Psychology of Art. Vygotsky (1925)

The Psychology of Art

Verifying the Formula. Psychology of Verse. Lyric and Epic. Hero and Dramatis personae. Drama. The Comic and the Tragic. Theater. Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Architecture.

We have ascertained that contradiction is the essential feature of artistic form and material. We have also found that the essential part of aesthetic response is the manifestation of the affective contradiction which we have designated by the term catharsis.

It would be very important to show how catharsis is achieved in different art forms, what its chief characteristics are, and what auxiliary processes and mechanisms are involved in it. However, such an investigation would lead beyond the scope of our present endeavor, since special research on the function of catharsis in each art form would have to be undertaken. Our main purpose is to focus attention on the central point of the aesthetic response, determine its psychological “weight,” and use it as the fundamental explanatory principle in our further investigations. We must now check the accuracy of the formula we have found and determine its general applicability and explanatory power. This test, and the corrections which no doubt will be made as a consequence of its application, should be the subject of many further individual studies. Here we shall confine ourselves to making a brief survey to determine whether or not our formula withstands the test. It is obvious that we must abandon the idea of a systematic, empirical verification of our formula. We are only able to survey individual, random phenomena by taking typical examples from all fields of art and attempting to see whether, and to what extent, our formula applies to them. Let us begin with poetry.

If we take existing studies of verse, studies performed not by psychologists but by art critics, as an aesthetic fact, we immediately note the striking resemblance between the conclusions reached by psychologists on the one hand, and art critics on the other. The two sets of facts – psychic and aesthetic – reveal a surprising correspondence which corroborates and confirms our formula. This observation applies to the concept of rhythm in modern poetry. We have long since abandoned the naive interpretation of rhythm as meter, or measure. Andrei Bely’s investigations in Russia and Saran’s studies abroad showed that rhythm is a complex artistic structure that corresponds to the contradiction which we conceptualize as the heart of the artistic response. The Russian tonic system of versification is based on the regular sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables. If an iambic tetrameter [49] is defined as a verse consisting of four disyllabic feet, each consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, it is almost impossible to compose such a verse; for the tetrameter would have to consist of four two-syllable words (in the Russian language every word has but a single stress). In actual practice, however, verses are written in this meter. These verses contain three, five, or six words, that is, more or fewer stresses than required by theory. According to the academic theory of philology, any discrepancy between the requirements of the meter and the actual number of stresses in a verse is made up by subtraction or addition of stresses with correspondent adjustment of articulation and pronunciation. In poetry, however, we retain the natural stress of words, so that the verse frequently deviates from the required meter. The sum of deviations from the meter defines the rhythm, according to Bely. He proves his point as follows: if the rhythm of a verse consists in nothing but keeping the correct beat, then all the verse written in one meter should be identical, and such a regular beat should produce no emotional effect aside from reminding us of a rattle or a drum. It is the same with music, where rhythm is not the beat that can be marked with the foot, but the filling of the measures with unequal and uneven notes which give the impression of complex movement. These deviations observe certain regularities, engage in certain combinations, form a certain system; this system of irregularities is what Bely takes as the basis for his concept of rhythm. [1] His studies have been proved to be correct, for today we may find a precise differentiation between the concepts of meter and rhythm in any textbook. The need for such a differentiation arises from the fact that words resist the meter which attempts to adjust them into a verse. “... With the aid of words,” says Zhirmunskii, “it is as impossible to create a work of art governed completely by the rules of musical composition without distorting the very nature of the words, just as it is impossible to create an ornament of the human body and still maintain its primary purpose. There is no pure rhythm in poetry, just as there is no symmetry in painting. Rhythm is the interaction of the natural properties of speech components with the rules of composition which cannot be fully applied because of the resistance of the material.” [2]

We perceive a natural number of stresses in words, and at the same time we perceive the norm toward which verse strives but never approaches. The conflict between meter and words – the discrepancy, discord, and contradiction between them – this is rhythm. As we can see, this view coincides with the analyses we have already conducted. Here are the three parts of the aesthetic response which we mentioned at an earlier stage: the two conflicting affects and the catharsis which completes them in the three elements established by the theory of metrics for the verse. According to Zhirmunskii, these are “(1) the natural phonetic Properties of the speech material... . (2) the meter, an ideal law governing the succession of strong and weak sounds in a verse; and (3) the rhythm, the actual succession of strong and weak sounds resulting from the interaction between the natural properties of the speech material used and the metric rules.” [3] Saran holds the same view: “A verse form is the result of an intimate unification of, or a compromise between, two elements, the sound form characteristic of spoken language, and the orchestral meter ... This is how the struggle, whose results are the various ‘styles’ of the same verse form, arises.” [4]

We now must demonstrate that the three poetical elements in the verse coincide in their psychological meaning with the three elements of aesthetic action. To do this, we must establish that the first two elements are in mutual contradiction and provoke affects of contrasting nature; the third element, rhythm, is the cathartic resolution of the first two. Such an approach is supported by the latest studies which replace the old-fashioned teaching of the harmony of all the elements of a work of art and contrast it with the principle of the struggle and antinomy of certain elements. If we do not study static form, and if we reject the crude analogy according to which form contains content as a glass does wine, then, according to Tynianov, we must adopt a constructive principle and consider form to be dynamic. We must study the factors making up a work of art not in their static structure but in their dynamic flow. We shall then see that “the unity of the work is not a closed symmetrical entity but an unfolding, dynamic whole. There is no static sign of equality or multiplication between its elements, but the dynamic sign of correlation and integration exists always."[5] Not all factors in a work of art are equivalent. Form is the result of the constructive subordination of certain factors to others, rather than of their fusion into one. “We always perceive form as flow (that is, change), as the correlation of the subordinating, constructive factor and the subordinated one. There is no need to attach a temporal characteristic to this unfolding. The flow, the dynamics, can be taken per se, outside of time, and considered as pure motion. Art is this interaction, this struggle. Without this subordination, without the deformation of factors by the one factor playing the constructive role, there can be no art.” [6]

Such reasoning is why modern scholars do not accept the traditional teaching of the relationship between the rhythm and the meaning of a verse. They show that the structure of a verse is not based upon the correspondence between rhythm and meaning, nor upon the uniform trend of all its factors; the exact contrary is true. Meiman distinguished two opposing tendencies in the declamation of verses, a time-beating one and a phrasing one. He assumed, however, that these two tendencies are characteristics of different individuals) when, actually, they are part of the verse itself a verse which simultaneously contains two opposing tendencies. “The verse reveals itself as a system of complex interactions, a struggle rather than a cooperation between factors. It becomes obvious that the specific plus of poetry is to be found in this interaction, the basis of which is the constructive role of rhythm, and its deforming function with respect to the other factors ... Thus, the acoustic approach to verse reveals the paradox of apparently balanced and even poetic work.” [7] Proceeding from this contradiction and the struggle of factors, investigators were able to show how the very meaning of a verse or word changes, how the evolution of the subject, the selection of an image, and so on, change under the effect of rhythm as the constructive factor in a poem. The same is true in the case of meaning. Tynianov, paraphrasing Goethe, concludes that “great impressions depend mysteriously on various poetic forms. It would be tempting to transpose the content of several Roman elegies to the tone and meter of Byron’s Don Juan.” [8] A few examples may show that the meaningful construction of a verse necessarily includes an intimate contradiction in an instance where we expect harmony. One of Lermontov’s critics writes about his remarkable poem, I, the Mother of God, “These ornate verses lack inspired simplicity and sincerity, the two main characteristics of prayer. In praying for a young, innocent woman, it is inappropriate to mention old age or death. Note: ‘the warm patroness of a cold world... .’ What a cold antithesis!” Indeed, it is difficult not to note the inner contradiction in the meaning of those elements which make up the poem. Evlakhov says, “Not only does Lermontov discover a new species in the animal kingdom (in addition to Anakreon’s horned doe) in his description of a ‘lioness with a curly mane around her head,’ but in his poem When the Yellow Cornfield Waves, he changes nature to suit his case. Gleb Uspenskii remarks that ‘for the sake of this special case, climate and feelings are confused, and everything is chosen so arbitrarily that one can only doubt the poet’s sincerity’ ... This remark is very correct in essence, although not very intelligent in its conclusion."[9]

All of Pushkin’s poetry involves two contradictory feelings. Let us take the poem I Roam the Noisy Streets as an example. It is traditionally understood to represent a poet persecuted by the notion of death. His preoccupation saddens him, but he adjusts to the idea of death’s inevitability and ends by praising youth and life. Given such an interpretation, the last line of the poem contrasts with the entire work. We can easily show that this traditional interpretation is totally inaccurate. If the poet wanted to show how the environment leads to thoughts of death, he would have chosen a more appropriate environment. He would have led us to the usual haunts of sentimental poets: a cemetery, a hospital, to the dying, or perhaps to suicide. But Pushkin chose an ambient which creates a contradiction in every line. The poet is seized by the thought of death in noisy streets, in crowded churches, in busy squares – in places where death is definitely out of place. A lone oak, sovereign of the forests; a newborn child – these images again conjure the idea of death, and the contradiction becomes overwhelming. Thus we can see that the poem is built upon the juxtaposition of two extremes [50], life and death. We find this contradiction in every line, for it pervades the entire poem. In the fifth line, for example, the poet recognizes that death comes every day, but it is not really death – it is the anniversary of death, that is, death’s trace in life. It is not surprising that the poem concludes with the statement that even the insensible corpse wishes to rest near its homeland. The last, catastrophic line is not in contrast to the whole poem but presents a catharsis of the two contrasting ideas by casting them in a new form: young life conjured death’s image everywhere; it now plays at the threshold of death.

Pushkin habitually uses such sharp contradictions. His Egyptian Nights, his Banquet during Pestilence, and others are based on similar contradictions which are carried to the extreme. Pushkin’s lyric poetry always follows the law of dualism. His words are simple in meaning, but his verse transforms this meaning into lyrical emotion. A similar pattern exists in his epics. The most striking examples are his Tales of Belkin. For a long time these tales were regarded as rather insignificant and quite idyllic works, until critics discovered two conflicting levels, a tragic reality hidden beneath a smooth and happy surface, so that Tales of Belkin suddenly became dramatic, full of strong and powerful effects. The artistic effect of the stories is based upon the contradiction between the core and the surface of the story. “The superficial course of events,” says Uzin, “imperceptibly leads the reader toward a peaceful, calm solution of the problems, the most complex of which apparently unravel themselves in the simplest way. But the narration itself contains contradictory elements. As we carefully observe the complex ornamentation of the Tales of Belkin we find that the final resolutions are not the only ones possible.” [10] “Life itself and its hidden meaning are here fused into a unit, so much so that we cannot distinguish them. The commonplace facts appear tragic because we feel along with them the action of hidden underground forces in action. Belkin’s secret intention, which is so carefully concealed in the introduction of his anonymous biographer, shows us that beneath the peaceful and placid surface, fateful possibilities lie hidden ... Let everything come to a happy ending: this is consolation for Mitrofan, because any thought of another solution fills us with terror.” [11]

The merit of this critic consists in his success in showing convincingly that Pushkin’s stories contain a hidden meaning, that the lines which seem to lead to happiness may lead to misery as well; he succeeded in showing that the interplay of these two directions in one and the same line represents the true phenomenon which we seek in the aesthetic experience of catharsis. “These two elements are joined together in every one of Belkin’s stories with extraordinary, inimitable art. The slightest increase of one at the expense of the other would lead to a complete destruction of these marvellous works. The introduction creates the equilibrium among the elements.” [12]

The same rule is applicable to the structure of the more complex epic works. Let us take Eugene Onegin. This work is usually understood as the portrayal of a young man of the 1820’s and an idealized Russian girl. The heroes are conceptualized as static, completely finished entities that do not change during the course of the narrative.

Yet, we need only look at this work to see that Pushkin treats his heroes dynamically and that the constructive principle of his narrative in verse lies in the development of the characters as the story proceeds. Tynianov says, “Only recently have we abandoned the kind of criticism in which we discuss and condemn the protagonists of a novel as if they were live human beings ... All such criticism is based upon the assumption of a static protagonist... . The static unity of the protagonist (as any static unity in a work of literature) is very unstable; depending entirely upon the principle of construction employed, it can oscillate in the course of a literary work in the way called for by the dynamics of each individual case. Suffice it to say that there exists a sign of unity, a category that justifies the most obvious cases of its violation and forces us to regard them as equivalents of unity. But this unity cannot be the naively conceptualized static unity of the protagonist; instead of the law of static unity we must consider the symbol of dynamic integration, of completion. There is no static protagonist, there can only be dynamic ones. And the name of the protagonist alone is enough of a symbol to prevent us from observing the hero himself at every juncture in the narrative.” [13] Nothing corroborates this statement better than Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. In this verse narrative, Onegin’s name functions only as the symbol of a hero; it is equally easy to show that the protagonists represented are dynamic and change in accordance with the structure of the work. Critics have always proceeded from the wrong assumption, namely, that the hero of this work is static. To corroborate their approach they pointed out Onegin’s character traits, which were taken from his model in life. “The object of a study of art must be the specific matter that distinguishes art from other fields of intellectual endeavor and methods of employing these fields as material or as tools. A work of art is a complex interaction of many factors; consequently, the purpose of a study must be the determination of the specific character of this interaction.” [14] This view clearly says that the material of the study must be nonmotivated in art, that is, something which belongs to art alone. Let us now take a look at Eugene Onegin.

The conventional characteristics ascribed to Onegin and Tatiana are derived entirely from the first part of the novel. The dynamics of the development and evolution of these characters are ignored, as are the extraordinary contradictions into which the hero and heroine run at the end of the work. Hence there appears a whole series of misunderstandings and misconceptions. Take Onegin’s character first: we can easily show that Pushkin initially introduces certain conventional static elements with the sole purpose of making them function in contradictions at the end of the narrative. We are told about the unique, overwhelming, and hopeless love of Onegin and of its tragic end. The author should have here selected protagonists predestined to play a love role. Instead, we see from the very beginning that Pushkin stresses those traits in the character of Onegin which make it impossible for him to be the hero of a story of tragic love. In the first chapter, in which the poet describes in detail how Onegin was familiar with the science of sweet passion (stanzas X, XI, and XII) he is shown as a person who has wasted his heart on worldly people. From the first stanzas the reader is prepared for the fact that anything can happen to Onegin except death from unrequited love. It is remarkable that this very first chapter contains the lyrical digression on beautiful female legs, a digression which hints at the extraordinary power of unfulfilled love, and immediately introduces another, opposing, level which contrasts to the previous exposition of Onegin’s character. Immediately afterward, however, the poet says that Onegin is incapable of love (stanzas XXXVII, XLII, and XLIII):

No feelings lived within his heart;
The worldly glamour bored him;
Beauties were but fleetingly
The subject of his thoughts ...

We are absolutely certain that Onegin will not become the hero of a tragic romance when the narrative suddenly takes an unexpected turn. After Tatiana’s profession of love, we see that Onegin’s heart has hardened to the extent that involvement with her is out of the question. However, the other line of development manifests itself still. Onegin learns that his friend Lenskii is in love and says, “I'd take the other one [Tatiana], were I, like you, a poet.” The true image of catastrophe finally emerges from the contrast between Onegin and Tatiana. The poet represents Tatiana’s love as an imaginary love; he stresses everywhere that she loves not Onegin but a romantic hero whom she has invented.

“She began to read novels when she was very young": from this statement Pushkin develops the imaginary, dreamy character of her love. According to Pushkin’s story, Tatiana does not love Onegin, or rather she does love, but her object is not Onegin; the poem tells us about her overhearing rumors that she will marry Onegin:

A thought was born within her heart;
And when time came when she fell in love.
A seed that falls onto the ground,
Takes life from spring’s own ardor.
Her mind, consumed
By tenderness and desire, had
Long been hungry for forbidden fruit;
Her heart has long been
Beating with passion in her breast;
She yearned ... for someone,
At last ... she saw the light;
And then she said: It’s he!

It is stated quite clearly here that Onegin is the “somebody” for whom Tatiana yearns. From then on, her love evolves along an imaginary line (stanza X). She fancies herself Clarissa, Julie, or Delphine, and

She sighs, she weeps, adopts
Someone else’s joy and sorrow,
Becomes oblivious, whispers
The words she'll write her dearest one ...

Her famous letter is written first in her mind, and then on paper. We shall see that it has indeed all the features of a fictitious letter. It is remarkable that already in stanza XV Pushkin sets his novel on a seemingly false course when he bemoans Tatiana, who has placed her fate in the hands of a superficial dandy, when in actual fact it is Onegin who perishes of love. Before his encounter with Tatiana, Pushkin reminds us that

His heart no longer burnt with love for beauty,
Although at times, indifferently, he would
Indulge in courting girls;
If they refused, he was at once consoled,
If they betrayed him, he was glad to rest.

His love, says Pushkin, is like the performance of an indifferent guest who arrives to play whist.

Early in the morning he does not know
Where in the evening he will go.

When Onegin meets Tatiana, he immediately talks about marriage and describes a torn, unhappy family life. It is hard to imagine duller or more complex images than these, which are diametrically opposed to the subject matter of their talk. The character of Tatiana’s love reveals itself when she visits Onegin’s house, looks at his books, and begins to understand that he is actually a sham. Her mind and feeling now find a solution to the riddle that was haunting her. The unexpectedly pathetic character of Onegin’s last love becomes particularly obvious when we compare Onegin’s letter to Tatiana’s. In the latter, Pushkin emphasizes the elements of the French roman from which it is derived. In writing this letter, he appeals to the bard of banquets and languid sorrow, because he is the only one who can sing its magic melody. Pushkin calls his rendition of the letter an incomplete and poor translation. Interestingly, he precedes Onegin’s letter with the remark, “There is his letter, word for word.” In Tatiana’s letter, on the other hand, all is romantically indefinite, vague, and nebulous; in Onegin’s reply all is clear and precise – word for word. It is remarkable that in her letter Tatiana, as if by accident, reveals the true purpose of the narrative when she writes: “To be a faithful wife and a good mother.” Compared with this gentle carelessness and sweet nonsense (to quote Pushkin), the frank truthfulness of Onegin’s letter is overwhelming.

I know it well, my days are counted;
But for my life to flow a while,
I must be certain in the morning
That I shall see you before the night ...

The entire last part of the narrative down to the very last strophe is permeated with hints that Onegin’s life is ended, that he is dying, that he can no longer breathe. Though Pushkin talks about this half jokingly, half seriously, the truth reveals itself with shattering force in the famous scene of their new encounter, which is interrupted by the sudden and unexpected clicking of spurs:

Here, my dear friend,
I shall abandon
Our hero, when his luck
Has turned against him,
For long ... forever. ...

Pushkin ends his tale at a seemingly arbitrary point, but this strange and completely unexpected operation strongly emphasizes the artistic completeness of the work. When in the catastrophic stanza Pushkin speaks about the bliss of those who have left the festival of life at an early age without drinking the brimming cup to the very end, the reader wonders whether the poet speaks about his hero or about himself.

Lenskii’s parallel romance with Olga is in direct contrast with the tragic love of Onegin and Tatiana. Pushkin claims that her faithful portrait can be found in any novel or roman. He chose her because she is by nature predestined to be the heroine of a love story. Lenskii, too, is presented as a person born for love, but is killed in a duel. Here, the reader is faced with a paradox: He expects the real love drama to unfold between the woman destined to be the true heroine of the narrative, and the man destined to play the role of Romeo; he expects the shot that destroyed their love to be crucially dramatic – but his expectations are cut short. Pushkin develops his story against the natural grain of the material, when he transforms Olga’s and Lenskii’s love into commonplace triteness (Lenskii’s fate, he reveals, is that of “a country squire, happy and cuckolded, wearing a quilted dressing gown”), and makes the real drama occur where we least expect it. In fact, the entire work is built on an impossibility. The analogy between the first and the second part (although their meanings are opposite) shows this quite clearly: Tatiana’s letter – Onegin’s letter; the encounter of Onegin and Tatiana in the country garden – the talk at Tatiana’s in Petersburg. The reader, misled by this parallelism, does not notice to what extent the hero and the heroine have changed; he does not notice that the Onegin of the end of the narrative is not only different from the Onegin of the beginning, but his complete opposite, and the concluding action at the end is the opposite of that at the beginning.

The character of the hero has changed dynamically, the narrative has taken an unexpected course, and, most important, the change in the hero’s character is essential to the unfolding of the action. Pushkin prepares the reader to believe that Onegin cannot become the hero of a tragic love affair, but in the end transforms him into a tragic victim of love. A scholar very aptly once said that there are two kinds of works of art, just as there are two kinds of flying machines – those lighter and those heavier than air. A balloon rises because it is lighter than air. This is not really a triumph over nature, for the balloon floats in the air not by its own devices, but because it is pushed upward. Conversely, an airplane (a flying machine heavier than air) fights air resistance, overcomes it, pushes itself up, and rises despite its tendency to fall. A true work of art reminds us of a heavier-than-air machine. It is always made of material much heavier than air, and from the very outset seems to oppose any effort to make it rise. The weight of the material counteracts its rise and drags the structure to the ground. Flight can be achieved only by overcoming this tendency to fall.

This is the case with Eugene Onegin. How simple (and how trite) the story would be if we knew from the very beginning that Onegin would have an unhappy love affair. At best, this plot could be developed into a second-rate sentimental novel. But when he actually falls victim to the tragic love in spite of his own efforts, then we witness the artist’s triumph over “material heavier than air” and experience the real joy of flying, the lift imparted by the catharsis of art.

The heroes of a drama, as well as an epic, are dynamic. The substance of drama is struggle, but the struggle contained in the principal material of a drama overshadows the conflict between artistic elements that results from conventional dramatic strife. This point is easy to understand if we regard a drama not as a finished work of art but as the basic material for a theatrical performance. A closer look at the problem of content and form, however, will make it possible to differentiate these two dramatic elements.

First, we must apply the concept of the dynamic protagonist to drama. The false notion that the purpose of drama is to represent characters could have been abandoned long ago, had scholars treated Shakespeare’s dramas with the proper objectivity. EvIakhov calls the idea of Shakespeare’s remarkable skill in representing characters “an old wives’ tale.” Volkelt says that “Shakespeare in many cases went much further than psychology properly admits.” No one, however, has understood this fact better than Tolstoy (as we have already noted in our discussion of Hamlet). He states that his opinion is completely opposed to the one then prevalent in Europe and correctly points out that King Lear speaks a pompous, characterless language, as do all of Shakespeare’s kings. He then shows that the events in the tragedy are unbelievable, paradoxical, and unnatural. “Perhaps this tragedy is absurd the way I retell it ... but in its original version it is even more so.” [16] As the main proof that there are no real characters in Shakespeare’s plays Tolstoy adduces that “none of his characters ever speak their own language, but always talk in the same Shakespearian, stilted, unnatural language which not only does not suit the roles, but cannot be spoken by any person alive.” [16] Tolstoy regards language as the principal tool for representing a character, and Volkenshteyn remarks that Tolstoy’s view is “... the critique of a bellelettristic realist.” [17]

But he corroborates Tolstoy’s opinion when he proves that a tragedy cannot have a characteristic language and that “the language of a tragic hero is a resounding and pompous one, imagined by the author; there is no room in the tragedy for a detailed characterization of speech.” [18] With this insight, he demonstrates that tragedy has no character because it represents man in the extreme, whereas character consists in proportions, correlations, and compromises between features and attitudes. Tolstoy is right when he says that “not only are Shakespeare’s dramatis personae placed into impossible tragic situations that do not follow the course of events and are inappropriate in terms of time and place, but they act completely arbitrarily, not in accord with their own stated characters.” [19] Tolstoy makes a great discovery here, as he points out the domain of the unmotivated, which is a specific distinguishing mark of art. He points to the real problem of Shakespearian studies when he says “Shakespeare’s characters constantly do and say things that are not only against their nature, but serve no purpose.” [20]

We take Othello as an example to show how correct this analysis is and how it can be used to uncover Shakespeare’s merits as well as his faults. Tolstoy says that Shakespeare, who borrowed the subjects of his plays from older dramas or narratives, not only distorted, but weakened and frequently destroyed the character of his protagonists. “Thus, Shakespeare’s characters in Othello (Othello, lago, Cassio, or Emilia) are far less genuine and lively than those in the original Italian novella... . The reasons for Othello’s jealousy are much more natural in the Italian original than in Shakespeare’s tragedy ... . Shakespeare’s Iago is a villain, a cheat, a thief, an impostor ... . The motives for his villainy, according to Shakespeare, are many and unclear. In the novella, however, there is but one motive, and it is simple and clear: Iago’s passionate love for Desdemona has changed into hatred for her and Othello after she preferred the Moor to Iago.” [21]

Tolstoy points out that Shakespeare intentionally omitted, changed, or destroyed the characters of the Italian story. The character of Othello himself is only a point of encounter for the two opposing affects. Let us take a look at the hero. If Shakespeare wanted to describe a tragedy of jealousy, he should have chosen a jealous man, put him together with a woman who would provide him with a motive, and finally would have established between them a relationship in which jealousy could become the inevitable and inseparable companion of love. Instead, he chooses characters and material which make the solution of his problem extremely difficult. “Othello is not jealous by nature; on the contrary, he is trustful,” remarked Pushkin.[22] Indeed, Othello’s trustfulness is one of the mainsprings of the tragedy. Everything proceeds because Othello is trusting and because there is not a streak of jealousy in his nature. In fact, his character is utterly opposed to that of a jealous person. Similarly, Desdemona is not the type of woman who would cause blind jealousy in a man. Many critics even find her too idealized and pure. Finally, the most important point – Othello’s and Desdemona’s love appears so platonic that one might think they never really consummated their marriage. The tragedy reaches its climax: the trusting Othello, now violently jealous, kills the innocent Desdemona. Had Shakespeare followed the first “prescription,” he would have achieved the same banal effect as Artsybashev in his play Jealousy, in which a suspicious husband is jealous of a wife who is ready to give herself to any man, and where the relationship between husband and wife is shown only in terms of their problems. The “flight of a machine heavier than air,” with which a work of art was compared, is triumphantly achieved in Othello, where the tragedy evolves in two opposing directions and generates conflicting emotions in us. Each step, each action, drags us lower, to abject treason and treachery, while at the same time lifting us to the heights of an ideal character, so that the collision and cathartic purification of the two opposite affects engendered becomes the basis of the tragedy. Tolstoy attributes Shakespeare’s unsurpassed mastery to a specific technique: “His ability to write scenes expressing the movement of feelings. No matter how unnatural the situations in which he places his characters, how inappropriate the language they speak, how impersonal they are, the movement of their feelings, the combination of contradictory emotions is expressed with power and precision in most of Shakespeare’s scenes.” [23]

It is the ability to represent changes in feelings which is the basis for understanding the dynamic protagonist. Goethe remarks that at one point Lady Macbeth says she suckled her children with her breast, but at another point we learn that she has no children. This, according to him, is an artistic convention, for, Shakespeare “is concerned about the power and effect of each individual speech ... The poet makes his characters say exactly what the situation requires and what produces the best effect, without worrying too much whether or not it contradicts a statement made elsewhere.” [24] If we bear in mind the logic contradiction of words, we can agree with Goethe. There are innumerable examples from Shakespeare’s plays that show that the characters always evolve dynamically, depending on the structure of the play, and that they always follow Aristotle’s dictum that “... the plot is the basis, the soul, of the tragedy, and the characters follow it.” [25] Müller points out that Shakespeare’s comedies differ from the ancient Roman comedies (with their inevitable parasite, bragging warrior, pimp, and other stereotypes), but he fails to understand that the purpose of the free rendition of characters, which Pushkin admired so much in Shakespeare, is not to make them look like real people or to liken their situations to real life, but to complicate and enrich the plot and enhance the tragic setting. In the final analysis, a character is static, and when Pushkin says that Moliere’s “hypocrite runs hypocritically after the wife of his benefactor, hypocritically accepts the custody of the estate, hypocritically asks for a glass of water,” he defines the very essence of a character tragedy. Thus, when Müller tries to determine the interrelationship between characters and plot in the English drama, he has to admit that the plot is decisive, while the characters are “of secondary importance in the creative process. In Shakespeare’s case this may sound like nonsense. ... It is therefore all the more interesting to show by examples that he too occasionally subordinates his characters to the plot.” [26] When he tries to explain Cordelia’s refusal to verbally express her love for her father as a technical requirement, he runs into the same contradiction as we did in the attempt to explain, from the technical viewpoint, a nonmotivated phenomenon in art which is in fact not only a sad necessity required by the technique, but also a joyous privilege afforded by form. The fact that Shakespeare’s lunatics speak in prose, that letters are written in prose, that Lady Macbeth raves in prose, makes us realize that the connection between the language and the character of the dramatis personae can be purely fortuitous.

It is important to clarify the substantial difference that exists between the novel and the tragedy. In the novel the characters of the protagonists are also frequently dynamic and full of contradictions. They evolve as a constructive factor capable of changing events or, conversely, of being transformed by other, stronger or superior factors. We find this inner contradiction in Dostoevsky’s novels, which evolve simultaneously on two levels (the most base and the most sublime), where murderers philosophize, saints sell their bodies on the streets, parricides save mankind, and so on. In the tragedy, however, character has a completely different meaning. To understand the peculiarity of the structure of a tragic hero we must bear in mind that drama is based on struggle, and, whether we consider a tragedy or a farce, we will see that their formal structure is identical. While a protagonist always fights objects, laws, or forces, the various types of drama are distinguished by what he actually opposes. In tragedy he fights inflexible, absolute laws; in comedy he usually fights social laws; and in farce he struggles against physiological laws. “The hero of a comedy violates sociopsychological norms, customs, and habits. The hero of a farce ... violates sociophysical norms of social life.” [27] This is why farce, as in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, frequently deals with eroticism and digestion. The farce plays at all times with the animality of man while his formal nature remains purely dramatic. Consequently, in any drama, we perceive both a norm and its violation; in this respect, the structure of a drama resembles that of a verse in which we have also a norm (meter) and a system of deviations from it. The protagonist of a drama is therefore a character who combines two conflicting affects, that of the norm and that of its violation; this is why we perceive him dynamically, not as an object but as a process. This becomes particularly obvious if we look at the various types of drama. Volkenshteyn considers a distinguishing feature of tragedy the fact that its hero is endowed with very great strength; he recalls that the ancients defined the tragic hero as a spiritual maximum. Hence, the prime characteristic of tragedy is maximalism, or the violation of absolute law by absolute strength of heroic struggle. As soon as tragedy steps down from this lofty level of struggle it becomes drama. Hebbel is mistaken when he explains the positive effect of tragic catastrophe by saying that “when a man is covered with wounds, to kill him is to cure him.” This statement would mean that when a tragic poet leads his hero to destruction, he gives us a satisfaction similar to the one we experience when a suffering, mortally wounded animal is put to death. But this view is wrong. We do not feel that death gives relief to the hero; at the time of the catastrophe we do not see him covered with wounds. The tragedy performs a remarkable and astonishing catharsis whose effect is diametrically opposed to its content.

In tragedy, the sublime moment of the spectator coincides with the sublime moment of the protagonist’s death or destruction. The spectator perceives not only what the protagonist is or represents but something more; this is why Hebbel says that catharsis in the tragedy is necessary for the spectator only and “it is not at all necessary ... for the protagonist to achieve inner peace.” A remarkable illustration of this point is given in the denouement of all Shakespearean tragedies, most of which end in an identical manner. Once the catastrophe is accomplished, the protagonist dies unappeased, and one of the surviving characters takes the spectator once again through the events of the tragedy, and, in a manner of speaking, collects the ashes of tragedy consumed in the catharsis. When the spectator hears Horatio’s brief account of the frightful events which have just passed before his eyes, it is as if he saw the same tragedy for a second time, only without its sting and venom. This narrated review gives him time to realize his own catharsis, to compare his own relationship to the tragedy, as given in the denouement, with the immediately experienced impression of the tragedy as a whole. “A tragedy is an explosion of supreme human force; therefore it is in a major key. In viewing a titanic struggle, the spectator’s feeling of horror is replaced by a feeling of cheerfulness which approaches enthusiasm. Tragedy appeals to and awakens the subconscious, mysterious original forces hidden in our souls. The playwright seems to tell us that we are timid, indecisive, obsequious to society and the state. Then he tells us to look at how strong people act: See what will happen if you surrender to your ambition, to your voluptuousness, to your pride. Try in your imagination to follow my hero and see if it is not tempting to give in to passion!” [28] Although this formulation is somewhat simplified, it contains a certain amount of truth, because the tragedy awakens our most hidden passions, forces them to flow within banks of granite, made of completely opposite feelings, and ends this struggle with a catharsis of resolution.

Comedy has a similar structure, with a catharsis which results in the spectator’s laughter becoming directed at the protagonist. The distinction between the spectator and the protagonist of a comedy is obvious: the hero weeps, while the spectator laughs. An obvious dualism is created. The hero is sad and the spectator laughs, or vice versa; a positive hero may meet a sad end, but the spectator is happy just the same.

We will not dwell on the specific features that distinguish the tragic from the comic, or the drama from the comedy. Many authors (among them Croce and Haman) hold that in essence these categories are not aesthetic ones, since the comic and the tragic also exist outside the arts. They are quite right. At this stage it is important for us to show that whenever art uses the tragic, comic, or dramatic modes, it invariably obeys the law of catharsis. According to Bergson, the purpose of comedy is to show “the deviation of the dramatis personae from the conventional norms of social life.” He feels that “only man can be ridiculous. If we laugh at an object or an animal, we take them for human beings and humanize them.” Laughter requires a social environment. Comedy is impossible outside society and, consequently, again reveals itself as a dualism between certain societal norms and deviations from them. Volkenshteyn perceives this dualism in the comic hero and says, “A funny and witty reply given by a comic character obtains a particularly strong effect. Shakespeare’s representation of Falstaff is successful because he is not only a coward, a glutton, a philanderer, and so on, but also a marvelous joker.” [29] This is why the jokes destroy the trite and commonplace aspects of his nature in a catharsis of laughter. According to Bergson, the origin of fun lies in automatism; that is, when something live deviates from certain norms, it behaves as if it were mechanical, and this generates laughter.

The results of Freud’s investigations into wit, humor, and the comic are far more interesting. We feel that his interpretation of these three forms of experience as purely energetic is somewhat arbitrary, but quite aside from this point we cannot but agree with the extreme accuracy of Freud’s analysis. It is remarkable that it fully coincides with our formula for catharsis as a basis for aesthetic reaction. Wit for him is a Janus which can develop a thought simultaneously in two opposite directions. There is a discrepancy in our feelings and perceptions in the case of humor, and the laughter resulting from this discrepancy is the best proof of the relaxing effect of wit.[30] Haman holds a similar view: “Wit requires above all novelty and originality. A joke can hardly be appreciated twice, and most of the time creative people are also witty, since the jump from stress to discharge can be quite unexpected and unpredictable. Brevity is the soul of wit; its essence lies in the sudden transition from stress to discharge.” [31]

This also applies to a field introduced into scientific aesthetics by Rosenkranz, author of The Aesthetics of Ugliness. A faithful follower of Hegel, he reduces the role of ugliness to a contrast (antithesis), whose purpose is to set off the positive element (thesis). But this view is basically wrong because, as pointed out by Lalo, the ugly may become an element of art for the same reasons as the beautiful. An object described and reproduced in a work of art can by itself (that is, outside the work of art), be both ugly and indifferent; in some cases it must be in reality either ugly or indifferent. Characteristic examples are portraits and realistic works of art. This fact is well known, and the idea is far from new. “There is no snake [Lalo refers here to Boileau], there is no monster that could not be pleasing in a work of art.” [32] It is also Vernon Lee’s view that the beauty of objects frequently cannot be introduced directly into art. “The most sublime art,” she says, “for instance, the art of Michelangelo, frequently gives us bodies whose structural beauty is distorted by conspicuous defects... . Conversely, any art exhibit or even the most commonplace art collection can give us dozens of examples of the reverse; that is, they provide the possibility of easily and convincingly recognizing the beauty of the original model which may, however, have inspired mediocre or bad paintings or statues.” Vernon Lee sees the fact that true art processes the original sensory impression introduced into it as the cause of this relationship between art and ugliness [511. It is hard to find a more suitable application for our formula than the aesthetics of ugliness, for it discusses catharsis, without which the enjoyment of art would be impossible. It is much harder to fit the average type of drama into this formula. But here, we can show by the example of Chekhov’s plays that this rule is quite correct.

Let us consider his plays The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. The former is usually (and quite erroneously) said to represent the melancholy yearnings of three provincial belles for the glamorous life of Moscow?’ In actual fact, however, Chekhov eliminates all those traits that could conceivably motivate the three sisters’ desire to go to Moscow, [52] and since Moscow is only an imaginary artistic construct for them, not an object of real desire, the play has not a comical but a deeply dramatic effect on the spectator. After its first presentation, the critics wrote that the play is somewhat ridiculous because for four entire acts the sisters keep moaning, “To Moscow, to Moscow, to Moscow,” even though each of them could at any time simply buy a railway ticket and go to that Moscow which, apparently, none of them needs. One of the critics called the play the drama of a railway ticket; and in a way he was more right about it than critics like Izmailov. Indeed, the author who has made Moscow the center of attraction for the sisters should somehow also motivate their urge to get there. True, he says, they spent their childhood there; but none of them remembers the place. The idea that they might be prevented by some impediment from going to Moscow turns out to be incorrect also. We cannot find any comprehensible reason why the sisters cannot go. There are some critics who think that the sisters want to go to Moscow because for them the city is the symbolic center of civilized and cultivated life. This view also is wrong because not a word, not a syllable mentions this fact. On the contrary, their brother’s urge to go to Moscow contrasts with theirs: for him Moscow is not a dream but a reality. He recalls the university, he wants to sit in Testov’s restaurant, and his real and realistic Moscow is intentionally contrasted with the Moscow of his three sisters. Theirs remains vague and without motivation, since there is no reason why they could not get there – and this lack of motivation, of course, is the basis for the dramatic effect of the play.

Something similar happens in The Cherry Orchard. It is hard to understand why the sale of the cherry orchard is such a terrible misfortune for Ranevskaia. Perhaps she lives permanently in this cherry orchard. But then we learn that she spends her entire life traveling abroad and that she never could or would be able to live on her estate. Perhaps the sale could mean ruin or bankruptcy for her, but this motive falls away, too, because it is not the need of money that places her in the dramatic situation. For Ranevskaia as well as for the spectator the cherry orchard is an unmotivated element of the drama, as is Moscow for the three sisters. The distinguishing feature of these plays is this unreal motive – which we accept as a psychological reality – and which paints itself onto the canvas of real everyday life. The struggle between the two irreconcilable motives (“real” and unmotivated) yields the contradiction which must necessarily be solved in the catharsis, and without which there is no art.

In conclusion we must demonstrate_ very briefly, by means of arbitrary examples, that this formula can be applied to all other art forms beside poetry. Our reasoning and arguments proceed from concrete examples from literature, but we can apply our conclusions to other domains of art. The closest one is the theatre, one half of which belongs to literature. We can show, however, that the other half, taken in its strict interpretation as the playing of actors and the staging of the spectacle, is also governed by our aesthetic rule. The basis for this view was established by Diderot in his famous Paradox of the Actor in which he analyzes the playing of an actor. He shows clearly that an actor not only experiences and expresses the feelings of the character he represents, but develops them into an artistic form. “But excuse me,” someone will reply, “these mournful sounds, full of sorrow and sadness which an actor produces from the depth of his being, which upset my heart and soul, are they not caused by genuine feeling, by genuine despair? Not at all. And here is the proof: they, these sounds, are measured, they are a component part of declamation. Were they one twentieth of a quarter of a tone higher or lower, they would be false. They obey the law of unity. They have been selected in a specific way and are distributed harmonically. They contribute to the solution of a specific problem. ... He knows with accomplished precision when to take out his handkerchief and when to shed tears. Expect this to happen when a specific word is said, when a specific syllable is pronounced, neither before, nor later.” [34] Diderot calls the actor’s creativity a pathetic grimace, a magnificent aching. This statement is paradoxical only in part; it would be true if we said that on stage the moan of desperation of a mother includes, of course, genuine desperation as well. The actor’s ability and success depend on the measure he gives to this desperation. The task of aesthetics is, as Tolstoy facetiously wrote, “to describe capital punishment as if it were as sweet as honey.” Capital punishment is capital punishment even on stage, and it is never as sweet as honey. Despair remains despair, but it is released by the action of artistic form, and therefore the actor may not himself fully experience the feelings attributed to the character he represents. Diderot tells us a wonderful story: “I would like to tell you how an actor and his wife, who hated one another, were lovers on stage, and very passionately taken with one another. Never had they played any other role so successfully and convincingly, or reaped such thunderous applause. No less than ten times did we interrupt their scene to shout our enthusiastic approval.” Diderot then quotes a long dialogue in which the actors talk aloud to each other of passionate love, but then, under their breath, call each other unmentionable names. As an Italian proverb states, Se non e vero, e ben trovato.

For the psychology of art this is very significant, because it points out the duality of an emotion experienced and represented by an actor. Diderot claims that once an actor has finished playing his part, he does not retain any of the feelings he has represented; they are transferred to the audience. Unfortunately, this observation is today considered a paradox, and no sufficiently thorough study has yet been made of the psychology of acting, although in this field the psychology of art could solve this problem much better than in any other art form. There are good reasons to believe that, irrespective of its results, such a study would corroborate the fundamental dualism of an actor’s emotion which, it seems to us, makes it possible to apply our formula of catharsis to the theatre [53].

The best way to show the effect of this law in painting is to study the difference in style that exists between the art of painting (in the proper sense of the word) and that of drawing. Klinger’s studies have made this evident. We believe (as does Christiansen) that this difference is due to the different interpretations of space in painting and in drawing: painting does away with the flat, two-dimensional character of the drawn image and forces us to perceive everything in a new, three-dimensional fashion. A drawing may represent a three-dimensional space, but the character of the drawing remains two-dimensional. Thus, the impression generated by a drawing is always dualistic: on the one hand, we perceive the image as three-dimensional, but we also perceive the play of lines in the two-dimensional plane. This dualism places drawing in a special category of art. Klinger points out that, unlike painting, drawing uses impressions of disharmony, horror, etc., quite frequently; all of these are of positive significance. He claims that in poetry, drama, and music such features are not only permissible, but indispensable. Christiansen states that it is possible to produce such impressions because the horror produced is solved by the catharsis of form. “A dissonance must be overcome; there must be resolution and appeasement. I should like to say catharsis, had Aristotle’s beautiful term not become meaningless because of the many attempts to interpret it. The impression of horror or fear must find its resolution and purification in an element of Dionysiac enthusiasm; horror is represented not for its own sake but as an impulse to be overcome ... And this distracting element must signify overcoming and catharsis simultaneously.” [35]

The potential of catharsis in values of form is illustrated by Pollaiolo’s Men Fighting, “where the horror of death is completely obliterated by the Dionysiac triumph of rhythmic lines.” [36]

Finally, a cursory look at sculpture and architecture reveals that here, too, the contrast between material and form is frequently the starting point for the artistic impression. To represent the human or animal body, sculpture almost exclusively uses marble or metal – materials that are among those least naturally suited to this purpose. But for the artist, this refractoriness of the material is the greatest challenge to the creation of a live figure. The famous Laocoön group best illustrates the contrast between form and material from which sculpture emerges.

Gothic architecture reveals this same contrast. It is remarkable that the artist forces the stone to take on the shape of plants – to sprout branches, to bear leaves and to blossom; it is astonishing that in a Gothic cathedral, where the experience of material massiveness reaches its zenith, the artist obtains the effect of a triumphant vertical which makes the viewer feel the whole edifice striving upward with tremendous force. The lightness and transparency that the Gothic architect manages to draw out from heavy, inert stone is the best corroboration of this idea.

We agree with the author who wrote about the Cologne cathedral, “In its slender and harmonious distribution of arches intersecting as if they were part of a filigree, the high vaults, and so on, we see the same boldness and courage that we admire in knightly exploits. In its soft and harmonious outlines we find the same warm feeling that emanates from the love songs of chivalry.” As the artist produces boldness and delicate grace from stone, he obeys the same law as that which forces him to propel upward the stone that gravity pulls to the ground, and to create in a Gothic cathedral the effect of an arrow shot into the sky.

The name of this law is catharsis. This law, and nothing else, compelled the master of Notre Dame in Paris to place atop the cathedral ugly and horrifying monsters, the gargoyles, without which the cathedral is unimaginable.