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Apollo and Dionysus: Gods of Art and Will

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    In Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, he introduces two principles with which he drives his discourse on the nature of art: the Apollonian dream, and the Dionysian intoxication. He states his purpose in writing the book, saying that “we will have achieved much for scientific study of aesthetics when we come, not merely to a logical understanding, but also to the certain and immediate apprehension of the fact that the further development of art is bound up with the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian” (BOT, 11).

    While the two Greek principles are a means through which Nietzsche creates a specific aesthetic of art, in later books, specifically Beyond Good and Evil and On The Genealogy of Morals, these principles subtly involve themselves in Nietzsche’s discussion on the will. In the intersection of the Apollonian dream and the Dionysian intoxication, there exists both the truest development of art, and the truest development of the will. The crux of Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy is that art is created in the intersection of two principles that he calls the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Those drives combined create the truest art.

    Nietzsche believes that Greek society mastered those principles, and that they characterized those principles in the god Apollo and the god Dionysus. Whether or not Nietzsche is successful in connecting Greek mythology to these principles, the principles themselves are relatable through the human experience. He says that “In order to bring those two drives closer to us, let us think of them first as the separate artistic worlds of dream and of intoxication, physiological phenomena between which we can observe an opposition corresponding to the one between the Apollonian and the Dionysian” (BOT, 11).

    Nietzsche begins by describing the Apollonian principle through the analogy of the dream. He says that “we enjoy dreams with an immediate understanding; every shape speaks to us; nothing is indifferent and unnecessary. ” Dreams, while being realities in themselves, nevertheless carry “the thoroughly unpleasant sense of their illusory quality. ” In dreams, man plays out “the entire ‘divine comedy’ of life, including the Inferno —all this moves past him, not just like a shadow play — for he lives and suffers in the midst of these scenes — and yet also not without that fleeting sense of illusion” (BOT, 12).

    In dreams, the truth that is presented is accepted with certainty and “immediate understanding,” such that they serve as spaces to explore truth that lies outside of rational thought. Dreams are, however, by their nature mere appearances and cannot carry the same weight that experiences in waking reality can. In his attempt to connect this dream principle to the god Apollo, Nietzsche takes this characteristic of the dream, the certainty of truth and the “immediate understanding” of it, and applies it to Apollo.

    Nietzsche describes Apollo as the god of “the higher truth, the perfection of this condition in contrast to the sketchy understanding of our daily reality. ” Apollo represents the dreaming state, that is a “deep consciousness of a healing and helping nature in sleep and dreaming, is at the same time the symbolic analogy to the capacity to prophesy the truth, as well as to art in general, through which life is made possible and worth living” (BOT, 12). The shadowy metaphors of dreams prophesy truth—their intangible tendrils stretch out to grasp the bits of truth that rational thought cannot.

    Yet, although the dream-state allows the dreamer to explore truth beyond conscious thought, dream-state thinking is contained within the boundaries of the dream itself. Nietzsche says that there exists a “delicate line which the dream image may not cross so that it does not work its effect pathologically—otherwise the illusion would deceive us as a crude reality. ” If the truth of the dream presses into reality, it’s pristine certainty and immediacy is lost.

    Thus, the dream-state involves both liberation in its capacity to grasp distant truth, and also restraint in its being bound up in the dream itself. It is a seemingly paradoxical concept, but can be understood in that even in “the most intense life of this dream reality,” (BOT, 11) where the dreamer is liberated to explore truth that only metaphor can reveal, he may still write the experience off as a dream and nothing more. The dreamer cannot be carried away by the illusion and assume that the dream is reality.

    Nietzsche applies this same idea of restraint in the dream-state to the character of the god Apollo. He says, concerning the line of restraint, that the same “line must not be absent from the image of Apollo, that boundary of moderation, that freedom from more ecstatic excitement, that fully wise calm of the god of images” (BOT, 12). This is an interesting point that Nietzsche makes. Not only does he describe Apollo as the god of restraint, in the paradox of dream-state liberation and restraint, but he furthers the understanding of this restraint by involving the idea of excitement.

    Although the dream-state is a space for the fantastic to thrive, its illusory quality prevents the fantastic images experienced in a dream from translating into tangible excitement. Fantastic things are to be expected in dreams, and an image experienced in the dream-state cannot carry the same excitement as the same image experienced in waking reality. Because the dream is something created by the dreamer himself, being inside the dream is an experience of unadulterated individuality. To describe the individuality of the dream, Nietzsche utilizes the metaphor of Schopenhauer’s principium individuatonis [principle of individuation. He quotes Schopenhauer’s metaphor, saying how “on the stormy sea which extends without limit on all sides, howling mountainous waves rise up and sink and a sailor sits in a row boat, trusting the weak craft, so, in the midst of a world of torments, the solitary man sits peacefully, supported by and trusting in the principium individuatonis [principle of individuation]” (BOT, 12). This principle is simply the development of the individual from the general. In the calm understanding of the illusory dream-state, the dreamer separates himself from the chaos of waking reality. In the dreamscape, the dreamer is completely independent.

    His experience is influenced by only his dream consciousness, which, while influenced by his past experience involving others, is completely original and independent in its process of creating the dream. Thus, in Schopenhauer’s metaphor, the outside world can be understood as the stormy sea—an immense, powerful collective that can greatly influence, even engulf, the individual. And the boat can be understood as the dream-state, which, while bound by the dimensions of the boat itself, still creates a space where the dreamer is safe from being swept up in the collective influence of the outside world.

    Within the boundaries of the boat, the individual can calmly experience their own individuality. Thus far, Nietzsche has described the Apollonian dream-state as a contained escape. In the dreamscape, truth might be grasped through understanding of metaphor, but it is ultimately undermined by its illusory quality. Although the dreamscape is a space of infinite possibility, the tangible effects of dreams are very finite in that they are contained within the dream itself. Nietzsche takes these characteristics, and whether successfully or unsuccessfully, molds the character of the god Apollo to mbody those characteristics. Nietzsche describes Apollo as the god of calm and structured understanding, and of restraint in that understanding of illusion. He says that “in fact, we could say of Apollo that the imperturbable trust in that principle [of individuation] and the calm sitting still of the man caught up in it attained its loftiest expression in him, and we may even designate Apollo himself as the marvelous divine image of the principium individuatonis, from whose gestures and gaze all the joy and wisdom of “illusion,” together with its beauty, speak to us” (BOT, 12).

    Nietzsche’s understanding of the Apollonian principle is embodied in the concept of the dream. The dreamer may exist as an individual in the contained escape of the dream, but what happens when the dreamer wakes up? What happens when the small boat of the dream in the principium individuationis metaphor capsizes into the stormy sea? Nietzsche again calls upon Schopenhauer’s theory to lead us in this new direction.

    He says that “Schopenhauer also described for us the tremendous awe which seizes a man when he suddenly doubts his ways of comprehending illusion, when the principle of reason, in any one of its forms, appears to suffer from an exception. ” What happens when the dreamer begins to question his interpretation of the dream? In this heightened awareness and agency, the dreamer begins to break the boundaries of the dream. The dream collapses, the principle of individuation collapses, and he wakes.

    Nietzsche says that “If we add to this awe” that wakes the dreamer “the ecstatic rapture, which rises up out of the same collapse of the principium individuationis from the innermost depths of a human being, indeed, from the innermost depths of nature, then we have a glimpse into the essence of the Dionysian” (BOT, 13). As an individual awakens from the Apollonian dream, he is consumed by the Dionysian principle, “which is presented to us most closely through the analogy to intoxication” (BOT, 13). Nietzsche qualifies this concept of intoxication as something broader than drunkenness.

    Intoxication, as he describes it, can come “through the influence of narcotic drink, of which all primitive men and peoples speak in their hymns, or through the powerful coming on of spring, which drives joyfully through all of nature” (BOT, 13). As the Apollonian dream is an escape from the collective outside real world into individuality and illusion, so the Dionysian intoxication is an escape from the individual’s internal dream world into well of collective consciousness. Nietzsche says that as “Dionysian excitement arises; as it intensifies, the subjective fades into complete forgetfulness of self” (BOT, 13).

    In that forgetfulness of self, man ceases to exist individually. Nietzsche says that “Under the magic of the Dionysian, not only does the bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, no matter how alienated, hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man” (BOT, 13). In the Dionysian intoxication, the individual becomes part of this oneness that Nietzsche calls the “mysterious primordial unity” (BOT, 13). The Apollonian and Dionysian principles, as Nietzsche has described them, are principles that originate in nature.

    The Apollonian dream and Dionysian intoxication are “artistic forces which break forth out of nature itself, without the mediation of the human artist, and in which the human artistic drives are for the time being satisfied directly — on the one hand, as a world of dream images, whose perfection has no connection with an individual’s high level of intellect or artistic education, on the other hand, as the intoxicating reality, which once again does not respect the individual, but even seeks to abolish the individual and to redeem him through a mystical feeling of collective unity” (BOT, 14).

    But the basis of Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy is that while these principles originate in nature, they are also the two primary principles of art. Nietzsche says in the start of The Birth of Tragedy that art is truest in the intersection of these two principles, and the “development of art is bound up with the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian” (BOT, 11). He builds on that, saying that “every artist is an ‘imitator,’ and, in fact, is an artist either of Apollonian dream or Dionysian intoxication,” but that the highest artists that create the truest art are “simultaneously [artists] of intoxication and of dreams. The true artists “sinks down in Dionysian drunkenness and mystical obliteration of the self” and also, “through the Apollonian effects of dream, his own state now reveals itself to him, that is, his unity with the innermost basis of the world, in a metaphorical dream picture” (BOT, 14). It is not difficult to understand the Apollonian dream as an art form. The dream-state is based on appearance, and as such, the process of creating and observing these appearances within dreams is art. Dreaming in itself is an art.

    Understanding Dionysian intoxication as art is more difficult, but Nietzsche continues his explanation by tying it to the Greeks. He says that “in these Greek festivals, for the first time nature achieves its artistic jubilee. In them, for the first time, the tearing apart of the principii individuationis [the principle of individuation] becomes an artistic phenomenon…in those Greek festivals it was as if a sentimental feature of nature is breaking out, as if nature has to sigh over her dismemberment into separate individuals” (BOT, 15).

    Dionysian intoxication is art in that it is creative destruction, and creative liberation. It is like smashing a paint bucket open and letting the contents spill in an ecstasy of color and movement. Nietzsche associates the Apollonian dream most closely with structural art, such as painting and sculpture. It is art that basis itself in images, and that is understood through consideration of something specific and tangible, the bust or the canvas, that communicates an intangible truth.

    The Dionysian intoxication, however, expresses itself through overwhelming experience of the intangible. It is a harmony, as the individual combines with the collective in the creative destruction of the principle of individuation, and this harmony is best expressed through the medium of music. Concerning this duality of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles, Nietzsche says that “we understand, through intuition, their reciprocal necessity” (BOT, 19).

    He claims that the Apollonian dream is a prerequisite to the Dionysian intoxication. The principle of individuation is the only means through which the goal of primordial oneness, “its redemption through illusion, takes place: [Apollo] shows us…how the entire world of torment is necessary, so that through it the individual is pushed to the creation of the redemptive vision and then, absorbed in contemplation of that vision, sits quietly in his rowboat, tossing around in the middle of the ocean” (BOT, 19).

    Nietzsche previously gives a discourse on the necessity of suffering in the world to compel man to create the Apollonian dream, or the little boat, as an escape. Through the Apollonian dream, the suffering in the world is covered with the illusory quality of the dream. To the Apollonian dreamer, “his entire existence, with all its beauty and moderation, rested on a hidden underground of suffering and knowledge, which was exposed for him again through that very Dionysian.

    And look! Apollo could not live without Dionysus! ” (BOT, 19). The return to the reality of the suffering world is a celebration because the dreamer does not have to subject himself to the suffering of the world alone, as an individual. No, the return to Dionysian reality is the return to the collective, such that in Dionysian intoxication, the previously-individual experience becomes a collective experience of joy, suffering, and everything in the excess of nature.

    That same “excess revealed itself as truth. The contradiction, the ecstasy born from pain, spoke of itself right out of the heart of nature. ” (BOT, 20). It seems to be a cycle—to escape from the suffering in the world, an individual enters into the Apollonian dream state, and then to escape the shallow illusory nature of the dream state, the dreamer loses his individuality and wakes in Dionysian intoxication, escaping into the collective joy and suffering in the world.

    Nietzsche’s discourse on the interconnectedness of these principles brings to light two important points: the first is that the Apollonian and the Dionysian are interconnected and interdependent as they are each escapes from the other. The second is that Nietzsche believes the Dionysian principle to be the higher of the two, as he says that “the Apollonian was cancelled and destroyed everywhere the Dionysian penetrated” (BOT, 20). This dynamic is reversed in his concept of the will.

    In Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, published fourteen years after The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche thoroughly explores the concept of the will. While his Apollonian and Dionysian concepts are only mentioned once in the entirety of the book, the dynamic that Nietzsche describes in the development of the will is very connected to the intersection of the two concepts that Nietzsche uses to describe art in The Birth of Tragedy. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche’s concept of the will is completely different than the Judeo-Christian understanding of the will.

    The will is central to the creation of the self, or what Nietzsche calls “soul,” so it is first important to define this understanding of the “soul. ” Nietzsche denounces the Judeo-Christian soul as being unworthy of contemplation. He says that “One must also first of all finish off that other and more fateful atomism which Christianity has taught best and longest, the soul atomism. Let this expression be allowed to designate that belief which regards the soul as being something indestructible, eternal, indivisible, as a monad, as an atomon: this belief ought to be ejected from science! (BGE, 43). A very definitive observation by Nietzsche, and one that serves to give a solid groundwork on which to build any further knowledge of Nietzsche’s soul. The atom is, or so was believed to be at the time the term came into being, the most integral, indivisible point of matter. It was the most basic unit of essence in the natural world. And thus, “soul atomism” carries with it the implication that the soul is, in the supernatural world, the basis of essence; indestructible, eternal, and indivisible.

    Nietzsche discards the supernatural characteristics of the soul before beginning to explain how the natural soul came to be. The concept of a natural “soul” seems oxymoronic, but it is just this misconception which Nietzsche seeks to confront. Nietzsche says that “Between ourselves, it is not at all necessary by that same act to get rid of ‘the soul’ itself and thus forgo one of the oldest and most venerable of hypotheses: as is often the way with clumsy naturalists, who can hardly touch ‘the soul’ without losing it” (BGE, 43).

    For Nietzsche, the “soul” is too interesting a concept to be discarded with the supernatural implications it carries. Nietzsche says that “the road to new forms and refinements of the soul-hypothesis stands open: and such conceptions as ‘mortal soul’ and ‘soul as multiplicity of the subject’ and ‘soul as social structure of the drives and emotions’ want henceforth to possess civic rights in science” (BGE, 43). His description of the natural soul, “soul as multiplicity of the subject,” is the basis on which this argument can continue.

    The idea of multiplicity correlates to the idea of the duality of art that Nietzsche describes in The Birth of Tragedy. Before delving into the idea of multiplicity, Nietzsche’s basic idea of the human must be understood. Nietzsche’s philosophy does not make a distinction between human and animal. Human consciousness is not inherent to humanity as a God-given characteristic to separate man from animal. Rather, Nietzsche believes that consciousness is simply an evolutionary development.

    Nietzsche describes man as “a manifold, mendacious, artificial and unstrasparent animal, uncanny to the other animals less on account of his strength than on account of his cunning and cleverness, invented the good conscience so as to enjoy his soul for once as simple” (BGE, 217). Man, according to Nietzsche, is a complex and clever animal, but an animal all the same. Between the two Greek principles, the consciousness of man can be most closely related to the Apollonian dream. Man “invented the good conscience so as to enjoy his soul. Consciousness is described as a space in which man’s individuality, his self and soul, can be experienced. The concept seems identical to that of the Apollonian dream. Nietzsche in the same point continues to reinforce this correspondence, saying that “the whole of morality is a protracted audacious forgery by virtue of which alone it becomes possible to feel pleasure at the sight of the soul. ” This separate dimension of conscience is created to escape into enjoyment of individuality in the sight of the soul.

    Consciousness can be embodied in Schopenhauer’s boat metaphor just as effectively as the Apollonian dream. Nietzsche continues, saying that “from this point of view there is perhaps much more in the concept ‘art’ than is generally believed” (BGE, 217). A subtle reference indeed, but it seems to be a reference to his argument in The Birth of Tragedy, that the Apollonian dream is integral in the concept of art. Nietzsche posits that consciousness is an evolutionary adaptation. But through what process did something so essential evolve in man?

    Nietzsche explains the dynamics of this evolution in another book, On the Genealogy of Morality, which was published one year after Beyond Good and Evil. In this book, Nietzsche explains that “all instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward—this is what I call the internalization of man. Thus it was that man first developed what was later called his ‘soul. ’ The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited” (OGM, 16).

    The consciousness, the Apollonian “inner world,” then becomes a contingent event in the natural development of the Homo sapiens. What is presented is a natural “soul”, enclosed within the natural human finitude, and brought into being by human evolution. In all aspects, it is a human created thing. And in his mentioning of “internalization of man,” the meaning of this “multiplicity” is explained. Nietzsche describes the internalization of man through the internal dynamics of man’s instincts. As man began living in social settings, certain instincts were suppressed.

    The suppression of those instincts created pressure within the human, and rather than expressing those instincts and expunging that pressure, as most animals do, the instincts ballooned up inside of the human, creating a sort of bubble in the cause and effect mechanism of perception and action, a bubble which could be called consciousness. It could be said that consciousness is a byproduct of the implosion of desires. Continuing with this point, Nietzsche says that: A man who wills—commands something in himself which obeys or which he believes obeys.

    But now observe the strangest thing of all about the will—about this so complex thing for which people have only one word: inasmuch as in the given circumstances we at the same time command and obey, and as the side which obeys know the sensations of constraint, compulsion, pressure, resistance, motion which usually being immediately after the act of will; inasmuch as, on the other hand, we are in the habit of disregarding and deceiving ourselves over this duality by means of the synthetic concept of ‘I’” (48). While the bubble of consciousness is composed of a multiplicity of instincts, man’s entire self and soul, the “I,” is a duality.

    But before we understand the duality, we must understand the multiplicity. The idea of multiplicity carries with it the implication of chaos. In On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche speaks of this chaos when he recounts that “Thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself—the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy, and terribleness has rested hitherto” (OGM, 16).

    It is here that the Dionysian principle corresponds to the development of the will. Before the will, there is simply instinct. Man’s natural state is to be animalistic. The Dionysian intoxication represents that natural state, where instinct is the highest order, and life is lived free of restraint. To this point, this essay has correlated the Apollonian dream to the phenomena of consciousness in the evolved man, and the Dionysian intoxication to the multiplicity of instincts in the animalistic man.

    But, as Nietzsche’s concern in The Birth of Tragedy is to understand the dynamics in the intersection of the Apollonian and Dionysian to create art, so the concern of this essay is to understand how that same intersection creates the soul. To understand that dynamic is to understand the will. The will is the mechanism through which suppressed Dionysian instincts create separated Apollonian consciousness. Altogether, the dynamic constitutes the “I,” the self, or the soul.

    Nietzsche says that: ‘Freedom of will’ – is the expression for that complex condition of pleasure of the person who wills, who commands and at the same time identifies himself with the executor of the command—who as such also enjoys the triumph over resistances involved but who thinks it was his will itself which overcame these resistances. He who wills adds in this way the sensations of pleasure of the successful executive agents, the serviceable ‘under-wills’ or under-souls—for our body is only a social structure composed of many souls—to his sensations of pleasure as commander. 48) The intersection of the Apollonian and Dionysian develops this will. The Apollonian dream-state, which can be called consciousness, creates the individual through choosing which instincts to express and which to suppress. The Dionysian intoxication, which can be called the multiplicity of instincts, populates the “social structure composed of many souls” of the body, and is one with the primordial unity through the natural state of collective instinct. While in the development of art, Nietzsche believes the Dionysian to be the overpowering principle, here in the development of the will, it is the opposite.

    Through the Apollonian dream, the self commands the serviceable instincts in the Dionysian intoxication. There is a transfer of power from the Dionysian to the Apollonian in Nietzsche’s discourse on the will. Man is both tangible excess of instinct, and intangible influence of consciousness. Nietzsche illustrates this through his discussion of creature and creator, saying that “in man, creature and creator are united: in man there is matter, fragment, excess, clay, mud, madness, chaos; but in man there is also creator, sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divine spectator and the seventh day—do you understand this antithesis? (155). The development of the will is an art in itself, as it links the two Greek principles in which the truest art is bound. Although these two Greek principles are not mentioned anywhere else in the three books mentioned, Nietzsche includes the Dionysian principle in the dramatic ending of Beyond Good and Evil.

    Although the two principles are subtly involved in Nietzsche’s discourse throughout the three books, he explicitly mentions the Dionysian principle in his closing aphorism is as follows: The genius of the heart as it is possessed by that great hidden one, the tempter god and born pied piper of consciences whose voice knows how to descend into the underworld of every soul, who says no word and gives no glance in which there lies no touch of enticement, to whose mastery elongs knowing how to seem—not what he is but what to those who follow him is on constraint more to press ever closer to him, to follow him ever more inwardly and thoroughly—the genius of the heart who makes everything loud and self-satisfied fall silent and teaches it to listen, who smoothes rough souls and gives them a new desire to savor—the desire to lie still as a mirror, that the deep sky may mirror itself in them – ; the genius of the heart who teaches the stupid and hasty hand to hesitate and grasp more delicately; who divines the hidden and forgotten treasure, the drop of goodness and sweet spirituality under thick and opaque ice, and is a divining-rod for every grain of gold which has lain long in the prison of much mud and sand; the genius of the heart from whose touch everyone goes away richer, not favored and surprised, not as if blessed and oppressed with the goods of others, but richer in himself, newer to himself than before, broken open, blown upon and sounded out by a thawing wind, more uncertain perhaps, more delicate, more fragile, more broken, but full of hopes that as yet have no names, full of new will and current, full on new ill will and counter-current…but what am I doing, my friends? Of whom am I speaking to you? Have I so far forgot myself that I have not even told you his name? Unless you have already yourselves divined who this questionable god and spirit is who wants to be praised in such a fashion.

    For as happens to everyone who has always been on the move and in foreign lands from his childhood up, so many a strange and not undangerous spirit has crossed my path too, but above all he of whom I was just speaking, and he again and again, no less a personage in fact than the god Dionysus, that great ambiguous and tempter god to whom, as you know, once I brought in all secrecy and reverence my first-born—being, as it seems to me, the last to have brought him a sacrifice: for I have found no one who could have understood what I was then doing. Meanwhile, I have learned much, all too much more about the philosophy of this god and, as I have said, from mouth to mouth—I, the last disciple and initiate of the god Dionysus: and perhaps I might at last begin to give you, my friends, a little taste of this philosophy, in so far as I am permitted to? (220-221). Nietzsche claims to be a disciple of Dionysus, and thus clearly favors the freedom offered in the Dionysian intoxication.

    But, although in his discourse on the will, Nietzsche only mentions the Dionysian principle, because of their reciprocal necessity, he confirms the presence of both the Apollonian and the Dionysian in the philosophy of will. Although Nietzsche’s original intention in describing the Apollonian and Dionysian principles of dream and intoxication in The Birth of Tragedy is to create an aesthetic through the intersection of these two principles, the Apollonian dream and the Dionysian intoxication are as relevant to the development of art as they are to the development of the will in Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals, and in both are metaphors through which the dynamics of true art and true will can be explained by Nietzsche.

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