You may download the entire book review as Adobe PDF format clicking PDF icon on the left. If you need some clarifications about copyright or usage rights, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page 1 | Page 2
“...that which we
call "invention" (in metrics, for example) is always a self-imposed fetter of
this kind. "Dancing in chains," to make things difficult for oneself but then cover
it over with the illusion of ease and facility - that is the artifice they want
to demonstrate for us
- Nietzsche, The Wanderer and his Shadow
Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy should be read as a phenomenological undertaking including his 'reduction' of traditional scholarly assumptions and theories regarding the history of the tragic work of art as well as the history and function of the tragic chorus as a musically poetic performance that can only be understood, so Nietzsche was at some pains to argue, in the full context - political and social and religious - of the life-world of Greek antiquity. Without such an encompassing focus it is difficult to understand Nietzsche's counter-arguments regarding Aristotle's theory of tragedy as also concerning Schlegel on the chorus as well as the critical "working" of the work of tragic art in the political/a-political  and socio-cultural context involving the entirety of the Athenian demos. And there is still more.
Nietzsche's phenomenological philology drove his discoveries regarding the stress ictus (or absence thereof)  in his studies of the prosody of ancient Greek, including his studies of rhythm and meter, using as was commonly conventional, specifically musical notation for the sake of the same. This was no mere metaphor and the conclusion of his The Birth of Tragedy, as we shall see, invokes the theoretical notion of musical dissonance with explicit reference to Beethoven. I further contend that it matters here that Nietzsche himself studied musical composition technique (on his own) and that he played the piano so well that he impressed everyone who heard him, not excluding Wagner. 
I am using the word phenomenology not just because Nietzsche, in additional to speaking of phenomenalism and phenomenality, used the term phenomenology as such in his late notes, as he does in connection with consciousness and the body  - Nietzsche thus speaks of an "inner and outer phenomenology," and all research, not only of the so-called "digital" kind, that is based on word frequency analysis is and can only be wrongheaded when it comes to Nietzsche  - but and much rather because it describes his method.  Thus Nietzsche seeks to turn in the case of his science of philology to "language use," as he says, i.e., to the texts themselves which is his case to the words themselves, qua written and as spoken or sung. Inasmuch as Greek is also one of the first truly phonetic alphabets, and this is its revolutionary character, this also means that from the beginning Nietzsche seeks to return to the sounds themselves.
Hence when speaking of phenomenology here it is important to note that phenomenology is not a method somehow been patented by Husserl although he takes it the furthest and all phenomenological contributions today and to be sure are shaped by his work. Nietzsche's phenomenology cannot and does not stand in this lineage but both Husserl and Nietzsche shared the same 19th century confluence, including scientific antecedents and historically philosophical background.  Thus and in addition to his first book, Nietzsche's genetic reflections in his Untimely Meditations (on religion, history, education, culture and politics, and including, his own contemporary musical cultural world) and Human, All too Human, are similarly phenomenological in scope and approach, in addition to his critical reflections on logic, perception, and indeed science in The Gay Science and Beyond Good and Evil and his later work, just to the extent that Nietzsche may justifiably claim that he is the "first" to raise the question of science as such - and here we should think of Heidegger as well as Husserl - of science as "question-worthy." 
But key to this question, and key to Nietzsche's interpretive phenomenological approach, is his formation as a classical philologist. Indeed, even contemporary trends in Nietzsche scholarship which seem to have moved on from source scholarship to an attention to so-called "Nietzsche philology" (which tends only to mean an established way of parsing Nietzsche, that is: according to editorial fiat) routinely overlooks Nietzsche's classical discoveries.  Part of the problem here has been the sheer difficulty of his studies of poetic metrics and rhythm and part of the problem are the further challenges of the reflexive radicality of Nietzsche's critical orientation which last is evident already in his inaugural lecture on the Homer question.  Yet there is no doubt that the most fundamental problem is that "reading" Nietzsche is less and less part of the formation of the average classicist, while, and at the same, a classical formation in Greek (and Latin) tends not to be part of the formation of the average Nietzsche scholar, where in Anglophone scholarship we may add a lack of familiarity with Nietzsche's own German to the list of missing qualities. 
The lack of background - corresponding to what Nietzsche described as a "lack of philology"  and which he bemoaned as leading to a confusion of explication and text explicated (this is the well-known explanans and explanandum) which he took precisely to his epistemological analysis of aesthetic or sense causality, which he discusses in his notes as the "phenomenalism" of the inner world (a published version of this appears in Twilight of the Idols), contending that it is this lack that leads to any number of internal and external illusions  - remains problematic for both classical philologists and Nietzsche scholars, including those of both literary and philosophical formations. 
Thus it is telling that in the context of the need to distinguish between mystery religions and the classical ideal of the Olympian gods, Francis MacDonald Cornford (1874-1943) already in 1912 was able to characterize Nietzsche's first book, The Birth of Tragedy, as "a work of profound imaginative insight, which left the scholarship of a generation toiling in the rear."  To this day, those many scholars who do quote Cornford disattend to the significance of Cornford's context, even in those cases where it is mentioned (and usually it is not). The reason is more complicated than Nietzsche alone and scholars (as in the case of Jay Kennedy's failure to cite Ernst McClain and John Brenner and others in the case of Plato and music and number)  continue to have marked anxieties when it comes to coming to terms with the mystery religions themselves, as some of the very different debates around the Derveni and other papyri makes plain.  Cornford's early insight was thus both accurate and rare. At the time, few scholars appreciated what Nietzsche had achieved then and the reason for my contextualizing reference here to ancient music, mathematics, and ancient mystery cults is that even fewer classicists in our own day would understand what Cornford had had in mind in his original text.  For Cornford's point was made in the hermeneutic and historical context of the need to distinguish between ancient mystery religions and those religions today, including what we take to be esoteric religions, as we might attempt to update Cornford's own distinction, ceteris paribus, and in the context of philosophy as a 'way of life' as Pierre Hadot has characterized it and in a literary context that requires a reference to Pierre Courcelle who deployed what Nietzsche called philology. It makes things more complicated and not less obscure to note that philosophy as a way of life included or better said was all about a meditation on death as Hadot emphasized via Montaigne (and not less via Lucian)  - and hence the mystery and more conventional notion of the Olympian gods, where it matters for us that Nietzsche mentions Montaigne, Lucian and both Titans and Olympians in addition to invoking the mystery cults as such which is indeed the more esoteric point of Nietzsche's conclusion to The Birth of Tragedy.
As I argue elsewhere,  Nietzsche's most routinely "scientific" or scholarly discovery concerned the prosody or musical intonation of ancient Greek and it was this discovery that served as the basis for his emphasis on the importance of "music" in The Birth of Tragedy. But and not unlike the parenthetical and contextualizing point added above with respect to stichometry and contemporary scholarship's habit of silencing alternate voices (that is to say its ignorance of or its inadvertence to, no matter whether calculated or accidental) and the bulk of past scholarship, by pointing out that this was Nietzsche's discovery I am hardly claiming that everyone acknowledges this today. To the contrary, Nietzsche's discoveries are not refused (much less refuted) than they are (have been and continue to be) 'silenced' in this traditional fashion. Nietzsche is rarely mentioned in classics scholarship and when he is he tends to be relegated to cliché. This denigration within the guild began with his first book and it has continued. Nicole Loraux would be one of the rare classicists whose work engages Nietzsche at all on the topic of tragedy (others include Marcel Detienne, Hugh Lloyd Jones, Jean-Pierre Vernant, etc.) - while most other studies mention him in passing or not at all. In the relevant case here of rhythm and metrics and prosody, Nietzsche's discoveries are simply appropriated, often even without reference or citation.  Nor, on another point, is it the case that Nietzsche's then-contemporaries 'heard' what Nietzsche said either in his inaugural lecture with all of its relevance for the parallels between the stylistic methods of philological discovery and those of natural scientific discovery  or else in his first book - no more indeed than today, especially perhaps in the case of his colleagues, that is in the case of today's classics scholars. Thus we find his Zarathustra seemingly compelled to cry out in frustration: "They do not understand me; I am not the mouth for these ears. Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes?" 
In Nietzsche's own times, and with reference to his first book, I have argued that Nietzsche found it necessary to reprise its claims in his later The Gay Science. There he repeats his initial critique of Aristotle's telic theory of tragic catharsis, clarifying that what was at stake in antiquity was never an "attempt to overwhelm the spectator with emotion." (GS, §80) 
Much rather, Nietzsche argued, the Athenians went to the theater in order to hear beautiful speeches. And beautiful speeches were what concerned Sophocles: pardon this heresy! (GS, §80)
The problem with heretical arguments contra standing authorities is that those who hear such challenges fall right back to conventional idolatries. In this case, that is the ongoing valorization of Aristotle, a whiggish-inspired or presentist return to the authority of the the author of the Poetics that need not be made on the basis of argument as it is grounded in conventional teaching. And so it continues.
By contrast, Nietzsche sought to articulate the achievement of Greek poetics contra Aristotle but no less contra the modern ideal of "freedom" of expression and this is the point of the text already quoted as epigraph above:
“With every Greek artist, poet and writer one has to ask what is the new constraint he has imposed upon himself and through which he charms his contemporaries (so that he finds imitators)? For that which we call "invention" (in metrics, for example) is always a self-imposed fetter of this kind. "Dancing in chains," to make things difficult for oneself yet then to spread over it the illusion of ease and facility - that is the artifice they want to demonstrate for us. (The Wanderer and his Shadow, §140) 
This point is and should be striking. Constraints? Metrics? Chains? How so? The answer of course has everything to with antiquity and its distance from our own sensibilities, a point of alien difference to us - this is the real heart of what he called the pathos of distance - that Nietzsche never tired of emphasizing.
But and in addition, and this really makes it hard for many of us to read him, Nietzsche nearly always mixes his concerns. Hence he uses the metaphor of musical dissonance to speak of the themes of tragedy as so many variants on "that which is ugly and disharmonic" as "part of an artistic game" in order to claim that both "music and tragic myth . transfigure a region in whose joyous chords dissonance as well as the terrible image of the world fade away charmingly." (BT §24), We shall come back to this point in the concluding section on the formative or creative problem of what Nietzsche calle the "becoming-human of dissonance."
In this complex constellation, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music outlines a phenomenological hermeneutics of Greek tragedy as music, heard through Hölderlin's beautifully provocative reflections in his little distich, Sophokles - "Viele versuchten umsonst das Freudigste freudig zu sagen / Hier spricht endlich es mir, hier in der Trauer sich aus." - and understanding the tragic art form as a sounding expression of "the spirit of music." As Nietzsche articulates this spirit he emphasizes Beethoven's music at the start  and his closing image is that of a musical play with the "thorn of displeasure" [Stachel der Unlust], a composer's conventionality Nietzsche deploys to illuminate the ancient art of "transfiguring illusion" [Verklärungschein]. (BT §24)
continues on Page 2...
...Focus on the impact of Nietzsche's knowledge of music on his philosophy and the development of his thought.
...A battle has been waged around Nietzsche's philosophy since at least the time of his unfortunate collapse concerning the manner in which his ideas are framed and interpreted, organized and understood in relation to the conditions of modern thought, which he helped foster...
...the first order Empfindung associated to music is the dissolution of individuality which from a posthumanist perspective brings about the realisation of the embeddedness of human beings in this world. Hence, music can bring about more than pain and pleasure in the recipients.
This new translation of Nietzsche’s magnum opus is by far the best available in the English language. It should find its way to the desk of all students who do not have access to the original German.
Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book. It is a most able treatment of a much-ignored and much-misunderstood topic close to the very heart of the writings of this seminal thinker.
Please consider donating! The NC is a not-for-profit organization. As an independent organization that receives no assistance from any institution, the NC relies on your magnanimity to sustain itself. Please help support the activities of the NC with a donation Donations of any kind, whether of money, services, equipment, or in-kind gifts, are all of great necessity and deeply appreciated.
To receive site updates, news, and announcement from NC via email. To do so, you simply need to provide your email address below.