Will it be Apollo or Dionysius in 2020?

Published 9:28 am Thursday, December 26, 2019

Existing between Christmas and the New Year each year is a question of duality; that human beings are both flesh and spirit, with what some would call higher and lower natures. The resolution seems less a choice than an adjustment of the two and recognition of the fact that we are, in fact, both.

If I play more than I work or drink more than I’m sober, prefer chaos to reflection, and good-timing to endurance, then I’m so-called Dionysian. Apollo, on the other hand, is sweet reason, not to mention moderation.

So in English literary studies, there is a long, lingering dispute between the god of reason and restraint named Apollo by the Greeks, and his arch opposite, if not his enemy, Dionysius, the god of excess and wine and chaos, also named by Greeks.

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Together they represent a first great debate for the new year and our resolutions: is our human nature a duality of excess and restraint that should be modified and accordingly transformed?

Or is it a choice between good and evil that eventually we all must make?

In literary seminars and schools, this is a dichotomy, frequently referred to as the “Apollonian-Dionysian Dichotomy.”

So do I choose?

Or modify?

In life, the answer’s clearer than it is in literature.

I would choose to use my reason and modify my actual behavior.

But in the literature, that loses.

Every single time.

You see, life itself, the Dionysians argue, is openness. It’s energy and excess. It’s abundance and possibility. Nothing is restrained. All things are possible. And in my time, life was Woodstock. I was 29. Lack of life was suburbs. Lack of life was thought to be life in the suburbs!

And life was questions; never answers.

Dionysius is irrationality and chaos. But Apollo was also a son of Zeus. And while these two appear to be rivals, diametrically opposed, they are somehow united, fundamentally the same, perhaps.

Thought and reflection are negatives to life, the 19th-century scholar, Nietzsche argued. But centuries earlier, Socrates had repudiated the value of the senses for the mind and for sweet reason itself.

So dear friends, what’s it to be?

Do we acknowledge both?

Or choose between them?

Life is negated by reason, Nietzsche had argued. Experience means to murder the mind; all the negatives the mind supposedly unleashes by its incessant planning, programs, and warnings.

Or the nearly indescribable pleasure of life without moderation?

By now you’ve figured out I had a hard time figuring out something to write about this week.

Like Nina Simone sings though, “It Be’s That Way Sometimes.”

So it’s almost New Year’s and we start thinking and talking about New Year’s resolutions and such.

Why not?

Do you want to be rational this year?

Or just have fun and not be arrested.

The question is, “Who, besides English majors in semesters-long seminars, cares?”

I don’t.

Happy New Year, everybody!


Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.