Schelling and Romanticism

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Indifferent Freedom

David S. Ferris, University of Colorado


1 A longer version of the following essay in which the relation of Schelling’s remarks on tragedy and freedom are discussed in the context of Romantic Hellenism is forthcoming in Silent Urns: Romanticism, Hellenism, Modernity (Stanford University Press).

2 In his remarks on Greek tragedy from The Philosophy of Art, Schelling refers to his earlier work as follows: "This, as presented here as well as in my own Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, is the innermost spirit of Greek tragedy" (254). Unlike Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, Schelling's remarks on tragedy have generated little critical or interpretive attention even though Schelling is the first to shift tragedy away from an affective and into a properly philosophical aspect. Only Peter Szondi has recognized this watershed in Schelling. See Szondi's brief remarks on Schelling's understanding of tragedy in "The Notion of the Tragic in Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel" (43-46).

3 See for example, Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism (229-233).

4 This elimination is offered as a solution to the antinomy of taste in §57 of the Critique of Judgment. Since judgments of taste make an appeal to universal assent they lay claim to a universal principle even though such judgments are judgments of taste precisely because they do not follow any such principle. It is this contradiction that Kant needs to eliminate in order to account for judgment according to a universal principle but, as Kant confesses here, if such an account were attained there would no such thing as a judgment of taste and therefore nothing for the universal principle to account for: "It is absolutely impossible to provide a determinate, objective principle of taste that would allow us to guide, to test, and to prove its judgments, because then they would not be judgments of taste" (213).

5 As Kant observes, and Schelling will reiterate in the course of the tenth letter, dogma has a considerable attraction precisely because it is irrefutable: dogma requires an objective representation that cannot be determined by what it represents, hence, it can neither be proved nor disproved (e.g., the social construction of reality, science, the earth, the universe etc.).

6 What this means in the realm of art is spelled out by Heidegger in "The Age of the World Picture" when he remarks: "A third equally essential phenomenon of the modern period lies in the event of art's moving into the purview of aesthetics. That means that the art work becomes the object of mere subjective experience (Erlebnis), and that consequently art is considered to be an expression of human life" (116).

7 That self-knowledge is to be the defining object of thought for Kant and subsequent philosophy is announced by Kant in the first preface to the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant speaks of this work as "a call to reason to undertake anew the most difficult of all its tasks, namely, that of self-knowledge" (9). This call, as the history of philosophy confirms, is essentially Greek since it is Socrates who first formulates this as the primary task of philosophy in the imperative gnothi seauton. On this imperative in the romantic period see my "The Ghost of Coleridge Past" in Theory and the Evasion of History.

8 What Schelling describes as freedom underwrites the sense of history elaborated by Frederic Jameson in The Political Unconscious when he asserts that "History is the experience of Necessity" and then goes on to say "Necessity is the inexorable form of events" (132). In both cases, necessity is the means through which freedom is to be experienced (this history for Jameson is a history free from its "thematization or reification as a mere object of representation"). On the formal and therefore aesthetic category that Jameson must evoke here (and which Schelling already recognizes as essential to such an experience of freedom) see, Samuel Weber, "Capitalizing History."

9 In this respect, Schelling's remark gives a more philosophical interpretation of Winckelmann's desire to write a history of art that would no longer be a history of individual artists.

10 As this sentence implies, what is at stake in freedom is its experience and, above all where its aesthetic representation is concerned, the stake is the imitability of freedom. Here, the question Winckelmann broaches in relation to Greece (how its inimitability is to be imitated) can be seen as a formulation of the essential problem of freedom posed by art. On freedom and its experience, see Jean-Luc Nancy's superb reflection, The Experience of Freedom (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), especially p. 205, n. 9, for remarks addressed specifically to the relation of art to freedom.