Hegel’s Christian Aesthetics

Friedrich 01 Morning in the Riesengebirge

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840): Sunrise in the Riesengebirge (1808)

To my friend Paul Gottfried, by far the most learned man in my ken, and the uncrowned monarch of the American Right.

Like everything by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), the Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics require from the reader no little patience.  Originating as actual lectures – which Hegel delivered to his students at Heidelberg between 1820 and 1826 – the posthumous booklet, edited by H. G. Hotho and first issued in 1835, can nevertheless claim the virtue of brevity, and perhaps beyond that a prose-style as close to accessible as its author ever came.  On the one hand then, the reader’s patience will likely reap him a reward; on the other hand, however, the reader might come away from his exertion slightly disappointed.  The science of aesthetics has to do with art, to be sure, and the Introductory Lectures certainly address the topic of art; but art has to do with beauty, and the Lectures, after a sequence of promising paragraphs in the First Lecture, seem as a whole to give rather short shrift to the topic of beauty.  In the second sentence of the First Lecture, for example, Hegel asserts his remit to be “the wide realm of the beautiful,” whose “province,” he adds, “is Art,” or rather “Fine Art.”  Yet this artistic beauty is not to be confused with “beauty in general,” nor with “the beauty of Nature.”  The latter, Hegel insists, counts only as a “lower” type of beauty, a thesis well calculated to offend the Twenty-First Century’s prevailing “Gaian” view of life – the universe – and everything.  Fine art, by contrast, constitutes the higher type of beauty for the important reason, as Hegel puts it, that fine art “is the beauty that is born – born again, that is – of the mind.”  In consideration of the fact that “the mind and its products are higher than nature and its appearances,” it follows that “the beauty of art is higher than the beauty of nature.”

Hegel continues his argument by elaborating a crucial difference: “Even a silly fancy such as may pass through a man’s head,” he writes, “is higher than any product of nature.”  The most fleeting and unserious of mental, or more properly of spiritual, actions participates in freedom and qualifies itself thereby, even though in a trivial degree only, as self-determining.  The appearances of nature share in no such freedom, but, being as they are “absolutely necessary” and yet at the same time “indifferent,” take their meaning only to the degree that they refer to something else.  Hegel offers as his example the sun, whose pleasant usefulness men acknowledge and praise and in whose lavish light the other manifestations of nature appear to them and become useful, but with which they have, and can have, no spiritual traffic.  The sun remains incapable of acknowledging the men who acknowledge it, however much they might enjoy basking in its effulgence.  Nature is the realm of matter — and matter, eternally mute, never communicates with consciousness but only stimulates the suite of sensuous effects with which consciousness is familiar.  Thus for Hegel, the quality of consciousness makes whatever is truly beautiful, beautiful; and it does so both by imbuing matter with the order that originates in consciousness, including the element of freedom, and by placing the material or sensuous part of the art-object into parenthesis, so that the object becomes a pure image in the spectatorial mind just as it was, before its incarnation in the plastic medium, a pure image in its creator’s mind.

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Some Very Preliminary Remarks on Hegel’s Aesthetics (Updated)

Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

According to our – very plastic – seminar-schedule, the tentative completion-date for our cooperative reading of Hegel’s Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics is the middle of June, which is approaching.  I myself am now engaged in a second reading of the Lectures, with the aim of making careful notes to be the basis of a short essay.  I will post that essay at The Orthosphere.  The present short missive consists of what I hope are helpful hints to anyone tackling Hegel’s treatise.

Believe it or not, the Lectures show Hegel’s prose at what might be its most accessible and least abstract; its chapters are few, only five, and three of the five are relatively short.  Readers should remind themselves on every turn of the page that the first four chapters constitute the preparation for the fifth chapter, where Hegel (at last, readers might well say when they reach it finally) addresses the topic entirely in his own voice.  Being an historical thinker par excellence and, in his own terms, a dialectical thinker, Hegel, in the first four chapters, mainly rehearses the history of aesthetics and critiques other theories of fine art and the beautiful prior to or in contention with his own.  Here again readers need to take care to keep separate Hegel’s summaries of what other, previous thinkers have had to say about fine art and beauty, and what Hegel himself holds to be the case.

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Jubilee

A son of the South (I am a fils of les gens de couleurs libres, who fought first for the independence of Louisiana and then for the abolition of slavery), I naturally experience some emotional ambiguity concerning General Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”   Nevertheless, in light of Kristor’s “Jubilee” theory  of polity, I recommend New-Yorker Henry Clay Work’s “hit song” of 1864, “Marching through Georgia.”  Here are the lyrics. —

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Is There a Second Reality?

Reality 01

Reality Winner, Queen of the Resistance (“Winner, winner, chicken dinner”)

Yes, her name is “really” Reality Winner. (That’s what I would name my daughter.) When this, or she, or it, is the First Reality, it automatically produces the Second Reality; the process is akin to that of a college-student on Spring Break taking a “selfie,” or rather innumerable “selfies.” The Second Reality is always in the character of a “selfie.” This is an open thread.  Like, totally, way open!  Comments are invited.  (“On what topic are comments invited?” — “Whatever, Dude.”)

Witness another version of the Second Reality below —

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The Alphabeticity of Nations

Dear Representative Pelosi:

My wife and I are stalwart Democrats seeking advice.  We are planning an elaborate summer tour of several nations, some of them transatlantic, and we would like to know the correct order in which we should visit those nations.  Here are some questions that we hope you can answer. –

Supposing that we planned a visit to London, should we list that on our itinerary as a trip to Britain or a trip to England?  In either case, if we wished also to visit Edinburgh, in Scotland, would we need to visit either Britain or England first?

If we listed our London and Edinburgh destinations as the United Kingdom rather than Britain, England, or Scotland, would we need to visit Serbia, Slovenia, or Ukraine first?  And does the Byelo in Byelorussia count, or is it the same, by your reckoning, as Russia?  Again, how should we count Abkhazia, were we to visit there?  Is it subsumed alphabetically by Georgia?

When visiting Finland, should we list it as Suomi, as Finns call their nation, and touch base Somalia first?

In what order might we correctly visit the different places called Georgia?

Finally, on a related topic, which bathrooms should we use when visiting the autonomous region of Trans-Dniester?

We are sincerely yours,

Mr. and Mrs. Qwerty

Proposing a Casual Seminar

Richard Cocks and I have proposed to ourselves a summer reading project on the linked topics of aesthetics and kallistics.  We invite interested parties to join us, if they like.  The reading-list consists of four items chosen because of their germaneness to the two topics, but also because they are relatively short and mainly accessible to non-specialists, such as the two of us.  I give these four titles in the order in which we propose to read them. –

W. F. Hegel: Lectures on Aesthetics (1818)

 Plotinus: On Intellectual Beauty (circa 250 AD)

 Friedrich Schiller: Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)

 Plotinus: On the Three Initial Hypostases (circa 250 AD)

The curriculum is plastic.  Richard and I plan to have read Hegel’s Lectures by the middle of June.  We will write up a short summary of our discussion to be posted at The Orthosphere, with an invitation to comment.  We plan to have read Plotinus’ On Intellectual Beauty by the end of June, and so on, encompassing Schiller’s Letters and Plotinus’ On the Three Initial Hypostases, which is, notwithstanding its odd-sounding name, also concerned with beauty.

It strikes both Richard and me that beauty is central to the Traditional view of “life, the universe, and everything.”  It strikes us both that beauty is increasingly under attack in the postmodern dispensation, which either denies its existence or declares it to belong to the institutions of oppression.  We believe therefore that a concerted introductory study of aesthetics and kallistics will be useful to those who participate, especially insofar as it results in a better understanding of beauty as an objective and integral element or character in the order of being and the structure of reality.

The titles given above in bold green typescript are links to online versions of the four items.  I will be reading Hegel and Schiller in the convenient Penguin editions (in English translation); Richard will probably be reading Plotinus, as will I, again in the Penguin edition of the Enneads, in the translation by Stephen McKenna and B.S. Page.  The Penguin edition, while no longer in print, is easily available in second-hand copies.

 

Our Dreams of the Implicate Order

On the walk from my office to the train a week ago last Monday, I reflected on the fact that I had all day been curiously alive to moments from my past. In part this was due to the fact that it was my birthday, and people from every era of my life were reaching out to wish my happiness. But other factors were at work, too. I ran into a blog post that linked to a recording of Allegri’s Miserere Mei – one of the most sublime works ever written – and vividly remembered singing it as a boy, and so enacting Heaven. A story I had told my little granddaughter the day before, about the time when I was only four, and went camping with my Dad, and woke up unable to find my way out of the mummy sleeping bag, so that I tried to stand up and get his help, in the process falling down the steps out of the open forest shelter (and almost into the fire he had started), made me chuckle again. So did the memory of her reaction: “Silly Poppy!” I began to remember lots and lots of things from long and not so long ago – some of them tagged (oops!) for later use in the confessional – and suddenly as I walked the moments all crowded in upon me at once. Not in a chaos or a hurry, but as it were quietly, softly.

It was no stampede. Rather, it was a stately pavane.

Suddenly I staggered, thunderstruck by a completely unexpected notion: what if those moments *really were* immediately present to this one? What if I could feel that moment of suffocated terror in the mummy bag as if it were still happening? Clearly, I could: all that I had to do, in order to make that happen, was simply attend to it carefully enough, and without distraction. It might take a few moments of concentration, but if I wanted to I could, I knew, bring back any moment I wanted with as much clarity and intensity as I wished.

Then – this was the strike of the thunder – I thought: “That’s what dreams are like; and it is the way things really are; for, in Eternity, and to Eternity, everything (whether actual or not) is all at once together.”

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Consciousness: What is it, and Where is it Found?

brain

This article Consciousness: What is it, and Where is it Found? published in the Sydney Traditionalist Forum offers reasons for thinking that though the brain and consciousness are frequently correlated, the brain does not actually generate consciousness. Oftentimes, the facts are not in dispute on this topic. It has more to do with their implications. When, for instance, there are cases of hydrocephalus where 95% of the brain is missing but the person has no cognitive deficits and is actually above average intelligence, the notion that brain mapping will get us very far seems slim; as does the fact of neuroplasticity where parts of the brain get repurposed after a stroke in a case of top down causation.

Placebos and nocebos seem to have mind over matter implications too and their existence was initially strongly resisted by materialist-minded scientists for that reason – meaning, they actually recognized the non-materialist possible ramifications.

Near Death Experiences also suggest that consciousness can exist without brains which is good news for anyone interested in the possibility of an afterlife. The cardiologist Pim van Lommel provides good scientific reasons for thinking that NDEs have nothing to do with residual brain activity during cardiac arrests or resuscitations. Apparently, for instance, manual manipulation of the heart during CPR is physically incapable of pumping enough blood around the body to restore consciousness, even partially.

The article ends with suggestions about the real relationship between minds and brains, and ideas about the nature and meaning of human existence.

The “Ula Lu La Lu” & Consciousness: Meditations on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

Botticelli Venus

Sandro Botticelli: Venus (1486)

Introduction. The American poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) began his authorship with imagist poems and quirky mixtures of prose and verse like Spring and All (1923), a book that intersperses paragraphs of speculation concerning poetry, consciousness, and the world with seemingly improvised but in reality carefully composed verse-effusions that attempt an audacious transformation of the banal into the sublime.  Scholars of Twentieth-Century American poetry invariably categorize Williams as modern or avant-garde, but I would argue that Williams continues strongly in the Transcendentalist or American-Romantic tradition of the century previous to his own.  Spring and All, supposedly an epitome of idiosyncratic American modernism, offers a case in point, even in those statements where Williams appears to reject tradition altogether and extols the virtue of “the imagination, freed from the handcuffs of ‘art.’”  In an early prose-sequence of Spring and All, Williams denounces those whom he calls “The Traditionalists of Plagiarism.”  Williams uses the term plagiarism in an unusual way, as a failure of consciousness  and perception to rediscover the newness and beauty – indeed even the sublimity – of the given world in all its particulars.  In effect, in Spring and All, Williams engages a new version of the Romantic critique of complacency, recording, as he puts it, “our despair at the unfathomable mist into which all mankind is plunging.”

Complacency is the failure of imagination to invest fully in the structure of reality and the order of being; complacency is the epistemological and cognitive counterpart of original sin.  Williams, like all good Romantics, aims at redeeming humanity from its wretched lapse, its Winter of Discontent, so as to establish men and women in the paradisiacal springtime of refreshed apprehension.

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Flaubert’s Herodias: A Study of Revelation & Consciousness

Moreau Salome

Gustave Moreau: Salome

Introduction. The action of Flaubert’s Herodias, one of the Trois Contes or Three Tales of 1877, occurs on the birthday of Herod Antipas or Antipater, the Hellenized “Tetrarch” of Judea who is in fact a client-king permitted to rule over his people solely by the political calculation of reigning Roman emperor, Tiberius.  Tensions run high in Judea. The influential preacher John the Baptist, whom the Tetrarch currently holds imprisoned in a dungeon, has denounced Herod for his marriage to the divorced wife, Herodias, of the Tetrarch’s exiled brother, Herod Philip I.  The marriage amounts, says John, to incest.  Apart from the specific charge, the Baptist’s preaching has stirred up religious turmoil in the kingdom, encouraging a general dissidence.  The Pharisees, for example, feel displaced in piety and thus in status as strict interpreters of the law by John’s extravagant Puritanism; they already incline to distrust Herod, largely Greek in education and taste, an obvious puppet of Rome, and in these ways only barely a Jew.  Flaubert writes, “The Jews were tired of [Herod’s] idolatrous ways.”  As readers later learn, Sadducees, Essenes, and Samaritans, and others live grudgingly with one another in Herod’s realm; the reasons for their mutual mistrust seem more or less exaggerated and ritually or tribally driven.  Herod’s factional ties in Rome also complicate his life.

In Rome political jockeying takes place ceaselessly among various power brokers who would gain influence over the monarch for their own corrupt benefit.  Herod thinks to himself, for example, that, “probably Agrippa [one of his rivals] had ruined his credit with the emperor.”  His other brother Philip is meanwhile “secretly arming” behind his borders while Arab warriors in service to an ambitious raider-king have encamped themselves on his southern march.  Herod vacillates between the possibilities of making a pact with the Arabs or making one with the Parthians, Rome’s enemy and counterweight in the East.  Herod is proverbially between a rock and a hard place – or between the abyss and the Resurrection.

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