Perfection said not to have evolved. When something is perfect, we tend
to neglect to ask about its evolution, delighting rather in what is present,
as if it had risen from the ground by magic. In this regard we are probably
still under the influence of an ancient mythological sentiment. We still feel
(in a Greek temple like the one at Paestum, for example) almost as if
a god, playing one morning, had built his residence out of these enormous masses;
at other times as if a soul had all of a sudden magically entered into a stone
and now wished to use it to speak. The artist knows that his work has its full
effect only when it arouses belief in an improvisation, in a wondrous instantaneousness
of origin; and so he encourages this illusion and introduces into art elements
of inspired unrest, of blindly groping disorder, of expectantly attentive dreaming
when creation begins, as deceptions that dispose the soul of the viewer or listener
to believe in the sudden emergence of perfection.
As is self-evident, the science of art must oppose this illusion most firmly, and point out the false conclusions and self-indulgences of the intellect that drive it into the artist's trap.
The artist's feeling for truth. When it comes to recognizing truths, the artist has a weaker morality than the thinker; on no account does he want his brilliant, profound interpretations of life to be taken from him, and he defends himself against sober, plain methods and results. Ostensibly, he is fighting for the higher dignity and meaning of man; in truth, he does not want to give up the most effective presuppositions for his art, that is the fantastic, the mythic, uncertain, extreme, feeling for the symbolic, overestimation of the individual, belief in something miraculous about genius: thus he thinks the continuation of his manner of creating is more important than a scientific dedication to truth in every form, however plain it may appear.
Art as conjuror of the dead. Art incidentally performs the task of preserving, even touching up extinct, faded ideas; when it accomplishes this task it weaves a band around various eras, and causes their spirits to return. Only a semblance of life, as over graves, or the return of dead loved ones in dreams, results from this, of course, but for moments at least, the old feeling revives and the heart beats to an otherwise forgotten rhythm. Because art has this general benefit, one must excuse the artist himself if he does not stand in the front ranks of the enlightenment, of mankind's progressive maturation. He has remained his whole life long a child or youth, and has stood still at the point where his artistic drive came upon him; but feelings from the first stages of life are admittedly closer to feelings of earlier eras then to those of the present century. His unwitting task becomes the juvenescence of mankind: this is his glory and his limitation.
How poets ease life. Poets, insofar as they too wish to ease men's lives, either avert their glance from the arduous present, or else help the present acquire new colors by making a light shine in from the past. To be able to do this, they themselves must in some respects be creatures facing backwards, so that they can be used as bridges to quite distant times and ideas, to religions and cultures dying out or dead. Actually, they are always and necessarily epigones. Of course, some unfavorable things can be said about their ways of easing life: they soothe and heal only temporarily, only for the moment; they even prevent men from working on a true improvement of their conditions, by suspending and, like a palliative, relieving the very passion of the dissatisfied, who are impelled to act.
The slow arrow of beauty. The most noble kind of beauty is that which
does not carry us away suddenly, whose attacks are not violent or intoxicating
(this kind easily awakens disgust), but rather the kind of beauty which infiltrates
slowly, which we carry along with us almost unnoticed, and meet up with again
in dreams; finally, after it has for a long time lain modestly in our heart,
it takes complete possession of us, filling our eyes with tears, our hearts
What do we long for when we see beauty? To be beautiful. We think much happiness must be connected with it. But that is an error.
Infusion of soul into art. Art raises its head where religions decline. It takes over a number of feelings and moods produced by religion, clasps them to its heart, and then becomes itself deeper, more soulful, so that it is able to communicate exaltation and enthusiasm, which it could not yet do before. The wealth of religious feeling, swollen to a river, breaks out again and again, and seeks to conquer new realms: but growing enlightenment has shaken the dogmas of religion and generated a thorough mistrust of it; therefore, feeling, forced out of the religious sphere by enlightenment, throws itself into art; in certain instances, into political life, too, indeed even directly into science. Wherever one perceives a loftier, darker coloration to human endeavors, one may assume that the fear of spirits, the smell of incense, and the shadow of churches have remained attached to them.
How meter beautifies. Meter lays a gauze over reality; it occasions
some artificiality of speech and impurity of thinking; through the shadow that
it throws over thought, it sometimes conceals, sometimes emphasizes. As shadow
is necessary to beautify, so "muffling" is necessary in order to make
Art renders the sight of life bearable by laying over it the gauze of impure thinking.
Art of the ugly soul. One is limiting art much too severely when one
demands that only the composed soul, suspended in moral balance, may express
itself there. As in the plastic arts, there is in music and poetry an art of
the ugly soul, as well as an art of the beautiful soul; and in achieving art's
mightiest effectsbreaking souls,1 moving stones, and humanizing animals-perhaps
that very art has been most successful.
Art weighs down the thinker's heart. We can understand how strong the
metaphysical need2 is, and how even nature in the end makes it hard to leave
it, from the way, even in a free spirit who has rid himself of everything metaphysical,
the highest effects of art easily produce a reverberation of a long-silenced,
or even broken metaphysical string. At a certain place in Beethoven's Ninth
Symphony, for example, he might feel that he is floating above the earth in
a starry dome, with the dream of immortality in his heart; all the stars
seem to glimmer around him, and the earth seems to sink ever deeper downwards.
If he becomes aware of this condition, he may feel a deep stab in his heart and sigh for the man who will lead back to him the lost beloved, be she called religion or metaphysics. In such moments, his intellectual character is being tested.
Playing with life. The lightness and looseness3 of the Homeric imagination
was necessary to soothe and temporarily suspend the Greeks' inordinately passionate
heart and oversharp mind. When their reason speaks, how bitter and horrible
life then appears! They do not deceive themselves, but they deliberately play
over life with lies. Simonides4 advised his countrymen to take life as a game;
they were all too familiar with seriousness in the form of pain (indeed, man's
misery is the theme that the gods so love to hear sung about), and they knew
that only through art could even misery become a pleasure. As punishment for
this insight, however, they were so plagued by the wish to invent tales that
in everyday life it became hard for them to keep free of falsehood and deceit,
just as all poetic people have this delight in lying, and, what is more, an
innocence in it. That must sometimes have driven their neighboring nations to
Belief in inspiration. Artists have an interest in others' believing in sudden ideas, so-called inspirations; as if the idea of a work of art, of poetry, the fundamental thought of a philosophy shines down like a merciful light from heaven. In truth, the good artist's or thinker's imagination is continually producing things good, mediocre, and bad, but his power of judgment, highly sharpened and practiced, rejects, selects, joins together; thus we now see from Beethoven's notebooks that he gradually assembled the most glorious melodies and, to a degree, selected them out of disparate beginnings. The artist who separates less rigorously, liking to rely on his imitative memory, can in some circumstances become a great improviser; but artistic improvisation stands low in relation to artistic thoughts earnestly and laboriously chosen. All great men were great workers, untiring not only in invention but also in rejecting, sifting, reforming, arranging.
Once again inspiration. When productive energy has been dammed up for a while and has been hindered in its outflow by an obstacle, there is finally a sudden outpouring, as if a direct inspiration with no previous inner working out, as if a miracle were taking place. This constitutes the well-known illusion which all artists, as we have said, have somewhat too great an interest in preserving. The capital has simply piled up; it did not fall suddenly from heaven. Incidentally, such apparent inspiration also exists elsewhere, for example, in the domain of goodness, virtue, vice.
The genius's5 sorrows and their value. The artistic genius wants to
give pleasure, but if his work is on a very high level, he may easily lack people
to appreciate it; he offers them food, but no one wants it. That gives him a
sometimes ludicrously touching pathos; for basically he has no right to force
pleasure on men. His pipe sounds, but no one wants to dance. Can that be tragic?
Perhaps it can. Ultimately, he has as compensation for this privation more pleasure in creating than other men have in all other kinds of activity. One feels his sorrows excessively, because the sound of his lament is louder, his tongue more eloquent. And sometimes his sorrows really are very great, but only because his ambition, his envy, are so great. The learned genius6 like Kepler and Spinoza, is usually not so desirous, and raises no such fuss about his really greater sorrows and privations. He can count with greater certainty on posterity and dismiss the present while an artist who does this is always playing a desperate game, at which his heart must ache. In very rare caseswhen the genius of skill and understanding merges with the moral genius in the same individualwe have, in addition to the above-mentioned pains, those pains that must be seen as the exceptions in the world: the extra-personal, transpersonal feelings, in sympathy with a people, mankind, all civilization, or all suffering existence; these feelings acquire their value through association with especially difficult and remote perceptions (pity per se is not worth much).
But what measure, what scale is there for their authenticity? Is it not almost imperative to be distrustful of anyone who speaks about having feelings of this kind?
Fate of greatness. Every great phenomenon is followed by degeneration, particularly in the realm of art. The model of the great man stimulates vainer natures to imitate him outwardly or to surpass him; in addition, all great talents have the fateful quality of stifling many weaker forces and seeds, and seem to devastate the nature around them. The most fortunate instance in the development of an art is when several geniuses reciprocally keep each other in check; in this kind of a struggle, weaker and gentler natures are generally also allowed air and light.
Art dangerous for the artist. When art seizes an individual powerfully, it draws him back to the views of those times when art flowered most vigorously; then its effect is to form by retrogression. The artist comes more and more to revere sudden excitements, believes in gods and demons, imbues nature with a soul, hates science, becomes unchangeable in his moods like the men of antiquity, and desires an overthrow of all conditions that are not favorable to art, and this with the vehemence and unreasonableness of a child. Now, the artist in and of himself is already a laggard creature because he still plays a game that belongs to youth and childhood; in addition, he is gradually being formed by retrogression into former times. Thus between him and the other men of his period who are the same age a vehement antagonism is finally generated, and a sad end just as, according to the tales of the ancients, both Homer and Aeschylus finally lived and died in melancholy.
Created people. When one says that the dramatist (and the artist in
general) creates real characters, this is a beautiful illusion and exaggeration,
in whose existence and dissemination art celebrates one of its unintentional,
almost superfluous triumphs. In fact, we don't understand much about real, living
people, and generalize very superficially when we attribute to them this character
or that; the poet is reflecting this, our very incomplete view of man,
when he turns into people (in this sense "creates") those sketches
which are just as superficial as our knowledge of people. There is much deception
in these characters created by artists; they are by no means examples of nature
incarnate, but rather, like painted people, rather too thin; they cannot stand
up to close examination. Moreover, it is quite false to say that whereas the
character of the average living man often contradicts itself, that created by
a dramatist is the original model which nature had in mind. A real man is something
completely necessary (even in those so-called contradictions),
but we do not always recognize this necessity. The invented man, the phantasm,
claims to signify something necessary, but only for those who would also understand
a real person only in terms of a rough, unnatural simplification, so that a
few prominent, often recurring traits, with a great deal of light on them and
a great deal of shadow and semidarkness about, completely satisfy their demands.
They are ready to treat the phantasm as a real, necessary person, because in
the case of a real person they are accustomed to taking a phantasm, a silhouette,
a deliberate abbreviation as the whole.
That the painter and sculptor express at all the "idea" of man is nothing but a vain fantasy and deception of the senses; one is being tyrannized by the eye when one says such a thing, since, of the human body itself, the eye sees only the surface, the skin; the inner body, however, is as much part of the idea. Plastic art wants to make characters visible on the skin; the spoken arts use the word for the same purpose, portraying character in sound. Art proceeds from man's natural ignorance about his interior (in body and character): it is not for physicists and philosophers.
Self overestimation in the faith in artists and philosophers. We all
think that the goodness of a work of art or an artist is proven when it seizes
and profoundly moves us. And yet our own goodness in judging and feeling
would first have to be provenwhich is not the case. Who in the realm of
plastic art has moved and delighted us more than Bernini?7 Who has had a more
powerful effect than that post-Demosthenian orator8 who introduced the Asianic
style and brought it to dominate during two centuries? This dominance over whole
centuries proves nothing about the goodness and enduring validity of a style;
one should therefore not be too sure of his good faith in any artist; after
all, such faith is not only faith in the reality of our feeling but also in
the infallibility of our judgment; whereas judgment or feeling, or both, can
themselves be too crude or too refined, too extreme or rough. The blessings
and raptures of a philosophy or a religion likewise prove nothing about their
truthas little as the happiness which the madman enjoys from his idée
fixe proves anything about the rationality of his idea.
Worshipping the genius out of vanity. Because we think well of ourselves,
but in no way expect that we could ever make the sketch to a painting by Raphael
or a scene like one in a play by Shakespeare, we convince ourselves that the
ability to do so is quite excessively wonderful, a quite uncommon accident,
or, if we still have a religious sensibility, a grace from above. Thus our vanity,
our self-love, furthers the worship of the genius, for it does not hurt only
if we think of it as very remote from ourselves, as a miracle (even Goethe,
who was without envy, called Shakespeare his star of the farthest height, recalling
to us that line, "Die Sterne, die begehrt man nicht"one does
not covet the stars).9 But those insinuations of our vanity aside,
the activity of the genius seems in no way fundamentally different from the
activity of a mechanical inventor, a scholar of astronomy or history, a master
tactician. All these activities are explained when one imagines men whose thinking
is active in one particular direction; who use everything to that end; who always
observe eagerly their inner life and that of other people; who see models, stimulation
everywhere; who do not tire of rearranging their material. The genius, too,
does nothing other than first learn to place stones, then to build, always seeking
material, always forming and reforming it. Every human activity is amazingly
complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a "miracle."
From where, then, the belief that there is genius only in the artist, orator, or philosopher? That only they have "intuition" (thus attributing to them a kind of magical eye glass, by which they can see directly into "being")?10 It is evident that men speak of genius only where they find the effects of the great intellect most agreeable and, on the other hand, where they do not want to feel envy. To call someone "divine" means "Here we do not have to compete." Furthermore, everything that is complete and perfect is admired; everything evolving is underestimated. Now, no one can see in an artist's work how it evolved: that is its advantage, for wherever we can see the evolution, we grow somewhat cooler. The complete art of representation wards off all thought of its evolution; it tyrannizes as present perfection. Therefore representative artists especially are credited with genius, but not scientific men. In truth, to esteem the former and underestimate the latter is only a childish use of reason.
The seriousness of craft. Speak not of gifts, or innate talents! One
can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. But they acquired
greatness, became "geniuses" (as we say) through qualities about whose
lack no man aware of them likes to speak; all of them had that diligent seriousness
of a craftsman, learning first to form the parts perfectly before daring to
make a great whole. They took time for it, because they had more pleasure in
making well something little or less important, than in the effect of a dazzling
whole. For example, it is easy to prescribe how to become a good short story
writer, but to do it presumes qualities which are habitually overlooked when
one says, "I don't have enough talent." Let a person make a hundred
or more drafts of short stories, none longer than two pages, yet each of a clarity
such that each word in it is necessary; let him write down anecdotes each day
until he learns how to find their most concise, effective form; let him be inexhaustible
in collecting and depicting human types and characters; let him above all tell
tales as often as possible, and listen to tales, with a sharp eye and ear for
the effect on the audience; let him travel like a landscape painter and costume
designer; let him excerpt from the various sciences everything that has an artistic
effect if well portrayed; finally, let him contemplate the motives for human
behavior, and disdain no hint of information about them, and be a collector
of such things day and night. In this diverse exercise, let some ten years pass:
and then what is created in the workshop may also be brought before the public
But how do most people do it? They begin not with the part but with the whole. Perhaps they once make a good choice, excite notice, and thereafter make ever worse choices for good, natural reasons.
Sometimes when reason and character are lacking to plan this kind of artistic life, fate and necessity take over their function, and lead the future master step by step through all the requisites of his craft.
Danger and benefit of worshipping the genius.11 The belief in great,
superior, fertile minds is not necessarily, yet very often connected to the
religious or half-religious superstition that those minds are of superhuman
origin and possess certain miraculous capabilities, which enable them to acquire
their knowledge in a way quite different from that of other men. They are credited
with a direct view into the essence of the world, as through a hole in the cloak
of appearance, and thought able, without the toil or rigor of science, thanks
to this miraculous seer's glance, to communicate something ultimate and decisive
about man and the world. As long as anyone still believes in miracles in the
realm of knowledge, one can admit perhaps that the believers themselves gain
an advantage thereby, in that by unconditionally subordinating themselves to
great minds, they provide the best discipline and schooling for their own mind
during its development. On the other hand, it is at least questionable whether,
when it takes root in him, superstition about the genius, about his privileges
and special capabilities, is advantageous to the genius himself. At any rate,
it is a dangerous sign when a man is overtaken by awe of himself, be it the
famous awe of Caesar, or (as in this case) awe of the genius, when the aroma
of a sacrifice, which by rights is offered only to a god, penetrates the genius's
brain, so that he begins to waver, and to take himself for something superhuman.
The eventual results are a feeling of irresponsibility, of exceptional rights,
the belief that he blesses merely through his company, and mad rage at the attempt
to compare him to others, or, indeed, to judge him lower and reveal what is
unsuccessful in his work. By ceasing to criticize himself, the pinions finally
begin, one after the other, to fall out of his plumage; superstition digs at
the roots of his strength and may even make him a hypocrite after his strength
has left him. It is probably more useful for great minds to gain insight into
their power and its origin, to grasp what purely human traits have flowed together
in them, what fortunate circumstances played a part: persistent energy first
of all, resolute attention to particular goals, great personal courage; and
then the good fortune of an education that early on offered the best teachers,
models, methods. To be sure, if their goal is to have the greatest possible
effect, then vagueness about themselves, and an added gift of a semimadness
have always helped a lot, for they have at all times been admired and envied
for their very power to make men weak-willed, and to sway them to the
delusion that they were being led by supernatural guides. Indeed, it uplifts
and inspires men to believe someone in possession of supernatural powers; to
that extent, madness, as Plato says, has brought the greatest blessings upon
In isolated, rare cases this portion of madness may well have been the means which held such an excessively scattered nature firmly together: in the lives of individuals, too, delusions often have the value of curatives, which are actually poisons. Yet in the case of every "genius" who believes in his divinity, the poison at last becomes apparent, to the degree that the "genius" grows old. One may recall Napoleon, for example: surely through that very belief in himself and his star, and through a scorn for men that flowed from him, his nature coalesced into the mighty unity that distinguishes him from all modern men, until finally this same belief turned into an almost mad fatalism, robbed him of his quick, penetrating eye, and became the cause of his downfall.
The genius and emptiness. Among artists, it is precisely the original minds, creating out of themselves, who can in certain circumstances produce what is wholly empty and insipid; while more dependent natures, so-called talents, remain full of memories of everything at all good, and produce something tolerable even in their weak condition. But if the original ones are deserted by their own selves, memory gives them no help: they become empty.
The public. The people actually desire nothing more from tragedy than to be moved, to be able to cry their hearts out; an artist who sees a new tragedy, however, has his joy in its ingenious technical inventions and devices; in its manipulation and apportionment of the material, in its new use of old motifs, old thoughts. His is the aesthetic attitude towards a work of art, that of the creator; the attitude described first, which considers only content, is that of the people. There is nothing to be said about the man in the middle: he is neither "people" nor artist, and does not know what he wants. Thus his pleasure, too, is vague and slight.
Artistic education of the public. If the same motif is not treated a hundredfold by different masters, the public does not learn to get beyond its interest in the content; but the public will itself ultimately grasp and enjoy the nuances, the delicate new inventions in the treatment of a motif, if it has long known it in many adaptations and no longer experiences the charm of novelty or suspense.
Artist and his followers must keep step. The progress from one level
of style to the next must be so slow that not only the artists, but also the
listeners and spectators participate in it and know exactly what is taking place.
Otherwise, a great gap suddenly forms between the artist, who creates his works
on remote heights, and the public, which can no longer climb up to those heights,
and finally climbs farther downhill again, disgruntled. For when the artist
no longer lifts his public, it sinks quickly downward and falls, in fact, the
deeper and more dangerously the higher a genius had carried it; like the eagle,
from whose talons the turtle, carried up into the clouds, drops to disaster
Origin of the comic. If one considers that for some hundred thousand years man was an animal susceptible to fright in the highest degree, and that anything sudden or unexpected meant that he was ready to do battle, perhaps to die; indeed, that even later in social relations, all security rested on the expected, on tradition in meaning and activity; then one cannot be surprised that at every sudden, unexpected word or deed, if it comes without danger or harm, man is released and experiences instead the opposite of fright. The cringing creature, trembling in fear, springs up, expands wide: man laughs. This transition from momentary fear to short-lived exuberance is called the comic. Conversely, in the phenomenon of the tragic, man quickly goes from great, enduring exuberance to great fear; however, since among mortals great enduring exuberance is much less common than the occasion for fear, there is much more of the comic than of the tragic in the world; man laughs much more often than he is devastated.
Artistic ambition. The Greek artists, the tragedians, for example, wrote
in order to triumph; their whole art cannot be imagined without competition.
Ambition, Hesiod's good Eris,14 gave wings to their genius. Now, this ambition
demanded above all that their work maintain the highest excellence in their
own eyes, as they understood excellence, without consideration for
a prevailing taste or the general opinion about excellence in a work of art.
And so, for a long time, Aeschylus and Euripides remained unsuccessful until
they finally educated critics of art who esteemed their work by the standards
that they themselves applied. Thus they strive for victory over their rivals
according to their own estimation, before their own tribunal; they really want
to be more excellent; then they demand that others outside agree with
their own estimation, confirm their judgment. In this case, to strive for honor
means "to make oneself superior and wish that that also be publicly evident"
If the first is lacking and the second nevertheless desired, one speaks of vanity.
If the latter is lacking, and not missed, one speaks of pride.
Necessity in a work of art. Those who talk so much about necessity in
a work of art, exaggerate, if they are artists, in majorem artis gloriam,15
or, if they are laymen, out of ignorance. The forms of a work of art, which
express its ideas and are thus its way of speaking, always have something inessential,
like every sort of language. The sculptor can add many little details or leave
them out; so can the representative artist, be he an actor, or a musical virtuoso
or conductor. Today these many small details and refinements please him, tomorrow
they do not; they are more for the sake of the artist than of the art, for with
the rigorous self-discipline demanded of him in portraying the main idea,
he, too, occasionally needs sweets and toys in order not to grow surly.
Making the audience forget the master. The pianist who performs the work of a master will have played best if he has made the audience forget the master, and if it has seemed that he were telling a tale from his own life, or experiencing something at that very moment. To be sure, if he himself is nothing significant, everyone will curse his loquacity in telling about his life. So he must understand how to capture the listener's imagination for himself. On the other hand, this also explains all the weaknesses and follies of "virtuosity"
Corriger la fortune.16 In the lives of great artists, there are unfortunate
contingencies which, for example, force the painter to sketch his most significant
picture as only a fleeting thought, or which forced Beethoven to leave us only
the unsatisfying piano reduction of a symphony in certain great piano sonatas
(the great B flat major). 17 In such cases, the artist coming after should try
to correct the great men's lives after the fact; for example, a master of all
orchestral effects would do so by restoring to life the symphony that had suffered
an apparent pianistic death.
Reduction. Some things, events, or people do not tolerate being treated
on a small scale. One cannot reduce the Laocoön group to a knick-knack:
it needs size.18 But it is even more uncommon for something small
by nature to tolerate magnification; that is why biographers will always have
more success in portraying a great man small than a small man great.
Sensuality in contemporary art. Artists often miscalculate when they aim at a sensual effect for their works of art; for their viewers or listeners no longer have all their senses about them, and, quite against the artist's intention, arrive by means of his work of art at a "sanctity" of feeling that is closely related to boredom. Perhaps their sensuality begins where the artist's has just ended; at the most, then, they meet at one point.
Shakespeare the moralist. Shakespeare reflected a great deal on passions,
and by temperament probably had very easy access to many of them (dramatists
in general are rather wicked people). But, unlike Montaigne, he was not able
to talk about them; rather he laid his observations about passions in
the mouths of his passionate characters. Of course, this is unnatural, but it
makes his dramas so full of thought that all other dramas seem empty and easily
inspire a general aversion.
Schiller's maxims (which are almost always based on false or insignificant ideas) are theatrical maxims, and as such have a powerful effect, while Shakespeare's maxims do honor to his model Montaigne,19 and contain quite serious thoughts in an elegant form, but are therefore too distant and too fine for the eyes of the theater-going public, and thus ineffective.
Making oneself heard. One must know not only how to play well but also how to make oneself heard. A violin in the hand of the greatest master emits only a squeak if the hall is too big; there the master can be confused with any bungler.
The incomplete as the effective. As figures in relief sometimes strike the imagination so powerfully because they seem to be on the point of stepping out of the wall and, hindered by something, suddenly come to a stop; so the relieflike, incomplete representation of a thought, or of a whole philosophy, is sometimes more effective than its exhaustive realization. More is left to the effort of the viewer; he is incited to continue developing what comes so intensely lit and shaded into relief before him, to think it through, and to overcome himself the obstacle that hindered until then its complete emergence.
Against originals. When art is dressed in the most threadbare cloth, we recognize it most clearly as art.
Collective mind. A good writer possesses not only his own mind but also the mind of his friends.
Two kinds of mistaking. The misfortune of clear and acute writers is that one takes them for shallow, and therefore expends no effort on them. And the good fortune of unclear writers is that the reader takes trouble with them, giving credit to them for his pleasure at his own zeal.
Relationship to science. Those people have no real interest in a science who start to get excited only when they themselves have made discoveries in it.
The key. For a significant man, the one thought he values greatly, to the laughter and scorn of insignificant men, is a key to hidden treasure chambers; for those others, it is nothing but a piece of old iron.
Untranslatable. It is neither the best nor the worst of a book that is untranslatable.
The paradoxes of an author. The so-called paradoxes of an author, which a reader objects to, are often not at all in the author's book but rather in the reader's head.
Wit. The wittiest authors raise the very slightest of smiles.
The antithesis. The antithesis is the narrow gate through which error prefers to worm its way to truth.
Thinkers as stylists. Most thinkers write badly because they tell us not only their thoughts but also the thinking of the thoughts.
Thoughts in poetry. The poet presents his thoughts in splendor, on the wagon of rhythm-usually because they cannot go on foot.
Sin against the mind of the reader. When an author denies his talent, merely to make himself the equal of his reader, he commits the only deadly sin that the reader will never forgive him for (if he should notice it). Otherwise, we can say anything bad about a man, but we must know how to restore his vanity in the way we say it.
Limit of honesty. Even the most honest writer lets slip a word too many when he wants to round off a period.
The best author. The best author will be the one who is ashamed to become
Draconian law21 against writers. One should regard a writer as a criminal
who deserves acquittal or clemency only in the rarest cases: that would be a
way to keep books from getting out of hand.
The fools of modern culture. Our feuilleton writers are like medieval court fools: it is the same category of people. Half-rational, witty, excessive, silly, they are sometimes there only to soften the atmosphere of pathos with whimsy and chatter, and to drown out with their shouting the all too ponderous, solemn tintinnabulation of great events. Formerly they were in the service of princes and nobles; now they serve political parties, for a good part of the people's old submissiveness in dealing with their prince still lives on in party feeling and party discipline. However, the whole class of modern men of letters is not far removed from the feuilleton writers; they are the "fools of modern culture," who are judged more mildly if they are taken as not quite accountable. To think of writing as one's life's profession should by rights be considered a kind of madness.
Following the Greeks. Knowledge today is greatly hindered by the fact
that all words have become hazy and inflated through centuries of exaggerated
feeling. The higher stage of culture, which places itself under the rule of
knowledge (though not under its tyranny), requires a much greater sobriety of
feeling and a stronger concentration of wordsin this the Greeks in the
age of Demosthenes preceded us. Extravagance characterizes all modern writings;
even if they are written simply, the words in them are still felt too
eccentrically. Rigorous reflection, compression, coldness, plainness (even taken
intentionally to the limits)in short, restraint of feeling and taciturnity:
that alone can help.
Such a cold way of writing and feeling, incidentally, is now very attractive by its contrast; and therein, of course, lies a new danger. For bitter cold can be as good a stimulant as a high degree of heat.
Good narrators bad explainers. Good narrators can display in the actions of their characters an admirable psychological certainty and consistency, which often stands in downright ludicrous contrast to their lack of skill in thinking psychologically. Thus their culture appears at one moment as excellently high as in the next it appears regrettably low. Too often it even happens that they are obviously explaining the actions and natures of their own heroes incorrectlythere is no doubt about it, as improbable as it sounds. The greatest pianist may have thought only a little about technical requirements and the special virtue, vice, use and educability of each finger (dactyl-ethics), and make crude errors when he speaks about such things.
The writings of acquaintances and their readers. We read the writings of acquaintances (friends and enemies) doubly, inasmuch as our knowledge keeps whispering alongside, "That is by him, a sign of his inner nature, his experience, his gift;" and, on the other hand, a different kind of knowledge tries to ascertain what the yield of the work itself is, what esteem it deserves aside from its author, what enrichment of learning it brings with it. As is self evident, these two kinds of reading and weighing interfere with one another. Even a conversation with a friend will produce good fruits of knowledge only when both people finally think solely of the matter at hand and forget that they are friends.
Rhythmical sacrifices. Good writers change the rhythm of some sentences
simply because they do not credit the ordinary reader with the ability to grasp
the meter of the sentence in its first version. So they simplify it for the
reader, by choosing better-known rhythms.
Such consideration for the contemporary reader's lack of rhythmical ability has already elicited some sighs, for much has already been sacrificed to it. Do good musicians experience the same thing?
Incompleteness as an artistic stimulation. Incompleteness is often more effective than completeness, especially in eulogies. For such purposes, one needs precisely a stimulating incompleteness as an irrational element that simulates a sea for the listener's imagination, and, like fog, hides its opposite shore, that is, the limitation of the subject being praised. If one mentions the well-known merits of a man, and is exhaustive and expansive in doing so, it always gives rise to the suspicion that these are his only merits. He who praises completely places himself above the man being praised; he seems to take him in at a glance. For that reason, completeness has a weakening effect.
Caution in writing and teaching. Whoever has once begun to write and felt the passion of writing in himself, learns from almost everything he does or experiences only what is communicable for a writer. He no longer thinks of himself but rather of the writer and his public. He wants insight, but not for his own use. Whoever is a teacher is usually incapable of doing anything of his own for his own good. He always thinks of the good of his pupils, and all new knowledge gladdens him only to the extent that he can teach it. Ultimately he regards himself as a thoroughfare of learning, and in general as a tool, so that he has lost seriousness about himself.
Bad writers necessary. There will always have to be bad writers, for they reflect the taste of undeveloped, immature age groups, who have needs as much as the mature do. If human life were longer, there would be more of the individuals who have matured than of the immature, or at least as many. But as it is, the great majority die too young, which means there are always many more undeveloped intellects with bad taste. Moreover, these people demand satisfaction of their needs with the greater vehemence of youth, and they force the existence of bad authors.
Too near and too far. Often reader and author do not understand each other because the author knows his theme too well and finds it almost boring, so that he leaves out the examples he knows by the hundred; but the reader is strange to the matter and finds it poorly substantiated if the examples are withheld from him.
One vanished preparation for art. Of all the things the Gymnasium22
did, the most valuable was its training in Latin style, for this was an artistic
exercise, while all other occupations were aimed solely at learning. To
put the German essay first is barbarism, for we have no classical German style
developed by a tradition of public eloquence; but if one wants to use the German
essay to further the practice of thinking, it is certainly better if one ignores
the style entirely for the time being, thus distinguishing between exercise
in thinking and in describing. The latter should be concerned with multiple
versions of a given content, and not with independent invention of the content.
Description only, with the content given, was the assignment of Latin style,
for which the old teachers possessed a long-since-lost refinement
of hearing. Anyone who in the past learned to write well in a modern language
owed it to this exercise (now one is obliged to go to school under the older
French teachers); and still further: he gained a concept of the majesty and
difficulty of form, and was prepared for art in general in the only possible
right way: through practice.
Darkness and excessive brightness juxtaposed. Writers who do not know how to express their thoughts clearly in general, will in particular prefer to select the strongest, most exaggerated terms and superlatives: this produces an effect as of torchlights along confusing forest paths.
Writerly painting.23 When portraying important objects, one will do
best to take the colors for the painting from the object itself, as would a
chemist, and then to use them as would an artist, allowing the design to develop
out of the distinctions and blendings of the colors. In this way, the painting
acquires something of the thrilling innate quality that makes the object itself
Books that teach us to dance. There are writers who, by portraying the
impossible as possible, and by speaking of morality and genius as if both were
merely a mood or a whim, elicit a feeling of high-spirited freedom, as if man
were rising up on tiptoe and simply had to dance out of inner pleasure.24
Unfinished thoughts. Just as youth and childhood have value in and of themselves (as much as the prime of life) and are not to be considered a mere transition or bridge, so too do unfinished thoughts have their own value. Thus we must not pester a poet with subtle interpretations, but should take pleasure in the uncertainty of his horizon, as if the road to various other thoughts were still open. We stand on the threshold; we wait as if a treasure were being dug up; it is as if a lucky trove of profundity were about to be found. The poet anticipates something of the thinker's pleasure in finding a central thought and in doing so makes us covetous, so that we snatch at it. But it flutters past over our heads, showing the loveliest butterfly wings and yet it slips away from us.
The book become almost human. Every writer is surprised anew when a
book, as soon as it has separated from him, begins to take on a life of its
own. He feels as if one part of an insect had been severed and were going its
own way. Perhaps he almost forgets the book; perhaps he rises above the views
set down in it; perhaps he no longer understands it and has lost those wings
on which he soared when he devised that book. Meanwhile, it goes about finding
its readers, kindles life, pleases, horrifies, fathers new works, becomes the
soul of others' resolutions and behavior. In short, it lives like a being fitted
out with mind and soulyet it is nevertheless not human.
The most fortunate author is one who is able to say as an old man that all he had of life-giving, invigorating, uplifting, enlightening thoughts and feelings still lives on in his writings, and that he himself is only the gray ash, while the fire has been rescued and carried forth everywhere.
If one considers, then, that a man's every action, not only his books, in some way becomes the occasion for other actions, decisions, and thoughts; that everything which is happening is inextricably tied to everything which will happen; then one understands the real immortality, that of movement: what once has moved others is like an insect in amber, enclosed and immortalized in the general intertwining of all that exists.
Joy in old age. The thinker or artist whose better self has fled into his works feels an almost malicious joy when he sees his body and spirit slowly broken. into and destroyed by time; it is as if he were in a corner, watching a thief at work on his safe, all the while knowing that it is empty and that all his treasures have been rescued.
Quiet fruitfulness. The born aristocrats of the spirit are not overeager; their creations blossom and fall from the trees on a quiet autumn evening, being neither rashly desired, not hastened on, nor supplanted by new things. The wish to create incessantly is vulgar, betraying jealousy, envy, and ambition. If one is something, one does not actually need to do anythingand nevertheless does a great deal. There is a type higher than the "productive" man.
Achilles and Homer. One is always reminded of the difference between Achilles and Homer: one has the experience, the feeling; the other describes it. A real writer merely gives words to the emotion and experience of others. He is an artist to be able to guess a great deal from the little he has felt. Artists are by no means people of great passion, but they often pretend to be, in the unconscious feeling that others will believe more in the passion they depict if their own lives speak for their experience in this regard. One has only to let himself go, not control himself, give free rein to his anger and desires, and at once the whole world cries: "How passionate he is!" But that deep, raging passion that gnaws at and often swallows up the individual is something all its own. He who experiences it certainly does not describe it in dramas, music, or novels. Artists are often licentious individuals, insofar as they are not artists-but that is something else.
Old doubts about the effect of art. Are pity and fear really discharged
through tragedy, as Aristotle claims,25 so that the spectator goes home cooler
and quieter? Do ghost stories make us less fearful and superstitious? It is
true that in certain physical processes-the act of love, for example-the
gratification of a need brings with it an alleviation and temporary abatement
of the drive. But fear and pity are not the requirements of particular organs
in this sense; they do not need to be relieved. And, in the long run, a drive
is actually strengthened by gratifying it, despite periodic alleviations.
It might be that pity and fear are assuaged and discharged by tragedy in each
individual case; nevertheless they might even increase as a whole, due to the
tragic effect, and Plato would be right, after all, when he claims that tragedy
makes us on the whole more anxious and sentimental. The tragic poet himself
would, of necessity, acquire a gloomy, fearful world view and a weak, susceptible,
lachrymose soul; it would agree with Plato's view if tragic poets, and likewise
the whole community which took delight in them especially, were to degenerate
to ever greater extravagance and licentiousness.26
But what right does our age have to give an answer to Plato's great question about the moral influence of art? Even if we had the artwhere do we see the influence, any influence of art?
Joy in nonsense. How can men take joy in nonsense? They do so, wherever there is laughter-in fact, one can almost say that wherever there is happiness there is joy in nonsense. It gives us pleasure to turn experience into its opposite, to turn purposefulness into purposelessness, necessity into arbitrariness, in such a way that the process does no harm and is performed simply out of high spirits. For it frees us momentarily from the forces of necessity, purposefulness, and experience, in which we usually see our merciless masters. We can laugh and play when the expected (which usually frightens us and makes us tense) is discharged without doing harm. It is the slaves' joy at the Saturnalia.
The ennobling of reality. Because men once took the aphrodisiacal drive to be a godhead, showing worshipful gratitude when they felt its effect, that emotion has in the course of time been permeated with higher kinds of ideas, and thus in fact greatly ennobled. By virtue of this idealizing art, some peoples have turned diseases into great beneficial forces of culture-the Greeks, for example, who in earlier centuries suffered from widespread nervous epidemics (similar to epilepsy and the St. Vitus Dance) and created the glorious prototype of the bacchante from them. For the health of the Greeks was not at all robust; their secret was to honor illness like a god, too, if only it were powerful.
Music. In and of itself, music is not so full of meaning for our inner life, so profoundly moving, that it can claim to be a direct language of emotion. Rather, it is its ancient connection to poetry that has invested rhythmical movement, loudness and softness of tone, with so much symbolism that we now believe music is speaking directly to the inner life and that it comes out of it. Dramatic music is possible only when the art of music has already conquered an enormous realm of symbolic techniques through song, opera, and hundreds of attempts at tone painting. "Absolute music" is either pure form, in the raw state of music, where sounds in rhythm and at various volumes are enough to give joy; or else it is the symbolism of forms that, without poetry, can speak to our understanding (since, after the two arts had undergone a long development together, musical form was finally woven through and through with threads of concepts and feelings). Men who have lagged behind in the development of music can experience a particular piece of music in a purely formal way, while the more advanced will understand the whole thing symbolically. No music is in itself deep and full of meaning. It does not speak of the "will" or the "thing in itself." Only in an age that had conquered the entire sphere of inner life for musical symbolism could the intellect entertain this idea. The intellect itself has projected this meaning into the sound, as it has also read into the relationship of lines and masses in architecture a meaning that is, however, actually quite foreign to mechanical laws.
Gesture and language. Imitation of gesture is older than language, and
goes on involuntarily even now, when the language of gesture is universally
suppressed, and the educated are taught to control their muscles. The imitation
of gesture is so strong that we cannot watch a face in movement without the
innervation of our own face (one can observe that feigned yawning will evoke
natural yawning in the man who observes it). The imitated gesture led the imitator
back to the sensation expressed by the gesture in the body or face of the one
being imitated. This is how we learned to understand one another; this is how
the child still learns to understand its mother. In general, painful sensations
were probably also expressed by a gesture that in its turn caused pain (for
example, tearing the hair, beating the breast, violent distortion and tensing
of the facial muscles). Conversely, gestures of pleasure were themselves pleasurable
and were therefore easily suited to the communication of understanding (laughing
as a sign of being tickled, which is pleasurable, then served to express other
As soon as men understood each other in gesture, a symbolism of gesture could evolve. I mean, one could agree on a language of tonal signs, in such a way that at first both tone and gesture (which were joined by tone symbolically) were produced, and later only the tone. It seems that in earlier times, something must often have occurred much like what is now going on before our eyes and ears in the development of music; namely of dramatic music: while music without explanatory dance and miming (language of gesture) is at first empty noise, long habituation to that juxtaposition of music and gesture teaches the ear an immediate understanding of the tonal figures. Finally, the ear reaches a level of rapid understanding such that it no longer requires visible movement, and understands the composer without it. Then we are talking about absolute music, that is, music in which everything can be understood symbolically, without further aids.
The desensualization of higher art. Because the artistic development
of modern music has forced the intellect to undergo an extraordinary training,
our ears have become increasingly intellectual. Thus we can now endure much
greater volume, much greater "noise," because we are much better trained
than our forefathers were to listen for the reason in it. All our senses
have in fact become somewhat dulled because we always inquire after the reason,
what "it means" and no longer what "it is." Such a dullness
is betrayed, for example, by the unqualified rule of tempered notes. For now
those ears still able to make the finer distinctions, say, between C-sharp
and D-flat are exceptions. In this regard, our ear has become coarsened.
Furthermore, the ugly side of the world, originally inimical to the senses,
has been won over for music. Its area of power to express the sublime, the frightful,
and the mysterious, has thus been astonishingly extended. Our music makes things
speak that before had no tongue. Similarly, some painters have made the eye
more intellectual, and have gone far beyond what was previously called a joy
in form and color. Here, too, that side of the world originally considered ugly
has been conquered by artistic understanding.
What is the consequence of all this? The more the eye and ear are capable of thought, the more they reach that boundary line where they become asensual. Joy is transferred to the brain; the sense organs themselves become dull and weak. More and more, the symbolic replaces that which existsand so, as surely as on any other path, we arrive along this one at barbarism. For the present, it is still said that the world is uglier than ever, but it means a more beautiful world than ever existed. But the more the perfumed fragrance of meaning is dispersed and evaporated, the rarer will be those who can still perceive it. And the rest will stay put at ugliness, seeking to enjoy it directly; such an attempt is bound to fail. Thus we have in Germany a twofold trend in musical development: on the one side, a group of ten thousand with ever higher, more delicate pretensions, ever more attuned to "what it means"; and on the other side, the vast majority, which each year is becoming ever more incapable of understanding meaning, even in the form of sensual ugliness, and is therefore learning to reach out with increasing pleasure for that which is intrinsically ugly and repulsive, that is, the basely sensual.
The stone is more stone than before. In general we no longer understand
architecture, at least by far not in the way we understand music. We have outgrown
the symbolism of lines and figures, as we have grown unaccustomed to the tonal
effects of rhetoric, no longer having sucked in this kind of cultural mother's
milk from the first moment of life. Originally everything about a Greek or Christian
building meant something, and in reference to a higher order of things. This
atmosphere of inexhaustible meaningfulness hung about the building like a magic
veil. Beauty entered the system only secondarily, impairing the basic feeling
of uncanny sublimity, of sanctification by magic or the gods' nearness. At the
most, beauty tempered the dread but this dread was the prerequisite
What does the beauty of a building mean to us now? The same as the beautiful face of a mindless woman: something masklike.
Religious origin of modern music. Soulful music originates in the Catholicism
that was reestablished following the Council of Trent, through Palestrina,27
who helped the newly awakened, ardent, deeply moved spirit to ring out; with
Bach, it also originates later, in Protestantism, insofar as it had been deepened
by the Pietists28 and released from its originally dogmatic nature. For both
origins, a prerequisite and necessary preliminary stage was the involvement
with music as it existed in the Renaissance and the pre-Renaissance, especially
that scholarly occupation with music, a fundamentally scientific pleasure in
harmonic feats and polyphony. On the other side, soulful music also had to be
preceded by opera, in which the layman made known his protest against cold and
overly-learned music, and tried to restore a soul to Polyhymnia.29
Without that deeply religious change of heart, without the fading sound of a most inwardly agitated soul, music would have remained learned or operatic; the spirit of the Counter-Reformation is the spirit of modern music (for the Pietism in Bach's music is also a kind of Counter-Reformation). This is how deeply we are indebted to religious life.
Music was the Counter-Renaissance in the domain of art; the later painting of Murillo30 belongs to it, perhaps the Baroque style, too (more so in any event than architecture of the Renaissance or of antiquity). And even now we might ask, whether our modern music, if it could move stones, would assemble them into an ancient architecture? I doubt it very much. For what governs in this music-‑-emotion, pleasure in heightened, all-embracing moods, a wish to come alive at any cost, rapid change of feeling, a strong relief-effect of light and shade, juxtaposition of ecstasy and naiveté-all that ruled the plastic arts once before, and created new principles of style; but this was neither in antiquity nor in the time of the Renaissance.
Transcendence in art. Not without deep sorrow do we admit to ourselves that artists of all times, at their most inspired, have transported to a heavenly transfiguration precisely those ideas that we now know to be false: artists glorify mankind's religious and philosophical errors, and they could not have done so without believing in their absolute truth. Now, if belief in such truth declines at all, if the rainbow colors around the outer edges of human knowledge and imagination fade; then art like The Divine Comedy, Raphael's paintings, Michelangelo's frescoes, Gothic cathedrals, art that presumes not only a cosmic but also a metaphysical meaning in the art object, can never blossom again. There will some day be a moving legend that such an art, such an artistic faith, once existed.
The revolution in poetry. The severe constraint which the French dramatists
imposed upon themselves with respect to unity of action, place, and time, to
style, versification and sentence structure, selection of words and of themes,
was as important a training as counterpoint and the fugue in the development
of modern music, or the Gorgian figures31 in Greek rhetoric. To restrict
oneself so may appear absurd; nevertheless there is no way to get beyond realism
other than to limit oneself at first most severely (perhaps most arbitrarily).
In that way one gradually learns to step with grace, even on the small bridges
that span dizzying abysses, and one takes as profit the greatest suppleness
of movement, as everyone now alive can attest from the history of music. Here
one sees how the shackles become looser with every step until they finally can
seem quite thrown off: this seeming is the highest result of a necessary development
in art. In modern poetry, there was no such happy gradual development out of
the self-imposed shackles. Lessing made French form, the only modern art form,
into an object of ridicule in Germany, and pointed instead to Shakespeare;32
so the continuity of the unshackling process was lost and one leapt instead
into naturalism, which is to say, back into the beginnings of art. Goethe tried
to save himself from naturalism by restricting himself again and again in different
ways; but once the thread of development has been broken off, even the most
gifted artist can achieve only a continual experimentation. Schiller owes the
relative sureness of his form to the model of French tragedy, which he instinctively
respected, even though he spurned it, and kept rather independent of Lessing
(whose dramatic efforts he rejected, as everyone knows). After Voltaire, the
French themselves suddenly lacked great talents who might have led the development
of tragedy out of constraint to the illusion of freedom; later they followed
the German example, making the leap into a kind of Rousseauistic state of nature
in art, and experimented. One should read Voltaire's Mahomet from time to time,
in order fully to take to heart what has been lost forever to European culture
through that rupture with tradition. Voltaire was the last of the great dramatists
to restrict with Greek moderation his polymorphic soul, equal to even the greatest
tragic tempests. (He achieved what no German has, because the Frenchman's nature
is much more closely related to the Greek's than is the German's.) Also, in
the treatment of prose speech, he was the last great writer to have a Greek
ear, Greek artistic conscience, and Greek plainness and grace. Indeed, he was
one of the last people to unite in himself, without being inconsistent or cowardly,
the highest freedom of spirit and a positively unrevolutionary frame of mind.-33
Since then, the modern spirit has come to rule in all areas, with its unrest, its hatred of moderation and limitation, at first unleashed by the fever of revolution, and then, when attacked by fear and dread of itself, applying the reins to itself again-but the reins of logic, no longer of artistic moderation. True, through this unshackling we enjoy for a time the poetry of all peoples,34 everything that has grown up in hidden places, elemental, blooming wildly, strangely beautiful and gigantically irregular, from the folk song right up to the "great barbarian" -35 Shakespeare. We taste the joys of local color and period costume, which were alien to all artistic peoples heretofore; we reap in rich measure the "barbaric advantages" of our time, on which Goethe insisted against Schiller,36 in order to put the formlessness of his Faust in the most favorable light. But for how long can we do it? The oncoming flood of poetry of every people, in every style, must eventually sweep away the ground on which a quiet, hidden growth might still have been possible. All poets must become experimenting imitators, daredevil copyists, however great their strength may be in the beginning. Finally, the public that has forgotten how to see the real artistic act in the restriction of its energy to represent, in the organizing mastery of all artistic means, must learn increasingly to appreciate power for the sake of power, color for the sake of color, thought for the sake of thought, even inspiration for the sake of inspiration; accordingly it will not enjoy the elements and requirements of a work of art unless they are isolated, and lastly, it will make the natural demand that the artist must represent them in isolation. Yes, we have thrown off the "unreasonable" shackles of Franco-Hellenic art, but without knowing it, we have gotten used to finding all shackles, all limitation unreasonable. And so art moves towards its dissolution, and touches in the process (which is to be sure highly instructive) all phases of its beginnings, its childhood, its imperfection, its former risks and extravagances. It interprets its origin,, its evolution, as it is perishing.
Lord Byron, a great man whose instinct we can trust and whose theory lacked nothing but thirty years more of practice, once stated: "As to poetry, in general, the more I think about it, the more I am firm in the conviction that we are all on the wrong path, each and every one. We are all following a revolutionary system that is inherently false. Our generation or the next will come to the same conclusion " 37 This is the same Byron who said, "I look upon Shakespeare to be the worst of models, though the most extraordinary of poets."38 And in the second half of his life, does not Goethe, with his matured artistic insight, basically say exactly the same thing? His insight gained him so great a head start over a succession of generations that by and large one can claim that Goethe's effect has not yet been fully realized, and that his time is yet to come. Precisely because, for a long time, his nature held him in the path of poetic revolution, precisely because he enjoyed thoroughly whatever in the way of new discoveries, prospects, and aids had been found indirectly and dug up, so to speak, from under the ruins of art by that rupture with tradition-for those reasons, his later reversal and conversion carries such weight. It means that he felt the deepest longing to regain the tradition of art, and, if the arm should prove far too weak to build where destruction has already required such enormous powers, to attribute with the eye's imagination at least the old perfection and completeness to the remaining ruins and porticos of the temple. So he lived in art as in the memory of true art: his poetry was an aid to his memory, to his understanding of old, long since vanished art periods. Considering the strength of the new era, his demands, of course, could not be satisfied; but his pain about it was richly balanced by his joy that such demands were fulfilled once, and that we too can still share in that fulfillment. Not individuals, but more or less ideal masks; not reality but an allegorical generality; historical characters and local color made mythical and moderated almost to invisibility; contemporary feeling and the problems of contemporary society compressed to the simplest forms, stripped of their stimulating, suspenseful, pathological qualities, made ineffective in all but the artistic sense; no new subjects and characters, but rather the old long-familiar ones, in ever enduring reanimation and reformation: that is art as Goethe later understood it, as the Greeks and even the French practiced it.
What remains of art. It is true that with certain metaphysical assumptions,
art has a much greater valueif it is believed, for example, that one's
character is unchangeable and that the essence of the world is continually expressed
in all characters and actions. Then the artist's work becomes the image of what
endures eternally. In our way of thinking, however, the artist can give
his image validity only for a time, because man as a whole has evolved and is
changeable, . and not even an individual is fixed or enduring.
The same is true of another metaphysical assumption: were our visible world only appearance, as metaphysicians assume, then art would come rather close to the real world; for there would be much similarity between the world of appearance and the artist's world of dream images; the remaining difference would actually enhance the meaning of art rather than the meaning of nature, because art would portray the symmetry, the types and models of nature.
But such assumptions are wrong: what place remains for art, then, after this knowledge? Above all, for thousands of years, it has taught us to see every form of life with interest and joy, and to develop our sensibility so that we finally call out, "However it may be, life is good."39 This teaching of art-to have joy in existence and to regard human life as a part of nature, without being moved too violently, as something that developed through lawsthis teaching has taken root in us; it now comes to light again as an all-powerful need for knowledge. We could give art up, but in doing so we would not forfeit what it has taught us to do. Similarly, we have given up religion, but not the emotional intensification and exaltation it led to. As plastic art and music are the standard for the wealth of feeling really earned and won through religion, so the intense and manifold joy in life, which art implants in us, would still demand satisfaction were art to disappear. The scientific man is a further development of the artistic man.
Sunset of art. As in old age one remembers his youth and celebrates
its memory, so mankind will soon relate to art as to a touching memory of youthful
joys. Perhaps never before has art been grasped so fully and soulfully as now,
when the magic of death seems to play about it. Think of that Greek city in
Southern Italy40 which one day a year still celebrates Greek festivals, amid
melancholy and tears that foreign barbarism has triumphed more and more over
its inherited customs. Never has the Hellenic been enjoyed so much, nowhere
this golden nectar drunk with such intense relish, as among these disappearing
Hellenes. Soon the artist will be regarded as a wondrous relic, on whose strength
and beauty the happiness of earlier times depended; honors will be shown him,
such as we cannot grant to our own equals. The best in us has perhaps been inherited
from the feelings of former times, feelings which today can hardly be approached
on direct paths; the sun has already set, but our life's sky glows and shines
with it still, although we no longer see it.