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"The centre is everywhere" : Nietzsche's overcoming of modernity through musical dissonance Polakoff, Gregory Ivan


This dissertation argues that musical dissonance is a master metaphor in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche claims that musical dissonance constitutes the “foundations of all existence.” I contend that it forms the foundation of a radical, life-affirming, and dynamic epistemology. Musical dissonance provides Nietzsche with the means to “overcome” the ascetic, life-denying, metaphysical philosophies that he believes have enervated and depleted Western civilization since the advent of Platonic and Judeo-Christian thought. An analysis of Nietzsche’s major works through the lens of musical dissonance reveals that it constitutes a powerful extended metaphor throughout his writings, and inspires his understanding of tragedy, science, eternal recurrence, the Übermensch, the will to power, Bildung, and other concepts. The theoretical approach taken is informed by Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of the “emancipation of the dissonance,” which he claims to be the guiding principle of his twelve-tone system of musical composition. Nietzsche “emancipates” dissonance from the constrictions of metaphysical philosophies––a category that includes modern science in Nietzsche’s outlook––in order to facilitate a complete “revaluation of all values,” a project that Nietzsche outlines in his late works, which I contend involves the continual rethinking of all values with respect to a musical, dissonant epistemology. Musical, dissonant thinking does not rely upon a central authority for deriving truth and meaning, but rather a dynamic and pluralistic method of understanding that is without a unitary, fixed centre. This study demonstrates how Nietzsche’s fascination with musical dissonance in his early texts inspired the “revaluation of all values”––an act that represents the overcoming of modernity––through a close reading of The Birth of Tragedy, The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Ecce Homo. Gilles Deleuze, Claude Lévesque, Sarah Kofman, and Bruce Benson are among the other key thinkers whose works inspire the framework for my analysis. The concluding section explores the far-reaching implications of Nietzsche’s musical, dissonant philosophy and aesthetics in the twentieth century through an exploration of its legacy in the writings of Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno, and Arnold Schoenberg

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