Most people, if asked to describe pure existence, of Being, per se, might think of empty space, or some colossal unformed chunk of matter; or they might not be able to think or imagine anything at all. But the German Romantics we’re now studying, and in particular Schelling, Being, itself, is neither empty space of raw matter, nor is it an unimaginable something or other. Being, as such, is pure self-conscious activity, which manifests itself as the simultaneity and perfect identity of thought, speech and action, such that Life, just like genuine (Romantic) Science, becomes utterly indistinguishable from Art. What form, then might fully self-actualized Being take?
The point I’m trying to make is this, that if anything at all is going to exist, rather than that there be entirely nothing, then that existence will Ideally take this form. All History, both biological and cultural, is an upward path leading toward, or in some way contributing to, the full realization of this Ideal. Museums, of either Fine Art or Natural History, exist, according to von Humboldt, in order to lay out for our contemplation, as completely as possible, the developmental process whereby Being has actualized itself in the form of a thinking, speaking, acting Human presence, which exists – as if I even needed to say it – not as a means toward any external end, but merely as a free end unto itself, the Absolute Value.
We may be able to glimpse this Reality only in fragmentary form, because, to speak as a Kantian, it will remain forever an Idea of Reason. Nevertheless, to capture a spiritual vision of this Idea is the necessary condition of beginning to embody it. Not to be able to capture this spiritual vision is, in a very true sense, not to participate in Existence, or to do so only in the most incidental manner. It is, in a word, to let Life pass you by.
On Seeing the Elgin Marbles (1817)
My spirit is too weak—mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep,
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep,
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an indescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old Time—with a billowy main—
A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.