Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic
by Benedetto Croce
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There is a third Aesthetic, the intellectualist, which, while also recognizing the reducibility of aesthetic facts to philosophical treatment, explains them as particular cases of logical thought, identifying beauty with intellectual truth; art, now with the natural sciences, now with philosophy. For this Aesthetic, what is prized in art is what is learned from it. The only distinction that it admits between art and science, or art and philosophy, is at the most that of more or less, or of perfection and imperfection. According to this Aesthetic, art would be the whole mass of easy and popular truths; or it would be a transitory form of science, a semi-science and a semi-philosophy, preparatory to the superior and perfect form of science and of philosophy.

A fourth Aesthetic there is, which may be called agnostic. It springs from the criticism of the positions just now indicated, and being guided by a powerful consciousness of the truth, rejects them all, because it finds them too evidently false, and because it is too loth to admit that art is a simple fact of pleasure or pain, an exercise of virtue, or a fragmentary sketch of science and philosophy. And while rejecting them, it discovers, at the same time, that art is not now this and now that of those things, or of other things, indefinitely, but that it has its own principle and origin. However, it is not able to say what this principle may be, and believes that it is impossible to do so. This Aesthetic knows that art cannot be resolved into an empirical concept; knows that pleasure and pain are united with the aesthetic activity only in an indirect manner; that morality has nothing to do with art; that it is impossible to rationalize art, as is the case with science and philosophy, and to prove it beautiful or ugly with the aid of reason. Here this Aesthetic is content to stop, satisfied with a knowledge consisting entirely of negative terms.

Finally, there is an Aesthetic which I have elsewhere proposed to call mystic. This Aesthetic avails itself of those negative terms, to define art as a spiritual form without a practical character, because it is theoretic, and without a logical or intellective form, because it is a theoretic form, differing alike from those of science and of philosophy, and superior to both. According to this view, art would be the highest pinnacle of knowledge, whence what is seen from other points seems narrow and partial; art would alone reveal the whole horizon or all the abysses of Reality.

Now, the five Aesthetics so far mentioned are not referable to contingent facts and historical epochs, as are, on the other hand, the denominations of Greek and Mediaeval Aesthetic, of Renaissance and eighteenth-century Aesthetic, the Aesthetic of Wolff and of Herbart, of Vico and of Hegel. These five are, on the contrary, mental attitudes, which are found in all periods, although they have not always conspicuous representatives of the kind that are said to become historical. Empirical Aesthetic is, for example, called Burke in the eighteenth, Fechner in the nineteenth century; moralistic Aesthetic is Horace or Plutarch in antiquity, Campanella in modern times; intellectualist or logical Aesthetic is Cartesian in the seventeenth, Leibnitzian in the eighteenth, and Hegelian in the nineteenth century; agnostic Aesthetic is Francesco Patrizio at the Renaissance, Kant in the eighteenth century; mystic Aesthetic is called Neoplatonism at the end of the antique world, Romanticism at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and if it be adorned during the former period with the name of Plotinus, in the latter it will bear the name of Schelling or of Solger, And not only are those attitudes and mental tendencies common to all epochs, but they are also all found to some extent developed or indicated in every thinker, and even in every man. Thus it is somewhat difficult to classify philosophers of Aesthetic according to one or the other category, because each philosopher also enters more or less into some other, or into all the other categories.

Nor can these five conceptions and points of view be looked upon as increasable to ten or twenty, or to as many as desired, or that I have placed them in a certain order, but that they could be capriciously placed in another order. If this were so, they would be altogether heterogeneous and disconnected among themselves, and the attempt to examine and criticize them would seem altogether desperate, as also would be that of comparing one with the other, or of stating a new one, which should dominate them all. It is precisely thus that ordinary sceptics look upon various and contrasting scientific views. They group them all in the same plane, and believing that they can increase them at will, conclude that one is as good as another, and that therefore every one is free to select that which he prefers from a bundle of falsehoods. The conceptions of which we speak are definite in number, and appear in a necessary order, which is either that here stated by me, or another which might be proposed, better than mine. This would be the necessary order, which I should have failed to realize effectively. They are connected one with the other, and in such a way that the view which follows includes in itself that which precedes it.

Thus, if the last of the five doctrines indicated be taken, which may be summed up as the proposition that art is a form of the theoretic spirit, superior to the scientific and philosophic form—and if it be submitted to analysis, it will be seen that in it is included, in the first place, the proposition affirming the existence of a group of facts, which are called aesthetic or artistic. If such facts did not exist, it is evident that no question would arise concerning them, and that no systematization would be attempted. And this is the truth of empirical Aesthetic. But there is also contained in it the proposition: that the facts examined are reducible to a definite principle or category of the spirit. This amounts to saying, that they belong either to the practical spirit, or to the theoretical, or to one of their subforms. And this is the truth of practicist Aesthetic, which is occupied with the enquiry as to whether these ever are practical facts, and affirms that in every case they are a special category of the spirit. Thirdly, there is contained in it the proposition: that they are not practical facts, but facts which should rather be placed near the facts of logic or of thought. This is the truth of intellectualistic Aesthetic. In the fourth place, we find also the proposition; that aesthetic facts are neither practical, nor of that theoretic form which is called logical and intellective. They are something which cannot be identified with the categories of pleasure, nor of the useful, nor with those of ethic, nor with those of logical truth. They are something of which it is necessary to find a further definition. This is the truth of that Aesthetic which is termed agnostic or negative.

When these various propositions are severed from their connection; when, that is to say, the first is taken without the second, the second without the third, and so on,—and when each, thus mutilated, is confined in itself and the enquiry which awaits prosecution is arbitrarily arrested, then each one of these gives itself out as the whole of them, that is, as the completion of the enquiry. In this way, each becomes error, and the truths contained in empiricism, in practicism, in intellectualism, in agnostic and in mystical Aesthetic, become, respectively, falsity, and these tendencies of speculation are indicated with names of a definitely depreciative colouring. Empiria becomes empiricism, the heuristic comparison of the aesthetic activity with the practical and logical, becomes a conclusion, and therefore practicism and intellectualism. The criticism which rejects false definitions, and is itself negative, affirms itself as positive and definite, becoming agnosticism; and so on.

But the attempt to close a mental process in an arbitrary manner is vain, and of necessity causes remorse and self-criticism. Thus it comes about, that each one of those unilateral and erroneous doctrines continually tends to surpass itself and to enter the stage which follows it. Thus empiricism, for example, assumes that it can dispense with any philosophical conception of art; but, since it severs art from non-art—and, however empirical it be, it will not identify a pen-and-ink sketch and a table of logarithms, as if they were just the same thing, or a painting and milk or blood (although milk and blood both possess colour)—thus empiricism too must at last resort to some kind of philosophical concept. Therefore, we see the empiricists becoming, turn and turn about, hedonists, moralists, intellectualists, agnostics, mystics, and sometimes they are even better than mystics, upholding an excellent conception of art, which can only be found fault with because introduced surreptitiously and without justification. If they do not make that progress, it is impossible for them to speak in any way of aesthetic facts. They must return, as regards such facts, to that indifference and to that silence from which they had emerged when they affirmed the existence of these facts and began to consider them in their variety. The same may be said of all other unilateral doctrines. They are all reduced to the alternative of advancing or of going back, and in so far as they do not wish to do either, they live amid contradictions and in anguish. But they do free themselves from these, more or less slowly, and thus are compelled to advance, more or less slowly. And here we discover why it is so difficult, and indeed impossible, exactly to identify thinkers, philosophers, and writers with one or the other of the doctrines which we have enunciated, because each one of them rebels when he finds himself limited to one of those categories, and it seems to him that he is shut up in prison. It is precisely because those thinkers try to shut themselves up in a unilateral doctrine, that they do not succeed, and that they take a step, now in one direction, now in another, and are conscious of being now on this side, now on the other, of the criticisms which are addressed to them. But the critics fulfil their duty by putting them in prison, thus throwing into relief the absurdity into which they are led by their irresolution, or their resolution not to resolve.

And from this necessary connection and progressive order of the various propositions indicated arise also the resolve, the counsel, the exhortation, to "return," as they say, to this or that thinker, to this or that philosophical school of the past. Certainly, such returns are impossible, understood literally; they are also a little ridiculous, like all impossible attempts. We can never return to the past, precisely because it is the past. No one is permitted to free himself from the problems which are put by the present, and which he must solve with all the means of the present (which includes in it the means of the past). Nevertheless, it is a fact that the history of philosophy everywhere resounds with cries of return. Those very people who in our day deride the "return to Hume" or the "return to Kant," proceed to advise the "return to Schelling," or the "return to Hegel." This means that we must not understand those "returns" literally and in a material way. In truth, they do not express anything but the necessity and the ineliminability of the logical process explained above, for which the affirmations contained in philosophical problems appear connected with one another in such a way that the one follows the other, surpasses it, and includes it in itself. Empiricism, practicism, intellectualism, agnosticism, mysticism, are eternal stages of the search for truth. They are eternally relived and rethought in the truth which each contains. Thus it would be necessary for him who had not yet turned his attention to aesthetic facts, to begin by passing them before his eyes, that is to say, he must first traverse the empirical stage (about equivalent to that occupied by mere men of letters and mere amateurs of art); and while he is at this stage, he must be aroused to feel the want of a principle of explanation, by making him compare his present knowledge with the facts, and see if they are explained by it, that is to say, if they be utilitarian and moral, or logical and intellective. Then we should drive him who has made this examination to the conclusion, that the aesthetic activity is something different from all known forms, a form of the spirit, which it yet remains to characterize. For the empiricists of Aesthetic, intellectualism and moralism represent progress; for the intellectualists, hedonistic and moralistic alike, agnosticism is progress and may be called Kant. But for Kantians, who are real Kantians (and not neo-Kantians), progress is represented by the mystical and romantic point of view; not because this comes after the doctrine of Kant chronologically, but because it surpasses it ideally. In this sense, and in this sense alone, we should now "return" to the romantic Aesthetic. We should return to it, because it is ideally superior to all the researches in Aesthetic made in the studies of psychologists, of physio-psychologists, and of psycho-physiologists of the universities of Europe and of America. It is ideally superior to the sociological, comparative, prehistoric Aesthetic, which studies especially the art of savages, of children, of madmen, and of idiots. It is ideally superior also to that other Aesthetic, which has recourse to the conceptions of the genetic pleasure, of games, of illusion, of self-illusion, of association, of hereditary habit, of sympathy, of social efficiency, and so on. It is ideally superior to the attempts at logical explanation, which have not altogether ceased, even to-day, although they are somewhat rare, because, to tell the truth, fanaticism for Logic cannot be called the failing of our times. Finally, it is ideally superior to that Aesthetic which repeats with Kant, that the beautiful is finality without the idea of end, disinterested pleasure, necessary and universal, which is neither theoretical nor practical, but participates in both forms, or combines them in itself in an original and ineffable manner. But we should return to it, bringing with us the experience of a century of thought, the new facts collected, the new problems that have arisen, the new ideas that have matured. Thus we shall return again to the stage of mystical and romantic Aesthetic, but not to the personal and historical stage of its representatives. For in this matter, at least, they are certainly inferior to us: they lived a century ago and therefore inherited so much the less of the problems and of the results of thought which day by day mankind laboriously accumulates.

They should return, but not to remain there; because, if a return to the romantic Aesthetic be advisable for the Kantians (while the idealists should not be advised to "return to Kant," that is to say, to a lower stage, which represents a recession), so those who come over, or already find themselves on the ground of mystical Aesthetic, should, on the other hand be advised to proceed yet further, in order to attain to a doctrine which represents a stage above it. This doctrine is that of the pure intuition (or, what amounts to the same thing, of pure expression); a doctrine which also numbers representatives in all times, and which may be said to be immanent alike in all the discourses that are held and in all the judgments that are passed upon art, as in all the best criticism and artistic and literary history.

This doctrine arises logically from the contradictions of mystical Aesthetic; I say, logically, because it contains in itself those contradictions and their solution; although historically (and this point does not at present concern us) that critical process be not always comprehensible, explicit, and apparent.

Mystical Aesthetic, which makes of art the supreme function of the theoretic spirit, or, at least, a function superior to that of philosophy, becomes involved in inextricable difficulties. How could art ever be superior to philosophy, if philosophy make of art its object, that is to say, if it place art beneath itself, in order to analyse and define it? And what could this new knowledge be, supplied by art and by the aesthetic activity, appearing when the human spirit has come full circle, after it has imagined, perceived, thought, abstracted, calculated, and constructed the whole world of thought and history?

As the result of those difficulties and contradictions, mystical Aesthetic itself also exhibits the tendency, either to surpass its boundary, or to sink below its proper level. The descent takes place when it falls back into agnosticism, affirming that art is art, that is, a spiritual form, altogether different from the others and ineffable; or worse, where it conceives art as a sort of repose or as a game; as though diversion could ever be a category and the spirit know repose! We find an attempt at overpassing its proper limit, when art is placed below philosophy, as inferior to it; but this overpassing remains a simple attempt, because the conception of art as instrument of universal truth is always firmly held; save that this instrument is declared less perfect and less efficacious than the philosophical instrument. Thus they fall back again into intellectualism from another side.

These mistakes of mystical Aesthetic were manifested during the Romantic period in some celebrated paradoxes, such as those of art as irony and of the death of art. They seemed calculated to drive philosophers to desperation as to the possibility of solving the problem of the nature of art, since every path of solution appeared closed. Indeed, whoever reads the aestheticians of the romantic period, feels strongly inclined to believe himself at the heart of the enquiry and to nourish a confident hope of immediate discovery of the truth. Above all, the affirmation of the theoretic nature of art, and of the difference between its cognitive method and that of science and of logic, is felt as a definite conquest, which can indeed be combined with other elements, but which must not in any case be allowed to slip between the fingers. And further, it is not true that all ways of solution are closed, or that all have been attempted. There is at least one still open that can be tried; and it is precisely that for which we resolutely declare ourselves: the Aesthetic of the pure intuition.

This Aesthetic reasons as follows:—Hitherto, in all attempts to define the place of art, it has been sought, either at the summit of the theoretic spirit, above philosophy, or, at least, in the circle of philosophy itself. But is not the loftiness of the search the reason why no satisfactory result has hitherto been obtained? Why not invert the attempt, and instead of forming the hypothesis that art is one of the summits or the highest grade of the theoretic spirit, form the very opposite hypothesis, namely, that it is one of the lower grades, or the lowest of all? Perhaps such epithets as "lower" and "lowest" are irreconcilable with the dignity and with the splendid beauty of art? But in the philosophy of the spirit, such words as lowest, weak, simple, elementary, possess only the value of a scientific terminology. All the forms of the spirit are necessary, and the higher is so only because there is the lower, and the lower is as much to be despised or less to be valued to the same extent as the first step of a stair is despicable, or of less value in respect to the topmost step.

Let us compare art with the various forms of the theoretic spirit, and let us begin with the sciences which are called natural or positive. The Aesthetic of pure intuition makes it clear that the said sciences are more complex than History, because they presuppose historical material, that is, collections of things that have happened (to men or animals, to the earth or to the stars). They submit this material to a further treatment, which consists in the abstraction and systematization of the historical facts. History, then, is less complex than the natural sciences. History further presupposes the world of the imagination and the pure philosophical concepts or categories, and produces its judgments or historical propositions, by means of the synthesis of the imagination with the concept. And Philosophy may be said to be even less complex than History, in so far as it is distinguished from the former as an activity whose special function it is to make clear the categories or pure concepts, neglecting, in a certain sense at any rate, the world of phenomena. If we compare Art with the three forms above mentioned, it must be declared inferior, that is to say, less complex than the natural Sciences, in so far as it is altogether without abstractions. In so far as it is without conceptual determinations and does not distinguish between the real and the unreal, what has really happened and what has been dreamed, it must be declared inferior to History. In so far as it fails altogether to surpass the phenomenal world, and does not attain to the definitions of the pure concepts, it is inferior to Philosophy itself. It is also inferior to Religion, assuming that religion is (as it is) a form of speculative truth, standing between thought and imagination. Art is governed entirely by imagination; its only riches are images. Art does not classify objects, nor pronounce them real or imaginary, nor qualify them, nor define them. Art feels and represents them. Nothing more. Art therefore is intuition, in so far as it is a mode of knowledge, not abstract, but concrete, and in so far as it uses the real, without changing or falsifying it. In so far as it apprehends it immediately, before it is modified and made clear by the concept, it must be called pure intuition.

The strength of art lies in being thus simple, nude, and poor. Its strength (as often happens in life) arises from its very weakness. Hence its fascination. If (to employ an image much used by philosophers for various ends) we think of man, in the first moment that he becomes aware of theoretical life, with mind still clear of every abstraction and of every reflexion, in that first purely intuitive instant he must be a poet. He contemplates the world with ingenuous and admiring eyes; he sinks and loses himself altogether in that contemplation. By creating the first representations and by thus inaugurating the life of knowledge, art continually renews within our spirit the aspects of things, which thought has submitted to reflexion, and the intellect to abstraction. Thus art perpetually makes us poets again. Without art, thought would lack the stimulus, the very material, for its hermeneutic and critical labour. Art is the root of all our theoretic life. To be the root, not the flower or the fruit, is the function of art. And without a root, there can be no flower and no fruit.


Such is the theory of art as pure intuition, in its fundamental conception. This theory, then, takes its origin from the criticism of the loftiest of all the other doctrines of Aesthetic, from the criticism of mystical or romantic Aesthetic, and contains in itself the criticism and the truth of all the other Aesthetics. It is not here possible to allow ourselves to illustrate its other aspects, such as would be those of the identity, which it lays down, between intuition and expression, between art and language. Suffice it to say, as regards the former, that he alone who divides the unity of the spirit into soul and body can have faith in a pure act of the soul, and therefore in an intuition, which should exist as an intuition, and yet be without its body, expression. Expression is the actuality of intuition, as action is of will; and in the same way as will not exercised in action is not will, so an intuition unexpressed is not an intuition. As regards the second point, I will mention in passing that, in order to recognize the identity of art and language, it is needful to study language, not in its abstraction and in grammatical detail, but in its immediate reality, and in all its manifestations, spoken and sung, phonic and graphic. And we should not take at hazard any proposition, and declare it to be aesthetic; because, if all propositions have an aesthetic side (precisely because intuition is the elementary form of knowledge and is, as it were, the garment of the superior and more complex forms), all are not purely aesthetic, but some are philosophical, historical, scientific, or mathematical; some, in fact, of these are more than aesthetic or logical; they are aestheticological. Aristotle, in his time, distinguished between semantic and apophantic propositions, and noted, that if all propositions be semantic, not all are apophantic. Language is art, not in so far as it is apophantic, but in so far as it is, generically, semantic. It is necessary to note in it the side by which it is expressive, and nothing but expressive. It is also well to observe (though this may seem superfluous) that it is not necessary to reduce the theory of pure intuition, as has been sometimes done, to a historical fact or to a psychological concept. Because we recognize in poetry, as it were, the ingenuousness, the freshness, the barbarity of the spirit, it is not therefore necessary to limit poetry to youth and to barbarian peoples. Though we recognize language as the first act of taking possession of the world achieved by man, we must not imagine that language is born ex nihilo, once only in the course of the ages, and that later generations merely adopt the ancient instrument, applying it to a new order of things while lamenting its slight adaptability to the usage of civilized times. Art, poetry, intuition, and immediate expression are the moment of barbarity and of ingenuousness, which perpetually recur in the life of the spirit; they are youth, that is, not chronological, but ideal. There exist very prosaic barbarians and very prosaic youths, as there exist poetical spirits of the utmost refinement and civilization. The mythology of those proud, gigantic Patagonians, of whom our Vico was wont to discourse, or of those bons Hurons, who were lately a theme of conversation, must be looked upon as for ever superseded.

But there arises an apparently very serious objection to the Aesthetic of pure intuition, giving occasion to doubt whether this doctrine, if it represent progress in respect to the doctrines which have preceded it, yet is also a complete and definite doctrine as regards the fundamental concept of art. Should it be submitted to a dialectic, by means of which it must be surpassed and dissolved into a more lofty point of view? The doctrine of pure intuition makes the value of art to consist of its power of intuition; in such a manner that just in so far as pure and concrete intuitions are achieved will art and beauty be achieved. But if attention be paid to judgments of people of good taste and of critics, and to what we all say when we are warmly discussing works of art and manifesting our praise or blame of them, it would seem that what we seek in art is something quite different, or at least something more than simple force and intuitive and expressive purity. What pleases and what is sought in art, what makes beat the heart and enraptures the admiration, is life, movement, emotion, warmth, the feeling of the artist. This alone affords the supreme criterion for distinguishing true from false works of art, those with insight from the failures. Where there are emotion and feeling, much is forgiven; where they are wanting, nothing can make up for them. Not only are the most profound thoughts and the most exquisite culture incapable of saving a work of art which is looked upon as cold, but richness of imagery, ability and certainty in the reproduction of the real, in description, characterization and composition, and all other knowledge, only serve to arouse the regret that so great a price has been paid and such labours endured, in vain. We do not ask of an artist instruction as to real facts and thoughts, nor that he should astonish us with the richness of his imagination, but that he should have a personality, in contact with which the soul of the hearer or spectator may be heated. A personality of any sort is asked for in this case; its moral significance is excluded: let it be sad or glad, enthusiastic or distrustful, sentimental or sarcastic, benignant or malign, but it must be a soul. Art criticism would seem to consist altogether in determining if there be a personality in the work of art, and of what sort. A work that is a failure is an incoherent work; that is to say, a work in which no single personality appears, but a number of disaggregated and jostling personalities, that is, really, none. There is no further correct significance than this in the researches that are made as to the verisimilitude, the truth, the logic, the necessity, of a work of art.

It is true that many protests have been made by artists, critics, and philosophers by profession, against the characteristic of personality. It has been maintained that the bad artist leaves traces of his personality in the work of art, whereas the great artist cancels them all. It has been further maintained that the artist should portray the reality of life, and that he should not disturb it with the opinions, judgments, and personal feelings of the author, and that the artist should give the tears of things and not his own tears. Hence impersonality, not personality, has been proclaimed to be the characteristic of art, that is to say, the very opposite. However, it will not be difficult to show that what is really meant by this opposing formula is the same as in the first case. The theory of impersonality really coincides with that of personality in every point. The opposition of the artists, critics, and philosophers above mentioned, was directed against the invasion by the empirical and volitional personality of the artist of the spontaneous and ideal personality which constitutes the subject of the work of art. For instance, artists who do not succeed in representing the force of piety or of love of country, add to their colourless imaginings declamation or theatrical effects, thinking thus to arouse such feelings. In like manner certain orators and actors introduce into a work of art an emotion extraneous to the work of art itself. Within these limits, the opposition of the upholders of the theory of impersonality was most reasonable. On the other hand, there has also been exhibited an altogether irrational opposition to personality in the work of art. Such is the lack of comprehension and intolerance evinced by certain souls for others differently constituted (of calm for agitated souls, for example).

Here we find at bottom the claim of one sort of personality to deny that of another. Finally, it has been possible to demonstrate from among the examples given of impersonal art, in the romances and dramas called naturalistic, that in so far and to the extent that these are complete artistic works, they possess personality. This holds good even when this personality lies in a wandering or perplexity of thought regarding the value to be given to life, or in blind faith in the natural sciences and in modern sociology.

Where every trace of personality was really absent, and its place taken by the pedantic quest for human documents, the description of certain social classes and the generic or individual process of certain maladies, there the work of art was absent. A work of science of more or less superficiality, and without the necessary proofs and control, filled its place. There is no upholder of impersonality but experiences a feeling of fatigue for a work of the utmost exactitude in the reproduction of reality in its empirical sequence, or of industrious and apathetic combination of images. He asks himself why such a work was executed, and recommends the author to adopt some other profession, since that of artist was not intended for him.

Thus it is without doubt that if pure intuition (and pure expression, which is the same thing) are indispensable in the work of art, the personality of the artist is equally indispensable. If (to quote the celebrated words in our own way) the classic moment of perfect representation or expression be necessary for the work of art, the romantic moment of feeling is not less necessary. Poetry, or art in general, cannot be exclusively ingenuous or sentimental; it must be both ingenuous and sentimental. And if the first or representative moment be termed epic, and the second, which is sentimental, passionate, and personal, be termed lyric, then poetry and art must be at once epic and lyric, or, if it please you better, dramatic. We use these words here, not at all in their empirical and intellectualist sense, as employed to designate special classes of works of art, exclusive of other classes; but in that of elements or moments, which must of necessity be found united in every work of art, how diverse soever it may be in other respects.

Now this irrefutable conclusion seems to constitute exactly that above-mentioned apparently serious objection to the doctrine which defines art as pure intuition. But if the essence of art be merely theoretic—and it is intuibility—can it, on the other hand, be practical, that is to say, feeling, personality, and passionality? Or, if it be practical, how can it be theoretic? It will be answered that feeling is the content, intuibility the form; but form and content do not in philosophy constitute a duality, like water and its recipient; in philosophy content is form, and form is content. Here, on the other hand, form and content appear to be different from one another; the content is of one quality, the form of another. Thus art appears to be the sum of two qualities, or, as Herbart used to say in his time, of two values. Accordingly we have an altogether unmaintainable Aesthetic, as is clear from recent largely vulgarized doctrines of Aesthetic as operating with the concept of the infused personality. Here we find, on the one hand, things intuible lying dead and soulless; on the other, the artist's feeling and personality. The artist is then supposed to put himself into things, by an act of magic, to make them live and palpitate, love and adore. But if we start with the distinction, we can never again reach unity: the distinction requires an intellectual act, and what the intellect has divided intellect or reason alone, not art or imagination, can reunite and synthetize. Thus the Aesthetic of infusion or transfusion—when it does not fall into the antiquated hedonistic doctrines of agreeable illusion, of games, and generally of what affords a pleasurable emotion; or of moral doctrines, where art is a symbol and an allegory of the good and the true;—is yet not able, despite its airs of modernity and its psychology, to escape the fate of the doctrine which makes of art a semi-imaginative conception of the world, like religion. The process that it describes is mythological, not aesthetic; it is a making of gods or of idols. "To make one's gods is an unhappy art," said an old Italian poet; but if it be not unhappy, certainly it is not poetic and not aesthetic. The artist does not make the gods, because he has other things to do. Another reason is that, to tell the truth, he is so ingenuous and so absorbed in the image that attracts him, that he cannot perform that act of abstraction and conception, wherein the image must be surpassed and made the allegory of a universal, though it be of the crudest description.

This recent theory, then, is of no use. It leads back to the difficulties arising from the admission of two characteristics of art, intuibility and lyricism, not unified. We must recognize, either that the duality must be destroyed and proved illusory, or that we must proceed to a more ample conception of art, in which that of pure intuibility would remain merely secondary or particular. And to destroy and prove it illusory must consist in showing that here too form is content, and that pure intuition is itself lyricism.

Now, the truth is precisely this: pure intuition is essentially lyricism. All the difficulties concerning this question arise from not having thoroughly understood that concept, from having failed to penetrate its true nature and to explore its multiple relations. When we consider the one attentively, we see the other bursting from its bosom, or better, the one and the other reveal themselves as one and the same, and we escape from the desperate trilemma, of either denying the lyrical and personal character of art, or of asserting that it is adjunctive, external and accidental, or of excogitating a new doctrine of Aesthetic, which we do not know where to find. In fact, as has already been remarked, what can pure intuition mean, but intuition pure of every abstraction, of every conceptual element, and, for this reason, neither science, history, nor philosophy? This means that the content of the pure intuition cannot be either an abstract concept, or a speculative concept or idea, or a conceptualized, that is historicized, representation. Nor can it be a so-called perception, which is a representation intellectually, and so historically, discriminated. But outside logic in its various forms and blendings, no other psychic content remains, save that which is called appetites, tendencies, feelings, and will. These things are all the same and constitute the practical form of the spirit, in its infinite gradations and in its dialectic (pleasure and pain). Pure intuition, then, since it does not produce concepts, must represent the will in its manifestations, that is to say, it can represent nothing but states of the soul. And states of the soul are passionality, feeling, personality, which are found in every art and determine its lyrical character. Where this is absent, art is absent, precisely because pure intuition is absent, and we have at the most, in exchange for it, that reflex, philosophical, historical, or scientific. In the last of these, passion is represented, not immediately, but mediately, or, to speak exactly, it is no longer represented, but thought. Thus the origin of language, that is, its true nature, has several times been placed in interjection. Thus, too, Aristotle, when he wished to give an example of those propositions which were not apophantic, but generically semantic (we should say, not logical, but purely Aesthetic), and did not predicate the logically true and false, but nevertheless said something, gave as example invocation or prayer, hae enchae. He added that these propositions do not appertain to Logic, but to Rhetoric and Poetic. A landscape is a state of the soul; a great poem may all be contained in an exclamation of joy, of sorrow, of admiration, or of lament. The more objective is a work of art, by so much the more is it poetically suggestive.

If this deduction of lyricism from the intimate essence of pure intuition do not appear easily acceptable, the reason is to be sought in two very deep-rooted prejudices, of which it is useful to indicate here the genesis. The first concerns the nature of the imagination, and its likenesses to and differences from fancy. Imagination and fancy have been clearly distinguished thus by certain aestheticians (and among them, De Sanctis), as also in discussions relating to concrete art: they have held fancy, not imagination, to be the special faculty of the poet and the artist. Not only does a new and bizarre combination of images, which is vulgarly called invention, not constitute the artist, but ne fait rien a l'affaire, as Alceste remarked with reference to the length of time expended upon writing a sonnet. Great artists have often preferred to treat groups of images, which had already been many times used as material for works of art. The novelty of these new works has been solely that of art or form, that is to say, of the new accent which they have known how to give to the old material, of the new way in which they have felt and therefore intuified it, thus creating new images upon the old ones. These remarks are all obvious and universally recognized as true. But if mere imagination as such has been excluded from art, it has not therefore been excluded from the theoretic spirit. Hence the disinclination to admit that a pure intuition must of necessity express a state of the soul, whereas it may also consist, as they believe, of a pure image, without a content of feeling. If we form an arbitrary image of any sort, stans pede in uno, say of a bullock's head on a horse's body, would not this be an intuition, a pure intuition, certainly quite without any content of reflexion? Would one not attain to a work of art in this way, or at any rate to an artistic motive? Certainly not. For the image given as an instance, and every other image that may be produced by the imagination, not only is not a pure intuition, but it is not a theoretic product of any sort. It is a product of choice, as was observed in the formula used by our opponents; and choice is external to the world of thought and contemplation. It may be said that imagination is a practical artifice or game, played upon that patrimony of images possessed by the soul; whereas the fancy, the translation of practical into theoretical values, of states of the soul into images, is the creation of that patrimony itself.

From this we learn that an image, which is not the expression of a state of the soul, is not an image, since it is without any theoretical value; and therefore it cannot be an obstacle to the identification of lyricism and intuition. But the other prejudice is more difficult to eradicate, because it is bound up with the metaphysical problem itself, on the various solutions of which depend the various solutions of the aesthetic problem, and vice versa. If art be intuition, would it therefore be any intuition that one might have of a physical object, appertaining to external nature? If I open my eyes and look at the first object that they fall upon, a chair or a table, a mountain or a river, shall I have performed by so doing an aesthetic act? If so, what becomes of the lyrical character, of which we have asserted the necessity? If not, what becomes of the intuitive character, of which we have affirmed the equal necessity and also its identity with the former? Without doubt, the perception of a physical object, as such, does not constitute an artistic fact; but precisely for the reason that it is not a pure intuition, but a judgment of perception, and implies the application of an abstract concept, which in this case is physical or belonging to external nature. And with this reflexion and perception, we find ourselves at once outside the domain of pure intuition. We could have a pure perception of a physical object in one way only; that is to say, if physical or external nature were a metaphysical reality, a truly real reality, and not, as it is, a construction or abstraction of the intellect. If such were the case, man would have an immediate intuition, in his first theoretical moment, both of himself and of external nature, of the spiritual and of the physical, in an equal degree. This represents the dualistic hypothesis. But just as dualism is incapable of providing a coherent system of philosophy, so is it incapable of providing a coherent Aesthetic. If we admit dualism, we must certainly abandon the doctrine of art as pure intuition; but we must at the same time abandon all philosophy. But art on its side tacitly protests against metaphysical dualism. It does so, because, being the most immediate form of knowledge, it is in contact with activity, not with passivity; with interiority, not exteriority; with spirit, not with matter, and never with a double order of reality. Those who affirm the existence of two forms of intuition—the one external or physical, the other subjective or aesthetic; the one cold and inanimate, the other warm and lively; the one imposed from without, the other coming from the inner soul—attain without doubt to the distinctions and oppositions of the vulgar (or dualistic) consciousness, but their Aesthetic is vulgar.

The lyrical essence of pure intuition, and of art, helps to make clear what we have already observed concerning the persistence of the intuition and of the fancy in the higher grades of the theoretical spirit, why philosophy, history, and science have always an artistic side, and why their expression is subject to aesthetic valuation. The man who ascends from art to thought does not by so doing abandon his volitional and practical base, and therefore he too finds himself in a particular state of the soul, the representation of which is intuitive and lyrical, and accompanies of necessity the development of his ideas. Hence the various styles of thinkers, solemn or jocose, troubled or gladsome, mysterious and involved, or level and expansive. But it would not be correct to divide intuition immediately into two classes, the one of aesthetic, the other of intellectual or logical intuitions, owing to the persistence of the artistic element in logical thought, because the relation of degrees is not the relation of classes, and copper is copper, whether it be found alone, or in combination as bronze.

Further, this close connection of feeling and intuition in pure intuition throws much light on the reasons which have so often caused art to be separated from the theoretic and confounded with the practical activity. The most celebrated of these confusions are those formulated about the relativity of tastes and of the impossibility of reproducing, tasting, and correctly judging the art of the past, and in general the art of others. A life lived, a feeling felt, a volition willed, are certainly impossible to reproduce, because nothing happens more than once, and my situation at the present moment is not that of any other being, nor is it mine of the moment before, nor will be of the moment to follow. But art remakes ideally, and ideally expresses my momentary situation. Its image, produced by art, becomes separated from time and space, and can be again made and again contemplated in its ideal-reality from every point of time and space. It belongs not to the world, but to the superworld; not to the flying moment, but to eternity. Thus life passes, but art endures.

Finally, we obtain from this relation between the intuition and the state of the soul the criterion of exact definition of the sincerity required of artists, which is itself also an essential request. It is essential, precisely because it means that the artist must have a state of the soul to express, which really amounts to saying, that he must be an artist. His must be a state of the soul really experienced, not merely imagined, because imagination, as we know, is not a work of truth. But, on the other hand, the demand for sincerity does not go beyond asking for a state of the soul, and that the state of soul expressed in the work of art be a desire or an action. It is altogether indifferent to Aesthetic whether the artist have had only an aspiration, or have realized that aspiration in his empirical life. All that is quite indifferent in the sphere of art. Here we also find the confutation of that false conception of sincerity, which maintains that the artist, in his volitional or practical life, should be at one with his dream, or with his incubus. Whether or no he have been so, is a matter that interests his biographer, not his critic; it belongs to history, which separates and qualifies that which art does not discriminate, but represents.


This attitude of indiscrimination and indifference, observed by art in respect to history and philosophy, is also foreshadowed at that place of the De interpretatione (c. 4), to which we have already referred, to obtain thence the confirmation of the thesis of the identity of art and language, and another confirmation, that of the identity of lyric and pure intuition. It is a really admirable passage, containing many profound truths in a few short, simple words, although, as is natural, without full consciousness of their richness. Aristotle, then, is still discussing the said rhetorical and poetical propositions, semantic and not apophantic, and he remarks that in them there rules no distinction between true and false: to alaetheueion hae pseudeothai ouk hyparchei. Art, in fact, is in contact with palpitating reality, but does not know that it is so in contact, and therefore is not truly in contact. Art does not allow itself to be troubled with the abstractions of the intellect, and therefore does not make mistakes; but it does not know that it does not make mistakes. If art, then (to return to what we said at the beginning), be the first and most ingenuous form of knowledge, it cannot give complete satisfaction to man's need to know, and therefore cannot be the ultimate end of the theoretic spirit. Art is the dream of the life of knowledge. Its complement is waking, lyricism no longer, but the concept; no longer the dream, but the judgment. Thought could not be without fancy; but thought surpasses and contains in itself the fancy, transforms the image into perception, and gives to the world of dream the clear distinctions and the firm contours of reality. Art cannot achieve this; and however great be our love of art, that cannot raise it in rank, any more than the love one may have for a beautiful child can convert it into an adult. We must accept the child as a child, the adult as an adult.

Therefore, the Aesthetic of pure intuition, while it proclaims energetically the autonomy of art and of the aesthetic activity, is at the same time averse to all aestheticism, that is, to every attempt at lowering the life of thought, in order to elevate that of fancy. The origin of aestheticism is the same as that of mysticism. Both proceed from a rebellion against the predominance of the abstract sciences and against the undue abuse of the principle of causation in metaphysic. When we pass from the stuffed animals of the zoological museums, from anatomical reconstructions, from tables of figures, from classes and sub-classes constituted by means of abstract characters, or from the fixation and mechanization of life for the ends of naturalistic science, to the pages of the poets, to the pictures of the painters, to the melodies of the composers, when in fact we look upon life with the eye of the artist, we have the impression that we are passing from death to life, from the abstract to the concrete, from fiction to reality. We are inclined to proclaim that only in art and in aesthetic contemplation is truth, and that science is either charlatanesque pedantry, or a modest practical expedient. And certainly art has the superiority of its own truth; simple, small, and elementary though it be, over the abstract, which, as such, is altogether without truth. But in violently rejecting science and frantically embracing art, that very form of the theoretic spirit is forgotten, by means of which we can criticize science and recognize the nature of art. Now this theoretic spirit, since it criticizes science, is not science, and, as reflective consciousness of art, is not art. Philosophy, the supreme fact of the theoretic world, is forgotten. This error has been renewed in our day, because the consciousness of the limits of the natural sciences and of the value of the truth which belongs to intuition and to art, have been renewed. But just as, a century ago, during the idealistic and romantic period, there were some who reminded the fanatics for art, and the artists who were transforming philosophy, that art was not "the most lofty form of apprehending the Absolute"; so, in our day, it is necessary to awaken the consciousness of Thought. And one of the means for attaining this end is an exact understanding of the limits of art, that is, the construction of a solid Aesthetic.


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