Friedrich Nietzsche: Art, Conflict, and Morality
68 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Many European thinkers idealized the ancient Greeks as virtuous models of a rational, dignified, and harmonious way of life, one they very much wished to emulate and create anew in the Modern world. In contrast, with The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche painted an ancient world of dynamic contrasts: a constant struggle between forces of order and formal understanding (represented by the Greek god Apollo) and forces for frenzy and chaos (represented by the Greek god Dionysus). The Apollonian characteristics so admired by Nietzsche’s contemporaries were only possible through a process of grasping, harnessing, and struggling anew with Dionsyian powers. More than a mere intervention in a dispute about ancient Greece, The Birth of Tragedy held out implications for everything from the potential of Art to give meaning to life to the possibility for a new understanding of philosophy that remains relevant, provocative, and controversial to this day. The Birth of Tragedy marked the moment when Friedrich Nietzsche ceased to be a traditional scholar, left the academy, and took up his sweeping philosophical project. Rejecting the modern tendency to bring scientific methods to philosophical reasoning, Nietzsche began a new career as the preeminent critic of stable, transcendent truth, challenging the very roots of Western morality, politics, and aesthetics. What can The Birth of Tragedy tell us about cultural expression, morality, truth, and thought? What can a recovery and re-experience of Athenian tragic art mean in this, the disenchanted, technocratic 21st century?
In this course, we’ll explore these and related questions through a close reading of The Birth of Tragedy as well as extracts from other works of the early Nietzsche, principally “On Truth and Lying in an Extramoral Sense” and Untimely Meditations—examining Nietzsche’s reconceptualization of philosophical method and his parallel articulation of his audacious new theory of ancient Greek tragedy. At the same time, we’ll make our own return to the Greeks, especially to the Dionysos of Euripides’ Bacchae and the Sokrates of Plato and Aristophanes. Why, for Nietzsche, was the Socratic turn to rationality and method an enfeeblement of human experience—the first step on the ineluctable philosophical path to nihilism? How does our encounter with Dionysos and Apollo reconfigure our own relation to past, present, and future? How do art and philosophy contrast, and which brings us mostly closely in touch with the essence of being human? How do Nietzsche’s “suffering Greeks” provide the basis for a critique of contemporary culture?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
May 30 — June 20, 2019