In his essay "Richard Wagner at Bayreuth" Friedrich Nietzsche writes, "there is only one hope and one guarantee for the future of humanity: it consists in his retention of the sense for the tragic." # Nietzsche sees tragic art as a reliable means of effecting a transfiguration of nihilism, a nauseating absence of cultural vitality that originates from our strong cultural propensity to absolutize metaphysical values. Nietzsche’s belief that our "retention of the sense of tragic" constitutes one of our surest means to overcoming such a cultural "sickness" includes the project of reaffirming the instinctual, bodily, and practical over metaphysics, for through the aesthetics of the tragic, Nietzsche believes, we can construct a value system that considers and satisfies our individual practical needs.# This paper therefore argues that Nietzsche’s conception of the role of the body in the tragic, as an aesthetic experience, provides a useful model for combating some of the nihilistic aspects of contemporary modern culture. That is, the body itself constitutes an "ontology of practice" # that can actually ground our effort to successfully confront nihilism.
I. Nietzsche writes, "what does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves" (WP 2). Nietzsche then sees ‘nihilism’ as the reality of the disappearance from our world of "highest values" that claim to be universal and objective. Nietzsche writes, "the real world, attainable to the wise, the pious, the virtuous man- he dwells in it, he is it" (TI, "How the ‘Real World’ at Last became a Myth"). For more than two thousand years now metaphysical rationalism has defined how we relate to the world in terms of epistemology, ethics, and politics. With Platonism a dualism was introduced into our horizon, whereby we have come accept the notion that truth and what justifies our conduct here on earth resides in a transcendent, idealistic, metaphysical "real world," while our material realities are merely transient, inadequate, and needing of transcendence if we are to commune with that "real world." Since Plato rationality, the dialectic, ascetic contemplation, and the will to give a spiritual interpretation to the unstable forces of becoming have become cultural hallmarks of modernity: what is valuable is one’s resolve to behave in such a way so as to tap into a transcendent logos of truth and absolute dignity.# The rise of Christianity, Nietzsche continues, only reinforced human beings’ conviction that a "life worth living" should be deeply marked by its metaphysical orientation: "The real world [the ideal world of the Forms], attainable for the moment, but promised to the wise, the pious, the virtuous man (‘to the sinner who repents’)" (Ibid). Christianity eventually inherited the dualistic tradition of Platonism, so that most of us continue to locate the source of value-making in an ideal realm that remains detached from everyday life but that has the power to pass judgments and impose norms on it.# What confers dignity to one’s life is one’s ability to behave, here on earth, in ways that prepare one for a promised millenarian communion with a deity in charge of history.
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