Monday, April 09, 2012

Arthur Schnitzler: a consideration

One "consideration" from Book of Aphorisms and Considerations by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Carl Richard Mueller.

The reposeful effect of a work of art is primarily due to the fact that that which we call chance is totally excluded from it.

In the same way it seems that chance is also excluded from history (insofar as it is the past), and all things historical operate as necessity.

Only the present, and in particular our personal existence, is exposed and subjected to what we call chance.

There exists, therefore, no universal difference between necessity and chance, rather it is entirely a question of the spectator’s point of view.

We always command a view of only a certain number of causal chains, and even so only to a certain point, while every moment we live presents to us the intersecting point of an infinite number of causal chains which emanate from infinity and return to infinity.

History, however, tells only of those causal chains which have proven themselves to have had important consequences in the highest sense of the word, and ignores the others.

An example: A great man chokes on a cherry pit. The life of this great man from birth to death is an open fact. The cherry pit, however, was important only at the moment when it took its wrong course down the great man’s larynx, not during the course of his gradual rise; furthermore, we are indifferent towards any other part of the man’s history.

But the cherry pit has no part in tragedy, even though it gave rise to the death of this great man. For in works of art we require that the causal chains whose intersection brings on the moment of tragedy develop with an approximately equal intensity.

The hero may be brought low through his antagonist who has causally, so to speak, attached himself to him, or through such threatening causalities as exhaustion, suicide as a result of revulsion, and so forth. He may only be brought low as a result of the cherry pit, if perhaps the basic idea of the drama is that the history of the world is capable of being directed from its course by a cherry pit.

We will never permit ourselves to be convinced by the work of art (even though it conform to our philosophical or religious convictions),that the cherry pit was willed by God—even if we believe that for God all lines of causality are equal, because they all come from and return to Him. God, as it were, has always had his reasons, because He is reason itself. But in art God can only be that against which the hero revolts. A pious hero, in the dogmatic sense of the word, is an impossibility. No causal chain can be significant enough that in its intersection with the causal chain of the hero it may destroy it. Furthermore, death cannot in any way terminate the causal effects of any human being; the death of a great man in particular has consequences in the same way as the deeds of his life, often they are even more significant.

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