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Nietzsche's Apollonian vs. Dionysian Dichotomy

Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2003 3:39 am
by Seven at One Stroke
I was just reading through a biography of Yukio Mishima when I chanced upon this Nietzschean dichotomy and the idea of the active vs. passive nihilist, although I'm not entirely clear on the concept.

Anyone care to enlighten the uneducated?

Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2003 4:02 am
by The Masked Moogle
Hmm.. That's a toughie.

Apollonian and Dionysian are literary terms referring to a "character axis"; at one end, the passive, relaxed, "earth"-y wine-god Dionysus; and at the other the active, constructive, "sun"-y sun-god Apollo.

Taken in the context of Nietzsche.. Ah, yeah, that makes sense. Nihilism is an extreme form of philosophical abandonment, denying all existence. Fairly nonsensical if you ask me, but I digress. A nihilist can be either "passive" or "active", correlating respectively with the literary terms above.

The "passive" nihilist abandons everything; faced with droves of uncertainty he loses his ability to both be proactive and reactive. Unable to recognize anything as valid he simply curls into a philosophical ball and dies.

The "active" nihilist, on the other hand, recognizes that meaning can be attached to the world if taken in the context of one's own consciousness and observations.. provided, of course, that it is not forgotten where that meaning came from. He is a constructive, creative force, providing meaning to himself while not forgetting that he is the creator (and sole context) of that meaning.

Nietzsche defined the difference between active and passive nihilism (er... I think so, anyway, it's been a while since I've read this stuff) and said that active nihilism was the ultimate form of human philosophy and was befitting of his "superman" society-leaders. Being an atheist and a social utilitarian, active nihilism was the logical choice for him.

That's about all I can remember on the matter... It's been a while since I've looked at any philosophy. Ah, well, hope this helps.

Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2003 3:13 am
by Seven at One Stroke
Ah, thanks. That helps a lot. Although, you mentioned Dyonisian being passive and Apollonian being active, doesn't it also entail that Apollonian characters can be either constructive or destructive simply by virtue of being active? If we take the example of say, Hamlet, doesn't his transition from being passive to active actually cause much more hardship and desctruction than if he remained passive, in other words, his Apollonian self is actually destructive instead of constructive? Furthermore, if taken in the context of Nietzche, did he actually attach meanings to his actions or were his actions just as meaningless and purposeless before, during, and after his actions? Unless, of course, the constructive part of the act was the emergence of his identity which is entirely submerged into his revenge, though I don't think I buy into that.

If my memory doesn't fail me this time, Dionysus is the Greek name for Bacchus, and Apollo is the Roman name for the sun god? Did the terms come from Nietzche the Rome freak or was it in place long before him?

Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2003 9:07 pm
by Guest

Etymologically I don't have a clue which came first.. Though I imagine it'd be the words themselves. You'll have to ask someone else on this one.

As for Hamlet.. "Constructive" in this sense doesn't necessarily entail anything positive, but rather merely the decrease of entropy and the usage of energy. Hamlet murdered several people and wound up provoking a war, all of which require energy. If interpreting the word "constructive" in the usual sense, than indeed all these actions are purely destructive. But they are still Apollonian, being that they required energy and action to get accomplished. By my interpretation of the matter, anyway.

With what you're saying about meaning.. Hamlet didn't need to attach meaning to his actions because he wasn't a nihilist. Apollonian and Dionysian are terms used independently in evaluating Hamlet and by Nietzsche, so there's no real need to judge Hamlet as an active or passive nihilist.

Or at least, I think that's what you're saying...? I may have misunderstood you.