Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic
by Benedetto Croce
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Sidenote] Connexion of the activity of externalization with utility and morality.

Finally, it is only from the point of view of a clear and rigorous distinction between the true and proper aesthetic activity, and the practical activity of externalization, that we can solve the involved and confused questions as to the relations between art and utility, and art and morality.

That art as art is independent alike of utility and of morality, as also of every volitional form, we have above demonstrated. Without this independence, it would not be possible to speak of an intrinsic value of art, nor indeed to conceive an aesthetic science, which demands the autonomy of the aesthetic fact as a necessity of its existence.

But it would be erroneous to maintain that this independence of the vision or intuition or internal expression of the artist should be at once extended to the practical activity of externalization and of communication, which may or may not follow the aesthetic fact. If art be understood as the externalization of art, then utility and morality have a perfect right to deal with it; that is to say, the right one possesses to deal with one's own household.

We do not, as a matter of fact, externalize and fix all of the many expressions and intuitions which we form in our mind; we do not declare our every thought in a loud voice, or write down, or print, or draw, or colour, or expose it to the public gaze. We select from the crowd of intuitions which are formed or at least sketched within us; and the selection is governed by selection of the economic conditions of life and of its moral direction. Therefore, when we have formed an intuition, it remains to decide whether or no we should communicate it to others, and to whom, and when, and how; all of which considerations fall equally under the utilitarian and ethical criterion.

Thus we find the concepts of selection, of the interesting, of morality, of an educational end, of popularity, etc., to some extent justified, although these can in no wise be justified as imposed upon art as art, and we have ourselves denounced them in pure Aesthetic. Error always contains an element of truth. He who formulated those erroneous aesthetic propositions had his eye on practical facts, which attach themselves externally to the aesthetic fact in economic and moral life.

By all means, be partisans of a yet greater liberty in the vulgarization of the means of aesthetic reproduction; we are of the same opinion, and let us leave the proposals for legislative measures, and for actions to be instigated against immoral art, to hypocrites, to the ingenuous, and to idlers. But the proclamation of this liberty, and the fixation of its limits, how wide soever they be, is always the affair of morality. And it would in any case be out of place to invoke that highest principle, that fundamentum Aesthetices, which is the independence of art, in order to deduce from it the guiltlessness of the artist, who, in the externalization of his imaginings, should calculate upon the unhealthy tastes of his readers; or that licenses should be granted to the hawkers who sell obscene statuettes in the streets. This last case is the affair of the police; the first must be brought before the tribunal of the moral conscience. The aesthetic judgment on the work of art has nothing to do with the morality of the artist, in so far as he is a practical man, nor with the precautions to be taken that art may not be employed for evil purposes alien to its essence, which is pure theoretic contemplation.



[Sidenote] Aesthetic judgment. Its identity with aesthetic reproduction.

When the entire aesthetic and externalizing process has been completed, when a beautiful expression has been produced and fixed in a definite physical material, what is meant by judging it? To reproduce it in oneself, answer the critics of art, almost with one voice. Very good. Let us try thoroughly to understand this fact, and with that object in view, let us represent it schematically.

The individual A is seeking the expression of an impression, which he feels or has a presentiment of, but has not yet expressed. Behold him trying various words and phrases, which may give the sought-for expression, which must exist, but which he does not know. He tries the combination m, but rejects it as unsuitable, inexpressive, incomplete, ugly: he tries the combination n, with a like result. He does not see anything, or he does not see clearly. The expression still flies from him. After other vain attempts, during which he sometimes approaches, sometimes leaves the sign that offers itself, all of a sudden (almost as though formed spontaneously of itself) he creates the sought-for expression, and lux facta est. He enjoys for an instant aesthetic pleasure or the pleasure of the beautiful. The ugly, with its correlative displeasure, was the aesthetic activity, which had not succeeded in conquering the obstacle; the beautiful is the expressive activity, which now displays itself triumphant.

We have taken this example from the domain of speech, as being nearer and more accessible, and because we all talk, though we do not all draw or paint. Now if another individual, whom we shall term B, desire to judge this expression and decide whether it be beautiful or ugly, he must of necessity place himself at A's point of view, and go through the whole process again, with the help of the physical sign, supplied to him by A. If A has seen clearly, then B (who has placed himself at A's point of view) will also see clearly and will find this expression beautiful. If A has not seen clearly, then B also will not see clearly, and will find the expression more or less ugly, just as A did.

[Sidenote] Impossibility of divergences.

It may be observed that we have not taken into consideration two other cases: that of A having a clear and B an obscure vision; and that of A having an obscure and B a clear vision. Philosophically speaking, these two cases are impossible.

Spiritual activity, precisely because it is activity, is not a caprice, but a spiritual necessity; and it cannot solve a definite aesthetic problem, save in one way, which is the right way. Doubtless certain facts may be adduced, which appear to contradict this deduction. Thus works which seem beautiful to artists, are judged to be ugly by the critics; while works with which the artists were displeased and judged imperfect or failures, are held to be beautiful and perfect by the critics. But this does not mean anything, save that one of the two is wrong: either the critics or the artists, or in one case the artist and in another the critic. In fact, the producer of an expression does not always fully realize what has happened in his soul. Haste, vanity, want of reflexion, theoretic prejudices, make people say, and sometimes others almost believe, that works of ours are beautiful, which, if we were truly to turn inwards upon ourselves, we should see ugly, as they really are. Thus poor Don Quixote, when he had mended his helmet as well as he could with cardboard—the helmet that had showed itself to possess but the feeblest force of resistance at the first encounter,—took good care not to test it again with a well-delivered sword-thrust, but simply declared and maintained it to be (says the author) por celada finisima de encaxe. And in other cases, the same reasons, or opposite but analogous ones, trouble the consciousness of the artist, and cause him to disapprove of what he has successfully produced, or to strive to undo and do again worse, what he has done well, in his artistic spontaneity. An example of this is the Gerusalemme conquistata. In the same way, haste, laziness, want of reflexion, theoretic prejudices, personal sympathies, or animosities, and other motives of a similar sort, sometimes cause the critics to proclaim beautiful what is ugly, and ugly what is beautiful. Were they to eliminate such disturbing elements, they would feel the work of art as it really is, and would not leave to posterity, that more diligent and more dispassionate judge, to award the palm, or to do that justice, which they have refused.

[Sidenote] Identity of taste and genius.

It is clear from the preceding theorem, that the judicial activity, which criticizes and recognizes the beautiful, is identical with that which produces it. The only difference lies in the diversity of circumstances, since in the one case it is a question of aesthetic production, in the other of reproduction. The judicial activity is called taste; the productive activity is called genius: genius and taste are therefore substantially identical.

The common remark, that the critic should possess some of the genius of the artist and that the artist should possess taste, reveals a glimpse of this identity; or that there exists an active (productive) taste and a passive (reproductive) taste. But a denial of this is contained in other equally common remarks, as when people speak of taste without genius, or of genius without taste. These last observations are meaningless, unless they be taken as alluding to quantitative differences. In this case, those would be called geniuses without taste who produce works of art, inspired in their culminating parts and neglected and defective in their secondary parts, and those men of taste without genius, who succeed in obtaining certain isolated or secondary effects, but do not possess the power necessary for a vast artistic synthesis. Analogous explanations can easily be given of other similar propositions. But to posit a substantial difference between genius and taste, between artistic production and reproduction, would render communication and judgment alike inconceivable. How could we judge what remained extraneous to us? How could that which is produced by a given activity be judged by a different activity? The critic will be a small genius, the artist a great genius; the one will have the strength of ten, the other of a hundred; the former, in order to raise himself to the altitude of the latter, will have need of his assistance; but the nature of both must be the same. In order to judge Dante, we must raise ourselves to his level: let it be well understood that empirically we are not Dante, nor Dante we; but in that moment of judgment and contemplation, our spirit is one with that of the poet, and in that moment we and he are one single thing. In this identity alone resides the possibility that our little souls can unite with the great souls, and become great with them, in the universality of the spirit.

[Sidenote] Analogy with the other activities.

Let us remark in passing that what has been said of the aesthetic judgment holds good equally for every other activity and for every other judgment; and that scientific, economic, and ethical criticism is effected in a like manner. To limit ourselves to this last, it is only if we place ourselves ideally in the same conditions in which he who took a given resolution found himself, that we can form a judgment as to whether his resolution were moral or immoral. An action would otherwise remain incomprehensible, and therefore impossible to judge. A homicide may be a rascal or a hero: if this be, within limits, indifferent as regards the safety of society, which condemns both to the same punishment, it is not indifferent to him who wishes to distinguish and to judge from the moral point of view, and we cannot dispense with studying again the individual psychology of the homicide, in order to determine the true nature of his deed, not merely in its judicial, but also in its moral aspect. In Ethic, a moral taste or tact is sometimes referred to, which answers to what is generally called moral conscience, that is to say, to the activity itself of good-will.

[Sidenote] Critique of absolutism (intellectualism) and of aesthetic relativism.

The explanation above given of aesthetic judgment or reproduction at once affirms and denies the position of the absolutists and relativists, of those, that is to say, who affirm and of those who deny the existence of an absolute taste.

The absolutists, who affirm that they can judge of the beautiful, are right; but the theory on which they found their affirmation is not maintainable. They conceive of the beautiful, that is, of aesthetic value, as of something placed outside the aesthetic activity; as if it were a model or a concept which an artist realizes in his work, and of which the critic avails himself afterwards in order to judge the work itself. Concepts and models alike have no existence in art, for by proclaiming that every art can be judged only in itself, and has its own model in itself, they have attained to the denial of the existence of objective models of beauty, whether they be intellectual concepts, or ideas suspended in the metaphysical sky.

In proclaiming this, the adversaries, the relativists, are perfectly right, and accomplish a progress. However, the initial rationality of their thesis becomes in its turn a false theory. Repeating the old adage that there is no accounting for tastes, they believe that aesthetic expression is of the same nature as the pleasant and the unpleasant, which every one feels in his own way, and as to which there is no disputing. But we know that the pleasant and the unpleasant are utilitarian and practical facts. Thus the relativists deny the peculiarity of the aesthetic fact, again confounding expression with impression, the theoretic with the practical.

The true solution lies in rejecting alike relativism or psychologism, and false absolutism; and in recognizing that the criterion of taste is absolute, but absolute in a different way from that of the intellect, which is developed by reason. The criterion of taste is absolute, with the intuitive absoluteness of the imagination. Thus every act of expressive activity, which is so really, will be recognized as beautiful, and every fact in which expressive activity and passivity are found engaged with one another in an unfinished struggle, will be recognized as ugly.

[Sidenote] Critique of relative relativism.

There lies, between absolutists and relativists, a third class, which may be called that of the relative relativists. These affirm the existence of absolute values in other fields, such as Logic and Ethic, but deny their existence in the field of Aesthetic. To them it appears natural and justifiable to dispute about science and morality; because science rests on the universal, common to all men, and morality on duty, which is also a law of human nature; but how, they say, can one dispute about art, which rests on imagination? Not only, however, is the imaginative activity universal and belongs to human nature, like the logical concept and practical duty; but we must oppose a capital objection to this intermediary thesis. If the absolute nature of the imagination were denied, we should be obliged to deny also that of intellectual or conceptual truth, and, implicitly, of morality. Does not morality presuppose logical distinctions? How could these be known, otherwise than by expressions and words, that is to say, in imaginative form? If the absoluteness of the imagination were removed, spiritual life would tremble to its base. One individual would no longer understand another, nor indeed his own self of a moment before, which, when considered a moment after, is already another individual.

[Sidenote] Objection founded on the variation of the stimulus and on the psychic disposition.

Nevertheless, variety of judgments is an indisputable fact. Men are at variance in their logical, ethical, and economical appreciations; and they are equally, or even more at variance in their aesthetic appreciations. If certain reasons detailed by us, above, such as haste, prejudices, passions, etc., may be held to lessen the importance of this disagreement, they do not thereby annul it. We have been cautious, when speaking of the stimuli of reproduction, for we said that reproduction takes place, if all the other conditions remain equal. Do they remain equal? Does the hypothesis correspond to reality?

It would appear not. In order to reproduce several times an impression by employing a suitable physical stimulus, it is necessary that this stimulus be not changed, and that the organism remain in the same psychical conditions as those in which was experienced the impression that it is desired to reproduce. Now it is a fact, that the physical stimulus is continually changing, and in like manner the psychological conditions.

Oil paintings grow dark, frescoes pale, statues lose noses, hands, and legs, architecture becomes totally or partially a ruin, the tradition of the execution of a piece of music is lost, the text of a poem is corrupted by bad copyists or bad printing. These are obvious instances of the changes which daily occur in objects or physical stimuli. As regards psychological conditions, we will not dwell upon the cases of deafness or blindness, that is to say, upon the loss of entire orders of psychical impressions; these cases are secondary and of less importance compared with the fundamental, daily, inevitable, and perpetual changes of the society around us, and of the internal conditions of our individual life. The phonic manifestations, that is, the words and verses of the Dantesque Commedia, must produce a very different impression on a citizen engaged in the politics of the third Rome, to that experienced by a well-informed and intimate contemporary of the poet. The Madonna of Cimabue is still in the Church of Santa Maria Novella; but does she speak to the visitor of to-day as she spoke to the Florentines of the thirteenth century? Even though she were not also darkened by time, would not the impression be altogether different? And finally, how can a poem composed in youth make the same impression on the same individual poet when he re-reads it in his old age, with his psychic dispositions altogether changed?

[Sidenote] Critique of the division of signs into natural and conventional.

It is true, that certain aestheticians have attempted a distinction between stimuli and stimuli, between natural and conventional signs. They would grant to the former a constant effect on all; to the latter, only on a limited circle. In their belief, signs employed in painting are natural, while the words of poetry are conventional. But the difference between the one and the other is only of degree. It has often been affirmed that painting is a language which all understand, while with poetry it is otherwise. Here, for example, Leonardo placed one of the prerogatives of his art, "which hath not need of interpreters of different languages as have letters," and in it man and brute find satisfaction. He relates the anecdote of that portrait of the father of a family, "which the little grandchildren were wont to caress while they were still in swaddling-clothes, and the dogs and cats of the house in like manner." But other anecdotes, such as those of the savages who took the portrait of a soldier for a boat, or considered the portrait of a man on horseback as furnished with only one leg, are apt to shake one's faith in the understanding of painting by sucklings, dogs, and cats. Fortunately, no arduous researches are necessary to convince oneself that pictures, poetry, and every work of art, produce no effects save on souls prepared to receive them. Natural signs do not exist; because they are all conventional in a like manner, or, to speak with greater exactitude, all are historically conditioned.

[Sidenote] The surmounting of variety.

This being so, how are we to succeed in causing the expression to be reproduced by means of the physical object? How obtain the same effect, when the conditions are no longer the same? Would it not, rather, seem necessary to conclude that expressions cannot be reproduced, despite the physical instruments made by man for the purpose, and that what is called reproduction consists in ever new expressions? Such would indeed be the conclusion, if the variety of physical and psychic conditions were intrinsically unsurmountable. But since the insuperability has none of the characteristics of necessity, we must, on the contrary, conclude: that the reproduction always occurs, when we can replace ourselves in the conditions in which the stimulus (physical beauty) was produced.

Not only can we replace ourselves in these conditions, as an abstract possibility, but as a matter of fact we do so continually. Individual life, which is communion with ourselves (with our past), and social life, which is communion with our like, would not otherwise be possible.

[Sidenote] Restorations and historical interpretation.

As regards the physical object, paleographers and philologists, who restore to texts their original physiognomy, restorers of pictures and of statues, and similar categories of workers, exert themselves to preserve or to give back to the physical object all its primitive energy. These efforts certainly do not always succeed, or are not completely successful, for never, or hardly ever, is it possible to obtain a restoration complete in its smallest details. But the unsurmountable is only accidentally present, and cannot cause us to fail to recognize the favourable results which are nevertheless obtained.

Historical interpretation likewise labours to reintegrate in us historical conditions which have been altered in the course of history. It revives the dead, completes the fragmentary, and affords us the opportunity of seeing a work of art (a physical object) as its author saw it, at the moment of production.

A condition of this historical labour is tradition, with the help of which it is possible to collect the scattered rays and cause them to converge on one centre. With the help of memory, we surround the physical stimulus with all the facts among which it arose; and thus we make it possible for it to react upon us, as it acted upon him who produced it.

When the tradition is broken, interpretation is arrested; in this case, the products of the past remain silent for us. Thus the expressions contained in the Etruscan or Messapian inscriptions are unattainable; thus we still hear discussions among ethnographers as to certain products of the art of savages, whether they be pictures or writings; thus archaeologists and prehistorians are not always able to establish with certainty, whether the figures found on the ceramic of a certain region, and on other instruments employed, be of a religious or of a profane nature. But the arrest of interpretation, as that of restoration, is never a definitely unsurmountable barrier; and the daily discoveries of historical sources and of new methods of better exploiting antiquity, which we may hope to see ever improving, link up broken tradition.

We do not wish to deny that erroneous historical interpretation produces at times what we may term palimpsests, new expressions imposed upon the antique, artistic imaginings instead of historical reproductions. The so-called fascination of the past depends in part upon these expressions of ours, which we weave into historical expressions. Thus in hellenic plastic art has been discovered the calm and serene intuition of life of those peoples, who feel, nevertheless, so poignantly, the universality of sorrow; thus has recently been discerned on the faces of the Byzantine saints "the terror of the millennium," a terror which is an equivoke, or an artificial legend invented by modern scholars. But historical criticism tends precisely to circumscribe vain imaginings and to establish with exactitude the point of view from which we must look.

Thus we live in communication with other men of the present and of the past; and we must not conclude, because sometimes, and indeed often, we find ourselves face to face with the unknown or the badly known, that when we believe we are engaged in a dialogue, we are always speaking a monologue; nor that we are unable even to repeat the monologue which, in the past, we held with ourselves.



[Sidenote] Historical criticism in literature and art. Its importance.

This brief exposition of the method by which is obtained reintegration of the original conditions in which the work of art was produced, and by which reproduction and judgment are made possible, shows how important is the function fulfilled by historical research concerning artistic and literary works; that is to say, by what is usually called historical criticism, or method, in literature and art.

Without tradition and historical criticism, the enjoyment of all or nearly all works of art produced by humanity, would be irrevocably lost: we should be little more than animals, immersed in the present alone, or in the most recent past. Only fools despise and laugh at him who reconstitutes an authentic text, explains the sense of words and customs, investigates the conditions in which an artist lived, and accomplishes all those labours which revive the qualities and the original colouring of works of art.

Sometimes the depreciatory or negative judgment refers to the presumed or proved uselessness of many researches, made to recover the correct meaning of artistic works. But, it must be observed, in the first place, that historical research does not only fulfil the task of helping to reproduce and judge artistic works: the biography of a writer or of an artist, for example, and the study of the costume of a period, also possess their own interest, foreign to the history of art, but not foreign to other forms of history. If allusion be made to those researches which do not appear to have interest of any kind, nor to fulfil any purpose, it must be replied that the historical student must often reconcile himself to the useful, but little glorious, office of a cataloguer of facts. These facts remain for the time being formless, incoherent, and insignificant, but they are preserves, or mines, for the historian of the future and for whomsoever may afterwards want them for any purpose. In the same way, books which nobody asks for are placed on the shelves and are noted in the catalogues, because they may be asked for at some time or other. Certainly, in the same way that an intelligent librarian gives the preference to the acquisition and to the cataloguing of those books which he foresees may be of more or better service, so do intelligent students possess the instinct as to what is or may more probably be useful from among the mass of facts which they are investigating. Others, on the other hand, less well-endowed, less intelligent, or more hasty in producing, accumulate useless selections, rejections and erasures, and lose themselves in refinements and gossipy discussions. But this appertains to the economy of research, and is not our affair. At the most, it is the affair of the master who selects the subjects, of the publisher who pays for the printing, and of the critic who is called upon to praise or to blame the students for their researches.

On the other hand, it is evident, that historical research, directed to illuminate a work of art by placing us in a position to judge it, does not alone suffice to bring it to birth in our spirit: taste, and an imagination trained and awakened, are likewise presupposed. The greatest historical erudition may accompany a taste in part gross or defective, a lumbering imagination, or, as it is generally phrased, a cold, hard heart, closed to art. Which is the lesser evil?—great erudition and defective taste, or natural good taste and great ignorance? The question has often been asked, and perhaps it will be best to deny its possibility, because one cannot tell which of two evils is the less, or what exactly that means. The merely learned man never succeeds in entering into communication with the great spirits, and keeps wandering for ever about the outer courts, the staircases, and the antechambers of their palaces; but the gifted ignoramus either passes by masterpieces which are to him inaccessible, or instead of understanding the works of art, as they really are, he invents others, with his imagination. Now, the labour of the former may at least serve to enlighten others; but the ingenuity of the latter remains altogether sterile. How, then, can we fail to prefer the conscientious learned man to the inconclusive man of talent, who is not really talented, if he resign himself, and in so far as he resigns himself, to come to no conclusion?

[Sidenote] Literary and artistic history. Its distinction from historical criticism and from artistic judgement.

It is necessary to distinguish accurately the history, of art and literature from those historical labours which make use of works of art, but for extraneous purposes (such as biography, civil, religious, and political history, etc.), and also from historical erudition, whose object is preparation for the Aesthetic synthesis of reproduction.

The difference between the first of these is obvious. The history of art and literature has the works of art themselves for principal subject; the other branches of study call upon and interrogate works of art, but only as witnesses, from which to discover the truth of facts which are not aesthetic. The second difference to which we have referred may seem less profound. However, it is very great. Erudition devoted to rendering clear again the understanding of works of art, aims simply at making appear a certain internal fact, an aesthetic reproduction. Artistic and literary history, on the other hand, does not appear until such reproduction has been obtained. It demands, therefore, further labour. Like all other history, its object is to record precisely such facts as have really taken place, that is, artistic and literary facts. A man who, after having acquired the requisite historical erudition, reproduces in himself and tastes a work of art, may remain simply a man of taste, or express at the most his own feeling, with an exclamation of beautiful or ugly. This does not suffice for the making of a historian of literature and art. There is further need that the simple act of reproduction be followed in him by a second internal operation. What is this new operation? It is, in its turn, an expression: the expression of the reproduction; the historical description, exposition, or representation. There is this difference, then, between the man of taste and the historian: the first merely reproduces in his spirit the work of art; the second, after having reproduced it, represents it historically, thus applying to it those categories by which, as we know, history is differentiated from pure art. Artistic and literary history is, therefore, a historical work of art founded upon one or more works of art.

The denomination of artistic or literary critic is used in various senses: sometimes it is applied to the student who devotes his services to literature; sometimes to the historian who reveals the works of art of the past in their reality; more often to both. By critic is sometimes understood, in a more restricted sense, he who judges and describes contemporary literary works; and by historian, he who is occupied with less recent works. These are but linguistic usages and empirical distinctions, which may be neglected; because the true difference lies between the learned man, the man of taste, and the historian of art. These words designate, as it were, three successive stages of work, of which each is relatively independent of the one that follows, but not of that which precedes. As we have seen, a man may be simply learned, yet possess little capacity for understanding works of art; he may indeed be both learned and possess taste, yet be unable to write a page of artistic and literary history. But the true and complete historian, while containing in himself, as necessary pre-requisites, both the learned man and the man of taste, must add to their qualities the gift of historical comprehension and representation.

[Sidenote] The method of artistic and literary history.

The method of artistic and literary history presents problems and difficulties, some common to all historical method, others peculiar to it, because they derive from the concept of art itself.

[Sidenote] Critique of the problem of the origin of art.

History is wont to be divided into the history of man, the history or nature, and the mixed history of both the preceding. Without examining here the question of the solidity of this division, it is clear that artistic and literary history belongs in any case to the first, since it concerns a spiritual activity, that is to say, an activity proper to man. And since this activity is its subject, the absurdity of propounding the historical problem of the origin of art becomes at once evident. We should note that by this formula many different things have in turn been included on many different occasions. Origin has often meant nature or disposition of the artistic fact, and here was a real scientific or philosophic problem, the very problem, in fact, which our treatise has tried to solve. At other times, by origin has been understood the ideal genesis, the search for the reason of art, the deduction of the artistic fact from a first principle containing in itself both spirit and nature. This is also a philosophical problem, and it is complementary to the preceding, indeed it coincides with it, though it has sometimes been strangely interpreted and solved by means of an arbitrary and semi-fantastic metaphysic. But when it has been sought to discover further exactly in what way the artistic function was historically formed, this has resulted in the absurdity to which we have referred. If expression be the first form of consciousness, how can the historical origin be sought of what is presupposed not to be a product of nature and of human history? How can we find the historical genesis of that which is a category, by means of which every historical genesis and fact are understood? The absurdity has arisen from the comparison with human institutions, which have, in fact, been formed in the course of history, and which have disappeared or may disappear in its course. There exists between the aesthetic fact and a human institution (such as monogamic marriage or the fief) a difference to some extent comparable with that between simple and compound bodies in chemistry. It is impossible to indicate the formation of the former, otherwise they would not be simple, and if this be discovered, they cease to be simple and become compound.

The problem of the origin of art, historically understood, is only justified when it is proposed to seek, not for the formation of the function, but where and when art has appeared for the first time (appeared, that is to say, in a striking manner), at what point or in what region of the globe, and at what point or epoch of its history; when, that is to say, not the origin of art, but its most antique or primitive history, is the object of research. This problem forms one with that of the appearance of human civilization on the earth. Data for its solution are certainly wanting, but there yet remains the abstract possibility, and certainly attempts and hypotheses for its solution abound.

[Sidenote] History and the criterion of progress.

Every form of human history has the concept of progress for foundation. But by progress must not be understood the imaginary and metaphysical law of progress, which should lead the generations of man with irresistible force to some unknown destiny, according to a providential plan which we can logically divine and understand. A supposed law of this sort is the negation of history itself, of that accidentality, that empiricity, that contingency, which distinguish the concrete fact from the abstraction. And for the same reason, progress has nothing to do with the so-called law of evolution. If evolution mean the concrete fact of reality which evolves (that is, which is reality), it is not a law. If, on the other hand, it be a law, it becomes confounded with the law of progress in the sense just described. The progress of which we speak here, is nothing but the concept of human activity itself, which, working upon the material supplied to it by nature, conquers obstacles and bends nature to its own ends.

Such conception of progress, that is to say, of human activity applied to a given material, is the point of view of the historian of humanity. No one but a mere collector of stray facts, a simple seeker, or an incoherent chronicler, can put together the smallest narrative of human deeds, unless he have a definite point of view, that is to say, an intimate personal conviction regarding the conception of the facts which he has undertaken to relate. The historical work of art cannot be achieved among the confused and discordant mass of crude facts, save by means of this point of view, which makes it possible to carve a definite figure from that rough and incoherent mass. The historian of a practical action should know what is economy and what morality; the historian of mathematics, what are mathematics; the historian of botany, what is botany; the historian of philosophy, what is philosophy. But if he do not really know these things, he must at least have the illusion of knowing them; otherwise he will never be able to delude himself that he is writing history.

We cannot delay here to demonstrate the necessity and the inevitability of this subjective criterion in every narrative of human affairs. We will merely say that this criterion is compatible with the utmost objectivity, impartiality, and scrupulosity in dealing with data, and indeed forms a constitutive element of such subjective criterion. It suffices to read any book of history to discover at once the point of view of the author, if he be a historian worthy of the name and know his own business. There exist liberal and reactionary, rationalist and catholic historians, who deal with political or social history; for the history of philosophy there are metaphysical, empirical, sceptical, idealist, and spiritualist historians. Absolutely historical historians do not and cannot exist. Can it be said that Thucydides and Polybius, Livy and Tacitus, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, Giannone and Voltaire, were without moral and political views; and, in our time, Guizot or Thiers, Macaulay or Balbo, Ranke or Mommsen? And in the history of philosophy, from Hegel, who was the first to raise it to a great elevation, to Ritter, Zeller, Cousin, Lewes, and our Spaventa, was there one who did not possess his conception of progress and criterion of judgment? Is there one single work of any value in the history of Aesthetic, which has not been written from this or that point of view, with this or that bias (Hegelian or Herbartian), from a sensualist or from an eclectic point of view, and so on? If the historian is to escape from the inevitable necessity of taking a side, he must become a political and scientific eunuch; and history is not the business of eunuchs. They would at most be of use in compiling those great tomes of not useless erudition, elumbis atque fracta, which are called, not without reason, monkish.

If, then, the concept of progress, the point of view, the criterion, be inevitable, the best to be done is not to try and escape from them, but to obtain the best possible. Everyone strives for this end, when he forms his own convictions, seriously and laboriously. Historians who profess to wish to interrogate the facts, without adding anything of their own to them, are not to be believed. This, at the most, is the result of ingenuousness and illusion on their part: they will always add what they have of personal, if they be truly historians, though it be without knowing it, or they will believe that they have escaped doing so, only because they have referred to it by innuendo, which is the most insinuating and penetrative of methods.

[Sidenote] Non-existence of a unique line of progress in artistic and literary history.

Artistic and literary history cannot dispense with the criterion of progress any more easily than other history. We cannot show what a given work of art is, save by proceeding from a conception of art, in order to fix the artistic problem which the author of such work of art had to solve, and by determining whether or no he have solved it, or by how much and in what way he has failed to do so. But it is important to note that the criterion of progress assumes a different form in artistic and literary history to that which it assumes (or is believed to assume) in the history of science.

The whole history of knowledge can be represented by one single line of progress and regress. Science is the universal, and its problems are arranged in one single vast system, or complex problem. All thinkers weary themselves over the same problem as to the nature of reality and of knowledge: contemplative Indians and Greek philosophers, Christians and Mohammedans, bare heads and heads with turbans, wigged heads and heads with the black berretta (as Heine said); and future generations will weary themselves with it, as ours has done. It would take too long to inquire here if this be true or not of science. But it is certainly not true of art; art is intuition, and intuition is individuality, and individuality is never repeated. To conceive of the history of the artistic production of the human race as developed along a single line of progress and regress, would therefore be altogether erroneous.

At the most, and working to some extent with generalizations and abstractions, it may be admitted that the history of aesthetic products shows progressive cycles, but each cycle has its own problem, and is progressive only in respect to that problem. When many are at work on the same subject, without succeeding in giving to it the suitable form, yet drawing always more nearly to it, there is said to be progress. When he who gives to it definite form appears, the cycle is said to be complete, progress ended. A typical example of this would be the progress in the elaboration of the mode of using the subject-matter of chivalry, during the Italian Renaissance, from Pulci to Ariosto. (If this instance be made use of, excessive simplification of it must be excused.) Nothing but repetition and imitation could be the result of employing that same material after Ariosto. The result was repetition or imitation, diminution or exaggeration, a spoiling of what had already been achieved; in sum, decadence. The Ariostesque epigoni prove this. Progress begins with the commencement of a new cycle. Cervantes, with his more open and conscious irony, is an instance of this. In what did the general decadence of Italian literature at the end of the sixteenth century consist? Simply in having nothing more to say, and in repeating and exaggerating motives already found. If the Italians of this period had even been able to express their own decadence, they would not have been altogether failures, but have anticipated the literary movement of the Renaissance. Where the subject-matter is not the same, a progressive cycle does not exist. Shakespeare does not represent a progress as regards Dante, nor Goethe as regards Shakespeare. Dante, however, represents a progress in respect to the visionaries of the Middle Ages, Shakespeare to the Elizabethan dramatists, Goethe, with Werther and the first part of Faust, in respect to the writers of the Sturm und Drang. This mode of presenting the history of poetry and art contains, however, as we have remarked, something of abstract, of merely practical, and is without rigorous philosophical value. Not only is the art of savages not inferior, as art, to that of civilized peoples, provided it be correlative to the impressions of the savage; but every individual, indeed every moment of the spiritual life of an individual, has its artistic world; and all those worlds are, artistically, incomparable with one another.

[Sidenote] Errors committed in respect to this law.

Many have sinned and continue to sin against this special form of the criterion of progress in artistic and literary history. Some, for instance, talk of the infancy of Italian art in Giotto, and of its maturity in Raphael or in Titian; as though Giotto were not quite perfect and complete, in respect to his psychic material. He was certainly incapable of drawing a figure like Raphael, or of colouring it like Titian; but was Raphael or Titian by any chance capable of creating the Matrimonio di San Francesco con la Poverta, or the Morte di San Francesco? The spirit of Giotto had not felt the attraction of the body beautiful, which the Renaissance studied and raised to a place of honour; but the spirits of Raphael and of Titian were no longer curious of certain movements of ardour and of tenderness, which attracted the man of the fourteenth century. How, then, can a comparison be made, where there is no comparative term?

The celebrated divisions of the history of art suffer from the same defect. They are as follows: an oriental period, representing a disequilibrium between idea and form, with prevalence of the second; a classical, representing an equilibrium between idea and form; a romantic, representing a new disequilibrium between idea and form, with prevalence of the idea. There are also the divisions into oriental art, representing imperfection of form; classical, perfection of form; romantic or modern, perfection of content and of form. Thus classic and romantic have also received, among their many other meanings, that of progressive or regressive periods, in respect to the realization of some indefinite artistic ideal of humanity.

[Sidenote] Other meanings of the word "progress" in respect to Aesthetic.

There is no such thing, then, as an aesthetic progress of humanity. However, by aesthetic progress is sometimes meant, not what the two words coupled together really signify, but the ever-increasing accumulation of our historical knowledge, which makes us able to sympathize with all the artistic products of all peoples and of all times, or, as is said, to make our taste more catholic. The difference appears very great, if the eighteenth century, so incapable of escaping from itself, be compared with our own time, which enjoys alike Hellenic and Roman art, now better understood, Byzantine, mediaeval, Arabic, and Renaissance art, the art of the Cinque Cento, baroque art, and the art of the seventeenth century. Egyptian, Babylonian, Etruscan, and even prehistoric art, are more profoundly studied every day. Certainly, the difference between the savage and civilized man does not lie in the human faculties. The savage has speech, intellect, religion, and morality, in common with civilized man, and he is a complete man. The only difference lies in that civilized man penetrates and dominates a larger portion of the universe with his theoretic and practical activity. We cannot claim to be more spiritually alert than, for example, the contemporaries of Pericles; but no one can deny that we are richer than they—rich with their riches and with those of how many other peoples and generations besides our own?

By aesthetic progress is also meant, in another sense, which is also improper, the greater abundance of artistic intuitions and the smaller number of imperfect or decadent works which one epoch produces in respect to another. Thus it may be said that there was aesthetic progress, an artistic awakening, at the end of the thirteenth or of the fifteenth centuries.

Finally, aesthetic progress is talked of, with an eye to the refinement and to the psychical complications exhibited in the works of art of the most civilized peoples, as compared with those of less civilized peoples, barbarians and savages. But in this case, the progress is that of the complex conditions of society, not of the artistic activity, to which the material is indifferent.

These are the most important points concerning the method of artistic and literary history.




[Sidenote] Summary of the inquiry.

A glance over the path traversed will show that we have completed the entire programme of our treatise. We have studied the nature of intuitive or expressive knowledge, which is the aesthetic or artistic fact (I. and II.), and we have described the other form of knowledge, namely, the intellectual, with the secondary complications of its forms (III.). Having done this, it became possible to criticize all erroneous theories of art, which arise from the confusion between the various forms, and from the undue transference of the characteristics of one form to those of another (IV.), and in so doing to indicate the inverse errors which are found in the theory of intellectual knowledge and of historiography (V.). Passing on to examine the relations between the aesthetic activity and the other spiritual activities, no longer theoretic but practical, we have indicated the true character of the practical activity and the place which it occupies in respect to the theoretic activity, which it follows: hence the critique of the invasion of aesthetic theory by practical concepts (VI.). We have also distinguished the two forms of the practical activity, as economic and ethic (VII.), adding to this the statement that there are no other forms of the spirit beyond the four which we have analyzed; hence (VIII.) the critique of every metaphysical Aesthetic. And, seeing that there exist no other spiritual forms of equal degree, therefore there are no original subdivisions of the four established, and in particular of Aesthetic. From this arises the impossibility of classes of expressions and the critique of Rhetoric, that is, of the partition of expressions into simple and ornate, and of their subclasses (IX.). But, by the law of the unity of the spirit, the aesthetic fact is also a practical fact, and as such, occasions pleasure and pain. This led us to study the feelings of value in general, and those of aesthetic value, or of the beautiful, in particular (X.), to criticize aesthetic hedonism in all its various manifestations and complications (XI.), and to expel from the system of Aesthetic the long series of pseudo-aesthetic concepts, which had been introduced into it (XII.). Proceeding from aesthetic production to the facts of reproduction, we began by investigating the mode of fixing externally the aesthetic expression, with the view of reproduction. This is the so-called physically beautiful, whether it be natural or artificial (XIII.). We then derived from this distinction the critique of the errors which arise from confounding the physical with the aesthetic side of things (XIV.). We indicated the meaning of artistic technique, that which is the technique serving for reproduction, thus criticizing the divisions, limits, and classifications of the individual arts, and establishing the connections between art, economy, and morality (XV.). Because the existence of the physical objects does not suffice to stimulate to the full aesthetic reproduction, and because, in order to obtain this result, it is necessary to recall the conditions in which the stimulus first operated, we have also studied the function of historical erudition, directed toward the end of re-establishing our communication with the works of the past, and toward the creation of a base for aesthetic judgment (XVI.). We have closed our treatise by showing how the reproduction thus obtained is afterwards elaborated by the intellectual categories, that is to say, by an excursus on the method of literary and artistic history (XVII.).

The aesthetic fact has thus been considered both in itself and in its relations with the other spiritual activities, with the feelings of pleasure and of pain, with the facts that are called physical, with memory, and with historical elaboration. It has passed from the position of subject to that of object, that is to say, from the moment of its birth, until gradually it becomes changed for the spirit into historical argument.

Our treatise may appear to be somewhat meagre, when compared with the great volumes usually consecrated to Aesthetic. But it will not seem so, when it is observed that these volumes, as regards nine-tenths of their contents, are full of matter which does not appertain to Aesthetic, such as definitions, either psychical or metaphysical, of pseudo-aesthetic concepts (of the sublime, the comic, the tragic, the humorous, etc.), or of the exposition of the supposed Zoology, Botany, and Mineralogy of Aesthetic, and of universal history judged from the aesthetic standpoint. The whole history of concrete art and literature has also been dragged into those Aesthetics and generally mangled; they contain judgments upon Homer and Dante, upon Ariosto and Shakespeare, upon Beethoven and Rossini, Michelangelo and Raphael. When all this has been deducted from them, our treatise will no longer be held to be too meagre, but, on the contrary, far more copious than ordinary treatises, for these either omit altogether, or hardly touch at all, the greater part of the difficult problems proper to Aesthetic, which we have felt it to be our duty to study.

[Sidenote] Identity of Linguistic and Aesthetic.

Aesthetic, then, as the science of expression, has been here studied by us from every point of view. But there yet remains to justify the sub-title, which we have joined to the title of our book, General Linguistic, and to state and make clear the thesis that the science of art is that of language. Aesthetic and Linguistic, in so far as they are true sciences, are not two different sciences, but one single science. Not that there is a special Linguistic; but the linguistic science sought for, general Linguistic, in so far as what it contains is reducible to philosophy, is nothing but Aesthetic. Whoever studies general Linguistic, that is to say, philosophical Linguistic, studies aesthetic problems, and vice versa. Philosophy of language and philosophy of art are the same thing.

Were Linguistic a different science from Aesthetic, it should not have expression, which is the essentially aesthetic fact, for its object. This amounts to saying that it must be denied that language is expression. But an emission of sounds, which expresses nothing, is not language. Language is articulate, limited, organized sound, employed in expression. If, on the other hand, language were a special science in respect to Aesthetic, it would necessarily have for its object a special class of expressions. But the inexistence of classes of expression is a point which we have already demonstrated.

[Sidenote] Aesthetic formulization of linguistic problems. Nature of language.

The problems which Linguistic serves to solve, and the errors with which Linguistic strives and has striven, are the same that occupy and complicate Aesthetic. If it be not always easy, it is, on the other hand, always possible, to reduce the philosophic questions of Linguistic to their aesthetic formula.

The disputes as to the nature of the one find their parallel in those as to the nature of the other. Thus it has been disputed, whether Linguistic be a scientific or a historical discipline, and the scientific having been distinguished from the historical, it has been asked whether it belong to the order of the natural or of the psychological sciences, by the latter being understood empirical Psychology, as much as the science of the spirit. The same has happened with Aesthetic, which some have looked upon as a natural science, confounding aesthetic expression with physical expression. Others have looked upon it as a psychological science, confounding expression in its universality, with the empirical classification of expressions. Others again, denying the very possibility of a science of such a subject, have looked upon it as a collection of historical facts. Finally, it has been realized that it belongs to the sciences of activity or of values, which are the spiritual sciences.

Linguistic expression, or speech, has often seemed to be a fact of interjection, which belongs to the so-called physical expressions of the feelings, common alike to men and animals. But it was soon admitted that an abyss yawns between the "Ah!" which is a physical reflex of pain, and a word; as also between that "Ah!" of pain and the "Ah!" employed as a word. The theory of the interjection being abandoned (jocosely termed the "Ah! Ah!" theory by German linguists), the theory of association or convention appeared. This theory was refuted by the same objection which destroyed aesthetic associationism in general: speech is unity, not multiplicity of images, and multiplicity does not explain, but presupposes the existence of the expression to explain. A variant of linguistic associationism is the imitative, that is to say, the theory of the onomatopoeia, which the same philologists deride under the name of the "bow-wow" theory, after the imitation of the dog's bark, which, according to the onomatopoeists, gives its name to the dog.

The most usual theory of our times as regards language (apart from mere crass naturalism) consists of a sort of eclecticism or mixture of the various theories to which we have referred. It is assumed that language is in part the product of interjections and in part of onomatopes and conventions. This doctrine is altogether worthy of the scientific and philosophic decadence of the second half of the nineteenth century.

[Sidenote] Origin of language and its development.

We must here note a mistake into which have fallen those very philologists who have best penetrated the active nature of language. These, although they admit that language was originally a spiritual creation, yet maintain that it was largely increased later by association. But the distinction does not prevail, for origin in this case cannot mean anything but nature or essence. If, therefore, language be a spiritual creation, it will always be a creation; if it be association, it will have been so from the beginning. The mistake has arisen from not having grasped the general principle of Aesthetic, which we have noted: namely, that expressions already produced must redescend to the rank of impressions before they can give rise to new impressions. When we utter new words, we generally transform the old ones, varying or enlarging their meaning; but this process is not associative. It is creative, although the creation has for material the impressions, not of the hypothetical primitive man, but of man who has lived long ages in society, and who has, so to say, stored so many things in his psychic organism, and among them so much language.

[Sidenote] Relation between Grammar and Logic.

The question of the distinction between the aesthetic and the intellectual fact has appeared in Linguistic as that of the relations between Grammar and Logic. This question has found two solutions, which are partially true: that of the indissolubility of Logic and Grammar, and that of their dissolubility. The complete solution is this: if the logical form be indissoluble from the grammatical (aesthetic), the grammatical is dissoluble from the logical.

[Sidenote] Grammatical classes or parts of speech.

If we look at a picture which, for example, portrays a man walking on a country road, we can say: "This picture represents a fact of movement, which, if conceived as volitional, is called action. And because every movement implies matter, and every action a being that acts, this picture also represents either matter or a being. But this movement takes place in a definite place, which is a part of a given star (the Earth), and precisely in that part of it which is called terra-firma, and more properly in a part of it that is wooded and covered with grass, which is called country, cut naturally or artificially, in a manner which is called road. Now, there is only one example of that given star, which is called Earth: Earth is an individual. But terra-firma, country, road, are classes or universals, because there are other terra-firmas, other countries, other roads." And it would be possible to continue for a while with similar considerations. By substituting a phrase for the picture that we have imagined, for example, one to this effect, "Peter is walking on a country road," and by making the same remarks, we obtain the concepts of verb (motion or action), of noun (matter or agent), of proper noun, of common nouns; and so on.

What have we done in both cases? Neither more nor less than to submit to logical elaboration what was first elaborated only aesthetically; that is to say, we have destroyed the aesthetical by the logical. But, as in general Aesthetic, error begins when It is wished to return from the logical to the aesthetical, and it is asked what is the expression of movement, action, matter, being, of the general, of the individual, etc.; thus in like manner with language, error begins when motion or action are called verb, being, or matter, noun or substantive, and when linguistic categories, or parts of speech, are made of all these, noun and verb and so on. The theory of parts of speech is at bottom altogether the same as that of artistic and literary classes, already criticized in the Aesthetic.

It is false to say that the verb or the noun is expressed in definite words, truly distinguishable from others. Expression is an indivisible whole. Noun and verb do not exist in themselves, but are abstractions made by our destroying the sole linguistic reality, which is the proposition. This last is to be understood, not in the usual mode of grammarians, but as an organism expressive of a complete meaning, from an exclamation to a poem. This sounds paradoxical, but is nevertheless a most simple truth.

And as in Aesthetic, the artistic productions of certain peoples have been looked upon as imperfect, owing to the error above mentioned, because the supposed kinds have seemed still to be indiscriminate or absent with them; so, in Linguistic, the theory of the parts of speech has caused the analogous error of dividing languages into formed and unformed, according to whether there appear in them or not some of those supposed parts of speech; for example, the verb.

[Sidenote] The individuality of speech and the classification of languages.

Linguistic also discovered the irreducible individuality of the aesthetic fact, when it affirmed that the word is what is really spoken, and that two truly identical words do not exist. Thus were synonyms and homonyms destroyed, and thus was shown the impossibility of really translating one word into another, from so-called dialect into so-called language, and from a so-called mother-tongue into a so-called foreign tongue.

But the attempt to classify languages agrees ill with this correct view. Languages have no reality beyond the propositions and complexes of propositions really written and pronounced by given peoples for definite periods. That is to say, they have no existence outside the works of art, in which they exist concretely. What is the art of a given people but the complex of all its artistic products? What is the character of an art (say, Hellenic art or Provencal literature), but the complex physiognomy of those products? And how can such a question be answered, save by giving the history of their art (of their literature, that is to say, of their language in action)?

It will seem that this argument, although possessing value as against many of the wonted classifications of languages, yet is without any as regards that queen of classifications, the historico-genealogical, that glory of comparative philology. And this is certainly true. But why? Precisely because the historico-genealogical method is not a classification. He who writes history does not classify, and the philologists themselves have hastened to say that the languages which can be arranged in a historical series (those whose series have been traced) are, not distinct and definite species, but a complex of facts in the various phases of its development.

[Sidenote] Impossibility of a normative grammar.

Language has sometimes been looked upon as an act of volition or of choice. But others have discovered the impossibility of creating language artificially, by an act of will. Tu, Caesar, civitatem dare potes homini, verbo non poles! was once said to the Roman Emperor.

The aesthetic (and therefore theoretic) nature of expression supplies the method of correcting the scientific error which lies in the conception of a (normative) Grammar, containing the rules of speaking well. Good sense has always rebelled against this error. An example of such rebellion is the "So much the worse for grammar" of Voltaire. But the impossibility of a normative grammar is also recognized by those who teach it, when they confess that to write well cannot be learned by rules, that there are no rules without exceptions, and that the study of Grammar should be conducted practically, by reading and by examples, which form the literary taste. The scientific reason of this impossibility lies in what we have already proved: that a technique of the theoretical amounts to a contradiction in terms. And what could a (normative) grammar be, but just a technique of linguistic expression, that is to say, of a theoretic fact?

[Sidenote] Didactic purposes.

The case in which Grammar is understood merely as an empirical discipline, that is to say, as a collection of groups useful for learning languages, without any claim whatever to philosophic truth, is quite different. Even the abstractions of the parts of speech are in this case both admissible and of assistance.

Many books entitled treatises of Linguistic have a merely didactic purpose; they are simply scholastic manuals. We find in them, in truth, a little of everything, from the description of the vocal apparatus and of the artificial machines (phonographs) which can imitate it, to summaries of the most important results obtained by Indo-European, Semitic, Coptic, Chinese, or other philologies; from philosophic generalizations on the origin or nature of language, to advice on calligraphy, and the arrangement of schedules for philological spoils. But this mass of notions, which is here taught in a fragmentary and incomplete manner as regards the language in its essence, the language as expression, resolves itself into notions of Aesthetic. Nothing exists outside Aesthetic, which gives knowledge of the nature of language, and empirical Grammar, which is a pedagogic expedient, save the History of languages in their living reality, that is, the history of concrete literary productions, which is substantially identical with the History of literature.

[Sidenote] Elementary linguistic facts or roots.

The same mistake of confusing the physical with the aesthetic, from which the elementary forms of the beautiful originate, is made by those who seek for elementary aesthetic facts, decorating with that name the divisions of the longer series of physical sounds into shorter series. Syllables, vowels, and consonants, and the series of syllables called words which give no definite sense when taken alone, are not facts of language, but simple physical concepts of sounds.

Another mistake of the same sort is that of roots, to which the most able philologists now accord but a very limited value. Having confused physical with linguistic or expressive facts, and observing that, in the order of ideas, the simple precedes the complex, they necessarily ended by thinking that the smaller physical facts were the more simple. Hence the imaginary necessity that the most antique, primitive languages, had been monosyllabic, and that the progress of historical research must lead to the discovery of monosyllabic roots. But (to follow up the imaginary hypothesis) the first expression that the first man conceived may also have had a mimetic, not a phonic reflex: it may have been exteriorised, not in a sound but in a gesture. And assuming that it was exteriorised in a sound, there is no reason to suppose that sound to have been monosyllabic rather than plurisyllabic. Philologists frequently blame their own ignorance and impotence, if they do not always succeed in reducing plurisyllabism to monosyllabism, and they trust in the future. But their faith is without foundation, as their blame of themselves is an act of humility arising from an erroneous presumption.

Furthermore, the limits of syllables, as those of words, are altogether arbitrary, and distinguished, as well as may be, by empirical use. Primitive speech, or the speech of the uncultured man, is continuous, unaccompanied by any reflex consciousness of the divisions of the word and of the syllables, which are taught at school. No true law of Linguistic can be founded on such divisions. Proof of this is to be found in the confession of linguists, that there are no truly phonetic laws of the hiatus, of cacophony, of diaeresis, of synaeresis, but merely laws of taste and convenience; that is to say, aesthetic laws. And what are the laws of words which are not at the same time laws of style?

[Sidenote] Aesthetic judgment and the model language.

The search for a model language, or for a method of reducing linguistic usage to unity, arises from the misconception of a rationalistic measurement of the beautiful, from the concept which we have termed that of false aesthetic absoluteness. In Italy, we call this question that of the unity of the language.

Language is perpetual creation. What has been linguistically expressed cannot be repeated, save by the reproduction of what has already been produced. The ever-new impressions give rise to continuous changes of sounds and of meanings, that is, to ever-new expressions. To seek the model language, then, is to seek the immobility of motion. Every one speaks, and should speak, according to the echoes which things arouse in his soul, that is, according to his impressions. It is not without reason that the most convinced supporter of any one of the solutions of the problem of the unity of language (be it by the use of Latin, of fourteenth-century Italian, or of Florentine) feels a repugnance in applying his theory, when he is speaking in order to communicate his thoughts and to make himself understood. The reason for this is that he feels that were he to substitute Latin, fourteenth-century Italian, or Florentine speech for that of a different origin, but which answers to his impressions, he would be falsifying the latter. He would become a vain listener to himself, instead of a speaker, a pedant in place of a serious man, a histrion instead of a sincere person. To write according to a theory is not really to write: at the most, it is making literature.

The question of the unity of language is always reappearing, because, put as it is, there can be no solution to it, owing to its being based upon a false conception of what language is. Language is not an arsenal of ready-made arms, and it is not vocabulary, which, in so far as it is thought of as progressive and in living use, is always a cemetery, containing corpses more or less well embalmed, that is to say, a collection of abstractions.

Our mode of settling the question of the model language, or of the unity of the language, may seem somewhat abrupt, and yet we would not wish to appear otherwise than respectful towards the long line of literary men who have debated this question in Italy for centuries. But those ardent debates were, at bottom, debates upon aestheticity, not upon aesthetic science, upon literature rather than upon literary theory, upon effective speaking and writing, not upon linguistic science. Their error consisted in transforming the manifestation of a want into a scientific thesis, the need of understanding one another more easily among a people dialectically divided, in the philosophic search for a language, which should be one or ideal. Such a search was as absurd as that other search for a universal language, with the immobility of the concept and of the abstraction. The social need for a better understanding of one another cannot be satisfied save by universal culture, by the increase of communications, and by the interchange of thought among men.

[Sidenote] Conclusion.

These observations must suffice to show that all the scientific problems of Linguistic are the same as those of Aesthetic, and that the truths and errors of the one are the truths and errors of the other. If Linguistic and Aesthetic appear to be two different sciences, this arises from the fact that people think of the former as grammar, or as a mixture between philosophy and grammar, that is, an arbitrary mnemonic scheme. They do not think of it as a rational science and as a pure philosophy of speech. Grammar, or something grammatical, also causes the prejudice in people's minds, that the reality of language lies in isolated and combinable words, not in living discourse among expressive organisms, rationally indivisible.

Those linguists, or glottologists with philosophical endowments, who have best fathomed questions of language, resemble (to employ a worn but efficacious figure) workmen piercing a tunnel: at a certain point they must hear the voices of their companions, the philosophers of Aesthetic, who have been piercing it from the other side. At a certain stage of scientific elaboration, Linguistic, in so far as it is philosophy, must be merged in Aesthetic; and indeed it is merged in it, without leaving a residue.




The question, as to whether Aesthetic should be looked upon as ancient or modern, has often been discussed. The answer will depend upon the view taken of the nature of Aesthetic.

Benedetto Croce has proved that Aesthetic is the science of expressive activity. But this knowledge cannot be reached, until has been defined the nature of imagination, of representation, of expression, or whatever we may term that faculty which is theoretic, but not intellectual, which gives knowledge of the individual, but not of the universal.

Now the deviations from this, the correct theory, may arise in two ways: by defect or by excess. Negation of the special aesthetic activity, or of its autonomy, is an instance of the former. This amounts to a mutilation of the reality of the spirit. Of the latter, the substitution or superposition of another mysterious and non-existent activity is an example.

These errors each take several forms. That which errs by defect may be: (a) pure hedonism, which looks upon art as merely sensual pleasure; (b) rigoristic hedonism, agreeing with (a), but adding that art is irreconcilable with the loftiest activities of man; (c) moralistic or pedagogic hedonism, which admits, with the two former, that art is mere sensuality, but believes that it may not only be harmless, but of some service to morals, if kept in proper subjection and obedience.

The error by excess also assumes several forms, but these are indeterminable a priori. This view is fully dealt with under the name of mystic, in the Theory and in the Appendix.

Graeco-Roman antiquity was occupied with the problem in all these forms. In Greece, the problem of art and of the artistic faculty arose for the first time after the sophistic movement, as a result of the Socratic polemic.

With the appearance of the word mimesis or mimetic, we have a first attempt at grouping the arts, and the expression, allegoric, or its equivalent, used in defence of Homer's poetry, reminds us of what Plato called "the old quarrel between philosophy and poetry."

But when internal facts were all looked upon as mere phenomena of opinion or feeling, of pleasure or of pain, of illusion or of arbitrary caprice, there could be no question of beautiful or ugly, of difference between the true and the beautiful, or between the beautiful and the good.

The problem of the nature of art assumes as solved those problems concerning the difference between rational and irrational, material and spiritual, bare fact and value, etc. This was first done in the Socratic period, and therefore the aesthetic problem could only arise after Socrates.

And in fact it does arise, with Plato, the author of the only great negation of art which appears in the history of ideas.

Is art rational or irrational? Does it belong to the noble region of the soul, where dwell philosophy and virtue, or does it cohabit with sensuality and with crude passion in the lower regions? This was the question that Plato asked, and thus was the aesthetic problem stated for the first time.

His Gorgias remarks with sceptical acumen, that tragedy is a deception, which brings honour alike to deceived and to deceiver, and therefore it is blameworthy not to know how to deceive and not to allow oneself to be deceived. This suffices for Gorgias, but Plato, the philosopher, must resolve the doubt. If it be in fact deception, down with tragedy and the other arts! If it be not deception, then what is the place of tragedy in philosophy and in the righteous life? His answer was that art or mimetic does not realize the ideas, or the truth of things, but merely reproduces natural or artificial things, which are themselves mere shadows of the ideas. Art, then, is but a shadow of a shadow, a thing of third-rate degree. The artificer fashions the object which the painter paints. The artificer copies the divine idea and the painter copies him. Art therefore does not belong to the rational, but to the irrational, sensual sphere of the soul. It can serve but for sensual pleasure, which disturbs and obscures. Therefore must mimetic, poetry, and poets be excluded from the perfect Republic.

Plato observed with truth, that imitation does not rise to the logical or conceptual sphere, of which poets and painters, as such, are, in fact, ignorant. But he failed to realize that there could be any form of knowledge other than the intellectual.

We now know that Intuition lies on this side or outside the Intellect, from which it differs as much as it does from passion and sensuality.

Plato, with his fine aesthetic sense, would have been grateful to anyone who could have shown him how to place art, which he loved and practised so supremely himself, among the lofty activities of the spirit. But in his day, no one could give him such assistance. His conscience and his reason saw that art makes the false seem the true, and therefore he resolutely banished it to the lower regions of the spirit.

The tendency among those who followed Plato in time was to find some means of retaining art and of depriving it of the baleful influence which it was believed to exercise. Life without art was to the beauty-loving Greek an impossibility, although he was equally conscious of the demands of reason and of morality. Thus it happened that art, which, on the purely hedonistic hypothesis, had been treated as a beautiful courtezan, became in the hands of the moralist, a pedagogue. Aristophanes and Strabo, and above all Aristotle, dwell upon the didactic and moralistic possibility of poetry. For Plutarch, poetry seems to have been a sort of preparation for philosophy, a twilight to which the eyes should grow accustomed, before emerging into the full light of day.

Among the Romans, we find Lucretius comparing the beauties of his great poem to the sweet yellow honey, with which doctors are wont to anoint the rim of the cup containing their bitter drugs. Horace, as so frequently, takes his inspiration from the Greek, when he offers the double view of art: as courtezan and as pedagogue. In his Ad Pisones occur the passages, in which we find mingled with the poetic function, that of the orator—the practical and the aesthetic. "Was Virgil a poet or an orator?" The triple duty of pleasing, moving, and teaching, was imposed upon the poet. Then, with a thought for the supposed meretricious nature of their art, the ingenious Horace remarks that both must employ the seductions of form.

The mystic view of art appeared only in late antiquity, with Plotinus. The curious error of looking upon Plato as the head of this school and as the Father of Aesthetic assumes that he who felt obliged to banish art altogether from the domain of the higher functions of the spirit, was yet ready to yield to it the highest place there. The mystical view of Aesthetic accords a lofty place indeed to Aesthetic, placing it even above philosophy. The enthusiastic praise of the beautiful, to be found in the Gorgias, Philebus, Phaedrus, and Symposium is responsible for this misunderstanding, but it is well to make perfectly clear that the beautiful, of which Plato discourses in those dialogues, has nothing to do with the artistically beautiful, nor with the mysticism of the neo-Platonicians.

Yet the thinkers of antiquity were aware that a problem lay in the direction of Aesthetic, and Xenophon records the sayings of Socrates that the beautiful is "that which is fitting and answers to the end required." Elsewhere he says "it is that which is loved." Plato likewise vibrates between various views and offers several solutions. Sometimes he appears almost to confound the beautiful with the true, the good and the divine; at others he leans toward the utilitarian view of Socrates; at others he distinguishes between what is beautiful In itself and what possesses but a relative beauty. At other times again, he is a hedonist, and makes it to consist of pure pleasure, that is, of pleasure with no shadow of pain; or he finds it in measure and proportion, or in the very sound, the very colour itself. The reason for all this vacillation of definition lay in Plato's exclusion of the artistic or mimetic fact from the domain of the higher spiritual activities. The Hippias major expresses this uncertainty more completely than any of the other dialogues. What is the beautiful? That is the question asked at the beginning, and left unanswered at the end. The Platonic Socrates and Hippias propose the most various solutions, one after another, but always come out by the gate by which they entered in. Is the beautiful to be found in ornament? No, for gold embellishes only where it is in keeping. Is the beautiful that which seems ugly to no man? But it is a question of being, not of seeming. Is it their fitness which makes things seem beautiful? But in that case, the fitness which makes them appear beautiful is one thing, the beautiful another. If the beautiful be the useful or that which leads to an end, then evil would also be beautiful, because the useful may also end evilly. Is the beautiful the helpful, that which leads to the good? No, for in that case the good would not be beautiful, nor the beautiful good, because cause and effect are different.

Thus they argued in the Platonic dialogues, and when we turn to the pages of Aristotle, we find him also uncertain and inclined to vary his definitions.[5] Sometimes for him the good and pleasurable are the beautiful, sometimes it lies in actions, at others in things motionless, or in bulk and order, or is altogether undefinable. Antiquity also established canons of the beautiful, and the famous canon of Polycleitus, on the proportions of the human body, fitly compares with that of later times on the golden line, and with the Ciceronian phrase from the Tusculan Disputations. But these are all of them mere empirical observations, mere happy remarks and verbal substitutions, which lead to unsurmountable difficulties when put to philosophical test.

One important identification is absent in all those early attempts at truth. The beautiful is never identified with art, and the artistic fact is always clearly distinguished from beauty, mimetic from its content. Plotinus first identified the two, and with him the beautiful and art are dissolved together in a passion and mystic elevation of the spirit. The beauty of natural objects is the archetype existing in the soul, which is the fountain of all natural beauty. Thus was Plato (he said) in error, when he despised the arts for imitating nature, for nature herself imitates the idea, and art also seeks her inspiration directly from those ideas whence nature proceeds. We have here, with Plotinus and with Neoplatonism, the first appearance in the world of mystical Aesthetic, destined to play so important a part in later aesthetic theory.

Aristotle was far more happy in his attempts at defining Aesthetic as the science of representation and of expression than in his definitions of the beautiful. He felt that some element of the problem had been overlooked, and in attempting in his turn a solution, he had the advantage over Plato of looking upon the ideas as simple concepts, not as hypostases of concepts or of abstractions. Thus reality was more vivid for Aristotle: it was the synthesis of matter and form. He saw that art, or mimetic, was a theoretic fact, or a mode of contemplation. "But if Poetry be a theoretic fact, in what way is it to be distinguished from science and from historical knowledge?" Thus magnificently does the great philosopher pose the problem at the commencement of his Poetics, and thus alone can it be posed successfully. We ask the same question in the same words to-day. But the problem is difficult, and the masterly statement of it was not equalled by the method of solution then available. He made an excellent start on his voyage of discovery, but stopped half way, irresolute and perplexed. Poetry, he says, differs from history, by portraying the possible, while history deals with what has really happened. Poetry, like philosophy, aims at the universal, but in a different way, which the philosopher indicates as something more (mallon tha katholon) which differentiates poetry from history, occupied with the particular (malon tha kath ekaston). What, then, is the possible, the something more, and the particular of poetry? Aristotle immediately falls into error and confusion, when he attempts to define these words. Since art has to deal with the absurd and with the impossible, it cannot be anything rational, but a mere imitation of reality, in accordance with the Platonic theory—a fact of sensual pleasure. Aristotle does not, however, attain to so precise a definition as Plato, whose erroneous definition he does not succeed in supplanting. The truth is that he failed of his self-imposed task; he failed to discern the true nature of Aesthetic, although he restated and re-examined the problem with such marvellous acumen.

After Aristotle, there comes a lull in the discussion, until Plotinus. The Poetics were generally little studied, and the admirable statement of the problem generally neglected by later writers. Antique psychology knew the fancy or imagination, as preserving or reproducing sensuous impressions, or as an intermediary between the concepts and feeling: its autonomous productive activity was not yet understood. In the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus is said to have been the first to make clear the difference between mimetic and creative imagination. But this does not in reality differ from the Aristotelian mimetic, which is concerned, not only with the real, but also with the possible. Cicero too, before Philostratus, speaks of a kind of exquisite beauty lying hidden in the soul of the artist, which guides his hand and art. Antiquity seems generally to have been entrammelled in the meshes of the belief in mimetic, or the duplication of natural objects by the artist Philostratus and the other protagonists of the imagination may have meant to combat this error, but the shadows lie heavy until we reach Plotinus.

We find already astir among the sophists the question as to the nature of language. Admitting that language is a sign, are we to take that as signifying a spiritual necessity (phusis) or as a psychological convention (nomos)? Aristotle made a valuable contribution to this difficult question, when he spoke of a kind of proposition other than those which predicate truth or falsehood, that is, logic. With him euchae is the term proper to designate desires and aspirations, which are the vehicle of poetry and of oratory. (It must be remembered that for Aristotle words, like poetry, belonged to mimetic.) The profound remark about the third mode of proposition would, one would have thought, have led naturally to the separation of linguistic from logic, and to its classification with poetry and art. But the Aristotelian logic assumed a verbal and formal character, which set back the attainment of this position by many hundred years. Yet the genius of Epicurus had an intuition of the truth, when he remarked that the diversity of names for the same things arose, not from arbitrary caprice, but from the diverse impression derived from the same object. The Stoics, too, seem to have had an inkling of the non-logical nature of speech, but their use of the word lekton leaves it doubtful whether they distinguished by it the linguistic representation from the abstract concept, or rather, generically, the meaning from the sound.

[5] In the Appendix will be found further striking quotations from and references to Aristotle.—(D.A.)



Well-nigh all the theories of antique Aesthetic reappear in the Middle Ages, as it were by spontaneous generation. Duns Scotus Erigena translated the Neoplatonic mysticism of the pseudo-Dionysus. The Christian God took the place of the chief Good or Idea: God, wisdom, goodness, supreme beauty are the fountains of natural beauty, and these are steps in the stair of contemplation of the Creator. In this manner speculation began to be diverted from the art fact, which had been so prominent with Plotinus. Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in distinguishing the beautiful from the good, and applied his doctrine of imitation to the beauty of the second person of the Trinity (in quantum est imago expressa Patris). With the troubadours, we may find traces of the hedonistic view of art, and the rigoristic hypothesis finds in Tertullian and in certain Fathers of the Church staunch upholders. The retrograde Savonarola occupied the same position at a later period. But the narcotic, moralistic, or pedagogic view mostly prevailed, for it best suited an epoch of relative decadence in culture. It suited admirably the Middle Age, offering at once an excuse for the new-born Christian art, and for those works of classical or pagan art which yet survived. Specimens of this view abound all through the Middle Age. We find it, for instance, in the criticism of Virgil, to whose work were attributed four distinct meanings: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogic. For Dante poetry was nihil aliud quam fictio rhetorica in musicaque posita. "If the vulgar be incapable of appreciating my inner meaning, then they shall at least incline their minds to the perfection of my beauty. If from me ye cannot gather wisdom, at the least shall ye enjoy me as a pleasant thing." Thus spoke the Muse of Dante, whose Convivio is an attempt to aid the understanding in its effort to grasp the moral and pedagogic elements of verse. Poetry was the gaia scienza, "a fiction containing many useful things covered or veiled."

It would be inexact to identify art in the Middle Age with philosophy and theology. Its pleasing falsity could be adapted to useful ends, much in the same way as matrimony excuses love and sexual union. This, however, implies that for the Middle Age the ideal state was celibacy; that is, pure knowledge, divorced from art.

The only line of explanation that was altogether neglected in the Middle Age was the right one.

The Poetics of Aristotle were badly rendered into Latin, from the faulty paraphrase of Averroes, by one Hermann (1256). The nominalist and realist dispute brought again into the arena the relations between thought and speech, and we find Duns Scotus occupied with the problem in his De modis significandi seu grammatica speculativa. Abelard had defined sensation as confusa conceptio, and with the importance given to intuitive knowledge, to the perception of the individual, of the species specialissima in Duns Scotus, together with the denomination of the forms of knowledge as confusae, indistinctae, and distinctae, we enter upon a terminology, which we shall see appearing again, big with results, at the commencement of modern Aesthetic.

The doctrine of the Middle Age, in respect to art and letters, may thus be regarded as of interest rather to the history of culture than to that of general knowledge. A like remark holds good of the Renaissance. Theories of antiquity are studied, countless treatises in many forms are written upon them, but no really new Ideas as regards aesthetic science appear on the horizon.

We find among the spokesmen of mystical Aesthetic in the thirteenth century such names as Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Bembo and many others wrote on the Beautiful and on Love in the century that followed. The Dialogi di Amore, written in Italian by a Spanish Jew named Leone and published in 1535, had a European success, being translated into many languages. He talks of the universality of love and of its origin, of beauty that is grace, which delights the soul and impels it to love. Knowledge of lesser beauties leads to loftier spiritual beauties. Leone called these remarks Philographia.

Petrarch's followers versified similar intuitions, while others wrote parodies and burlesques of this style; Luca Paciolo, the friend of Leonardo, made the (false) discovery of the golden section, basing his speculating upon mathematics; Michael Angelo established an empirical canon for painting, attempting to give rules for imparting grace and movement to figures, by means of certain arithmetical proportions; others found special meanings in colours; while the Platonicians placed the seat of beauty in the soul, the Aristotelians in physical qualities. Agostino Nifo, the Averroist, after some inconclusive remarks, is at last fortunate enough to discover where natural beauty really dwells: its abode is the body of Giovanna d'Aragona, Princess of Tagliacozzo, to whom he dedicates his book. Tasso mingled the speculations of the Hippias major with those of Plotinus.

Tommaso Campanella, in his Poetica, looks upon the beautiful as signum boni, the ugly as signum mali. By goodness, he means Power, Wisdom, and Love. Campanella was still under the influence of the erroneous Platonic conception of the beautiful, but the use of the word sign in this place represents progress. It enabled him to see that things in themselves are neither beautiful nor ugly.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse