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is one of the most accurate modern definitions of the comic. It boasts of containing in itself, justified or corrected and verified, the manifold attempts to define the comic, from Hellenic antiquity to our own day, from Plato's definition in the Philebus, and from Aristotle's, which is more explicit, and looks upon the comic as an ugliness without pain, to that of Hobbes, who replaced it in the feeling of individual superiority; of Kant, who saw in it the relaxation of a tension; or from the other proposals of those for whom it was the conflict between great and small, between the finite and the infinite and so
But on close observation, the analysis and definition above given, although in appearance most elaborate and precise, yet enunciates characteristics which are applicable, not only to the comic, but to every spiritual process ; such as the succession of painful and pleasing moments and the satisfaction arising from the consciousness of strength and of its free expansion. The differentiation is here given by quantitative determinations whose limits cannot be laid down. They therefore remain vague words, possessing some degree of meaning from their reference to this or that particular comic fact, and from the psychic disposition of qualities of the speaker. If such definitions be taken too seriously, there happens to them what Jean Paul Richter said of all the definitions of the comic : namely, that their sole merit is to be themselves comic and to produce in reality the fact which they vainly try to fix logically. And who will ever logically determine the dividing line between the comic and the non-comic, between laughter and smiles, between smiling and gravity, or cut the ever varying continuum into which life melts
into clearly divided parts ? Relation
The facts, classified as far as possible in these psychobetween these logical concepts, bear no relation to the artistic fact, beyond concepts and
the general one, that all of them, in so far as they constitute concepts. the material of life, can become the object of artistic repre
sentation; and the other, an accidental relation, that æsthetic facts also may sometimes enter the processes described, such as the impression of the sublime aroused
by the work of a Titanic artist, such as Dante or Shakespeare, and of the comic produced by the attempts of a dauber or scribbler.
But here too the process is external to the æsthetic fact, to which is linked only the feeling of æsthetic value and disvalue, of the beautiful and of the ugly. Dante's Farinata is æsthetically beautiful and nothing but beautiful : if the force of will of that personage seem also sublime, or the expression that Dante gives him seem, by reason of his great genius, sublime in comparison with that of a less energetic poet, these are things altogether outside æsthetic consideration. We repeat again that this last pays attention always and only to the adequateness of the expression, that is to say, to beauty.
THE “ PHYSICALLY BEAUTIFUL” IN NATURE
AND IN ART
Æsthetic ÆSTHETIC activity, distinct from the practical activity, activity and physical
is always accompanied by it in its manifestations. Hence concepts. its utilitarian or hedonistic side, and the pleasure and
pain which are, as it were, the practical echo of æsthetic value and disvalue, of the beautiful and of the ugly. But this practical side of the æsthetic activity has in its turn a physical or psychophysical accompaniment, which consists of sounds, tones, movements, combinations of lines and colours, and so on.
Does it really possess this side, or does it only seem to possess it, through the construction which we put on it in physical science, and the useful and arbitrary methods which we have already several times set in relief as proper to the empirical and abstract sciences ? Our reply cannot be doubtful, that is, it must affirm to the second of the two hypotheses.
However, it will be better to leave this point in suspense, since it is not at present necessary to press this line of inquiry further. The mere mention suffices to secure our speaking (for reasons of simplicity and adhesion to ordinary language) of the physical element as something objective and existing, against leading to hasty conclusions as to the concepts of spirit and nature and
their relation. Expression in
It is important, on the other hand, to make clear that sense, and
as the existence of the hedonistic side in every spiritual the naturalistic activity has given rise to the confusion between the
æsthetic activity and the useful or pleasurable, so the existence of, or rather the possibility of constructing, this physical side, has caused the confusion between æsthetic expression and expression in a naturalistic sense ; that is to say, between a spiritual fact and a mechanical and passive fact (not to say, between a concrete reality and an abstraction or fiction). In common speech, sometimes it is the words of the poet that are called expressions, the notes of the musician, or the figures of the painter; sometimes the blush which generally accompanies the feeling of shame, the pallor often due to fear, the grinding of the teeth proper to violent anger, the shining of the eyes and certain movements of the muscles of the mouth, which manifest cheerfulness. We also say that a certain degree of heat is the expression of fever, that the falling of the barometer is the expression of rain, and even that the height of the exchange expresses the depreciation of the paper currency of a State, or social discontent the approach of a revolution. One can well imagine what sort of scientific results would be attained by allowing oneself to be governed by verbal usage and classing together facts so widely different. But there is, in fact, an abyss between a man who is the prey of anger with all its natural manifestations and another man who expresses it æsthetically ; between the appearance, the cries and contortions of some one grieving at the loss of a dear one and the words or song with which the same individual portrays his suffering at another time; between the grimace of emotion and the gesture of the actor. Darwin's book on the expression of the emotions in man and animals does not belong to Æsthetic; because there is nothing in common between the science of spiritual expression and a Semiotic, whether it be medical, meteorological, political, physiognomic, or chiromantic.
Expression in the naturalistic sense simply lacks expression in the spiritual sense, that is to say, the very character of activity and of spirituality, and therefore the bipartition into the poles of beauty and of ugliness.
Representations and memory.
It is nothing but a relation between cause and effect, fixed by the abstract intellect. The complete process of æsthetic production can be symbolized in four stages, which are: a, impressions; b, expression or spiritual æsthetic synthesis ; c, hedonistic accompaniment, or pleasure of the beautiful (æsthetic pleasure); d, translation of the æsthetic fact into physical phenomena (sounds, tones, movements, combinations of lines and colours, etc.). Any one can see that the capital point, the only one that is properly speaking æsthetic and truly real, is in b, which is lacking to the merely naturalistic manifestation or construction also metaphorically called expression.
The expressive process is exhausted when these four stages have been passed through. It begins again with new impressions, a new æsthetic synthesis, and the accompaniments that belong to it.
Expressions or representations follow one another, the one drives out the other. Certainly, this passing away, this being driven out, is not a perishing, it is not total elimination : nothing that is born dies with that complete death which would be identical with never having been born. If all things pass away, nothing can die. Even the representations that we have forgotten persist somehow in our spirit, for without this we could not explain acquired habits and capacities. Indeed the ! strength of life lies in this apparent forgetting: one forgets what has been absorbed and what life has superseded.
But other representations are also powerful elements in the present processes of our spirit ; and it is incumbent upon us not to forget them, or to be capable of recalling them when they are wanted. The will is always vigilant in this work of preservation, which aims at preserving (we may say) the greater, the more fundamental part of all our riches. But its vigilance does not always suffice. Memory, as we say, abandons or betrays us in different ways. For this very reason, the human spirit devises expedients which succour the weakness of memory and are its aids.