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The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner Paperback – April 12, 1967

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

The Birth of Tragedy (1872) was Nietzsche's first book. Its youthful faults were exposed by Nietzsche in the brilliant "Attempt at a Self-Criticism" which he added to the new edition of 1886. But the book, whatever its excesses, remains one of the most relevant statements on tragedy ever penned. It exploded the conception of Greek culture that was prevalent down through the Victorian era, and it sounded themes developed in the twentieth century by classicists, existentialists, psychoanalysts, and others.

The Case of Wagner (1888) was one Nietzsche's last books, and his wittiest. In attitude and style it is diametrically opposed to The Birth of Tragedy. Both works transcend their ostensible subjects and deal with art and culture, as well as the problems of the modern age generally.

Each book in itself gives us an inadequate idea of its author; together, they furnish a striking image of Nietzsche's thought. The distinguished new translations by Walter Kaufmann superbly reflect in English Nietzsche's idiom and the vitality of his style. Professor Kaufmann has also furnished running footnote commentaries, relevant passages from Nietzsche's correspondence, a bibliography, and, for the first time in any edition, an extensive index to each book.

From the Back Cover

Among the most influential philosophers of modern times, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) declared in this classic study that Greek tragedy achieved greatness through a fusion of elements of Apollonian restraint and control with Dionysian components of passion and the irrational. In Nietzsche's eyes, however, Greek tragedy had been destroyed by the rationalism and optimism of thinkers like Socrates. Nevertheless, he found in these ancient works the life-affirming concept that existence is still beautiful, however grim and depressing it may sometimes be. These and many other ideas are argued with passionate conviction in this challenging book, called by British classicist F. M. Cornford "a work of profound imaginative insight, which left the scholarship of a generation toiling in the rear."
Unabridged Dover (1995) republication of the translation by Clifton P. Fadiman, 1927. New introductory note.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Ed edition (April 12, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394703693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394703695
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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67 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Chrys Coulter on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Since the only other review is fairly obtuse about this book, it seems necessary to write another. If you consider yourself a creative entity, an artist, a musician, a filmmaker, a writer; then this book should be required reading. It describes two opposing "forces", Apollo and Dionysus, who are in perpetual conflict. From this conflict, all great art is born.

It is a dialectic, Thesis meets Antithesis to beget Synthesis.

The real point is though, after reading the book, you look for these opposing forces in everyday life and find them everywhere. Man and woman, religion and science, good and evil (for rudimentary examples). After reading the book it was apparent how much of this world is constructed out of, and centered on, opposition. It's like Matt Modine's helmet in Full Metal Jacket, man is a creature with inherent duality.

The Birth of Tragedy touches on something so essential and instinctually true to our existence that it can only vaguely be explained in words. Nietszche knows this and presents the concept as eloquently and clearly as it allows. It is up to the reader to take this knowledge as a starting point and explore deeper into their own individual experience and perspective.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this work, Nietzsche theorizes that Greek tragedy was built upon the wedding of two principles, which he associated with the deities Apollo and Dionysius. The Apollonian principle, in keeping with the characteristics of the sun god Apollo, is the principle of order, static beauty and clear boundaries. The Dionysian principle, in contrast, is the principle of frenzy, excess, and the collapse of boundaries.
These principles offered perspectives on the position of the individual human being, but perspectives that were radically opposed to one another. The Appollonian principle conceived the individual as sufficiently separate from the rest of reality to be able to contemplate it dispassionately. The Dionysian principle, however, presents reality as a tumultuous flux in which individuality is overwhelmed by the dynamics of a living whole. Nietzsche believed that a balance of these principals is essential if one is both to recognize the challenge to one's sense of meaning posed by individual vulnerability and to recognize the solution, which depends on one's sense of oneness with a larger reality. Greek tragedy, as he saw it, confronted the issue of life's meaning by merging the perspectives of the two principles.
The themes of Greek tragedy concerned the worst case scenario from an Apollonian point of view--the devastation of vulnerable individuals. Scholarship had concluded that the chanting of the chorus was the first form of Athenian tragedy. Nietzsche interpreted the effect of the chorus as the initiation of a Dionysian experience on the part of the audience. Captivated by music, audience members abandoned their usual sense of themselves as isolated individuals and felt themselves instead to be part of a larger, frenzied whole.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Augustus Caesar, Ph.D. on January 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Birth of Tragedy" (1872) was Nietzsche's first published work, and what a work it is. Taking as its point of departure the origins and eventual death of tragedy in ancient Greece, this book shouldn't be taken as a literal meditation on Greek tragedy. Instead, Nietzsche uses his discussion of this art form to analyse trends he saw in the Germany of the early-1870s and to examine the similarities between the Hellenic world and the world of Bismarckian Germany.
He begins with an explanation of the dual Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies in art. The Apollonian, based on illusion, form, and restrained aesthetic contemplation, is contrasted with the Dionysian, which is characterized by a visceral, ecstatic, transcendental state. To Nietzsche, Greek tragedy was the only art form which was able to merge these two conflicting aesthetics into a successful union. He likens the operas of his then-hero, Richard Wagner, to the tragic drama of ancient Greece, and suggests that this similarity should be a cause of hope for the renewal of the "German spirit."
Crazy? Of course. Nietzsche was not a man noted for his intellectual restraint, and his associative thinking is never wilder or more disputable than in "The Birth of Tragedy." It is this very wildness which would later lead the philosopher to all but disown this book.
But "The Birth of Tragedy" is more than far-fetched theorizing--it is also a penetrating gaze into the destructive side of pure reason and the sunny optimism of the Enlightenment, which Nietzsche posits as being embodied in ancient Greece in the form of Socrates, whose withering, anti-aesthetic thinking Nietzsche finds deadening and repugnant.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dorion Sagan on May 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
Forget Wagner, whose disgruntled cacophony posing as music is nicely dispatched by Oscar Wilde in one of his plays with a comparative quip when somebody rings an old and disturbingly noisy doorbell. Forget Wagner because The Birth of Tragedy is the greatest work of art criticism ever written. It is also, despite being in print for a century, an underexplored gold mine for artists and intellectuals. This is Nietzsche's first book: it contains en ovo the thoughts of this great writer and thinker who had a formative influence on Heidegger and through him Derrida, the two greatest post-Nietzschean philosophers. Nietzsche's great theme is the infinite possibility opened up by Greek culture in 6th century B.C., in the time of Heraclitus and the birth of tragedy-the culture that spawned not only democracy and science but which, like a brood of many eggs only some of which have hatched (or quantum possibility before measurement "collapses" the wave function into reality)-much more besides--the culture beside whose tragedic productions (by Aeschylus and Sophocles, not Euripedes, whom Nietzsche shows lost touch with the essence of tragedy) modern cultural productions not only do not measure up, but often seem at best, as Nietzsche says, like a "caricature." The loss of art traced by Nietzsche is itself-well, not tragic, no-less than tragic: sad let us say. Not only a highly creative artist-like philosopher, but a multilingual philologist who read ancient Greek in the original, Nietzsche beams his laser-like analysis with astounding clarity into this lost realm of possibility. It is as if he stuck a bookmark into the Tome of Time, showing us the very best part of an otherwise often dry and rather bad (and perhaps overly long!) book of which we collectively are the author, called Culture.Read more ›
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