5. Reaching Conclusions: Art and Philosophy in Hegel and Shakespeare
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116 c h a p t e r 5 Reaching Conclusions: Art and Philosophy in Hegel and Shakespeare Paul A. Kottman Now my charms are all o’erthrown, And what strength I have’s mine own . . . . . . Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free. —william shakespeare, The Tempest (Epilogue) In what might be called the epilogue to his lectures on fine art, and immediately after naming Shakespeare in conclusion, G. W. F. Hegel addressed his audience directly. Echoing Prospero’s valediction at the end of The Tempest, Hegel declared:1 Now, with the development of the kinds of comedy we have reached the real end of our philosophical inquiry. We began with symbolic art where personality struggles to find itself as form and content and to become objective to itself. We proceeded to the plastic art of Greece where the Divine, now conscious of itself, is presented to us in living individuals. We ended with the romantic art of emotion and deep feeling where absolute subjective personality moves free in itself and in the spiritual world. Yet on this peak comedy leads at the same time to the dissolution of art altogether . . . and subjective personality alone shows itself self-confident and self-assured in this dissolution. Now at the end we have arranged every essential category of the beautiful and every essential form of art into a philosophical garland, and weaving it is one of the worthiest tasks that philosophy is capable of Art and Philosophy in Hegel and Shakespeare 117 completing. For in art we have to do, not with any agreeable or useful child’s play, but with the liberation of the spirit from the content and forms of finitude, with the presence and reconciliation of the Absolute in what is apparent and visible. My one aim [throughout these lectures] has been to seize in thought and prove the fundamental nature of the beautiful and art, and to follow it through all the stages it has gone through in the course of its realization. I hope that in this chief point my exposition has satisfied you. And now when the link forged between us generally and in relation to our common aim has been broken, it is my final wish that the higher and indestructible bond of the Idea of beauty and truth may link us and keep us firmly united now and for ever.2 At one level, anyone who has taken part in a lecture course will recognize what Hegel is trying to accomplish with these last words. He is clearly seeking applause. Hegel’s plea (“I hope . . . my exposition has satisfied you”) is every bit as transparent as Prospero’s (“ . . . release me from my bands/With the help of your good hands/ . . . or else my project fails, which was to please”). Lest we mistake this for narcissistic neediness, however, we should note that neither Hegel nor Shakespeare/Prospero is asking for an appreciation of who they are as individuals; nor are they soliciting an acknowledgment of their role in this particular context (professor, philosopher, actor, artist).3 If either were the case, then the applause could have been solicited at the outset of the performance, or at any time, rather than at its shared conclusion.4 Instead, both Hegel and Shakespeare/Prospero seek acknowledgment that a concluding stage of a collective process has been reached. The applause they seek, in other words, would amount to a demonstration of its actually having been earned in the wake of some prior development or shared activity. In this essay, I want to claim that both Hegel’s and Shakespeare’s epilogues aim to demonstrably reflect—rather than merely assert or describe —provisional conclusions to historical activities (art and philosophical “science,” respectively) that are, in virtue of such conclusions, attempts to render these practices intelligible from within.5 I want to suggest, further , that bringing an activity—like drama or teaching philosophy—to a conclusion “from within,” or “as part of” its own doing, is a crucial test of our freedom and rationality, an attempt to assess our own answerability for what we do. To this end, I discuss ways in which these epilogues— these “reached conclusions”—hold clues not only to what Hegel is doing with Shakespeare...