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- The Psychology of Beauty - 36/36 -


if they live, it shall be SO. In this sense, our attitude is interested, our will is active, but only toward the existence of the form. But with the introduction of the central theme, we cease to be disinterested,--our hypothetical is changed to an affirmative. The moral idea we must accept or reject, for it bears a direct relation to our personality. We will, or do not will, that, in the real world in which we ourselves have to live and struggle, certain forces shall be operative,--that there shall be the beauty of health, as in the "Discobolus;" material love which is divine, as in the "Sistine Madonna;" that war shall be horrible; that sloth unstriven against shall triumph over love, as in "The Statue and the Bust;" that defiance of the social organism shall involve self-destruction, as in "Anna Karenina." The person or the combination of events expressing this idea we do not seek in our personal experience, but we do demand for our own a world in which this idea rules. Thus it must be admitted that there is, strictly speaking, at the core of every aesthetic response to a work of art containing an idea, a non-aesthetic element, an element of personal and interested judgment.

On the other hand, this affirmation or acceptance of a moral idea implies the quietude of the will; just that state of harmony, of repose, which we have found to be the mark of the aesthetic on the lower planes of being. In so far, then, as we accept the moral idea which a work of art presents, in so far that idea has the power of bringing us to the state of harmony, and in so far it is beautiful. And vice versa, works of art which leave us in a state of moral rebellion are unbeautiful, not because they are immoral, but because they are disturbing to the moral sense. Literature which ignores the fundamental moral principle of the freedom of the will, like the works of Flaubert, Maupassant, much of Zola, Loti, and Thomas Hardy, fails of beauty, inasmuch as it fails of the perfect reposeful harmony of human nature in its entirety.

Thus a thoroughgoing analysis of the nature of the aesthetic experience in its simplest and most sensuous form has given us a principle,--the principle of unity in harmonious functioning,-- which has enabled us to follow the track of beauty into the more complex realms of ideas and of moral attitudes, and to discover that there also the law of internal relation and of fitness for imitative response holds for all embodiments of beauty. That harmonious, imitative response, the psychophysical state known on its feeling side as aesthetic pleasure, we have seen to be, first, a kind of physiological equilibrium, a "coexistence of opposing impulses which heightens the sense of being while it prevents action," like the impulses to movement corresponding to geometrical symmetry; secondly, a psychological equilibrium, in which the flow of ideas and impulses is a circle rounding upon itself, all associations, emotions, expectations indissolubly linked with the central thought and leading back only to it, and proceeding in an irrevocable order, which it yet adapted to the possibilities of human experience; and thirdly, a quietude of the will, in the acceptance of the given moral attitude for the whole scheme of life. Thus is given, in the fusion of these three orders of mental life, the perfect moment of unity and self-completeness.


The Psychology of Beauty - 36/36

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