Wednesday, February 03, 2010

More ideas from Friedrich Schlegel via "The Romantic Imperative" by Frederick Beiser

Schlegel has a unique idea, that philosophers and poets were united in that both of them depended on creation and destruction in alternating phases. According to Beiser, the task of creation was coming up with ideas or poems that approached the absolute, that approached the truth of life and the universe, and the task of destruction was the self criticism that's inherent in evaluating how close the attempts come to reality. The destruction follows the realization and the application of the realization that we're limited beings who cannot reach the absolute even though we try; so we take apart what we've done and try to do better, to reach even closer despite our limitations. The spiral of creation and then destruction, the creating again based on the criticism, then destroying again, appears to be the vital pulse of life itself, at least life that's striving to go forward and to go beyond where it already is. Implicit in it is the idea that some sort of plateau exists, some state that while not the goal is at least a substantial breakthrough to a world of more truth than the one in which you started, something where there's a payoff for all the striving. At least that's my take on it, but I'm possibly reading both Hegel and my own interests into it. Hegel would point to temporary plateaus that form bases for further striving, so that even though (departing from him a little bit here) the Absolute might not be fully realizable there would at least be a procession of steps that would increasingly be closer to the goal. Hegel did believe that you could realize the Absolute, though. In any case there's a difference between striving and having that striving have a pattern that can be conceptualized as a series of graded breakthroughs. On the other hand you can say that it's a little facile to divide up a process in these terms because it's not like breakthroughs completely change the whole thing. The impulse and striving is still built up and refined, and one set of insights doesn't eliminate the accumulated wisdom and skill that came before. One could see insights as melding with the process of striving and not replacing the slow process of knowledge but complementing it. Of course it's always questionable just how much room for insights there can be in a particular subject, but Hegel trades on the idea that you can't know in advance what might be out there.

The cycle of creation and destruction endures, or can be thought to endure, no matter what context you put it in. If we only would choose to pursue the infinite the world would be a much better place.

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