Welsh-Asante, Kariamu; Kahlich, Luke C.; Weightman, Lindsay; Flanagan, Edward (Temple University. Libraries, 2009)
      In her autobiography, Isadora Duncan recalled an assertion made by Karl Federn: "Only by Nietzsche, he said, will you come to the full revelation of dancing expression as you seek it" (Duncan 1995, 104). Duncan also told her students to read Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, as if it was their "Bible" (Duncan 1928, 108). These statements justify an examination of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy as an imperative source for understanding the depth of her dance philosophy. This dissertation asks what it means to see Duncan's philosophy of dance and its practice in the context of this nineteenth-century German philosopher. It examines Nietzsche's words and ideas about the birth of tragedy and how they become body in the writings and dance of Isadora Duncan. This dissertation focuses on the philosophical idea of the "tragic idea" according to Nietzsche's and Duncan's interpretations and applications of philosophy bodied forth in dance. This tragic idea comes from an emerging idea in intellectual history initiated by followers of Kant. The idea of drawing from Greek tragedy a philosophy that could be used in philosophical thought to debate the meaning and function of art and even life was particular to German thinkers, philosophers and literati. While it drew from Greek tragic plays a philosophy, German thought on tragedy differed from the ancients in that it was applied as a philosophy for life. The ideas on Greek tragedy that Nietzsche situates his own within were developed within and against the Romantic aesthetic. The characteristics of Romantics provide context for understanding the use of tragedy as a source for thought and art. Although Nietzsche came to oppose aspects of Romanticism, his first book was in part a dialogue with German Romantic thought and aesthetics. Nietzsche's idea of tragic philosophy in his The Birth of Tragedy is examined in precedence to Duncan's use of his book. This dissertation provides an historical contextualization of the idea of a tragic philosophy to show that Duncan's choice to base her dance philosophy on Nietzsche's tragic philosophy follows this historical philosophical thread. As Nietzsche both dedicated The Birth of Tragedy to Wagner and based the book on Wagner's interpretation of Greek tragedy (Williamson 2004, 238), and Duncan wrote on and danced to Wagner, Wagner is relevant within the specific context of understanding Duncan's dance as a philosophical practice of The Birth of Tragedy. This dissertation, then, looks into Duncan's writings as a way to read Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, and through these texts to interpret some aspects alive within the Romantic mood. In addition, this dissertation incorporates as part of both the literature and the analysis of Duncan's moving image, an embodied voice of personal experience from its writer, who has practiced this dance intimately. I weave my personal experience into the dissertation, using my experience in dancing within this dance form to reflect on the ideas presented here. The tragic idea as I see it within this movement drives the dancer's ideas about dance as an expressive art form. A tragic philosophy/wisdom motivates the imagination, the range of emotional expression and the physical body as it shapes and moves itself in, through and around space. A tragic sensibility represents a quality of investigation about the range of human experience that happens in and from out of the body. It comes from deep within the body's inner space and emotional and physical aliveness. It is an idea that the dancer is conscious of and actively engaged in as a process of dancing (for oneself) and making dance (as performative).