In Nietzsche's 'The Birth of Tragedy', he addresses a specific problem: how to establish a German nation-state in the modern social and political environment. Nietzsche begins with the question of how to model a state in the modern period that is not liberal, but, at the same time, is not socialist. He appeals to ancient Greek culture for guidance. He imagines the possibility of a rebirth of Greek culture and politics within the German state. In some sense, he is trying to return to antiquity in an effort to return to a state of nature; that is, he wants to ground the state in nature and wants to return society to an authentic natural starting point.
Nietzsche uses art and politics to achieve the highest natural state. He views human tragedy as part of the calculus for achieving the ideal state which must also be factored into the development of society. Nietzsche is not suggesting that the ideal state is one of bliss. He recognizes that pain and suffering is part of achieving true balance and creativity in society.
Nietzsche begins by calling for a reconciliation of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, which can take place through the arts. He argues that the Apolline and the Dionysus are the two basic drives of living creatures. As humans, we have basic drives and are instinctual creatures. One side of our drive is the drive toward the Dionysus and the other side is the drive toward the Apolline. The Apolline can be defined as our desires, form, and limitations, while the Dionysus strives toward the limitless, breaking free from limitations.
Nietzsche seems to suggest that pain is central to our lives because we need to live with the reality of our limitedness and the fact that we will eventually die. We must realize our impotence in the fact that the world will go on without us. The reality of our mortality is a basic fact for Nietzsche, and he argues that people who do not realize that they will die are superficial and trite. In the end, however, he argues that happiness is found in a culture that combines the Apolline and the Dionysus.
[...] He points out that Greek society was a slave society and that the modern world has an element of that in it. He defines the characteristics of the modern world, with regard to the slave class and the under class, and further defines how the phenomena of oppression becomes a positive thing in the modern world. He states that the modern world has given itself new terms: fine words of seduction and pacification, such as ‘human dignity' and dignity of labor'” (Nietzsche 86). [...]
[...] Nietzsche defines the way in which the specific elements of tragedy get bastardized: “These stimulants are cool, paradoxical thoughts—in place of Apolline visions—and fiery affects—in place of Dionysiac ecstasies—and, what is more, thoughts and affects most realistically imitated, not ones which have been dipped in the ether of (Nietzsche 62). Here, he is talking about something like special effects. When he talks about cool paradoxical thoughts he is talking about a know-it-all narrative that wears its intelligence on its sleeve. [...]
[...] The reality of our mortality is a basic fact for Nietzsche, and he argues that people who do not realize that they will die are superficial and trite. In the end, however, he argues that happiness is found in a culture that combines the Apolline and the Dionysus. The framework of that unification begins with the Apolline. The Apolline represents architecture, structured path, and the shape of the human body, defined as being everywhere. We do not want to lose the boundaries of the Apolline because the Apolline represents ethical limitations and moral rules. [...]
[...] Music, originally, should have the effect of stimulating our fantasy, to create an Apollonian image of what we feel the music does to us, so we get these invisible sound waves. Nietzsche is saying here that imagination will translate the sound into a story. In this way, music gives birth to myth. On page 83, Nietzsche goes on to discuss fantasy. This “copying phenomena” of the Dionysus leads to arresting human fantasy through such superficial details. It is basically like propaganda. [...]
[...] Nietzsche argues that art is a crucial component of a good life. He goes so far as to say that art is what justifies our lives and might be what creates a model of political order. It is not a completely foreign idea to the common world. When Nietzsche refers to an aesthetic justification of life, he is referring to something that “both humiliates us and elevates (Nietzsche 32). Here lies the critical importance of human tragedy and mortality. Tragedy establishes humanness in the greater scheme of things and adds to the perspective that even an ideal society has limitations. [...]
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