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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.3 (2002) 497-509
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The Aesthetic Will:
Rethinking the Drive to Art from the Perspective of Hölderlin's Hyperion
David Halliburton, On the Fateful Discourse of Worldly Things. Vol. 1. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997). 415 + ix pages. $51.00 cloth.
Hansjörg Bay, ed. 'Hyperion': Terra incognita, Expeditionen in Hölderlins Roman (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1998). 236 pages. EUR 28,63 paper.
The scholar David Halliburton is now completing a two-volume work of masterpiece proportions entitled On the Fateful Discourse of Worldly Things, a summa of his thinking on the rhetoric of politics and literature following a major engagement with Heidegger's poetics. The range of thinkers and poets he cites and discusses is wide and various, but Halliburton's allusions to Hölderlin (1770-1843) and the epistolary novel Hyperion (1797-99) are striking: they come together to raise the question of whether Hölderlin, and especially his novel Hyperion, can be understood by means of "dialectical" thinking.
In the section of The Fatal Discourse entitled "Experiencing," Halliburton addresses the "dialectics" of Bertolt Brecht, introducing, with an aside to Hölderlin, the category of "dialectical sublation." This category is unstable, troublesome--scil. Halliburton
Dialectical sublation, as it comes down from Hegelianism to Marxism, confronts the chronic danger of subordination to its subsumptive potentiality . When a Stalin is in power, the danger [End Page 497] is the more acute, not least when his face is blotted out by the mask of Will. Arendt states the danger concisely: "Left to itself, man's Will 'would rather will Nothingness than not will,' as Nietzsche remarked . . . in other words, the famous power of negation inherent in the Will and conceived as the motor of History . . . is an annihilating force that could just as well result in a process of permanent annihilation as of Infinite Progress." If it is the case that Brecht's ideology remembers before his art believes , then the theater of danger inclines to annihilation. If it is his case that his art believes before his ideologyremembers , then the same art leads toward something like "progress." Brecht's struggle to go beyond epic theater, to do something unattempted yet in prose or rhyme by rendering experience productively dialectical , points to the possibility that he saw the danger. (331; emphasis added)
The passage suggests an effective contrast between (1) the "dialectical sublation" that inclines to subordination and subsumption and (2) the dialectical movement of thought by which experience is rendered "productive." The latter means something like "turning experience into art." The danger that Brecht glimpsed of illicit subordination in "dialectical sublation" evokes, for Halliburton, Hölderlin's poem Patmos, in which "Hölderlin already sees experience in dialectical terms: 'Wo aber Gefahr ist,/ wächst Das Rettende auch.'" ("Where, however, there is danger/ The saving power grows too." As the source of his citation Halliburton gives Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays, trans. William Lovitt [New York: Harper & Row, 1977], 28.) At this point, the "dialectic" in Halliburton's phrase "dialectical terms" appears to have been raised to a higher power. We have to do now with a dialectic, the key theses of which are themselves types of dialectic: first, "danger"--the labile dialectic that inclines to subordinate itself to doctrine (to "ideology, which remembers before art believes")--and, second, "the saving power," the dialectic that turns experience into art ("art, which believes before ideology remembers"). Halliburton wants to mark the danger--the instability, the potential for annihilation--that threatens to subvert a genuine dialectic, a process whose product arises via the mediations of a vigilant consciousness. This process is disrupted by "dialectical sublation," which substitutes for genuine dialectic a viral congener of sorts whose product is the repetition of something it already opaquely is. Such a process does not know the blind Will through which it always remembers itself; instead, it remembers itself with the violent and compulsive repetitiveness of ideology. Halliburton concludes:
Working from much the same assumptions, Hölderlin...