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Literary Criticism German

The Smile of Tragedy

Nietzsche and the Art of Virtue

by (author) Daniel R. Ahern

Penn State University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2012
German, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Criticism, Metaphysics
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2012
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2012
    List Price

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In The Smile of Tragedy, Daniel Ahern examines Nietzsche’s attitude toward what he called “the tragic age of the Greeks,” showing it to be the foundation not only for his attack upon the birth of philosophy during the Socratic era but also for his overall critique of Western culture. Through an interpretation of “Dionysian pessimism,” Ahern clarifies the ways in which Nietzsche sees ethics and aesthetics as inseparable and how their theoretical separation is at the root of Western nihilism. Ahern explains why Nietzsche, in creating this precursor to a new aesthetics, rejects Aristotle’s medicinal interpretation of tragic art and concentrates on Apollinian cruelty as a form of intoxication without which there can be no art. Ahern shows that Nietzsche saw the human body as the vessel through which virtue and art are possible, as the path to an interpretation of “selflessness,” as the means to determining an order of rank among human beings, and as the site where ethics and aesthetics coincide.

About the author

Daniel R. Ahern is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. He is the author of Nietzsche as Cultural Physician (Penn State, 1995).

Daniel R. Ahern's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Nietzsche wrote that he sought to find a way into the ancient world, and added, "I have perhaps found a new way." In this book, Ahern (Univ. of New Brunswick, Fredericton) follows Nietzsche's thread. He argues that the key to Nietzsche's aesthetics is his understanding of "Dionysian pessimism," which inspires tragic wisdom. He also points out that Nietzsche's philosophy is hard to grasp in rational categories because it is itself an expression of the same tragic wisdom that he describes in The Birth of Tragedy and elsewhere. . . . This is a scholarly work, written in a thoughtful, intelligent way. As part of the "Literature and Philosophy" series, it considers both literary and philosophical perspectives on Nietzsche. The author provides insight into "tragic wisdom" and explores its ramifications.”

—R. White, Choice

The Smile of Tragedy is a valuable addition to the literature on Nietzsche. The book is clearly argued and well written, with an abundance of references to the primary sources seamlessly integrated into the text. Particularly impressive is the concise and sustained development of the exposition, the arc of which unfolds without loss of shape or focus.”

—Malcolm Bull, University of Oxford

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