Born to Ride 2b - The Prodigious Prodigal Son

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What is to be manifested and what is manifested are lifted into a concrete unity. In this sense the Greek gods, in so far as Greek art represents them as free, inherently and independently self-sufficient individuals, are not to be taken symbolically; they content us in and by themselves.

For art the actions of Zeus, Apollo, Athene, belong precisely to these individuals alone, and are meant to display nothing but their power and passion. Now if from such inherently free personalities a general concept is abstracted as their meaning and set beside their particular aspect as an explanation of the entire individual appearance, then what in these figures is in conformity with art is left unnoticed and destroyed.

For this reason artists too cannot reconcile themselves to such a mode of interpreting all works of art and their mythological figures. For what we may think is left as an actually symbolic indication or allegory in the Classical and Romantic sort of artistic representation affects incidentals and is in that case expressly degraded to a mere attribute and sign, as e.

The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories, by Guy de Maupassant

But the difficult point in this artistically adequate appearance of free subjectivity lies in distinguishing whether what is represented as person has also actual individuality and subjectivity or whether it carries in itself only the empty semblance of the same as mere personification. In this latter case, that is to say, the personality is nothing but a superficial form which both in particular actions and in the bodily shape does not express its own inner being and thereby permeate the entire externality of its appearance as its own; on the contrary, it has for the meaning of the external reality still another inner being, which is not this personality and subjectivity itself.

This is the chief consideration in relation to the delimitation of symbolic art. Now, to sum up, our interest in considering symbolism consists in recognizing the inner process of the origin of art, in so far as this can be derived from the Concept of the Ideal in its development up to true art, and so of recognizing the sequence of stages in the symbolic as stages on the way to genuine art. Now, however close the connection between religion and art may be, we still have not to go over the symbols themselves or religion as comprising ideas which in the wider sense of the word are symbolic or allegorical ; we have only to consider that element in them in accordance with which they belong to art as such.

The religious element we must hand over to the history of mythology. For the more detailed division of the symbolic form of art, the first thing is to settle the boundaries within which the development proceeds. In general, as has been said already, this whole sphere is on the whole only the threshold of art, since at first we have before us only abstract meanings, not yet in themselves essentially individualized, and the configuration immediately linked with them is just as adequate as inadequate.

The first boundary line is therefore the disengaging of the artistic vision and representation in general; while the opposite boundary is provided by art proper to which the symbolic lifts itself as to its truth. In proposing to discuss the subjective aspect of the first origin of symbolic art, we may recall the saying that the artistic intuition as such, like the religious — or rather both together — and even scientific research, have begun in wonder.

Nothing interests him and nothing confronts him because he has not yet separated himself on his own account, and cut himself free, from objects and their immediate individual existence. But on the other hand whoever wonders no longer regards the whole of the external world as something which he has become clear about, whether in the abstract intellectual mode of a universally human Enlightenment, or in the noble and deeper consciousness of absolute spiritual freedom and universality, and thus he has changed the objects and their existence into a spiritual and self-conscious insight into them.

Whereas wonder only occurs when man, torn free from his most immediate first connection with nature and from his most elementary, purely practical, relation to it, that of desire, stands back spiritually from nature and his own singularity and now seeks and sees in things a universal, implicit, and permanent element. Here the inkling of something higher and the consciousness of externality are still unseparated and yet at the same time there is present a contradiction between natural things and the spirit, a contradiction in which objects prove themselves to be just as attractive as repulsive, and the sense of this contradiction along with the urge to remove it is precisely what generates wonder.

Now the first product of this situation consists in the fact that man sets nature and objectivity in general over against himself on the one hand as cause, and he reverences it as power; but even so on the other hand he satisfies his need to make external to himself the subjective feeling of something higher, essential, and universal, and to contemplate it as objective. In this unification there is immediately present the fact that the single natural objects — and above all the elemental ones, like the sea, rivers, mountains, stars — are not accepted just as they are in their separation, but, lifted into the realm of our ideas, acquire for our ideas the form of universal and absolute existence.

Now these ideas in their universality and essential implicit character art concentrates again into a picture for contemplation by direct consciousness and sets them out for the spirit in the objective form of a picture. This is the beginning of art. The immediate reverence for natural objects — nature worship and fetish worship — is therefore not yet art. On its objective side the beginning of art stands in the closest connection with religion.

The earliest works of art are of a mythological kind.

Now the first self-revelation available for the Absolute is natural phenomena; in their existence man divines the Absolute and therefore makes it perceptible to himself in the form of natural objects. In this endeavour art finds its basic origin. Yet, even in this respect, it has not come on the scene when man merely descries the Absolute directly in the objects actually present, and is satisfied with that mode of divine reality, but only when the mind produces from its own resources both the apprehension of its Absolute in the form of what is external in itself and also the objectivity of this more or less adequate connection [of spirit with nature].

For art appropriates a substantial content grasped through the spirit, a content that does not appear externally, but in an externality which is not only present immediately but is first produced by the spirit as an existent comprising that content in itself and expressing it. But the first interpreter of religious ideas, one which brings them nearer to us by giving them shape, is art alone, because the prosaic treatment of the objective world only prevails when man, as spiritual self-consciousness, has battled himself free from nature as immediacy and now confronts it with the intellectual freedom which envisages objectivity as a pure externality.

Yet this cleavage [between subject and object] is always only a later stage.


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The first knowledge of truth, on the other hand, proves to be a middle position between the purely spiritless immersion in nature and the spirituality altogether freed therefrom. This middle position in which spirit sets its ideas before our eyes in the shape of natural things just because it has still won no higher form though in this linkage [of ideas and things] it struggles to make both sides adequate to one another is, in general, the standpoint of poetry and art in distinction from that of the prosaic intellect.

It is for this reason, after all, that the completely prosaic consciousness only arises when the principle of subjective spiritual freedom, [first] in its abstract and [later in its] genuinely concrete form, succeeds in attaining actuality, i. The goal, secondly, which the symbolic art-form strives to reach is classical art, and the attainment of this goal marks the dissolution of the symbolic form as such. Classical art, however, though it achieves the true manifestation of art, cannot be the first form of art; it has the multiple intermediate and transitional stages of the symbolic as its presupposition.

This is because its appropriate content is spiritual individuality which, by being the content and form of what is absolutely true, can appear in consciousness only after complex mediations and transitions. The beginning is always constituted by what is abstract and indeterminate in its meaning.

But spiritual individuality must be absolutely concrete, essentially and inherently; it is the self-determining Concept in its adequate actualization, and this Concept can be grasped only after it has sent ahead, in their one-sided development, the abstract aspects which it reconciles and harmonizes. Once it has done so, the Concept makes an end of these abstractions by its own appearance as a totality at the same time. This is the case in classical art.

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The classical form puts a stop to the purely symbolizing and sublime preliminary experiments of art, because spiritual individuality now has its shape, its adequate shape, in itself, just as the self-determining Concept generates out of itself the particular existence adequate to it. When this true content and therefore the true form is found for art, then the seeking and striving after both of these, wherein the deficiency of symbolic art precisely consists, ceases immediately. If we ask, within these boundaries which have been indicated, for a narrower principle of division for symbolic art, then, in so far as symbolic art just struggles towards true meanings and their corresponding mode of configuration, it is in general a battle between the content which still resists true art and the form which is not homogeneous with that content either.

For both sides [content and form, meaning and shape], although bound into an identity, still coincide neither with one another nor with the true nature of art, and therefore they struggle none the less to escape from this defective unification. In this respect the whole of symbolic art may be understood as a continuing struggle for compatibility of meaning and shape, and the different levels of this struggle are not so much different kinds of symbolic art as stages and modes of one and the same contradiction [of incompatibility between meaning and shape].

At first, however, this battle is present only implicitly, i. For this reason, instead of setting before its eyes the difference between the two, it starts from their immediate identity. Therefore what forms the beginning is the unity of the artistic content and its attempted symbolical expression — an enigmatic unity still undivided and fermenting in this contradictory linkage.

This is the proper unconscious original symbolism, the configurations of which are not yet made into symbols. The end, on the other hand, is the disappearance and dissolution of the symbolic, since the hitherto implicit battle has now come into the artistic consciousness; and symbolizing therefore becomes a conscious severance of the explicitly clear meaning from its sensuous associated picture; yet in this separation there remains at the same time an express relation, but one which instead of appearing as an immediate identity, asserts itself only as a mere comparison of the two, in which the difference, previously unconscious, comes to the fore just as clearly.

This is the sphere of the symbol known as a symbol: the meaning known and envisaged on its own account in its universality, the concrete appearance of which is expressly reduced to a mere picture and is compared with the meaning for the purpose of its illustration by art. In the middle between the beginning and the end just mentioned there stands sublime art. Here the meaning, as spiritual explicit universality, is separated for the first time from the concrete existent, and makes that existent known as its negative, external to it, and its servant.

In order to express itself therein, the meaning cannot allow this existent to subsist independently, but must posit it as the inherently deficient, something to be superseded — although it has for its expression nothing other than precisely this existent which is external to it and null. The splendour of this sublimity of meaning naturally precedes comparison strictly so-called, because the concrete singleness of natural and other phenomena must first be treated negatively, and applied only as decoration and ornament for the unattainable might of the absolute meaning, [10] before there can be set forth that express severance and selective comparison of phenomena which are allied to and yet distinct from the meaning whose picture they are to provide.

These three chief stages which have been indicated are inwardly articulated in more detail in the following way.

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It only builds the road to both. This is the immediate substantial unity of the Absolute as spiritual meaning with its unseparated sensuous existence in a natural shape. Next in this double struggle to spiritualize the natural and to make the spiritual perceptible, there is revealed at this stage of the difference between spirit and nature the whole fantastic character and confusion, all the fermentation and wild medley, staggering hither and thither, of symbolic art.


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  5. This art has indeed an inkling of the inadequacy of its pictures and shapes and yet can call in aid nothing but the distortion of shapes to the point of the boundlessness of a purely quantitative sublimity. At this stage, therefore, we live in a world full of blatant contrivances, incredibilities, and miracles, yet without meeting works of art of genuine beauty. This production is on the one hand to present itself in its own special character, but on the other hand is to manifest not only this isolated object but a wider universal meaning, to be linked therewith and recognized therein. Thus these shapes stand before us as problems, making the demand that we shall conjecture the inner meaning lying in them.

    On these more specific forms of the still original symbol we may in general premise that they proceed from the religious world outlooks of entire peoples, and therefore in this connection we will call history too to mind. Yet the lines of division between them cannot be drawn in full strictness, because the individual ways of treatment and configuration, like the art-forms in general, are mixed, so that we find over again in earlier or later ages, even if subordinated and isolated, the form which we regard as the fundamental type for the world-outlook of a single people.

    Through the course indicated above, the meaning which hitherto has been more or less obscured owing to its particular sensuous shape has at last wrung its way to freedom and so comes explicitly into consciousness in its clarity. Thereby the strictly symbolic situation is dissolved, and, since the absolute meaning is grasped as the universal all-pervading substance of the entire phenomenal world, there now enters the art of substantiality — as the symbolism of sublimity — in the place of purely symbolical and fantastic allusions, disfigurations, and riddles.

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    In this regard there are especially to be distinguished two points of view which have their basis in the varying relation of substance, as the Absolute and the Divine, to the finitude of appearance. This relation, that is to say, can be double, positive and negative; although in both forms — because it is always the universal substance which has to emerge — what is to come before our vision in things is not their particular shape and meaning but their universal soul and their position relatively to this substance.

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    This affords the art of sublime pantheism, as we see it already in its beginnings in India, and then developed in the most brilliant way in Mohammedanism and its mystical art, and finally as we find it again in a more profound and subjective way in some phenomena of Christian mysticism. The negative relation, on the other hand, of sublimity strictly so called, we must seek in Hebrew poetry: this poetry of sublimity can celebrate and exalt the imageless Lord of heaven and earth only by using his whole creation as merely an accident of his power, as the messenger of his sovereignty, as the praise and ornament of his greatness, and in this service by positing even the greatest [earthly] splendour as negative.

    This is because it cannot find an adequate and affirmatively sufficient expression for the power and dominion of the supreme being, and can acquire a positive satisfaction only through the servitude of the creature, who is only adequate to himself and his significance in the feeling and establishment of his own unworthiness.


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    Through this process whereby the meaning, explicitly known in its simplicity, gains independence, its severance from the appearance which at the same time is established as inadequate to it, is already implicitly accomplished. But in that case the picture, instead of being as before the sole expression [of the meaning], is only a mere ornament, and therefore there arises a relation not in correspondence with the nature of the beautiful, since picture and meaning are contrasted with one another instead of being moulded into one another — as was the case, even if in a less complete way, in symbolic art strictly so-called.

    Works of art which make this form their foundation remain therefore of a subordinate kind, and their content cannot be the Absolute itself but some different and restricted situation or occurrence; on this account the forms belonging here are used in the main only occasionally as accessories.

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    To this class there belong allegory, metaphor, simile. To the content explicitly known in its prosaic universality the art-form appears thoroughly external, as in didactic poetry, while on the other side the explicitly external is treated and represented in its mere externality in so-called descriptive poetry. But in this way the symbolic linkage [of shape and meaning] and their relation has vanished and we have to look for a further unification of form and content which truly corresponds to the real nature of art. If, to consider the matter in more detail, we now proceed to the stages of development of the symbolic, we have to make a beginning with the beginning of art as it proceeds from the Idea of art itself.

    This beginning, as we saw in the Introduction to this Section, is the symbolic form of art in its still immediate shape, a shape not yet known and made a mere image and simile — unconscious symbolism. But before this can acquire its strictly symbolical character in itself and for our consideration, there must be taken up still more presuppositions determined by the nature of the symbolic itself. The symbol on the one hand has its basis in the immediate unification of the universal and therefore spiritual meaning with the sensuous shape which is just as adequate as inadequate; but as yet there is no consciousness of their incongruity.