Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Schlegel: Some Fragments

I can't stop thinking about Friedrich Schlegel, although I don't know why.  An impetus is Andrew Bowie's great book From Romanticism to Critical Theory (London:  Routledge, 1997).  That book itself is awesome, and I can't stop thinking about it either. Bowie, who is fluent in German, provides his own translations of Schlegel.  But I also have before me Friedrich Schlegel Philosophical Fragments tr. Peter Firchow with an interesting long "Foreword" by Rodolphe Gasche (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press,  1991).  I will put B after Bowie's translations and F after Firchow's.  I will leave out German terms that Bowie includes.  I will leave in Bowie's bracketed explanations.

I can't stop thinking about him because I feel a certain affinity.  But I don't know exactly what that means, or means to me, and so that is why I am collecting my favorite passages here.  Schlegel writes purposefully mainly in fragments, and these are always hard to interpret.   Also it is nearly impossible to string them together into a system.  Here, then are some quotes, to which I will add in later revisions.  

"there is only one inherited fundamental mistake - the fundamentally wrong concept of the thing - which takes merely relative finitude [the particular transient object] as absolute and abstracts the shadow concept of BEING from life - Being is merely apparent, finitude only relative.  Being = life, without life, being = appearance."  (B 68)  Of course this sounds an awful lot like Nietzsche's criticism of Plato.

 "Correspondence with another truth - correspondence with itself [in a coherent system] is a better but empty [in the sense that it is not finally positive] characteristic than correspondence with the object, because one only ever has an idea....instead of the object, or there also is no object [in the sense that many true propositions do not refer to concrete entities in the world."  (B 70-71)

"The criterion of truth ....is, especially since Leibniz, defined as correspondence of the representation ...with the object;  this presupposes the half-empiricist separation of object and representation; the object would, as such, have to be compared with the representation;  but that is not at all possible, because one only ever has a representation of the object, and thus can only ever compare one representation with another."  (B 74)

"Truth arises when opposed errors neutralise each other.  Absolute truth cannot be admitted; and this is the testimony for the freedom of thought and of spirit.  If absolute truth were found then the business of spirit would be completed and it would have to cease to be, since it only exists in activity." (B 78)  

"Massive mistake, that only One definition is possible of every concept.  Rather infinitely many, real synthetic [definitions]"  (B 83)  

"Philosophy thought of in a completely pure way does not have its own form and language;  pure thought and pure knowledge of the Highest, of the Infinite, can never be adequately represented.  But if philosophy is to communicate it must take on form and language, it must employ every means to make the representation and explanation of the Infinite as distinct, clear and comprehensible as is at all possible; it will in this respect wander through the realm of every science and every art, in order to choose any aid which can serve its purpose.  To the extent to which philosophy encompasses all kinds of human knowledge in art, it can appropriate the form of every other science and of art....Just as philosophy as science is itself not yet completed, so its language is also not completed."  (B 85)  [Whenever I read the word "Infinite" in these writers I take it in a non-literal way, more as something like Kant's notion that an aesthetic idea can lead to to a string of seemingly endless thought. For me then "infinite" means that which gives a feeling that seems as if leading to something infinitely valuable.  It is a kind of heightened spiritual feeling, but no more than that, and certainly not a metaphysical claim, i.e. that there are infinite entities.]

"Every art and every science whose effect is achieved by language..., if it is practiced as an art for its own sake and achieves the highest peak, appears as literature."  (B 87) 

"A definition of poetry can only determine what poetry should be, not what it really was and is; otherwise the shortest definition would be that poetry is whatever has at any time and at any place been called poetry." (F 31)  [This point reminds me of Weitz's idea of honorific definitions.]

"Beautiful is what is at once charming and sublime."  (F30)  [This nicely captures the way in which beauty seems not only to reside between these two other aesthetic concepts but also partake of both. We often see beauty as isolated from the others, but it is really in dynamic relation with them.  I think that this is profound.]

"The fact that one can annihilate a philosophy - wherat a careless person can easily accidentally annihilate himself as well - or that one can prove that a philosophy annihilates itself is of little consequence.  If it's really philosophy, then, like the phoenix, it will always rise again from its own ashes."  (F 30)  [Philosophers today tend to see previous ideas as already and eternally destroyed.  Not true.  They can be revived.  "Romanticism" for example is endlessly pronounced dead.  But these fragments are high romanticism and I find them inspiring.]

"An idea is a concept perfected to the point of irony, an absolute synthesis of absolute antitheses, the continual self-creating interchange of two conflicting thoughts.  An ideal is at once idea and fact.  If ideals don't have as much individuality for the thinker as the gods of antiquity do for the artist, then any concern with ideas is no more than a boring and laborious game of dice with hollow phrases, or, in the manner of the Chinese bronzes, a brooding intuition of one's own nose."  (F 33)  [this is the first part of a longer fragment.]  [This seems a more attractive notion of an idea than Plato's.  It reminds us, of course, of Hegel.  But an important feature of this theory is that an idea is something that changes.  Another interesting feature is that it is "self-creating."  It is a meme that has its own life.]

No comments: