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  • Life and Beauty:In the Middle, In the Extreme
  • Alexander García Düttmann (bio)

What would be a form of independence that would no longer oppose itself to other forms of independence? If its political determination were based on an aesthetic condition, could it still be bound to a State, as Schiller thought, or would it need to resist appropriation, as can be shown in the wake of Adorno, and stand incompatible with all attempts to make it institutionally viable?

1. In the Middle

Again and again Schiller uses the concept of life in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. In the sixth letter, he claims that the division of labor that permeates culture, brings about a "mechanical collective life," and that it destroys the "concrete life of the individual" by affecting the inner nature of humankind and by becoming a general feature of the political organization [End Page 13] of the State (Schiller 1967, 35). This division of labor alienates the State from its citizens. At no point is their "feeling" able to connect with the State.

As is well known, Schiller distinguishes between three drives or bents, between a "sense-drive" or a "thing-bent," which aims at change and becoming, at alternating human ways of being; a "form-drive" or "form-bent," which aims at being and intemporality, at establishing a person's identity; and, finally, a "play-drive" or "play-bent," which suspends time within time and thus aims at mediating between the other two drives or bents. According to a transcription of remarks Heidegger made in a seminar devoted to Schiller's Letters in the winter term of 1936-37, the three drives or bents can be regarded as "directions" or "trends" (Heidegger 2005, 48). But it must be noted that the concept of a "drive" belongs, in the first instance, to the sphere designated by the concept of life. Here, then, the word "direction" would need to be understood in the same manner in which Kant understands it when he uses it to speak of a "subjective ground of differentiation," or of a "feeling" that is required for a subject to orient itself, even in thought (1996, 9).

When Schiller defines the concept of life in his fifteenth letter, he relates it to the sense-drive: "The object of the sense-drive, expressed in a general concept, we call life, in the widest sense of this term: a concept designating all material being and all that is immediately present to the senses" (1967, 101). Inasmuch as the object of the form-drive, expressed once again "in a general concept," can be called a figure, the object of the play-drive as a mediating drive must be called the "living figure." By "living figure" Schiller means "all the aesthetic qualities of phenomena," in short "what we call beauty." He writes: "According to this explanation, if such it be, the term beauty is neither extended to cover the whole realm of living things nor is it merely confined to this realm." In other words, it is necessary to distinguish between a life that is formed into a figure, and a life that is only "felt."

In the twenty-fifth letter, Schiller clarifies his argument further by stating that, on the one hand, beauty is something that we contemplate, an object of reflection for us, and as such a "form" or a "figure," while, on the other hand, it is also "life" because "we feel it" (187). This does not entail, of course, that we can separate reflection and feeling, or activity and passivity, only to then reassemble them once again. Kant says that in the presentation of beauty, the [End Page 14] subject "feels itself " (1987, 44). Pleasure, the feeling of this self-affection, this active relation of the self to the self, is nothing else but the subject's "feeling of life." Hence the living figure of beauty in Schiller neither appears in front of the contemplating subject nor does it simply merge with a feeling.

As has become evident, Schiller does not identify beauty, or the aesthetic, with a separate external phenomenon. This is why we must conceive of the appearing...


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