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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.2 (2003) 99-113
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Philosophical Silence and Spiritual Awe
In the philosophical transcending of question and answer we arrive at...the stillness of being. 1
What interests me...[is] that which best permits me to express my almost religious awe towards life. 2
"There exists a language of the intelligence, which has come down to us as the language of the word," declares René Huyghe. "Art, however, is a language of the spirit, of our feeling as well as our thinking nature, our nature as a whole in all its complexity." 3 This essay addresses the education of intelligence or the word in the philosophy of Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), and the instruction of the spirit in the art of Henri Matisse (1869-1954), so as to clarify human existence in its wholeness or totality. Jaspers and Matisse reject the split between the word and the spirit, and instruct us that the way to completion or self-realization is through a life lived in silence and in spiritual awe. Without silence, according to Jaspers and Matisse, it is impossible to philosophize or create, and therefore to learn.
To integrate silence or solitude into human existence by weaving it into the whole approach to teaching the liberal arts or the humanities is the pedagogical concern of this essay. Its implications for students will be briefly discussed at the conclusion. But first, let me sketch the general movement of the basic ideas that the essay develops.
The theme that connects the narrative is that artistic-aesthetic education alone can lead students along the path to self-completion by integrating silence or solitude into their life of learning. Jaspers and Matisse instruct that silence or solitude is the very source of philosophical knowledge and of artistic creation. When the human mind comes face to face with the mystery of existence, explains Jaspers, silence or solitude is there to lead it to perceive or understand this mystery. This understanding is not a truth of intellectual [End Page 99] or rational knowledge, but a truth of the spirit, which is the knowledge of art or the aesthetic, as Matisse illustrates. Thus the relationship between art and philosophy is one of enrichment and of completion, not of poverty and dilution of knowledge. What allows us to grasp or understand the mystery of existence is love, according to Jaspers and Matisse.
Love, they claim, is born of the self's desire to complete itself, to root itself in a source outside itself, to overcome its limitations in pride, arrogance, selfishness, hatred, and deceit by submitting itself to humility, purity, sincerity, simplicity, truth, and a higher love: God's Love. Then, concludes Jaspers, the self rises above or beyond philosophical knowledge, just as God's love rises above all living beings, concludes Matisse, and it achieves wholeness in God's Love or Word or Spirit. But the Word of God can be heard only in silence, in peaceful contemplation and in emptiness of mind, so that both the senses and the soul can be absorbed totally and completely into the radiance and into the unspeakable Word of God. Thus Matisse uses light and colors in his art to express, reveal, make us see and hear God's voice in the world and in us. As Jaspers's philosophical transcending of question and answer is to lead us upward into the world of eternity, rooting ourselves, transcending ourselves, transforming ourselves, freeing ourselves, creating for ourselves an existence that is truly sublime, and therefore whole.
Jaspers's Aesthetic of the Silence of Being
Jaspers is not known for his contribution to philosophy of art. In fact, he does not discuss art or aesthetics per se. 4 Still, his aesthetics follows quite consistently and logically from his philosophy as outlined in Way to Wisdom. The desire to lead the philosophical life, says Jaspers, expresses itself through situations, thought or contemplation, or reflection, and through choices or inner actions. Jaspers maintains that the human self is "on-the-way" to self-completion, or self-awareness, or...