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Mailer assumed the role of a sharp literary critic throughout his career. His criticisms ranged from such pieces as 1959’s “Quick Evaluations of the Talent in the Room,” in which he offered brief appraisals of a number of his contemporaries, to his infamous review of Waiting for Godot (which he published without having seen the play), to more extended and thoughtful reviews of works by Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, and others.
For it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.
Dionysian art, too, wishes to convince us of the eternal joy of existence: only we are not to seek this joy in phenomena, but behind them. We are to recognize that all that comes into being must be ready for a sorrowful end; we are forced to look into the terrors of the individual existence—yet we are not to become rigid with fear.
What might Friedrich Nietzsche have to do with a 1924 silent film, even one that might be considered an exemplary representation of German Expressionism? Nietzsche wrote extensively about art and drama, of course, but his life was cut short at the beginning of the new century when moving pictures were only in gestation. I would like to suggest that there are currents in Nietzsche's thought that may be connected to Expressionism in general, and in particular to Robert Wiene's grotesque film, The Hands of Orlac (Orlac's Hände). It is not my intention to suggest direct linkage connecting Orlac, Nietzsche, and classical art. What I attempt to explore is Nietzsche's reading of classical tragedy as it relates to the spirit and tensions growing out of the binary distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysian (intimately intertwined), and the ways in which Nietzsche's theoretical impulses may relate to German Expressionism. This chapter is not intended as a source study; rather, it seeks to serve as a speculative inquiry into fragments of Nietzschean gesture, sensibility, and sensitivity as they relate to a powerful and seductive film that I consider a fertile synecdoche of global Expressionism. Paul Orlac is an existential figure expressing Apollonian and Dionysian antipodes within himself, but he also lives the life of his times, as he must, in which these dialectical tensions born in antiquity find release in mid-1920s German culture, thus nurturing the festering impulses deep inside, and not only within the individual but also very much within the fabric of emerging Modernist culture.
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