16 Dec 2008

Hegel's Sublime in Lectures on Aesthetics, partial summary

by Corry Shores
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Lectures on Aesthetics

Development of the Ideal in the Special Forms Of Art

the idea of the beautiful as the absolute idea contains a totality of distinct elements, or of essential moments, which as such, must manifest themselves outwardly and become realised.

In this way are produced the Special Forms of Art, which are "the development of those ideas which the conception of the ideal contains within it, and which art brings to light." These idea's development, then, is not accomplished by means of an external activity but rather by "the Idea, which develops itself in a totality of particular forms, is what the world of art presents us."

If the forms of art are based in the idea they manifest, the art form's idea manifests only when it is realised in its appropriate forms. "Thus, to each particular stage which art traverses in its development, there is immediately joined a real form." Thus when the artistic form itself is imperfect, so too is its idea. But such imperfect works are not defective, rather, they are just not the special forms of art that express the idea of its proper epoch.

There are three principle forms:

1) Symbolic Form:

Here the idea seeks its true expression in art without finding it; because, being still abstract and indefinite, it cannot create an external manifestation which conforms to its real essence.

It confronts the realm of nature and humanity as though it were a foreign world.

Thus it exhausts itself in useless efforts to produce a complete expression of conceptions vague and ill defined; it perverts and falsifies the forms of the real world which it seizes in arbitrary relations.

It only accomplishes a "superficial and abstract agreement" between form and idea, rather than combining, identifying, and totally blending the two. The result is that form and idea become disproportionate and heterogeneous.

2) Classic Form:

Yet the idea is incapable of remaining in abstraction and indetermination. Its free activity causes it to seize itself in its reality as spirit which is a free subject and is determined by and for itself, "and in thus determining itself it finds in its own essence its appropriate outward form." Classic form is this unity and perfect harmony between the idea and its external manifestation. In this form, art attains perfection, in as much as the idea as spiritual individuality and the form as sensuous and corporeal reality reach perfect harmony.

3) Romantic Form:

But spirit cannot remain in this form, because in order to reach its complete realization, it must pass beyond classic form to arrive at spirituality, which descends into its own depths, thereby revealing a Special determinate character and never departing from the finite. It's external form is entirely visible and limited.

The matter, the idea itself, because there is perfect fusion, must present the same character. Only the finite spirit is able to unite itself with external manifestation so as to form an indissoluble unity.

When becoming absolute or infinite Spirit, beauty is no longer completely realized in the external world's forms, "that it finds, as spirit, its true unity." In Classical Art, it breaks this unity; and in the Romantic Form, it abandons the external world for internal refuge.

Sensuous representation, with its images borrowed from the external world, no longer sufficing to express free spirituality, the form becomes foreign and indifferent to the idea.

Romantic Art, then, reproduces the separation of matter and form, but in the opposite way as in Symbolic Art.

As a summary of the foregoing, we may say that Symbolic Art seeks this perfect unity of the idea with the external form; Classic Art finds it, for the senses and the imagination, in the representation of spiritual individuality; Romantic Art transcends it in its infinite spirituality, which rises above the visible world.

Part I

Of the Symbolic Form of Art

I. Of the Symbol in General

The symbol constitutes the beginning of art, in the sense of it as an idea and as historical beginning, and so it is more of a precursor to art.

There are two types of symbols we distinguish: 1) the symbol that furnishes the conceptions or representations of art in this epoch, and 2) the symbols that are "nothing more than a mere unsubstantial, outward form."

Where the symbol presents itself under its appropriate and independent form, it exhibits in general the character of sublimnity. The idea, being vague and indeterminate, incapable of a free and measured development, cannot find in the real world any fixed form which perfectly corresponds to it; in default of which correspondence and proportion, it transcends infinitely its external manifestation.

This is the sublime style, but Hegel wonders if this is not more a matter of the immeasurable rather than the "true sublime." He then outlines what he means by the term "symbol."

1) It is a sensuous object that is not taken in its mere immediacy but rather in a more extended and more general sense. There are two terms regarding symbols that must be distinguished:
1a) a conception of the mind, 1b) a sensuous phenomenon, an image which address itself to the senses.

Thus all symbols are signs, but they are different from language's signs in that in the symbol

between the image and the idea which it represents, there is a relation which is natural, not arbitrary or conventional. It is thus that the lion is the symbol of courage, the circle of eternity, the triangle of the trinity.

And yet,

the symbol does not represent the idea perfectly, but only from a single side. The lion is not merely courageous, the fox cunning. Whence it follows that the symbol, having many meanings, is equivocal.

We may eliminate this ambiguity by conceiving the two terms separately at first, and then in combination, so that the symbol becomes a comparison.

The symbol taken in this sense applies to the whole of Oriental art history.

It characterises that order of monuments and emblems by which the peoples of the Orient have sought to express their ideas, but have been able to do so only in an equivocal and obscure fashion. Instead of beauty and regularity, these works of art a bizarre, grandiose, fantastic aspect.

The classic ideal is not immune from this. Its idea might be adequate, but the image expressing the idea might also represent other and foreign ideas, as for example in the characters of the Greek gods: although it might seem that mythology is a "collection of fables unworthy of the idea of God," there still may be some deeper meaning beneath them, and those who devote themselves to the philosophical study of this deeper meaning try to uncover those deeper meanings.

Thus myths are symbolic, and contain "a meaning for the reason; general thoughts upon the divine nature - in a word, philosophemes."

If we obtain their deeper meanings and sources, we may justify the different mythologies. "Thus the mythological fables contain a wholly rational basis, and more or less profound religious ideas."

2) But Hegel does not mean here to extend the symbolic to the entire domain of mythology, nor to "discover to what point the representations of art have had a symbolic or allegorical meaning." Rather, Hegel wonders

how far the symbol, properly speaking, extends as a special form of art, while still preserving its appropriate character, and thereby we shall distinguish it in particular from the two other forms, Classic and Romantic.


Man in a state of wonder at nature's mysterious concealed power desires to represent this internal sentiment of a general and universal power. "Particular objects - the elements, the sea, the waves, the mountains - lose their immediate meaning and become for the spirit images of this invisible power."

It is at this moment that art appears, "born of the necessity of representing this idea by sensuous images, which address themselves at once to the senses and to the mind."

This is especially so when art interprets religious ideas by seizing the relation uniting the "invisible principle to the objects of nature." Art in this origin gives birth to Symbolic Form. In it is a conflict "between matter and form; both imperfect and heterogeneous." There are two main phases of development in this strife:
a) No conflict at the beginning of art; there is undivided unity of matter and form, and hence they are barely even symbolic.
b) The symbol disappears; the idea is clearly conceived; the image is perceived distinctly from the idea.
There are intermediary points between these two extreme points of development:

I. The true symbol is the unconscious, irreflective symbol, the forms of which appear to us in Oriental civilisation.

II. Then follows, as a mixed form, or form of transition, the reflective symbol, of which the basis is comparison, and which marks the close of this epoch.

Part II

Of the Ideal of Classic Art

I. The Classic Ideal

1. The ideal as free creation of the imagination of the artist

The ideal of Classic art springs from the creative activity of the spirit, and it finds its origin in the "inmost and most personal thought of the poet and of the artist."

Despite the fact that Homer made use of traditional mythic materials, tradition alone

does not bring with it the precise idea and the form which each god is to represent. This idea these great poets drew from their genius, and they also discovered the actual forms appropriate to it. Thus were they the creators of the mythology which we admire in Greek art. The Greek gods are for this reason neither poetic invention nor an artificial creation. They have their root in the spirit and the beliefs of the Greek people ‑ in the very foundation of the national religion; these are the absolute forces and powers, whatever is most elevated in the Greek imagination, inspired in the poet by the muse herself.

Artists in this capacity unlike Oriental ones who creates only "wholly irrational and fantastic" works because they wish to represent the annihilation of personality, which is foreign to their inner nature. But in Classic Art, inspiration is personal.

1a) The gods are characterized by borrowing ideas from the human heart and life; thus "man recognises himself in these creations, for what he produces outwardly is the most beautiful manifestation of himself."

1b) They are true poets: "They fashion at their will the matter and the idea so as to draw from them figures free and original. All these heterogeneous or foreign elements they cast into the crucible of their imagination." But they do not then create some bizarre mixture, because all this disorder is "consumed in the flame of the their genius. Whence springs a pure and beautiful creation wherein the materials of which it has been formed are scarcely perceptible."

In this respect their task consists in despoiling tradition of everything gross, symbolic, ugly, and deformed, and afterward bringing to light the precise idea which they wish to individualise and to represent under an appropriate form.

This form is the human form, which appears as the "sole reality which corresponds to the idea."

c) By depicting the activities of the gods and finding their meaning, "the poet fulfils in part the role of priest, as well as that of prophet."

2. The new gods of Classic Art

2a) We should think in regard to the gods of "a concentrated individuality, which, freed from the multiplicity of accidents, actions, and particular circumstances of human life, is collected upon itself at the focus of its simple unity." Thus as both individuality and general existence, the god is at once both part and whole: "He floats in a just medium between pure generality and simple particularity. This is what gives to the true ideal of classic Art its security and infinite calm, together with a freedom relieved from every obstacle."

2b) But because the gods are not purely spiritual, but are disclosed more in an external and corporeal form that addresses both our eyes and spirit, the gods no longer admit the symbolic element "and should not even pretend to affect the Sublime." Classic beauty causes spiritual individuality to enter sensuous reality, fusing outward form with inward principle. Both the physical form and the spiritual principle are freed

from all the accidents which belong to outer existence, from all dependence upon nature, from the miseries inseparable from the finite and transitory world. It must be so purified and ennobled that, between the qualities appropriate to the particular character of the god and the general forms of the human body, there shall be manifest a free accord, a perfect harmony.

2c) Yet despite their particular character, the gods remain universal and absolute, as depicted in their changeless serenity.

Absolute existence, if it were pure, freed all particularity, would conduct to the sublime but, in the Classic ideal, spirit realises and manifests itself under a sensuous form which is its perfect image, and whatever of sublimnity it has shown to be grounded in its beauty, and as having passed wholly into itself. This is what renders necessary, for the representation of the gods, the classic expression of grandeur and beautiful sublimnity.

The divine peace which is reflected in the corporeal form comes from the fact that they are separated from the finite; it is born of their indifference to all that is mortal and transitory.

3. External character of the representation

The outer mode of Classical Art is found in the repose of the gods,

represented, not in situations where they enter into relation one with another, and which might occasion strife and conflicts, but in their eternal repose, in their independence, freed as they are from all aspects of pain and suffering ‑ in a word, in their divine calmness and peace.

Part III

Of the Romantic Form of Art

Introduction ‑ of the Romantic in General

1. Principle of inner subjectivity ‑

In Romantic Art, "the form is determined by the inner idea of the content or substance which this art is called upon to represent." At art's origin, the imagination tended toward struggling upward out of nature into spirituality. But because this was a striving for spirit, art could only provide "external forms for mere natural significations, or impersonal abstractions of the substantial inner principle which constitutes the central point of the world."

In Classical Art:

the perfection of art is here reached in the very fact that the spiritual completely pervades its outer manifestation, that it idealizes the natural in this beautiful union with it, and rises to the measure of the reality of spirit in its substantial individuality. It is thus that Classic Art constituted the absolutely perfect representation of the ideal, the final completion of the realm of Beauty. There neither is nor can there ever be anything more beautiful.

But there is something more elevated than the simple beautiful manifestation of spirit in immediate sensuous form. But because the spirit is inherently internal, the subjective and external separate so that the spirit may "arrive at a deeper reconciliation in its own element of the inner or purely spiritual."

The very essence of spirit is conformity with itself (self‑identity), the oneness of its idea with the realisation of the same. It is, then, only in its own world, the spiritual or inner world of the soul, that spirit can find a reality (Dasein) which corresponds to spirit. It is, thus in consciousness that spirit comes to possess its other, its existence, as spirit, with and in itself, and so for the first time to enjoy its infinitude and its freedom.

By attaining self-consciousness, spirit finds its own objectivity within itself, when before it was sought externally in sensuous forms of material existence.

Henceforth it perceives and knows itself in this its unity with itself; and it is precisely this clear self‑consciousness of spirit that constitutes the fundamental principle of Romantic Art.

If the spirit does

render itself beautiful, still it is evident that beauty, in the sense in which we have thus far considered it, remains for this content something inferior and subordinate, and develops into the spiritual beauty of the essentially internal ‑ into the beauty of that spiritual subjectivity or personality which is in itself (i.e., potentially) infinite.

But for the spirit to realize its infinite nature, it must rise above finite personality to reach the Absolute. Thus

the human soul must bring itself into actual existence as a person (Subjekt) possessing self consciousness and rational will; and this it accomplishes through becoming itself pervaded with the absolutely substantial.

2. Of the ideas and forms which constitute the basis of Romantic Art.

Romantic thought consists of "absolute internality, the adequate and appropriate form of which is spiritual subjectivity, or conscious personality, as comprehension of its own independence and freedom."

What is infinite and entirely universal is the absolute negation of all that is finite and particular.

It is the simple unity with self which has destroyed all mutually exclusive objects, all processes of nature, with their circle of genesis, decay, and renewal which, in short, has put an end to all limitation of spiritual existence, and dissolved all particular divinities into itself.

Subjectivity then overcomes the pantheon of gods.

In place of plastic polytheism, art now knows but one God, one Spirit, one absolute independence, which, as absolute knowing and determining, abides in free unity with itself, and no longer falls asunder into those special characters and functions whose sole bond of unity was the constraint of a mysterious necessity.

The external existence (Dasein) of God is not natural or sensuous, but rather is

the sensuous elevated to the supersensuous, to spiritual subjectivity, to personality, which, instead of losing the certainty of itself in its outer manifestation, truly for the first time attains to the present actual certainty of itself through its own reality.

God is not an ideal created in the imagination. He places himself in finitude and the outer accidentality of immediate existence, which at the same time knowing that as "the divine principle (Subjekt)" he remains infinite and creates this infinite. When the actual subject or person manifests God, art "acquires the higher right of employing the human form, together with the modes and conditions of externality generally, for the expression of the Absolute."

Classic art is fulfilled in Greek sculpture of the gods who "do not express the movement and activity of spirit which has gone out of its corporeality into itself, and has become pervaded by internal independent‑being (Fursichsein)." They lack "the actuality of self‑existent personality, the essential characteristic of which is self‑knowledge and independent will."

Externally this defect betrays itself in the fact that in the representations of sculpture the expression of the soul simply as soul ‑ namely, the light of the eye ‑ is wanting. The sublimest works of sculptured art are sightless.

However, the god of Romantic Art is a god who sees,

who knows himself, who seizes himself in his own inner personality, and who opens the recesses of his nature to the contemplation of the conscious spirit of man. For infinite negativity, the self return of the spiritual into itself, cancels this outflow into the corporeal.

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