This one’s philosophy. You’ll probably want to skip it.
Georg Lukács 1914
The Theory of the Novel
The Forms of Great Epic Literature examined in Relation to Whether the General Civilisation of the Time is an Integrated or a Problematic One
1. Integrated Civilisations
Happy are those ages when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths — ages whose paths are illuminated by the light of the stars.
My first challenge is going to be coping with the beauty of his language. He speaks in romantic metaphor and lulls my imagination into a trance. But I don’t want to fall under his spell. I want to understand his argument. So why does traveling by starlight make an age happy?
Everything in such ages is new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own. The world is wide and yet it is like a home,
We start off with a paradox. Traveling by starlight can make the world seem new and familiar at the same time. And apparently, being adventurous and “being their own” should seem just as paradoxical. I’m not really sure what “everything being their own” means. I do understand why a wide world being like a home is paradoxical. Home is usually small, intimate and, if you’re lucky, cozy.
for the fire that burns in the soul is of the same essential nature as the stars;
So in those ages illuminated by the stars, our souls are made of the same thing that allows us to see—the starlight. While we may never touch the stars, we feel that our souls are made of the same thing as the stars, and this somehow binds us to them, makes us part and parcel of the same thing. So that provides the basis of everything seeming familiar, even if we haven’t seen the new things before. The light that lets us see those things is the same light the emanates from our souls.
This reminds me a little of Plato’s analogy of the Form of the Good being like the Sun. But Plato never made the soul a source of light.
Stars are always featured in metaphors for eternal order. So perhaps our souls belong to a vast, eternal cosmology, one that was meant to be. Our souls, then, are made of the stuff of destiny.
NOTE: “Essence” might mean “meaning” and “essential” might mean “meaningful.” So the fire that burns in the soul means the same thing as the stars that burn in the sky.
the world and the self, the light and the fire, are sharply distinct,
Light, which allows us to see the world, emanates from Fire. This fire burns in our souls. So like starlight, the fire in our souls lets us see the world. And we believe that the fire in our souls is the same fire in the stars. Even with these similarities, however, we see each as a distinct concept.
yet they never become permanent strangers to one another, for fire is the soul of all light and all fire clothes itself in light.
Is that line just to be pretty, or is there something to tap out here? I don’t trust his poetry. It lulls me too easily. Let’s think.
Our souls are made of fire, the same fire as the stars. Fire itself is the soul of light. Fire clothes itself in light. So our souls, like the stars clothe themselves in light. So perhaps the reason that a starlit society feels comfortable in a totally new world of rollicking adventure is that they believe that emanating from their souls is light that offers them just as good a means of perception as the starlight. In a sense, they don’t need the stars to shed light, they believe their souls can do this for them. When you think about it, starlight is awfully dim, especially when confronted with the harsh radiance of the Plato’s sun. But starlight is romantic and delightful. No one talks about traveling under the blistering sun with romance dripping from every sentence. So while perhaps we don’t see much traveling by starlight, we can be happy because we think our souls are the same as the starlight and that we are fundamentally linked to the medium that gives us knowledge of the world. We are not alienated from the light. It isn’t of some other. We believe light comes from our souls just as much as it comes from the stars. It is as if we were meant to learn the true nature of the world. Destiny again.
Thus each action of the soul becomes meaningful and rounded in this duality: complete in meaning — in sense —
The duality is that we are separate from the light of the stars, but our souls are made of the same stuff that lets us see the world. So is each act of the soul meaningful because the soul, from which we believe emanates the light that gives us knowledge, is meant to discover the world? From this worldview, we would have to been born to be discoverers, so our every searching, our every adventure was meant to be.
and complete for the senses; rounded because the soul rests within itself even while it acts; rounded because its action separates itself from it and, having become itself, finds a centre of its own and draws a closed circumference round itself.
I wonder what he means by “rounded?” Like a circle, but what does that mean? The action has a center and draws a circumference around itself. Is this a metaphor to mean that the action is seen as a defined concept? The action came into being because of an impulse of the soul, but now it exists independently. I wonder if this really is more about concepts than actions. I create a concept. I articulate it, someone else picks it up and uses it. If many people pick it up, the concept takes on a life of its own. Many people have their own version of the concept, granted, but since we use the concept to communicate, the need to be understood forces us to keep the term within certain parameters. That said, the original person cannot shape the term exclusively anymore and drift and change happens. So, like Frankenstein’s monster, our amorphous idea is now alive.
Weber says that ideal-types are one-sided. But they don’t feel one-sided when they move us. Is that what Lukács means by “rounded?” Rounded can mean “full.” The concept, once “out there” seems more real than when it’s something inarticulate in our imagination.
I can’t help but think that there’s something I’m not getting here. Circle and rounded. A circle is supposed to be a perfect shape. Does he mean that the act becomes perfect?
‘Philosophy is really homesickness,’ says Novalis: ‘it is the urge to be at home everywhere.’
There is the brilliance of his rhetoric—we’re contorting our minds around all that “roundedness” stuff, then he hits us with such a romantic turn of phrase that he captures our hearts. We stop banging our heads trying to figure it out and follow him like the Pied Piper of Hamlin! He’s good.
That is why philosophy, as a form of life or as that which determines the form and supplies the content of literary creation, is always a symptom of the rift between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, a sign of the essential difference between the self and the world, the incongruence of soul and deed.
I see why I’m having trouble with Lukács. He relies on the music of his words to give the piece forward flow, to give the illusion of coherence. His writing is almost impossibly romantic. It’s as if he were casting a spell. The potential for seduction is huge. The argument is nonetheless out of order. It has to be read more than once to puzzle it out.
Back to Plato. Philosophy gives us the forms. If we engage in philosophy, it is because we are looking for forms. Having forms that accord to the world makes us feel at home in the world. If we weren’t searching for forms, we’d have no need for philosophy. If we turn to philosophy, it follows that we must feel alienated from the world. Or, we’ve at least experienced parts of the world that make us feel alienated and we don’t like that. We want to be at home everywhere. And apparently, those who paths are illuminated by starlight feel at home everywhere.
That is why the happy ages have no philosophy, or why (it comes to the same thing) all men in such ages are philosophers, sharing the utopian aim of every philosophy.
Now, I get why a happy age has no philosophy. If your system of forms is perfectly matched to the world around you, you don’t go around questioning them. But how is it that is this happy age all men are philosophers? Perhaps it’s because they all share the utopian aim of philosophy—they all feel at home everywhere. But is that really being a philosopher? If you are lucky enough that your worldview seems to correctly identify you and the world around you, have you practiced philosophy? I’d imagine that you were “lucky?” Isn’t philosophy supposed to be work?
For what is the task of true philosophy if not to draw that archetypal map? What is the problem of the transcendental locus if not to determine how every impulse which springs from the innermost depths is co-ordinated with a form that it is ignorant of, but that has been assigned to it from eternity and that must envelop it in liberating symbols?
This is more of the adventurer. It’s not that he or she doesn’t encounter new things. It’s that there is a place and probably a concept for the new things that he or she encounters in the cosmology with which they were raised. A child who is learning does not know the name of every new thing that he or she discovers. But his or her parents probably do. While things are unknown to the child, nothing seems unknowable. Simple discovery will suffice. The world is an adventure filled with exciting new things to learn. But nothing leads to trauma. The story’s basic structure works. You’re just filling in the details.
When this is so, passion is the way, predetermined by reason, towards complete self-being
If you throw yourself into a world where the symbols are already there for you to discover, you are highly likely to find meaning. All that is needed is the passion to look. This is the confidence of the young.
and from madness come enigmatic yet decipherable messages of a transcendental power, otherwise condemned to silence.
Is this a reference to prophecy? Things like oracles? Joss sticks?
There is not yet any interiority, for there is not yet any exterior, any ‘otherness’ for the soul.
Because there is no external worldview that essentially can invalidate one’s own, one is not even aware that one has a worldview. To realize that one has a worldview requires an awareness of some other worldview. One does not become reflexively critical without a practical reason. I guess in a way, one cannot be self-conscious without experiencing a different consciousness. That was in one of those damned interpretation articles I read last year. Which one is it?
The soul goes out to seek adventure; it lives through adventures, but it does not know the real torment of seeking and the real danger of finding; such a soul never stakes itself; it does not yet know that it can lose itself, it never thinks of having to look for itself.
I understand this. This was my life before MS and before coming out. This is the self-confidence that I have lost for the remainder of my life. I may find adventure again, but I don’t think I will deliberately seek it again, as I did all those years ago. I adventured until 1999. I will probably risk myself again. To do so would be to live the life of the timid. But adventure? Deliberate adventure? As a deliberate choice in pursuit of pleasure? If that is what adventure is, it’s a self-indulgence. I’ve lost myself before. I will not gamble for thrills again. I didn’t know what loss meant, then. I do now.
The stands I will make are the ones that I must make, for the sake of honor and duty. Fares can follow adventures. It’s more his style.
Such an age is the age of the epic.
So the Iliad and the Odyssey, then, are the stories of men who do not yet know that they can lose themselves. I haven’t read any part of the Odyssey since the ninth grade. I tried getting into the Iliad in college, but never made it. The speeches were too long.
It is not absence of suffering, not security of being, which in such an age encloses men and deeds in contours that are both joyful and severe (for what is meaningless and tragic in the world has not grown larger since the beginning of time; it is only that the songs of comfort ring out more loudly or are more muffled):
Songs of comfort—I love that. The problems never change. It’s just that the songs that used to give you the strength to carry on may not always work, depending on where you are in life and what you’ve learned. It’s not that your problems really change. It’s that your source of comfort seems more or less adequate. That seems quite true to me. While the story works, it’s almost as if you didn’t have any problems. Not serious ones, anyway.
it is the adequacy of the deeds to the soul’s inner demand for greatness, for unfolding, for wholeness.
That adventuring soul is out and about again. What else could the desire for adventure be but the soul’s inner demand for greatness, for unfolding, for wholeness? We know that we’re not just perfect as we are. We know we need to grow and learn. But it never occurs to us that we might not be able to grow into what it is we feel that we must be, what we were destined to be. God knows the thought never occurred to me. If we were meant to be great, and indeed the soul (well, my soul, anyway) demands it almost as if it were its birthright, then change is simply becoming more fully oneself. And if it is a birthright, a destiny, it was meant to be. The soul, then, seeks to be itself. The transformation is that self. It’s almost Hegelian.
When the soul does not yet know any abyss within itself which may tempt it to fall or encourage it to discover pathless heights,
The abyss within the self. Boy, I feel like I’ve gotten to know that over the past few years. You can never be innocent again. Innocence isn’t really the correct word. I guess the correct word would be naïve. But the naïveté lacks the positive sense that innocence connotes. We try to prolong innocence in our children. One knows that one cannot return to its beauty. To lose it is to lose it forever, except if you can see it again through the eyes of your children. And naïveté is a similar state. If you have not lost your naïveté, you have not yet learned to fear what the world can really do to you.
when the divinity that rules the world and distributes the unknown and unjust gifts of destiny is not yet understood by man, but is familiar and close to him as a father is to his small child, then every action is only a well-fitting garment for the world.
The image of God is seen as that of a father in Christian theology. Perhaps this is disenchantment—the replacement of the image of God with that of random chance. He says above that “from madness come enigmatic yet decipherable messages of a transcendental power, otherwise condemned to silence.” It sounds as if Lukács is a “death of God” kind of guy.
Being and destiny, adventure and accomplishment, life and essence are then identical concepts.
Being means to just exist. Destiny is existing, or better yet, acting with a pre-ordained, noble purpose—existing with meaning in that Weberian sense, the expression of will. Not our own will, but some transcendental will. The will of God. Adventure is a challenging situation when a person is out of his or her usual milieu. Accomplishment is the positive resolution of such a situation. The last pair seems a little more confusing for me. Life is, like being, existence, although as an animal or vegetable, not as an inanimate object. What is essence? I would guess the term means a specific, defined nature. If we look at each of the first two pairs as an analogy, essence must either a pre-ordained, noble nature or a positive culmination of nature. The term seems to be tied to ultimate meaning.
For the question which engenders the formal answers of the epic is: how can life become essence?
So the epic, as a form, gives us (or gave the Greeks, anyway) an answer to the question, “How can our mere existence become a pre-ordained, noble way of living that completes us and makes our lives meaningful?”
And if no one has ever equalled Homer, nor even approached him — for, strictly speaking, his works alone are epics — it is because he found the answer before the progress of the human mind through history had allowed the question to be asked.
And it’s likely that providing the answer to the question before anyone had ever asked is the only was that being could be destiny, adventure could be accomplishment, life could be essence. To ask the question, you have to be aware that, if you do the wrong thing, life could be rendered meaningless. To arrive at that conclusion, you would already have had to have done serious soul searching. To be able to ask the question is implicitly to know that simple existing is not destiny, that adventure need not lead to accomplishment, that life need not have or attain essence. Finding ultimate meaning must be a quest for such a person, a quest driven by the fear of having lived and died in vain. Only the innocent or naïve could assume that ultimate meaning lay in just being yourself. I know that I was like that when I was four years old. I quickly became the former kind of person, although I’d be hard-pressed to say when the change happened. I take it back. In the tenth grade I realized that if I didn’t get better grades, I wouldn’t go to college. That’s when it changed. There’s a lot of gray in between those two points, though.
This line of thought can, if we wish, take us some way towards understanding the secret of the Greek world: its perfection, which is unthinkable, for us, and the unbridgeable gulf that separates us from it. The Greek knew only answers but no questions, only solutions (even if enigmatic ones) but no riddles, only forms but no chaos.
Greek culture, then, in Lukács’s view is naïve. The reason we cannot attain its perfection is not because it was perfect, but because having no sophistication, it could satisfy the Greek perfectly and that is what we envy. We yearn to be innocent enough for that kind of answer to satisfy again.
He drew the creative circle of forms this side of paradox, and everything which, in our time of paradox, is bound to lead to triviality, led him to perfection.
I am having a great deal of trouble with this last phrase. The world made innate sense to the Greek because the forms that were available to learn all around him, the language that his world gave him to internalize, was innately matched to the world in which he lived. What is the creative circle of forms? It seems as if circles and roundness in Lukács represent completeness and perfection. If paradox is a river, than the Greek had never crossed it. So what is it that the Greek does in that world would be considered trivial today. The reason the Greek’s actions would lead to triviality today is because his world was a perfect fit without any difficulties. Perhaps the Greek, having no pressing need to ask questions, has few critical faculties. Today, his unassuming approach would constitute a joke. But back then, it took very little critical effort to believe that you’d gotten things right, that you were aligned with ultimate reality, with meaning.
When we speak of the Greeks we always confuse the philosophy of history with aesthetics, psychology with metaphysics, and we invent a relationship between Greek forms and our own epoch.
The philosophy of history is the effort to understand the nature of human experience. Aesthetics is knowledge of the beautiful. Psychology is the knowledge of the human personality. Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality. So what’s the source of the error, of our confusion? I need to puzzle this one out.
Behind those taciturn, now forever silent masks, sensitive souls look for the fugitive, elusive moments when they themselves have dreamed of peace forgetting that the value of those moments is in their very transience and that what they seek to escape from when they turn to the Greeks constitutes their own depth and greatness.
So sensitive souls look behind the now-dead image of the Greek face for the moments when the sensitive souls themselves have dreamt of peace. In doing so, the sensitive souls forget that the value of the moments when they dream of peace is in those moments fleeting nature.
So the fact that our dreams of peace are fleeting, that our gaze invariably turns elsewhere, this is valuable. When we look behind the Greek mask for escape from our world of transformative labor, what we are really looking is to hide from what makes us both deep and great. We turn to Greeks because we are timid.
More profound minds, who try to forge an armour of purple steel out of their own streaming blood
It’s a heavy metaphor, this forging armor out of streaming blood. Streaming blood suggests that these profound minds are wounded, possibly by their yearning for peace. They take this product of their suffering and try to make it into a hard, protective covering.
so that their wounds may be concealed forever and their heroic gesture may become a paradigm of the real heroism that is to come — so that it may call the new heroism into being — compare the fragmentariness of the forms they create with the Greeks’ harmony, and their own sufferings, from which their forms have sprung, with torments which they imagine the Greeks’ purity had to overcome.
So the pain and suffering is the result of their creative effort. Moderns look back to the Greek’s experience of perfection and argue for the Greeks to have created forms were that were as perfect as the Greek forms were, they must have suffered profoundly. The Greeks, in their view, are heroes, to be taken as models.
“so…their heroic gesture may become a paradigm of the real heroism that is to come — so that it may call the new heroism into being”—he sounds so Marxist. Hic rhodus, hic
Interpreting formal perfection, in their obstinately solipsistic way, as a function of inner devastation,
OED defines solipsism as “The view or theory that self is the only object of real knowledge or the only thing really existent.” So Lukács is saying that moderns have a flawed sense of empathy. Because what drives us, as moderns, to create is our sense of not being at home in the world, our very sense of alienation, we assume that to have produced forms as perfect as the Greek forms, they too must have suffered alienation.
they hope to hear in the Greek words the voice of a torment whose intensity exceeds theirs by as much as Greek art is greater than their own.
We wish not to be alone, then. If our art is less than that of the Greeks, we feel comfort in that the Greek suffering must have been far greater that our own. We follow the Greeks like Christians follow the saints in their sufferings. As Christians hoping that, by following the saints’ example, they might become perfect, so we follow the Greeks example, we might create a worldview as perfectly suited to us as the Greek’s worldview was suited to them.
Yet this is a complete reversal of the transcendental topography of the mind,
This is his point of irony. The reason that Greek forms expressed Greek life so perfectly is because the Greeks were so utterly naïve as to believe that they could encompass the whole world in their forms. The perfection we seek is the feeling of being at home everywhere, a feeling of a naïve child. It’s like me wishing that I was that kid of four years old again, who could not imagine a world better than one in which I had my teddy bear, hot dogs, cold cocoa (what the rest of the world called chocolate milk) and was watching Scooby Doo. It was pure bliss, but only pure bliss because I was a child. It could never satisfy me again. Yet, when since have I been so purely happy, simply happy, without qualification, complication?
Then, perhaps Genesis is right. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is the source of our unhappiness.
that topography whose nature and consequences can certainly be described, whose metaphysical significance can be interpreted and grasped, but for which it will always be impossible to find a psychology, whether of empathy or of mere understanding. For all psychological comprehension presupposes a certain position of the transcendental loci, and functions only within their range.
I don’t really know if I understand this. While we can describe how the transcendental topography of the human mind works to some extent, but we can’t understand this through empathy. Is it that we can’t transcend the human mind and find a place from which we can see the human mind objectively? Or is it that it is very difficult to understand how the mind works separate from our existing consciousness. That might be it. We’ve never been able to see how a Greek thinks and, since we can’t see that consciousness and all possible consciousnesses, we can’t use empathy to develop a very coherent theory of the mind. Encountering new consciousnesses will teach us new things about our present mind.
Instead of trying to understand the Greek world in this way, which in the end comes to asking unconsciously: what could we do to produce these forms? or: how would we behave if we had produced these forms? it would be more fruitful to inquire into the transcendental topography of the Greek mind, which was essentially different from ours and which made those forms possible and indeed necessary.
Now I begin to wonder if I’m even slightly right. I don’t think he means “transcendental” in the Kantian a priori knowledge sense. We don’t mean “the mind as it actually is” or “how the mind works separate from experience.” Or maybe it’s “mind” that I’m misunderstanding. Perhaps he means the underpinning concepts of a kind of consciousness that we can’t understand through empathy because we’ve never lived in that kind of a world before.
So, with our consciousness, one characterized by the experiences of disenchantment and alienation, we ask the wrong question. We ask “How can we be perfect, like the Greeks?” Rather than, “Why were the Greeks so naïve? How did their world shape their consciousness to be like that?”
We have said that the Greeks’ answers came before their questions. This, too, should not be understood psychologically, but, at most, in terms of transcendental psychology. It means that in the ultimate structural relationship which determines all lived experience and all formal creation, there exist no qualitative differences which are insurmountable, which cannot be bridged except by a leap, between the transcendental loci among themselves and between them and the subject a priori assigned to them;
For the Greeks, there was nothing that could be discovered that could destroy their image of the world (and really, their image of themselves and their place in the world, which amounts to the same thing). One has to experience trauma to understand other, darker possibilities.
that the ascent to the highest point, as also the descent to the point of utter meaninglessness, is made along the paths of adequation, that is to say, at worst, by means of a long, graduated succession of steps with many transitions from one to the next.
The Greeks apparently do now know that logic, that is saying that one thing equals another, is all that rests between the summit of knowledge and utter meaninglessness. I’m not sure I get this bit. Is it that we go over the argument only when the world doesn’t make sense? When we’re trying to find the flaw in the worldview? This sticks rather well to the trauma motif.
Or is it that rationalization (and not rationality, per se) is all that lets us believe that the world is anything other than meaningless. We build these structures to seduce ourselves into believing life is meaningful. That’s rather a dark interpretation.
Hence the mind’s attitude within such a home is a passively visionary acceptance of ready-made, ever-present meaning. The world of meaning can be grasped, it can be taken in at a glance; all that is necessary is to find the locus that has been predestined for each individual. Error, here, can only be a matter of too much or too little, only a failure of measure or insight. For knowledge is only the raising of a veil, creation only the copying of visible and eternal essences, virtue a perfect knowledge of the paths; and what is alien to meaning is so only because its distance from meaning is too great.
If I get this, then, he says that the world fundamentally is comprehensible with this Greek-type of worldview. You may not get it yet, but that is because you have yet to learn all the forms. But, if you have this worldview, you are sure that the forms are out there, ready for you to grasp. Hence, adventure to find the forms, a voyage of discovery, is the route to heroic perfection.
But I’m not a Greek. And I was like this until my mid-twenties. I was certain that my story worked. There was stuff I didn’t know, stuff to explore, but it never dawned on me that what I could learn could destroy my identity and worldview utterly. But I did look back in time to find perfection, however. I knew that was something that modernity had lost. I loved the great medieval syntheses that could look as if the disparate lived together in harmony. While I didn’t want to live in the past, I felt some element of this harmony needed to be recreated in the future. I have desperately wanted to feel that the forms matched the world and I felt safe. Safety is a fundamental element of being at home. But I was like the Greek in that I was sure that it could be done and that I had a role bringing it about. I was a bit of a romantic fool, sadly.
It is a homogeneous world, and even the separation between man and world, between ‘I’ and ‘you’, cannot disturb its homogeneity.
It’s as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. You buy a puzzle and you don’t know how the puzzle fits together, but you know that all the pieces fit together. There are lots of things we haven’t experienced yet, but we believe that all the pieces we will discover will indeed fit together. The fact that we don’t know how to fit them together does nothing to change our belief that the pieces do fit together, that they are part of a whole.
Like every other component of this rhythm, the soul stands in the midst of the world; the frontier that makes up its contours is not different in essence from the contours of things; it draws sharp, sure lines, but it separates only relatively, only in relation to and for the purpose of a homogeneous system of adequate balances.
Yes, we are separate from other people and things. This does indicate that we are different from other people and things. But those differences are only there because different parts are needed to create the great engine of the universe. Yet, we are all fundamental parts of the same great engine. The Greeks never doubted this.
For man does not stand alone, as the sole bearer of substantiality, in the midst of reflexive forms:
And that is the modern view of the world. I create the forms by which I recognize the world, therefore it is I who impart meaning to the world, beyond which there are objects that may well have no ultimate meaning and other subjects who themselves have created completely different forms.
his relations to others and the structures which arise therefrom are as full of substance as he is himself, indeed they are more truly filled with substance because they are more general, more ‘philosophic’, closer and more akin to the archetypal home: love, the family, the state.
Substance, in this context, refers to ultimate meaning. Ultimate meaning for the Greek is there, waiting to be found. It isn’t something subjective that we create. The world of relations, therefore, are fundamentally tied to the sacred.
What he should do or be is, for him, only a pedagogical question, an expression of the fact that he has not yet come home; it does not yet express his only, insurmountable relationship with the substance.
For the Greek, the question of how to deal with the meaning of life is something that he will undoubtedly discover in his adventure. For us, the question of the meaning of life may not be answered in the same, objective sort of way. This itself is the heart of our dilemma and what makes us “us” and not the Greeks.
Nor is there, within man himself, any compulsion to make the leap: he bears the stain of the distance that separates matter from substance, he will be cleansed by an immaterial soaring that will bring him closer to the substance; a long road lies before him, but within him there is no abyss.
The Greek may have a long road to discover the meaning of life, but he has no “abyss” because, for him, “the truth is out there.” We don’t share that certainty. Hence, we run the real risk of losing ourselves, that is, of having our identity invalidated.
Such frontiers necessarily enclose a rounded world. Even if menacing and incomprehensible forces become felt outside the circle which the stars of ever-present meaning draw round the cosmos to be experienced and formed, they cannot displace the presence of meaning; they can destroy life, but never tamper with being; they can cast dark shadows on the formed world, but even these are assimilated by the forms as contrasts that only bring them more clearly into relief.
As trite as this sounds, this bit above reminds me of the sci-fi flick Independence Day. Vicious aliens from God knows where may threaten the earth, and to be sure, they are incomprehensible. But that makes them so much more able to be cast as the enemy. The experience of dire threat forces the forms of what we consider to be sacred into the foreground of our thoughts. In this sense, our identity has never been more secure. The aliens may destroy us, but our destruction in no way invalidates our identity, nor the meaning of who we are. On the contrary, it makes our identity and its meaning all the more salient for us as we struggle to survive.
“Tout compendre, c’est tout pardoner.” If you understand the other, you may not wind up forgiving, but odds are, knowing the other changes who you are.
The circle within which the Greeks led their metaphysical life was smaller than ours: that is why we cannot, as part of our life, place ourselves inside it. Or rather, the circle whose closed nature was the transcendental essence of their life has, for us, been broken; we cannot breathe in a closed world.
We cannot “feel at home” using the methods that the Greeks used, because we cannot be innocent or naïve again. We yearn for completeness, but our minds test boundaries too easily. We know that we may be satisfied with our present boundaries, but they will eventually have to change.
This reminds me of the movie The Village. To create an innocent world, they had to create boundaries. To some extent, it worked. The children were innocent and pure. But their cleverly constructed consciousness with its myriad rules could not keep the children from testing those boundaries, trying to discover what lies beyond them. The Tree of Knowledge beckons now as it did then. We cannot breathe in a closed world. Our uncontrollable thirst to know drives us to look for open spaces. We will always seek to move beyond our consciousness. The only way we can be satisfied in a closed world is if we really have no idea that we live in a closed world. There’s the irony.
This reminds me of Genesis. If we could be content with the Garden, the naïve consciousness of the Greeks in which the answers are all there if we but reach out for them, we could be happy. But we wish to be gods, to know the more that lies beyond the garden walls, beyond the fringes of our consciousness. But this always entails a loss of innocence. The price of this knowledge is to never be able to return to the Garden again. Stronger than any cherubim is the knowledge that forms are created. The happiness of being at home everywhere will never be ours again. We can never again be innocent, which is why we seek to prevent its loss in our children, as we can recall how much the loss of innocence hurt us.
We can’t live with innocence, but we can’t live without out it. This, perhaps is the root of our suffering. We cannot live as animals, yet we cannot become gods. “You may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said, but do not imagine that you will create a man that lives longer than He.” I think the root of our happiness must rest in our ability to learn to accept this.
We have invented the productivity of the spirit: that is why the primaeval images have irrevocably lost their objective self-evidence for us, and our thinking follows the endless path of an approximation that is never fully accomplished.
The “productivity of the spirit?” I’m not sure that I follow what that means. In Hegel, spirit and mind are frequently the same. Could it be that’s the case here also? We now automatically test boundaries and limits, actively seek descriptive categories. We realize that there will always be another level of analysis, a greater possible synthesis. Knowledge is never complete for us. Knowledge can never be Platonic for us.
We have invented the creation of forms: and that is why everything that falls from our weary and despairing hands must always be incomplete.
If forms are created and not found, then they can be created other ways. Each way of looking at things will have its strengths and weaknesses.
We have found the only true substance within ourselves:
Meaning is something that human beings create, not something that we find. This is a critical difficulty for the traumatized individual. He or she searches for the meaning of what is often an utterly meaningless act that has traumatized them. The person only finds a meaning for the act when he or she assigns the act with a meaning, a meaning that can satisfy them emotionally. A raped woman ultimately cannot find the meaning of rape, why rape was visited upon her and not someone else. The horror is undeserved and often purely random, a result of simply coincidental timing and location (the phrase “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” itself seems to chip away at meaningless, as if a person could have known the place and timing were inopportune). Such event is charged with too much emotion to simply be released from the person’s focus. The only solution is to find a meaning, say found a rape crisis center to help others who have suffered this calamity, as a way to give the act meaning. This allows the act (as it is constructed in the person’s mind) to once more become a cognitively manipulable object that can once more be managed without evoking the unbridled emotional response of the moment in which the act occurred.
that is why we have to place an unbridgeable chasm between cognition and action,
Thinking takes place in our mind among constructed objects. We simulate the world in our mind by concocting rules for how each object (or subject, as the case may be) generally behaves. This is always an inaccurate, reductionist process. Action means real interaction with existing objects that behave according to their own rules, which are always far more complicated than we ever really understand. For Lukács’s Greeks, there is a chasm, but it can be bridged. They interact with the world, learn about it and then know it, in that Platonic sense of the word. The theory they create, expresses correctly the nature of the object it defines, as accurately as the perception of a god. We cannot be this naïve. We know that our theory may well be “good enough for government work,” but it will require revision, if not discarding, in time. Plato never accepted this.
between soul and created structure,
This one is harder. The soul for Lukács seems to be a constructed self that romantically is thought of as transcendent. It is, quite strictly, a created structure. Does he mean here that our belief in the transcendent soul is now irreconcilable with our discovery that the forms are created, that other forms can be created, that we ourselves ascribe meaning and do not simply discover it as a transcendent thing outside of ourselves?
between self and world,
Is the chasm between the self and the world a result of the fact that we create meaning? There is a world that is completely unknown to us, that probably only loosely accord to our forms in the most provisional of ways. We are never at home in this world; we are always estranged from it, for we can never truly know it.
why all substantiality has to be dispersed in reflexivity on the far side of that chasm;
Substantiality is probably meaning as substance is meaning. If something is dispersed, it is scattered in different directions so that its components are all far from distant from one another. If something is reflexive, it is turned back upon the mind itself. So all meaning is spread in different directions by being turned back upon the mind itself. Perhaps this means that in realizing that we all can ascribe forms, all meaning becomes dispersed because each individual is now aware that he or she creates that meaning for himself or herself.
Think of a form as a shape or container. Containers shape and contain substances. A form’s substance is meaning. I think I’m beginning to get why he always refers to substance instead of meaning. It’s a metaphor because a form is a container of sorts.
that is why our essence had to become a postulate for ourselves
A postulate is “an unfounded or disputable unproved assumption; a hypothesis, a stipulation, an unproven theory). So the meaning of our lives is now an unproven theory.
and thus create a still deeper, still more menacing abyss between us and our own selves.
Indeed, this is the very meaning of the term trauma as we understand it in psychology. We can no longer take our “selves” for granted.
Our world has become infinitely large and each of its corners is richer in gifts and dangers than the world of the Greeks, but such wealth cancels out the positive meaning — the totality — upon which their life was based.
We don’t live in a small, self-contained little world anymore. Our libraries are flooded with books. But we can never have that wonderful sense of completeness, that great four-year-old belief that life just can’t get better than Pooh Bear, cold cocoa, a hot dog and Scooby Doo. We always know that there’s something else around the corner.
For totality as the formative prime reality of every individual phenomenon
So believing that everything fits together into a single puzzle into which each piece was meant to fit—
implies that something closed within itself can be completed;
—means that each piece of the puzzle fits with the other pieces of the puzzle and is indeed precisely what we believe it is: a piece of the puzzle—
completed because everything occurs within it, nothing is excluded from it and nothing points at a reality outside it;
—and the puzzle is, of course, a puzzle that can be put together, because none of the pieces are missing and none of the pieces have a purpose other than being a part of the puzzle.
completed because everything occurs within it ripens to its own perfection and, by attaining itself, submits to limitation.
Leaning and growing is just becoming what you were always meant to be and, in being meant to be who you are, you are a discrete, known individual—the perfect you, a self that is perfect because it fits into God’s puzzle to serve the function that God intended so that the picture becomes complete in the fullness of time.
Totality of being is possible only where everything is already homogeneous before it has been contained by forms; where forms are not a constraint but only the becoming conscious, the coming to the surface of everything that had been lying dormant as a vague longing in the innermost depths of that which had to be given form;
For this totality of being, this confidence that everything is fated and fits into a divine plan, to make sense, the world would already have to be part of a unified scheme before we ever invented a form. Indeed, forms for such a person are not Weberian ideal-types, personal, one-sided inventions that can be created and recreated and, indeed, will be created and recreated because they must be adapted to changing understanding of the world, changed because they are never perfect. They are Platonic forms, perfect forms that we can become conscious of, but never create. In such a world, we do not create knowledge, we discover it. We become conscious as the universe unfolds for us as it was meant to unfold. The universe longs to become itself. What is destiny, but a yearning to become who one was always meant to be?
where knowledge is virtue and virtue is happiness, where beauty is the meaning of the world made visible.
This is precisely the world of Plato. Though I never knew it until know, it is the world I have yearned for since I was a child, not the world of Plato’s Republic per se, but a world “where knowledge is virtue and virtue is happiness, where beauty is the meaning of the world made visible.” How perfectly phrased! A world in which knowing is knowing the right thing, where knowing the right thing is doing the right thing, and in which doing the right thing will make you happy, where the whole process is itself the definition of beauty. The man can turn a phrase, that’s for sure.
That is the world of Greek philosophy. But such thinking was born only when the substance had already begun to pale.
And that makes all the sense in the world. The Greeks didn’t need philosophy until their first forms, forms they weren’t even conscious of inventing, were beginning to fail them. In this sense, is Plato’s Republic then an attempt to rejuvenate and restore a Greek worldview that could be taken for granted in that very way that someone who has never been traumatized can take their identity for granted? Should we see that attempt as heroic, or simply as naïve assimilation in the sense of the term suggested by Piaget? Or should we view it dispassionately, as part of a learning process by which we discovered the limits imposed upon us by the human condition? I’m not certain why I have such a deep need to know how I ought to feel about this, but I feel that it is important to know the proper emotional response. And I lack a clear way to establish an emotional context that will allow me to make that judgment.
If, properly speaking, there is no such thing as a Greek aesthetic, because metaphysics anticipated everything aesthetic,
OED defines metaphysics as “The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things or reality, including questions about being, substance, time and space, causation, change, and identity (which are presupposed in the special sciences but do not belong to any one of them); theoretical philosophy as the ultimate science of being and knowing.”
The aesthetic is “Of or pertaining to the appreciation or criticism of the beautiful.”
So the Greek philosophy of the real nature of things came before and pre-filled the need for a theory to explain the nature of beauty to Greeks before they were aware that they needed such a theory. Does this also mean that for the Greeks that “what exists” is also “what is beautiful?” Or is it more, “what is real is also what is beautiful?” I bet it’s the latter. We always come back to the naïve worldview in which all good things come in one package.
then there is not, properly speaking, any difference in
So to a Greek, there was not need to have a philosophy to explain the meaning of the story of a culture’s life. The story itself is self-explanatory. Greek culture was the only real and natural human expression. It was life as it was meant to be lived. Everything else was “bar-bar-bar.” Further, I imagine it had never dawned on the Greek the thought that history might be “one fucking thing after another”—a meaningless string of events. Of course, for the Greek, history is a meaningful story. It had not yet dawned on them that others held different lives to be meaningful and there is no way of adjudicating who is right, Moreover, it never dawned on them that everyone could be wrong and that life could feel and perhaps be meaningless.
the Greeks travelled in history itself through all the stages that correspond a priori to the great forms; their history of art is a metaphysico-genetic aesthetic, their cultural development a philosophy of history.
The forms in Lukács’s view then have two stages: history and philosophy of history. Forms have an origin and they have a development. So the origin of Greek forms appears to be bound to the Greek’s very creation and physicality and their development seems obviously to be the only possible development. There is no need to test matters further.
Within this process, substance was reduced from Homer’s absolute immanence of life to Plato’s likewise absolute yet tangible and graspable transcendence;
I wish I remembered my Homer better. I last read excerpts from the Odyssey in the ninth grade! Lukács believes that for Homer, life is very present, almost palpable, and one needed only reach out to it to participate in it. The Greeks eventually discover, however, that arriving at meaning requires more work, that things can go horribly wrong, but no problem. Plato gives us a perfect means of transcending the problem, perfect because it appears to solve the problem fully, graspable because all we need to solve the problem is reason.
and the stages of the process, which are clearly and sharply distinct from one another (no gradual transitions here!) and in which the meaning of the process is laid down as though in eternal hieroglyphics — these stages are the great and timeless paradigmatic forms of world literature: epic, tragedy, philosophy.
So we start in the heroic mold by reaching out to discover the world and our place in it—the epic. Yet, we fail, because we assume that we are more capable than we actually are (hubris) and discover unanticipated (and perhaps unanticipatable) problems—tragedy. We then turn to reflection to find a way of integrating the experience and feeling “at home” in the world again—philosophy.
The world of the epic answers the question: how can life become essential? But the answer ripened into a question only when the substance had retreated to a far horizon.
Homer answered the question of how life can be meaningful before the Greeks asked the question. They only asked the question when the need to ask arose, when they discovered that there could be a lack of meaning.
Only when tragedy had supplied the creative answer to the question: how can essence come alive? did men become aware that life as it was (the notion of life as it should be cancels out life) had lost the immanence of the essence.
“How can essence come alive.” If essence is meaning, the question is “How can meaning come alive?” So, apparently the reversals of the epic make us feel that meaning, while “there” is not alive. Is meaning dead because we have not yet given up the heroic ideal, but have not attained it, or in attaining it, did not find it as satisfying as we might have thought? I’m not sure I’m following here,
In form-giving destiny — and in the hero who, creating himself, finds himself, pure essence awakens to life, mere life sinks into not-being in the face of the only true reality of the essence; a level of being beyond life, full of richly blossoming plentitude, has been reached, to which ordinary life cannot serve even as an antithesis.
So in creating forms by which we recognize life, we create ourselves. But because we believe the forms are not created but actually are the true reality of things, we don’t acknowledge that we have just created ourselves. So we believe that we have discovered our true selves, the self that was meant to be. In performing this task of “discovering”/creating forms, we discover the concept of “ultimate reality” as a way of looking at the world. In comparison to this world of “transcendent” knowledge that is so richly charged with the powerful experience of an unleashed imagination, the world of day-to-day life comes to seem mundane—“mere life.” Routinized life cannot compare with the emotive richness of the experiences of the sacred and of charisma.
Nor was it a need or a problem which gave birth to the existence of the essence; the birth of Pallas Athene is the prototype for the emergence of Greek forms.
Again, I’m not sure that I’m following him correctly. The forms appear to us as if they leapt fully formed from the head of Zeus, probably because the emotive power of the experiences of the sacred and of charisma obscure the much more mundane, almost embarrassing origin of individual forms in practical problems and impromptu improvisation.
Just as the reality of the essence, as it discharges into life and gives birth to life, betrays the loss of its pure immanence in life,
Now this is where I have to be careful. I’m grafting Weberian vocabulary onto what he’s describing and I can’t sure that his concepts and Weber’s will accord to one another. But I’m amazed, in a sense, by how well this grafting of terms seems to work. We try to carry meaning into life. If the meaning is sacred, we are attempting to align to ordinary world to the profound and deeply meaningful patterns of ultimate reality, a process that over time, suffers from corruption. If the meaning is charismatic, we know that every charisma is on a short route to its own decay into routinized behavior. Meaning, then, can’t live easily in the ordinary world.
so this problematic basis of tragedy becomes visible, becomes a problem, only in philosophy; only when the essence, having completely divorced itself from life, became the sole and absolute, the transcendent reality,
So, when meaning isn’t something that we can take for granted, then philosophy is a problem. Philosophy becomes work in the sense that I mentioned above. When meaning is not something that is present in life but exists rather in an ultimate reality of forms, then we face the challenge of how to orient our lives toward the forms. Only the philosopher sees this as a problem. The non-philosopher experiences the tragedy and simply sees it as greater than himself or herself.
and when the creative act of philosophy had revealed tragic destiny as the cruel and senseless arbitrariness of the empirical, the hero’s passion as earth-bound and his self-accomplishment merely as the limitation of the contingent subject,
Philosophy understands that the experience of tragedy as the result of simply the arbitrary nature of the world. The philosopher understands that Oedipus was really just unlucky to have killed his father and married his mother. To the philosopher, the suffering of the tragic hero is the result of living on earth, an imperfect world, perhaps something that will be rectified in heaven. To the extent the tragic hero has achieved anything at all on earth, it is the result only of his limited subjectivity. The real life then, is the heavenly life in the realm of forms. The present is an illusion. I don’t know if I’ve gotten this right, but I’ll run with it and see where it goes.
did tragedy’s answer to the question of life and essence appear no longer as natural and self-evident but as a miracle, a slender yet firm rainbow bridging bottomless depths.
The tragic hero takes over from Homer’s living man, explaining and transfiguring him precisely because he has taken the almost extinguished torch from his hands and kindled it anew. And Plato’s new man, the wise man with his active cognition and his essence-creating vision, does not merely unmask the tragic hero but also illuminates the dark peril the hero has vanquished; Plato’s new wise man, by surpassing the hero, transfigures him.
I think I may get it. The epic hero reaches out in the spirit of adventure to discover meaning, which is assumed to be eminent, present and immediately palpable, just as a child who knows nothing of the world assumes that the world is fundamentally knowable because his or her parents have ready vocabulary and answers for everything that he or she might encounter for the longest time while he or she grows up. Eventually, however, the child reaches for something that is not palpable. Moreover, like Oedipus, the world has horrors that lie in store. Meaning is not palpable, not to be found in the tangible world. This is tragedy. The tragic hero learns to reach to the gods to the world of forms, for meaning. But the realm of gods is dark and inaccessible. C.S. Lewis says holy wisdom is thick and dark, like blood, not clear like water. The philosopher comes along to teach man how to gain access to the realm of forms, once more restoring man to meaning that is his own once more, in the case of Plato.
This new wise man, however, was the last type of man and his world was the last paradigmatic life-structure the Greek spirit was to produce. The questions which determined and supported Plato’s vision became clear, yet they bore no fruit,
Plato claims that he has restored man to meaning permanently by showing that the very use of reason “tractor beams” one, as it were, into morality. Is the reason that Plato’s questions have borne no fruit because modernity has rejected his answer?
the world became Greek in the course of time, but the Greek spirit, in that sense, has become less and less Greek; it has created new eternal problems (and solutions, too), but the essential Greek quality of τόπος νοητός is gone forever.
The “topos noetos” is the transcendent realm of the forms. Lukács tells us that for us, there is no longer a transcendent heaven of ultimate meaning toward which we today believe that we can orient our lives. We understand that we create the forms. They are not transcendent.
The new spirit of destiny would indeed seem ‘a folly to the Greeks’.
I don’t know what he means by the “new spirit of destiny.” Is not a scientific world a world without destiny? Perhaps a world without destiny for a Greek would appear to be a nihilist void. If according this life to ultimate reality, the world of forms is what gives meaning to this life and we discover that the forms are all invented by us, then is not our life meaningless?
Indeed, Plato’s Republic has as its goal the defense of meaning itself. A world where the forms are invented is Plato’s worst fear.
Truly a folly to the Greeks! Kant’s starry firmament now shines only in the dark night of pure cognition,
Kant wrote a Critique of Pure Reason to explicate what concepts are “hard-wired” into us as a result of how we perceive time and space. Presumably, Kant’s account is all that we can know that we have in common, as these are the forms or concepts that are not constructs created by individuals. They now are the only absolutes.
it no longer lights any solitary wanderer’s path (for to be a man in the new world is to be solitary).
For a human being in our world is to know that we each have an idiosyncratic construction of the world. No matter how well we learn to coordinate by means of language, my consciousness can never be yours. There is always a level at which we are alone.
And the inner light affords evidence of security, or its illusion, only to the wanderer’s next step. No light radiates any longer from within into the world of events, into its vast complexity to which the soul is a stranger.
We know that our consciousness is limited and, beyond its boundaries, is a world not waiting to present to us its forms and enable us to be creative, but the danger of the unknown. We cannot take the safety of the world for granted. Adventure, for us, can be reckless. Unlike Lukács’s Greek adventurer, we can feel only as confident as our perception of the accuracy of our consciousness will let us. And, indeed, we must know that it is entirely possible that our consciousness is false. All too probable. We are all too human.
And who can tell whether the fitness of the action to the essential nature of the subject — the only guide that still remains — really touches upon the essence, when the subject has become a phenomenon, an object unto itself;
And this is what trauma theory reminds us. We don’t even know ourselves. We have merely a theory of the self, an identity, which we can discover gravely to our shock, can be highly inaccurate.
when his innermost and most particular essential nature appears to him only as a never-ceasing demand written upon the imaginary sky of that which ‘should be’;
Is Lukács essentially saying that our feelings or morality are in essence simply feelings that we possess without reference to a realm of timeless forms, an ultimate reality?
when this innermost nature must emerge from an unfathomable chasm which lies within the subject himself, when only what comes up from the furthermost depths is his essential nature, and no one can ever sound or even glimpse the bottom of those depths?
How deep is this really? I would think that the horrifying thing is knowing that the values that we believe are so timeless that they somehow transcend us are only feelings, biological impulses that predate our species’ bizarre evolution into a sentience. The thing that has always frightened me the most is that meaning isn’t deep and transcendent, that it is something that we pull out of our asses—just one of the panoply feelings that spew out of our limbic system.
Art, the visionary reality of the world made to our measure, has thus become independent: it is no longer a copy, for all the models have gone; it is a created totality, for the natural unity of the metaphysical spheres has been destroyed forever.
Art, then, has the essential attributes that we believed the world to have—it is a unified, coherent whole. It can never emulate the world because it always is what the world cannot be—coherent, knowable, a place where we can feel at home.
To propose a philosophy of history relating to this transformation of the structure of the transcendental loci is not our intention here, nor would it be possible.
The philosophy of history is the effort to understand the nature of human experience. Lukács claims that we cannot understand the nature of our experience relating the transformation of consciousness, presumably because we can’t get outside of the experience of changing consciousness. Although, to some extent, that is untrue. We do have a theory of trauma. Moreover, Lukács changed his mind. He became a Marxist. Again, I am uncertain if I am following this well.
This is not the, place to inquire whether the reason for the change is to be found in our progress (whether upward or downward, no matter) or whether the gods of
So he notes that we have this problem, but won’t explain how the problem came to be. Perhaps the problem is simply the point of departure.
Neither do we intend to chart, however approximately, the road that led to our own reality, nor to describe the seductive power of Greece even when dead and its dazzling brilliance which, like Lucifer’s, made men forget again and again the irreparable cracks in the edifice of their world and tempted them to dream of new unities — unities which contradicted the world’s new essence and were therefore always doomed to come to naught.
So we won’t follow the path that led us here, nor explain the romantic inclination we have to attempt to find a Greek-type mental unity.
Thus the Church became a new polis, and the paradoxical link between the soul lost in irredeemable sin and its impossible yet certain redemption became an almost platonic ray of heavenly light in the midst of earthly reality: the leap became a ladder of earthly and heavenly hierarchies.
In Giotto and Dante, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Pisano, St. Thomas and St. Francis, the world became round once more, a totality capable of being taken in at a glance; the chasm lost the threat inherent in its actual depth; its whole darkness, without forfeiting any of its sombrely gleaming power, became pure surface and could thus be fitted easily into a closed unity of colours; the cry for redemption became a dissonance in the perfect rhythmic system of the world and thereby rendered possible a new equilibrium no less perfect than that of the Greeks: an equilibrium of mutually inadequate, heterogeneous intensities. The redeemed world, although incomprehensible and forever unattainable, was in this way brought near and given visible form. The Last Judgement became a present reality, just another element in the harmony of the spheres, which was thought to be already established; its true nature, whereby it transforms the world into a wound of Philoctetus that only the Paraclete can heal, was forgotten. A new and paradoxical
We will note that Christianity was the last, fully round totalizing image of the world that we could have. We regained
For the first time, but also for the last. Once this unity disintegrated, there could be no more spontaneous totality of being. The source whose flood-waters had swept away the old unity was certainly exhausted; but the river beds, now dry beyond all hope, have marked forever the face of the earth.
—only to lose it for the last time. The Enlightenment may have come and gone, but its impact has spoiled belief in a religious-type ultimate reality forever.
I think I understand this. After coming out, I could never be Catholic in the same way again. I feel in forging a Catholic identity, I created the most consistent identity that I could. I started from good material, material that seems to be the best and most cohesive system for representing ultimate reality that I could find. I worked relentlessly to understand it and align myself with it, having faith that its various ideals fit together into a non-contradictory system that could lead me to inner peace and salvation. The end result of find a logical contradiction, i.e. that I must love those who are marginalized and yet to realize that the code that makes me love the marginalized is simultaneously the source of that marginalization, has changed me forever. I am not searching for a new, cohesive system of ideals. Instead, I have come to believe that no system can reconcile all of the demands of the competing ideals a human being will hold. I am not in search of a new identity with a source outside of myself. I wanted a divine answer.
It’s not that I no longer believe in God. I really think I do. I just realize that God has not placed a single coherent answer before me to grasp. I tried to shoot right through life into the afterlife. For me, I see that there is no “safe” solution to the problem of life. I have to piece this together some sort of answer. I must actually live.
Henceforth, any resurrection of the Greek world is a more or less conscious hypostasy of aesthetics into metaphysics a violence done to the essence of everything that lies outside the sphere of art, and a desire to destroy it; an attempt to forget that art is only one sphere among many, and that the very disintegration and inadequacy of the world is the pre-condition for the existence of art and its becoming conscious.
The term “hypostasis” is theological concept of personhood. Jesus was a hypostasis with two natures, human and divine. When we turn back to the Greeks, we consciously wish to unify aesthetics, that which is beautiful, with metaphysics, that which is real. We want a world in which the ugly does not exist—a perfect world.
This exaggeration of the substantiality of art is bound to weigh too heavily upon its forms: they have to produce out of themselves all that was once simply accepted as given; in other words, before their own a priori effectiveness can begin to manifest itself, they must create by their own power alone the pre-conditions for such effectiveness — an object and its environment.
Unifying the beautiful and the real through art is far more easily said than done. If art can give us the sort of meaning we expect from an ultimate reality, it would have to restore that youthful faith that the world can be perfectly understood, that a form for everything that we encounter is waiting just beyond the frontier of our consciousness, waiting to be learned. We know too much now to achieve such an effect. To seek this out is to demand too much from art.
A totality that can be simply accepted is no longer given to the forms of art: therefore they must either narrow down and volatilise whatever has to be given form to the point where they can encompass it, or else they must show polemically the impossibility of achieving their necessary object and the inner nullity of their own means. And in this case they carry the fragmentary nature of the world’s structure into the world of forms.
For art to give us a world again, we must provide a world that is a small microcosm in enough detail that it feels real, or we must use art as a creative expression of art never being able to encompass life. To do either is to accept a single fact: our forms are not transcendent. We cannot encompass the world with our forms. Indeed, Our forms are imperfect, fragmentary, just as we see the world.