German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his work, The Birth of Tragedy, talks about how all creativity needs the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian within the creator to enable any meaningful work of creation. Apollo is the God who like Schopenhauer’s man relies on the principium individuationis, that is, the principle that each individual is its own separate thing existing in its own place and time. Everything that is part of the unique individuality of man or thing is Apollonian in character; all types of form or structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed; thus, sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts. Apollo stands for beauty, order, harmony, serenity, and individualism. Everything about Apollo seems to exist in a dreamlike state of perfection.
Dionysus is Apollo’s exact opposite; he is governed by emotions, particularly passions, and stands for disorder and chaos, intoxication and excess, frenzy and self-destruction. Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian as they break down a man’s individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole; music is the most Dionysian of the arts. The spirit of unbridled passion is Dionysian.
According to Nietzsche, the human mind and all culture are products of both these two antagonistic tendencies within us – the Apollonian and the Dionysian. He believed that without experiencing the overwhelming power of both these ‘drives’, an artist would have nothing meaningful or important to convey. A working together of these two drives results in a moving creation, and there is beauty in the creation that can touch our soul. The great non-rational power, the madness and the intoxication, the naked grief and dark horror that is at the heart of life, the imagination and the intuition, the passion and the faith, the Dionysian within us, is the seed, the imagination or the germ from which all meaningful art originates. This kernel in turn needs the form, the other drive, the Apollonian, which is the ordered and the researching mind within us, the calm and the analytical thought process, the logical and the calculative reasoning. The Apollonian is at the service of the Dionysian but is as important. For, more of Apollonian and the creation will be shallow, but more Dionysian and there will be no creation, just chaos!
These two drives or energies can also be seen in each of us governing our lives and everyday actions. We have all known within us, both order and chaos, restraint and madness, reason and excess, and perfection and insufficiency. The Apollonian in us favours light and keeps everything dark and disturbing at bay – or at least out of sight. The Dionysian within us emphasizes chaos and makes us experience life as more real, where we see the inevitability of pleasure with pain, of life with death. The Dionysian embraces destruction.
Regardless of their conflict or duality within us, one
needs the other, one feeds off the other.
Think of our trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. Can we think of existence without these forces? Can there be any creation without these tensions?
Are we not our own artists, both the strained strings as well as the hollow cover? Creating our own music every moment of every day. Deciding on how much madness to bring in, how much rationality to carve the madness out, how much dark we must show, what light will reveal the changing shadows. How much aliveness it can hold, how much deadness it needs.
And when two people come together with their individual Dionysian and Apollonian, they expand that sense of creation, they dip into each other’s darkness, they borrow from each other’s light, at times merging, at other times defining, in both cases re-forming, creating something bigger than what they create individually. In this way not only are we instrumental in helping the other shape his creation, but also give them the access to help us in ours. As we allow these dual energies to flow within us, through us, we will, at least sometimes, experience the eternal, even if the moments are fleeting. In the eternal we may also feel immortal, sometimes in our selves, sometimes with the other…
But then we need to make space for the Dionysian in others as we do in ourselves or, vice versa…