The good, the true, and the beautiful are, I think, three related or complementary ideas. I further think they are three sides of an aesthetic pyramid. What is the fourth side and what constitutes the bottom, the foundation square?
Might it be that the fourth side represents our struggle with or our probing of the unknown, the mysterious, the numinous? And could the unknown itself be pictured as that bottom, that foundation square upon which all phenomenal experience rests or issues from?
The friction of our experiences brushing up against textures of the unknown can spark off religious belief and philosophical construction. But the deepest, most interesting forms of combustion happen as modes of artistic expression -- painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, stories.
Further down the scale of temperature one finds tepid mentations concerned with politics and science. From an atmosphere of stochastic particles of consciousness in a flurry of heated aesthetic movement, a contrasting torpor of soul makes politics and science -- focused on relational and material quiddity -- shapes of sleepwalking. The obscuring secretions of law and theory lead to spiritual amnesia. With those things, the Real has become so ordinary as to be drained of wonder and the perplexing reverberations of melancholy.
I was led, in part, to this musing after reading about Johann Georg Hamann (1730 - 1788). What an odd duck.
In Königsberg, his translation of Hume made its way into the hands of his acquaintance Kant and inspired the latter's awakening from "dogmatic slumber." Hamann said some interesting things from his own head about language and what is beneath language. I'm especially curious about the linguistic aspects of aesthetics, so Hamann's head must be examined and tapped for any possible profundity. My interest is piqued because I'm infatuated with good poetry -- poems that are implicitly metaphysical, that indirectly probe a possibility of the noumenal, that contain an element of the uncanny, that refelct something of the mysterious within the everyday.
I've been fascinated with the problem of aesthetics for quite some time. I've even tried my hand at impromtu guesses about the nature and significance of aesthetics. But these guesses always have a hollowness about them. Or better to say, they end up being tautological, looping or mirroring back on themselves. I'm still searching for a kind of first principle -- a how come? -- for aesthetics. I tend to suspect that aesthetics is our deepest approach to the unknown ground (or Ab-grund, the abyss behind presence).
Gurdjieff once created a music-and-movement thing titled The Struggle of the Magicians. That's how I see the poems written by great poets -- brilliance or genius grappling with invisible materials, with what must always remain unsaid behind the said. Even the cadence of these poems is a symbolic gesture of strange dance toward the mystic dream of being. Consider the lines of poet Adam Zagajewski, how they move with a pensive and wondering grace, how the unsaid is as important as the pronounced -- the unspoken folded into dynamic figures of speech.
Metaphor is the aesthetic shadow of the receding, what forever remains on the tip of the tongue.
Everything profound loves masks.
~ Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Schopenhauer said that the noumenal is pure undifferentiated urge and that the phenomenal is its expression as substance in time, space, and causality. According to him, we can't suppose anything about the noumenal, only suspect it as being undifferentiated urge or force. That intuited fact -- the aggression of matter via mindless energy -- leads to human pessimism and spiritual despair. Our only existential relief is to become narcotized and lost from thought while experiencing works of art.
But prior to Schopenhauer was Hamann. Instead of the noumenal causing bleakness and misery of outlook, it inspired in him an ironic spiritual humor, which later impressed Kierkegaard. He somehow intuited a God within the noumenal. That's interesting. And I can't figure out how he made such a blithe leap. I do know that for myself, an ambivalence is afoot -- I look upon the possible numinous as darkly macabre yet also darkly attractive. An affective leaning toward anything is an aesthetic orientation or disposition.
What is behind all possible experience in which aspects of the good, the true, and the beautiful might be sourcefully located? That enigma continues to vibrate.
Hamann thought and wrote about how language has its source in the non-linguistic and the non-rational. Language is a form of life and as such doesn't belong to any of its own categories. Hence, language is a mysterium. So is life itself an unthinkable and radically free manifestation. Free from even the idea that it's radically free. The closest to the real of life we come is imagination -- the infinite dark flowing of aesthetic possibility. Can we call that "holy"? Heck if I know.
Regarding Socrates, Hamann said:
But perhaps all history is more mythology than this philosopher thinks, and is, like nature, a book that is sealed, a hidden witness, a riddle which cannot be solved unless we plow with another heifer than our reason.
According to Hamann, our language -- the spoken life -- is "from the tongue of angels," which eludes exegesis. Our speaking is always already a translation beyond foundation and into metaphor. Who are the symbolists par excellence? -- the poet, the painter, the composer. Aesthetic beings.
In Keats's "To Autumn," he shows us life and nature, via personification. He knew instinctively that being and beings can't be defined or rationally analyzed.
It seems like a hundred years ago that I read Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The main thing I remember is his statement that the real (even the pleonasm "ultimate reality") has to do with Quality as such. I'm going to let that sit here for a little while and resonate through your eyeballs:
The abyss of the Real is a question of Quality as such.
Okay. I'm back again. Pirsig's realization nearly drove him crazy. I like the sound of that. Instead of the noumenal being Schopenhauer's undifferentiated, it might be an exact opposite. It might be instead the a priori (primal) reservoir of taste -- a Tao of Savor. From which a gnostic spectrum of discretion is extruded into our phenomenal world. In other words, the Real is an aesthetic ocean, its morphological waves our criteria of judgement and appreciation. At its most heartful depth is purest Quality.
F.W.J. Schelling (1775 - 1854) in his lecture course titled The Philosophy of Art wrote:
I construe therefore in the philosophy of art not art as art, not as something particular. Rather I construe the universe in the form of art and the philosophy of art is the science of the All in the form or potency of art.And from his System of Transcendental Idealism:
The fundamental character of the artwork is an unconscious infinity.
One thing about creativity, about aesthetic impulse and reception is that it takes place within the infinite freedom of imagination. Maybe the Real -- what brings anything at all to presence -- is also a kind of imagining into the vast "space" of thisness-is-better-than-thatness.
It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.
To which I would add:
That anything is mystical is an aesthetic intuition.
|The Birth of the World|
Joan Miró, 1925
PS: One cool thing about the topic of aesthetics is that it allows a guy to string a bunch of words together with the mere semblance of having said something coherent or significant. It's like a loose goose dripping with uncatchable cooking oil.
~ TB, 2013