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In this paper I examine Friedrich Nietzsche's later writings on tragic drama. I claim that these thoughts are primarily devoted to deciphering the tragic response. Whilst this concern with the nature and significance of tragic art remains consistent with Nietzsche's project in The Birth of Tragedy, the examination of the tragic response, and its subsequent value, are but a part of the overarching cultural diagnostics of the early work. The strength of The Birth of Tragedy lies in its exploration and explanation of what makes tragic experiences in art possible: the kinds of people, social conditions, music, and art that must be in order for this unique phenomenon and response to arise. The notorious mission of the book is Nietzsche's attempt to understand the foundational conditions prevalent in the Greeks and their dramas so that he can then more readily defend a reincarnation (and the value of this reincarnation) in the work of Richard Wagner. Nietzsche's later writings, however, are exclusively concerned with the nature and value of the tragic experience. Abandoning the monolithic metaphysical explanation evident in The Birth of Tragedy he now invokes a more finely tuned assessment of the emotional, psychological, and physiological responses to representations of the ugly. As his mature reflection on The Birth of Tragedy, the `Attempt at a Self-Criticism', evidences, the basic attitudes that Nietzsche possesses concerning the value of artistic representations of tragic events deviate little from juvenilia to mature thought. But, in later writings, the terms and arguments in which these views are cashed out possess a coherency--and hence lend a stability to their conclusions--that is often felt to be lacking in the theses of The Birth of Tragedy, which depend upon a questionable metaphysics and are couched in suggestive imagery and Wagnerian apology.
There is a problem in the philosophy of art that is motivated by Aristotle's discussion, in the Poetics, of our response to tragic drama.(1) If the tragic emotions (fear and pity) are essentially painful, how is it that we derive pleasure from tragic dramas that essentially involve or are defined by or awaken these normally painful emotions? And assuming that we celebrate tragic dramas such as Euripides' Bacchae or Shakespeare's King Lear precisely because of the experiences that they provide, what could account for this value, given that emotionally disagreeable experiences in themselves (the events and the attendant emotions) are not so valued? Nietzsche's later writings on tragedy are primarily devoted to deciphering this classic problem. My argument is that Nietzsche's analysis of (i) the distinction between the value of tragic drama as art and the value of our experience of tragic drama, and (ii) what tragic pleasure is actually pleasure in, possesses an explanatory power lacking in other accounts. I will concentrate on the philosophies of Aristotle, Schopenhauer, and Hume. Interpretations of Aristotle's philosophy attempt to explain tragic pleasure through his mechanism of katharsis. Schopenhauer claims that the pleasure in and value of tragedy lie in its clear and compelling demonstration of the metaphysics of the meaning and scope of human action.(2) And Hume believes that the pleasure that we take in the beauty of the artistry of the play captures and reverses the strength and hedonic tone of the emotions of pity and fear that we experience for the tragic characters.(3) Hence, I shall examine Nietzsche's later observations and determine the scope and worth of their contribution to the explanation of the nature and the value of the tragic emotions.
II. THE NATURE OF THE TRAGIC EMOTIONS
The philosophical quest to understand the nature of our response to represented tragedy has, historically, centred around the attempt to come to terms with the oxymoronic idea of `tragic pleasure'. Why do we enjoy the dramatic portrayal of vice, deceit, human corruption, and death? Aristotle's notion of katharsis has been interpreted(4) as locating the pleasure of tragic drama in the quiet that follows the forced arousal and subsequent purgation of the socially debilitating emotions of pity and fear. Schopenhauer holds that we delight in the artistic representation of a rejection of a world whose design is necessarily contrary to all human happiness and, in this way, feel the pleasure of the hero's renunciation as if it were our own. Hume posits an associationist theory of emotional response which holds that when two hedonically opposite emotions are simultaneously evoked by the drama, the stronger of the two--and Hume believes this to be our pleasure in the artistic spectacle--will …