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^Esthetic of content and Esthetic 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 ^Esthetic of content (Gehaltsdsthetik) and the ^Esthetic of form (Formdsthetik); a war which gave birth to vast works on the history of ^Esthetic 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 ^Esthetic; 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? 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 ^Esthetic 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 representative 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 formalism, 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 ^Esthetic of content and that of form, the ^Esthetic of idealism and that of realism, the Esthetic of Schelling, Solger, Hegel and Schopenhauer and that of Herbart, will appear in its true light, as the lamily 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 - objectivism; 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 preferred 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 Schleiermacher, whose aesthetic doctrine is amongst the least known although it is perhaps the most noteworthy of the day.

Schleiermacher delivered his first lectures on ^Esthetic wrong judgeat Berlin University in 1819, and from that date he T began to study the subject seriously with a view to writing

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 ^Esthetic comes from his lectures, as collected by his pupils and published in 1842.1 A Herbartian historian of ^Esthetic, 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.3 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!

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

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

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

Schleiermacher considered ^Esthetic as an essentially s««««modern line of thought, and drew a sharp distinction TM

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 ^Esthetic 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 "=• 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 ^Esthetic the vague and equivocal concept of Beauty. Schiller pleased him by <^ having called attention to the moment of artistic spontaneity or productiveness, and he praised ScheUing for having laid stress on the importance of the figurative arts, which lend themselves less easily than poetry to facile and illusory moralistic interpretations.1 Having; with the utmost clearness excluded from ^Esthetic the study of practical rules as empirical, and therefore irreducible to a science, he assigned to ^Esthetic the task of determining the proper position of artistic activity in the scheme of ethics.2

To avoid falling into error over this terminology, we Place assigned must call to mind that the philosophy of Schleiermacher IV 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

1 Varies. ub. Astheiik, pp. 1-30. * Op. tit. pp. 35-51.

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 departure 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. ^Esthetic A double distinction may be made amongst human

imwZeZtand activities. In the first place, there are activities which individual. 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? 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.1 As for the other distinction, it is true that art does realize itself in the external world, but this fact is something superadded (" ein spdter 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 "). Exceptions 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

1 Varies. iib. Asth. pp. 51-54.

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