Dustin Kahoud, Psy.D.
excerpt from . . . Stephen Mitchell's (1986) The Wings of Icarus (pp. 118-120):
The determination of emotional health--especially when it comes to grand estimations of one's own capacities and perfection, an infatuation with the larger-than-life qualities of others whom one loves and/or envies, and fusion fantasies of an exquisite, perfect merger with desirable others--seems to have less to do with the actual mental content and more to do with the attitude of the person about that content.
Thus, all of us probably experience at various times feelings and thoughts just as self-enobling as the most grandiose narcissist, just as devoted as the most star-struck idealizer, just as fused as the most boundaryless symbiosis-seeker. It is not so much what you do and think that is the problem but your attitude toward what you do and think, how seriously you take yourself. How can this subtle issue of attitude be conceptualized?
Consider Nietzsche's theory of tragedy. Life is lived on two fundamental dimensions, Nietzsche suggests. On the one hand, we live in a world of illusions, continually generating transient forms and meanings with which we play and quickly discard. This facet of living Nietzsche terms the Apollonian, Apollo being the god of the dream, of art and illusion. On the other hand, we are embedded in a larger unity, a universal pool of energy from which we emerge temporarily, articulate ourselves, and into which we once again disappear. This facet of living Nietzsche terms the Dionysian, Dionyses representing re-immersion into this larger unity and, in Nietzsche's system, standing for the inevitable undoing of all illusions, all individual existence.
Nietzsche establishes "the tragic" as the fullest, richest model of living, and the truly tragic represents a balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian dimensions. The tragic man (this must be disentangled from all pejorative connotations of this word) is one who is able to fully pursue his Apollonian illusions and also is able to relinquish them in the face of the inevitable realities of the human condition. The tragic man regards his life as a work of art, to be conceived, shaped, polished and inevitably dissolved. The prototypical tragic activity is play, in which new forms are continually created and demolished, in which the individuality of the player is continually articulated, developed and relinquished.
Picture the beach at low tide, endless sand offering itself as material for creation. Three different approaches are possible. The fully Apollonian man builds elaborate sandcastles, throwing himself into his activity as if his creations would last forever, totally oblivious of the coming tide which will demolish his productions. Here is someone who ignores reality and is therefore continually surprised, battered and bruised by it.
The fully Dionysian man sees the inevitability of the leveling tide, and therefore builds no castles. His constant preoccupation with the ephemeral nature of his life and his creations allows him no psychic space to live and play. He will only build if his productions are assured of immortality, but unlike the Apollonian man, he suffers no delusions in this regard. Here is someone tyrannized and depleted by reality.
The third option is Nietzsche's tragic man, aware of the tide and the transitory nature of his productions, yet building his sandcastles nevertheless. The inevitable limitations of reality do not dim the passion in which he builds his castles; in fact, the inexorable realities add a poignancy and sweetness to his passion. The tragicomic play in which our third man builds, Nietzsche suggests, is the richest form of life, generating the deepest meaning from the dialectical interplay between illusion and reality.
Stephen Mitchell (1986). The wings of Icarus: Illusion and the problem of narcissism. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 22,107-132.