Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism

By David Pan | Go to book overview

2
THE DIONYSIAN
AESTHETICS OF MYTH

THE AESTHETIC STRUCTURE OF MYTH

The crucial insight that defines Nietzsche's primitivism is the idea that art and myth share a common aesthetic structure. Referring to art as “the highest task and the truly metaphysical activity of this life” (BT 31–32, GT 24), Nietzsche argues that aesthetic intuition is more important than philosophical insight for the formation and stability of a culture. Art and myth for Nietzsche are not simply play, error, or childish fantasy but rather aesthetic manifestations of the truth of nature.

To establish the plausibility of Nietzsche's ideas, they must be defended against two opposing views of myth. Though these views come from different theoretical perspectives, they share the conviction that art and myth must be clearly differentiated from each other because art is the semblance while myth is the truth. The first of these views is exemplified in the ideas of the Nazi philosopher, Alfred Baeumler. In his 1926 introduction to Johann Bachofen's Der Mythos vom Orient und Okzident, Baeumler rejects the idea that the Dionysian myth is merely an aesthetic construction rather than something real and cites Nietzsche's aesthetic explanation in support:1

“The myth wants to be experienced vividly as a unique example
of a universality and truth that gaze into the infinite” (Nietz-
sche, Birth of Tragedy, 107). Example! A “sublime parable”—
the myth! (Birth of Tragedy, 126) The “concentrated image of
the world,” a “condensation of phenomena” (Birth of Tragedy,
135). If ever the symbol was confused with the metaphor, the
original with the derivative, then it has happened here! An aes-
thetic
experience has invaded the world of the myth and its

-51-

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