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XII

THE AESTHETIC OF THE SYMPATHETIC AND
PSEUDO-AESTHETIC CONCEPTS

THE doctrine of the sympathetic (very often animated
and seconded in this by the capricious metaphysical and
mystical AEsthetic, and by that blind traditionalism
which assumes an intimate connection between things
fortuitously treated together by the same authors in the
same books), has introduced and rendered familiar in
systems of Æsthetic a series of concepts a rapid mention
of which suffices to justify our resolute expulsion of them
from our own treatise.
Their catalogue is long, not to say interminable :
tragic, comic, sublime, pathetic, moving, sad, ridiculous,
melancholy, tragi-comic, humorous, majestic, dignified,
serious, grave, imposing, noble, decorous, graceful, attractive,
piquant, coquettish, idyllic, elegiac, cheerful, violent, in-
genuous, cruel, base, horrible, disgusting, dreadful, nauseat-
ing ; the list can be increased at will.
Since that doctrine took the sympathetic as its special
object, it was naturally unable to neglect any of the
varieties of the sympathetic, any of the mixtures or
gradations by means of which, starting from the sym-
pathetic in its loftiest and most intense manifestation,
its contrary, the antipathetic and repugnant, is finally
reached. And since the sympathetic content was held
to be the beautiful and the antipathetic the ugly, the
varieties (tragic, comic, sublime, pathetic, etc.) con-
stituted for that conception of AEsthetic the shades and
gradations intervening between the beautiful and the ugly.

Pseudoasthetic concepts, and the asthetic of the sympathetic.

Criticism
of the theory
of the ugly in
art and of the
overcoming
of it.

Pseudoaesthetic concepts belong to Psychology.

Having enumerated and defined as well as it could, the chief of these varieties, the AEsthetic of the sympathetic set itself the problem of the place to be assigned to the ugly in art. This problem is without meaning for us, who do not recognize any ugliness save the antiaesthetic or inexpressive, which can never form part of the aesthetic fact, being, on the contrary, its antithesis. But in the doctrine which we are here criticizing the positing and discussion of that problem meant neither more nor less than the necessity of reconciling in some way the false and defective idea of art from which it started—art reduced to the representation of the pleasurable—with real art, which occupies a far wider field. Hence the artificial attempt to settle what examples of the ugly (antipathetic) could be admitted in artistic representation, and for what reasons, and in what ways. The answer was : that the ugly is admissible, only when it can be overcome ; an unconquerable ugliness, such as the disgusting or the nauseating, being altogether excluded. Further, that the duty of the ugly, when admitted in art, is to contribute towards heightening the effect of the beautiful (sympathetic), by producing a series of contrasts, from which the pleasurable may issue more efficacious and joy-giving. It is, indeed, a common observation that pleasure is more vividly felt when preceded by abstinence and suffering. Thus the ugly in art was looked upon as adapted for the service of the beautiful, a stimulant and condiment of aesthetic pleasure. That special refinement of hedonistic theory which used to be pompously called the doctrine of the overcoming of the ugly falls with the AEsthetic of the sympathetic, and with it the enumeration and definition of the concepts mentioned above, which show themselves to be completely foreign to Æsthetic. For AEsthetic does not recognize the sympathetic or the antipathetic or their varieties, but only the spiritual activity of representation. Nevertheless, the important place which, as we have said, those concepts have hitherto occupied in aesthetic treatises makes it advisable to supply a rather more

complete explanation as to their nature. What shall be
their lot ? Excluded from AEsthetic, in what other part
of Philosophy will they be received 2
In truth, nowhere ; for all those concepts are without
philosophical value. They are nothing but a series of
classes, which can be fashioned in the most various ways
and multiplied at pleasure, to which it is sought to
reduce the infinite complications and shadings of the
values and disvalues of life. Of these classes, some have
an especially positive significance, like the beautiful, the
sublime, the majestic, the solemn, the serious, the weighty,
the noble, the elevated ; others a significance chiefly
negative, like the ugly, the painful, the horrible, the
dreadful, the tremendous, the monstrous, the insipid,
the extravagant; finally in others a mixed significance
prevails, such as the comic, the tender, the melancholy,
the humorous, the tragi-comic. The complications are
infinite, because the individuations are infinite ; hence
it is not possible to construct the concepts, save in the
arbitrary and approximate manner proper to the natural
sciences, satisfied with making the best classification they
can of that reality which they can neither exhaust by
enumeration, nor understand and conquer speculatively.
And since Psychology is the naturalistic science which
undertakes to construct types and schemes of the spiritual
life of man (a science whose merely empirical and descrip-
tive character becomes more evident day by day), these
concepts do not belong to Æsthetic, nor to Philosophy
in general, but must simply be handed over to Psychology.
The case of those concepts is that of all other psycho-
logical constructions: no rigorous definitions of them
are possible; and consequently they cannot be deduced
from one another nor be connected in a system, though
this has often been attempted, with great waste of time
and without obtaining thereby any useful results. Nor
can it be claimed as possible to obtain empirical defini-
tions, universally acceptable as precise and true in the
place of those philosophical definitions recognized as
impossible. For no single definition of a single fact

Impossibility
of rigorous
definitions
of them.

can be given, but there are innumerable definitions of it, according to the cases and the purposes for which they are made ; and it is clear that if there were only one which had the value of truth it would no longer be an empirical, but a rigorous and philosophical definition. And as a matter of fact whenever one of the terms to which we have referred has been employed (or indeed any other belonging to the same class), a new definition of it has been given at the same time, expressed or understood. Each one of those definitions differed somehow from the others, in some particular, however minute, and in its implied reference to some individual fact or other, which thus became a special object of attention and was raised to the position of a general type. Thus it is that not one of such definitions satisfies either the hearer or the constructor of it. For a moment later he finds himself before a new instance to which he recognizes that his defio nition is more or less insufficient, ill-adapted, and in need of retouching. So we must leave writers and speakers free to define the sublime or the comic, the tragic or the humorous, on every occasion as they please and as may suit the end they have in view. And if an empirical definition of universal validity be demanded, we can but submit this one —The sublime (or comic, tragic, humorous, etc.) is everything that is or shall be so called by those who have employed or shall employ these words. Examples : What is the sublime 2 The unexpected affirmation so of an overwhelming moral force : that is one definition. the comic, But the other definition is equally good, which recognizes ** the sublime also where the force which affirms itself is 2^ certainly overwhelming, but immoral and destructive. Both remain vague and lack precision, until applied to a concrete case, to an example which makes clear what is meant by “overwhelming,” and what by unexpected. They are quantitative concepts, but falsely quantitative, since there is no way of measuring them ; they are at bottom metaphors, emphatic phrases, or logical tautologies. The humorous will be laughter amid tears, bitter laughter, the sudden spring from the comic to the tragic

and from the tragic to the comic, the romantic comic, the opposite of the sublime, war declared against every attempt at insincerity, compassion ashamed to weep, a laugh, not at the fact, but at the ideal itself; and what you will beside, according as it is wished to get a view of the physiognomy of this or that poet, of this or that poem, which, in its uniqueness, is its own definition, and though momentary and circumscribed, is alone adequate. The comic has been defined as the displeasure arising from the perception of a deformity immediately followed by a greater pleasure arising from the relaxation of our psychical forces, strained in expectation of a perception looked upon as important. While listening to a narrative, which might, for example, be a description of the magnificently heroic purpose of some individual, we anticipate in imagination the occurrence of a magnificent and heroic action, and we prepare for its reception by concentrating our psychic forces. All of a sudden, however, instead of the magnificent and heroic action, which the preliminaries and the tone of the narrative had led us to expect, there is an unexpected change to a small, mean, foolish action, which does not satisfy to our expectation. We have been deceived, and the recognition of the deceit brings with it an instant of displeasure. But this instant is as it were conquered by that which immediately follows: we are able to relax our strained attention, to free ourselves from the provision of accumulated psychic

energy henceforth superfluous, to feel ourselves light and M

well. This is the pleasure of the comic, with its physiological equivalent of laughter. If the unpleasant fact that has appeared should painfully affect our interests, there would not be pleasure, laughter would be at once suffocated, the psychic energy would be strained and overstrained by other more weighty perceptions. If on the other hand such more weighty perceptions do not appear, if the whole loss be limited to a slight deception of our foresight, then the feeling of our psychic wealth that ensues affords ample compensation for this very slight disappointment. Such, expressed in a few words,

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