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Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
Theology is a game whose object is to bring rules into the subjective.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Art as Will and Representation

When we've come this far, we ask ourselves the following question: what is art then? What is the metaphysical essence of art? Drawing ideas directly from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche introduces what would come to be one of the world's most famous metaphors about the interpretation of art. But to understand this metaphor, we must first become acquainted with the Schopenhauerian philosophy of the Will. According to Schopenhauer, our world consists out of two basic elements: the Will and the representation. The Will is an objective force, which we commonly are only able to perceive via representations. Think of the Will as the instinct of a tiger. You cannot see, hear nor feel it, but you know it's real, because it's what drives and motivates the tiger to attack its prey and kill it. The representation of that Will could be said to be the tiger as we know it, with fur, claws and bloody teeth.
Art, similar to our senses in that it's a medium through which we perceive the world, is divided into different art forms: primarily, music and poetry. Music, Schopenhauer claims, is the only art form that is able to fully express the objective Will. We understand this in the form of what many often call "absolute music," a term that means the music isn't trying to depict an inner visual scenery or "soundscape" as some call it, but is completely abstract in its essence. An example of this is the Fifth Symphony by Beethoven. When we listen to it, there is no clear visual agenda or program behind it, only a total expression of Beethoven's emotions, passions and experiences. The Fifth Symphony could therefore be said to capture aspects of the objective Will of Beethoven. Thus, concludes Schopenhauer, music is a unique art form in that it is able to express a complete objectification of the Will.
This is the basic metaphysical discussion that Nietzsche uses to develop his theory about the essence of art. Music is the expression of the objective Will that Schopenhauer talks about, but what about poetry? We mentioned earlier how this Will is commonly perceived by us in the form of representation. Poetry, Nietzsche says, is a different art form from music, because it cannot express the objective Will, only the representation of it. For example, when we read a poem, we translate the sentences into visual experiences. We cannot experience a poem the same way we experience a symphony, because the former relies completely on our inner visualization, while the latter is perceived by our senses in a more direct and abstract form. Herein lies the difference.
Music lets us gain direct access to the Will, while poetry requires an extra level of medium, namely the representation. If we could explain this in visual terms, it would look something like this:
Music => Will => Perceiver
Poetry => Will => Representation => Perceiver
The difference between the poetic and musical art form is thus a metaphysical one: music has the ability to capture the Will itself because it speaks directly to our senses, while poetry is dependant on us imagining the Will, re-creating it visually. To shed some more light on this difference, Nietzsche mentions the German poet Friedrich Schiller, who explains the creation process behind his poetry. First he finds an inner musical rhythm and then he writes down a visualized expression of that music. In other words, poetry is not just a visualization of an experience, but carries an inner musical melody underneath it. When reading a poem, we follow the inner rhythm of each verse; hence one could say we're actually reading music!
But even if poetry has some obvious musical aspects to it, it is still dependant upon the visualization process, which is why it cannot express an objectification of the Will like music can. Some people will here note that not all music is "absolute music," that is, certain music actually depict something strongly visually, often in the form of different themes of programs. This is true and Nietzsche deals with this by taking Beethoven's sixth as an example. This symphony was composed with a clear program for each piece and thus can be said to not be completely abstract in its nature.
So is also the case with what we commonly refer to as "program music," but the point to make here is that music doesn't rely on this visualization process. We can for instance visualize certain parts in Beethoven's "absolute" fifth, and thereby add the extra level of medium found within poetry - the interpretation of the Will - but it is a level of medium that we as perceivers add to the experience, not a medium inherent to the nature of music itself. Music can therefore contain visual or programmatic elements, but does not necessarily have to. This conclusion leads Nietzsche to uphold music as the highest form of art - the only art form that is possible of penetrating deepest into the core of our organic existence.

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