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Introduction: An Overview of Hegel’s Aesthetics Stephen Houlgate In the draft introduction to his Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno credits both Kant and Hegel with producing “the most powerful aesthetics.”1 Few would deny that Kant is an aesthetic theorist of enormous importance. Hegel’s contribution to aesthetics, however, is less widely acknowledged and appreciated. Some will be familiar with Hegel’s theory of tragedy and his (supposed) doctrine of the “end of art,” but many philosophers and writers on art pay little or no attention to his lectures on aesthetics. The aim of this collection of essays—all but one of which have been written specially for this volume—is to raise the profile of Hegel’s aesthetic theory by showing in detail precisely why that theory is, in Adorno’s word, so “powerful.” The contributors to this volume do not endorse every aspect of Hegel’s position. Together, however, they demonstrate that Hegel’s lectures on aesthetics constitute one of the richest reservoirs of ideas about the arts, their history, and their future that we possess.2 Hegel’s reflections on art form part of that extraordinary tradition of German aesthetic thought that stretches from Baumgarten’s Aesthetica, published in the 1750s, through Winckelmann, Lessing, Kant, Schiller, Hölderlin, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and on—after Hegel’s death in 1831—to Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Adorno. Hegel read widely in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century segment of this tradition (ignoring only Schopenhauer), and he was particularly influenced by Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790) and Schiller’s letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man, which he read on their publication in 1795. Hegel’s own earliest extended discussion of an aesthetic topic is to be found in an essay on “a few characteristic differences” between ancient and modern poets, penned in 1788 when he was not quite eighteen.3 In 1796, in the wake of reading Schiller’s letters on aesthetic education, he proceeded to give pride of place to aesthetic sensibility in an exuberant text entitled “Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism.” In this text Hegel—assuming that he is indeed the author, rather than Schelling or Hölderlin—argues boldly that “the highest act of reason . . . is an aesthetic act” and that consequently “the philosopher must possess just as xi much aesthetic power as the poet.”4 Hegel’s groundbreaking Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) does not give quite such prominence to aesthetic sensibility or power, but it does contain a remarkable account of what he calls the “religion of art” (Kunst-Religion) that was embraced in particular by the Greeks.5 The differences between art, religion, and philosophy are discussed in the three editions of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817, 1827, and 1830).6 The most extensive analysis of art and aesthetic self-consciousness is provided, however, in the lectures that Hegel gave on aesthetics first at Heidelberg (in 1817 and 1818) and then in Berlin (in 1820–21, 1823, 1826, and 1828–29).7 After Hegel’s death these lectures were edited by his student, H. G. Hotho, into the text known today as Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik and translated into English as Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art.8 Recently, separate transcripts of Hegel’s lectures from 1820–21, 1823, and 1826 have also been published, allowing us to see for the first time how his thoughts on art and aesthetics developed during his years in Berlin.9 Hegel’s lectures (and the Encyclopaedia) locate aesthetics within a comprehensive philosophical system that also includes logic, the philosophy of nature, the philosophies of right and history, and the philosophy of religion. In the eyes of some commentators, this inevitably leads Hegel to distort the character of art and aesthetic experience because he has to force them into the straitjacket of his a priori systematic conception of being and of human history. “In the end,” writes Beat Wyss, “the facts are all ordered according to the immanent necessities of logic,” so that “one always sees only what one wants to see.”10 Similarly, Adorno—who, as we have seen, otherwise thought highly of Hegel’s aesthetics—intimates that Hegel was guilty of “the unwavering asceticism of conceptualization, doggedly refusing to allow itself to be irritated by facts.” Indeed, Adorno maintains that both “Hegel and Kant . . . were able to write major aesthetics without understanding anything about art” (that is, anything about individual works of art).11 Whether Kant understood much about art, I leave for others...


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