chapter  4
10 Pages

Tragedy and Speculation

ByFrançoise Dastur

As is well known, tragedy was first interpreted by Aristotle in the Poetics in terms of its effects on the spectators and not in terms of what was represented in the drama itself. By defining tragedy as the imitation of an action which, by arousing fear and pity, operates the katharsis, the purgation of these passions,1 Aristotle was the founder of a tradition which saw in tragedy a psychological or political medication. In The Birth of Tragedy, his provocative first book, Nietzsche demonstrated convincingly that considering tragedy from the perspective of the spectator and not from that of the tragic actor or chorus derives in fact from tragedy itself in its development and decline. For Nietzsche, it is with Euripides that the spectator climbs onto the stage, so that tragedy is no longer considered as the reflection of life and nature in its full strength,2 but becomes only the mirror of the present social reality.3 Because he no longer sees in tragedy a metaphysical phenomenon, Euripides is for the young Nietzsche the proclaimer of the death sentence of tragedy itself. It is true that Nietzsche will speak later on in his 1886 ‘essay of self-criticism’ of his ‘metaphysics of art’4 in this early period still marked by the influence of Schopenhauer’s idealism, but he will never reconsider the necessity that led him to give up the Aristotelian viewpoint of tragedy as katharsis for another viewpoint, the Dionysian, which allowed him to see in tragedy the very process of life and becoming in both its creative and destructive aspects.5