In 1796 a German politico-philosophical manifesto proclaims the 'highest act of reason' as an 'aesthetic act'. The ways in which this transformation relates to the development of some of the major directions in modern philosophy is the focus of this book. The book focuses on the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement, forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason. The early Romantics, who, after all, themselves established the term, can be characterized in a way which distinguishes them from later German Romanticism. The 'Oldest System Programme of German Idealism', is a manifesto for a new philosophy and exemplifies the spirit of early Idealism, not least with regard to mythology. The crucial question posed by the Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling of the System of Transcendental Idealism (STI) is how art relates to philosophy, a question which has recently reappeared in post-structuralism and in aspects of pragmatism. Despite his undoubted insights, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's insufficiency in relation to music is part of his more general problem with adequately theorising self-consciousness, and thus with his aesthetic theory. Friedrich Schleiermacher argues in the hermeneutics that interpretation of the meaning of Kunst is itself also an 'art'. The book concludes with a discussion on music, language, and Romantic thought.
All art is situated in social contexts that involve links between cultural production and mechanisms of power. One of the assumptions of traditional literary or other artistic education is that its job is to promote the development of people's ability to judge well, a skill which is part of being able to live well. Culture thrives on critical judgement, and criticism needs models which, without becoming fetishised, can reveal the deficiencies of inferior cultural production. Immanuel Kant's aim of universality in aesthetic judgement depends on the freedom of the subject which seeks a community of agreement with others in relation to its affective and other responses to art and natural beauty. For T. W. Adorno universality is precisely likely to be the result of objective pressures for conformity of the kind which recent theory analyses in terms of the repression of the other.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on some of the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. It discusses the work of two of the founding figures of aesthetics: Alexander Baumgarten and J.G. Hamann. Baumgarten's Aesthetica and Hamann's Aesthetica in nuce, begin to suggest what is at stake in the emergence of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy. The book describes the story of modernity told by the proponents of the 'postmodern condition', like Jean-François Lyotard, has its roots in the work of Heidegger. It also describes the power of Heidegger's ideas is evident in the way they have influenced many contemporary theories of modernity.
The importance attributed to aesthetic questions in recent philosophy becomes easier to grasp if one considers the reasons for the emergence of modern aesthetic theory. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement (CJ), forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) and Critique of Practical Reason. Dieter Henrich regards the crux of Kant's epistemology as the justification of 'forms of cognition from the form and nature of self-consciousness'. Kant's attempts to come to terms with the 'supersensuous substrate' of the subject's relationship to the object threaten to invalidate the boundary between law-bound nature and the autonomy of rational beings which was essential to the CPR. Kant himself actually follows aspects of the Enlightenment tradition of understanding music and objects, by seeing music as a 'language of emotions'.
The term Romanticism is notoriously vague, and it is important to see that the early Romantics, who, after all, themselves established the term, can be characterized in a way which distinguishes them from later German Romanticism. Both Idealism and Romanticism are aware, as was the younger Karl Marx that the revelation of the hollowness of theology does not lead to the disappearance of the needs which gave rise to it. The 'Oldest System Programme of German Idealism' (SP), is a manifesto for a new philosophy and exemplifies the spirit of early Idealism, not least with regard to mythology. The SP introduces the 'idea that unites all ideas, the idea of Beauty, taken in the higher Platonic sense'. The idea of beauty is supposed to overcome the gap between laws of nature constituted via the understanding and what reason is to do with this endless diversity of particular laws.
The conflicting image of the I is evident in three of the most notable explorations of the nature of the I in German Idealism and early Romanticism. Those of J.G.Fichte, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Novalis, and the questions they raise remain central even to contemporary philosophy. Fichte wishes to found philosophy upon the one 'condition' which must be absolute and immediately certain, which is therefore itself 'unconditioned'. Hölderlin poses the problem of the identity of the self in modernity in paradigmatic fashion. Manfred Frank claims that the 'primacy of being over consciousness' leads Hölderlin and the Romantics to a ground which can only be represented by 'the darkness of aesthetic representation'. Frank suggests that for Novalis 'reflection can illuminate and correct the inverted relation of consciousness to being/reality by a further reflection upon the ordo inversus inscribed in it'.
The essential idea of Schelling's Natur philosophieis that, in the same way as the I of self-consciousness is both active and try to reflect upon as an object, nature is both actively 'productive' and is made up of objective 'products'. Schelling attempts to address the identity of the processes of nature with the processes of thought in terms now more familiar from Freud. The System of Transcendental Idealism (STI), aims at a view of nature in which our free actions can be in accordance with what happens in both external and internal nature. Schelling used the model of the plant in order to suggest a unity of subject and object, freedom and necessity. The Idealist aspect of the STI's investment in the aesthetic becomes apparent when the development of history is seen in the same terms as the work of art.
The beginning of aesthetic theory and the end of art
This chapter focuses on the significance of aesthetics in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's work. Hegel's work on aesthetics has two main aspects. On the one hand, he produced the most influential systematic aesthetics of the nineteenth century; on the other, he announced the 'end of art' as an expression of the 'absolute' in modernity. The problem in Hegel's aesthetic theory is basically that the truth of a work of art emerges most completely via its conceptual articulation, which leads one beyond the art work towards philosophy. Hegel sees music as only part of the prelude to the fully transparent and articulated concept of philosophy. In Phenomenology of Spirit (PG) Hegel claims that language is the 'existence of Geist', which helps suggest why his communitarian interpreters think he is so vital to contemporary debate. The PG is an account of the stages of the process of 'self-recognition in the other'.
F.D.E. Schleiermacher's essential move is to argue, while providing an account of self-consciousness which is still significant for the philosophy of mind, that these conditions depend on language, and that languages change with history. Instead of setting up definitive boundaries between art and non-art, Schleiermacher sees the possibility of transitions from one to the other in any sphere of activity. In the Aesthetics Schleiermacher distinguishes between 'identical activities' and 'individual activities', which is his version of what Richard Rorty sees in terms of 'public' and 'private'. Schleiermacher introduces the notion of art in order to suggest how the individual, disclosive dimension of language is always an issue in interpretation. The individuality that Immanuel Kant reserved for the genius in art, who established new rules via aesthetic production, is carried over into all areas of linguistic usage and thus into all areas of human activity.
The divergent interpretations of the relationship between music and language in modernity are inseparable from the main divergences between philosophical conceptions of language. Music provides an ideal illustration of the need for the approach, precisely because, as Paul de Man shows, it helps us to ask vital questions about the nature of language in relation to metaphysics and aesthetics. Music is inextricably linked to the emergence both of aesthetic autonomy and of the modern idea of literature. The idea of Logos, whether in the form of a liturgical text or of the words of a song, is still basic to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's conception. A valid conception of Romanticism, for Walter Benjamin, depends on how one approaches the possibilities of the exploration, and the question of 'reflection', the splitting into related aspects that mediate each other, is central to a conception.