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J. M.

Bernstein

Significant Stone: Medium and Sense in Schiller


Schillers Briefe ber die sthetische Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts bieten
eine handfeste Neuformulierung der Kernelemente von Kants sthetischer Theorie; gleichwohl dominiert Kants Theorie die gegenwrtige Diskussion auf dem
Gebiet der Kunsttheorie und sthetik. Nach einer kurzen und bndigen Darstellung von Schillers zentralen Einwnden gegen Kants Theorie an erster Stelle ihr
Versagen, unserer besonderen Stellung als autonome Wesen gerecht zu werden,
sowie ihr Unvermgen, die Eigenschaften der Gegenstnde, die uns zu sthetischen Urteilen veranlassen, zu explizieren lege ich dar, dass Schiller die Mngel
der Kantischen Lehre vorgreifend in seinen Kallias-Briefen und berzeugend in
seinen sthetischen Briefen behebt. Genauer besteht meine Absicht darin, das
Kernargument von Schillers sthetischen Briefen auf eine solche Weise zu rekonstruieren, dass die Funktion des Mediums Kunst und die Notwendigkeit des sthetischen Scheins die Angelpunkte werden, um die sich das Argument dreht. Das
wird plausibel, wenn der Begriff des Mediums Kunst ein Potential der Bedeutsamkeit der materiellen Natur aufweisen kann, dass andernfalls durch ihre kausal
determinierte Verfasstheit ausgeschlossen wre; und wenn der Begriff des sthetischen Scheins eine Form der Beziehung zwischen Subjekt und Objekt ausmachen
kann, die weder eine des Wissens noch eine des Handeln (nach Normen der Moral)
ist.

I. Art and Emptiness


In Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller attempts to demonstrate
the historical necessity of our undergoing some form of aesthetic education if
the constitutive ends of human reason and happiness are to become possible.
What remains shocking in Schillers argument for the necessity of an aesthetic
education is that he accepts Kants contention that aesthetic judgments of taste
neither provide us with knowledge nor are they explicitly action guiding (in the
way the categorical imperative is action guiding); aesthetic judgments concern
directly neither how the world truly is nor what we ought to do. If what is true
or false, on the one hand, or morally obligated or prohibited on the other
exhaust how items can be cognitively significant, then from an empirical perspective, aesthetic judgments are peculiarly empty; and it is through or on this
emptiness that our moral and political fate depends.
How can artworks mean, how can they be provide for the necessary transformation of our self-understanding and cultivation of our sensibility if they are
barred from directly participating in the forms of cognitive and moral purposes
that transcendentally constitute our relations to experience in general? Art can
be directly epistemically empty and morally idle and yet significant because,

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Significant Stone: Medium and Sense in Schiller

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Schiller contends, its ambitions are essentially reflective, almost philosophical:


aesthetic judgments concern how who we are as free, self-determining beings
subject to unconditional moral imperatives can possibly inhere in a causally
determined world that, prima facie, expels freedom and meaning from its precincts, that is, aesthetic judgments tacitly address the apparently insuperable
dualism between freedom and causality, between autonomous subjectivity and a
mechanically governed material world. Two theses emerge directly from this
statement of Schillers project: First, if aesthetic judgments or their standard
objects, works of art bracket both empirical truth and moral normativity, then
they seem fated to inhabit a domain that is neither empirically real nor transcendentally ideal; the aesthetic domain is one of semblance (Schein) a term
used by Schiller to precisely capture the idea of how an item might appear in the
world whose significance nonetheless escapes standard epistemic and moral
categorization.1 Second, if semblances are to be the bearers of possibilities not
vouched safe humankind in its engagements with the material world, then the
material world of semblances must be discontinuous with the empirically
known material world. The standard term for the material bearer of aesthetic
experience is the medium of art. Art mediums, I shall argue, are the domain of
material nature conceived of as nonetheless hospitable to human freedom
and meaning; art is the rewriting of material nature as purposive and meaningful, or, more accurately, as materially inviting purposiveness and meaningfulness into itself.2 Art mediums exemplify an escape from the disenchantment of
nature without abrogating the authority of natural science.
On the face of it, this second thesis seems obvious: if artworks are enduring
objects designed for extended acts of perceptual attention, then their sensory
character must allow them to be understood in non-causally reductive ways.
The question then arises: what is at stake in regarding something that is not
intrinsically meaningful, say a piece of marble, as meaningful, say, a shining
image of the human body? Clearly, something about the way in which we can
legitimately regard the domain of art as a world of semblances that stands apart
from both empirical knowledge and moral action is going to be necessary if art
mediums as conceptions of material nature hospitable to human meaning are
going to be rationally possible. In brief, a defense of the necessity of our having
an aesthetic education through art is going to have to depend on a defense of the
necessity of semblance.3

2
3

From here on whenever I speak of items or works appearing thus and so, what is
being flagged is Schillerian Schein and not Kantian Erscheinung. Exactly why the
notion of semblance is important is fleshed out in section III below.
For this way of setting up and reading aesthetic theory, see my Introduction to Bernstein, 2003.
In stating the thesis this way, I am of course flagging what I take to be the cornerstone
of Adornos conception of art and aesthetic education; for this, see Bernstein, 1997.

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J. M. Bernstein

My intention in this essay is to reconstruct the core argument of Schillers


Aesthetic Letters in a manner in which the roles of art mediums and the necessity of semblances become the pivots on which its argument turns. I shall
further want to claim that understood aright, Schillers conception of art forges
a plausible conception of what we now conceive of as artistic modernism; had
I the space, I would even want to claim that this Schillerian modernism provides
a standing rebuke to the postmodernism of the Schlegel brothers Jena romanticism, and hence postmodernism generally, that, arguably, was intended to be the
completion of the aesthetic program Schiller inaugurated.4

II. Of Freedom in Appearance


In order to accurately engage Schillers ambitions in the Aesthetic Letters we
need some sense of their philosophical orientation. The Aesthetic Letters continue the reformulation of Kants aesthetic theory that Schiller had begun in his
Kallias Letters. 5 Although always operating within the boundaries of Kants
critical philosophy, the Kallias Letters can be interpreted as urging a threefold critique of Kants aesthetic theory.6 Schiller finds Kants account lacking in
inwardness (the way works address our subjectivity, call it forth), depth (the
sense that in beauty we experience an objectified fullness of meaning which is
not capable of being translated into exhaustively discursive terms), and, objectivity (aesthetic pleasure is a response to intrinsic features of objects in relation
to our general capacity for response).7 Kants theory of judgments of taste, the
cornerstone of his conception of beauty, fails of inwardness because, as the
different deductions of the possibility of judgments of taste reveal, it concerns
the universally shared subjective conditions for objective judgments of nature.
Roughly, Kants claim is that in a judgment of taste there occurs an harmonization of imagination and understanding through the reflective awareness of a
unity of a sensory manifold without any concept so unifying it; this state of harmony can be licensed as one that ought to be felt as pleasurable by all others
only if the work of imaginative/reflective unification performs the necessary
antecedent to determinative judgments generally. Primarily, then, for Kant
judgments of taste form a contextualization and underwriting of epistemic subjectivity; but epistemic subjectivity relates to the understanding (Verstand and

4
5

6
7

This essay was originally part a longer essay that included a critique of Jena romanticism. That critique has now appeared independently; see Bernstein, 2006.
In Bernstein, 2003, xviiixxii I offer a prcis of the text that dovetails with the argument of this paper. A translation, Kallias or Concerning Beauty: Letters to Gottfried
Krner, trans. Stefan Pollan, appears on pp. 145184.
I am here following the persuasive analysis of Henrich, 1982.
The notions of inwardness, depth, and objectivity are Henrichs, 1982, pp. 240242.

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not Vernunft, reason), and even for Kant the understanding concerns only our
capacity to encounter mechanical nature. Mechanical nature is revealed in
aesthetic judging as intrinsically hospitable to our epistemic needs for judging
it, for forming empirical concepts and, in reflective judging more broadly, constructing a hierarchical, deductive science. But even with the purposive, teleological supplement that allows mechanical nature to be conceived in its orderliness as for the sake of human understanding, for Schiller this is still cold
comfort. If even for Kant the real subjectivity of the subject lies in its freedom
and autonomy, then the fact that what gets affirmed in aesthetic pleasure is
fundamentally related to mechanical nature, and hence to what extrudes subjectivity from the external world makes the judgment of beauty add insult (fitness) to the original injury of expulsion.
The issue of depth is similarly thin gruel: while we find relief, alias pleasure,
in the affirmation of nature as suitable to the needs of epistemic subjectivity,
nature so understood is still antithetic to human subjectivity; judgments of taste
may legitimate an as if judgment of nature as teleologically ordered, but not
so in a way hospitable to the concerns of practical life, hence as mattering to
how we conceive of our lives as having or lacking meaning. Thus it is the very
emphases of Kants account that make unintelligible why beauty should be
absorbing, why it should feel indefinitely gripping, a subject for on-going contemplation and reflection, why it might appear to possess a satisfying fullness of
meaning. Hence, Schillers accusation of Kants theory as lacking inwardness is
a claim that the presupposed teleological orienting of nature in judgments of
natural beauty at bottom leaves nature as disenchanted as before, and as a consequence fails to call forth or engage our (actual) subjectivity. A thought which
gets underlined in the accusation of lack of depth: because nothing of the meaning of human freedom in the context of nature reaches expression in Kants
aesthetic formalism, then it leaves unexplained why beauty should be found
expressive of meaningfulness, however indeterminate that meaningfulness is in
aesthetic contexts. Finally, drawing these two threads together, Schiller finds
Kants aesthetic theory still too subjective, still too focused on what is merely
subjective the harmony of imagination and understanding , still, essentially,
about the effect an object has on the cognitive faculties, rather than about
responding to intrinsic features of fully worldly objects, encountering and
being attuned to objects in a manner that relates as much to some characteristic
aspect of them as to our capacity for response. This is just another way of saying that for Kant while judgments of beauty can be objective, speak with a
universal voice, beauty itself is not a property or feature of objects, despite its
being a response to something about them.8 Kant downplays that aboutness,

For an illuminating critique of Kants deduction of taste along this line see Ameriks,
1983.

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Schiller will heighten it, letting the sting of the difference from actual empirical
properties fall on the issue of semblance.
In the Kallias Letters, Schiller engineers a transformation of Kants theory
by making two simple substitutions: in place of aesthetic judgments deriving
from the relation between the understanding and the imagination, they concern
the work of reason; in place of the mere form of purposiveness, by which Kant
means, again, the reflective experience of a sensory manifold as unified and unifiable without being subsumed under a concept, Schiller substitutes an objects
appearing as if its states and character were not externally caused, but if not
requiring external explanation then as if it were self-explanatory, and hence as if
its apparent order were determined by an internal necessity, a law of its own.
But to say an object appears as if it were not externally determined is thus
equivalent to saying that aesthetic form relates to an object appearing as if selfdetermining or autonomous. The two substitutions emphatically converge on
the concept of freedom: beauty is the appearance of self-determination in
nature. Notice how neatly these two modest substitutions which on a fine day
can feel as if they are only minor adjustments to Kants doctrine transform the
character of Kants theory and allow the original criticisms to be answered: it
now concerns not the fitness of mechanical objects for our capacity to judge but
the great idea of self-determination resonating back to us from certain appearances of nature. It is our freedom that is addressed in aesthetic experience; the
experience is ignited by features of objects that allow them to appear as selfdetermining; and in aesthetic experience natural objects appear art-like, hence
revealing nature as itself purposive, so, however gingerly, lifting the curse of
mechanization.

III. Fragmented Modernity: Form-Drive versus Sense-Drive


Whilst provocative, the argumentation of the Kallias Letters remains substantively flawed and naive in comparison with the Aesthetic Letters since in the
former Schiller assumes that it is the standpoint of practical reason that seeks
images of itself in the world, and that in finding appearing wholes not requiring
external determination for their prima facie intelligibility projects freedom on
to them a projection that looks for all the world liked a deluded instance of
anthropomorphism.9 In the latter letters Schiller is forced to acknowledge that
it is freedom or autonomy itself that repudiates the claims of sensibility, that
modern freedom emerges from the repudiation of its sensible condition, and
hence that freedom qua freedom never becomes manifest (Schiller, 1967, 3.5;
SWN, 20, p. 315): the Terror of the French Revolution is continuous with the

For a fleshing out this criticism see Bernstein, 2003, p. xxii; and Beiser, 2005, pp. 6874.

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transcendental meaning of freedom as that which determines but is never determined, as that which exceeds every sensible actualization. Freedom is sublime.
If freedom never becomes manifest, it equally follows that any image of freedom, any sensible determining of it, will be a semblance. The question Schiller
presses in the Aesthetic Letters is whether that appearance, that semblance is
more than a mere illusion, a comforting projection, whether semblance might
be somehow necessary. In the tenth letter he proposes a soft-edged transcendental deduction as the correct strategy: beauty must be shown to be a necessary condition for the possibility of humanity, Menschheit (Schiller, 1967, 10.7;
SWN, 20, p. 340). The argument is not a transcendental deduction proper
because the end, humanity, is itself only morally or ethically necessary.10 And,
as we shall see, even this may be too strong since there is a question about the
origin or source of the very idea of Menschheit. Nonetheless, Schiller here sees
the task of demonstrating the objective value of beauty as requiring the establishing of the necessity of semblance for the possibility of our having an effective conception of humanity. If the Kallias Letters focused on the problems of
inwardness and objectivity, the Aesthetic Letters have the depth problem as
their core.
Schillers proposing of the form-drive (Formtrieb) and sense-drive (Stofftrieb) as replacements for Kants transcendental distinctions between form and
sense (concept and intuition, reason/understanding versus sensibility, freedom
and nature) is standardly interpreted as the anthropological replacing the transcendental, as if Schiller had simply failed to understand the transcendental
meaning of Kants various distinctions. This seems to me exactly wrong. I read
Schiller as a critical theorist avant la lettre; his argument is governed by the
question: What is the historical meaning of the Copernican turn? What are the
historical conditions for and the social consequences of the recognition of the
transcendental meaning of reason and freedom? To conceive of transcendental
items in their social and historical setting is to conceive of them as providing
fundamental orientations for social practice. Conceived as normative orientations governing social practice, transcendental forms become drives.11 Hence,
drive talk in Schiller is not reductively psychological or anthropological but the
attempt to account for the way in which a transcendental claim is experienced as
a claim in practice, and what the effects of that experience are. Nonetheless, the
10

11

This is not to say that humanity is an optional end. I take part of the claim of the first
ten letters, which weave together philosophy, social analysis, and philosophical
history, to be that we cannot sustain any of our most fundamental moral beliefs
about freedom, equality, suffering, dignity without adopting humanity as an end
(the recurrent morality must become nature argument); and hence to deny the
notion of humanity amounts to coming into profound and deracinating contradiction
with ourselves.
Beiser, 2005, pp. 139, 1467 argues persuasively that Schiller borrowed his drive
theory not from Fichte but from Reinhold, 1789.

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logical force of those claims derives, at least in part, from the fact that the stakes
are transcendental. This is why the Terror of the French Revolution matters to
transcendental philosophy: its violence is logically synonymous with the raw or
unmediated or direct claim of freedom in relation to sensibility, freedoms
necessary repudiation of its dependence on the sensible for its meaning (Schiller
1967, 3.4, 4.3; SWN, 20, pp. 314315, 316317); the normativity of freedom is its
transcendence of sensibility, its never being fully realized or exemplified in any
empirical complex.
To be sure, in transforming sense from faculty (sensibility), psychological
content (the inclinations), and the content (or matter) of form into the sensedrive, Schiller is giving to sense a claim and meaning that it does not prima
facie possess in Kant, or rather a claim which only the logic of Kants aesthetic
theory acknowledges, albeit insufficiently. Hence, Schillers drive theory originates in the need to explain how Kants transcendental account of understanding and reason could require the precise supplementation it receives in his
aesthetic theory. Only Kants aesthetics reveals the claim of sense which the
transcendental authority of the forms of reason and understanding appear to
suppress. It is thus the meaning of that claim, its transformations and fate, that
are the concern of the philosophical and historical narrative of the Aesthetic
Letters.12 The sensuous drive, sinnlicher Trieb, and the form-drive are themselves deduced from the (practical) I think. Assume that human dignity is
grounded in rational personality as an atemporal power for rational activity; the
matter that rational activity works upon is provided from without through
sensory affection. From this thin basis can be derived two fundamental laws of
our sensate-rational nature, laws that explicate the kind of connectedness that
must exist between the two parts of our nature. Since rational personality is a
potential for a certain type of activity, then what is mere form must become
world, so making our potential for rational personality actual (subject must
become substance). Working from the opposite direction, everything in man
that is mere world, given, must be destroyed and brought within the domain

12

That this is what the Aesthetic Letters are all about becomes more visible from the perspective of the opening arguments of On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, where Schiller should be interpreted as demonstrating how unavoidable the notion of the naive is,
say via the normative unavoidability of the claim for what is childlike; and thence
showing how that unavoidability is to be construed as a claim for nature which is
incompatible with mechanical nature. Our very self-consciousness, our sentimental
self-understanding, is only intelligible in contrast to its lack, where that lack as exemplified by the Greeks relates to some notion of naturalness or attunement with the
natural world (including our own bodies and feelings) that has been lost. The loss, so
interpreted, becomes the governing theme of early Hlderlin, who thought of himself
as explicitly following Schiller in this regard. My hypothesis is that the tragic Hlderlin got Schiller right, seeing through Schillers moralistic rhetoric to the dark logic
lying just beneath the surface.

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of form an insistence upon absolute Formalitt (Schiller 1967, 11.9; SWN, 20,
p. 344; substance must become subject). The sense-drive and the form-drive are
the means through which these two laws become actual, whilst not, I think,
being intended as direct expressions of them.
The sense-drive, Schiller maintains, has the task of setting man within the
limits of time, turning him into matter; materialization thus becomes a fundamental orientation of subjectivity rather than solely a threat to it. Matter is the
content of time, what occupies time; what the drive hence demands is that time
shall have content, that there shall be change. By this route, Schiller finds his
way back to Kant: this state, which is nothing but time occupied by content, is
called sensation (Schiller 1967, 12.1; SWN, 20, p. 344). Whilst the view of sensation is Kantian, the underlying drive is not; the drive represents the claim of
sensation, the desire for the moment, the desire to relish moments, have them,
live them, let them be all, cognitively and affectively. So the sense-drive is more
than the drive for self-preservation, and although it feeds empiricism, hedonism
and vulgar eudaimonism (it is the ground or fundament of their claim, why they
can so much as appear to have a claim to rational attention), it is not reducible to
positivist atomism, a pleasure-pain calculus or blind self-indulgence. The sensedrive is the expression of our finitude, the claim of content in relation to form,
the demand of (for) cases in relation to law. The particular can matter for Schiller since there is a demand for actualization, for form to be realized, where it is
the actualization or realization itself that is the point of the form: the individual
case matters because it is an actualization of form rather than being merely a
moment in which form is realized; only empirical determinacy adequately
achieves the promise formal indeterminacy. Hence, Schillers elaboration of
Kant is to contend that if the reason-sense or form-content distinction is itself
transcendental, then each component, sense and reason, must each be credited
with a rationality potential (for that is what the drives qua transcendental orientations have revealed themselves to be) that is necessary for our sensate-rational
nature as a whole, that is irreducible, and that is not derivable from its opposite;
and hence the rationality of the whole depends on providing space for the
actualization of the potential of each component. (By providing sensateness
with transcendental authority, Schiller explains what earlier writers suspect but
leave almost unintelligible: why sensible realization, say in arbitrary signs
taking on the appearance of natural signs in poetry, should be equivalent to a
sensuous enlivening rather than material mortification.)
The provision of a rationality potential for both form and sense is not Kant,
although it can sound very proximate. Because the drives are irreducible and
non-derivable rationality potentials, then their coordination cannot be thought
through the standard models of synthesis or subordination: the first would
assume ultimate reducibility, the second a priori hierarchy. So, subordination
there must, of course, be; but it must be reciprocal (Schiller 1967, 13.2fn.;
SWN, 20, p. 348). In a nutshell, this is Schillers ultimate critique of Kant, since

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the critiques of pure and practical reason each do turn on the subordination
of sense by form (intuitions by concepts, inclinations by the moral law). The
emptiness of concepts without intuitions provides an empirical constraint on
what makes concepts cognitively worthy without explicating how intuitions are
the substantive contents of intuitions. The moral law is more than a constraint
on what maxims can be morally worthy; moral worthiness has its unique source
in the moral law. It is not that Kant ignores the claims of sense; rather, Schiller is
contending, by making subordination uni-directional, from form to sense, that
Kant construes the claim of sense from the perspective of form, making sense
forms puppet, the voice of sense a work of ventriloquism. Said differently, the
epistemic constraints of Kants theory mandate that sense be theoretically inert,
hence without orientational significance. In claiming that if sense is a structural
feature of cognition it must have transcendental significance, Schiller critique of
Kant reaches into the deepest stratum of Kants dualism. Hence, to insist upon
reciprocal subordination is to seek a mode in which the claim of sense appears
from its own perspective, not without form but wherein form is its vehicle.
Such is the claim of the (modern/modernist) work of art.
The idea of reciprocal subordination sounds eloquently harmonizing, and
perhaps is meant to so sound; but before helping ourselves to this idea, some
obstacles to it need limning. The first is this: although beauty is indeed meant as
the link between the two drives, between thinking and feeling, yet, insists Schiller, between these two there is absolutely no middle term [] Beauty []
unites two conditions which are diametrically opposed and can never become
one (Schiller 1967, 18.2, 4; SWN, 20, p. 366). Beauty is to be a weird sort of
tertium quid, uniting what are logically opposed and cannot be made one. As
irreducible rationality potentials, the drives cannot be dialectically synthesized.
Hence, whatever beauty is, it is not the dialectical overcoming of the division.
Keeping in mind the permanent opposition between sense-drive and formdrive, and the consequent impossibility of creating a unity that is not a dialectical sublation of them is central to appreciating how dark Schillers vision is.
Further, noting how paradoxically he formulates the task of beauty to unite
what is permanently opposed underlines the logical stress he places on his
analysis.
Second, although the transcendental presentation of the drives makes it
appear as if they must be fully equally, this is not in fact the case. There is a priority of form over content for us and it is that priority which is the explanation
for the failure of the French Revolution, the brutality of the state, the fragmentation of our humanity through the division of labor, the barbarism of class of
difference (Schiller 1967, 5 and 6; SWN, 20, pp. 319321 and 321328). This
priority, call it the fact of modernity, has been historically engendered. This
would be bearable if the historical fact were a brute contingency or reversible. It
is not quite either. The process of civilization necessitates the delegitimation of
the sense-drive as a condition for the historical emergence of the transcendental

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claim of the form-drive, and hence for the coming-to-be of natural science,
rational (egalitarian) morality, and the idea of a liberal state (Schiller 1967, 6.1,
815; 20.3; 24.4; SWN, 20, pp. 321, 324328; 374375; 390). Schiller does not tire
of commenting upon the fact that rational personality and the ideas associated
with it could arise only through an antagonism which entailed the tearing of
man out of nature altogether and the systematic severing of the claim of the
sense-drive; that fragmentation and suffering are the conditions under which a
conception of a rational whole emerges; that the logic which has the species progressing while the lot of the individual disintegrates is unavoidable; and, finally,
that only through the excision of all givenness, all determination, can the idea of
rational autonomy assert itself. The rational force of modernity is, let us say, the
sublimity of rational freedom, and it is that which provides for the priority of
form over sense. To the degree to which we cannot rationally forgo the claims
of natural science, rational morality, and the liberal state, then, however baleful
the social consequences, we cannot quite conceive of overturning that priority.
Modernity is the de-legitimation of the sense-drive and the corollary de-authorization of nature as a source of independent claims; this is the second limb to a
dark construal of Schiller, and the half-truth that is misrepresented by Kants
uni-directional model.13 The achievements of rational modernity for him possess an intrinsic and ineliminable moment of violence; since that moment is but
the flip-side of what really are the unsurpassable achievements of modernity,
then the correction of that violence (what an aesthetic education might provide)
cannot be conceived of as an utter or complete logical transformation of the
terms making modernity possible. Holding on to a dark reading of Schiller
means holding true to his aporetic conception of modernity whose Janus face,
both rational and deracinating, is empirically correctable but not fully transformable.
The fact of modernity is the de-authorization of the claims of nature and
sensibility; the historical authorization of form occurs through the de-authorization and de-legitimation of sense (the disenchantment of nature). Even the
original statement of the form-drive expresses this thought: in accordance with
the law of absolute formality, man is to exterminate (vertilgen) everything in
himself that is mere world (Schiller 1967, 11.9; SWN, 20, p. 344; trans. amended). When Schiller goes on to state that there is no necessary conflict between

13

Sometimes Schiller writes as if political utopia would be the reversal of this hierarchy;
but his best thoughts in this area suggest only that the rational claim for political
utopia is consequent upon the claim of the work of art, its demonstration of a rational
surplus beyond rationalized modernity, entailing thereby that rational modernity is
not fully rational in itself. But, I am contending, his analysis of beauty insists upon the
permanence of the opposition between the drives and the continuance of hierarchy.
The fact that the hierarchy is historical and not a priori, pace Kant, is the wriggle room
Schiller names utopia.

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the drives, his formulation is accordingly askew: The form-drive insists on


unity and persistence but it does not require the condition to be fixed as well
as the Person, does not require the identity of sensation (Schiller 1967, 13.2;
SWN, 20, p. 347; trans. amended). This is misleading, and Schiller must know it;
what the insistence of the form-drive entails is not the identity of sensation, as if
we could have just one sensation forever, which makes no sense, but, what
results from subordination, uniformity (Schiller, 1967, 13.2fn.; SWN, 20,
pp. 347348), for sense to be exhausted by the identity of the concept covering
it, hence not for time to stop, but for change to be empty, time meaningless
except as the transformation of world into form.14 Whither then the claim of
sense, the claim of sensuous nature and finitude, and hence of us as possessing a
sensate-rational nature?
If philosophy were to attempt to restore the claim of sense through rational
demonstration, the attempt would necessarily be self-defeating; the deduction
would reveal sense to be deducible from and by reason, hence not independent.
The authority of sensate nature, nature as the internal correlative of sensory
awareness, can only be restored in a manner that itself acknowledges the claim
of sensuousness. But this cannot be the direct or immediate claim of sensuousness, for that claim is the one that has been already thoroughly repudiated by
the demands of formality. Hence the claim for sensate nature must be one for it
as part of a whole, thus as coordinated with form. Within a modernity that is
fragmented into various specializations, art is that fragment of the whole whose
task it is to restore to it the wholeness the other arts have destroyed (Schiller,
1967, 6.15; SWN, 20, p. 328); artists are specialists in the overcoming of specialization. Schiller is systematically unclear about the status of this thesis, a lack of
clarity which affects the Aesthetic Letters generally. Throughout the text he
systematically conflates the thesis that art (art beauty) is that through which the
claim of sensate nature is revealed as possessing a defused or lost authority
which we cannot do without, with the thesis that there is an independently
existing rational idea of sensate-rational humanity whose motivational authority is re-established through the arts. In the first case, art does the revealing, and
philosophy is the handmaiden whose task is to elaborate the experience of art as

14

This still does not state the problem satisfactorily. What Schiller means to say, I think,
is that the general orientation or logic of each drive is incommensurable with the
other, but that does not entail the impossibility of there being particular states of
affairs in which the force demanding subordination in each is not canceled. One way
of reading the play-drive is that it relates form to sense without the subordinating
force of the drives operating; it is the force of the play-drive that puts the force of the
other two drives out of play, so to speak. So the notion of the play-drive just is the
attempt to find a force sufficient to counter the subordinating tendencies of the other
drives without canceling them as drives. The account of the lipstick thesis below
attempts to locate the domain of the play-drive, without providing a direct elaboration
of it as a drive.

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173

revealing a lost rationality potentiality; in the second case, art is a means to an


end that is philosophically and rationally independent of art. His specialization
argument and his philosophical history make only the art-first version plausible.

IV. Medium and Semblance


Humanity has lost its dignity, Schiller asserts in the ninth letter, but art has
rescued it and preserved it in significant stone (in bedeutenden Steinen). Truth
lives on in the illusion [of art], and it is from this copy or after-image (aus dem
Nachbilde), that the original image (Urbild) will once again be restored (Schiller, 1967, 9.4; SWN, 20, p. 334). Artists are those who imprint spirit upon silent
stone (in den verschwiegnen Stein), or pour it into the sober mould of words
(Schiller, 1967, 9.6; SWN, 20, p. 334). Unpacking the relation between silent and
significant stone on the one hand, and significant stone and truth ensconced in
illusion on the other, is the key to the elaboration of art as revealing the lost the
authority of sensate nature. Let us think about illusion first.
Three theses are entangled in Schillers understanding of illusion. When Wilkinson and Willoughby hesitate over the translation of Nachbilde by offering
both copy and after-image, they are latching onto a productive ambiguity
in Schiller. Notoriously in the Aesthetic Letters, and elsewhere, Schiller presents
the Greeks as expressing natural humanity, combining the first youth of the
imagination with the manhood of reason (Schiller, 1967, 6.2; SWN, 20, p. 321);
in their art, however high the mind might soar, it always drew matter lovingly
along with it (Schiller, 1967, 6.3; SWN, 20, p. 322). Greek art, he seems to be
arguing, expresses the emphatic humanity of Greek social life, with the continuing harmony of matter with ideal in art the expression of their achievement
of a unity of reason with nature. In the tenth letter, however, after arguing that
there is not a single instance in which the diffusion of aesthetic culture has gone
hand in hand with freedom and civic culture (Schiller, 1967, 10.4; SWN, 20,
pp. 338339), he asserts that the Golden Age of Greek art only occurs when the
strength and freedom of Greek political life disappeared. The Greeks, Schiller is
contending, were (like) a work of art, and only had art in the emphatic sense
when their natural humanity, which involved the interweaving of art, religion,
and politics, collapsed. Art is still mimetic for Schiller, however awkwardly that
thought fits with everything else he wants to say about art; but it is also an afterimage of the work of art the Greek people were albeit a work of art created, in
part, by Winckelmanns and his retrospective constructions. The disjoining of
art from politics is what gives art its political meaning: art stands in for an
absent politics. One level of the illusoriness of art hence relates to it representing or standing in for what does not exist humanly, that the very being of art
speaks to a political absence, and that hence there is only art in the emphatic

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sense when life itself has been disrupted, fragmented, ruined, stopped living
(Schiller, 1967, 15.3; SWN, 20, p. 355). Hence, the routine idea of art imaginatively presenting what is existentially absent becomes here the presentation of
the absence of what is existentially significant. Art is memory, and through
being memory it becomes the promise of another history.15 At any rate, the
claim of sense is a claim of a lost naturalness, or, if that notion of loss depends
too heavily on believing too much about the Greeks, then at least the thought
that we experience the lack of nature, the defusing of its claim by rational form,
as a loss of our relation with nature, a loss that we experience individually in the
emergence of adult reflective autonomy out of childhood (naive, natural) spontaneity.16
But this leads to the second level of semblance. There is art proper only if art
is a specialization, an autonomous sphere of activity. What establishes arts
autonomy? And, a related question: what preserves art from the corruption
surrounding it? Arts autonomy depends upon its taking a distance from the
needs of daily life, hence as absenting itself from the demands of all purposive
activity (Schiller, 1967, 9.5; SWN, 20, p. 334); hence the autonomy of art, the
appearance of art as art, is historically produced and conditioned. What is involved in this autonomy is even more radical than it appears as first blush:
beauty is without result for the understanding or the will; it accomplishes no
particular purpose, neither intellectual nor moral (Schiller, 1967, 21.4; SWN,
20, p. 377); this is the emptiness of art I mentioned at the opening of this essay.
Aesthetic autonomy entails semblance; semblance is a corollary of autonomy.
Art is semblance, then, in the sense that it is a claim for significance that is without binding empirical or practical content. Art is the semblance of significance
(this is just what an experience of beauty is) whose significance, whatever it is, is
lodged in it being pure semblance.
This is the riddle of semblance that Schiller addresses in letters twenty-six
and twenty-seven. Although Schiller circles valiantly around the problem in
letter twenty-six semblance [] we love just because it is semblance, and
not because we take it to be something better (Schiller, 1967, 26.5; SWN, 20,
pp. 399400); semblance stands to actuality as form to body (Schiller, 1967,
26.6; SWN, 20, p. 400) his searches there move across already familiar terrain.
More is risked in the following letter.

15
16

For a rich prosecution of this claim with respect to Schiller, see Horowitz, 2006.
I am assuming here that Schiller came to feel that his original conception of Greek
naturalness was a fiction, a work of art, and hence constructed the notion of the naive
as a conception of naturalness that would enable him to connect something about
childlike spontaneity with our appreciation of the Greeks. So much might be inferred
from the positioning of the concept of nature and the general argumentation of On
Nave and Sentimental Poetry, a work published directly after the Aesthetic Letters.

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Wherever, then, we find traces of a disinterested and unconditional appreciation of


pure semblance, we may infer that a revolution of this order has taken place in his
nature, and that he has started to become truly human. Traces of this kind are,
however, actually to be found even in his first crude attempts at embellishing his
existence, attempts made even at the risk of possibly worsening it from a material
point of view. As soon as ever he starts preferring form to substance, and jeopardizing reality for the sake of semblance (which he must, however, recognize as
such), a breach has been affected in the cycle of his animal behavior, and he finds
himself set upon a path to which there is no end. (Schiller, 1967, 27.1; SWN, 20,
p. 405)

Like much in the Aesthetic Letters, this is warmed-over Rousseau, and indeed
Schillers narrative will resolutely track Rousseaus, but here the thought has
almost the opposite meaning to that which it comes to have in the Discourse on
Inequality. In his lectures on the Aesthetic Letters, Gregg Horowitz expressed
Schillers thought as: civilization begins with lipstick.17 Schiller is here suggesting that the break with animality occurs not under the aegis of high ideals
for which we might risk our life, making the break with nature the direct triumph of the form-drive over the sense-drive,18 but rather in adorning ourselves
for others, making ourselves over into an appearance for others delight. If there
is a sexual subtext to such embellishment, it does not make the embellishment
reductively means-ends rational since this is a self-presentation for the delight
of the other, for the others eye and senses, and hence its success depends upon
its subverting of the self-interest it serves: the others eye is my measure. What
matters in adornment, as Rousseau kept moaning about, is not who you are but
solely how you appear. Adornment then opens up the space in which our and
the others practical engagements with the world are bracketed for the sake of
appearance, and that appearance for the other, the others for me.19

17

18

19

Lectures delivered at Vanderbilt University in the Fall Semester, 2000. In his lectures,
Horowitz argued brilliantly for a dark reading of Schiller; the memory of those
lectures has been in my mind throughout the writing of these pages, which would
have been impossible without them; in the case of this essay, my debt to him is even
more thorough-going than usual. The explicit lipstick thesis proved too unforgettable not to cite directly. For indications of his own working out of a dark Schiller
see Horowitz, 2006.
Since the triumph of the form-drive over the sense-drive itself contains something
violent, is coercive and subordinating, then, Schiller is arguing, we need to look elsewhere for the origin of truly non-dominating forms of comportment. Hence the lipstick thesis is coordinate with Schillers critique of Kantian moral freedom as itself
repressive and dominating.
Note that adornment not only opens up a space of appearance for appearances sake,
but demonstrates how the sexual interest driving it is truly and necessarily sublated (sublimated) by the self-display. The account, then, manages to explicate the disinterestedness of taste (appearance for appearances sake) without denying the ultimate interest
it serves. Freud could not have handled the complexity here any better. There is a

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Holding the three part analysis of semblance in mind should make the
connection between silent and significant stone less opaque. Schillers puzzle,
again, turns on the claim for rational modernity transpiring through the delegitimation of the claims of sense. The delegitimation is not anodyne because,
uninhibited by any competing claim, rational form contains a violent and dehumanizing aspect. From the lipstick thesis we can infer that in the absence of a
competing claim the form-drive is, despite itself, a form of instrumental rationality; it sacrifices sense to form, and considers matter solely as means to the
realizing of form. Only through beautiful semblance, from adornment to art, is
a fully non-instrumental relation to the other first opened up; the relation can
be non-instrumental because there is nothing (else) at stake. Beauty is semblance for semblances stake: what lodges a claim to our attention is without
purpose; that being without purpose, that detachment from the urgencies of
acting and knowing, is arts terrible amoralism. As Schiller underlines, the noninstrumental stance that beautiful semblance enables hardly makes beauty and
art ethical in themselves; we know too well that aesthetic culture and barbarism
can happily co-exist. This is in part why art needs philosophy: art cannot explicate the rationality potential it in fact exemplifies because its morality, its claim,
always transpires through its amorality, through its bracketing of the demands
of explanatory knowing and sublime freedom.
Under the conditions of rational modernity, the claims of sense, its rationality potential, can only appear as semblance. The illusion perpetuated by the
beauty of the work of art, its dynamic self-sufficiency, is that there is no antagonism between the sense-drive and the form-drive, that form and sense can be
mutually re-enforcing, reciprocally subordinating. Significant stone is the image
of reciprocal subordination. What is signified by it is just this: significance can
be (almost) self-sufficiently embodied in stone. A piece of marble is chiseled; in
the chipping and breaking off of bits of matter, silent stone becomes significant;
that becoming as the sheer, because purposeless, imprinting of form upon matter is the claim of sensate-rational humanity against its modern deformation. To
say of the stone that it is silent is to regard it as not now speaking; silent stone is
not raw material, sheer stuff, dead matter; silent stone is stone waiting to speak,
ready for meaning. Significant stone is what reveals its origin as silent stone;
significant stone constitutes its origin as silent stone. This is what I meant earlier
when I claimed that an art medium reveals or salvages nature as not merely
mechanical, but as also a potential for meaning, a meaning that needs just this
material realization, just this material complexion to have the exact sense and
authority it does have. In Schillers terms, silent stone awaiting voice the requestion, to which I have no answer, about how Schiller construed the relation between sexual interest, on the one hand, and the play-drive on the other since both
concern the interest/force necessary for bracketing the contest between the other two
drives.

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Significant Stone: Medium and Sense in Schiller

177

velation of nature as a having a potential for meaning is the achievement of


significant stone, what significant stone reveals or brings to pass. Hence the
curious emptiness of artistic semblance turns on significant stone being, finally,
the revelation of silent stone the emptiness of art is that resounding silence;
this is another way in which arts emptiness is a fullness of meaning. Sculpting
does not rescue the stone from its silent condition, giving it voice; rather, it gives
it back its silence, its semantic discretion (Verschwiegenheit).20 Which is why, as
modern art progresses, it can be so resolutely become about itself; art concerns
nothing but the relation between matter and form berhaupt; because it is in
general, then explicit themes and topics eventually fade as being parochial, only
the claim of art in general and as such remaining. But because it is in general and
as such it contains a further illusion, namely, to possess, however opaquely, the
meaning of humanity. Because art does concern the general relation between
form and sense, freedom and nature, thought and feeling (where each of these
are different modalities of the form-drive in relation to the sense-drive), then it
must feel as if any particular beauty reveals something of the truth of humanity
as such, the truth of our sensate-rational nature: the fit of form and matter here
revealing the meaning of form and matter in general.21
But this is semblance: the form-drive and the sense-drive are logically independent; hence, there is no ideal notion of their overall harmony or unification
(that is what it means to say they are wholly independent), they are in conflict,
form has subjugated sense, and any image of the unity or harmony can only be
a bit of semblance. That semblance, turning the thought over one more time, is
all that is available to check the claim of the form-drive since it reveals, say in
the mode of a promise, that the conflict is not necessary. Schillers characterization of significant stone thus can be read as a radical vindication of the idea that

20

21

Schiller is less explicit about this than I am here claiming. His typical way of stating
the thought is to say that the artist is in fact as violent toward his material as the
instrumentally rational artisan, but pretends that matter means more, and that he protects the freedom of the material (Schiller, 1967, 4.4; SWN, 20, p. 317) through deception, so that the work appears as if the artist has yielded to the material. My corrective is only to suggest that the deception and the appearance of yielding are
necessary for art, it is precisely how the moment of sensuousness can be effectively
present in works. So the deception and appearance of yielding are constitutive components of arts semblance character. But this is just to say that the notion of silent stone
is a matter of semblance and can for us only be that. Artisanal violence as brute indifference is thus intelligible as the logical precedence of form over silence: because form
constitutes silence as its origin, then prior to the realization of some form there is
nothing for an artist to be sensitive to. In art the fit between form and matter is necessarily retrospective: actuality precedes possibility.
The fragility of the exercise is exquisite: since it is the work that reveals and constitutes its medium as founding, a potentiality for meaning, then each work must pretend a
ground which its very achievement reveals as hollow. Which is why the authority of
works depends on their being semblances. Semblance is the substance of the aesthetic.

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meaning can be sensibly embodied in a non-reductive, non-instrumental way


just in case sensible material can be seen as a potential for meaningfulness. Art
forms can check rational form through making possible the difference between
silent stone and dead matter: the difference between those two being the idea of
the medium, and hence of what it is for art to be medium dependent, for what it
is for art practices to be practices within a medium. And the difference between
dead matter and silent stone yielding, finally, the difference between freedom as
emphatic, sublime transcendence to every material determination (the subordination of dead matter) and freedom as a potentiality for sensible expression (the
grace of the moral within the sensible; grace as the significant stone of moral
life).22 Call that the difference between terror and republican virtue.23 In checking our instrumental comportment toward the world, in suspending the exclusive claims of the sense-drive (as expressed in the life of the sensualist) and
form-drive (the life of the zealot, the fanatic), we become determinable once
more, and it is this state of determinability which performs a prelude to the
political freedom that modernity has thus far missed. Arts educative function is
its capacity to yield a different orientation toward the world than that dictated
by the form-drive or the sense-drive on its own by providing the experience of
a different relation to things, and thereby enabling us to perceive the violence
of each in its exclusion from the other. Because, again, the effective (transcendentally vindicable) rationality potential of sensibility and material nature
have been de-legitimated, then, Schiller must be arguing, only art, semblance,
can make possible a different, non-dominating orientation toward the world
(including toward one another). That is the truth that lives in illusion, in semblance.

V. The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art24


Although it will take the remainder of the letters to unpack its consequences,
significant stones revelation of silent stone, which is equally silent stones standing as an after-image of a lost unity with nature, a lost politics, is the performative center of Schillers account of the relation between form and sense in art,
and hence the vindication of the idea of the medium as the revelation of nature
22

23
24

Grace is the crucial concept in Schillers critique of Kants dualism of moral law and
natural inclination in Anmut und Wrde, Grace and Dignity (1793). It intends the idea
that the inclinations are themselves utterly harmonious with the requirements of the
moral law; grace is thus a notion of moral beauty. One might say that when grace is
present there is a reciprocal subordination of moral law and inclination in moral
action rather than a unidirectional determination of sense by the moral law. This is the
sense of grace I am playing on in this sentence.
On Schillers republicanism, see Beiser, 2005, pp. 128129.
For this idea generally, see Danto, 2004, esp. pp. 122.

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as (still) a potential for meaning. Curiously, in his only direct discussion of


artistic mediums, Schiller loses this thought; in losing the thought of the meaning of mediums he simultaneously suppresses the very idea of aesthetic education. Diagnosing how and why will help to make the thought of artistic mediums clearer, and preserve the original, educative intention of the argument.
Begin with the perfectly legitimate thesis that when perceiving a painting or
hearing a piece of music the medium is absorbed in the form, hence we perceive
the (painted) face not paint (color and line) on canvas, I hear the melody not
separate musical instruments or sounds. Of course, what I actually see is a
painted face and hear musical sounds, but there has always been the pressure to
treat mediums the way propositional thought treats its various material means:
as a matter of indifference. At its worst, this can lead to the suggestion that the
medium is nothing but a distorting influence to be sublated by the freedom of
the imagination. Schiller seems to be adopting precisely this idea of Lessings in
the Kallias Letters. There he argues that an object may be said to be freely
depicted only if its presentation does not suffer from interference by the nature
of the depicting matter: The nature of the medium or the matter must thus be
completely vanquished by the nature of the imitated [] In an artwork, the
matter (the nature of the imitating [object]) must lose itself in the form (the
imitated [object]), the body in the idea, the reality in the appearance (Schiller,
2003, p. 179; SWN, 26, p. 224). Nor is this just a manner of speaking; after pressing the point that the representing medium must shed and deny its own nature,
he stipulates that the nature of the marble, which is hard and brittle, must fully
disappear into the nature of flesh which is flexible and soft, and neither feeling
nor the eye may be reminded of its disappearance (Schiller, 2003, p. 180; SWN,
26, p. 225) as if we somehow fail to notice that the statue before us is made of
marble.
In the Aesthetic Letters this becomes the thesis that each medium, and thus
every actual work of art, possesses a definite bias eigentmlichen Richtung,
a peculiar or specific orientation that marks its departure from the ideal of
a pure aesthetic experience (Schiller, 1967, 22.4; SWN, 20, p. 380). So Schiller
contends that the medium of music gives it an affinity to the senses, while the
medium of poetry yields to the play of the imagination, and the medium of
sculpture, in virtue of its precision, borders on the austerity of science. To his
credit, Schiller does not attempt to generate, at least here, a hierarchy of the arts;
their diversity in the light of the distinctness of their mediums is to be recognized. But, too emphatically to tolerate: the difference of mediums, their emphatic
plurality, replicates the very fragmentation of the subject that art as a whole is
meant to resist a thought that haunts the recognition of art being medium
bound, since medium plurality appears to replicate the very problem to which
recourse to mediums was suppose to resolve. Rather than conceiving of the arts
taking up the burden of this fragmentation by returning to each sense it intrinsic dignity and letting the plurality of the arts become the bearer of lost unity,

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excellence in art becomes for Schiller expressly resistance to the bias a medium
represents, e.g., poetry, when most fully developed, must grip us powerfully as
music does, but at the same time, like the plastic arts, surround us with serene
clarity (Schiller, 1967, 22.4; SWN, 20, p. 381). As a bit of normative criticism
this is at best vacuous, at worse baleful. Its balefulness is conceptual in origin. In
effect, Schiller produces an Idea of The Aesthetic, capital letters and neon lights,
that every actual work must necessarily fail because it is produced in this or that
medium.
The Idea of The Aesthetic relates to the issue of the depth noted at the beginning of section II depth as the sense that in beauty we experience an objectified fullness of meaning which is not capable of being translated into exhaustively discursive terms. If inwardness in art is answered through the idea of
freedom in appearance, depth now is to concern Supreme Reality (hchste
Realitt) (Schiller, 1967, 22.1; SWN, 20, p. 379). Theoretically, Schiller achieves
this thought by a simple false inference: from the thought that beauty is indeterminate, without a concept, that it exemplifies the harmonization or collaboration of sense and form in general and in principle, and engages with a self-sufficient whole (binding inwardness to depth), it is inferred that in the state of
experiencing beauty we experience the unconditioned potentiality of human
subjectivity unadorned; the experience of beauty is the revelation of the meaning of subjectivity as such. The aesthetic mode of the psyche is to be looked
upon
as a state of Supreme Reality, once we have due regard to the absence of all limitation and to the sum total of the powers which are conjoined within it [] for a disposition of the psyche which contains within it the whole of human nature, must
necessarily contain within it in potentia every individual manifestation of it as well
[] [T]he aesthetic alone leads to the absence of all limitation. Every other state
into which we can enter refers us back to a preceding one; the aesthetic alone is a
whole in itself, since it comprises within itself all the conditions of both its origin
and its continuance. Here alone do we feel reft out of time, and our human nature
expresses itself with a purity and integrity, as though it had as yet suffered no
impairment through the intervention of external forces. (Schiller, 1967, 22.1; SWN,
20, p. 379; my emphasis)

Everything occurs by noting the features of aesthetic experience, but eliminating from the description all the complexities that make it possible, and then
reifying the result into a distinct object: human subjectivity as such. What Schiller forgets here and throughout the twenty-second letter is that art is illusion,
that it does not really contain all the conditions of its origin and continuance,
that art as art only emerges under specific conditions, and hence the purity of
the aesthetic always refers back to that from which it withdraws. Further, in
being an indeterminate actualization of form and sense the psyche does not contain within it in potentia every individual manifestation as well; more plausibly
it contains none. It is this Idea that is then wheeled out as the measure of actual,

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medium-bound aesthetic experiences, the Idea of The Aesthetic conquering and


vanquishing each aesthetic experience: Since in actuality no purely aesthetic
effect is ever met with (for man can never escape his dependence upon conditioning forces), the excellence of a work of art can never consist in anything
more than a high approximation to that ideal of aesthetic purity (Schiller, 1967,
22.4; SWN, 20, p. 380). An analogous argument occurs at the beginning of the
sixteenth letter when Schiller argues that the Idea of Beauty refers to a perfect
equilibrium, which as such is one and indivisible, whereas in experience beauty
is always oscillating, unstable, inclining toward form or toward matter, thus is
always either more or less releasing or tensing, melting or energizing (Schiller,
1967, 16.13; SWN, 20, pp. 360362).
My criticism of Schiller here is continuous with the standard and valid complaint that he swerves from the legitimate notion of the aesthetic as a condition
for humanity, its educative function, to illegitimately considering it the end or
telos of humanity. Although that shift does occur, I have been urging that its
explanation turns on Schillers placement of art in relation to philosophy: autonomous art is educative in relation to a philosophy that is itself a product of the
fragmentation and specialization that is the hallmark of modernity, while the
various idealizations of art and beauty depend on subsuming them within a
Supreme Reality, the Idea of human nature as the perfect harmonization and
unification of the two drives (Schiller, 1967, 14.2; SWN, 20, pp. 352353) forgetting that the drives cannot be dialectically unified and harmonized.25
What is even worse about Schillers various employments of rational ideas
recalling that even for him rational ideas are the exemplary products of the
form-drive in relation to the sense-drive is that they entail the effective suppression of what art and the aesthetic are all about, namely, a revelation of the
compatibility of our highest ideals, our powers of forming, with their sensible
and material conditioning. So, the parenthetic statement that man can never
escape his dependence upon conditioning forces, which is meant to demonstrate the failure of actual aesthetic experiences in relation to the ideal, in effect
is a denial of aesthetic experience: the mutual conditioning of form and sense.

25

One might say that while the actual content of Schillers theory is darkly modernist
and anti-foundational, the meta-philosophy of the Aesthetic Letters is foundational,
with the former aspect converging with the educational project and the latter with the
utopian teleology. There is a simple explanation for the slide from one to the other:
Schiller could not conceive how art could be educative without presupposing a philosophically well-founded teleology, despite the fact that his conception of the aesthetic
emerges from the precise absence of such a teleology. What is important for the purposes of my argument is that Schillers teleology which has in its use of Ideas a recognizable Kantian pedigree gets all its authority from his Idea of the Aesthetic. The
patent unacceptability of this Idea makes the utopian strain in Schiller otiose. The
modest critical teleology of aesthetic education itself is the natural successor to the
implicit but indeterminate teleological impetus of the two orienting drives.

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Nor can Schillers thought be helped here by the claim that he means external
conditioning forces, not materiality and sensibility as such, since it is exactly the
conditioning of mediums which is at issue here. The philosophical idea of art
thus licenses the repudiation of art, the repudiation of sense and matter.26

Works Cited
Ameriks, Karl (1983): Kant and the Objectivity of Taste, in British Journal of
Aesthetics, 23, pp. 317.
Beiser, Frederick (2005): Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination, Oxford.
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26

For saving me from error and providing all the German-language references, I want
to thank my research assistant Rocio Zambrana. Fred Rushs pointed but delicate
editorial questions forced me to clarify my argument something for which both I
and the reader can be grateful.

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