The Madness of Art

It is glory–to have been tested, to have had our little quality and cast our little spell. . . . A second chance–that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Henry James

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The Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XXI

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rilke

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Inspirational Inflections

These, in my opinion are the most general physical causes of the characteristic differences of the primitive tongues. Those of the south are bound to be sonorous, accented, eloquent, and frequently obscure because of their power. Those of the north are bound to be dull, harsh, articulated, shrill, monotonous, and to have a clarity due more to vocabulary than to good construction. The modern tongues, with all their intermingling and recasting, still retain something of these differences. French, English, German: each is a language private to a group of men who help each other, or who become angry. But the ministers of god proclaim sacred mysteries, sages giving laws to their people, leaders swaying the multitude, have to speak Arabic or Persian. Our tongues are better suited to writing than speaking, and there is more pleasure in reading us than in listening to us. Oriental tongues, on the other hand, lose their life and warmth when they are written. The words do not convey half the meaning; all the effectiveness is in the tone of voice. Judging the Orientals from their books is like painting a man’s portrait from his corpse.

For a proper appreciation of their actions, men must be considered in all their relationships: which we simply are not capable of doing. When we put ourselves in the position of the others, we do not become what they must be, but remain ourselves, modified. And, when we think we are judging them rationally, we merely compare their prejudices to ours. Thus, if one who read a little Arabic and enjoyed leafing through the Koran were to hear Mohammed personally proclaim in that eloquent, rhythmic tongue, with that sonorous and persuasive voice, seducing first the ears, then the heart, every sentence alive with enthusiasm, he would prostrate himself, crying: Great prophet, messenger of God, lead us to glory, to martyrdom. We will conquer or die for you. Fanaticism always seems ridiculous to us, because there is no voice among us to make it understood. Our own fanatics are not authentic fanatics. They are merely rogues or fools. Instead of inspirational inflections, our tongues allow only for cries of diabolic possessions.

Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages

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The Open Confession of His Love-Secrets

Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge.

Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man,–religion the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, the open confession of his love-secrets.

Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity

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The Rational Man and The Intuitive Man

There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an “overjoyed hero,” counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty. Whenever, as was perhaps the case in ancient Greece, the intuitive man handles his weapons more authoritatively and victoriously than his opponent, then, under favorable circumstances, a culture can take shape and art’s mastery over life can be established. All the manifestations of such a life will be accompanied by this dissimulation, this disavowal of indigence, this glitter of metaphorical intuitions, and, in general, this immediacy of deception: neither the house, nor the gait, nor the clothes, nor the clay jugs give evidence of having been invented because of a pressing need. It seems as if they were all intended to express an exalted happiness, an OIympian cloudlessness, and, as it were, a playing with seriousness. The man who is guided by concepts and abstractions only succeeds by such means in warding off misfortune, without ever gaining any happiness for himself from these abstractions. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption-in addition to obtaining a defense against misfortune. To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. He is then just as irrational in sorrow as he is in happiness: he cries aloud and will not be consoled. How differently the stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts is affected by the same misfortunes! This man, who at other times seeks nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection against ensnaring surprise attacks, now executes a masterpiece of deception: he executes his masterpiece of deception in misfortune, as the other type of man executes his in times of happiness. He wears no quivering and changeable human face, but, as it were, a mask with dignified, symmetrical features. He does not cry; he does not even alter his voice. When a real storm cloud thunders above him, he wraps himself in his cloak, and with slow steps he walks from beneath it.

Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

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Last Words

Last words. – One will recall that the emperor Augustus, that frightful man who has as much self-control and who could be as silent as any wise Socrates, became indiscreet against himself with his last words: he let his mask fall for the first time when he made it clear that he had worn a mask and acted a comedy – he had played the father of the fatherland and the wisdom on the throne well enough to create the proper illusion! Plaudite amici, comoedia finita est!1 The thought of the dying Nero – qualis artifex pereo!2 – was also the thought of the dying Augustus: actor’s vanity! Actor’s prolixity! And truly the opposite of the dying Socrates! But Tiberius died silently, this most tormented of all self-tormentors – he was genuine and no actor! What might have passed through his mind at the end? Maybe this: ‘Life – that is a long death. What a fool I was to shorten so many lives! Was I made to be a benefactor? I should have given them eternal life: that way, I could have seen them die forever. That’s why I had such good eyes: qualis spectator pereo!3 When after a long death-struggle he seemed to recover his strength, it was considered advisable to smother him with pillows – he died a double death.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

  1. ‘Father of the Fatherland’ was an honorary title bestowed by the Roman Senate on the emperor Augustus. In his biography (chapter 99) Suetonius reports that these Latin words (= ‘Applaud my friends, the comedy is over!’) were among the last Augustus spoke on his deathbed.
  2. ‘I die, what a loss to art!’
  3. ‘I die, but what a good observer I was!’
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Not Predestined for Knowledge

Not predestined for knowledge. – There is a stupid humility that is by no means rare, and those afflicted with it are altogether unfit to become votaries of knowledge. For as soon as a person of this type perceives something striking, he turns on his heels, as it were, and says to himself, ‘You have made a mistake! Where were your senses? This cannot be the truth!’ And then, instead of looking and listening more keenly again, he runs away, as if intimidated, from the striking thing and tries to shake it from his mind as fast as possible. For his inner canon says, ‘I want to see nothing that contradicts the prevalent opinion. Am I made to discover new truths? There are already too many old ones.’

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

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