funny Hegel line and what makes a classic eternal

by Andrea Elizabeth

After criticizing excessive form in overdecoration, and he did live in Victorian times, he says this,

“Like so many others, however, this effort found its subduer in Hegel. It is a sad truth about Hegelian philosophy that on the whole it has by no means achieved the importance, neither for the past nor for the present age, that it would have achieved if the past age had not been so busy scaring people into it but had rather possessed a little more calm presence of mind in appropriating it to itself, and if the present age had not been so indefatigably active in driving people beyond it. Hegel reinstated the subject matter, the idea, in its rights and thereby ousted those transient classic works, those superficialities, those twilight moths from the arched vaults of classicism. It is by no means our intention to deny these works the value that is their due, but the point is to watch out lest here, as in so many other places, the language become confused, the concepts enervated. A certain eternity may be readily attributed to them, and this is their merit, but still this eternity is actually only the eternal moment that any true artistic production has, but not the full eternity in the midst of the shifts and changes of the times. What these productions lacked was ideas, and the more formally perfect they were, the more quickly they burned themselves out. As technical skill was more and more developed to the highest level of virtuosity, the more transient this virtuosity became and the more it lacked the mettle and power or balance to withstand the gusts of time, while more and more exalted it continually made greater claims to being the most distilled spirit. Only where the idea is brought to rest and transparency in a definite form can there be any question of a classic work, but then it will also be capable of withstanding the times. This unity, this mutual intimacy in each other, every classic work has, and thus it is readily perceived that every attempt at a classification of the various classic works that has as its point of departure a separation of subject matter and form or of idea and form is eo ipso a failure.” (p. 53, 54, Either/Or, Soren Kierkegaard)

Kierkegaard speaks of form and content as a marriage, and I would add, similarly to the language of the two natures of Christ in Chalcedon that I always have to look up, but love hearing, “One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.[2]

I read that Kierkegaard did not think Hegel had it, but the above is somewhat of a tribute anyway for ousting superficiality. Perhaps he is referring to Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis in that Hegel acknowledged some sort of balance? But synthesis could be likened to saying Christ is a hybrid, which Chalcedon denies. It puts two things at odds with each other and they both have to change in order to inhabit the same place. I listened to Ken Burns on NPR the other day talking about his new documentary on the Roosevelts and he said that it is better to let two contradictory things sit in tension with each other than to make a single judgment about them that is ultimately untrue and dismisses them to find a false peace or relief from the tension. In the paragraph before, Kierkegaard says, “Although paradoxes are otherwise detested, the paradox that the least was actually art was not dismaying.” In other words, less is more.

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