Arts and Revolution

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Translator's Note The INTRODUCTION translated on the opposite and following pages was written by Richard Wagner as the Preface to Volumes III. and IV. of his Gesammelte Schriften, or Collected Writings, for the Edition of 1872; and applies not only to Art and Revolution, but also to The Art-Work of the Future and Opera and Drama, &c. [23] Introduction to Art and Revolution. THOMAS CARLYLE, in his History of Frederick the Great, (01) characterises the outbreak of the French Revolution as
  Translator's NoteThe INTRODUCTION translated on the opposite and following pages was written by RichardWagner as the Preface to Volumes III. and IV. of his Gesammelte Schriften , or CollectedWritings, for the Edition of  1872 ; and applies not only to  Art and Revolution , but also to The Art-Work of the Future and Opera and Drama , &c.[23]Introduction to Art and Revolution.THOMAS CARLYLE, in his  History of Frederick the Great  , (01) characterises the outbreak of  the French Revolution as the First Act of the Spontaneous Combustion of a nation sunk intotorpor, abeyance, and dry-rot, and admonishes his readers in the following words:  —    There is the next mile-stone for you, in the History of Mankind! That universal Burning-up, asin hell-fire, of Human Shams. The oath of Twenty-five Million men, which has since becomethat of all men whatsoever, 'Rather than live longer under lies, we will die!'  —  that is the New Actin World-History. New Act,  —  or, we may call it New Part  ; Drama of World-History, Part Third.If Part Second  was 1800 years ago, this I reckon will be Part Third  . This is the truly celestial-infernal Event: the strangest we have seen for a thousand years. Celestial in the one part; in theother, infernal. For it is withal the breaking-out of universal mankind into Anarchy, into the faithand practice of   No -Government,  —  that is to say (if you will be candid), into unappeasable revoltagainst Sham-Governors and Sham-Teachers,  —  which I do charitably define to be a Search, mostunconscious, yet in deadly earnest, for true Governors and Teachers. . . . . When the SpontaneousCombustion breaks out; and, many-coloured, with loud noises, envelopes the whole world inanarchic flame for long hundreds of years: then has the Event come; there is the thing for all [24]men to mark, and to study and scrutinise as the strangest thing they ever saw. Centuries of it yetlying ahead of us; several sad Centuries, sordidly tumultuous, and good for little! Say TwoCenturies yet,  —  say even Ten of such a process: before the Old is completely burnt out, and theNew in any state of sightliness? Millennium of Anarchies;  —  abridge it, spend your heart's-blood upon abridging it, ye Heroic Wise that are to come! When, in the feverish excitement of the year 1849, I gave vent to an appeal such as thatcontained in the immediately succeeding essay:  Art and Revolution , I believe that I was incomplete accord with the last words of this summons of the grey-headed historian. I believed inthe Revolution, and in its unrestrainable necessity, with certainly no greater immoderation thanCarlyle: only, I also felt that I was called to point out to it the way of rescue. Far though it wasfrom my intent to define the New, which should grow from the ruins of a sham-filled world, as afresh  political ordering: (02) I felt the rather animated to draw the outlines of the  Art-work  whichshould rise from the ruins of a sham-bred  Art  . To hold this Art-work up to Life itself; as theprophetic mirror of its Future, appeared to me a weightiest contribution toward the work of damming the flood of Revolution within the channel of the peaceful-flowing stream of Manhood.I was bold enough to prefix the following motto to the little pamphlet: When Art erst held herpeace, State-wisdom and Philosophy began: when now both Statesman and Philosopher havebreathed their last, let the Artist's voice again be heard.   It is needless to recall the scorn which my presumption brought upon me; since in the course of my succeeding literary labours, whose connected products I here append, [25] I had occasionenough to defend myself against the grossest of these attacks. I have also exhaustively treatedthis whole matter, both with regard to the inception of these works and the characteristicincitement thereto, not only in the Communication to my Friends,  (03) which brings this whole period to a close, but also in a later treatise, entitled: The Music of the Future (  Zukunftsmusik  ). I will only say here that the principal cause which brought down the ridiculeof our art-critics upon my seemingly paradoxical ideas, is to be found in the fervid enthusiasmwhich pervaded my style and gave to my remarks more of a poetic than a scientific character.Moreover, the effect of an indiscriminate intercalation of philosophical maxims was prejudicialto my clearness of expression, especially in the eyes of those who could not or would not followmy line of thought and general principles. Actively aroused by the perusal of some of   LudwigFeuerbach's essays, I had borrowed various terms of abstract nomenclature and applied them toartistic ideas with which they could not always closely harmonise. In thus doing, I gave myself up without critical deliberation to the guidance of a brilliant writer, who approached most nearlyto my reigning frame of mind, in that he bade farewell to Philosophy (in which he fancied hedetected naught but masked Theology) and took refuge in a conception of man's nature in whichI thought I clearly recognised my own ideal of artistic manhood. From this arose a kind of impassioned tangle of ideas, which manifested itself as precipitance and indistinctness in myattempts at philosophical system.While on this subject, I deem it needful to make special mention of two chief 'terms,' mymisunderstanding of which has since been strikingly borne in upon me.I refer in the first place to the concept Willkür  and Unwillkür,  (04) in the use of which a great confusion had [26] long preceded my own offending; for an adjectival term, unwillkürlich , hadbeen promoted to the rank of a substantive. Only those who have learnt from Schopenhauer  thetrue meaning and significance of the Will , can thoroughly appreciate the abuse that had resultedfrom this mixing up of words; he who has enjoyed this unspeakable benefit, however, knowswell that that misused Unwillkür  should really be named  Der Wille (the Will); whilst theterm Willkür  (Choice or Caprice) is here employed to signify the so-called Intellectual or BrainWill, influenced by the guidance of reflection. Since the latter is more concerned with theproperties of Knowledge,  —  which may easily be led astray by the purely individual aim,  —  it isattainted with the evil qualities with which it is charged in the following pages, under the nameof  Willkür  whereas the pure Will , as the Thing-in-itself  that comes to consciousness in man, iscredited with those true productive qualities which are here  —  apparently the result of a confusionsprung from the popular misuse of the term  —  assigned to the negative expression, Unwillkür  . Therefore, since a thorough revision in this sense would lead too far and prove a most fatiguingtask, the reader is begged, when doubtful of the meaning of any of such passages, to beargraciously in mind the present explanation.Further, I have to fear that my continual employment of the term Sinnlichkeit  ,  (05) in a sense prompted by the same authority, may give srcin, if not to positively harmful misunderstanding,at least to much perplexity. Since the idea conveyed by this term can only have the meaning, [27]in my argument, of the direct antithesis to Gedanken (Thought), or  —  which will make mypurport clearer  —  to Gedanklichkeit  (Ideation): its absolute misunderstanding would certainly  be difficult, seeing that the two opposite factors, Art and Learning, must readily be recognisedherein. But since, in ordinary parlance, this word is employed in the evil sense of Sensualism, or even of abandonment to Sensual Lust, it would be better to replace it by a term of lessambiguous meaning, in theoretical expositions of so warm a declamatory tone as these of mine,however wide a currency it has obtained in philosophical speech. Obviously, the question here isof the contrast between intuitive and abstract knowledge, both in themselves and their results;but above all, of the subjective predisposition to these diverse modes. The term  Anschauungsvermögen (Perceptive Faculty) would sufficiently denote the former; were it notthat for the specific artistic perception, a distinctive emphasis seems necessary, for which itmight well appear indispensable to retain the expression Sinnliches Anschauungsvermögen (Physical perceptive faculty), and briefly Sinnlichkeit  (Physicality), alike for the faculty, for theobject of its exercise, and for the force which sets the two in rapport with each other.But the greatest peril of all, is that which the author would incur by his frequent use of the word Communism , should he venture into the Paris of to-day with these art-essays in his hand; for heopenly proclaims his adherence to this severely scouted category, in contradistinction to  Egoism .(06) I certainly believe that the friendly German reader, to whom the meaning of this antithesiswill be obvious, will have no special trouble in overcoming the doubt as to whether he must rank me among the partisans of the newest Parisian Commune . Still, I cannot deny that I should nothave embarked with the same energy upon the use of this word Communism (employing it in[28] a sense borrowed from the said writings of Feuerbach) as the opposite of Egoism: had I notalso seen in this idea a soclo-pohitical ideal which I conceived as embodied in a Volk  (People)that should represent the incomparable productivity of antique brotherhood, while I lookedforward to the perfect evolution of this principle as the very essence of the associate Manhood of the Future.  —  It is significant of my experiences on the practical side, that in the first of thesewritings,  Art and Revolution , which I had srcinally intended for a certain political journal (07)  then appearing in Paris (where I stayed for a few weeks in the summer of 1849), I avoided thisword Communism,  —  as it now seems to me, from fear of gross misunderstanding on the partof our French brethren, materialistic ( sinnlich ) as they are in their interpretation of so many anabstract idea,  —  whereas I forthwith used it without scruple in my next art-writings, designedexpressly for Germany; a fact I now regard as a token of my implicit trust in the attributes of theGerman mind. In pursuance of this observation, I attach considerable importance also to theexperience, that my essay met with absolutely no whit of understanding in Paris, and that no oneat the time could understand why I should single out a political journal for my mouthpiece; inconsequence whereof; my article did not after all attain to publication there.But it was not only from the effects of these and similar experiences, that the quick of my ideasdrew gradually back from contact with the political excitement of the day, and soon developedmore and more exclusively as an artistic ideal. Hereof the sequence of the writings collected inthese two volumes(08) gives sufficient indication; and this the reader will best recognise from the insertion, in their midst, of a dramatic sketch: Wieland der Schmied  , executed by me in thesame chronological order as that in [29] which it now stands. If that artistic ideal, which I haveever since held fast to as my inmost acquisition, under whatsoever form of its manifestment,  —  if that ideal remained the only actual outcome of a labour which taxed the whole energy of mynature; and finally, if only as a creative artist could I live up to this ideal without disquietude:then my belief in the German spirit, and the trust in its predestined place amid the Council of the  Nations that took an ever mightier hold upon me as time rolled on, could alone inspire me withthe hopeful equanimity so indispensable to the artist  —  even from the outer aspect of the humanlot, however much the care for the latter had forced its passionate disturbance upon my views of life. Already I have been enabled to preface the second edition of  Opera and Drama by adedication to a friend(09) I had won in the interval,  —  and to whose instructive suggestions Ihave had to thank the most comforting solutions of the last named problem,  —  in order to reach tohim the hand of the artist as well as of the man, in token of the hopes that cheer us both.I have now only to conclude these comments by pointing back once more to their openingsentences, wherein I cited the dictum of Carlyle upon the import of the great world epoch thatdawned upon us with the French Revolution. According to the high opinion which this greatthinker has proclaimed, of the destiny of the German nation and its spirit of veracity, it must bedeemed no vain presumption that we recognise in this German people  —  whose own completed  Reformation would seem to have spared it from the need of any share in Revolution  —  the pre-ordained Heroic Wise on whom he calls to abridge the period of horrible World-Anarchy. Formyself; I feel assured that just the same relation which my ideal of Art bears to the reality of ourgeneral conditions of existence, that relation is allotted to the German race in its destiny amid awhole political world in the throes of Spontaneous Combustion. [30]Art and Revolution.ALMOST universal is the outcry raised by artists nowadays against the damage that theRevolution has occasioned them. It is not the battles of the barricades, not the sudden mightyshattering of the pillars of the State, not the hasty change of Governments,  —  that is bewailed; forthe impression left behind by such capital events as these, is for the most part disproportionatelyfleeting, and short-lived in its violence. But it is the protracted character of the latest convulsions,that is so mortally affecting the artistic efforts of the day. The hitherto-recognised foundations of industry, of commerce, and of wealth, are now threatened; and though tranquillity has beenoutwardly restored, and the general physiognomy of social life completely re-established, yetthere gnaws at the entrails of this life a carking care, an agonising distress. Reluctance to embark in fresh undertakings, is maiming credit; he who wishes to preserve what he has, declines theprospect of uncertain gain; industry is at a standstill, and  —  Art has no longer the wherewithal tolive.It were cruel to refuse human sympathy to the thousands who are smarting from this blow.Where, a little while ago, a popular artist was accustomed to receive, at the hands of the care-freeportion of our well-to-do society, the reward of his appreciated services in sterling payment, anda like prospect of comfort and contentment in his life,  —  it is hard for him now to see himself rejected by tight-closed hands, and abandoned to lack of occupation. In this he shares the fate of the mechanic, who must lay the cunning fingers with which he was wont to create a thousanddainty trifles for the rich, in idleness upon his breast above a [31] hungering stomach. He has theright then to bewail his lot; for to him who feels the smart of pain, has Nature given the gift of tears. But whether he has a right to confound his own personality with that of Art, to decry hisills as the ills of Art, to scold the Revolution as the arch-enemy of Art, because it interferes with
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