Aesthetic Violence and the Legitimacy of Reading Romanticism

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Romanticism and the Insistence of the Aesthetic

Aesthetic Violence and the Legitimacy of Reading Romanticism

David Ferris, University of Colorado, Boulder

An examination of aesthetic violence in de Man and Schiller, in particular, the role of such violence in sustaining the aesthetic practices on which the historical and political reading of Romanticism is founded. This essay appears in _Romanticism and the Insistence of the Aesthetic_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

  1. In the course of his essay "Aesthetic Formalization: Kleist's Über das Marionettentheater," Paul de Man describes the relation between violence and the aesthetic as one in which the education carried out in the name of the aesthetic conceals the violence through which it is made possible. De Man writes: "Aesthetic education by no means fails; it succeeds all too well, to the point of hiding the violence that makes it possible" (Rhetoric, 289). This remark reveals two fundamental propositions. First, aesthetic education is only possible through a violence that stands as its originary act. Second, the purpose of aesthetic education is to conceal this same violence. Why de Man insists upon such violence and such concealment is more readily ascertainable from the context of this remark: a reading of the figure of the dance in texts by Kleist and Schiller. The pattern of violence and concealment is our guide into a reading that would reveal "some of what is hidden behind Schiller's ideology of the aesthetic" (Rhetoric, 265). What is then at stake is our ability to read the textual role of a dance whose originary violence is no longer concealed by an aesthetic devoid of ideological claims. To put this more succinctly, what is at stake is our ability to read or discern ideology.

  2. To pose the question of our ability to read or discern ideology is no small matter at a time when the interpretative pendulum has swung towards increasing textual transparency in the form of an insistence upon historical and sociological concerns as arbiters of literary significance. Nowhere has this stake been more pressing than in Romanticism, particularly at a time when the study of this period shows an increasing inability to distinguish itself from other literary periods. Current angst over the long term existence of this period is directly attributable to the textual transparency that has been enforced upon so much literary interpretation. The irony that Romanticism should now serve as a means of historical knowledge would not be lost on the Romantics who so insistently reflected upon the means of knowledge in those texts now enlisted as windows in the service of social history. Here, the stake of de Man's remark in his essay on Kleist cannot be separated from the work of those who would readily oppose themselves and their work to the de Manian project of reading. Such a congruity can be realized if the aesthetic, which plays such a key role in concealing violence for de Man, is renamed history: it is ultimately the transparency of a text that authorizes access to social history. Such transparency may even take the form of what is not in a text, what is absent being all the more readily discernible because it is not there. If the question posed by Romanticism,and subsequently by de Man in his essay on Kleist, is how to intervene in a critical and historical discourse whose purpose is the concealment of its own means, then, what is at stake in discerning and determining ideology is the possibility of criticism. In the decision about such a possibility, the legitmacy of reading Romanticism appears as this period's most insistent question about the current status and purpose of literary study, about the extent to which an education carried out in the name of history remains an aesthetic education. As such, it is to the means of criticism that one must turn, once again, to understand this question.

  3. De Man's description of a violence concealed by the aesthetic indicates the necessity that criticism locate some kind of failure through which it may authorize itself. However, de Man states that his purpose is not to judge or criticize Schiller's text as having in some way failed where Kleist's succeeds. In the sentence preceding the one describing the concealment of violence, De Man writes: "The point is not that the dance fails and that Schiller's idyllic description of a graceful but confined freedom is aberrant" (Rhetoric, 289). For de Man, neither failure nor aberrance can be called upon to limit the success of an aesthetic education. By the same token, neither can be called upon to authorize a critical position in relation to such an aesthetic education. Since failure and aberrance cannot sustain such a position, the problem we are left with imposes itself precipitously. If aesthetic education is to be criticized, and thereby limited in its historical and political reach, from what position is it possible to legitimize and thereby sustain such a criticism? Through what opening does such a criticism become possible without legitimizing precisely what it criticizes?

  4. The success of aesthetic education, de Man suggests, is measured by its ability to conceal the violence in which it originates. An incipient violence would then appear to offer the means by which a critique of aesthetic education may be undertaken. Yet, the mere occurrence of violence does not substantiate violence as a critical category. By itself, violence is not inherently critical but one means through which an event or act is made manifest. In this case, what violence is has no priviliged role—as if, in the realm of deconstructive reading, the mere mention of violence possessed the textual transparency so necessary to historical reading. In the case of de Man's remark, the ability of violence to perform such a critical role relies less on the fact of its empirical occurrence than the concealment through which it is recognized as having taken place. In order of significance, this concealment has priority since it is both the means by which the aesthetic establishes itself as a category and the means by which violence is recognized as the unavoidable and originary act of the aesthetic. In this case, any critique made in the name of violence is a critique of concealment aimed at the discovery of violence. The critical force attributed to violence here depends on the revelation of its concealment. In such cases, concealment is read as the concealment of what threatens legitimacy whether or not this be the legitimacy of aesthetic or historical education.

  5. If the sequence enabling this critique is pursued further, it becomes apparent that the discovery of violence is only possible because aesthetic education permits it and does so by failing to conceal its concealment of violence. This failing may of course be conceptualized as the condition of all such founding acts thereby providing criticism with a source of authority and legitimacy it otherwise lacks. In this case, violence becomes the generalized condition that both authorizes and affirms the presence of critique to the point that one merely needs to mention violence to legitimize a given critical position. The rest can be left unsaid.[1] In the case of aesthetic education, such violence appears as the consequence of its failure to conceal its own concealment. While this failing can certainly trigger a critique of aesthetic education in the name of violence, pursuing such a critique will miss the point completely, will miss the point that, in promoting this critique by its failure to conceal concealment, aesthetic education will have successfully legitimized and thereby sustained the project of criticism in an aesthetics of violence or, rather, in a failure, like Schiller's dance, that can be remembered for its beauty. In the realm of the aesthetic nothing succeeds like the revelation of failure. Why the aesthetic, through which this failure is first articulated as its foundational gesture, should now be said to have failed and thereby associated with ideology, is a most telling example of this concealment of concealment.

  6. In this context, to offer a critique of the aesthetic from the perspective of violence is to practice a complicity between the critical and the aesthetic which, within the sphere of literary study, has taken the form of a thematic criticism.[2] Critique in this case would enact the fundamental lesson of an aesthetic education even to the point of authorizing a critique of the violence de Man regards as its not quite concealed origin. The insistence of the aesthetic as the underwriter of this critique indicates the difficulty of developing a critique of the aesthetic that would not, unwittingly and unavoidably, reproduce the founding gesture of the aesthetic and the education carried out in its name.[3] The possibility of a critique of the aesthetic thus becomes a question of the means by which this complicity between the aesthetic and the critical is articulated, in short, a question about the operation of an aesthetic education that insists on yet conceals its presence as a fundamental element in our literary-critical and philosophical experience.

  7. Our failure to recognize or even bear witness to education as an aesthetic project rather than the inculcation of certain bodies of knowledge or, when an appeal to content no longer suffices, as the source of valuable analytic skills transferable to any number of professions, is symptomatic of the current situation of literary study and its confusion of knowledge with specific modalities or disciplines of knowledge. Arguably, this failure is already a sign of an education no longer able to acknowledge its essentially aesthetic character never mind the history to which it belongs. Divorced from an emphasis on the means by which it is carried out, education can easily foster the idea that it is engaged in a serious undertaking whose means and goals are far removed from the frivolous contemplation of beauty as well as the contemporary critical sense that any understanding derived from or through the aesthetic is irremediably tainted with ideology. Such an occlusion of the aesthetic as the means of education is motivated by nothing less than a desire to realize the various goals for which education has become a medium—not the least of which is the formation of social, cultural community, the political state. In the face of this desire, it is only natural that the aesthetic not just fail but must do so out of necessity. Such a desire allows no other option particularly at a time when the humanities, not to mention romanticism, experience so much difficulty in articulating their significance. In the end, the necessity out of which such a desire emanates is nothing less than the necessity of securing the critical project that has depended, since Kant, on the aesthetic. As such, this desire (which can be recognized as a striving or a drive [Trieb] after Freud but also, already in Schiller's On the Aesthetic Education of Man—and hasn't education become a mode of striving, a means to another end?) cannot be separated from the aesthetic project it has submitted to such trenchant and polemical critique in the name of ideology.[4] Indeed, this desire is already part of an aesthetic understanding whose programmatic unfolding includes its own negation, whose purpose is assured by the negation through which it becomes merely aesthetic and through which it reasserts itself as the effect of its own critique.

  8. If the possibility of a critique of the aesthetic is already an effect of the aesthetic, then, the historical persistence of this category will be unassailable as long as critique is understood as the sole means of its limitation. In this case, the insistence of the aesthetic is the insistence of an era whose critical vocation, one can also say, whose modernity, is guaranteed by the repetition of the category it would otherwise separate itself from by means of critique. To speak of the aesthetic in these terms is to speak of an historical unfolding governed by a critical project unable to authorize itself by critique alone, even by the invocation of a violence within its own operation. The covert return of the aesthetic (in another form, under another name, that is, aesthetically) as the means of sustaining such a critical project indicates the extent to which the aesthetic occupies a place of uncriticizability by staging its own critique in the name of violence. If this is all that were at stake in the aesthetic, criticism could be left alone to enjoy the fruits of its labor as it pursues the goal of a truly beautiful critique, perhaps even a beautiful violence such as that envisaged by Marinetti in a passage cited by Walter Benjamin at the end of his essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility."[5] However, more is at stake in this resistance to criticism: an aesthetic that answers to no law save its own even when that law shields itself behind a violence it cannot help but criticize. Here, aesthetic education envisages a freedom freed from the constraint of having been dictated in the form of a critical limit. In fact, as Schiller is the first of the moderns to recognize, the aesthetic is in this respect resolutely oriented towards this most political of problems, namely freedom, even if this is a problem that politics has been powerless to resolve. What is at stake, however, is that it should not be resolved. Only, that it should fail, repeatedly.

  9. The second letter of Schiller's On the Aesthetic Education of Man explicitly announces this stake as follows:

    Is it not . . . untimely to be casting around for a code of laws for the aesthetic world . . . when the spirit of philosophical inquiry is being expressly challenged by present circumstances to concern itself with that most perfect of artworks: the construction of true political freedom? (Letter 2 ; 7)
    The spirit of philosophical inquiry is to receive some assistance from what Schiller describes as the "code of laws for the aesthetic world." It is to receive this assistance in order to construct a true political freedom that philosophy, through its turn towards ever greater abstraction, has been unable to fulfill. When this fulfillment is attained, what will emerge, according to Schiller, is the "most perfect of artworks." Through this recourse to the model of the artwork, Schiller's aesthetic project reveals its affinity with the task of constructing a political state described by Plato in the Laws when he refers to the creation of such a state as authoring a tragedy.[6] The significance of returning to this Platonic example is the fact that it takes place in the wake of Kant's recognition of his inability to ground that most sociable and communal of activities: aesthetic judgment. The project undertaken by Kant's Critique of Judgment would also have had the effect of legitimizing the aesthetic in terms of politics and its social program, by discovering, through the aesthetic, the laws that govern the operation of judgment. Kant's inability to furnish a ground for judgment in the case of aesthetic judgment arises from a conflict within aesthetic judgment itself. The solution Kant proposes as a means of alleviating this difficulty is, simply, to eliminate the conflict in which it originates, a conflict that arises from the necessity of keeping aesthetic judgments distinct from logical determinate judgments that can be measured against a concept.[7] What Schiller undertakes is the authorization of the aesthetic Kant invokes in the place of such authorization. In this respect, Schiller pursues the political project of Kant's critical enterprise by fulfilling the political consequences of Kant's attempt to ground judgment.[8] What this amounts to in Schiller is, in effect, the founding of the political state through the legitimation of the aesthetic that marks the limit of Kant's undertaking.

  10. Schiller's transformation of this limit into a force of legitimation occurs in a footnote to his definition of the aesthetic in Letter 20:

    I add here the superfluous comment that . . . our mind (Gemüt) in the aesthetic state does indeed act freely, is in the highest degree free from all compulsion, but is in no way free from laws; and that this aesthetic freedom is distinguished from logical necessity in thinking, or moral necessity in willing, only by the fact that the laws according to which the mind behaves are not represented (nicht vorgestellt werden), and because they encounter no resistance, never appear as a constraint. ( Letter 20; 143 [trans. modified])[9]
    The laws that govern the aesthetic state turn out to be aesthetic laws in the same sense that the idea governing aesthetic judgment in Kant must be an aesthetic idea. The solution that Kant recognizes as the limit of his attempt to ground aesthetic judgment becomes, for Schiller, confirmation of a law operating within the aesthetic. Through the failure of this law to find representation Schiller reconciles the conflict between law and freedom that lies at the base of every attempt to construct a state that would also be meaningful for the individuals who belong to it. Without law, there is no state, but without freedom, there is no point to the state for its individual citizens. Recognition of an antinomy between these two aspects of the state leads to the necessity of what Schiller calls an aesthetic education. The purpose of such an education, it can be presumed, is to permit the recognition of laws that are never represented, in effect, the recognition of something that acts like the law but can never take the form of a law. To put this more succinctly, what is to be achieved, if the problem of politics in practice is to be resolved, is the means to represent the failure of the means of representing such law. With such an achievement law is preserved from critique since it remains protected behind the event of its non-appearance even as the effect of this non-appearance is recognized.

  11. Schiller argues that it is through the awareness of beauty that the goal of this education will be achieved. That beauty is a source of such laws is explicitly stated by Schiller in Letter 23 when he defines what takes place in aesthetic education: "aesthetic education . . . subjects to laws of beauty all those spheres of human behaviour in which neither natural laws, nor yet rational laws, are binding upon human caprice" (Letter 23; p. 169). What these laws are, as the footnote to Letter 20 cited above indicates, is less important than the manner in which they exist. As Letter 20 states, they are not to be represented. The laws at work in beauty, the laws of the aesthetic, are therefore laws constituted by the withholding of their appearance in the form of law. As a result, what these laws rely upon in order to perform the role of a law is the recognition that they are represented by not being represented. The ability to recognize such laws is the education offered by beauty.

  12. Why Schiller should be constrained to formulate a law which in this formulation is protected from all constraint can be understood most easily if it is remembered that constraint in this context is the necessity of a form of representation for the law. Without this constraint, what articulates the laws of the aesthetic is never placed in a position from which it may be contested and thereby subject to critique. In this respect, the representation of a failure to represent these laws is the sign of laws that remain in their concealment. To remain in this concealment is to obey the aesthetic state to which these laws owe their existence. Like the use of violence as a means of staging a critique of aesthetic education, such concealment is the means of positing a critical power. In both instances, the aesthetic plays a crucial role by assuring the possibility of such a power while removing it from all critical reach.

  13. Not only does such a law retain its freedom to be always lawful, but, by the same means, such a law becomes, in effect, the law. In this respect, it derives all its force as law from its failure to take the form of law. This is the law at work in the laws of Schiller's aesthetic beauty. As should already be clear, the significance of this law does not reside at all in what it decrees, that is, in what it is about or what it represents, rather, its significance resides in the uncriticizability it assumes by not being represented.[10] Only on account of this uncriticizability does it assume the force of a law from which all other laws can be judged. In this respect, the laws of the aesthetic in Schiller exist according to a law that guarantees the possibility of critique without ever submitting itself to critique, without ever allowing itself to be measured according to what it represents. The aesthetic in Schiller is both the embodiment of this law and the means of its recognition which, indicidentally, depends, like the violence de Man describes as the possibility of aesthetic education, on an awareness of its failure to be represented.

  14. To the extent that any historical or political position is, by its very nature, also a position of critique (of another history or another politics) and is made in the name of the truth of that position (even when this takes the form of truly denying truth), the law of the aesthetic, as Schiller presents it, is the legitimizing possibility of that critique. This is also why the critique of the aesthetic as an ideologically charged category can in no way overcome the aesthetic or even the ideology it associates with the aesthetic since, as an example of critique, it can only appeal to the category it would dismiss for its power of dismissal. To undertake an ideological critique of the aesthetic for failing to critique itself for its aestheticism (that is, for being unable to be critical in any sense, for being simply about beauty, or simply beautiful) is to affirm precisely the means by which Schiller has secured the possibility of critique.

  15. This law, through which the aesthetic itself is not only recognized as the aesthetic but also founds the power of critique in law, is instrumental in realizing the political project of Schiller's text. As Schiller had insisted as early as Letter 2, the aesthetic alone offers hope to the political: "If man is ever to solve the problem of politics in practice he will have to approach it through the aesthetic, because it is only through beauty that man makes his way to freedom" (Letter 2; 9 [trans. modified]).[11] The problem of politics in practice—how to negotiate the necessity of law and the necessity of freedom within the same state—would here be solved according to a law that is not represented yet still recognized as law. Not only does such a law retain a freedom by refusing to subject itself to criticism through its refusal to be represented but this refusal authorizes the critical power so necessary to the realization of the political state. The securing of this critical power through the aesthetic is, in effect, the securing of the political. Securing the political through a law exemplified by the aesthetic gives to politics the force and power of a critique it is unable to attain by any other means but which is essential to the existence of the political. The necessity of this power is part of the nature of a political or even historical position since such a position is inconceivable except as the critique of another politics or another history. The law of the aesthetic, as Schiller presents it, is the possibility of a modernity whose critical disposition can only end in politics. The insistently political nature of our critical modernity is itself a sign of this law.

  16. To follow the aesthetic does not mean to remain bound to the aesthetic and the sphere in which it operates. Schiller makes this clear in Letter 4 when he distinguishes the artisan and the artist from the political or pedagogical artist:

    When the artisan (der mechanische Künstler) lays hands upon the formless mass in order to shape it to his ends, he has no scruple in doing it violence (Gewalt). When the artist of beauty (der schöne Künstler) lays hands upon the same mass, he has just as little scruple in doing it violence. The artist of beauty respects the material he is handling not the least bit more than the artisan; however, through an apparent (scheinbar) yielding to the material, he will seek to deceive the eye which takes the freedom of this material under its protection. For the pedagogic and political artist (pädagogischen und politischen Künstler) things are quite different, man is at the same time his material and his goal (Aufgabe). Here, the purpose (Zweck) turns back into the material and, only because the whole serves the parts, must the parts yield (sich . . . fügen) to the whole. With a respect quite different from the yielding which the artist of beauty pretends towards his material, must the artist of the state (Staatskunstler) approach his material; he must preserve (schonen) its authenticity and personality, not merely subjectively and for a deceptive effect on the senses but rather objectively and for its inner essence (innre Wesen). (Letter 4; 18-20 [trans. modified]).
    In this sequence, Schiller presents three categories of production. The first two, the artisan and the artist of beauty, are both viewed as practicing violence towards their material. With the artisan there is no concealment of the violence, but with the artist of beauty, Schiller speaks of the appearance of a yielding that would conceal the violence practiced by the artist. In the third instance, the political and pedagogical artist, no such appearance is permitted lest it leave the trace of a violence that would compromise the task of preserving the "inner essence" of the subject of this artist. The political state in which true freedom occurs is then one in which the concealment of the artist is concealed to the point of appearing not to exist. No other conclusion is possible if Schiller's description of the law governing the "construction of true political freedom" is taken seriously: the law which does not appear as law, which does not take the form of law yet rules all law. According to such a law, not even violence can appear as violence precisely because it is not given the means to do so. Violence, in Schiller's account, only arises when the material to be acted on is different from the goal of this action. In the case of Schiller's pedagogical or political artist, the means is inseparable from the product. Solely on the basis of the absence of this difference between means and goal, Schiller will attribute no violence to the work of the political artist. The absence of violence becomes, in this instance, a sign that a true political freedom is achieved. At the same time, this achievement marks a massive critique of art and the aesthetic on account of their violence. The emergence of the political artist, the artist of the state, is then the emergence of the position from which all art can be criticized as an essentially violent undertaking because it is essentially aesthetic. What Schiller precipitates here is an overcoming of art and aesthetic in the name of a politics that is synonymous with a freedom from violence but this same overcoming is legitimized solely by what it seeks to overcome. This is why Schiller can only speak of true political freedom as the perfect work of art: it lacks the violence that renders art imperfect or, to put this bluntly, it is more successful in hiding art's concealment of its violence since the law that guides it is without representation. The appearance of the political (which means here the legitimation of the political by a law that is not a law) is then achieved under the aegis of a critique of violence.

  17. The whole possibility of a true political freedom, including the possibility of both freedom and the political, depends on an apparent non-violent moment in which the critique of violence is established. This critique of violence preserves for the political the force of a law even as it would subject all other laws to criticism on account of their violence which, in Schiller's argument, characterizes a law unable to preserve itself from the violent representation of a means that is not also its goal. It is precisely this falsification, this deception between means and goal that ideological criticism has exploited and particularly in the case of a Romanticism whose future is envisaged in the form of historical correctness.[12]

  18. Within the project of the aesthetic education envisaged by Schiller, to overcome the aesthetic is to overcome the instrument Schiller declares in Letter 9 to be precisely what will lead to true political freedom: fine art.[13] Fine art, as the exemplar of what the aesthetic produces, can only be followed to a certain point. Here, the greatest difficulty entertained by Schiller's text is evaded. The task of overcoming the aesthetic in the name of true political freedom necessarily remains an aesthetic task. This is why the political critique of the aesthetic is hopelessly compromised from its inception since it is already part of an aesthetic project it has forgotten how to remember. For Schiller to envisage this, all that can be proposed is a politics within limits, the limits of what Schiller himself is forced to call aesthetic determinability.[14]

  19. This conclusion indicates several difficulties, not the least of which affect the reading of what has been known as the Romantic period. To engage in a critique of the aesthetic on ideological, that is, historical and political grounds, is to deny the role of the aesthetic in enabling that critique since such an act is undertaken in the interest of overcoming the aesthetic—in the same way that the political and pedagogical artist of Schiller would overcome the limitations of the work of the artisan and the artist of beauty. At precisely the moment that Romanticism would be subject to such a critique for its fostering of the aesthetic, the critical-aesthetic project of Schiller has successfully transmitted its lesson that the political owes its critical power to the aesthetic whose law is never to represent its law. To the extent that this law legitimizes the critical activity, it also legitimizes Romanticism at the very moment of its critical rejection. This situation is an essential aspect of a modernity whose critical vocation is the legitimation of a political freedom which, like politics and Schiller's perfect work of art, ought to be meaningful to all. To engage in a critique of this project, it would first be necessary to open the question of a critique of the violence through which the aesthetic legitimizes itself. To engage in this critique is to risk, as Schiller has done, a politics that can only be defined and only judged by its success in concealing its own violence. Here, de Man's remark, with which this paper began, also faces its most difficult challenge: the challenge of ignoring a history and a politics that remains inseparable from the critical necessity that underwrites our understanding of literature since the advent of Romanticism, the necessity of the aesthetic. To accept this challenge is, however, to entertain the end of Romanticism and, with it, the end of the concept of freedom through which our history and our politics is tirelessly refracted.

 

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter.  The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism.  In Selected Writings, vol. 1.   Ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael Jennings.  Cambridge: Belknap, 1996.  116-200.

---.  “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility.”  In Selected Writings, vol. 4, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael Jennings.  Cambridge: Belknap, 2003.  251-283.

de Man, Paul.  “Aesthetic Formalization: Kleist’s Über das Marionettentheater.” In The Rhetoric of Romanticism.  Columbia UP, 1984.  263-290.

---.  “Kant and Schiller.”  In Aesthetic Ideology.  Ed. Andrzej Warminski.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.  129-162.

Ferris, David S.  Silent Urns.  Romanticism, Hellenism, Modernity.  Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000.

Kant, Immanuel.  Critique of Judgment.  Trans. Werner S. Pluhar.  Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

Plato.  Collected Dialogues.  Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns.  Princeton: Bollingen, 1961.

Schiller, Friedrich.  On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters.   Trans. E. M. Willoughby and L. A. Wilkinson.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982.

Warminski, Andrzej.  “Introduction: Allegories of Reference.”  In Paul de Man.  Aesthetic Ideology.  1-33.

Notes

1 Beauty, as an aesthetic category, has also had the same role.  Like beauty before it, violence has now become one of our self-evident truths serving as both the means and the purpose of criticism.  This indicates, at the very least, that violence and beauty both fulfill a critical function quite apart from what they may designate, a function that may be fulfilled by yet another legitimating term.

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2 On this complicity in de Man , see Warminski,  9-10.

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3 Although the following passage will not be cited in the ensuing discussion of Schiller, it reflects the extent to which the founding gesture of the aesthetic state recalls from the perspective of that state an event of originary differentiation: "As long as man, in that first physical state , is merely a passive recipient of the world of sense, i.e., does no more than feel, he is still completely One with that world; and just because he is himself nothing but world, there exists for him as yet no world.  Only when, at the aesthetic stage, he puts it outside himself, or contemplates it, does his personality differentiate itself from it, and a world becomes manifest to him because he has has ceased to be one with it."  (Letter 25; p.183).

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4 De Man also emphasizes this relation of Trieb and the aesthetic when he begins his discussion of Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education by referring to kinds of Trieb in Schiller (sinnlicher Trieb and Formtrieb).  See, "Kant and Schiller," in Aesthetic Ideology, 147-48.   On the complicity of ideological criticism with the object of its critique, the aesthetic, see Ferris, 58-59.

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5 See, Benjamin, "Work of Art", 269-270.

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6 "We are ourselves the authors of a tragedy, the finest and the best that we know how to make.  In fact, our whole state has been constructed as the imitation of a noble and perfect life; that is what we hold in truth to be the most real of tragedies."  (Plato, Laws, 817b1-5)

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7 Kant is absolutely clear on the intractability of this difficulty when he writes: "We can accomplish no more than to annul the conflict between the claims and counterclaims of taste"(Critique of Judgment, 213; translation modified.)

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8 In this respect,  Schiller is not simply a misreader of Kant.  Schiller may lack the higher degree of conceptual consistency exhibited by Kant but this in no way prevents him from developing the political, aesthetic and critical consequences of Kant’s own critical undertaking.

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9 In describing how such laws are given, Schiller can only claim that they are a matter of  "dictation."  See pp. 3, 9, and 211.

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10 The essentially Goethean character of this uncriticizability is discussed by Walter Benjamin in the Afterword to his dissertation on Romanticism, The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, pp. 178-85.

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11 The Wilkinson and Willoughby translation of this sentence is misleading when it states that the problem of politics in practice is to be approached through "the problem of the aesthetic." As interesting as this translation might be, it does have to be stated that, for Schiller, the solution is not a problem.

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12 On this deception see Ferris, 58-59.

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13 Schiller states: "All improvement in the political sphere is to proceed from the ennobling of character—but how under the barbarous constitution is character ever to become ennobled?  To this end we should, presumably, have to seek out some instrument not provided by the State, and to open up living springs which, whatever the political corruption, would remain clear and pure. . . . This instrument is fine art: such living springs are opened up in its immortal exemplars."  (Letter 9, 55).

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14 In this case, what Schiller calls aesthetic determinability, is the means by which the law that cannot be represented is represented.  Aesthetic determinability is defined as follows in Letter 21: "The mind (Gemüt) may be said to be determinable simply because it is not determined at all; but it is also determinable inasmuch as it is determined in a way that does not exclude anything, i.e., when the determination it undergoes is of a kind which does not involve limitation.  The former is mere indetermination (it is without limits because it is without reality); the latter is aesthetic determinability (it has limits, because it embraces all reality)."  (145).

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Published @ RC

February 2005

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