What does art for the sake of life mean?

Goethe and Schiller: Aesthetics of the Weimar Classic

By Michael Mandelartz

Lecture given at the Episcopal Academy in Aachen, January 1989

To call Goethe and Schiller 'classical authors', as was done in the title of this lecture, is by no means a matter of course. Just like her complaint as 'national authors', her classification belongs to the classics of the history of the impact of her work, and specifically to the German reception. In England Goethe and Schiller are counted among the romantics, in France almost exclusively French literature from Corneille (1606-1684) to Racine (1639-1699), which is more than a hundred years earlier, is described as 'classical'.

The different meanings of the term 'classical', as it has developed historically, in fact seem to be unsuitable as a label for the literary situation in Germany around 1800. The Latin word 'classicus' originally means the financially independent citizen. The 'scriptor classicus' then designates the taxable, 'first-class' and exemplary writer. With the emphasis on the ultimate meaning of the masterful and exemplary, the term was handed down to the modern age, but in such a way that the ancient authors were seen as the classics in the true sense, as models of all later literature. For example, Virgil, the ancient classic par excellence, is the guide through Dante's epic 'The Divine Comedy' (around 1310), whose harmonious proportions and classicism thus binds Dante to the ancient model.

Due to this connection to antiquity, the concept of the 'classical' fluctuates between style-typological and historical significance, i.e. between the designation of exemplary and harmoniously proportioned literature on the one hand, and the reference to Greek and Roman antiquity on the other. Therein lies the problem of every post-antique classicism, which wants to break away from the antique models in order to be able to become exemplary itself, but at the same time is measured against the antique authors.

Goethe himself, in his essay 'literary sans-culottism' during the heyday of the 'Weimar Classicism' (1795), took the view that the conditions under which classical authors could emerge were not given in Germany. As the conditions for the creation of a classic national author, he states:

When in the history of his nation he finds great events and their consequences in a happy and significant unity; if he does not miss greatness in the attitudes of his compatriots, depth in their feelings, and strength and consistency in their actions; [...] when he finds his nation on a high level of culture so that his own education becomes easy for him; when he has collected a lot of materials, sees perfect or imperfect attempts by his predecessors before him and so many external and internal circumstances come together that he does not have to pay a heavy apprenticeship, that in the best years of his life he overlooks, organizes and in able to carry out one sense.1

According to Goethe, the unity in the execution of a poetic work not only depends on the person of the author, but is also determined by the external circumstances of the continuous political and cultural development of a country from which the author takes the material for his work. The social prerequisites for poetic production, the authors and ultimately the audience must form a communication community in constant contact, the unity of which can be reflected in the classically closed work. Seen in this way, neither the 'abstract' form of rule of the modern, centralized state of the Enlightenment, nor Germany, which is divided into a large number of smaller and medium-sized states, each with its own constitution, offers the prerequisites for the development of a cohesive work; Without a capital there is, as Goethe says, (ibid.). In addition, the authors meet (ibid.). Without direct contact with the audience, however, poetry isolates itself from the political, religious and moral issues of the time and, conversely, loses the ability to influence social life.

Goethe clearly saw the conflict between lively activity and socially isolated poetry and later dealt with it in 'Torquato Tasso' (1790, prose version 1780/81). In contrast to Tasso, who as a poet failed because of the power politics of his prince, Goethe decided to go into practical work after the storm and stress phase. Duke Karl August, whose invitation to Weimar he accepted in 1775, values ​​Goethe less as a poet than as a political advisor, and Goethe deliberately relegated poetry to his work as a member of the advisory 'secret council', the war and mining commissions and as finance minister . From 1775 until the Italian journey, i.e. more than ten years, Goethe only appeared as a poet with occasional productions for the Weimar court and the court theater. His close relationships with court society, however, allow Goethe to exert direct influence on social issues in the sense of 'educating' the nobility to ensure that the interests of all social classes are enlightened and responsible. In the Duodec Principality of Weimar he can realize his idea of ​​the 'active life' of the individual within a relatively closed horizon - albeit at the expense of poetic production.

At the beginning of the Italian trip, he wrote to Frau von Stein:

On this trip, I hope, I want to calm my mind about the fine arts, stamp their sacred image right into my soul and keep it for quiet enjoyment. But then I turn to the craftsmen, and when I come back, study chemistry and mechanics. Because the time of the beautiful is over, only the hardship and the strict need require our days. (5.10.1786)

But it is precisely the turn to 'the things themselves' that began with the practical activity in Weimar, preparing for renewed poetic activity in Italy; In the works of antiquity and the Renaissance, Goethe finds the 'closed form' that he misses in contemporary art as a product of subjects who are isolated from social life. In them, according to Goethe's view, society came to an understanding about itself, they have a public character and thus go beyond the mere arbitrariness of subjective utterances. He notes that the Verona arena is (Tgb.).

On the one hand, Goethe sees the opposition between subject and society overcome in the closed form of ancient works of art, but on the other hand also the opposition between subject and object or between subject and nature that is characteristic of modern philosophy. The formal law of the representation of natural objects in ancient art is not given by the subjectivity of the artist, who treats the object in the representation arbitrarily, emphasizes some of its characteristics, suppresses others, but through the regularity of nature itself, which gives the artist a procedure prescribes the representation that is appropriate to the objects themselves. Art as a product of human activity does not stand in inviolable opposition to the products of nature, but the organic forms of nature find their intensified continuation in the work of art. On September 6, 1787, Goethe wrote in the 'Italian Journey':

These high works of art are at the same time the highest works of nature produced by people according to true and natural laws. Everything arbitrary and imaginary collapses, there is necessity, there is God. (11/395)

Goethe received ancient art in Italy as if the enormous temporal distance to antiquity did not exist. During his second stay in Rome he speaks of the, of the certainty,. The problem from which Goethe in Weimar 'subordinated poetry to life' (May 17, 1780 to Kestner) was precisely that modern art - like ancient temple art, for example - was no longer in the immediate context of the social and religious life, but becomes autonomous as a product of isolated subjects, that is, irrelevant to reality. At first it seems as if Goethe in Italy exchanged the modern principle of subjectivity and thus also the achievements of the Enlightenment for an ideal of harmony between nature, society and art, which was completely unrealistic under the circumstances of the 18th century. On the other hand, the considerations on aesthetics, which he worked out in Italy partly together with Karl Philipp Moritz and which he laid down after his return to Weimar in the small essay 'Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Style' (February 1789) represent the highest principle of representation a union of the ancient process of representing individual objects of nature without specifically addressing the process of representation (simple imitation of nature) and the modern process of using objects of nature merely as sign language to express the respective subject (manner), in the style, in the representation of which concrete objects an extensive scientific study of the objects and their connection goes into. In style, therefore, the portrayed nature and the portraying subject, the concrete object and the general references that are grasped through the study of nature are expressed in equal measure, and it denotes after Goethe. The concept of style expresses Goethe's claim not only to 'imitate' the ancient patterns, but to be able to contrast them with works that do not deny their modernity and yet do not contradict the classical works of antiquity.

The ability of the artist to incorporate general references and himself as a subject into the natural representation of certain objects at the same time, the style, according to Goethe, is not just based on the artist's incessant study of nature. The ability of the genius to represent the general in detail is ultimately explained as a gift of nature, which works through genius (via the creative imitation of the beautiful). The artist's reflection also has a share in the perfect work of art, but its beauty is due to intuition as a natural gift. As already quoted, the work of art is therefore also considered to be the work of nature.

Schiller had been living in Weimar for a year when Goethe returned there in June 1788. Just as Goethe gave up poetry in favor of practical activity and the study of nature before his Italian trip, Schiller turned to Kant's philosophy, first to his philosophy of history, then to aesthetics. In Kant's sense, Schiller describes the moral interest of the present as the key to understanding universal history. The plethora of scattered events make sense as mere stuff of the historian by relating them to freedom as the supreme end of reason. Reason thus becomes not just the principle of historiography, but the organizational principle of history itself. (What does it mean and what end does one study universal history ?, May 1789)

The germ of his aesthetic theory also lies in Schiller's philosophy of history of reason. While Goethe emphasizes the continuity between the products of nature and art, Schiller emphasizes the break between the necessary occurrences of nature and self-determination based on freedom as a principle of subjectivity. In the treatise (1790) he advocates the thesis that the fall of man is that because it means man 2. Eating from the tree of knowledge is the first beginning of moral, i.e. self-determined existence. With the fall of man moral evils come into the world, but only. In the course of history, reason, through which he lost his state of innocence, is supposed to enable man to put himself in renewed, now conscious conformity with nature.

The approaches of Schiller and Goethe are therefore mutually opposed: although both see a disproportion between nature and reason in the present state of the world, Goethe wants to overcome it through a return of reason to its sources in nature, Schiller on the contrary through the primacy of reason the nature. The course of the French Revolution and especially the terror since September 1792 convinced Schiller of the impossibility of translating the laws of reason directly into social reality. The problem of mediation between the demand of reason for freedom and the concrete historical conditions under which it is to be realized he now seeks to solve aesthetically:

If the fact were true [...] that the political legislation was transferred to reason, that man was respected and treated as an end in itself, that the law was elevated to the throne and that true freedom was made the basis of the state building, then I would have wanted from the Muses for ever Say goodbye and dedicate all my work to the most splendid of all works of art, the monarchy of reason. But it is precisely this fact that I dare to doubt.3 (Original version of the 'aesthetic letters', July 13, 1793, Bo 205)

The contradicting starting points from which Schiller and Goethe turn to art again - concrete study of nature and intuition here, philosophical-conceptual thinking there, is what Schiller formulates in the so-called 'birthday letter' to Goethe on August 23, 1794, with which he opens the bond of friendship. In it he characterizes Goethe as a 'Greek spirit' who, although intuitively producing the beautiful according to objective laws, does not encounter a reality under the current historical conditions that suits his method. So stay Goethe

no choice but to either become a Nordic artist yourself [i.e. to proceed subjectively-modern], or to replace your imagination what reality withheld from it with the help of the power of thought and thus to give birth to a Greece from within and in a rational way.4

If Goethe strives from the individual to the general, but Schiller intends to present the individual from the general, i.e. from the rational concept, then Schiller thinks.

Like Goethe, Schiller is of the opinion that the claim of poetry to exemplify the whole truth is incompatible with political commitment, which must necessarily be partisan, i.e. give up the whole. In the announcement of the magazine 'Die Horen' (December 1794) he calls for the postponement of the 'struggle of political opinions' in favor of the 'higher interest'. His magazine is supposed to 5. The cooperation between Goethe and Schiller presents itself as an aesthetic coalition which, against the background of the French Revolution, consciously excludes political engagement. In connection with this fundamental position, Schiller's' Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man '(original version 1793, Horen 1795) are to be understood, in which Schiller attributes the function to art by mediating between human nature and reason in a' realm of play 'To prepare the as yet unenlightened members of society for the free state of reason under the political conditions of the feudal state. Excesses of the revolutionary upheaval as in France since 1792 should be avoided through aesthetic education. Art as a mediator between nature and reason has a central function, but only during the critical transition phase from the old to the new society. Once the ability for self-determination has been achieved, it only has a decorative character. In the letters that were first formulated in 1793, art therefore still constitutes the vehicle by which human nature is to be subjected to the rule of reason.

In the encounter with Goethe, on the other hand, Schiller learns to reject human nature not merely as a relic of 'animality', but to recognize it as a source of poetic activity that is equal to reason. In his work 'On naive and sentimental poetry', which appeared in three parts in the 'Horen' in 1795 and 1796, Schiller tries to draw the conclusions from the encounter with Goethe for his aesthetic program. In his 'birthday letter' to Goethe, he contrasted his intuitive process with his own path. Now he starts again with this contrast and extends it to (Vol. 2, 554).

In contrast to the earlier treatises, which gave reason priority over nature, the poet appears here as (ibid.), Who is thus positively identified from the start. Schiller defines nature as (540). What is remarkable about this definition of nature is its agreement with the ultimate goal of reason, the self-determination of man according to the laws of freedom. The coincidence of nature and reason in the highest type of poetry as a result of the treatise is anticipated in the initial definition of nature. The idealization of nature as a 'unity resting in itself', as naive nature, as it is shown, for example, as childish innocence, is now itself not a natural fact, but a finding of civilized people who have already detached themselves from nature. The perception of the naive presupposes the contrast to the sentimental.In contrast to the innocent and unconscious unity of nature with itself, culture is shaped by the self-imposed task of reason to work through to free self-determination in the course of history, i.e. to conformity with oneself. As long as this ideal is not realized - and in fact it can only be approximated - reason constantly feels the contradiction between its de facto unattainable destination and the actual historical state characterized by the inability to self-determination. The naive and the sentimental thus behave in opposite directions: the naive represents, in a limited area without reason, the perfect harmony with itself, while the sentimental represents the perfect area of ​​reasonable ideals only imperfectly. In the union of the positive of both the story would come to an end.

We are free and they [the objects of nature] are necessary; we change, they stay one. But only when both are combined - when the will freely obeys the law of necessity and reason asserts its rule in spite of every change in fantasy, does the divine or the ideal emerge. (541)

The self-sufficient objects of nature serve reason as a visualization of the ideal given to it. So they keep the sentimental observer in mind the disproportion between his infinite task and his actual state by depicting exactly what he lacks, namely conformity with himself.

Within this historical-philosophical scheme, poetry appears on all three levels - nature, culture and ideal - as the 'keeper of nature'. The naive poet is himself nature and imitates nature. Since he is in direct agreement with the reality he intends to represent, he proceeds according to unconscious but always objective laws. The objects depicted determine the method of depiction for him. The sentimental poet, on the other hand, seeks lost nature, but is no longer able to portray it directly. The kind of representation is prescribed for him by the ideas of reason, so that he represents less the real than the ideal.

In Schiller's poetry, sentimental poetry expresses itself primarily in the forms of the hymn and the elegy. The hymn, for example in 1796, presents the ideal as completed, while the elegy - e.g. the (lament for the dead) - laments the loss of man's unity with himself. Both forms thematize the basic constitution of the human and 'the beautiful' in the past and future; the present and thus “the political” is excluded from the introduction to the “Horen”, according to Schiller's demand, to reunite the political world under the banner of beauty.

The break between nature and ideal that characterizes sentimental poetry leads to a genre theory that relates to the various relationships between nature and ideal. As a satirist, the sentimental poet emphasizes the inadequacy of reality in relation to the ideal. As an elegiac he mourns the lost nature or the inaccessibility of the ideal. Finally, the highest genre is the idyll, which in its traditional form represents a harmonious state (581) in which spirit and sensuality coincide. This 'pastoral idyll' shifts the state of perfect harmony into the past and therefore arouses a feeling of loss. The highest task that the poet according to Schiller can set himself, on the other hand, is one

Idyll, which carries out that pastoral innocence also in subjects of culture and under all conditions of the most ardent fiery life, the most extensive thinking, the most refined art, the highest social refinement, which, in a word, the man who can no longer return to Arcadia that leads to Elysium. (583)

In its sentimental form the idyll represents the ultimate goal of history as achieved. In it the opposites reality and ideal, sensuality and reason, necessity and freedom, which drive the process of history, coincide, so that their dominant impression would be.

Schiller basically assigns the naive genre to antiquity and the sentimental genre to modernity, but the superimposition of historical and systematic considerations leads to inconsistencies. On the one hand he describes some ancient poets, for example Ovid, as sentimental, on the other hand he assigns Goethe - as in the 'birthday letter' - to the naive. In the first part of the treatise he writes:

Poets of the naive genre are no longer really in their place in an artificial age. They are also scarcely possible in it, at least not possible in any other way than that they run wild in their age and are saved from the mutilating influence of it by a favorable fate. They can never, ever, emerge from the society itself; but outside of them they still appear at times, but more as strangers at whom one is amazed, as naughty sons of nature at whom one is annoyed. (556)

Goethe as the poet of Sturm und Drang could perhaps still be met with the expression 'run wild'; the poets of 'Tasso' and 'Iphigenia' hardly. Although the confrontation with the 'natural genius' Goethe was one of the driving forces behind the drafting of the treatise for Schiller, it becomes the most inconsistent when it comes to placing Goethe in the scheme. While the majority of contemporary poets dealt with natural material in a sentimental spirit, Goethe dealt with sentimental material in 'Werther' (1774), but also in 'Tasso' (1790) and in 'Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre' (1795/96 /) in a naive way - a characterization difficult to reconcile with the initial definition of the naive as a perfect representation of limited objects.

Goethe already agreed to Schiller's theoretical analysis of their two opposing poetic approaches in his answer to the 'birthday letter' and thus paved the way for the 'Weimarer Klassik' project. His first contribution to Schiller's 'Horen', the cycle of novels 'Enthaltungen deutscher Migranderten' (1795), takes up Schiller's idea from the magazine's announcement to exclude the 'impure party spirit' from the 'confidential circle of muses and Charitin women' which is to reunite the world 'politically divided by the French Revolution under the banner of truth and beauty'. Nonetheless, the revolution is discussed quite extensively at the beginning of the cycle, an irony compared to Schiller's idea of ​​the 'aesthetic circle', which is repeated in 'Hermann und Dorothea' (1798).

Based on Homer's epics, Goethe uses the verse form of the hexameter in this 'idyllic epic' and overwrites the chants with the names of the nine muses, but depicts contemporary events in the ancient form Describing the ancient and the modern, the naive and the sentimental or, in Goethean terminology, simply imitating nature and in a manner of style. In the foreground, Goethe depicts a small town on the Rhine, past which a stream of refugees passes who were chased away from their property on the left bank of the Rhine by the French revolutionary army. These events, which can be dated almost exactly to the year 1796, are contrasted with a drawing of the characters who dispense with anything specific such as social conflicts between different classes or religious attitudes and, as Goethe says, seeks them (to H. Meyer, December 5, 1996). With the description of the private domestic existence of the 'human landlord', the 'intelligent housewife', the 'excellent pastor', the 'talkative neighbor' and the 'well-educated son', Goethe seems to see contemporary events as timelessly 'generally human' idealize.

The poem was received enthusiastically. Schiller spoke of, Humboldt meant that the figures were. On closer inspection, the ideal tone of the 'bourgeois idyll' seems to be mixed with some irony. The self-sufficient, 'purely human' figures show negative traits of the petty bourgeoisie, for example in the greed of the pharmacist who pretends to the refugees that they have no money in their pockets at the moment and therefore fob them off with his 'good stuff' (VI, 206 ff) or Hermann's mother, who (I, 23) and therefore (II, 13) rummages in her closets until her son barely reaches the refugee train with the bundle that is finally assembled. Hermann's father is portrayed with similar reservations, who, in order to improve his reputation and finances, would like to see Hermann married to one of the daughters of the neighboring rich manufacturer. Whether the apparently timeless figures are actually able to evade the consequences of the 'general shock' (IX, 299) in the social world is subject to some doubt. Goethe seems to have written what is perhaps his most classic poetry with an ironic attitude that betrays skepticism about his own classicism.


1 J.W.v. Goethe, works. Hamburg edition in 14 volumes. Munich: DTV 1981, vol. 12, p. 240f. The following is quoted from this edition.

2 Schiller, Complete Works. Edited by G. Fricke and H.G. Göpfert, Munich 1958 ff. Vol. IV, p. 769.

3 Original version of the 'Aesthetic Letters' to the Hereditary Prince of Augustenburg, July 13, 1793, quoted in: Dieter Borchmeyer, Die Weimarer Klassik. Athenaeum 1980, p. 205.

4 The correspondence between Schiller and Goethe. Edited by H.G. Gräf and A. Leitzmann. Frankfurt 1964, p. 12.

5 Schiller, SW V, p. 870.