|Readings in the History of Ęsthetics: An Open-Source Reader; Ver. 0.11|
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There are two conditions in which art manifests itself in man even as a force of nature, and disposes of him whether he consent or not: it may be as a constraint to visionary states, or it may be an orgiastic impulse. Both conditions are to be seen in normal life, but they are then somewhat weaker: in dreams and in moments of elation or intoxication.
But the same contrast exists between the dream state and the sate of intoxication: both of these states let loose all manner of artistic powers within us, but each unfetters powers of a different kind. Dreamland gives us the power of vision, of association, of poetry: intoxication gives u the power of grand attitudes, of passion, of song, and of dance.
The word "Dionysian" expresses: a constraint to unity, a soaring above personality, the commonplace, society; reality, and above the abyss of the ephemeral; the passionately painful sensation of superabundance, in darker, fuller, and more fluctuating conditions; an ecstatic saying of yea to the collective character of existence, as that which remains the same, and the equally mighty and blissful throughout all change; the great pantheistic sympathy with pleasure and pain, which declares even the most terrible and most questionable qualities of existence good, and sanctifies them; the eternal will to procreation, to fruitfulness, and to recurrence; the feeling of unity in regard to the necessity of creating and annihilating.
The word "Apollonian" expresses the constraint to be absolutely isolated, to the typical "individual," to everything that simplifies, distinguishes, and makes strong, salient, definite, and typical: to freedom within the law.
The further development of art is just as necessarily bound up with the antagonism of these two natural art-forces, as the further development of mankind is bound up with the antagonism of the sexes. The plenitude of power and restraint, the highest form of self affirmation in a cool, noble, and reserved kind of beauty: the Apollonianism of the Hellenic will.…
Extravagance, wildness, and Asiatic tendencies lie at the root of the Greeks. Their courage consists in their struggle with their Asiatic nature: they were not given beauty, any more than they were given logic and moral naturalness: in them these things are victories, they are willed and fought for—they constitute the triumph of the Greeks.
"Beauty" is, to the artist, something which is above all order of rank, because in beauty contrasts are overcome, the highest sign of power thus manifesting itself in the conquest of opposites; and achieved without a feeling of tension: violence being no longer necessary, everything submitting and obeying so easily, and doing so with good grace; this is what delights the powerful will of the artist.
If one should require the most astonishing proof of how far the power of transfiguring, which comes of intoxication, goes, this proof is at hand in the phenomenon of love; or what is called love in all the languages and silences of the world. Intoxication works to such a degree upon reality in this passion that in the consciousness of the lover the cause of his love is quire suppressed, and something else seems to take its place… In this respect to be man or an an animal makes no difference: and still less does spirit, goodness, or honesty. If one is astute, one is befooled astutely; if one is thick-headed, one is befooled in a thick-headed way. But love, even the love of God, saintly love, "the love that saves the soul" are at bottom all one; they are nothing but a fever which has reasons to transfigure itself— a state of intoxication which does well to lie about itself.… And, at any rate, when a man loves, he is a good liar about himself and to himself: he seems to himself transfigured, stronger, richer, more perfect; he is more perfect.… Art here acts as an organic function: we find it present in the most angelic instinct "love"; we find it as the greatest stimulus of life—thus art is sublimely utilitarian, even in the fact that it lies.… But we should be wrong to halt at its power to lie: it does more than merely imagine; it actually transposes values. and it not only transposes the feelingfor values: the lover actually has a greater value; he is stronger. In animals this condition gives rise to new weapons, colors, pigments, and forms, and above all to new movements, new rhythms, new love-calls and seductions. In man it is just the same. His whole economy is richer, mightier, and more complete when he is in live than when he is not. The lover becomes a spendthrift; he is rich enough for it. He now dares; he becomes an adventurer, and even a donkey in magnanimity and innocence; his belief in God and in virtue revives, because he believes in love. Moreover, such idiots of happiness acquire wings and new capacities, and even the door to art is opened to them.
If we cancel the suggestion of this intestinal fever from the lyric of tones and words, what is left to poetry and music?… L'art pour l'art perhaps; the professional cant of frogs shivering outside in the cold, and dying of despair in their swamp.… Everything else was created by love.
The artist gradually learns to like for their own sake, those means which bring about the condition of ęsthetic elation; extreme delicacy and glory of color, definite, delineation, quality of tone; distinctness where in normal conditions distinctness is absent. All distinct things, all nuances, in so far as they recall extreme degrees of power which give rise to intoxication, kindle this feeling of intoxication by association;—the effect of works of art is the excitation of the state which creates art, or ęsthetic intoxication.
The essential feature in art is its power of perfecting existence, its production of perfection and plenitude; art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.… What does a pessimistic art signify? Is it not a contradictio?—Yes.—Schopenhauer is in error when he makes certain works of art serve the purpose of pessimism. tragedy does not teach "resignation"… To represent terrible and questionable things is, in itself, the sign of an instinct of power and magnificence in the artist; he doesn't fear them.… There is no such thing as a pessimistic art… Art affirms…
In regard to all ęsthetic values I now avail myself of this fundamental distinction: in every individual case I ask myself has hunger or has superabundance been creative here? At first another distinction might perhaps seem preferable—it is far more obvious for example, the distinction which decides whether a desire for stability, for eternity, for Being, or whether a desire for destruction, for change, for Becoming, has been the cause of creation. But both kinds of desire, when examined more closely, prove to be ambiguous, and really susceptible of interpretation only according to that scheme already mentioned and which I think is rightly preferred.
The desire for destruction, for change, for Becoming, may be the expression of an overflowing power pregnant with promises for the future (my term for this, as is well known, is Dionysian); it may, however, also be the hate of the ill-constituted, of the needy and of the physiologically botched, that destroys, and must destroy, because such creatures are indignant at, and annoyed by everything lasting and stable.
The act of immortalizing can, on the other hand, be the outcome of gratitude and love: an art which has this origin is always an apotheosis art… But it may also, however, be the outcome of the tyrannical will of the great sufferer who would make the most personal, individual, and narrow trait about him, the actual idiosyncrasy of his pain—in fact, into a binding law and imposition, and who thus wreaks his revenge upon all things by stamping, branding, and violating them with the image of his torment. The latter case is romantic pessimism in its highest form, whether this be Schopenhauerian voluntarism or Wagnerian music.
Again and again I have pointed to the great misunderstanding of Aristotle in maintaining that the tragic emotions were the two depressing emotions—fear and pity. Had he been right, tragedy would be an art unfriendly to life: it would have been necessary to caution people against it as against something generally harmful and suspicious. Art, otherwise the great stimulus of life, the great intoxicant of life, the great will to life, here became a tool of decadence, the handmaiden of pessimism and ill-health (for to suppose, as Aristotle supposed, that by exciting these emotions we thereby purged people of them is simply an error). Something which habitually excited fear or pity, disorganizes, weakens, and discourages: and supposing Schopenhauer were right in thinking that tragedy taught resignation (that is, a meek renunciation of happiness, hope, and of the will to live), this would presuppose an art in which art itself was denied. Tragedy would then constitute a process of dissolution; the instinct of life would destroy itself in the instinct of art. Christianity, Nihilism, tragic art, physiological decadence; these things would then be linked, they would then preponderate together and assist each other onwards—downwards.… Tragedy would thus be a symptom of decline.…
Whether, and in regard to what, the judgment "beautiful" is established is a question of an individual's or of a people's strength. The feeling of plenitude, of overflowing strength (which gaily and courageously meets man an obstacle before which the weakling shudders)—the feeling of power utters the judgment "beautiful" concerning things and conditions which the instinct of impotence can only value as hateful and ugly. The flair which enables us to decide whether the objects we encounter are dangerous, problematic, or alluring, likewise determines our ęsthetic Yea. ("This is beautiful" is an affirmation.)
From this we see that, generally speaking, a preference for questionable and terrible things is a symptom of strength; whereas the taste for pretty and charming trifles is characteristic of the weak and the delicate. The love of tragedy is typical of strong ages and characters: its non plus ultra is perhaps the Divina Commedia. It is the heroic spirits which in tragic cruelty say Yea unto themselves: they are hard enough to feel pain as a pleasure.
On the other hand, supposing weaklings desire to get pleasure from an art which was not designed for them, what interpretation must we suppose they would like to give tragedy in order to make it suit their taste? They would interpret their own feelings of value into it: for example, the "triumph of the moral order of things," or the teaching of the "uselessness of existence," or the incitement to "resignation" (or also half-medicinal and half-moral outpourings, ą la Aristotle. Finally, the art of terrible natures, insofar as it may excite the nerves may be regarded by the weak and exhausted as a stimulus… A test of man's well-being and consciousness of power is the extent to which he can acknowledge the terrible and questionable character of things, and whether he is in need of a faith at the end.
This kind of artistic pessimism is precisely the reverse of that religio-moral pessimism which suffers from the corruption of man and the enigmatic character of existence: the latter insists upon deliverance, or at least upon the hope of deliverance. Those who suffer, doubt, and distrust themselves—the sick, in other words—have in all ages required the transporting influence of visions in order to be able to exist at all (the notions "blessedness" arose in this way). A similar case would be that of the artists of decadence, who at bottom maintain a Nihilistic attitude to life, and take refuge in the beauty of form—in those select cases in which Nature is perfect, in which she is indifferently great and indifferently beautiful. (The "love of the beautiful" may thus be something very different from the ability to see or create the beautiful: it may be the expression of impotence in this respect.) The most convincing artists are those who make harmony right out of every discord, and who benefit all things by the gift of their power and inner harmony: in every work of art they merely reveal the symbol of their inmost experiences—their creation is gratitude for their life.
The depth of the tragic artist consists in the fact that his ęthetic instinct surveys the more remote results, that he does not halt shortsightedly at the thing that is nearest, that he says Yea to the whole cosmic economy, which justifies the terrible, the evil, and the questionable; which more than justifies it.
A.—…[T]here is but one world, and it is false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, and without sense.… A world thus constituted is the true world. We are in need of lies in order to rise superior to this reality, to this truth—that is to say, in order to live— That lies should be necessary to life is part and parcel of the terrible and questionable character of existence.
Metaphysics, morality, religion, science—in this book, all these things are regarded merely as different forms of falsehood: by means of them we are led to believe in life. "Life must inspire confidence": the task which this imposes upon us is enormous. In order to solve this problem man must already be a liar in his heart, but he must above all else be an artist. And he is that. Metaphysics, religion, morality, science—all these things are but the offshoot of his will to art, to falsehood, to a flight from "truth" to a denial of "truth." This ability, this artistic capacity par excellence of man— thanks to which he overcomes reality with lies— is a quality which he has in common with all other forms of existence. He himself is indeed a piece of reality, of truth, of nature: how could he help being also a piece of genius in prevarication!
The fact that the character of existence is misunderstood, is the profoundest and the highest secret motive behind everything relating to virtue, science, piety, and art. To be blind to many things, to see many things falsely, to fancy many things: Oh, how clever man has been in those circumstances in which he believed he was anything but clever! Love, enthusiasm, "God"— are but subtle forms of ultimate self-deception; they are but seductions to life and to the belief in life! In those moments when man was deceived, when he had befooled himself and when he believed in life: Oh, how his spirit swelled within him! Oh, what ecstasies he had! What power he felt! And what artistic triumphs in the feeling of power!… Man had once more become master of "matter,"—master of truth!…And whenever man rejoices it is always in the same way: he rejoices as an artist, his power is his joy, he enjoys falsehood as his power.…
B.—Art and nothing else! Art is the great means of making life possible, the great seducer to life, the great stimulus of life.
Art is the alleviation of the seeker after knowledge—of him who recognizes the terrible and questionable character of existence, and who will recognize it—of the tragic seeker after knowledge.
Art is the alleviation of the man of action—of him who not only sees the terrible and questionable character of existence, but also lives it, will live it—of the tragic and warlike man, the hero.
Art is the alleviation of the sufferer— as the way to states in which pain is willed, is transfigured, is deified, where suffering is a form of great ecstasy.
C.—It is clear than in this book pessimism, or, better still, Nihilism, stands for "truth." But truth is not postulated as the highest measure of value, and still less and the highest power. The will to appearance, to illusion, to deception, to becoming, and to change (to objective deception) is here regarded as more profound, as more primeval, as more metaphysical than the will to truth, to reality, to appearance: the latter is merely a form of the will to illusion. Happiness is likewise conceived as more primeval than pain: and pain is considered as conditioned, as a consequence of the will to happiness (of the will to Becoming, to growth, to forming, that is, to creating; in creating, however, destruction is included). The highest state of Yea-saying to existence is conceived as one from which the greatest pain may not be excluded: the tragico-Dionysian state.
D.—In this way this book is even anti-pessimistic, namely, in the sense that it teaches something which is stronger than pessimism and which is more "divine" than truth: Art. Nobody, it would seem, would be more ready seriously to utter a radical denial of life, an actual denial of action even more than a denial of life, than the author of this book. Except that he knows—for he has experienced it, and perhaps experienced little else!—that art is of more value than truth.…
"Art is the only task of life, art is the metaphysical activity of life.…"