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- Thoughts out of Season (Part One) - 20/29 -

educational institutions are said to be decaying, and everywhere individuals are to be found who have secretly deserted them. If only it were possible to invite those to open rebellion and public utterances, who even now are thoroughly dissatisfied with the state of affairs in this quarter! If only it were possible to deprive them of their faint heart and lukewarmness! I am convinced that the whole spirit of modern culture would receive its deadliest blow if the tacit support which these natures give it could in any way be cancelled. Among scholars, only those would remain loyal to the old order of things who had been infected with the political mania or who were literary hacks in any form whatever. The repulsive organisation which derives its strength from the violence and injustice upon which it relies--that is to say, from the State and Society--and which sees its advantage in making the latter ever more evil and unscrupulous,--this structure which without such support would be something feeble and effete, only needs to be despised in order to perish. He who is struggling to spread justice and love among mankind must regard this organisation as the least significant of the obstacles in his way; for he will only encounter his real opponents once he has successfully stormed and conquered modern culture, which is nothing more than their outworks.

For us, Bayreuth is the consecration of the dawn of the combat. No greater injustice could be done to us than to suppose that we are concerned with art alone, as though it were merely a means of healing or stupefying us, which we make use of in order to rid our consciousness of all the misery that still remains in our midst. In the image of this tragic art work at Bayreuth, we see, rather, the struggle of individuals against everything which seems to oppose them with invincible necessity, with power, law, tradition, conduct, and the whole order of things established. Individuals cannot choose a better life than that of holding themselves ready to sacrifice themselves and to die in their fight for love and justice. The gaze which the mysterious eye of tragedy vouchsafes us neither lulls nor paralyses. Nevertheless, it demands silence of us as long as it keeps us in view; for art does not serve the purposes of war, but is merely with us to improve our hours of respite, before and during the course of the contest,--to improve those few moments when, looking back, yet dreaming of the future, we seem to understand the symbolical, and are carried away into a refreshing reverie when fatigue overtakes us. Day and battle dawn together, the sacred shadows vanish, and Art is once more far away from us; but the comfort she dispenses is with men from the earliest hour of day, and never leaves them. Wherever he turns, the individual realises only too clearly his own shortcomings, his insufficiency and his incompetence; what courage would he have left were he not previously rendered impersonal by this consecration! The greatest of all torments harassing him, the conflicting beliefs and opinions among men, the unreliability of these beliefs and opinions, and the unequal character of men's abilities--all these things make him hanker after art. We cannot be happy so long as everything about us suffers and causes suffering; we cannot be moral so long as the course of human events is determined by violence, treachery, and injustice; we cannot even be wise, so long as the whole of mankind does not compete for wisdom, and does not lead the individual to the most sober and reasonable form of life and knowledge. How, then, would it be possible to endure this feeling of threefold insufficiency if one were not able to recognise something sublime and valuable in one's struggles, strivings, and defeats, if one did not learn from tragedy how to delight in the rhythm of the great passions, and in their victim? Art is certainly no teacher or educator of practical conduct: the artist is never in this sense an instructor or adviser; the things after which a tragic hero strives are not necessarily worth striving after. As in a dream so in art, the valuation of things only holds good while we are under its spell. What we, for the time being, regard as so worthy of effort, and what makes us sympathise with the tragic hero when he prefers death to renouncing the object of his desire, this can seldom retain the same value and energy when transferred to everyday life: that is why art is the business of the man who is recreating himself. The strife it reveals to us is a simplification of life's struggle; its problems are abbreviations of the infinitely complicated phenomena of man's actions and volitions. But from this very fact--that it is the reflection, so to speak, of a simpler world, a more rapid solution of the riddle of life--art derives its greatness and indispensability. No one who suffers from life can do without this reflection, just as no one can exist without sleep. The more difficult the science of natural laws becomes, the more fervently we yearn for the image of this simplification, if only for an instant; and the greater becomes the tension between each man's general knowledge of things and his moral and spiritual faculties. Art is with us to prevent the bow from snapping.

The individual must be consecrated to something impersonal--that is the aim of tragedy: he must forget the terrible anxiety which death and time tend to create in him; for at any moment of his life, at any fraction of time in the whole of his span of years, something sacred may cross his path which will amply compensate him for all his struggles and privations. This means having a sense for the tragic. And if all mankind must perish some day--and who could question this! --it has been given its highest aim for the future, namely, to increase and to live in such unity that it may confront its final extermination as a whole, with one spirit-with a common sense of the tragic: in this one aim all the ennobling influences of man lie locked; its complete repudiation by humanity would be the saddest blow which the soul of the philanthropist could receive. That is how I feel in the matter! There is but one hope and guarantee for the future of man, and that is that his sense for the tragic may not die out. If he ever completely lost it, an agonised cry, the like of which has never been heard, would have to be raised all over the world; for there is no more blessed joy than that which consists in knowing what we know--how tragic thought was born again on earth. For this joy is thoroughly impersonal and general: it is the wild rejoicing of humanity, anent the hidden relationship and progress of all that is human.


Wagner concentrated upon life, past and present, the light of an intelligence strong enough to embrace the most distant regions in its rays. That is why he is a simplifier of the universe; for the simplification of the universe is only possible to him whose eye has been able to master the immensity and wildness of an apparent chaos, and to relate and unite those things which before had lain hopelessly asunder. Wagner did this by discovering a connection between two objects which seemed to exist apart from each other as though in separate spheres--that between music and life, and similarly between music and the drama. Not that he invented or was the first to create this relationship, for they must always have existed and have been noticeable to all; but, as is usually the case with a great problem, it is like a precious stone which thousands stumble over before one finally picks it up. Wagner asked himself the meaning of the fact that an art such as music should have become so very important a feature of the lives of modern men. It is not necessary to think meanly of life in order to suspect a riddle behind this question. On the contrary, when all the great forces of existence are duly considered, and struggling life is regarded as striving mightily after conscious freedom and independence of thought, only then does music seem to be a riddle in this world. Should one not answer: Music could not have been born in our time? What then does its presence amongst us signify? An accident? A single great artist might certainly be an accident, but the appearance of a whole group of them, such as the history of modern music has to show, a group only once before equalled on earth, that is to say in the time of the Greeks,--a circumstance of this sort leads one to think that perhaps necessity rather than accident is at the root of the whole phenomenon. The meaning of this necessity is the riddle which Wagner answers.

He was the first to recognise an evil which is as widespread as civilisation itself among men; language is everywhere diseased, and the burden of this terrible disease weighs heavily upon the whole of man's development. Inasmuch as language has retreated ever more and more from its true province--the expression of strong feelings, which it was once able to convey in all their simplicity--and has always had to strain after the practically impossible achievement of communicating the reverse of feeling, that is to say thought, its strength has become so exhausted by this excessive extension of its duties during the comparatively short period of modern civilisation, that it is no longer able to perform even that function which alone justifies its existence, to wit, the assisting of those who suffer, in communicating with each other concerning the sorrows of existence. Man can no longer make his misery known unto others by means of language; hence he cannot really express himself any longer. And under these conditions, which are only vaguely felt at present, language has gradually become a force in itself which with spectral arms coerces and drives humanity where it least wants to go. As soon as they would fain understand one another and unite for a common cause, the craziness of general concepts, and even of the ring of modern words, lays hold of them. The result of this inability to communicate with one another is that every product of their co-operative action bears the stamp of discord, not only because it fails to meet their real needs, but because of the very emptiness of those all-powerful words and notions already mentioned. To the misery already at hand, man thus adds the curse of convention--that is to say, the agreement between words and actions without an agreement between the feelings. Just as, during the decline of every art, a point is reached when the morbid accumulation of its means and forms attains to such tyrannical proportions that it oppresses the tender souls of artists and converts these into slaves, so now, in the period of the decline of language, men have become the slaves of words. Under this yoke no one is able to show himself as he is, or to express himself artlessly, while only few are able to preserve their individuality in their fight against a culture which thinks to manifest its success, not by the fact that it approaches definite sensations and desires with the view of educating them, but by the fact that it involves the individual in the snare of "definite notions," and teaches him to think correctly: as if there were any value in making a correctly thinking and reasoning being out of man, before one has succeeded in making him a creature that feels correctly. If now the strains of our German masters' music burst upon a mass of mankind sick to this extent, what is really the meaning of these strains? Only correct feeling, the enemy of all convention, of all artificial estrangement and misunderstandings between man and man: this music signifies a return to nature, and at the same time a purification and remodelling of it; for the need of such a return took shape in the souls of the most loving of men, and, through their art, nature transformed into love makes its voice heard.

Let us regard this as one of Wagner's answers to the question, What does music mean in our time? for he has a second. The relation between music and life is not merely that existing between one kind of language and another; it is, besides, the relation between the perfect world of sound and that of sight. Regarded merely as a spectacle, and compared with other and earlier manifestations of human life, the existence of modern man is characterised by indescribable indigence and exhaustion, despite the unspeakable garishness at which only the superficial observer rejoices. If one examines a little more closely the impression which this vehement and kaleidoscopic play of colours makes upon one, does not the whole seem to blaze with the shimmer and sparkle of innumerable little stones borrowed from former civilisations? Is not everything one sees merely a complex of inharmonious bombast, aped gesticulations, arrogant superficiality?--a ragged suit of motley for the naked and the shivering? A seeming dance

Thoughts out of Season (Part One) - 20/29

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