In his book The birth of tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher of life, found two principles in nature. In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of the sun, of rational thinking and order, and appeals to logic, prudence and purity. Dionysus is the god of wine and dance, of irrationality and chaos, and appeals to emotions and instincts. The Ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods to be opposites or rivals, although they were often entwined by nature.
So, how can these two principles teach us more about the body?
The body, like any form of life, is made of these two principles. The Dionysian part of the body refers to chaotic instincts as very different of rationality and logic, a cherished dichotomy to philosophy in general. In other words, the Dionysian part of the body is the energy of life and survival that can be materialized in reproduction, nutrition, breathing and movements. This is when life in us, the Dionysian part, gets to be creative. Simply put, this is when we dance our heart out like nobody is watching; this is when a child moves in all different ways; this when we also stop and stretch and lay down. Sometimes, we are awaken full of life and sometimes we are not. Often we want to move in a certain way. Those misunderstood tendencies are the Dionysian in us, this life energy that can’t be contained or else it will turn against us with self-hate, diseases and pain.
“One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star”. Friedrich Nietzsche.
The Apollonian part in us is the rational and order part that gives the Dionysian energy a certain form. It is the idea of form and technique in any given activity. A proper form or technique tends to turn a movement into an aesthetic and orderly activity. This is when sports science and experience advises on good form to prevent injuries, because the Dionysian energetic instinctive part of the body can be chaotic and dangerous.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. Friedrich Nietzsche.
Richard Arthur Spinello in his article “Nietzsche’s conception of the body” (link at the end of the post) writes the following:
“The term “body” is a metaphorical way of describing the self not as a soul or simple substance but as an aggregate of forces or drives. In these same works Nietzsche develops a strong critique of consciousness and a highly positive evaluation of our instincts and emotions, the most important of those inner forces which comprise the self.”
According to Nietzsche, the body is an instinctive or force structure where forces are permanently fighting each others. Those forces can be called desires which are of two types: active and reactive. Mainly speaking, active forces or desires represents creativity, love of life, freedom, affirmation of life and all tendencies that can be referred to as positive. The reactive forces are the opposite: they represent resentment, self-hate, jealousy and all negative tendencies. Sometimes, active ones take over reactive ones and produce a positive creative full of life action. Some other times, reactive ones win the fight and results in self-hate resentful attitude or action. The fight and its consequences depend on each individual drives, experiences and general attitude. That being said, Nietzsche believed that his concept of will of power – often mistaken as the will of evil power- comes from the body and its active forces. Therefore, the Nietzschean will of power means the power of the will to be active and creative in a life affirmation attitude.
Understanding the basics of the Nietzschean philosophy requires a different perspective of the human body. If one wants freedom and joy, then one must strengthen active desires. Taken into a different level, science tells that the human body is made of about 600 muscles, which means that humans are movement machines. Combining Nietzsche’s conception of the body with science gives us an idea on how to strengthen active desires; one way to do it is through movement as in being physically active.
One of the main reasons behind some diseases and pain lies in the imbalance of sedentary life and lack of movement.
If you are interested in Spinello’s full article that broader on Nietzsche’s philosophy of the body and not solely focused on movement like my post, click on the following link:
Philosophy is mainly linked to existential questions, abstract concepts and metaphysical issues. However, many philosophers (maybe all of them) mentioned, studied and conceptualized the body. Some did it in an attempt to understand the cause behind the being just like the pre-Socratic did by studying nature, the physis; others focused more on the human body.
The body as a philosophical concept is underrated and it deserves our attention to comprehend life, energy and fitness! While the latter is never linked to philosophy, philosophers talked about it in between the lines.
In a round up of this subject, the principal problematic that always emerges about the body is its relation to the mind that you can check in my posts:
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The question is: is the muscle-centric approach to fitness mechanistic?
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Muscle-centric paradigm is thought of as new because it is applied now in some types of fitness but it is rooted in the 17th century philosophy. Whether one likes it or not, it is very efficient.
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