The Apollonian and Dionysian

The Apollonian and Dionysian

  • Posted on: April 9, 2015
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One way to describe a lifestyle, or even life-stance, is to use relevant philosophical or cultural-historical concepts that highlight how one as a person does live, or wants to live; it can be both descriptive and prescriptive. In my case – and perhaps in many other people’s lives too – the Apollonian and the Dionysian can have bearing in this respect.

Historically, these concepts are linked to classic Greek thinkers and what some of those have said about the two gods Apollo (아폴론 in Korean) and Dionysus (디오니소스 in Korean), which represent different aspects of the human existence. However, these terms are even more well-known because of certain European philisophers and philologists such as Friedrich Nietzsche and particularly his work The Birth of tragedy (1872). Nietzsche has been criticized by several scholars for misrepresenting the religio-historical elements of these two gods, but the point is that he used them and had an idea about how they could symbolize something regarding culture and the modern way of life (which he mostly loathed). Here is a quote from his above-mentioned work:

And psychologically speaking, what then is the meaning of that madness out of which tragic as well as comic art grew, the Dionysian madness? What? Is madness perhaps not necessarily the symptom of degradation, of collapse, of cultural decadence? Are there perhaps — a question for doctors who treat madness — neuroses associated with health? With the youth of a people and with youthfulness? What is revealed in that synthesis of god and goat in the satyr? Out of what personal experience, what impulse, did the Greek have to imagine the Dionysian enthusiast and original man as a satyr? And so far as the origin of the tragic chorus is concerned, in those centuries when the Greek body flourished and the Greek soul bubbled over with life, were there perhaps endemic raptures? Visions and hallucinations which entire communities, entire cultural bodies, shared? How’s that? What if it were the case that the Greeks, right in the richness of their youth, had the will for the tragic and were pessimists? What if it was clearly lunacy, to use a saying from Plato, which brought the greatest blessings throughout Greece?

This is a complex topic in itself and I will not even try to analyze its many angles, and explain neither Nietzsche’s interpretations, nor examine some of those who have written about his philosophical (and philological) contribution in this regard. Instead I will try to, as briefly as possible, point out some of the main characteristics of the Apollonian and Dionysian, and then relate these two concepts to more current socio-cultural conditions and my own way of living.

The Apollonian represents human reason, ethics, and a ordered way of life, while the Dionysian on the other hand is almost the opposite – the chaotic, perhaps tragic, and intoxicating. Both are related to culture, such as music, but concern different aspects of them. Below one can see an example of how these two can be categorized.

When it comes to intellectual and physical modes and activities, and the integration of the body and brains concept, it is not difficult to distinguish some characteristics which are related to both the Appolonian and the Dionysian, however only partial. Mostly, though, they are linked to the former, since one has to be rational, structured and logical in order to read and understood literature, and to complete both studies and workout and diet plans.

As I have said in an earlier post, one almost crucial way to develop intellectually is to travel quite extensively, since it broadens one’s horizons of understanding life and the world, and to party and eat junk food is of course the opposite of physical development.

However, if it is being done selectively and, mostly in conjunction with traveling and thus at new and more exciting locations than one’s home town or city, then party (and other more adventerous activities) adds a relevant and Dionysian dimension which makes existence more complete.

For the sake of simplicity, think perhaps of the funny film trilogy The Hangover (I have only seen part I and part II, but visited Tijuana, where the third film partly takes place, and hence know a little about what this hell-hole is like). As a person you do want to have the experience of some of those nights, although perhaps a little bit less twisted in some respects. One can be 20 or 30, or perhaps even a bit older, but regardless of that, the Dionysian element should not be wholly neglected but, instead, incorporated into a person’s life (and of course, there are always exceptions, some does not want to party and be adventurous at all).

The Apollonian constitutes the basis, whereas the Dionysian does occasionally complement the former.

Me and some friends having a good time in Daintree rainforest, Queensland, Australia (2009) – one of the 35 countries that I have visited so far (저 하고 친구 같이 호주퀸즐랜드 에서마시고 시간을 참 잘 보냈어요.)

Ett sätt att förstå ens eget liv och tillvaro är genom begreppen apollinisk och dionysisk, som är knutna till de grekiska gudarna Apollo och Dionysos, och använts av ett flertal europeiska filosofer, framför allt Friedrich Nietzsche i hans verk Tragedins födelse.

Det hela är ganska komplext, men kan förenklas genom att säga att det apolliniska representerar det ordnade, rationella och logiska i tillvaron, medan det dionysiska är motsatsen, det kaotiska och oordnade. Tänk på Baksmällan-filmerna eller någon av de egna galna utekvällarna, kanske inte minst utomlands.

Relaterar man detta till mitt och den här bloggens koncept, är det enkelt att inse att det apolliniska är grunden i tillvaron, men att det dionysiska kan fungera som ett komplement, som visar sig med vissa mellanrum. Det sista kan också kopplas till resor, och att utforska världen och livets mer extatiska och kaotiska dimensioner. (Sedan är det förstås valfritt om man vill festa eller inte.)