Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics. Volume 2.
IN this volume Hegel is surveying five different arts from his philosophical point of view and supporting his argument by numerous examples. Therefore it may be helpful to recall what his attitude is to his own ‘speculative’ thinking and the empiricism adopted by the scientific intellect (or the Understanding). Nature, history, art, religion, and even philosophy may all be studied as it were on the surface. Scientists and historians may discern or try to discern laws in all these fields, but their first task is to accumulate a vast array of facts. This is something that must be done, but it would all add up to a tale told by an idiot if it were not possible to penetrate below the surface of fact, and even law, and discern the truth or the Reason lying at the heart. Hegel believes that this is the task of philosophy, but it must be given the facts first; it cannot work a priori. Consequently, although this volume provides facts in plenty, it really contains a philosophy rather than a history of art. See the closing paragraphs of the Division of the Subject which follows the Introduction here.
The lectures in this volume do depend here and there on the work of art historians and critics, but the bulk of them rest on Hegel’s own direct acquaintance with works of art. In a few footnotes I have referred to his personal knowledge of buildings, pictures, and operas. His letters to his wife when he travelled to the Low Countries, Austria, and Paris testify to his devotion to works of visual art and his eagerness to see them; he looked at them with a fresh eye. Also he listened to opera with delight, and he read poetry with care and insight.
Not all of his judgements, still less his speculative reasoning, will command general assent. Novels seem to have little interest for him – Scott he regarded as a recorder of trivialities instead of great events, and the praise he lavishes on Hippel has amazed German critics. Moreover he seems to me to have had little understanding of what he calls ‘independent’ music. Nevertheless, a reader who is interested in art must find fascinating this survey of five arts, and he may even envy its comprehensiveness. Throughout, however, it is necessary to remember that Hegel died in 183I.
In a set of lectures as long as this some repetition is not unnatural. This has led to some repetition in footnotes, but this may be less irksome than more cross-references. Some notes in this volume have benefited from corrections and suggestions by Mr. T. J. Reed.
Crieff, June I973