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?
Perhaps others will recall, as I do, shouting out, sometimes successfully, words of encouragement in the midst of the perils and terrors of a dream: ‘It is a dream! I will dream on!’ – Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 16
The contrast between this genuine truth of nature and the cultural lie which pretends to be the only reality is like the contrast between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the entire world of phenomena; and just as tragedy, with its metaphysical solace, points to the eternal life of that core of being despite the constant destruction of the phenomenal world, the symbolism of the chorus of satyrs is in itself a metaphorical expression of that original relationship between thing-in-itself and phenomenon. The idyllic shepherd of modern man is merely a counterfeit of the sum of educated illusions which modern man takes to be nature; the Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature at full strength – and sees himself transformed by magic into a satyr. – Ibid., 41-2
I recently mentioned to you, Craig, that I think Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy ranks up there with Stanley Fish’s Surprised by Sin as one of the most important and elegant works of criticism.
What I meant is that it’s insuperable: once you entertain its thesis, you can’t ignore it. This is the case with Fish’s book. Try to teach Milton, and you can’t escape Fish’s description of our fallen love of Milton’s Satan as the poem’s central temptation, precisely designed to turn a critical lens back on ourselves as fallen readers of Milton.