|Readings in the History of Ăsthetics: An Open-Source Reader; Ver. 0.11|
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The present inquiry has for its subject-matter Ăsthetic. It is a subject co-extensive with the entire realm of the beautiful; more specifically described, its province is that of Art, or rather, we should say, of Fine Art.
For a subject-matter such as this the term "Ăsthetic" is no doubt not entirely appropriate, for "Ăsthetic" denotes more accurately the science of the senses or emotion.… It has as such been provisionally accepted in ordinary speech, and we cannot do better than retain it. The term, however, which fully expresses our science is "Philosophy of Art," and, with still more precision, "Philosophy of Fine Art."
(a) In virtue of this expression we at once exclude the beauty of Nature from the scientific exposition of Fine Art.… [W]e are justified in maintaining categorically that the beauty of art stands higher than Nature. For the beauty of art is a beauty begotten, a new birth of mind; and to the extent that Spirit and its creations stand higher than Nature and its phenomena, to that extent the beauty of art is more exalted than the beauty of Nature.…
But in predicating of mind and its artistic beauty a higher place in contrast to Nature, we do not denote a distinction which is merely relative. Mind, and mind alone, is pervious to truth, comprehending all in itself, so that all which is beautiful can only be veritably beautiful as partaking in this higher sphere and as begotten of the same.…
Assuming, however, that we have, by way of prelude, limited our inquiry to the beauty of art, we are merely by this first step involved in fresh difficulties.
(b) What must first of all occur to us is the question whether Fine Art in itself is truly susceptible to a scientific treatment.… [Y]et for all that art essentially belongs to the relaxation and recreation of spiritual life, whereas its substantive interests rather make a call upon its strained energy. On such grounds an attempt to treat that which on its own account is not of a serious character with all the gravity of scientific exposition may very possibly appear to be unsuitable and pedantic. In such a case from such a point of view art appears a superfluity if contrasted with the essential needs and interests of life,even assuming that the softening of the soul which a preoccupation with the beauty of objects is capable of producing, does not actually prove injurious in its effeminate influence upon the serious quality of those practical interests.…
[T]he free activity of the imagination is the source of the fair works of art, which in this world of the mind are even more free than Nature is herself. Not only has art at its service the entire wealth of natural form in all their superabundant variety, but the creative imagination is able inexhaustibly to extend the realm of form by its own productions and modifications. In the presence of such an immeasurable depth of inspired creation and its free products, it may not unreasonably be supposed that the thought will lose the courage to apprehend such in their apparent range, to pronounce its verdict thereon, and to appropriate such beneath its universal formulŠ.
/Science, on the other hand, everyone must admit, is formally bound to occupy itself with thinking which abstracts from the mass of particulars: and for this very reason, from one point of view, the imagination and its contingency and caprice, in other words the organ of artistic activity and enjoyment, is excluded from it.…
From each and all these points of view consequently, in its origin, that is to say, in its effect and in this range, fine art, so far from proving itself fitted for scientific effort, rather appears fundamentally to resist the regulative principle of thought, and to be ill-adapted for exact scientific discussion.…
Fine art is not art in the true sense of the term until it is also thus free, and its highest function is only then satisfied when it has established itself in a sphere which it shares with religion and philosophy, becoming thereby merely one mode and form through which the Divine, the profoundest interests of mankind, and spiritual truths of widest range, are brought home to consciousness and expressed. It is in works of art that nations have deposited the richest intuitions and ideas they possess; and not infrequently fine art supplies a key of interpretation to the wisdom and religion of peoples; in the case of many it is the only one. This is an attribute which art shares in common with religion and philosophy, the peculiar distinction in the case of art being that its presentation of the most exalted subject-matter is in sensuous form, thereby bringing them nearer to Nature and her mode of envisagement, that is closer to our sensitive and emotional life.
The objection that works of fine art defy the examination of scientific though, because they originate in the unregulated world of imagination and temperament, and asset their effect exclusively on the emotions and the fancy with a complexity and variety which defies exact analysis, raises a difficulty which still carries genuine weight behind it. As a matter of fact the beauty of art does appear in a form which is expressly to be contrasted with abstract thought, a form which it is compelled to disturb in order to exercise its own activity in its own way. Such a result is simply a corollary of the thesis that reality anywhere and everywhere, whether the life of Nature or mind, is defaced and slain by its comprehension; that so far from being brought more close to us by the comprehension of thinking, it is only by this means that it is in the complete sense removed apart from us, so that in his attempt to grasp through thought as a means the mature of life, man rather renders nugatory this very aim. An exhaustive discussion of the subject is here impossible; we propose merely to indicate the point of view from which the removal of this difficulty or impossibility and incompatibility might be effected.…
For this reason the work of art, in which thought divests itself of itself, belongs to the realm of comprehending thought; and mind, by subjecting it to scientific contemplation, thereby simply satisfies its most essential nature. For inasmuch as thought is its essence and notion, it can only ultimately fund such a satisfaction after passing all the products of its activity through the alembic of rational thought, and in this way making them for the first time in very truth part of its own substance. But though art, as we shall eventually see with yet more distinctness, is far indeed from being the highest form of mind, it is only in the philosophy of art that it comes into all that it may justify claim.
We have made it clear that neither is fine art unworthy of philosophical study, nor is such a philosophical study incapable of accepting as an object of its cognition the essence of fine art.
In the first part of this work we have had under consideration the realisation of the idea of the beautiful as constituting the ideal in art, however numerous may be the different phases under which the conception of the ideal is presented to our view, all these determinations are only related to the work of art considered in a general way.
Now, the idea of the beautiful as the absolute idea contains a totality of distinct elements, or of essential moments, which as such, must manifest themselves outwardly and become realised. Thus are produced what we may call, in general, the Special Forms of Art.
These must be considered as the development of those ideas which the conception of the ideal contains within it, and which art brings to light. Thus its development is not accomplished by virtue of an external activity, but by the specific force inherent in the idea itself so that the Idea, which develops itself in a totality of particular forms, is what the world of art presents us.
In the second place, if the forms of art find their principle in the idea which they manifest, this, on the contrary, is truly the idea only when it is realised in its appropriate forms. Thus, to each particular stage which art traverses in its development, there is immediately joined a real form. It is, then, indifferent whether we consider the progress as shown in the development of the idea, or in that of the forms which realise it, since these two terms are closely united, the one to the other, and since the perfecting of the idea as matter appears no less clearly than does the perfecting of form.
Hence, imperfection of the artistic form betrays itself also as imperfection of idea. If, then, at the origin of art, we encounter forms which, compared with the true ideal, are inadequate to it, this is not to be understood in the sense in which we are accustomed to say of works of art that they are defective, because they express nothing, or are incapable of attaining to the idea which they ought to express. The idea of each epoch always finds its appropriate and adequate form, and these are what we designate as the special forms of art. The imperfection or the perfection can consist only in the degree of relative truth which belongs to the idea itself; for the matter must first be true, and developed in itself before it can find a perfectly appropriate form.
We have, in this respect, three principal forms to consider:
1. The first is the Symbolic Form. Here the idea seeks its true expression in art without finding it; because, being still abstract and indefinite, it cannot create an external manifestation which conforms to its real essence. It finds itself in the presence of the phenomena of nature and of the events of human life, as if confronted by a foreign world. Thus it exhausts itself in useless efforts to produce a complete expression of conceptions vague and ill defined; it perverts and falsifies the forms of the real world which it seizes in arbitrary relations. Instead of combining and identifying, of blending totally the form and the idea, it arrives only at a superficial and abstract agreement between them. These two terms, thus brought into connection, manifest their disproportion and heterogeneity.
2. But the idea, in virtue of its very nature, cannot remain thus in abstraction and indetermination. As the principle of free activity, it seizes itself in its reality as spirit. The spirit, then, as free subject, is determined by and for itself, and in thus determining itself it finds in its own essence its appropriate outward form. This unity, this perfect harmony between the idea and its external manifestation, constitutes the second form of art—the Classic Form.
Here art has attained its perfection, in so far as there is reached a perfect harmony between the idea as spiritual individuality, and the form as sensuous and corporeal reality. All hostility between the two elements has disappeared, in order to give place to a perfect harmony.
3. Nevertheless, spirit cannot rest with this form, which is not its complete realisation. To reach this perfect realisation, spirit must pass beyond the classic form, must arrive at a spirituality, which, returning upon itself, descends into the depths of its own inmost nature in the classic form, indeed, not withstanding its generality, spirit reveals itself with a Special determinate character; it does not escape from the finite. Its external form, as a form altogether visible, is limited. The matter, the idea itself, because there is perfect fusion, must present the same character. Only the finite spirit is able to unite itself with external manifestation so as to form an indissoluble unity.
When the idea of beauty seizes itself as absolute or infinite Spirit, it also at the same time discovers itself to be no longer completely realised in the forms of the external world; it is only in the internal world of consciousness that it finds, as spirit, its true unity. It breaks up then this unity which forms the basis of Classical Art; it abandons the external world in order to take refuge within itself. This is what furnishes the type of the Romantic Form. Sensuous representation, with its images borrowed from the external world, no longer sufficing to express free spirituality, the form becomes foreign and indifferent to the idea. So that Romantic Art thus reproduces the separation of matter and form, but from the side opposite to that from which this separation takes place in Symbolic Art.
As a summary of the foregoing, we may say that Symbolic Art seeks this perfect unity of the idea with the external form; Classic Art finds it, for the senses and the imagination, in the representation of spiritual individuality; Romantic Art transcends it in its infinite spirituality, which rises above the visible world.
The symbol, in the sense which we here give to this term, constitutes, according to its very idea, as well as from the epoch of its appearance in history, the beginning of art. Thus it ought rather to be considered as the precursor of art. It belongs especially to the Orient, and will conduct us, by a multitude of transitions, transformations, and mediations, to the true realisation of the ideal under the classic form. We must then distinguish the symbol, properly speaking, as furnishing the type of all the conceptions or representations of art at this epoch, from that species of symbol which, on its own account, nothing more than a mere unsubstantial, outward form. Where the symbol presents itself under its appropriate and independent form, it exhibits in general the character of sublimnity. The idea, being vague and indeterminate, incapable of a free and measured development, cannot find in the real world any fixed form which perfectly corresponds to it; in default of which correspondence and proportion, it transcends infinitely its external manifestation. Such is the sublime style, which is rather the immeasurable than the true sublime?
We will first explain what should here be understood by the term symbol.
1. It is a sensuous object, which must not be taken in itself such as it presents itself immediately to us, but in more extended and more general sense. There are, then, in the symbol two terms to be distinguished: first, the meaning, and, secondly, the expression. The first is a conception of the mind; the second, a sensuous phenomenon, an image which address itself to the senses.
Thus the symbol is a sign, but it is distinguished from the signs of language in this: that between the image and the idea which it represents, there is a relation which is natural, not arbitrary or conventional. It is thus that the lion is the symbol of courage, the circle of eternity, the triangle of the trinity.
Still, the symbol does not represent the idea perfectly, but only from a single side. The lion is not merely courageous, the fox cunning. Whence it follows that the symbol, having many meanings, is equivocal. This ambiguity ceases only when the two terms are first conceived separately and then in combination; the symbol then gives place to comparison.
Thus conceived, the symbol, with its enigmatical and mysterious character, is peculiarly applicable to a whole epoch of history—to Oriental art and its extraordinary creations. It characterises that order of monuments and emblems by which the peoples of the Orient have sought to express their ideas, but have been able to do so only in an equivocal and obscure fashion. Instead of beauty and regularity, these works of art a bizarre, grandiose, fantastic aspect.
When we find ourselves in this world of symbolic representations and images of ancient Persia, India, and Egypt, all seems strange to us. We feel that we are groping about in the midst of problems. These images do not entertain us of themselves. The spectacle neither pleases nor satisfies us in itself; we must pass beyond the sensuous form in order to penetrate its the more extended and more profound meaning. In other productions we see at the first glance that they have nothing serious; that, like the stories of children, they are a simple play of the imagination, which is pleased with accidental and particular associations. But these peoples, although in their infancy, demand a meaning and a truer and more substantial basis of ideas. This, indeed, is what we find among the Indians, the Egyptians, etc., although in these enigmatical figures the meaning may be often very difficult to divine. What part must it play amid this poverty and grossness of conceptions? How far, on the contrary, in the incapability of expressing by purer more beautiful forms the depth of religious ideas, is it proper to call in the fantastic and the grotesque to the aid of a representation of which the aspiration is not to remain beneath its object? This is a difficult point to decide.…
All mythology is then conceived as essentially symbolical. This would be to say that myths, as creations of the human spirit, however bizarre and grotesque they may appear, contain in themselves a meaning for the reason; general thoughts upon the divine nature—in a word, philosophemes.
From this point of view myths and traditions have their origin in the spirit of man, who can easily make a play of the representations of his gods, but seeks and finds in them also a higher interest, whenever he finds himself unable to set forth his ideas in a more suitable manner. Now, this is the true opinion. Thus, when reason finds again these forms in history, it realises the necessity of probing their meaning.
Without doubt, priests and poets have never known under an abstract and general form the thoughts which constitute the basis of mythological representations, and it is not by design that they have been enveloped in a symbolical veil. But it does not follow that their representations cannot be symbols and ought not to be considered as such. Those peoples, at the time when they composed their myths, lived in a state altogether poetic; they expressed their most secret and most profound sentiments, not by abstract formulae, but by the imagination.
Thus the mythological fables contain a wholly rational basis, and more or less profound religious ideas.
Nor is it less correct to say that for every true work of art there serves as basis a universal thought which, afterward presented under an abstract form, must give the meaning of the work. The critical spirit, or the understanding, hastens on to the symbol or allegory. Here it separates image from signification, and thus destroys the art-form; to which, indeed, in respect of the symbolic explanation which only brings out the universal as such, no importance attaches.
2. …[W]e have to inquire how far the symbol, properly speaking, extends as a special form of art, while still preserving its appropriate character, and thereby we shall distinguish it in particular from the two other forms, Classic and Romantic.
Now, the symbol, in the special sense which we attach to this term, ceases where free subjectivity (personality), taking the place of vague and indeterminate conceptions, constitutes the basis of representation in art. Such is the character which the Greek gods present us. Greek art represents them as free individuals, independent in themselves; genuine moral persons. Hence we cannot consider them from the symbolic point of view.…
The difficult point in our investigation is to distinguish whether what are represented as personages in mythology or art possess a real individuality or personality, or whether they contain but the empty semblance of it, and are only mere personifications. This is what constitutes the real problem of the limitation of Symbolic Art.
What interests us here is that we are present at the very origin of art. At the same time we shall observe the progressive advancement of the symbol, the stages by which it proceeds toward genuine art. Whatever may he the narrow line which unites religion and art, we have here to consider the symbol solely from the artistic point of view. We abandon to the history of mythology itself the religious side.
But first we must mark its origin. This, which is, blended with that of art in general, can be explained in the following manner:
The sentiment of art like the religious sentiment, like scientific curiosity, is born of wonder; the man who wonders at nothing lives in a state of imbecility and stupidity. This state ceases when his spirit, disengaging itself from matter and from┐ physical necessities, is struck by the phenomena of nature, and seeks their meaning; when he is impressed by in them grand and mysterious, a concealed power which reveals itself.
Then he experiences also the need of representing this internal sentiment of a general and universal power. Particular objects—the elements, the sea, the waves, the mountains—lose their immediate meaning and become for the spirit images of this invisible power.
It is then that art appears. It is born of the necessity of representing this idea by sensuous images, which address themselves at once to the senses and to the mind.
In religions, the idea of an absolute power is at first manifested by the worship of physical objects. The divinity is identified with nature itself; but this gross worship cannot last. Instead of seeing the absolute in real objects, man conceives it as a distinct and universal being; he seizes, though very imperfectly, the relation which unites the invisible principle to the objects of nature; he fashions an image, a, symbol destined to represent it. Art is then the interpreter of religious ideas.
Such, in its origin, is art, and with it the Symbolic Form is born.
We will attempt, by a precise division, to trace exactly the circle in which the symbol moves.
That which characterises, in general, Symbolic Art is that it vainly endeavours to find pure conception and a mode of representation which is suitable to them. It is a conflict between matter and form; both imperfect and heterogeneous. Whence the incessant strife between the two elements of art, which seek, uselessly, to place themselves in harmony. The degrees of its development present successive phases or modes of this conflict.
1. At the beginning of art this conflict does not yet exist. The point of departure, at least, is a still undivided unity, in the center of which ferments the discord between the two principles. Here, then, the creations of art, little distinguished from objects of nature, are still, scarcely symbols.
2. The termination of this epoch is the disappearance of the symbol, which takes place by the reflective separation of the two terms, the idea being clearly conceived; the image, on its side, being perceived as distinct from the idea. From their reconciliation (rapprochement) is born the reflective symbol or comparison, the allegory, etc.
The two extreme points being thus fixed, we may now see, in what follows, the intermediary points or degrees. The general division is this:
I. The true symbol is the unconscious, irreflective symbol, the forms of which appear to us in Oriental civilisation.
II. Then follows, as a mixed form, or form of transition, the reflective symbol, of which the basis is comparison, and which marks the close of this epoch.
We have, then, to follow each of these two forms in the successive stages of its development; to mark its steps in the career which it has passed through in the Orient before arriving at the Greek ideal.
1. The ideal as free creation of the imagination of the artist.—2. The new gods of Classic Art.—3. External character of the representation.
1. As the ideal of Classic Art comes to be realised only by the transformation of preceding elements, the first point to develop consists in making manifest that it is truly sprung from the creative activity of the spirit; that it has found its origin in the inmost and most personal thought of the poet and of the artist.
This seems contradicted by the fact that Greek mythology rests upon ancient traditions, and is related to the religious doctrines of the peoples of the Orient. If we admit all these foreign elements—Asiatic, Pelasgic, Dodonian, Indian, Egyptian, Orphic—how can we say that Hesiod and Homer gave to the Greek gods their names and their form? But these two things—tradition and poetic invention—may he very easily be reconciled. (Tradition furnishes the materials, but it does not bring with it the precise idea and the form which each god is to represent. This idea these great poets drew from their genius, and they also discovered the actual forms appropriate to it. Thus were they the creators of the mythology which we admire in Greek art. The Greek gods are for this reason neither poetic invention nor an artificial creation. They have their root in the spirit and the beliefs of the Greek people—in the very foundation of the national religion; these are the absolute forces and powers, whatever is most elevated in the Greek imagination, inspired in the poet by the muse herself.
With this faculty of free creation, the artist, we have already seen, takes a position altogether different from that which he had in the Orient. The Indian poets and sages have, also, for their point of departure the primitive data, consisting of the elements of nature—the sky, animals, the rivers or the abstract conception of Brahma; but their inspiration is the annihilation of personality. Their spirit loses itself in wishing to represent ideas so foreign to their inner nature, while the imagination, in the absence of rule and of measure, incapable of directing itself, allows itself to wander in the midst of conceptions which have neither the character of freedom nor that of beauty. It is like an architect obliged to accommodate himself to an unequal soil, upon which rise old debris, walls half destroyed, hillocks and rocks; forced, besides to subordinate his plans to particular ends. He can erect only irregular structures which must be wholly irrational and fantastic. Such is not the work of a free imagination, creating according to its own inspirations.
In classic Art the artists and poets are also prophets and teachers; but their inspiration is personal.
a. At first that which constitutes the essence of their gods is neither a nature foreign to spirit, nor the conception of a single god who admits of no sensuous representation and remains invisible. They borrow their ideas from the human heart, from human life. Thus man recognises himself in these creations, for what he produces outwardly is the most beautiful manifestation of himself.
b. They are on this account only the more truly poets. They fashion at their will the matter and the idea so as to draw from them figures free and original. All these heterogeneous or foreign elements they cast into the crucible of their imagination; but they do not form therein a bizarre mixture which suggests the cauldron of the magician. Everything that is confused, material, impure, gross, disordered, is consumed in the flame of the their genius. Whence springs a pure and beautiful creation wherein the materials of which it has. been formed are scarcely perceptible. In this respect their task consists in despoiling tradition of everything gross, symbolic, ugly, and deformed, and afterward bringing to light the precise idea which they wish to individualise and to represent under an appropriate form. This form is the human form, and it is not employed here as a simple personification of the acts and accidents of life; it appears as the sole reality which corresponds to the idea. True, the artist also finds his image in the real world; but he must remove whatever of accidental or inappropriate they present before they can express the spiritual element of human nature, which, seized in its essence should represent the everlasting might of the gods. Such is the free, though not arbitrary, manner in which the artist proceeds in the production of his works.
c. As the gods take an active part in human affairs, the task of the poet consists in acknowledging therein their presence and their activity, as well as in signalizing whatever is remarkable in natural events, in human deeds, and in fact in all in which the divine powers appear to be involved. Thus the poet fulfils in part the role of priest, as well as that of prophet. We moderns, with our prosaic reason, explain physical phenomena by universal laws and forces; human actions, by personal wills. The Greek poets, on the contrary, saw, above all these phenomena, their divine author. In representing human acts as divine acts, they showed the diverse aspects under which the gods reveal their power. Thus a great number of these divine manifestations are only human acts, when such or such divinity intervenes. If we open the poems of Homer, we find there scarcely any important event which may not be explained by the will or the direct influence of the gods. Such interpretations belong to the mode of seeing, to the faith born the imagination of the poet.…
Still, of what nature are the creations which Classic Art produces in following such a method? What are the characteristics of the new gods of Greek art?
a. The most general idea that we should form of them is that of a concentrated individuality, which, freed from the multiplicity of accidents, actions, and particular circumstances of human life, is collected upon itself at the focus of its simple unity. Indeed, what we must first remark is their spiritual and, at the same time, immutable and substantial individuality. Far removed from the world of change and illusion, where want and misery reign, far from the agitation and trouble which attach to the pursuit of human interests, retired within themselves they rest upon their own universality as upon an everlasting foundation where they find their repose and felicity. By this alone the gods appear as imperishable powers, of which the changeless majesty rises above particular existence. Disengaged from all contact with whatever is foreign or external, they manifest themselves uniquely in their immutable and absolute independence.
Yet, above all, these are not simple abstraction—mere spiritual generalities—they are genuine individuals. With this claim each appears as an ideal which possesses in itself reality, life; it has, like spirit, a clearly defined nature, a character. Without character there can be no true individuality. In this respect as we have seen above, the spiritual gods contain, as integrant part of themselves, a definite physical power, with which is established an equally definite moral principle, which assigns to each divinity a limited circle in which his outward activity must be displayed. The attributes, the specific qualities which result therefrom, constitute the distinctive character of each divinity.
Still, in the ideal proper, this definite character must not be limited to the point of exclusive being; it must maintain itself in a just medium, and must return to universality, which is the essence Of the divine nature. Thus each god, in so far as he is at once a particular individuality and a general existence, is also, at the same time, both part and whole. He floats in a just medium between pure generality and simple particularity. This is what gives to the true ideal of classic Art its security and infinite calm, together with a freedom relieved from every obstacle.
b. But, as constituting beauty in Classic Art, the special character of the gods is not purely spiritual; it is disclosed so much the more under an external and corporeal form which addresses itself to the eyes as well as to the spirit. This, we have seen, no longer admits the symbolic element, and should not even pretend to affect the Sublime. Classic beauty causes spiritual individuality to enter into the bosom of sensuous reality. It is born of a harmonious fusion of the outward form with the inward principle which animates. Whence, for this very reason, the physical form, as well as the spiritual principle, must appear enfranchised from all the accidents which belong to outer existence, from all dependence upon nature, from the miseries inseparable from the finite and transitory world. It must be so purified and ennobled that, between the qualities appropriate to the particular character of the god and the general forms of the human body, there shall be manifest a free accord, a perfect harmony. Every mark of weakness and of dependence has disappeared; all arbitrary particularity which could mar it is cancelled or effaced. In its unblemished purity it corresponds to the spiritual principle of which it should be the incarnation.
c. Notwithstanding their particular character the gods preserve also their universal and absolute character. Independence must be revealed, in their representation, under the appearance of calmness and of a changeless serenity. Thus we see, in the figures of the gods that nobility and that elevation which announces in them that, though clothed in a natural and sensuous form, they have nothing in common with the necessities of finite existence. Absolute existence, if it were pure, freed all particularity, would conduct to the sublime but, in the Classic ideal, spirit realises and manifests itself under a sensuous form which is its perfect image, and whatever of sublimnity it has shown to be grounded in its beauty, and as having passed wholly into itself. This is what renders necessary, for the representation of the gods, the classic expression of grandeur and beautiful sublimnity.
In their beauty they appear, then, elevated above their own corporeal existence; but there is manifest a disagreement between the happy grandeur which resides in their spirituality and their beauty, which is external and corporeal. Spirit appears to be entirely absorbed in the sensuous and yet at the same time, aside form this, to be merged (plongÚ) in itself alone; it is, as it were, the moving presence of a deathless god in the midst of mortal men.
Thus, although this contradiction does not appear as a manifest opposition, the harmonious totality conceals in its individual unity a principle of destruction which is found there already expressed. This is that sigh of sadness in the midst of grandeur which men full of sagacity have felt in the presence of the images of the ancient gods, notwithstanding their perfect beauty and the charm shed around them. In their calmness and their serenity they cannot permit themselves to indulge in pleasure, in enjoyment nor in what we especially term satisfaction.…
It is this character of universality in the Greek gods which people have intended to indicate by characterising them as cold. Nevertheless, these figures are cold only in relation to the vivacity of modern sentiment; in themselves they have warmth and life. The divine peace which is reflected in the corporeal form comes from the fact that they are separated from the finite; it is born of their indifference to all that is mortal and
transitory. It is an adieu without sadness and without effort, but an adieu to the earth and to this perishable world. In these divine existences the greater the degree in which seriousness and freedom are outwardly manifested, the more distinctly are we made to feel the contrast between their grandeur and their corporeal form. These happy divinities deprecate at once both their felicity and their physical existence. We read their lineaments the destiny which weighs upon their heads, and which, in the measure that its power increases (causing this contradiction between moral grandeur and sensuous reality to become more and more pronounced), draws Classic Art onto its ruin.
If we ask what is the outer mode of manifestation suitable to Classic Art, it needs only to repeat what has already been said: In the Classic ideal, properly speaking, the spiritual individuality of the gods is represented, not in situations where they enter into relation one with another, and which might occasion strife and conflicts, but in their eternal repose, in their independence, freed as they are from all aspects of pain and suffering…in a word, in their divine calmness and peace.… Among the arts it is, therefore, Sculpture which more than the others represents the classic idea with that absolute independence wherein the divine nature preserves its universality united with the particular character. It is, above all, Ancient Sculpture, of a severer taste, which is strongly attached to this ideal side. Later it was allowed to be applied to the representation of situations and characters of a dramatic vitality. Poetry, which causes the gods to act, draws them into strife and conflicts. Otherwise, the calm of the plastic, when it remains in its true domain, is alone capable of expressing the contrast between the greatness of spirit and its finite existence with that seriousness of sadness to which we have already referred.
1. Principle of inner subjectivity—2. Of the ideas and forms which constitute the basis of Romantic Art.—3. Of the special mode of representation.
As in the preceding parts of our investigation, so now in Romantic Art, the form is determined by the inner idea of the content or substance which this art is called upon to represent. We must, therefore, in the next place, attempt to make clear the characteristic principle of the new content which, in this new epoch of the development of human thought is revealed to consciousness as the absolute essence of truth, and which appears in its appropriate form of art.
At the very origin of art there existed the tendency of the imagination to struggle upward out of nature into spirituality. But, as yet, the struggle consisted in nothing more than a yearning of the spirit, and, insofar as this failed to furnish a precise content for art, art could really be of service only in providing external forms for mere natural significations, or impersonal abstractions of the substantial inner principle which constitutes the central point of the world.
In Classic Art, however, we find quite the contrary. Here spirituality, though it is now for the first time able to struggle into conscious existence through the cancellation or setting aside of mere natural significations, it is nevertheless the basis and principle of the content; it is a natural phenomenon inseparable from the corporeal and sensuous. It is an external form. This form however, does not, as in the first epoch, remain indefinite, unpervaded by spirit. On the contrary, the perfection of art is here reached in the very fact that the spiritual completely pervades its outer manifestation, that it idealizes the natural in this beautiful union with it, and rises to the measure of the reality of spirit in its substantial individuality. It is thus that Classic Art constituted the absolutely perfect representation of the ideal, the final completion of the realm of Beauty. There neither is nor can there ever be anything more beautiful.
But there exists something still more elevated than the simply beautiful manifestation of spirit in its immediate sensuous form, even though this form be fashioned by spirit as adequate to itself. For this very union of matter and form, which is thus accomplished in the element of the external, and which thus lifts sensuous reality to an adequate existence, nonetheless contradicts the true conception of spirit which is thus forced out of its reconciliation with the corporeal, back upon itself, and compelled to find its own true reconciliation within itself. The simple, pure totality of the ideal (as found in the Classic) dissolves and falls asunder into the double totality of self-existent subjective substance on the one side, and external manifestation on the other, in order that, through this separation, spirit may arrive at a deeper reconciliation in its own element of the inner or purely spiritual. The very essence of spirit is conformity with itself (self-identity), the oneness of its idea with the realisation of the same. It is, then, only in its own world, the spiritual or inner world of the soul, that spirit can find a reality (Dasein) which corresponds to spirit. It is, thus in consciousness that spirit comes to possess its other, its existence, as spirit, with and in itself, and so for the first time to enjoy its infinitude and its freedom.
I. Spirit thus rises to itself or attains to self-consciousness, and by this means finds within itself its own objectivity, which it was previously compelled to seek in the outer and sensuous forms of material existence. Henceforth it perceives and knows itself in this its unity with itself; and it is precisely this clear self-consciousness of spirit that constitutes the fundamental principle of Romantic Art. But the necessary consequence is that in this last stage of the development of art the beauty of the Classic ideal, which is beauty under its most perfect form and in its purest essence, can no longer be deemed a finality; for spirit now knows that its true nature is not to brought into a corporeal form. It comprehends that it belongs to its essence to abandon this external reality in order to return upon itself, and expressly posits or assumes outer reality to be an existence incapable of fully representing spirit. But if this new content proposes to render itself beautiful, still it is evident that beauty, in the sense in which we have thus far considered it, remains for this content something inferior and subordinate, and develops into the spiritual beauty of the essentially internal—into the beauty of that spiritual subjectivity or personality which is in itself (i.e., potentially) infinite.
But in order that spirit may thus realise its infinite nature it is so much the more necessary that it should rise above mere natural and finite personality in order to reach the height of the Absolute. In other terms, the human soul must bring itself into actual existence as a person (Subjekt) possessing self consciousness and rational will; and this it accomplishes through becoming itself pervaded with the absolutely substantial. On the other hand, the substantial, the true, must not be understood as located outside of humanity, nor must the anthropomorphism of Greek thought be swept away. Rather the human as actual subjectivity or personality must become the principle, and thus, as we have already seen, anthropomorphism for the first time attains to its ultimate fullness and perfection.
From the particular elements which are involved in this fundamental principle we have now in general to develop the circle of objects, as well as the form, whose changed aspect is conditioned by the new content of Romantic Art.
The true content of Romantic thought, then, is absolute internality, the adequate and appropriate form of which is spiritual subjectivity, or conscious personality, as comprehension of its own independence and freedom. Now that which is in itself infinite and wholly universal is absolute negativity of all that is finite and particular. It is the simple unity with self which has destroyed all mutually exclusive objects, all processes of nature, with their circle of genesis, decay, and renewal which, in short, has put an end to all limitation of spiritual existence, and dissolved all particular divinities into itself. In this pantheon all the gods are dethroned. The flame of subjectivity has consumed them. In place of plastic polytheism, art now knows but one God, one Spirit, one absolute independence, which, as absolute knowing and determining, abides in free unity with itself, and no longer falls asunder into those special characters and functions whose sole bond of unity was the constraint of a mysterious necessity. Absolute subjectivity, or personality as such, however, would escape from art and be accessible only to abstract thought, if, in order to be an actual subjectivity commensurate with its idea, it did not pass into external existence, and again collect itself out of this reality into itself. Now, this element of actuality belongs to the Absolute, for the product of the activity of the Absolute as infinite negativity is the Absolute itself, as simple self-unity of knowing, and, therefore, as immediacy. Yet, as regards this immediate existence, which is grounded in the Absolute itself, it does not manifest itself as the one jealous God who dissolves the natural, together with finite human existence, without bringing itself into manifestation as actual divine personality, but the true Absolute reveals itself (schliesst sich auf), and thus presents a phase which art is able to comprehend and represent.
But the external existence (Dasein) of God is not the natural and sensuous, as such, but the sensuous elevated to the supersensuous, to spiritual subjectivity, to personality, which, instead of losing the certainty of itself in its outer manifestation, truly for the first time attains to the present actual certainty of itself through its own reality. God in His truth is, therefore, no mere ideal created by the imagination. Rather, He places Himself in the midst of the finitude and outer accidentality of immediate existence, and yet knows Himself in all this as the divine principle (Subjekt) which in itself remains infinite and creates for itself this infinitude. Since, therefore, actual subject or person is the manifestation of God, art now acquires the higher right of employing the human form, together with the modes and conditions of externality generally, for the expression of the Absolute. Nevertheless, the new problem for art can consist only in this: that in this form the inner shall not be submerged in outer corporeal existence, but shall, on the contrary, return into itself in order to bring into view the spiritual consciousness of God in the individual (Subjekt). The various moments or elements brought to light by the totality of this view of the world as totality of the truth itself therefore, now find their manifestation in man. And this, in the sense that neither nature as such—as the sun, the sky, the stars, etc.—gives the content and the form, nor does the circle of the divinities of the Greek world of beauty, nor the heroes, nor external deeds in the province of the morality of the family and of political life, attain to infinite value. Rather it is the actual, individual subject or person who acquires this value, since it is in him alone that the eternal moments or elements of absolute truth, which exist actually only as spirit, are multifariously individualised and at the same time reduced to a consistent and abiding unity.
If now we compare these characteristics of Romantic Art with the task of classic Art in its perfect fulfilment in Greek Sculpture, we see that the plastic forms of the gods do not express the movement and activity of spirit which has gone out of its corporeality into itself, and has become pervaded by internal independent-being (FŘrsichsein). The changeable and accidental phases of empirical individuality are indeed in those lofty images of the gods, but what is lacking in them is the actuality of self-existent personality, the essential characteristic of which is self-knowledge and independent will. Externally this defect betrays itself in the fact that in the representations of sculpture the expression of the soul simply as soul—namely, the light of the eye—is wanting. The sublimest works of sculptured art are sightless. Their subtle inner being does not beam forth from them, as a self-knowing in that spiritual concentration of which the eye gives intelligence. The ray of the spirit comes from beyond and meets nothing which gives it a response; it belongs alone to the spectator, who cannot contemplate the forms, so to speak, soul in soul, eye in eye. The god of Romantic Art, on the contrary, makes his appearance as a god who sees, who knows himself, who seizes himself in his own inner personality, and who opens the recesses of his nature to the contemplation of the conscious spirit of man. For infinite negativity, the self return of the spiritual into itself, cancels this outflow into the corporeal. Subjectivity is spiritual light which shines into itself, into its hitherto dark realm; and while natural light can shine upon an object, this spiritual light is itself its own ground and object on which it shines and which it recognises as being one and the same with itself. But since now the absolute inner or spiritual manifests itself, in its actual outer existence, under the human form, and since the human stands in relation to the entire world, there is thus inseparably joined to this manifestation of the Absolute a vast multiplicity of objects belonging not only to the spiritual and subjective world, but to the corporeal and objective, and to which the spirit bears relation as to its own.
The thus constituted actuality of absolute subjectivity can have the following forms of content and of manifestation:
1. Our first point of departure we must take from the Absolute itself, which, as actual spirit, gives itself an outer existence (Dasein), knows itself and is self-active. Here the human form is so represented that it is recognised at once as having the divine within itself. Man appears, not as man in mere human character, in the constraint of passion, in finite aims and achievements, nor as in the mere consciousness of God, but is the self-knowing one and universal God Himself, in whose life and suffering, birth, death, and resurrection, is now made manifest, also, for the finite consciousness, what spirit, what the eternal and infinite, is in truth. This content Romantic Art sets forth in the history of Christ, of His mother, of His disciples, and even in the history of all those in whom the Holy Spirit is actual, in whom the entire divine nature is present. For in so far as it is God, who, though in Himself universal, still appears in human form, this reality is, nevertheless, not limited to particular immediate existence in the form of Christ, but unfolds itself in all humanity in which the Divine Spirit becomes ever present, and in this actuality remains one with itself. The spreading abroad [in humanity] of this self-contemplation, of this independent and self-sufficing existence (In-sich-und-bei-sich-sein) of the spirit, is the peace, the reconciliation of the spirit with itself in its objectivity. It constitutes a divine world—a kingdom of God-in which the Divine, from the center outward, possesses the reconciliation of its reality with its idea, completes itself in this reconciliation, and thus attains to independent existence.
2. But however fully this identification may seem to be grounded in the essence of the Absolute itself, still, as spiritual freedom and infinitude, it is by no means a reconciliation which is immediate and ready at hand, from the center outward, in mundane, natural, and spiritual actuality. On the contrary, it attains to completeness only as the elevation of the spirit out of the finitude of its immediate or unrealised existence to its truth, its realised existence. As a consequence of this, the spirit, in order to secure its totality and freedom, separates itself from itself—that is, establishes the distinction between itself, as, on the one hand, a being belonging in part to the realm of nature, in part to that of spirit, but limited in both; and as, on the other hand, a being which is in itself (i.e., potentially) infinite. But with this separation, again, is closely joined the necessity of escaping out of the estrangement from self—in which the finite and natural, the immediacy of existence, the natural heart, is characterised as the negative, the evil, the base and of entering into the kingdom of truth and contentment by the sole means of subjugating this nugatoriness. Thus, spiritual reconciliation is to be conceived and represented only as an activity, a movement of the spirit—as a process in the course of which there arises a struggle, a conflict; and the pain, the death, the agony of nothingness, the torment of the spirit and of materiality (Leiblichkeit) make their appearance as essential moments or elements. For as, in the next place, God separates or distinguishes (ausscheidet) finite actuality from Himself, so also finite man, who begins with himself as outside the divine kingdom, assumes the task of elevating himself to God, of freeing himself from the finite, of doing away with nugatoriness, and of becoming, through this sacrifice (Ertoedten) of his immediate actuality, that which God, in His appearance as man, has made objective as true actuality. The infinite pain attendant upon this Sacrifice of the individual┐s own subjectivity or personality, the suffering and death which were more or less excluded from the representations of Classic Art—or, rather, which appeared there only as natural suffering—attain to the rank of real necessity for the first time in Romantic Art.…
3. The third side of this absolute world of the spirit has its representative in man, in so far as he neither immediately, in himself, brings the absolute and divine, as divine, into manifestation, nor represents the process of elevation to God, and reconciliation with God, but remains within the limits of his own human circle.
We have now, finally, to consider somewhat more at length the significance of the relation of this entire content to the mode of its representation.
1. The material of Romantic Art, at least with reference to the divine, is extremely limited.… The entire content, therefore, is thus concentrated upon the internality of the spirit…upon the perception, the imagination and the soul-which strives after unity with the truth—and seeks and struggles to produce and to retain the divine in the individual (Subjekt). Thus, though the soul is still destined to pass through the world, it no longer pursues merely worldly aims and undertakings. Rather it has for its essential purpose and endeavour the inner struggle of man with himself, and his reconciliation with God, and brings into representation only personality and its conservation, together with appliances for the accomplishment of this end.… Thus the life (Geschichte) of the soul comes to be infinitely rich, and can adapt itself in the most manifold ways to ever changing circumstances and situations.… Though the Absolute is in itself completely universal, still, as it makes itself known in mankind especially, it constitutes the inner content of Romantic Art, and thus, indeed, all humanity, with its entire development, forms the immeasurable and legitimate material of that art.
2. It may be, indeed, that Romantic Art, as art, does not bring this content into prominence, as was done in great measure in the Symbolic, and, above all, in the Classic form of Art, with its ideal gods. As we have already seen, this art is not, as art, the revealed teaching (Belehren) which produces the content of truth directly only in the form of art for the imagination, but the content is already at hand for itself outside the region of art in imagination and sensuous perception. Here, religion, as the universal consciousness of truth in a wholly other sphere (Grade), constitutes the essential point of departure for art. It lies quite outside the external modes of manifestation for the actual consciousness, and makes its appearance in sensuous reality as prosaic events belonging to the present. Since, indeed, the content of revelation to the spirit is the eternal, absolute nature of spirit, which separates itself from the natural as such and debases it, manifestation in the immediate thus holds such rank (Stellung) that this outer, so far as it subsists and has actual-being (Dasein), remains only an incidental world out of which the Absolute takes itself up into the spiritual and inner, and thus for the first time really arrives at the truth. At this stage the outer is looked upon as an indifferent element to which the spirit can no longer give credence, and in which it no longer has an abode. The less worthy the spirit esteems this outer actuality, by so much the less is it possible for the spirit ever to seek its satisfaction therein, or to find itself reconciled through union with the external as with itself.
3. In Romantic Art, therefore, on the side of external manifestation, the mode of actual representation in accordance with this principle does not go essentially beyond specific, ordinary actuality, and in nowise fears to take up into itself this real outer existence (Dasein) in its finite incompleteness and particularity. Here, again, has vanished that ideal beauty which repudiates the external view of temporality and the traces of transitoriness in order to replace its hitherto imperfect development by the blooming beauty of existence. Romantic Art no longer has for its aim this free vitality of actual existence, in its infinite calmness and submergence of the soul in the corporeal, nor even this life, as such, in its most precious significance, but turns its back upon this highest phase beauty. Indeed, it interweaves its inner being with the accidentality of external organisation, and allows unrestricted play room to the marked characteristics of the ugly.…
…In Classic Art, spirit controlled empirical manifestation and pervaded it completely, because it was that form itself in which spirit was to gain its perfect reality. Now, however, the inner or spiritual is indifferent respecting the mode of manifestation of immediate or sensuous world, because immediacy is unworthy of the happiness or the soul in itself. The external and phenomenal is no longer able to express internality; and since, indeed, it is no longer called upon to do this, it thus retains the task of proving that the external or sensuous is an incomplete existence, and must refer back to the spiritual, to intellect, (GemŘt), and the sensibility, as to the essential element. But for this very reason Art allows externality to again appear on its own account, and in this respect permits each and every matter to enter unhindered into the representation. Even flowers, trees, and the most ordinary household furniture are admitted, and this, too, in the natural accidentality of mere present existence. This content, however, bears with it at the same time the characteristic that as mere external matter it is insignificant and low; that it only attains its true value when it is pervaded by human interest; and that it must express not merely the inner or subjective, but even internality or subjectivity itself, which, instead of blending or fusing itself with outer or material, appears reconciled only in and with itself. Thus driven to externality, the inner at this point becomes manifestation destitute of externality. It is, as it were, invisible, and comprehended only by itself; a tone, as such without objectivity or form; a wave upon water, a resounding through a world, which in and upon its heterogeneous phenomena can only take up and send back a reflected ray of this independent-being (Isichseins) of the soul.
We may now comprise in a single word this relation between content and form as it appears in the Romantic—for here it is that this relation attains to its complete characterisation. It is this: just because the ever increasing universality and restless working depth of the soul constitute the fundamental principle of the keynote thereof is musical, and, in connection with the particularised content of the imagination lyrical. For Romantic Art is, as it were, the elementary characteristic—a tone which the epic and the drama also strike, and which breathes about the works of the arts of visible representation themselves like a universal, fragrant odour of the soul; for here spirit and soul will speak to spirit and soul through all their images.
We come now to the division necessary to be established for the further and more precisely developing investigation of this third great realm of art. The fundamental idea of the Romantic in its internal unfolding lies in the following three moments or elements:
1. The Religious as such, constitutes the first circle, of which the central point is given in the history of redemption—in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Introversion (Umkehr) here assumes importance as the chief characteristic. The spirit assumes an attitude of hostility toward, and overcomes, its own immediacy and finitude, and through thus rendering itself free it attains to its infinity, and absolute independence in its own sphere.
2. Secondly, this independence passes out of the abstract divine of the spirit, and also leaves aside the elevation of finite man to God, and passes into the affairs of the secular world. Here at once it is the individual (Subjekt), as such, that has become affirmative for itself, and has for the substance of its consciousness, as also for the interest of its existence, the virtues of this affirmative individuality, namely, honour, love, fidelity, and valour—that is, the aims and duties which belong to Romantic Knighthood.
3. The content and form of the third division may be summed up, in general, as Formal Independence of Character. If, indeed, personality is so far developed that spiritual independence has come to be its essential interest, then there comes, also, to be a special Content, with which personality identifies itself as with its own, and shares with it the same independence, which, however, can only be of a formal type, since it does not consist in the substantiality of its life, as is the case in the circle of religious truth, properly speaking. But, on the other hand, the form of outer circumstances and situations, and of the development of events, is indeed that of freedom, the result of which is a reckless abandonment to a life of capricious adventures. We thus find the termination of the Romantic, in general, to consist in the accidentality both of the external and of the internal, and with this termination the two elements fall asunder. With this we emerge from the sphere of art altogether. It thus appears that the necessity which urges consciousness on to the attainment of a complete comprehension of the truth demands higher forms that Art is able in anywise to produce.…