Apollonian and Dionysian  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Apollonian and Dionysian is a philosophical and literary concept, or dichotomy, based on certain features of ancient Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of the Sun, lightness, music, and poetry, while Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. In the modern literary usage of the concept, the contrast between Apollo and Dionysus symbolizes principles of wholeness versus individualism, light versus darkness, or civilization versus primal nature. The ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods as opposites or rivals. However, Parnassus, the mythical home of poetry and all art, was strongly associated with each of the two gods in separate legends.

Several Western philosophical and literary figures have invoked this dichotomy in critical and creative works, including Plutarch, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Robert A. Heinlein, Ruth Benedict, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, singer Jim Morrison, literary critic G. Wilson Knight, Ayn Rand, Stephen King, Diane Wakoski and cultural critic Camille Paglia.

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German philosophy

Although the use of the concepts of Apollonian and Dionysian is famously related to Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, the terms were used before him in Prussia. The poet Hölderlin used it, while Winckelmann talked of Bacchus, the god of wine.

Nietzsche's usage

Nietzsche's aesthetic usage of the concepts, which was later developed philosophically, was first developed in his book The Birth of Tragedy, which he published in 1872. His major premise here was that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian "Kunsttrieben" ("artistic impulses") forms dramatic arts, or tragedies. He goes on to argue that that has not been achieved since the ancient Greek tragedians. Nietzsche is adamant that the works of above all Aeschylus, and also Sophocles, represent the summit of artistic creation, the true realization of tragedy; it is with Euripides, he states, that tragedy begins its "Untergang" (literally "going under", meaning decline, deterioration, downfall, death, etc). Nietzsche objects to Euripides' use of Socratic rationalism in his tragedies, claiming that the infusion of ethics and reason robs tragedy of its foundation, namely the fragile balance of the Dionysian and Apollonian.

As above these two principles can only be described by provisional estimations, and whatever Nietzsche states ought to mime that chord scrupulously, but these contrasts/notations might make it quite familiar to the reader wherewith their meaning can be adduced. Furthermore, something will have to be mentioned about the Greeks et cetera below in this section of the article; therefore, I have added a "section-stub" here. Consequently, other parts of this article will most likely require a slight alteration as well and additional evenhandedness for this is a much debated topic.
Chart of Character Traits
Apollonian Dionysian
thinking
feeling
self-controlled
passionate
rational, logical
irrational, instinctual
ordered
chaotic
the dream state
state of intoxication
principle of individuation
wholeness of existence
value for human order and culture
celebration of nature
celebration of appearance/illusion
brute realism & absurdity
plastic & visual arts
music
human being(s) as artists
human being(s) as the work and glorification of art

The relationship between the Apollonian and Dionysian juxtapositions is apparent, Nietzsche claimed in The Birth of Tragedy, in the interplay of Greek Tragedy: the tragic hero of the drama, the main protagonist, struggles to make order (in the Apollonian sense) of his unjust and chaotic (Dionysian) Fate, though he dies unfulfilled in the end. For the audience of such a drama, Nietzsche claimed, this tragedy allows us to sense an underlying essence, what he called the "Primordial Unity", which revives our Dionysian nature - which is almost indescribably pleasurable. Though he later dropped this concept saying it was “...burdened with all the errors of youth” (Attempt at Self Criticism, §2), the overarching theme was a sort of metaphysical solace or connection to the heart of creation, so to speak.

Paglia's Use

Camille Paglia writes about the Apollonian and Dionysian in her book Sexual Personae . The two concepts split a set of dichotomies that create the basis of Paglia's theory. For her, the Dionysian is dark and chthonic while the Apollonian is light and structured. The Dionysian is associated with females, wild/chaotic nature, and unconstrained sex/procreation, while the Apollonian is associated with males, clarity, rationality/reason, and solidity, along with the goal of oriented progress. Paglia attributes all the progress of human civilization to males revolting against the Dionysian forces of females, and turning instead to the Apollonian trait of ordered creation. The Dionysian is a force of chaos and destruction which is the overpowering and alluring chaotic state of wild nature, and the turn away from it towards socially constructed Apollonian virtues accounts for the prevalence of asexuality and homosexuality in geniuses and in the most culturally prosperous places such as ancient Athens.

Apollonianism in linguistics

Similar to Nietzsche's usage, some linguists use Apollonianism to denote "the wish to describe and create order, especially with unfamiliar information or new experience. An updated, albeit frivolous, example of this general tendency is the story about the South Dakotan who went to Athens and was happily surprised to find out that the Greeks are fans of NASA’s projects: wherever he went, he saw the name Apollo. As this anecdote shows, the ‘Apollonian tendency’ would also seem to include a significant dimension of ethnocentricity." (Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad, 2006).

"Specifically in linguistics, Apollonianism is manifested in justifications for the use of a word and in the craving for meaningfulness. Consider the perception of naïve young Israeli readers of the name דוקטור סוס dóktor sus (cf. Dr Seuss). Many Israelis are certain that he is ‘Dr Horse’ since Israeli סוס sus means ‘horse’ - cf. the etymythology that this arises from the prevalence of animals in Dr Seuss’s stories. This ‘misunderstanding’ might correspond to Einar Haugen’s general claim with regard to borrowing, that ‘every speaker attempts to reproduce previously learned linguistic patterns in an effort to cope with new linguistic situations’ (1950: 212)."

Post-modern reading

Nietzsche's idea has been interpreted as an expression of fragmented consciousness or existential instability by a variety of modern and post-modern writers, especially Martin Heidegger in Nietzsche and the Post-modernists. According to Peter Sloterdijk, the Dionysian and the Appolonian form a dialectic; they are contrasting, but Nietzsche does not mean one to be valued more than the other. Truth being primordial pain, our existential being is determined by the Dionysian/Apollonian dialectic.

Extending the use of the Apollonian and Dionysian onto an argument on interaction between the mind and physical environment, Abraham Akkerman has pointed to masculine and feminine features of city form.



The dichotomy is a major theme in Michael Pollan's book, "The Botany of Desire" in which he details man's attempt at controlling nature through large-scale production of food crops. He argues any attempt to bring control to a single variable in a natural system only results in more variables to which disorder and entropy will reign. Thus, all control is partial, temporary and largely illusory. Some farmers accept this and use strategies like crop rotation, variety and secondary crops which complement their main crops with beneficial insects and such. Other farmers try to sustain monocultures, which is the ultimate attempt at order among chaos, and must depend on chemicals or genetic tampering to defend encroaching disorder. Farmers who embrace the chaos are usually far more successful and less beholding to corporations, but can't match the production or homogeny necessary to supply restaurant chains.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Apollonian and Dionysian" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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