Thursday, July 24, 2014

Schelling, Bowie, aesthetics, and metaphor

I have been reading Andrew Bowie's Schelling and Modern European Philosophy:  An Introduction. (Routledge, 1993).  This is pretty difficult reading and I do not recommend it for the beach or for beginners.  However Bowie does a good job of relating Schelling to contemporary concerns not only in continental philosophy (Heidegger read Schelling, for example) but also analytic philosophy (Rorty and Davidson).  I cannot say that I fully grasp Bowie's argument, or at least I don't quite "get" it.  However, since Kant is so important to aesthetics and since Schelling takes art very seriously it is worth looking at.  Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling lived between 1775-1854.  His "On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature" 1807 in Alexander Sesonske What is Art:  Aesthetic Theory from Plato to Tolstoy (New York: 1965) is just one example of his writing on aesthetics.  But why re-consider Schelling?  As Bowie observes, some of the young Hegelians who raised criticisms of Hegel himself heard Schelling lectures in 1841-2.  This means that he had at least indirect influence on such figures as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Marx (not necessarily a positive one...Ruge, Marx's friend, heard the lectures and thought that Schelling was no longer a philosopher. But the young Marx thought highly of the young Schelling.)  His thoughts also found their way into Coleridge's Biographia Literaria on productive imagination and thence to the work of the American Transcendentalists.  I am not much interested in Schelling's direct claims but rather, I am interested in him as a source of inspiration for alternative ways of seeing aesthetics.  This has not been done much, for example, there has only been one article devoted to Schelling in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.  Bowie thinks that reading Schelling can help us understand overcoming metaphysics in the name of post-metaphysical thinking, the kind of thing Richard Rorty was trying to do.  To do this we need to set aside Schelling's interest late in his life in turning Christianity into a philosophically viable religion.

What first got me interested in Bowie's book was a subtitle of the Introduction, which also happens to be the title of one of my articles, "Metaphor and Metaphysics." (My article of that name is in Metaphor and Symbolic Activity (Special Issue on Metaphor and Philosophy) 10:3 (1995) 205-222.) Rorty says that to think of metaphor as a source of belief, in addition to inference and perception, is to "think of language, logical space, and the realm of possibility, as open-ended.   It is to abandon the idea that the aim of thought is the attainment of a God's-eye view."  (5, Rorty, 1991)  I find this helpful.  Bowie's point is that Schelling's views on metaphor do not rely on typical assumptions of metaphysics, and so can contribute to this Rorty-like anti-metaphysical project.  (Bear in mind that these quotes are from twenty years ago and that Rorty is no longer "in favor." I remain, however, a big fan.)  The idea suggested is that the key terms of metaphysics are themselves metaphors, and that metaphor also indicate or draw our attention to the pre-understandings of the world that are prior to language.  (This leads me to think of Richard Shusterman and his insistence on bodily forms of understanding that are prior to language.  There may be an affinity between Shusterman and Schelling.)  Rorty, unfortunately, as Bowie observes, distinguished between metaphor and meaning, thinking of metaphor as innovative use of language and meaning as involving standard inferential connections.  Bowie nicely says: "The problem with Rorty's conception is that it involves retaining a firm distinction between 'problem-solving' (meaning) and 'world-disclosure' (metaphor), which he...wishes to keep strictly separate." (7)Yes, why keep them separate given that metaphors can be helpful in solving problems?  Bowie also says "metaphor can be said inherently to keep alive certain approaches to philosophy that analytical  philosophy in particular had for a time tried to consign to oblivion." (7)  In this respect I love the following quote by H. H. Holz (whom, Bowie says, was influenced by Schelling).  "Every basically metaphorical, because it names and opens up with the means of the known what is not yet known....Everything which is not empirical....can only be said in metaphor.  By being made into an image it can be generally experienced - and this experience is always initially an understanding of the images.  The concept comes to be used in a fixed and identical way and more and more loses its metaphorical character."  (8, cited from Wustehube, 1989).  Bowie finds similar views in Schleiermacher, Humboldt, Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel (the Romantics) arguing that art can show what philosophy cannot say.  Another way in which I find some sympathy with Schelling is his struggle against mechanistic determinism and his effort to develop a theory of emergence in which freedom (and creativity) are possible.  What I think is that metaphors that are live and powerful capture essences.  See my unpublished manuscript
on this.   

In the course of rethinking Schelling it is worthwhile to keep the following quote from Michael G. Vater's essay on Schelling in the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics in mind:  "By focusing on the dialectic of conscious and unconscious intention in the artist's psyche, Schelling shifted the inquiry from the cognitive processes of the artist to the work of art itself, to its multiply determined (or "symbolic") meaning inside the public world of cultural objects.  Implicit in his treatment of aesthetic production as the function of imagination...was a general theory of semiotics...Schelling found symbolism and schematism at work in all artistic domains:  formative, plastic, and literary arts..."  (220)  

Another thing I need to bear in mind is that there are commonly said to be three phases in Schelling's thought (this, based on Vater):  Fichte-influenced aestheticism (1794-1800), identity philosophy (1801-1806), philosophy of history (1809-1815), and philosophy of God (1821-1846).  For the atheist with aesthetic interests, the first phase would seem the most interesting, although Bowie has interesting arguments for the value of the last phase as well.  Vater's article also leads me to think that the key reading for Schelling would be the 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism since he soon after came to believe that philosophy was methodologically self-sufficient and began to see the artist as a mere unconscious collaborator for the philosopher.  The subjugation of arts to philosophy seems like the same old story told once again.  

Here is Vater on the System of Transcendental Idealism:  "Schelling makes aesthetics the region that unites theoretical and practical philosophy, not the passive experience of viewer, auditor, or reader, but the peculiar productive activity of the artist: 'aesthetic intuition.'  In Kant's language, an intuition of x is both my representation of x and the production of the x represented.  In producing the work of art, the 'intuitive' creator performs a knowing-as-doing that is more fundamental than the nonproductive knowing and the noncognitive production that differentiate 'knowing' and 'doing' in other phenomenal contexts.  Also, conscious and unconscious productivity, the forces constructive of the natural and social worlds, merge here in the artist's psyche as the interplay of conscious and unconscious intention.  In the very independence of the finished work of art from the material and psychological sources of its production is proof that the artist produces more than she literally knows."  (221)



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