Romanticism and the Insistence of the Aesthetic
Aesthetic Violence and the Legitimacy of Reading Romanticism
David Ferris, University of Colorado, Boulder
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.
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).
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.
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)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).