THE MAN WITHOUT CONTENT – The Most Uncanny Thing

Agamben. p 1-2

In the third essay of the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche subjects the Kantian definition of the beautiful as disinterested pleasure to a radical critique: Kant thought he was honoring art when among the predicates of beauty he
emphasized and gave prominence to those which established the honor of knowledge: impersonality and universality. This is not the place to inquire whether this was essentially a mistake; all I wish to underline is that Kant, like all philosophers, instead of envisaging the aesthetic problem from the point of view of the artist (the creator), considered art and the beautiful purely from that of the ”spectator,” and unconsciously introduced the ”spectator” into the concept ”beautiful.” It would not have been so bad if this ”spectator” had at least been sufficiently familiar to the philosophers of beauty–namely, as a great personal fact and experience, as an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights in the realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant’s famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experience reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error. ”That is beautiful,” said Kant, ”which gives us pleasure without interest.” Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine ”spectator” and artist–Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. At any rate he rejected and repudiated the one point about the aesthetic condition which Kant had stressed: le désinteressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?

If our aestheticians never weary of asserting in Kant’s favor that, under the spell of beauty, one can even view undraped female statues ”without interest,” one may laugh a little at their expense: the experiences of artists on this
ticklish point are more ”interesting,” and Pygmalion was in any event not necessarily an ”unaesthetic man.” The experience of art that is described in these words is in no way an aesthetics for Nietzsche. On the contrary: the point is precisely to purify the concept of ”beauty” by filtering out the αἴσθησις, the sensory involvement of the spectator, and thus to consider art from the point of view of its creator. This purification takes place as a reversal of the traditional perspective on the work of art: the aesthetic dimension–the sensible apprehension of the beautiful object on the part of the spectator–is replaced by the creative experience of the artist who sees in his work only une promesse de bonheur, a promise of happiness. Having reached the furthest limit of its destiny in the ”hour of the shortest shadow,” art leaves behind the neutral horizon of the aesthetic and recognizes itself in the ”golden ball” of the will to power.

Pygmalion, the sculptor who becomes so enamored of his creation as to wish that it belonged no longer to art but to life, is the symbol of this turn from the idea of disinterested beauty as a denominator of art to the idea of happiness, that is, of an unlimited growth and strengthening of the vital values, while the focal point of the reflection on art moves from the disinterested spectator to the interested artist.



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