Music as Purposive Organization of Sounds, without an Identifiable Purpose

I want to post here examples of what Kant – or at least a follower of Kant – might consider fine art. That will be difficult, because the whole point of Kantian aesthetics is to prevent us ever from writing a definitive or permanent list of objects or objective criteria naming what is actually beautiful. All Kant provides us with is a description of the feeling of beauty – wholly subjective and entirely above any petty and personal interests or anything else which could rationally justify our decisions – and a list of characteristics which would immediate disqualify an object from being considered beautiful.

Many persons are quick to point out that eliminates almost everything that had previously been considered art. If we except Kant’s ideas, we are obligated to become uncompromising critics. So, what might a disinterested and uncompromising critic consider to be art. Let me offer a few potential examples, taken from the realm of music – which, as I said in class, which just beginning, in Kant’s day, to be considered a serious form of artistic expression and not simply background sounds to be played while the rich take tea or cordials. To my each at least, these piece take us somewhere that everyone “ought” to feel goes beyond mere gratification, utility, or even esteem. Notice, in particular, in the last piece, by Prokofiev, the dreamy, drifting quality of the melody (“flowers, free patterns, lines aimlessly intertwining”), how it seems to be purposively searching for its proper direction every step of the way, but never fully revealing where it is headed, and never really establishing an identifiable mood, though it is everywhere full of the profoundest emotion. This music describes nothing in particular, but at all times seems highly evocative of the keenest feeling of life itself.

Recall, however, that all of Kant’s writings on art and beauty – though fascinating, challenging and hugely influential for culture – were written not so much because Kant was interested in art but rather because he was interested in using aesthetic feeling as a means of discovering and investigating free beauties, which is to say ‘regularities’, within the observable world. What then might a ‘free beauty’ in nature look like? The example below is one which works for me. To the extent that we are able to see the organism below not simply as either good or bad, pretty or ugly, delicious or disgusting, but simply as a self-generating and self-governing end unto itself, and feel powerfully the significance of this apperception, we then find ourselves in a position to begin to study nature – curiously, sensitively and ourselves purposively – as a dynamic totality forces. In the end, the goal, for Kant, will always be to explain living forces, as much as possible, in exclusively mechanical terms. But this will not be possible, Kant argues, if we do not first perceive these entities “as if” they were art, “as if” they were individual living embodiments of music, which develop and function “as if” they were created, or composed, by an inscrutable supernatural force which somehow knew what it was up to. Hard for us to conceive perhaps, but still possible. Finally, what is the word von Humboldt and Schelling use for the self-organizing living embodiment of a speculative concept which develops over time? They are called “Ideas”.

See Robert J. Richardson’s The Romantic Conception of Life.

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