Nietzsche contra Joel

You quoted Nietzsche, but I’ll quote you:

What’s disturbing about this thesis is the collapsing of the one into the other: every act of criticism, every act of reading which acknowledges the fiction yet keeps on reading – like men in theatre – would thus be the genealogical symptom of the very original, very lost rites of Dionysus. Nietzsche makes it hard not to keep coming back to Nietzsche.

So I have a question: is the critic one who follows Apollo, or is the critic Socrates? There’s a huge difference for Nietzsche. The Apollonian dimension is still an artistic force, something which is integrally tied to the Dionysian in art. But Socrates is a theoretician who moves beyond art completely, to the idea given in art without the need for its experience. Apollo still leads the audience to dream; Socrates would live in complete wakefulness. So when you talk about “every act of criticism, every act of reading,” are you speaking as Apollo or Socrates?

One way to approach this is to ask whether The Birth of Tragedy really is a “reading” of Greek drama at all, or, to put it another way: is there really anything practical here that “practical criticism” could use? What Nietzsche seems to admire about Greek tragedy, and what he wants reborn in Wagner, is an art that avoids the Socratic failure. The critic is something to be overcome. And I’d even say that his later dissatisfaction with the book is precisely is “critical” character: it isn’t performative in the way that his later writings are. Or, to use our terms, it isn’t really practical enough because it leaves us with ideas about art, not a challenge to make new art/ideas.

But Nietzsche doesn’t want us to come back to him. Only Socrates wants followers. The problem with The Birth of Tragedy is that it leaves the reader in that kind of bind. His ideal readers, of course, are those who will move beyond him and create something new. Thus, Wagner is Nietzsche’s hero here because he is (so Nietzsche thinks) learning the Greek lesson but making it new, making it German.

My concern is whether The Birth of Tragedy leaves any room for the critic at all that isn’t in the end Socratic. Even philosophy for Nietzsche has to be artistic, which means both destructive and creative. Socrates and critics are reactive. So is there any room for a “practical” criticism? Or is it instead true that if you buy Nietzsche’s thesis about the Apollonian and Dionysian, then the only authentic options are to engage in art itself, whether as completely suspended-in-disbelief-Dionysian or in creator Apollonian form? Wouldn’t any critic, no matter how practical and engaged, be opposed to both the letter and spirit of whatever art he loves to talk about?



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