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American Imago 61.3 (2004) 349-363

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The Secrecy of Art

From The Gay Science (1866)

We ought now to proceed at once to the consideration of pleasure. I began by showing that pleasure is the end of art. I brought forward a cloud of witnesses to prove that this has always been acknowledged. And after showing that all these witnesses, in their several ways, define and limit the pleasure which art seeks, we discovered that the English school of critics has, more than any other, the habit of insisting on a limitation to it, which is more full of meaning as a principle in art than all else that has been advanced by the various schools of criticism. That the pleasure of art is the pleasure of imagination is the one grand doctrine of English criticism, and the most pregnant doctrine of all criticism. But it was difficult to find out what imagination really is; and therefore the last three chapters were allotted to an inquiry into the nature of it. The result at which we have arrived is that imagination is but another name for that unconscious action of the mind which may be called the Hidden Soul. And with this understanding, we ought now to proceed to the scrutiny of pleasure. I will, however, ask the reader to halt for a few minutes, that I may point out how this understanding as to the nature of imagination bears on the definition with which we started—that pleasure is the end of art. Few are willing to acknowledge pleasure as the end of art. I took some pains to defend pleasure in this connection as a fit object of pursuit, and if I have not satisfied every mind, I hope now to do so by the increased light which the analysis of imagination will have thrown upon the subject.

We started with the common doctrine that art is the opposite of science, and that, as the object of science is knowledge, so that of art is pleasure. But if the reader has apprehended what I have tried to convey to him as to the [End Page 349] existence within us of two great worlds of thought—a double life, the one known or knowable, the other unknown and for the most part unknowable, he will be prepared, if not to accept, yet to understand this further conception of the difference between science and art that the field of science is the known and the knowable, while the field of art is the unknown and the unknowable. It is a strange paradox that the mind should be described as possessing and compassing the unknown. But my whole argument has been working up to this point, and, I trust, rendering it credible that the mind may possess and be possessed by thoughts of which nevertheless it is ignorant.

Now, because such a statement as this will appear to be a paradox to those who have not considered it; also, because to say that the field of art is the unknown is like saying that the object of art is a negation, it is fit that in ordinary speech we should avoid such phrases, and be content with the less paradoxical expression—that the object of art is pleasure. The object of science, we say, is knowledge—a perfect grasp of all the facts which lie within the sphere of consciousness. The object of art is pleasure—a sensible possession or enjoyment of the world beyond consciousness. We do not know that world, yet we feel it—feel it chiefly in pleasure, but sometimes in pain, which is the shadow of pleasure. It is a vast world we have seen, of not less importance to us than the world of knowledge. It is in the hidden sphere of thought, even more than in the open one, that we live, and move, and have our being; and it is in this sense that the idea of art is always a secret. We hear much of the existence...


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