Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel I

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for the last 8 days, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

Tragedy is given  a high status by Hegel, so that like Aristotle he makes it the highest form of ‘poetry’, whether in the sense of the literary arts, or the arts in general. So it is the end of art, in the sense that art’s highest goal is realised there. There is also the well known ‘end’ or ‘death’ of art in Hegel presented in the Introduction to the Aesthetics (vol. I, 10). Here Hegel refers to the suppose disappearance of art, as representation of the absolute, in his own time. This is not the complete death of art, but can be regarded as the death, or end, of art as form of the absolute, in the unity of ethical principles and particular experience. Philosophy and religion both exceed art as representations of spirit, when they become removed from picture thinking. Some Hegel commentators, such as Beiser, also emphasise the alienation of the artist as important to the ‘death of art’ ( 305), though that is perhaps more an effect than a product of the ‘death of art,’ which is a consequence of the development  of philosophy and religion, and maybe the structure of society itself beyond picture thinking.

For Hegel, there is a need for language in art in relation to subjectivity, which is self-conscious and universal, according to the Phenomenology of Spirit this comes about when the artist realises that the work of art is not the same as the artist, challenging the original subjective assumption (§ 710, § 729). Religion itself was previously entangled with art and picture representation in Hegel’s account. The death comes from Enlightenment, from the development of philosophy from Kant, and the associated manner in which religion has become detached from the mythical. In the development of art, Hegel refers to an associated shift from epic to the novel, which has an ephemeral status in comparison with epic. The emergence of the novel is itself part of the death, or end, of art.

It is this position which leads Hegel to a major underestimation of the significance of Don Quixote in Aesthetics I,  which he suggests only portrays the ridiculous in its parody of chivalry (194, 196) and a general failure to see the philosophical, and form giving, aspects of the novel. However, this is not just the error of Hegel, in some respects it is the positive achievement of a rigorous application of a guiding principle, an achievement which does provide some principles for looking at art after its partial death, with regard to the autonomy of art. In Hegel’s philosophy of art, the element of social realism in the novel is a disturbing factor for Hegel, as he associates spirit in art with the manifest domination of spirit. The death is a repeated one, appropriately since Hegel regarded repetition as a feature of history in The Philosophy of History (313), though whether the repeated death of art fits in with Hegel’s Philosophy of History is another question. In Hegel’s account, art, particularly with regard to the literary arts, goes through a new stage of the unity of particular experience and moral principle, at every new stage. This is particularly clear with regard to Greek epic, Greek tragedy, and the emergence of the novel.

There is a a death of epic is parallel with the death of tragedy. Tragedy dies as a form of absolute spirit with the general ‘end of art,’ but before that as the death of ancient tragedy (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) in modern tragedy. In Hegel Ancient tragedy means Athenian tragedy. This is partly because Athens was the unique source of Ancient Greek tragedy. It is partly because Hegel ignores the tragedies of Seneca, the most obvious Roman achievement in tragedy. For Hegel, satire dominates Roman poetry. Modern tragedy means Shakespeare in particular, largely leaving aside Marlowe, Racine, Corneille, Calderón and Schiller. Corneille and Racine are not mentioned by name, though there are a few references to French tragedy. Calderón receives very brief attention, as does Schiller. Goethe’s Faust is put forward as the great pinnacle of modern tragic form after Shakespeare, though it is something of a limit case, with its epic qualities and resistance to staging.

Presumably we should understand all these modern tragedies through the model of Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedy features the isolated individual who is self-reflecting, rather than representing an essential universal force. Tragedy was always about individuation, for Hegel, so there is a way in which Shakespeare is part of the form of Greek tragedy. However, the earlier tragedies are concerned with the absoluteness of law, and the concreteness of action of the individual who opposes law. The minstrel, epic and tragedy appear in the ancient world in the emergence of ethical order, including the democratic Greek city state.

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