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The Dissolution of the Beautiful: Hegel’s Theory of Drama* Christoph Menke 1. The End of Art in Drama H EGEL’S THESIS OF THE END of art says that “ art, considered in its highest determination, is a thing of the past for us,” and that, therefore, “it has lost for us genuine truth and life.” 1As Paul De Man points out, this “has usually been interpreted or criticized or, in some rare instances, praised as a historical diagnosis disproven or borne out by history” ; hence it has been interpreted as a reference to the historicity of art.2Accordingly, art belongs in another, a past, historical epoch; only in that epoch “ is there [“ gibt es” ] art as a distinct yet undetachable moment of the epoch in its totality. At the same time, how­ ever, Hegel stresses that this historical belonging is valid for art only in its “highest determination.” Indeed, according to De Man’s reading, Hegel’s Aesthetics must be understood to mean that it is art itself which makes its “highest determination,” into something “ past.” De Man thus has understood Hegel’s thesis as referring to the duplic­ ity of his aesthetics: “ Dedicated to the preservation and monumentalization of classical art, it also contains all the elements which make such a preservation impossible from the start” (De Man 773). In contrast, I wish to show in the following pages that Hegel’s Aesthetics not only implicitly contains this thesis—that it is art itself which makes its highest determination into a thing of the past—but also explicitly formulates it. This explicit formulation is found in Hegel’s genre theory [Gattungspoetik ] of the drama. There Hegel calls dramatic poetry, in its perfected Greek form, “ the highest stage of poetry and of art generally” (A III, 474; K 1158). Only drama is capable of “presenting the beautiful in its most complete and profound development” (A I, 267; K 205). Precisely because it is the “ highest” art—the beautiful “ in its most complete and profound development” —dramatic poetry is not art’s “most beautiful” form; it is not the beautiful in its ideality. Instead it is the Greek sculp­ tures which are “ the Ideals in and for themselves, the independent eter­ nal shapes [diefursich seienden, ewigen Gestalten], the center of plastic classical beauty” (A II, 92; K 490). Therefore Hegel is thinking of sculp­ VOL. XXXV, NO. 3 19 L ’E sprit C réateur ture in particular when he says of classical art in general that “ nothing can be or become more beautiful” (Ä II, 128; K 517). Hegel continues, “ Yet there is something higher than the beautiful appearance of spirit in its immediate sensuous shape, even if this shape be created by spirit as adequate to itself” (ibid.). And the first step toward this “ something higher,” from out of the beautiful, is the deepening of the beautiful in dramatic poetry. If sculpture forms the “proper center” of classical art, and therefore of all beautiful art, drama forms its margin (Ä II, 49; K 455). In Hegel, the drama is, already in its Greek form, on the way toward being a “ no-longer-beautiful” art. In Hegel’s historical scheme [Betrachtung] of the “ particular forms of the beautiful in art [Kunstsch önen],” drama belongs in the epoch of the “dissolution of the classical form of art” (A II, 107ff.; K 502ff., emphasis mine—C.M.). The theory of the drama is the place in which Hegel explicitly de­ scribes (in clear reference to contemporary Romantic concepts) an art dissolving in beauty. In the following, Hegel’s theory of drama interests me not only because there it becomes clear that his Aesthetics is far less duplicitous than De Man maintains—and this because the theory of drama makes doubtful the claim that Hegel actually was concerned with, as De Man writes, “the preservation and monumentalization of classical art.” Rather, what interests me in Hegel’s theory of drama is this: Hegel’s description of the dissolution of classical art in dramatic art gives a meaning to the thesis of the end of art, a meaning not grasped by De Man’s interpretation. The thesis that art is “ in its highest determination a...


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