A Discussion about Beauty in Dialogue between Schiller & Kleist


a.)  In Schiller’s theory of beauty he deduces a number of claims based on his objective principal as opposed to his previous subjective notions.   He claims that it is incompatible to deduce beauty from notions that can only be determined, i.e. not autonomous.  It is through self-determination (practical reason) resonating from certain appearances of nature, which he calls beauty, in that we demand nothing other than freedom from them and that they be it through themselves (autonomous).  It is thus an analogy of the pure determination of the will.  Once the objects discovers’ its determination it seems less free, which places the determination outside of the object and not in the object.  It is through the judgment of taste, that he claims the beautiful object must be rule-governed, but it must appear as free of rules.  Schiller makes it clear to us that we are to leave the theoretical investigation aside and take the objects only as they appear, since they are concepts and not intuitions.  Therefore, a form is beautiful only if it explains itself; explaining itself here means to explain itself without the help of a concept, i.e. when it demands no explanation. Thus, the subjective principle can be led over into the objective.

From here, he follows the field of experiencing beauty.  He claims that strict regularity is as if it were mathematical, which leads to forcing the concept from its origin: strict purposefulness and usefulness, thereby destroying the autonomy of appearance.

To strengthen his principle, he compares a moral object with an object, and claims that the moral purpose of a work of art or an action contributes so little to its beauty that these moral purposes are best hidden, and must appear to come from the nature of the thing completely freely and without force.  The next would be to show that the quality of things which we call beauty is one and the same with this freedom in appearance.  Firstly, the objective fact about things which enables them to appear free and secondly, that freedom in appearance carries with it an effect on our capacity for emotion, which is the same as the emotions we feel when experiencing a representation of the beautiful.

Schiller wants to show by induction and by psychological means that a feeling of pleasure must flow from the combined concept of freedom and appearance, the harmony between reason and sense, which is the same as pleasure and which accompanies the representation of beauty.  Freedom of appearance is one with beauty.

b.)  Schiller extends his theory of beauty in art through two passages, the first being beauty of choice, which concerns what the artist depicts, hence the free depiction of beauty.  This however, limits itself to the conditions of natural beauty.  Whereas the second being the beauty of depiction of form is an imitation of nature and cannot exists without the artist, hence the unification of the two is what makes a great artist.  In beauty of form, it is the artist that depicts it, which is the free depiction of truth in art.

Schiller incorporates all mediums of the artist, in visual arts, performance arts and literary arts.  He extends his objective principle in his approach that a product of nature is beautiful if it appears free in its artfulness and if it depicts a product of nature as free, i.e. the concept in freedom of depiction.  He claims that there are three natures which grapple with one another in the process:  the nature of the object to be depicted, the nature of the matter depicting the object and the nature of the artist which is supposed to bring the other two into harmony, in order for the product of art to be presented to the imagination as self-determining.

In an artwork, the matter, which is the nature of the imitating object, must lose itself in the form (the imitated object), the body in the idea, the reality in the appearance.  Schiller then goes on to the manner and style in which the artist depicts the forms, thereby classifying the artist into three categories:  the great artist who shows the object (its depiction is purely objective), the mediocre artist that shows himself (his depiction is subjective), and the bad artist that shows his material (his depiction is determined by the nature of the medium and by the limitations of the artist).

He reflects these three cases on the actor, who is drawn in as a metaphor to their role as matter to form, as the body to the idea, as reality to appearance.  His depiction was full of style, first because it was completely objective and did not include any subjective elements and second, because it was objectively necessary, not merely contingent.

In drawing and the plastic arts it is obvious enough how much the depicted nature suffers if the nature of the material is not fully dominated.  He claims this to be more difficult to apply this principle to poetic depiction, in that the medium being words and their relations are determined by rules if which grammar is the system.  To overcome the problem of universality and it being a concept which robs the object from its individuality, the poet must vanquish matter (words and their inflection and laws of construction) through form (namely its application) in order for it to be free.  The nature of language (this is its tendency to the universal) must completely subjugate itself under the form, the body must lose itself in the idea, the sign in the term and reality in appearance.  The object to be depicted must step forth freely and victoriously from the depicting object in spite of all the chains of language and stand before the imagination in its whole truth, liveliness and personality.  In a word: the beauty of poetic depiction is: ‘free-activity of nature in the chains of language’.      

c.)  Kleist understands beauty by reflecting a simulated dialogue between two people, in which the one character, a dancer and marionette master, manifests that puppets are more graceful than even the most skilled dancer.  The dancer had informed the gentleman that a he can “improve and learn many things from the puppets”, and that he received great “pleasure” out of the pantomime, as their mechanisms are designed to move in accordance with centers of gravity and other natural physical forces.  He metaphorically draws parallels to the single lines held to a puppet and a dancers’ soul.  The puppets motions are mostly automatic and fluidly mechanical, almost as if they move on their own, along with them being light and that they maintain their center of gravity unlike dancers.  Moreover, this comparison between puppet and human being brings our attention to the irony in that the dancer contradicts all aesthetic concepts.

The gentleman, still not convinced that a mechanical puppet could equal to the grace in the structure of a human body.  The dancers’ response is that “only a God could compete with inanimate matter”.  Kleist manages to unite these words towards the end of the story, as the dancer evokes the gentleman with a metaphor of the fall from paradise, and the journey back to it.

Kleist agrees with vanity destroying grace in his related story about the boy with a splinter, in that humans possess a sense of vanity through the consciousness.  The young man continued to do the same gestures, however, constantly failed in his attempts – in vain.  The movements had become comical.  With the young man’s awareness, he had lost his attraction, restrained the free play of his gestures.  The fact is that the boy never manages to contain the same aesthetic effect, proves that human consciousness in his ability to reflect, stunts the boy from ever achieving the same beauty as before.

The dancer then relates a similar story “the fencing bear”, which is once again an allegory of mans consciousness which does not allow for spontaneous gracefulness.  It seems that the bear is acting purely on its nature, and the fencer is portrayed as being self-conscious in deep concentration.

The story concludes the meaning of beauty through grace, in that once you have gained all the knowledge possible, that the self-consciousness becomes weaker and gracefulness manifests itself more and more radiantly and dominantly and the only way to regain this pure form (paradise) of grace is to reach an exaggerated form of consciousness (infinite).

d.)  Both Kleist and Schiller create a split in their understanding of beauty, between reason (experience) and knowledge (consciousness), in that they both need to be harmonized in order to understand beauty.

Both Schiller and Kleist, opt for determining yourself from within yourself, where a demand for freedom that the object be what they are through themselves.  However, for Schiller this is only possible through practical reason, since the concept of freedom cannot be found in theoretical reason.  Schiller uses a comprehensive method in his approach, and with his repetitiveness on the self-determination, that he manages to transform the sensuous world into a free product of our reason.

The metaphysical theory in and behind Kleist’s first essay is that consciousness, man’s ability to reflect, is the expression of a fall out of nature’s harmony, which may either lead to dysfunction, when the flow of feelings is interrupted or blocked by thought, or to the stimulation of ideas, when the flow of feelings is cooperating or struggling with thought.  A state of total harmony, however, cannot be reached.  Only in total harmony of thought and feeling life and consciousness would come to be identical through the total insight of the mind.

  e.)  Both Schiller and Kleist agree that beauty is autonomous within itself.  Schiller refers to beauty as being objective and can be found and imitated through the nature of itself, along with the pure self-determination of the will.  It is the self-determination which gives contact to both Schiller and Kleist, in that once the object discovers its determination it seems less free and destroys the autonomy of the object.  For Kleist, he takes the empirical route, it starts with a naïve vanity, along with feeling getting in the way, destroys gracefulness in his definition of beauty, and the only way to overcome this vanity is to take the journey of infinite knowledge and experience which leads you back to a superior state, whereas Schiller realizes the importance of reason but believes that feeling must counter it.  He combines the concept of freedom and appearance, harmony between reason and sense – which for him is the same as pleasure which leads to freedom of appearance being beauty.  Schiller and Kleist differ regarding reason (subjective) and perception (objective).

Kleist bases his definition of beauty through a subjective approach being reason, as it is through knowledge and experience that will lead you back to a superior state in order to incorporate grace.  Whereas Schiller persisting in his approach of the objective, manages to combine the subjective with the objective in claiming that the highest perfection of character in a person is moral beauty brought by the fact that duty has become its nature, along with the fact the idea that truth will set one free.

By Demetrios Voulgarellis (Thanks to Prof. Markolefas)

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