Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friedrich Schiller

I now feel committed to reading Friedrich Schiller's On The Aesthetic Education Of Man. At first I was really confused by it. I didn't know whether I should turn to another book or keep going.

When I felt that way I had only read the 20 page translator's introduction. Now I've read ten pages of the actual text and I feel committed to reading it.

The translator claims that Schiller was one of only three people to take seriously the claim that aesthetics is the proper basis of all civilized education. The other two being Plato and Herbert Read, the author of 1943's Education through Art, which I have never heard of.

But this question of art and life, art and education, has been troubling me for a while now.

It appears that Schiller we be arguing that aesthetics is the only discipline that can mitigate Man's difficult position between emotions and reason.

Schiller was responding to the development of the French revolution. He was writing in 1975, after the beginning of the reign of terror. A chief concern of that time would have been to explain how a revolution supposedly founded on rational principles could have resulted in so much violence. Why were rational principles failing to conduct the actual conduct of life? Why were ideas failing to exert their power on the material world?

Schiller's book seems ready to tackle these questions. How exciting!

I, too, wonder about the relationship between rational thought and emotional reality. I wonder how we can really bring ideas to bear on reality. I wonder how we can learn to trust our emotions, to trust our habits, how we can rationally form our habits. I suspect Schiller might be working towards a similar synthesis of rational thought and practical action. "The important thing," he argues, "is to dissociate caprice from the physical and freedom from the moral character; to make the first conformable with law, the second dependent on impression; to remove the former somewhat further from matter in order bring the latter somewhat nearer to it–so as to create a third character which, related to these other two, might pave the way for a transition from the realm of mere force to the rule of law, and, without impending the development of the moral character, might serve rather as a sensible pledge of a morality as yet unseen" (30).

This passage left me befuddled today.

It has been a while since I've tried to dive into a philosopher so removed from my own time. I read a lot of Collingwood and Foucault, who died in 1943 and 1984, respectively. I also like to read modern philosophers, people like Zizek or John Gray. Or others. But someone writing in 1795 is doing something so different from me.

Further, Schiller's style presents a boat load of questions. He was not a professional philosopher. The translator says that his contemporaries didn't know whether to call him the poet who wrote philosophy or the philosopher who wrote poetry. How interesting and difficult. I love skirting this line between aesthetics and philosophy. Really good to do. Really great that Collingwood calls philosophy a 'poem of the intellect'. I think this line is real, and I like it.

One interesting thing, however, is that Schiller refers to the ancient Greeks and their ability to think a total, unified manner. He felt that his time, on the contrary, had experienced a disciplining in which forms of knowledge had been specialized and separated from one another. "At that time, in the lovely awakening of the intellectual powers," he writes of the Greeks, "the senses and the mind had still no strictly separate individualities, for no dissension had yet constrained them to make hostile partition with each other and determine their boundaries" (38). How could someone glorify the Greek 'unity of mind' unless they felt their own age to possess major 'hostile partitions' and boundaries.

Oh and yet how many partitions and boundaries I fear in my own thinking! Oh how much I fear the intellectual specialization of our age!

Oh how I wonder about how aesthetics matter to this age.

The parts of Schiller I quoted, especially the first one, are super confusing to me. I quoted the first one because it was such a difficult thing for me to process today.

I suspect a lot is going to come out of Schiller.

But frankly I've been a bit intimidated by it. I'm going to have to spend some serious time with this guy. This book is only like 120 pages! Why does it seem so daunting? Because in reading 15 pages of it I already feel overwhelmed with the implications on every page. Either that or I don't understand an entire page.

I think something quite serious is going on in Schiller. I now feel committed to pursuing him to the end of On the Aesthetic Education of Man.

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