Giovanni Scarafile

Twittering Meditations

In Uncategorized on 12 June 2014 at 2:14 PM

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Our relationship to a work of art always transcends the limits of the aesthetic medium that conveys it; that relationship resists all efforts at interpretation and, when a work of art impacts on us successfully, our relationship with the work achieves the intensity with which we live our other affective experiences

Ultimately, the truth we experience in all beautiful things is the expression of the excellence of our own selfhood; it is the process through which we come to know ourselves better and it enlarges us to a sense of generosity in which no human concern is left foreign to our concerns.

“Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” wrote Terrence in a play called Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor). It means no human concern should be foreign to a man; we should be able to empathize with all human states of mind. Much later Sabatier de Castres (1770) argued that this is the key principle of tragic action, the state of mind to which tragedy raises us. However, given that human life is ultimately governed by unconquerable forces, and that we view our destinies through a glass darkly, isn’t life as we live it the greatest of all tragedies?

Il faut donc montrer, dans la tragédie, un homme qui represent en soi vivement l’humanité, ses passions, ses emportements, ses faiblesses et ses malheurs, et le presenter du côté qui peut faire naïtre la pitié et la terreur.[1]

No set of commandments or moral obligations can alleviate man’s existential suffering. It is only through art, through the imitation of life and the forces that compel us to action, that man can achieve moral enlightenment and autonomy.

Through art, we learn that the only enduring change in our existence is not the one that creates an illusion of progress but the one that makes us complete — i.e., in the contemplation of the whole.

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“The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.”[2]So wrote Oscar Wilde in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. But reflect on it and you will see that the morality of art and the morality of life are one and the same!

“Du sollst der werden, der du bist,—”[3]This is our only moral imperative! Yet I have heard complaints that neither Nietzsche nor Pindar told us how to become such as we are. To these people I answer: love prevented them from prescribing mankind another set of commandments.

From man is a political animal to the imperative that every man should become an activist in a cause he does not yet completely understand but must endorse. — This is the consequence of a culture whose morality has drowned in a sea of commandments.

From being-in-the-world-with-others to electing the other as the governor of your intentions. — This is the consequence of a culture intoxicated by commandments.

Forgetfulness of the individual and of the radiance of the world, artifice and the everlasting minority of man, — these are the consequences of a culture whose artistic genius has been crippled by commandments.

One must look at life with eyes of wonder, committed to nothing but to existence itself to learn that the highest morality is that which unites thought and feeling and emancipates us from the useful.

“Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” wrote Voltaire in a letter of condolence to J. Bernoulli “je me crois né pour sentir comme pour penser.”[4] It is time for us to reclaim this maxim and make it our own.

 

References:

Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. In: Projekt Gutemberg-DE: http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/3245/6

Sebatier de Castres, Antoine. Action de la tragédie, in: Dictionnaire de Litérature, I, Paris 1770.

 

Juliana de Albuquerque Katz

@the_stardust

juliana.albuquerque@yodmagazine.com

 

[1] Sebatier de Castres, Antoine.  Action de la tragédie, in: Dictionnaire de Litérature, I, Paris 1770, p. 23.

[2] Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray, p.5.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, #270.

[4] Voltaire, François-Marie. Correspondance, édition Th. Besterman, II (janvier 1739-décembre 1748), Paris 1977, 187-188.

 

Juliana de Albuquerque Katz is a philosophy student at Tel Aviv University. She specializes in German Classic Philosophy and its contemporary developments. Particularly fond of literature and cinema, the author finds a source of inspiration in the works of Hölderlin, Charles Bukowski, Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. Scribbler, photographer and academic, Juliana’s latest intellectual experiments can be read on Yod and accessed on Twitter (@the_stardust).

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  1. The Terrence quote really resonated; a mantra to repeat inwardly when struggling through teaching Lit!

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