Eckermann’s Instruction—Goethe On Aesthetic Valuation

“Taste is only to be educated by contemplation, not of the tolerably good, but of the truly excellent. I, therefore, show you only the best works; and when you are grounded in these, you will have a standard for the rest, which you will know how to value, without overrating them. And I show you the best in each class, that you may perceive that no class is to be despised, but that each gives delight when a man of genius attains its highest point. For instance, this piece, by a French artist, is galant, to a degree which you see nowhere else, and is therefore a model in its way.”

—Goethe to Johnann Peter Eckermann.


Biographical notes:

§.00 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a multifaceted German artist, scientist and statesman. He was the author of the influential novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. The date of the first production of Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin—August 28th—was chosen by Liszt in honor of Goethe, as it was the same date as the late-artist’s birth (August 28th, 1749).

§.01 Johnann Peter Eckermann was a German author, soldier, multi-linguist, artist, and close friend of Goethe and Soret.


Sources

  1. Johann Peter Eckermann; translated by John Oxenford (2010). Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann. HXA.

Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Prt.5 [Coda]

Those that wish to shift any power structure will need to pervade not just in the military, the media and the legislation-complex but also in the arts.

– A Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part. 4

In the previous installment of this series I briskly documented the strange case of the self-styled “Leftist Fight Club,” created by the organization, Knights of Socialism (no, really, that’s what they call themselves) of the University of Central Florida. The group was inspired by the film Fight Club which was, in turn, inspired by the fictional novel of the same name by freelance journalist and transgressive novelist, Chuck Palahniuk. I illustrated this organization due to how starkly it showed the way in which art can work as a model for human action (outside of a momentary shaping of consciousness – that is to say, that which moves well beyond merely evoking a, “Ah, that’s cool.”). But it is far from a isolated incident.

Art as a model for human action.  (continued)

Casting our attention back in time to the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte we can see the power of dynamic art to sway the minds and hearts of men by the numerous cartoons which were printed by the British to defame him after that once venerable sovereignty had set its sights upon the newly founded French Empire.

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The Plumb-Pudding In Danger, by James Gillray. The pictured-above is the most famous of the Napoleonic Cartoons & features the Emperor himself [right] seated across from British Prime Minister, William Pitt [left].
Such ridiculous caricatures upset the Emperor nearly as much as it amused its target demographics. In fact, the artwork so perturbed Napoleon (who as a master statesman knew well enough the import of “optics”) that he attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the British newspapers to suppress them which only further inflamed the pre-war tensions between the two countries and invariably contributed to Britain’s ultimate decision to topple the new, and seemingly ever-expanding, French regime. The British, however, were not the only one’s utilizing art to their political ends, for Napoleon himself commissioned numerous paintings of himself, typically highly romanticized, after each of his successful battles to the effect that every battle was garnished in a aura of sacrality. The most popular of these numerous portraits, Napoleon Crossing The Alps, is still endlessly reproduced today.

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Napoleon Crossing The Alps by Jacques-Louis David

But let us return to our central concern, writing, and flash forth to 1909, Paris.

Le Figuro has just published a most shocking text upon the front page of their magazine.

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“Housing with external lifts and connection systems to different street levels”, from La Città Nuova, by Futurist Architect, Antonio Sant’Elia

The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.

The text, penned by the avante-garde Alexandrian-Italian poet, F.T. Marinetti,  venerate the arrival of the machinic age and establish, “-war as the world’s only hygiene-,” and “-scorn for woman-,” as well as a whole host of revolutionary political aspirations which were as negatory and violet as they were prescient and constructive. The document would go on to spawn the socio-political art movement known as Futurism (not to be confused with Futurology – someone who is interested in prospective technology, a term which, today, is often used interchangeably with what we shall call lowercase ‘futurism’). The Futurists in their near 40 year reign, lead by Marinetti, aided in the creation of Fascism, guided the rise of Mussolini, championed both World Wars (and fought in them), pioneered the arts with the creation of noise music and free word poetry and inspired three of the most well known modern art movements, Dada, Vorticism and Surrealism – all three of which, in turn, continue in their own subtle ways, to influence art to this very day.

The reason futurism was so successful is that, despite it’s chaotic veneer, it, rather uniquely, was expressly designed and consciously, methodically implemented into every sphere of life. There were futurist theories on war, aesthetics,  dance, music, politics (they advocated for women’s suffrage and sexual liberation for the express purpose of destabilizing society). They even had futurist cook books. But more than all of the ephermera, Futurism was a philosophy of life, wherein one strove ever to extend and glorify, not just one’s self, but the whole of the world even at the cost of its selfsame destruction. It was the endless, ceaseless, remorseless, ripping away of all that which was stultified and corrosive and hurling oneself at the world with, as Marinetti put it, “-ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.”

 

All this from a five page short-story/manifesto written by a relatively unknown, non-native-born poet.

Remember that when next you doubt the efficacy of your penmanship.

Lift up your heads!

Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!

-ending verse of the Futurist Manifesto

Dispensing With The End of History

America’s prevailing pathos in terms of the directionality of politics is one wholly obsessed with the ideals of Freedom. So much so that the phrase “muh freedom” has become nearly ubiquitous among the online far-right (and I utilize the phrase “far-right” without either praise or condemnation). Some may say that it, that is, the prevailing pathos, is “Democracy” but Democracy is only good, to the average American political thinker, because it is indelibly tied to notions of individual liberty and equalitarian empathy, shorn of that it would be as roundly condemned as Fascism. That is to say, Americans believe that (or act as if they believe that) Democracy is not itself Freedom, but rather the best vestibule in which Freedom may be found. Talk of Law & Order by old school conservatives is scorned and laughed at or considered to be underhandedly advocating for some variant or other of puerile authoritarian control. Who needs Order when one has Progression? The Progression, is of course, the belief in the End of History, the convergence of all men and ideas to a point of total transmogrification and universal cohesion. Universal governance under one system alone. Poli-eco singularity.

The idea is, perhaps, best summarized by the American political scientist, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, who wrote in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Preempting criticism of his works as being too parochial and providential, he also writes,

“The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organization. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in Godnational sovereignty, and their military.”

Here Fukayama echoes sentiments that have become extremely mainstream, that being that America believes in God, national sovereignty and The Military and that this is a problem. The problem with this perceived problem is that, unlike America’s religious impulses, national sovereignty and the military do not require belief, they are empricially verifiable. Either a nation is sovereign (has control over its borders and complete autonomy within them) or it is not. Either a nation has a military or it does not; and that military is either supported or it is not (to whatever degree). These are not questions of faith. Jacques Derrida has made some similar critiques of Fukayama and posits, rather interestingly, that the Asian-American’s End of History theory is merely a extension of perverse Christian eschatology (the theological study of the “end of things,” typified by contemplation of the end times, the rapture and The Kingdom of God, destiny of the soul, ect). Derrida goes on to say that Fukayama is merely a demagogic priest of the emerging global-liberal-capitalist hegemony and that The End of History is that order’s central driving doctrine; its gospel.

More to the heart of the matter, these sentiments are indicative of a much wider public, not merely constrained to Fukayama and other similar thinkers such as Alexandre Kojeve or Noam Chomsky. It is the idea that there could be no other option to some kind of liberal hegemony (even if they do not refer to it as such), that is both all expansive and all consuming. Why it is wrong: The idea of a post-political state of man is only possible when the friend/enemy distinction is wholly exhausted and disintegrated. Such a state could well be imagined by the Cyberpunks, some of whom posit a period of time wherein man and machine merges to form a new, semi-synthetic biological entity. For everyone else, such a state sounds more like the stuff of science fiction, which is not to say that it is, for this reason, incorrect, for much that was once fantastical is now a omnipresent reality. One thing that can be said with great authority and certitude is that so long as Man organizes himself into groups, of any kind, there will ever be differential interests possessed thereby. So long as there are differential interests there can be no overarching thede to the whole of humanity. But this is not a argument against Fukuyama, who, as expressed above, states that his conception is merely that The End of History is not to say that there will be no further human development but that Liberal Democracy is the zenith of human ordering which no other governmental methodology can or could ever contend with.

Such a proclamation is either extremely arrogant or extremely deluded. For if Liberal Democracy were the very height of human collective modality one might rightly wonder why it seems to be devouring itself, why it seems to be collapsing, why it seems to be faltering so noticeably at every turn (for liberals and progressives are correct when they say that there is something slightly fascistic about the rise of Nationalistic Populism – I merely would posit that this isn’t a inherently bad thing). If Democracy is the end of governmental history, history is a man with a gun to his head, his finger itching at the trigger.