Melkor: Tolkien’s critique of Nietzsche’s aesthetic

Tolkien’s metaphysics of evil, part 33

I’ve written before on Feänor as a kind of implied critique on Tolkien’s part of Nietzsche’s Dionysianism (see here and here). Another character, however, in whom one might see Tolkien toying with and ultimately subverting the aesthetic ideals of his fellow philologist is Melkor. In the preceding post in this series, I cited a passage from the Ainulindalë describing what I characterized as Melkor’s domineering “will to sameness.” In contrast to the complex and diverse themes of Ilúvatar and the faithful Ainur, the music of Melkor is said to have “achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes,” in contrast to the music of Ilúvatar which “was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came” (Silmarillion 16-17). Although he doesn’t seem to have had Tolkien’s Ainulindalë in mind, the entire conflict between the music of Melkor and Ilúvatar almost perfectly symbolizes what theologian David Bentley Hart has described as the permanent antagonism between the Dionysian aesthetic of Nietzsche and his disciple Gilles Deleuze on the one hand, and the competing aesthetic offered within Christian theology on the other. As Hart writes,

A Dionysian rhythm… embraced within the incessant drumbeat of being’s unica vox as it repeats itself endlessly, from whose beat difference erupts as a perpetual divergence; and even if Dionysus allows the odd irenic caesura in his dance—the occasional beautiful sequence—it constitutes only a slackening of a tempo, a momentary paralysis of his limbs, a reflective interval that still never arrests the underlying beat of difference. Theology, though, starting from the Christian narrative of creation out of nothingness, effected by the power and love of the God who is Trinity, might well inquire whether rhythm could not be the prior truth of things, and chaos only an illusion, the effect of a certain convulsive or discordant beat, the repetition of a sinful series. (The Beauty of the Infinite, 276-7)

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