Monday, May 10, 2010

Bloechl, Jeffrey. Review of Daniel Greenspan, THE PASSION OF INIFINITY. NDPR (May 2010).

Greenspan, Daniel. The Passion of Infinity: Kierkegaard, Aristotle and the Rebirth of Tragedy. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Among nineteenth century philosophers taking an interest in Greek tragedy, we are most likely to think of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) withstood early scorn on its way to becoming a classic in twentieth century letters. Nietzsche's vision is well known: with the arrival in Greece of the cult of Dionysus, art that had hitherto been concerned only with appearances submitted to quiet observation became capable of evoking in the observer a frenzied sense of life otherwise occluded by the play of forms. Dionysian ecstasy, in other words, is the antecedent of an art that consumes the distance between observer and observed, an art that is no longer merely submitted to our consideration but instead takes possession of us. Nietzsche does not hesitate to find in the religious import of Dionysus a confirmation of the importance of this new art: just as the practices of the cult conduct the participant beyond the simple limits of individuality, so too does contact with certain works of art free us from the coil of our mortality. Of these works of art, Greek tragedy -- specifically until Euripides -- is supreme. It is the achievement of Aeschylus and Sophocles to have invested the Apollonian craft of appearance with the Dionysian fire of vitality, and the promise of their craft to have provided spectators with a temporary relief from the suffering that accrues to finite, death-bound existence. And yet the achievement no less quickly succumbed to the advances of a Socratic insistence on knowledge and truth, which Euripides introduced into the theater itself. In short, tragedy was born and fell ill within the bare century that separates the flourishing of Aeschylus and that of Euripides, and western culture has fallen slowly into the decadence at last recognized by Nietzsche. Daniel Greenspan's The Passion of Infinity: Kierkegaard, Aristotle and the Rebirth of Tragedy reminds us that Kierkegaard had already taken a quite different view of some of these matters three decades earlier, chiefly in some works of his so-called "first authorship" (1841-1846). In the order of Greenspan's presentation, these include Either/Or, Stages on Life's Way, Fear and Trembling, and The Concept of Anxiety. Well over half of the book -- chapters 6-12 -- develops a reading of these works, followed by shorter discussions of a few others, all on the matter of a suppression and reemergence of certain elements of tragedy. As one might expect, Kierkegaard's interest in Greek tragedy is complex. His focal point, as Greenspan develops it, is the interplay of freedom and fate, or more specifically the tragedian's attention to the manner in which fate may assert itself in the eruption of passions that overwhelm our freedom. From a great distance, this resembles something that Kierkegaard finds in the biblical accounts of Abraham or Job, both of whom, we ought not to forget, he reads decidedly in the service of efforts to awaken authentic Christianity from a deadening lethargy. Of course, there is a great difference between Greek tragedy and the Jewish bible, indeed even when interpreted by a single author with famously singular concerns. So how then might these things be squared? . . . Read the rest here:

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