G.W.F. Hegel – Aesthetics (c. 1820)


Three important difference from Kant (among many others): 1. move from a subjective, formal idea of beauty to an objective, content based idea of beauty [Adorno calls him “enemy of taste”]  2. puts natural beauty (consigned to realm of immediate appearance) below art beauty (pure appearance or Schein, as spiritual product) bearing imprint of man 3. disinterestedness is replaced by responsibility as the way in which we experience a work (a “call to a responsive breast”).

Art is not a general activity, such as “labor,” but a specific activity, in which man in himself recognizes through his activity something for himself. It is, therefore, conscious life activity in the Marxian sense. Art, therefore, satisfies a different need than that of self-preservation. Man is as things in nature, but he is also for himself. This is theoretical (as inner consciousness) and practical (by externalizing himself): that is, man needs to see himself in the world (like the impulse to throw rocks in the water). The point here is that ART IS MADE BY MAN: IT HAS THE FORM OF WORK.

Art is also sensuous, it is given to man’s senses, but this sensuous is not explicable in terms of feeling or “taste.” Taste, for Hegel, always remains abstract and external. The point is to recognize the artworks sensuousness FOR MAN. Thus purely sensuous apprehension is the poorest mode of apprehension, since it is determined by desire and appetite: neither the external object is free (it is canceled) not is the subject free (it is determined by the which is external). On the other hand, purely theoretical, scientific interest changes the object into universal thought and the concept (not good). For Hegel, the artwork itself has a structure of desire: it wants to maintain its sensuousness even as it is recognized as more than sensuousness. Thus, for Hegel, the sensuous aspect of art is only properly experienced through the theoretical senses (sight and hearing), mostly because it helps maintain the objective dimension of the artwork.

What is the aim of art in its practical and theoretical dimensions? In short, it awakens the senses by making the viewer go through “the whole gamut of feelings.” This extends to a “reawakening” of philosophy. This is Schiller’s value, according to Hegel, and what Kant missed. Schiller believed that aesthetic education could bring together the unity demanded by reason and the multiplicity of nature. In this way, reason, freedom and spirituality emerge from their abstraction, whereas in Kant they remain merely subjective [i.e. the universal approached through reflective judgment is always subjective]. Thus the artwork always poses a question: our ability to hear the question TODAY depends on a philosophy art that is responsive.

For the Greeks, art was the sensuous presentation of the divine. For us, art can only ever be the sensuous representation of the Idea. The movement from symbolic (architecture) to classical (sculpture)  to romantic (painting, music, poetry) is also the movement from externalization to inwardization, the gradual dematerialization of the aesthetic object. Thus in Romantic art, art transcends itself, but still in the form of art. Importantly, however, in this movement through artistic media, hegel inserts THE COMMUNITY just before introducing the final romantic stage. This is important, because in terms of the very careful narrative Hegel is crafting, poetry comes after the community, going out beyond it. Poetry may be that which remains after th sensuous element is degraded (passing over into the prose of thought), but in its impossible perfection, it mediates between the prosaic reality of the community and the prosaic thought of the absolute.



Poetry bears a formal relationship to work, since both result in a determinate object. While thinking reconciles reality and truth within thought, poetry reconciles them in the form of a real phenomenon. It is also like work to the degree that as a form it does not merely endure (in time), but participates in the process of endurance by undertaking the work of recasting and remodeling objects have determined by the inflexibility of prose (scientific and philosophical thought). Poetry must therefore do two things at once: it must avoid every aim that lies outside of art, but must also, as a living thing, enter into the midst of life. However, imagination itself remains the proper subject-matter of poetry: the Hegelian twist is that the imagination (Vorstellung) is always already involved in projects with the outside world–it is cannot be sealed off from the world. in other words, poetry represents representations.


Hegel in context of project:

Adorno calls Hegel the enemy of taste, but only  because both Hegel and Adorno accept Kant’s definition of taste as merely descriptive of subjective activity. My contention is that Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (combined with the descriptions of LIFE in the Philosophy of Nature) make possible Marx’s claim that there can be a history of the cultivation of the five senses told through the story of freedom and necessity (in other words, the real history of taste as the site where freedom and necessity converge). How? In Hegel, aesthetic experience is critical: those modes of freedom that allows us to transcend the material become necessary for material existence and visa-versa. Hegel is able to show how, even though poetry deals only with the stuff of the imagination, imagination itself is already implicated in a process akin to work (with external objects bearing the imprint of human determinations). Recognizing our investments (include our practical investments) is a critical process: in Adorno, this will amount to recognizing violence. In Hegel, I argue, our relationships to others (and objects) are not immediately violent or subordinate to the logic of domination. “Taste” can help us articulate a sort nourishment (necessity) that is not immediately appropriative or destructive (constructivist instinct in animals, the wasted buds on the flower, etc…how drive to preserve ourselves produces excess, waste, etc.).




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