We’ve reached Chapter 18 of Dr. N’s Birth of Tragedy, which, according to reliable sources, is far enough, thank you very much. It’s a perplexing book, difficult to read, widely ridiculed, all but renounced by its author … and brilliant.
In today’s marketplace of ideas, the marquee issues all pertain to our collective survival, and rightly so. So the questions “what differentiates music from the other art forms, and why is our response to music so disproportionate?” are sidelined until we solve the puzzles of global warming. Economic collapse. Jihad. Resource allocation.
Yet some of us would still like an answer to the off-label questions. Surely you did not start dancing the last time you read a John Grisham novel. Just as you were probably not moved to tears the last time you saw a Bosch painting in a museum. Just as you would never go deaf for an Annie Liebowitz photograph. When you study for a test, do you put on a movie? Or when you want to set the mood for your wife, do you bring out her scrapbooking project? No you don’t. Why? Here is one explanation: “We are so moved by music because all matter is composed of music.” Why the hell not?
Here is another: “Our first nine months of life were very noisy. We miss the noise we heard in the womb.” Sure. This is philosophy, there are no wrong answers.
This is what Nietzsche believed: “The individual, with all his limits and moderation, was destroyed in the self-oblivion of the Dionysian condition and forgot” for a brief moment his mortality. In other words, music makes us remember, then it lets us forget. This, says Nietzsche, is why music is our most precious form of art. More so than painting. More so than photography. More so than literature and poetry and tv and film and scrapbooking.
Maybe you believe this to be ridiculous, or scholarly hot air. But think back to the early days of The Beatles, when the band would appear on variety shows and the girls in the audience would race to see who passed out first. None of them would have reacted this way had they encountered the band alone, in the living rooms of their parents’ house. None of them would have thought to.
So, self-oblivion? The birth of tragedy out of the spirit of music?
Why the hell not?