Nietzsche and the Rebirth of the Tragic

Nietzsche and the Rebirth of the Tragic

Nietzsche and the Rebirth of the Tragic

Nietzsche and the Rebirth of the Tragic

Synopsis

Addresses the question of the legacies of Nietzsche's theories of tragedy as literary genre and of the tragic as ontological concept. This volume gives a sampling of the multifaceted and widespread impact of Nietzsche's thought in Eastern as well as in Western Europe and in the United States.

Excerpt

Mary Ann Frese Witt

HELLENISM, OR THE WEST’S IDEA OF ANCIENT GREECE’S CONTRIBUTION to its culture and its attempts to appropriate that idea into its own creations, has been a prime component of European and EuroAmerican culture since the Renaissance. With the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Poetics came the notion that the supreme literary form was tragedy, and that it was thus incumbent on the “moderns” to write tragedies on the model of the “ancients.” This form of imitation and adaptation reached its apogee in seventeenth-century France with the tragedies of Racine. The theories of the archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, often encapsulated in his 1755 description of Greek statues as works of “edle Einfalt, stille Grösse” [noble simplicity, calm grandeur], helped to define the neoclassical ideal of Greek classical civilization. In his Laocoön (1766) Gotthold Lessing, emphasizing the differences more than the similarities between the arts of language and vision, challenges Winkelmann’s overarching formula by demonstrating the horror and violence present in Greek tragedy, as opposed to sculpture. Lessing nonetheless remained within the boundaries of neoclassical aesthetics, ultimately arguing that even tragedy overcame its representation of terror to conform to a rational and optimistic Greek view of life. Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller all wrote tragedies based to some extent on this notion of antiquity.

Hellenism did not die with the waning of neoclassicism. If the romantics preferred Shakespeare to Racine and the mixing of tones and genres to tragic purity, a longing for the cultural inspiration of the Greek “motherland” became, if anything, more pronounced. It was, however, the lyric poetry of such figures as Byron and Hölderlin, rather than drama, that most vividly expressed romantic Hellenism. It was only in midcentury Germany that Hellenism became in a . . .

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