Dionysian needs that Apollonian image or needs that language in order to express how it's beyond that language or beyond that image.
And he sees music as being that beyond in a way, music operating through dissonance or in a non-rational way, and what he hates most is when music tries to be representational and they're kind of one-to-one basis.
What's called tone-hane, where the music hates the sound of what's happening in the action or something like that.
That's the worst. That's subordinating this sovereign non-representational art to serve a particular, individuated purpose.
And what about dancing, Andrew, because we have here Dionysus who's associated with the satyrs, who were these goat men, and he says that to consider them subhuman is wrong.
They are more than human because they combine the human with nature, the vitality of nature, and the satyrs are also dancers.
So I think that dancing as the enlisting of the body into the spirit of music is as important as the music itself.
The other side of the criticism would be the criticism of the spectator. And I think you could oppose the dancer to the spectator on just this point.
The satyrs are interesting because he says that they exist outside civilization on the periphery of it, always there in some sense.
And this is what opera sort of tried to return to. It's not accidental that he talks about opera in the book because opera from an outset envisioned itself as a retrieval of ancient Greek tragedy.
The Unimor, the Florentine, the Camarata, the 16th century, the Florentine, the Fórada, where they devised opera, I think in a rose where the leader of the group that's got Bardey had heard so much.
I read so much about how great tragedies were. And then, you know, about the amazing effect they had on the audience. And then he read one and thought, "What's the big deal? I must be missing something."
And it must be that these work red texts, they were rather sung or performed. And so that led to the invention of what we call recitate for song speech, where, you know, the dialogue in an opera sort of half-song, half-spoken.
And they thought that must have been what made opera work. And so what Nietzsche says is that these Italian inventors of the opera imagined the primordial human as this singing figure. You know, you find this in Rousseau or in hereder, that language arose out of song.
And so that's not, Vico, that's not, Vico is the first one to have that perception. Absolutely. And but all of this he sees as kind of a bogus idealization of and creation of some presumible idyllic past.
So that original singing figure has nothing in common with the Savior. The the Seder was reveling in the the Dionysian dissolution of boundaries versus the sort of comfortable bourgeois kind of singing imagined the dialect singing figures of Italian opera.
He sees them as that those Italian operas are the presume ancient source is a dyllic in a way that's not naively a dyllic as a counter-poed to a Christian disposal of the body or dismissal of the body just as there's like an original sin for Christian.
This is just the counter-foil to that and they both remain locked in that same duality that the Seder is already outside of. Yeah. Yeah, you know, my own very problematic relation to opera is I have to say that I just have an allergy to it. I just can't in in jurid for me. It's always at a pitch of hysteria.
The fact that it's based on this misunderstanding basically in misreading of Aristotle's poetics where they read the poetics and they thought that Aristotle was saying that both the chorus and the actors parts were sung. And as you say it's a form opera becomes a form of entertainment and a form of comfort.
Whereas the Seder and the reveling that is a very different scene. I think it's triapic and it's dangerous and it is why a Wagner doesn't refer to his work as opera but always struggles to find the name.
It calls them theatrical stage festival plays or something. Is it always seeking a name other than opera? Right. The musical drama is here.
Exactly. Well, good. So we have we've covered a good deal about the Dionysian and the Apollonian in that relation.
The other major insight I think we get in the birth of tragedy is how this relates to the rise of its chronic philosophy.
And the figure of Socrates emerges here as almost a co-equal along with Dionysus and Apollo.
And it's almost like another god that comes on the scene in Greece but very antagonistic to his tragic counterparts.
Yeah. I mean the first third of the book you could say the opposition is Dionysus and Apollo. This formlessness and form dissolution and individuation.
But then he says historically the opposition changes no longer Dionysus and Apollo but Dionysus Socrates.
Yeah. So he is supposedly on par with that. And the how he understands Socrates is as a kind of rationalist who wants an explanation for everything.
And he allies Socrates and Euripides. So in Greek tragedy we have Escholus with the Orstae, you have Sophocles with the Theban plays and then you have Euripides.
The genre of determination start to break down with him. Some things are more like melodrama with him. There's not an explosive tragic thing.
For Nietzsche it's the introduction of rationalism into tragedy that undermines everything good about it.
That there was something perplexing or inconceivable in Escholus and Sophocles. The characters aren't fully formed or they act in ways that aren't maybe 100% predictable.
He says that all of the figures of Escholle and Sophocles and tragedy have a common scale on them. They're not clearly defined. They sort of trail off in a way.
And that is what drove Euripides crazy. Nietzsche says. I mean there's no way to know this. This is sort of the kind of object of the text.
It's not it's beyond ad hominum argument. It's like creating this character and making him do things and putting thoughts in his head and then criticizing those.
So Euripides sits in the theater and realizes he can't understand his forebears and sets about trying to make things concrete and specified.
So you have the deus ex machina that comes at the end of the play. Or at the start of the play a god will come out or hair a cleat will come out and tell you what's going to happen.
So that like what's a kibosh in any kind of dramatic suspense. It's not about dramatic suspense because I've just been told what's going to happen.
At the end of the play like in Euripides is a barista. I think it's there's a one guy has his a knife at the throat of a lecturer. Other people are fighting and then suddenly a god appears and says enough.
You two you're going to be married. So he drops the knife and they oh how nice you know and you two you're actually brothers and what have you and everything gets resolved sort of on the spot and it's tidy.
And that tidiness is like this intellectual tidiness this need for the logically controllable that he sees emerging with Socrates and it goes on and it's utterly opposed to down the agenda and access in a way that Apollo never was Apollo was seen as kind of negotiation with it or an admission of it.
Apollo needs Dionysus in the way Dionysus needs Apollo right because Apollo is also a container of Dionysus now. Yeah, yeah exactly and it allows Dionysus to show itself through the excess of it.
As with Socrates and Euripides this idea becomes more insulated and just caught up in its own involutions it's a snake chasing its tail he says it doesn't recognize any outside beyond its own logical domination.
So is what you say because you're using Euripides and Socrates almost interchangeably which is neat what Nietzsche does so is it fair to say that for Nietzsche you're if it is rationalized tragedy is that would that be yeah.
That that would be the socratic part of him that he, but you know to rationalize tragedy is to indeed completely betray the very essence of tragedy as need to understood it which is the forces of the irrational that are in constant contest with the Apollonian power of restraint and.
The subordination of everyone to fate even the gods have to bow to fate and fate isn't rational or something you can work out on a piece of paper with formulas or equations, they demands what it demands and you suffer what it dictates.
So on the one hand, Nietzsche's understanding of Socrates or Socrates in the birth of tragedy is as a.
The symptom of the decline of Greek culture of the high point of Greek culture because it no longer has the inner strength to affirm life in the face of the horrors and.
And meaninglessness and absurdity of life and that it's a kind of retreat and therefore it's already indicating decadence certain kind of.
That's all that excludes that horror in advance it does because it overcome it like the Apollonian did it just excluded and avoided to then pretend it's not there yeah.
He sees Socrates I mean the his vision of Socrates in this book because it's different and like a twilight of the idols later is you know the idea that.
We only make errors or we we do wrong out of ignorance and if we knew better we would always do the right thing so it's always intellectual it's always at the cognitive level that he sees Socrates as the champion of intellectual cognition of self knowledge in the most sort of banal sense.
At the same time Socrates he has a.
This paradoxical admiration at this for Socrates too because he knows that Socrates cannot be reduced to just that one characterization because because of socratic irony and I.
I feel that Nietzsche understood that the irony of Socrates was a certain kind of creative retrieval or inheritance of the tragic irony of the dramatists that Socrates had too much self awareness to not know that the attempt to rationalize as he was doing was not doomed to some kind of ultimate failure that that the irrational was always going to win out in the end despite.
The most heroic efforts of the philosopher.
Yeah he talks about how on his deathbed as depicted in the Fado Socrates started here his day one say to him in a Socrates make music and he started trying to you know make up for his sins against dire nicest by trying to make music.
But the music that he made was setting some of his up spables to to music and the fable is a pretty.
In fact, it has a moral rather than it has a more really did that it's nice yeah and and Nietzsche says that his Socrates allegiance was to the fable certainly not to the tragic.
Yeah yeah he praises him in a sense for inventing the novel he thinks that the the socratic dialogue leads to the formation of kind of novel with with dialogue and characters etc so that's maybe the.
Well you know I did a show on the symposium with Andrea night and get our colleague and friend you know well and there I remember you know we discussed how at the end of the symposium Socrates there drinking as much as everyone.
Elsebiah he says crash the party and he is like the figure of Dionysus he's he has a high V and he comes in drunk and.
Everything becomes disolute and their Socrates even though he drinks as much as everyone else can maintain perfect sobriety and the it ends with him so much the words for him.
Yeah so much more but he he's there you know having a debate with both.
Agathon the tragic poet and Aristotle is the comic poet and getting them to agree that a really good poet can write.
A comedy as well as a tragedy and in a certain sense that's what Plato has done in the symposium where it's very it's all very hilarious when you think that they're having a highfalutin disc discourses about what is the essence of air us and when you get to that top of the ladder of this ideal.
And then alcebiah he's breaks in and it becomes almost like a you know a dissolute orgy and at the same time it's tragic because alcebiah is was a student of Socrates and Socrates whole vocation is out of being a teacher and here you have alcebiah who who just doesn't get it you know because he just.
gets it wrong so there is a certain tragic dimension to the figure of Socrates and also a comic dimension so this is the brilliance of Plato is it rather than repudiate he kind of recuperates and transforms the legacies of.
Both comedy and tragedy in the dialogue form that he uses here.
There's a lot more to talk at least than what Nietzsche says in the book the tragedy for sure right right exactly so Andrew that the third part of the book and and and probably the one that I find maybe the least.
compelling for me is the whole Wagnerian.
Exaltation and the way that he reads into Wagner's music some kind of revival of Greek tragedy and it's in its original essence yeah what do you make of that.
No I actually love it but it is a change it's written in a different register I would say then the first portions of the book it reads a little different it might have been added at the request of Wagner or at least after a visit he had to Wagner's.
But it's it's hard to know exactly but there the idea is that you know we had originally this tragedy ancient tragedy with that nicest in Apollo that corrupts and gets rationalized with the
European activities and Socrates that becomes the dominant theme of Alexanderian culture, new addict comedy and all these others genres arise from that with stock characters and so forth things become far more formal.
And this all is lauded by romance culture you know the Italian rebirth of opera and French cultural dominance is all of the piece with this we spoke about that and their presuppositions about the deal of humanity.
And he wants Germany to come out from under the thumb of the French and he sees Wagner as the one to do this who is offering us a.
A German art and he also praises Luther and for the reformation that which goes against you know the dominance of Rome so for even calls Luther's core old music.
A Dionysian mating call which I don't think anyone is ever presumed before and also seems to have a little place in a work of reported philology I would say.
Wagner is supposed to lead the German nation into refashioning itself and taking a guiding role in national existence it's supposed to become a nation against it's to cut the leading strings that the French have put on on the Germans it's he sees the agenda of the German state, if you will, to be exactly that of.
And there's character Siegfried who has to who was raised by a dwarf meme under false pretexts and has to break with that dwarf to go slay the dragon, fuffner etc etc etc.
And he just takes that as almost literally what Germany has to do he compares the dwarf to the French the Germans have to do that in order to to find themselves and to announce themselves on the on the world stage.
Wagner is very much trying to create a new form of the human his ideas of opera this notion of the gazam
is not just about let's make sure all of them we have to you know a soundtrack and some video playing while we do this.
And also about the very institution that houses the the opera where these performances happen has to be part of it they have to be open to everyone they have to have free admission.
The Greek sale that this because they had slaves slaves couldn't participate we have a chance to create a more universal art form than the Greeks ever had.
And then that institution of the theater that permits this is to become the model for all the other institutions of the state of the government where it's that the artists world will become dominant and lead politics.
There's something a political in Dionysus almost explicitly so politics requires you know individuals that can organize and arrange and mandate and so forth Dionysus interrupts and dissolves individuals Dionysus is very a political this is what they're not succeeded about the Nietzsche.
They they loved like people like formula they love the world to power stuff and the need to expand that that's all good.
But when it comes to Dionysus that's some weird idiosyncratic religious belief of Nietzsche the man not the thinker Dionysus and eternal recurrence needs to be thrown out it's just an aberration and this poor guy fell into let's get back to will the power you know there's a.
A political side of Dionysus that plays here but Nietzsche himself is using it for a nationalist purpose and one that's explicitly anti French.
So do you think he gets Wagner right and if if yes then what do you do with his later claims that that he got he got it all wrong.
He does beyond Wagner I think he's so an emred of Wagner and he says that he wanted to write a book that would show the world.
Grant criticism his his hell in his own yeah and that people weren't aware of this and he wanted to be like an advertisement for for Wagner.
He gets Wagner right and he's trying you know Wagner rights this essay in 184849.
And he talks about Dionysus and Apollo and he talks about as well as Sophocles and and Euripides and that's where we have this notion of the gazamcoons there the total work of art.
And so Nietzsche sort of taking suggestions from that essay that Wagner didn't necessarily carry out fully and showing back to him how his opera is like Tristan and his older and so forth have done that work and gone further so he's like.
He goes further than Wagner did but trying to do it in a Wagnerian vein.
He's unfortunately a little more than a lackey he's a creative thinker of his own right and that shows itself you know and so Wagner's telling him you know he's off on the stuff that's moving away from my views and trying to double down a bit more on selling my my points.
I mean he was literally running errands for Wagner Wagner had some kind of gastrointestinal problems we don't have to go into but suffice it to say he had to wear silk underwear.
And so there's lots of stories of Wagner sending each on errands to order for him from certain tailors and pick up and deliver for him silk underwear which is hard to take anything but a really a big way.
And the fact that the stories that were made for 150 years is kind of sad and probably on his tombstone something.
Don't forget the underwear.
But I think at a certain point that that wore on him and the nationalism and just sort of the petty egoism got to him.
No man is a hero of two of his ballet and Nietzsche was truly working as his ballet in a certain regard and he saw the petty egoism of Wagner and the nationalism wears on him.
And the anti-Semitism wore on him I have to.
Maybe you know one of the interesting things looking at the drafts is back in 1870 when he gave those public lectures on Greek music drama and Socrates and tragedy.
The Socrates and tragedy one ends with he's has some diatribe against the contemporary press.
And this is all part of this period of his thinking it's one of the benton laws is the contemporary press which is putting jargon into the language it's not a caretaker of the language people aren't learning German properly they get all these foreign words etc etc.
And journalism is responsible and so at the end there's a there's a diatribe against the contemporary press but if you look at the earlier drafts it said the Jewish press.
And close to my Wagner writes a note he sends these texts to Wagner as you know as a reading copy for their approval everything he writes at this time he sends to treatment or to the place in Lucerne to for their reading he gives them as Christmas presents to close to my.
And so I think just as in the birth of tragedy there's an unspoken attack on Christianity right the logging of Greek religion as being life affirming there's an implicit demonciation.
There's an implicit demonciation of Christianity is life denying so to is there perhaps a kind of implicit anti semitism I think.
Subcratic rationality becomes associated with.
Which again later he over comes all that and.
The case against Wagner Nietzsche Kontra Wagner all that stuff is very interesting but since we're getting at the end can I just ask to conclude and what it was like for you to retranslate the birth of tragedy you and I both really admire Walter Kaufmann as.
An amazing translator of Nietzsche we all own.
So much there but what was it what was it like for you to go back to the original German and put it into your own English.
Yeah it's completely eye opening.
There's so many translations already worth the tragedy it's.
You know why why do we need another one I hope our translator notes make it case but even more than that the actual translation.
When I hear Nietzsche in my head I sort of hear compliments Nietzsche that's the tone is perfect for me and the tone if you get the tone right whenever in felicity is appear in the translation that they get the benefit of the doubt.
But the problem is that the tone that he uses is the tone of the maturity chat of genealogy morals you know beyond good and evil.
He makes this early work or he tries to make this early work sound more like those later works and I think that's kind of a failing because.
I mean the book is written in this long variance style a very elaborate but wrote sentences that go on for like 12 lines and part of the the Nietzsche the complete works of me just Stanford series is to remain faithful to the the form of the text so we couldn't break sentences into two or.
In most cases for to make them you know easy to read we maintain all of the clauses even down to trying to retain his use of commas to see this kind of frenetic.
Way he's thinking of these just long additive sentences and then so this this this this this this.
You know Kaufman.
He polishes that in a way it's it's too smooth and you sort of get what you need to know about it is this.
Foot no day as which is probably my favorite favorite footnote from a translator it comes with like section 15 where he says the book should have ended here.
What what what translator just says on everything else is garbage at this point right I mean that's.
It's a bit of an imposition on the part of the translator and we should think maybe I'm not getting a fair account.
The guys just overtly stating this so getting back into his use of language the rhythm of the text was what was.
Striking it's there's a way in which it almost seems when he talks about the Apple Indian the sentences are more articulated.
Whereas when he's talking about the Dionysian there's more of a run to to the passages you know it's written completely differently than the other books.
It's it still has this shadow of maybe the acted a little bit of academic treat is but it's a thing Wagner's manner.
Margaret the figures much better at it and each of soon abandoned it thankfully but.
There's passages where he breaks out you know where and these are the moments where you can't imagine any philologist doing anything but throwing the book against the wall where he's saying friends put on the.
Crown of Ivy with me and don't be surprised if leopards and tigers lay at your feet as we go join the rebel as the chariot of Dionysus drape with flowers comes by and so forth it's.
It's insane well I read you know I reread the birth of tragedy or translation you did a great job and I you know we're looking forward to it to his publication when will it come out event do you have any idea.
I would think next year next year excellent so we'll look forward to that and I'm also looking forward to having you back soon and drew to talk about.
Your book the forefold or reading the late high digger which is really astonishingly.
In insightful well revelatory book and I hope that you will join us to.
Prove the depths of what you've covered in that book okay absolutely absolutely.
And so I remind our listeners we've been speaking with professor Andrew Mitchell who teaches philosophy at Emory University and we're going to have him back very soon I hope take care Andrew thanks for joining us.
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