The Phenomenology of Mind, by G. W. F. Hegel

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The Living Work of Art

THAT nation which approaches its god in the cult of the religion of art is an ethically constituted nation, knowing its State and the acts of the State to be the will and the achievement of its own self. This universal spirit, confronting the self-conscious nation, is consequently not the “Light-God”, which, being selfless does not contain the certainty of the individual selves, but is only their universal ultimate Being and the dominating imperious power, wherein they disappear. The religious cult of this simple unembodied ultimate Being gives back, therefore, to its votaries in the main merely this: that they are the nation of their god. It secures for them merely their stable subsistence, and their simple substance as a whole; it does not secure for them their actual self; this is indeed rejected. For they revere their god as the empty profound, not as spirit. The cult, however, of the religion of art, on the other hand, is without that abstract simplicity of the absolute Being, and therefore without its “profundity”. But that Being, which is directly at one with the self, is inherently spirit and comprehending truth, although not yet truth known explicitly, in other words not knowing the “depths” of its nature. Because this Absolute, then, implies self, consciousness finds itself at home with it when it appears; and, in the cult, this consciousness receives not merely the general title to its own subsistence, but also its self-conscious existence within it: just as, conversely, the Absolute has no being in a despised and outcast nation whose mere substance is acknowledged, whose reality is selfless, but in the nation whose self is acknowledged as living in its substance.

From the ceremonial cult, then, self-consciousness that is at peace and satisfied in its ultimate Being turns away, as also does the god that has entered into self-consciousness as into its place of habitation. This place is, by itself, the night of mere “substance”, or its pure individuality; but no longer the strained and striving individuality of the artist, which has not yet reconciled itself with its essential Being that is striving to become objective; it is the night [substance] satisfied, having its “pathos” within it and in want of nothing, because it comes back from intuition, from objectivity which is overcome and superseded.

This “pathos” is, by itself, the Being of the Rising Sun,(1) a Being, however, which has now “set” and disappeared within itself, and has its own “setting”, self-consciousness, within it, and so contains existence and reality.

It has here traversed the process of its actualization. Descending from its pure essentiality and becoming an objective force of nature and the expressions of this force, it is an existence relative to an other, an objective existence for the self by which it is consumed. The silent inner being of selfless nature attains in its fruits the stage where nature, duly self-prepared and digested, offers itself as material for the life which has a self. In its being useful for food and drink it reaches its highest perfection. For therein it is the possibility of a higher existence, and comes in touch with spiritual existence. In its metamorphosis the spirit of the earth has developed and become partly a silently energizing substance, partly spiritual ferment; in the first case it is the feminine principle, the nursing mother, in the other the masculine principle, the self-driving force of self-conscious existence.

In this enjoyment, then, that orient “Light” of the world is discovered for what it really is: Enjoyment is the Mystery of its being. For mysticism is not concealment of a secret, or ignorance; it consists in the self knowing itself to be one with absolute Being, and in this latter, therefore, becoming revealed. Only the self is revealed to itself; or what is manifest is so merely in the immediate certainty of itself. But it is just in such certainty that simple absolute Being has been placed by the cult. As a thing that can be used, it has not only existence which is seen, felt, smelt, tasted; it is also object of desire, and, by actually being enjoyed, it becomes one with the self, and thereby disclosed completely to this self, and made manifest.

When we say of anything, “it is manifest to reason, to the heart”, it is in point of fact still secret, for it still lacks the actual certainty of immediate existence, both the certainty regarding what is objective, and the certainty of enjoyment, a certainty which in religion, however, is not only immediate and unreflecting, but at the same time purely cognitive certainty of self.

What has thus been, through the cult, revealed to self-conscious spirit within itself, is simple absolute Being; and this has been revealed partly as the process of passing out of its dark night of concealment up to the level of consciousness, to be there its silently nurturing substance; partly, however, as the process of losing itself again in nether darkness, in the self, and of waiting above merely with the silent yearning of motherhood. The more conspicuous moving impulse, however, is the variously named “Light” of the Rising Sun and its tumult of heaving life, which, having likewise desisted from its abstract state of being, has first embodied itself in objective existence in the fruits of the earth,(2) and then, surrendering itself to self-consciousness,(3) attained there to its proper realization; and now it curvets and careers about in the guise of a crowd of excited, fervid women, the unrestrained revel of nature in self-conscious form.(4)

Still, however, it is only Absolute Spirit in the sense of this simple abstract Being, not as spirit per se, that is discovered to consciousness: i.e. it is merely immediate spirit, the spirit of nature. Its self-conscious life is therefore merely the mystery of the Bread and the Wine, of Ceres and Bacchus, not of the other, the strictly higher, gods [of Olympus], whose individuality includes, as an essential moment, self-consciousness as such. Spirit has not yet qua self-conscious spirit offered itself up to it, and the mystery of bread and wine is not yet the mystery of flesh and blood.

This unstable divine revel must come to rest as an object, and the enthusiasm, which did not reach consciousness, must produce a work which confronts it as the statue stands over against the enthusiasm of the artist in the previous case — a work indeed that is equally complete and finished, yet not as an inherently lifeless but as a living self. Such a cult is the Festival which man makes in his own honour, though not yet imparting to a cult of that kind the significance of the Absolute Being; for it is the ultimate Being that is first revealed to him, not yet Spirit — not such a Being as essentially takes on human form. But this cult provides the basis for this revelation, and lays out its moments individually and separately. Thus we here get the abstract moment of the living embodiment of ultimate Being, just as formerly we had the unity of both in the state of unconstrained emotional fervency. In the place of the statue man thus puts himself as the figure elaborated and moulded for perfectly free movement, just as the statue is the perfectly free state of quiescence. If every individual knows how to play the part at least of a torchbearer, one of them comes prominently forward who is the very embodiment of the movement, the smooth elaboration, the fluent energy and force of all the members. He is a lively and living work of art, which matches strength with its beauty; and to him is given, as a reward for his force and energy, the adornment, with which the statue was honoured [in the former type of religion], and the honour of being, amongst his own nation,, instead of a god in stone, the highest bodily representation of what the essential Being of the nation is.

In both the representations, which have just come before us, there is present the unity of self-consciousness and spiritual Being; but they still lack their due balance and equilibrium. In the case of the bacchic(5) revelling enthusiasm the self is beside itself; in bodily beauty of form it is spiritual Being that is outside itself. The dim obscurity of consciousness in the one case and its wild stammering utterance, must be taken up into the transparent existence of the latter; and the clear but spiritless form of the latter, into the emotional inwardness of the former. The perfect element in which the inwardness is as external as the externality is inward, is once again Language. But it is neither the language of the oracle, entirely contingent in its content and altogether individual in character; nor is it the emotional hymn sung in praise of a merely individual god; nor is it the meaningless stammer of delirious bacchantic revelry. It has attained to its clear and universal content and meaning. Its content is clear, for the artificer has passed out of the previous state of entirely substantial enthusiasm, and worked himself into a definite shape, which is his own proper existence, permeated through all its movements by self-conscious soul, and is that of his contemporaries. Its content is universal, for in this festival, which is to the honour of man, there vanishes the onesidedness peculiar to figures represented in statues, which merely contain a national spirit, a determinate character of the godhead. The finely built warrior is indeed the honour and glory of his particular nation; but he is a physical or corporeal individuality in which are sunk out of sight the expanse and the seriousness of meaning, and the inner character of the spirit which underlies the particular mode of life, the peculiar petitions, the needs and the customs of his nation. In relinquishing all this for complete corporeal embodiment, spirit has laid aside the particular impressions, the special tones and chords of that nature which it, as the actual spirit of the nation, includes. Its nation, therefore, is no longer conscious in this spirit of its special particular character, but rather of having laid this aside, and of the universality of its human existence.

1. The “Light” of the world.

2. As found in the mysteries of Demeter.

3. As found in the mysteries of Bacchus and Dionysus.

4. The Maenads; cp. Euripides, Bacchae.

5. As distinct from the worship of Apollo.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38