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AEsthetic of content and Æsthetic of form : meaning of the contrast.


WE have now reached a point when we are able to give ourselves an exact account of the signification and importance of the celebrated war waged for over a century in Germany between the AEsthetic of content (Gehaltsästhetik) and the AEsthetic of form (Formásthetik); a war which gave birth to vast works on the history of AEsthetic undertaken from one or other point of view, and sprang from Herbart's opposition to the idealism of Schelling, Hegel, and their contemporaries and followers. “Form " and “Content ’’ are among the most equivocal words in the whole philosophical vocabulary, particularly in Æsthetic ; sometimes, indeed, what one calls form, others call content. The Herbartians were specially given to quoting in their own defence Schiller's dictum, that the secret of art consists in “cancelling content by form.” But what is there in common between Schiller's concept of “form,” which placed the aesthetic activity side by side with the moral and intellectual, and Herbart's “form,” which does not penetrate or enliven, but clothes and adorns a content 2 Hegel, on the other hand, often gives the name “form " to what Schiller would call “matter" (Stoff), that is, the sensible matter which it is the business of spiritual energy to dominate. Hegel's “content ’’ is the idea, the metaphysical truth, the constituent element of beauty: Herbart's “content" is the emotional and intellectual element which falls outside beauty. The AEsthetic of “form " in Italy is an aesthetic of expressive activity; the form is neither a clothing

nor a metaphysical idea nor sensible matter, but a re-
presentative or imaginative faculty with the power of
framing impressions; yet there have been attempts to
confute this Italian aesthetic formalism with the same
arguments that are used against German aesthetic formal-
ism, a totally different thing in every respect. And so
forth. Having given a plain account of the thoughts
of the post-Kantian aestheticians, we shall be able to
appreciate their opponents without seeking light from
their obscure terminology or allowing ourselves to be
misled by the banners they wave. The antithesis between
the AEsthetic of content and that of form, the AEsthetic
of idealism and that of realism, the AEsthetic of Schelling,
Solger, Hegel and Schopenhauer and that of Herbart,
will appear in its true light, as the family quarrel between
two conceptions of art united by a common mysticism,
although one is destined almost to meet with truth
during its long journey, while the other wanders ever
further away.
The first half of the nineteenth century was for
Germany a period of many fine-sounding philosophical
formulae: subjectivism, objectivism, subjective - objec-
tivism ; abstract, concrete, abstract-concrete ; idealism,
realism, idealism - realism; between pantheism and
theism Krause inserted his pan-en-theism. In the midst
of this uproar, in which the second-rate men shouted
down the first-rate and made good their claim to their
only true property, namely words, it is not surprising
that a few modest clear thinkers, philosophers who pre-
ferred to think about realities, should have the worst of
it and remain unheard and unnoticed, lost among the
roaring crowd or labelled with a false ticket. This, at
least, seems to have been the lot of Friedrich Schleier-
macher, whose aesthetic doctrine is amongst the least
known although it is perhaps the most noteworthy of
the day.
Schleiermacher delivered his first lectures on AEsthetic
at Berlin University in 1819, and from that date he
began to study the subject seriously with a view to writing

Friedrich Schleiermacher.

Wrong judgements concerning him.

a book on it. He repeated his lectures on two occasions, in 1825 and 1832–1833; but his death, which occurred in the following year, prevented him from carrying out his plan, and all we know of his thoughts on AEsthetic comes from his lectures, as collected by his pupils and published in 1842.” A Herbartian historian of Æsthetic, Zimmermann, attacks the posthumous work of Schleiermacher with real ferocity; after twenty pages of invective and sarcasm he concludes by asking, how could his pupils so dishonour their great master by publishing such a mass of waste paper, “all play upon words, sophistical conceits and dialectical subtleties” 2 * Nor was the idealistic historian Hartmann much more benevolent when he describes the work as “a confused mess in which, among much that is merely trivial, many half-truths and exaggerations, one can detect a few acute observations"; and says that, in order to make bearable “Such unctuous afternoon sermons delivered by a preacher in his dotage,” it must be shortened by three-quarters; and that, “as regards fundamental principles,” it is simply useless, offering no innovations upon concrete idealism as presented by Hegel and others; and that, in any case, it seems impossible “to attach it to any line of thought except the Hegelian, to which Schleiermacher's contribution is only of second-rate importance.” He further observes that Schleiermacher was primarily a theologian, and in philosophy more or less an amateur.” Now it cannot be denied that Schleiermacher's doctrine has reached us in a hazy form, by no means free from uncertainties and contradictions; and, which is more important, it is here and there affected for the worse by the influence of contemporary metaphysics. But, side by side with these defects, what excellent method, really Scientific and philosophical ; what a number of cornerstones well and truly laid ; what wealth of new truths, and of difficulties and problems not suspected or discussed before his day ! Schleiermacher considered AEsthetic as an essentially Schleiermodern line of thought, and drew a sharp distinction ...s.o. between the Poetics of Aristotle, which never shakes itself predecessors. free from the empirical standpoint of the maker of rules, and what Baumgarten tried to do in the eighteenth century. He praised Kant for having been the first = truly to include AEsthetic among the philosophical sciences, and recognized that in Hegel artistic activity had attained « the highest elevation by being brought into connexion and almost into equality with religion and philosophy. But he was not satisfied either with the followers of Baumgarten when they degenerated into the absurd attempt to construct a science or theory of sensuous pleasure, or with the Kantian point of view which made s its principal aim the consideration of taste ; or with the philosophy of Fichte, in which art became a means of education; or with the more widely received opinion which placed at the centre of AEsthetic the vague and equivocal concept of Beauty. Schiller pleased him by s having called attention to the moment of artistic spontaneity or productiveness, and he praised Schelling for having laid stress on the importance of the figurative arts, which lend themselves less easily than poetry to facile and illusory moralistic interpretations.” Having with the utmost clearness excluded from AEsthetic the study of practical rules as empirical, and therefore irreducible to a science, he assigned to AEsthetic the task of determining the proper position of artistic activity in the scheme of ethics.” To avoid falling into error over this terminology, we Place assigned must call to mind that the philosophy of Schleiermacher ... " followed the ancient traditions in its tripartite division into Dialectic, Ethics and Physics. Dialectic corresponds with ontology; Physics embraces all the sciences of natural facts; Ethics includes the study of all free activities of mankind (language, thought, art, religion * Vorles. iib. Asthetik, pp. 1-3o. * Op. cit. pp. 35-51.

* Vorlesungen üb. Asthetik, published by Lommatsch, Berlin, 1842 (Werke, sect. iii. vol. vii.).

* Zimmermann, G. d. A. pp. 608-634.

* E. von Hartmann, Deutsche Asth. s. Kant, pp. 156-169.

AEsthetic activity as immanent and individual.

and morality). Ethics represented to him not only the
science of morality but what others name Psychology or,
better still, the Science or Philosophy of the Spirit. This
explanation once given, Schleiermacher's point of de-
parture seems to be the only one just and permissible,
and we shall not be surprised when he talks of will, of
voluntary acts and so on, where others would have
simply spoken of activity or spiritual energy; he even
endows such expressions with a broader meaning than
that conferred upon them by practical philosophy.
A double distinction may be made amongst human
activities. In the first place, there are activities which
we presume to be constituted in the same manner in
all men (such as the logical activity) and are called
activities of identity; and others whose diversity is
presumed, which are called activities of difference or
individual activities. Secondly, there are activities which
exhaust themselves in the internal life, and others which
actualize themselves in the external world : immanent
activities and practical activities. To which of the two
classes in each of the two orders does artistic activity
belong 2 There can be no doubt of its different modes
of development, if not actually in each individual person,
at least in different peoples and nations; therefore it
belongs properly to activities of difference or individual
activities.” As for the other distinction, it is true that
art does realize itself in the external world, but this fact
is something superadded (“ein später Hinzukommendes")
“which stands to the internal fact as the communication
of thought by means of speech or writing stands to
thought itself ": art's true work is the internal image
(“das innere Bild ist das eigentliche Kunstwerk ’). Ex-
ceptions to this might be adduced, such as mimicry ;
but they would be apparent only. Between a really
angry man and the actor who plays the part of an angry
man on the stage there is this difference : in the second
case anger appears as controlled and therefore beautiful ;
that is, the internal image is in the actor's soul interposed
* Vorles. iib. Asth. pp. 51-54.

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