Thursday, April 26, 2012

Super Schlegel Bros and Shakespeare: Artistic Unity, Uniqueness and Universality

Frederich Schlegel
Friederich Schlegel develops an aesthetic standard that claims "criticism is not to judge works by a general ideal, but is to search out the individual ideal of every work" ("Friedrich Shlegel," Literary Notebooks, 1733). He borrows from Herder's notions of historical/cultural uniqueness of individuals and Kant's assertion in Critique of Judgment of the impossibility of judging beauty according to an external rule.

Schlegel uses fragments, a characteristic figure of the Romantic movement, to reflect the "unity" that gives his philosophy "chaotic universality." He says "a fragment, like a small work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a hedgehog." (Athenaeums Fragment 206)


He looks like hedghog.

Schlegel's fragments ask, "The simplest and most immediate questions, like Should we criticize Shakespeare's works as art or as nature?" (Athenaeums Fragment 121) While Friedrich Schlegel's fragments do not form a systematic philosophy, his brother A.W. Schlegel answers some of these questions. He addresses Aristotle's claim that arts are mimetic and the classicist view that "art should imitate nature." Since art has to take from nature, Schlegel argues "art should form nature." (Behler 85) He argues that 'the clarity, the emphasis, the abundance, and manifoldness" in which the human mind mirrors itself in a world within a world makes it that "in art the human being is the norm of nature" (Behler 86) 

AW Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel agrees with his brother's interpretation of imitation but argues that "Freedom of the poet" faces a challenge from "the pre-existent world of nature, society, and tradition (myth and history)" and thus "the poet is 'not entirely free', or free only in a particular way relative to his individual work of poetry." (87) Schlegel states that the "The privilege of nature is fullness and life; the privilege of art is unity." He says that in order for art to form to nature it must have unity that imitates the fullness of nature. 'Whoever denies the latter, whoever conceives of art only as a remembrance of the most beautiful nature, denies it all autonomous existence' (89)


While Schlegel regards Greek tragedy and epic poetry as "the peak in the natural culture of beautiful art," he considers it a "high prototype of artistic progression." Behler argues that Schlegel makes a "sharp distinction between a natural and an artificial, artistic period in the development of European art," attributing the natural to the classical period and the artificial to the modern which has become an infinite progression of self-reflection.

With artistic unity as a starting point, Schlegel argues a piece of art can begin to form rules internally. He may not entirely agree with the rules of Aristotle's Poetics but he can affirm the value to something like Shakespeare's rhyme, "the symmetrical repetition of similarity." (Critical Fragment 124) Striving for an aesthetic yet historical judgment like Herder, Schlegel argues that the objectives of ancient, classical and modern art should be assessed separately. Ancient art serves an objective; classical art exhibits character; modern art expresses the individual. All relate to universal values if given context. The "opposition, antithesis antinomy between classical and the modern worlds" should not be a failure of modernity. (Behler 102) Modern poetry's "lack of character" should be understood as "confusion the common feature of its mass, anarchy the essence of its history, and skepticism the result of its theory" at the time. (Behler 103)

Schlegel's Critical Fragment 200 says:
"Nay I'll ne'er believe a madman," says a very clever madman in Shakespeare "till I see his brains."
Schlegel continues "One might expect certain self-styled philosophers to fulfill this precondition of belief; and I would wager that one would find they had made papier-mâché out of Kant's writings." 
What Schlegel objects to is the mad repetition of past endeavors instead of embracing the "'ingenious originality', the 'interesting individuality', and the 'isolated egoism' of the modern artist." Instead of returning to a "past historical time, however perfect such an age may have been," moderns should seek unity in "new mythology" in artistically unified and "timely effort." (Behler 105) Schlegel argues this unity is key as "Philosophers still admire only Spinoza's consistency, just as the English only praise Shakespeare's truth." (Critical Fragment 306)