Toward the end of The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche sketches the possibility of a rebirth of tragedy and tragic culture. At this point Nietzsche's seductive language reaches a kind of crescendo; all along he has been inviting the reader to share his sense of what ancient tragedy was, and he does this in part by implying that the question of one's tastes and sensitivities here are crucial in determining whether one is hopelessly caught in the anemic Alexandrian world of modernity (sometimes called "the culture of the opera," later to be called nihilism) or whether one is a candidate for redemption through art. At a certain point Nietzsche begins to speak of (and, in a sense, to) a "friend" who is genuinely attuned to music and musical drama (the friend is no doubt a Wagnerian). What is extraordinary is that in this book so overshadowed, at least in most of its reception and criticism, by the Dionysian and the musical, Nietzsche, in attempting to delineate the nature of the musical drama that is being reborn, appeals to what and how such a friend will see…

How strange that sight and blindness would in some way be the key to understanding the new music. But Nietzsche has prepared the ground for this move in his analysis of the Greek theater and of tragedy. There is no theater without vision; as we are often reminded, our words "theory" and "theater" derive from Greek ancestors signifying acts of beholding or witnessing. Behind the strange complicity of vision and blindness that Nietzsche expects his friend to experience in the musical drama of his day, there is the similar structure that he articulates in the Greek theater. Oedipus and Teiresias are not only figures of the stage, but figures for what it is to see the visions of tragedy. Homer, too, whom Nietzsche will describe as the most visual of Greek poets, was blind as legend has it. What, then, is tragic vision in Nietzsche's radical theory and re-visioning of tragedy?

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Copyright © 1995 BRILL. This article first appeared in Research in Phenomenology 25, no. 1 (1995): 27-44. doi:10.1163/156916495x00031.

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