Durandus von Meissen

The Science of Cultural Criticism

Category: Agency

Encountering Tragedy: Thoughts on Nietzsche and Plato

Aesthetics, Tragedy, and Primordial Being


The goal of this post is to put onto ‘paper’ some thoughts regarding Nietzsche’s rendering of tragedy in The Birth of Tragedy and the way in which tragedy functions in Plato’s The Republic. I have prepared these thoughts within the context of writing a paper on Nietzsche and Bloch and preparing the syllabus for the introduction to philosophy course I am currently teaching at California State University Bakersfield. As I am now unable to produce anything like a lucid non-academic blog post, I have chosen to write this in essay format.


The confrontation Nietzsche seeks throughout his project with the figure of Socrates, I argue, is summarily available to his readers through the way in which Plato construes tragedy negatively as an inappropriately imitative form of art. My thesis is that Plato’s censorship of particular genres and modes of storytelling reflect the positive content Nietzsche locates within tragedy…

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Peter Kropotkin theorized in his classic Mutual Aid:

All species on Earth, over the course of centuries, exhibit “Mutual Aid and Mutual Support, carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.”


Prolegomena to the Models of Agency

If there is any model by which Agency can be substantially and exhaustively understood, one would have to consider the whole field of action available to and requisite of Agency. We are compelled to acknowledge that such field of action must be all-encompassing and all-inclusive of every aspect of experience native to Agency (what may be humorously termed: the etiology of praxis); and accordingly identify this field as the Existential Field (EF).

It is within this field that Perception takes shape and is fashioned according to the models of Agency that experience gives rise to. These models would be virtually and actually constitutive of Perception in the whole of the EF as, without these models, no means would be available to the exercise of Agency properly understood, being replaced by a strictly determinative automation. People become clock works, as it were (not altogether improbable).

Agency then becomes the synthetic composite of those models working collectively and taking up residency as the very Perception making available for action the whole of the EF. Plainly stated, the models of Agency are Values.

The first order of business to establish Cultural Criticism as a science will be to consider the EF constitutive of Agency. The models of Agency must therefore be categorized and the conditions of the EF identified for the elaboration of these models; thus erecting what can be understood as the superstructure of Agency itself in context of the EF. It should come as no surprise that this superstructure of Agency will be identified as a Culture of Values which Perception takes as the orientation of Agency within the EF.

This orientation is not the kind of immediate and sensible perception (intuition) of Kant’s Pure Reason, which is said to be the necessitating and a priori grounds making possible all representation of empirical data whatsoever, without which experience for any Rational Agent conceivable to man is impossible. However, we shall have occasion to erect parallel constructions of the models of Agency that we directly correlate with Instinct or Reason and thus find Kant’s ideational architecture amenable to the purposes of Cultural Criticism here, perhaps most notably in answering “How” the conditions of Agency are established, or made constitutive for Perception. Those familiar with Kant’s work will understand how we here attempt, at first, to deploy our terms so as to justify our science with presumptive certainty; though, while familiarity being helpful, shall prove to be in no way requisite.

In the following we shall first exemplify the whole of the EF as being a conditioned duality for all of the models of Agency (none of which we’ll even so much as refer to just yet), divided as, say, a coin into an Obverse and Reverse relation of categories. Both the obverse and reverse relation that exists for Value is constitutive for Perception, and consequently of Agency. Without this complementarity, the EF would be as incomplete for Perception as Time would be without Space in Kant’s system; they are necessary correlates, for which reason we say that they are “constitutive,” as distinct from “attributive,” for the models of Agency termed: Value, or being differentiated: Values. We do not, for instance, attribute to a newly minted and well-struck coin the quality of Luster; but we perceive that the Luster of the coin is constitutive of its newly minted and pristine “status,” for such a coin, “in itself” as it were. However oddly enough, though, we may ‘attribute’ a quantifiable ‘value’ to this same coin as ‘money’ upon some scale of exchange rates which other covetous men may contest in some particular but not deny in general as the “stuff their dreams are made of.” There’s so much more to this seeming conundrum than greets the eye at first, second, third, up to the ninth glance that we shall not bother to linger here. This Argus Panoptes (Perception) of the EF may well be too monstrous to grasp for any single mind, so we shall do more obviously better to stick closer to our kind, for now.

In similar fashion, Value is to Agency what Luster is to a newly minted coin as described above. Hold such a coin in hand and wobble it in circular motion to ‘see’ the Luster’s perceptive brilliance wheel as the hands of a clock about the circumference of the dial. It is the coin’s “Field” that affects this perception, and is observable both obversely and reversely. We shall see in the following how this dichotomous aspect of Value, as for a Coin, plays-out across the whole of the EF and is constitutive of the essential Field Categories. These categories are Personal and Institutional; also to be characterized as Humane and Inhumane by justifications to become clear as we proceed.

For both of these categories there are three modes through which is instantiated the Perception of Agency and by which is realized the whole of the EF:

1). Identity, as to Status
2). Actuality, as to Dynamic
3). Entelechy, as to Purpose

To these three modes, the Perception of Agency equates an “inherent” and an “adherent” causality to the EF, which we locate by Instinct on the one hand (obverse) and by Reason on the other (reverse). We can thus say that Personal Value “inheres” as Identity having the innate “status” of Agency; that Personal Value is inherent as Actuality having the innate “dynamic” of Agency; and that Personal Value is inherently Telic having the innate “purpose” of Agency.

Reversely, we can say that Institutional (impersonal, i.e. in-humane) Value “adheres” as Identity having the assumed “status” of Agency; that Institutional Value is adherent as Actuality having the assumed “dynamic” of Agency; and that Institutional Value is adherently Telic having the assumed “purpose” of Agency. Perhaps the Supreme Court of the United States should have thought just a bit more carefully before elevating the Institutional Value of an assumptive Person-hood to the status of real Identity and realize that it would exalt thereby an inhumanity over man in the process, inviting evils that Americans have only begun to guess at for their national polity. We’ll hope to address such tragedy in an Interlude to come as we descend this rabbit hole.

When we say that certain values, which we are terming Models of Agency, have an instinctual causality while other values have a reasoned causality, we are asserting that the first of these arise as necessary constructs of Agency, in the absence of which Agency itself is dissolved, and with it Institutional Value and the whole house of cards upon which Society is raised. It should be noted here that Personal Value, having an instinctual causality, affects Agency as an end in itself, which is “intrinsic” to every known ‘value’ worthy of the epithet: humane. Conversely, Institutional Value, having a reasoned causality, effects Agency as a means to every object which is “extrinsic” to these same, humane ‘values’, and which distinguishes the two principal paradigms of the EF: Subjectivity/Objectivity. To the degree that we have Value that bridges the chasm apparently separating these paradigms we have Synthetic Agency, upon which rests the viability of Civilization itself. To the degree that we have one or the other paradigm jostling for supremacy we have ignorance, barbarity and the teetering of Civilization upon the abyss of insanity and destruction.

It’s not simply some guesswork of Cultural Criticism to elaborate these conditions, as some would have us believe; while all the world is full of disciplines that have effectively (as often, unwittingly) thrown in the towel on this contest for the meaningful reassessment of our condition, resolved to spin-away their straws of insight into proverbial fool’s gold of specialized jargon, secluded in conclave of their respective ivory towers. Anyone with a shred of common sense can pick-up the latest Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual for a humorous musing on that score, as an example. More to the perennial Doctor’s prescription, what may well be required is the overturning of the established order of science itself, up till modern times at least, before old One-eyed is quite capable of describing accurately the ruin of the outworn by the apparently jumbled bones of that new Summer to come. Alas, hope springs eternal….

In what follows we begin to define each of these modes, adding meaningful nuances to traditional terms where necessary in order to accommodate a new set of applications for Cultural Criticism, the likes of which are merely hinted at throughout. These many terms are not exhaustive but exemplary and allow for elaboration in each instance as the synonyms of these definitions may indicate. We will be keeping as near as possible to the complimentary distinctions already drawn, which logic dictates, with the clear expectation that some of what follows will require clarification, expansion or perhaps redaction, as required in the procession of our science. For ease of comparison, we place side-by-side the Personal and Institutional categories of Value while delivering their primary Existential Qualities (EQ). Webster lends a hand withal.


1). Identity (tacit): “the condition of being the same with something described.” e.g:

Subjective: “arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs not directly caused by external stimuli; arising out of or identified by means of apperception, conscious status or internal affect; the status of being “person-al” as that having qualities of a person rather than that of a thing or external object.”

Immanent: “being near at hand and immediate; standing in a direct causal relation as to affect and comprising both instinctual and intuitive perception; interior to the observer.”

Fundamental: “the basis supporting or determining essential structure and functions; serving as an original or generating force; innate or ingrained characteristics of an organism.”


1). Identity (explicit): “the condition of being the same with something described.” e.g:

Objective: “of, relating to or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of tangible experience independent of thought and perceptible by all observers.”

Eminent: “being outside the observer so as to be readily perceived or noted; standing in a direct causal relation as to effect and comprising material and empirical perception; exterior to the observer.”

Optional: “not necessary or essential; one among viable or sufficient alternatives.”


2). Actuality (intensive): “the nature of a thing as realized in existence; something that embodies.” e.g:

Reflective: “capable of throwing back illumination, as from a common source; resemblance of qualities and reproduction in another without diminishing; the engendering of such qualities essential likeness and resultant enrichment of either source or recipient.”

Reciprocal: “to give and take mutually as of action or influence denoting equivalency of exchange; of an alternating or complimentary quality, being beneficial, inclusive and enduring.”

Cooperative: “action marked by working together or of joint effort toward shared goals that are mutually sustaining or supplemental.”


2). Actuality (extensive): “the nature of a thing as realized in existence; something that embodies.” e.g:

Absorbent: “having power or capacity of a kind to take in, connoting substantial loss of or by what is taken in by that which takes in, resulting in the enrichment of what takes in.”

Terminal: “having a fixed duration; of limited, exclusive and conclusive utility.”

Competitive: “action marked by rivalry among organized forces of interests with divergent goals that are mutually exclusive of and detrimental to opposing forces of interests.”


3). Entelechy (instinctual): “the regulating force of any body or organism that directs its essential functions and development.” e.g:

Nutritive: “promoting exuberant growth and vitality of all essential functions.”

Social: “of or relating to the collective welfare of society and tending toward interdependence and alliance of interests, efforts and outcomes relevant to such welfare.”

Defensive: “a state of heightened alert for the preservation of life and survival of the species, characterized by protective strategies in absence of the preemptive infliction of loss or harm upon other groups of the same species or heterogeneous species.”


3). Entelechy (rational): “the regulating force of any body or organism that directs its essential function and development.” e.g:

Acquisitive: “behavior directed to the grasping, control, possession and use of resources, or strategic behaviors in support of control, possession or use of resource that includes limiting any opposing interests to control, possess or use of the same, often directly resulting in the diminution of resources to scarcity and the promotion of a frenzied intensification of such behavior characteristic of competition on the micro level and of war on the macro level of the EF.”

Divisive: “action, process or instance of creating discontinuity in the EF identifying or creating disparate or discrete objects for the purpose of grasping, controlling, possessing or use of those objects to some rationalized end.”

Offensive: “the state of heightened alert for the aggressive exploitation of vulnerabilities in the defensive strategies of any species in the EF, aiming for the capture, control or manipulation of the Agency proper and necessary to their kind in order to augment the domination of one set of specialized interests over that of differentiated others.”