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INDIVISIBILITY OF EXPRESSION INTO MODES
OR DEGREES AND CRITICISM OF RHETORIC
IT is customary to give long catalogues of the characters of the characters art. Having reached this point of the treatise, after hav- “s”. ing studied art as spiritual activity, as theoretic activity, and as special theoretic activity (intuitive), we are able to discover that those varied and numerous determinations of characters, where they refer to anything real, do nothing but represent what we have already met with as genera, species and individuality of the aesthetic form. To the generic are reducible, as we have already observed, the characters, or rather, the verbal variants of unity, and of unity in variety, of simplicity, or originality, and so on ; to the specific, the characters of truth, of sincerity, and the like ; to the individual, the characters of life, of vivacity, of animation, of concreteness, of individuality, of characteristicality. The words may change again, but they will not contribute anything scientifically new. The analysis of expression as such is completely effected in the results expounded above.
It might, on the other hand, be asked at this point Non-existence if there be modes or degrees of expression ; if, having 's!..." distinguished two degrees of activity of the spirit, each of which is subdivided into two other degrees, one of these, the intuitive-expressive, is not in its turn subdivided into two or more intuitive modes, into a first, second or third degree of expression. But this further division is impossible; a classification of intuition-expressions is certainly permissible, but is not philosophical : individual
Impossibility of translations.
Criticism of the rhetorical categories.
expressive facts are so many individuals, not one of
which is interchangeable with another, save in its common
quality of expression. To employ the language of the
schools: expression is a species which cannot function
in its turn as a genus. Impressions or contents vary;
every content differs from every other content, because
nothing repeats itself in life; and the irreducible variety
of the forms of expression corresponds to the continual
variation of the contents, the aesthetic synthesis of
A corollary of this is the impossibility of translations,
in so far as they pretend to effect the re-moulding of
one expression into another, like a liquid poured from a
vase of a certain shape into a vase of another shape.
We can elaborate logically what we have already
elaborated in aesthetic form only; but we cannot
reduce what has already possessed its aesthetic form to
another form also aesthetic. Indeed, every translation
either diminishes and spoils, or it creates a new expression,
by putting the former back into the crucible and mingling
it with the personal impressions of the so-called trans-
lator. In the former case, the expression always remains
one, that of the original, the translation being more or
less deficient, that is to say, not properly expression : in
the other case, there would certainly be two expressions,
but with two different contents. “Faithful ugliness or
faithless beauty" is a proverb that well expresses the
dilemma with which every translator is faced. Un-
aesthetic translations, such as those that are word for
word, or paraphrastic, are to be looked upon as simple
commentaries upon the original.
The illegitimate division of expressions into various
grades is known in literature by the name of doctrine
of ornament or of rhetorical categories. But similar
attempts at distinctions in other artistic groups are not
wanting : suffice it to recall the realistic and symbolic
forms, so often mentioned in relation to painting and
Realistic and symbolic, objective and subjective, classical
and romantic, simple and ornate, proper and metaphorical, the fourteen forms of metaphor, the figures of word and sentence, pleonasm, ellipse, inversion, repetition, synonyms and homonyms, these and all other determinations of modes or degrees of expression reveal their philosophical nullity when the attempt is made to develop them in precise definitions, because they either grasp the void or fall into the absurd. A typical example of this is the very common definition of metaphor as of another word used in place of the proper word. Now why give oneself this trouble 2 Why substitute the improper for the proper word 2 Why take the worse and longer road when you know the shorter and better road 2 Perhaps, as is commonly said, because the proper word is in certain cases not so expressive as the so-called improper word or metaphor P But if this be so the metaphor is exactly the proper word in that case, and the so-called “proper” word, if it were used, would be inexpressive and therefore most improper. Similar observations of elementary good sense can be made regarding the other categories, as, for example, the general one of the ornate. Here for instance it may be asked how an ornament can be joined to expression. Externally 2 In that case it is always separated from the expression. Internally P. In that case, either it does not assist the expression and mars it ; or it does form part of it and is not an ornament, but a constituent element of the expression, indivisible and indistinguishable in its unity. It is needless to say how much harm has been done by rhetorical distinctions. Rhetoric has often been declaimed against, but although there has been rebellion against its consequences, its principles have, at the same time, been carefully preserved (perhaps in order to show proof of philosophic consistency). In literature the rhetorical categories have contributed, if not to make dominant, at least to justify theoretically, that particular kind of bad writing which is called fine writing or writing according to rhetoric. The terms above mentioned would never have gone
Empirical sense of the rhetorical categories.
Use of these categories as synonyms of the aesthetic fact.
beyond the schools, where we all of us learned them
(only we never found an opportunity of using them in
strictly aesthetic discussions, or at most of doing so
jocosely and with a comic intention), were it not that they
can sometimes be employed in one of the following
significations: as verbal variants of the aesthetic concept ;
as indications of the anti-aesthetic, or, finally (and this is
their most important use), no longer in the service of
art and aesthetic, but of science and logic.
First. Expressions considered directly or positively
are not divisible into classes, but some are successful,
others half-successful, others failures. There are perfect
and imperfect, successful and unsuccessful expressions.
The words recorded, and others of the same sort, may
therefore sometimes indicate the successful expression,
and the various forms of the failures. But they do this
in the most inconstant and capricious manner, so much
so that the same word serves sometimes to proclaim
the perfect, sometimes to condemn the imperfect.
For example, some will say of two pictures—one
without inspiration, in which the author has copied
natural objects without intelligence ; the other inspired,
but without close relation to existing objects—that the
first is realistic, the second symbolic. Others, on the
contrary, utter the word realistic before a picture strongly
felt representing a scene of ordinary life, while they
apply that of symbolic to another picture that is but a
cold allegory. It is evident that in the first case symbolic
means artistic and realistic inartistic, while in the second,
realistic is synonymous with artistic and symbolic with
inartistic. What wonder, then, that some hotly maintain
the true art form is the symbolic, and that the realistic
is inartistic ; others, that the realistic is artistic and the
symbolic inartistic 2 We cannot but grant that both
are right, since each uses the same words in such a
The great disputes about classicism and romanticism
were frequently based upon such equivocations. Some-
times the former was understood as the artistically perfect,
and the second as lacking balance and imperfect; at others
“classic" meant cold and artificial, “romantic" pure,
warm, powerful, truly expressive. Thus it was always
possible reasonably to take the side of the classic against
the romantic, or of the romantic against the classic.
The same thing happens as regards the word style.
Sometimes it is said that every writer must have style.
Here style is synonymous with form of expression. At
others the form of a code of laws or of a mathematical
work is said to be without style. Here the error is
again committed of admitting diverse modes of expression,
an ornate and a naked form, because, if style is form,
the code and the mathematical treatise must also be
asserted, strictly speaking, to have each its style. At
other times, one hears the critics blaming some one for
“having too much style" or for “writing a style.”
Here it is clear that style signifies, not the form, nor a
mode of it, but improper and pretentious expression, a
form of the inartistic.
Second. The second not altogether meaningless use
of these words and distinctions is to be found when we
hear in the examination of a literary composition such
remarks as these : here is a pleonasm, here an ellipse,
there a metaphor, here again a synonym or an ambi-
guity. The meaning is : Here is an error consisting
of using a larger number of words than necessary (pleon-
asm); here, on the other hand, the error arises from too
few having been used (ellipse), here from the use of an
unsuitable word (metaphor), here of two words which
seem to say two different things, but really say the same
thing (synonym); here, on the contrary, of one word
which seems to express the same thing, whereas it says
two different things (ambiguity). This depreciatory and
pathological use of the terms is, however, less common
than the preceding.
Thirdly and finally, when rhetorical terminology
possesses no aesthetic signification similar or analogous
to those passed in review, and yet one feels that it is
not void of meaning and designates something that
Their use to indicate various asthetic imperfections.
in a sense
aesthetic, in the