Tragic Rhythms: Nietzsche and Agamben on Rhythm and Art

la Deleuziana 10 (2019)


This paper explores the question of the relationship between art, rhythm, and life through a mobilisation of Giorgio Agamben’s discussion, first, of Nietzsche and the active nihilist’s relationship to art, and second, on his diagnosis of rhythm as pertaining to the “original structure” of the work of art in The Man Without Content. Agamben’s notion of the “rhythmic” and “poietic” encounter is one which situates the experience of rhythm as the experience of the originary dimension of temporality and of the human’s relationship to the world. Turning to Nietzsche, this paper seeks to complicate Agamben’s picture by discussing Nietzsche’s under-discussed explorations of rhythm and its connection to art. Three distinct rhythms will be identified: Apollonian, Dionysian, and the tragic or joyful rhythms of the Apollo-Dionysus relation. Reading Agamben through Nietzsche, it will be discussed how Agamben’s notion of rhythm blends Apollonian and Dionysian elements; does not through this blending however offer a tragic or joyful notion of rhythm, which, for Nietzsche, follows from their double affirmative rhythmisation. Instead of a rhythmic-poietic encounter opening an originary and authentic experience of temporality and dwelling, Nietzsche offers an account of tragic and joyful rhythms which continually create new worlds.

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Conor Heaney
University of Warwick

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