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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Thursday, June 03, 2004


In our last post, we said that we wanted to ponder, at length, elites and elitism.

Let’s start with our all too brief remarks about the doctrine of double truth. If the philosopher writes texts with double messages – a public one for the vulgar, and a hidden one for the elite – one wonders: why does the elite need to hide?

In the Republic, Plato dreamed of a philosopher king – but in the Apology, Plato shows the philosopher’s real fate, the most inglorious of murders at the hands of the state. From Plato to Nietzsche, the philosopher posed a problem by his very existence in a society structured by the three functions: workers, priests, nobles. The philosopher was the free agent – or the cursed portion, the shit, kindling, the nomadic. The inability to socially stabilize the philosopher’s power became the philosopher’s theme – picked up again in the early modern era, and finding its most extreme expression in Nietzsche, where it became the single greatest symbol of the culture of nihilism that has grown secretly inside Western culture.

So okay, this is where we are. In this post, we want to approach those topics with our usual exemplary obliqueness, like a sidewinding snake, through an article in the Fall, 2003, Studies in Romanticism: “The politics of permanent parabasis,” by Michel Chaouli. A lovely article about that unlikely paragon of the problem we are addressing, Friedrich Schlegel.

Chaouli’s problem is this: how did we come to think that the “link between artistic practice and political ideology” determines the “correct” interpretation of artistic texts?

Chaouli refers to two ways of thinking about romanticism – either as a set of sinister political ideas encoded in a set of aesthetic ideas, or as a set of sinister political ideas that are transformed into utopian ideas in aesthetic practice. Either the Frankfurt School or Ernst Bloch.

About this, he writes: “both strategies therefore find themselves unable either to consider or to test the hypothesis that one of the crucial accomplishments of romanticism may lie precisely in the weakening or breaking of this link. This is not to suggest that the romantics did not hold political views, nor that their poetic works do not engage important political questions. It does suggest that their most radical innovations in poetic practice and aesthetic theory can only be recognized and absorbed by later writers if those innovations are not constrained by the demands placed upon a political theory or social model. The line of reasoning I propose assumes that romanticism, far from furthering a mutual implication of art and politics (or art and religion, or art and philosophy), promotes their differentiation. With romanticism, art (and not politics, religion, or philosophy) increasingly decides what art should be.”

In our next post: Schlegel and Kant

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