“Schopenhauer was a mistake.”
“Consistently bleak, unrelentingly grim, Schopenhauer’s modern contemptus mundi is so dark that one would be at a loss to explain its subsequent appeal if not of an important caveat. But mercifully, Schopenhauer stakes out one further path to renunciation. In aesthetic contemplation, he suggests, before the high altar of art, we can achieve temporary respite from the relentless prompting of desire. Standing before a great painting or a sublime natural landscape, swept up in a moving symphony, poem, or play, the observer may experience a momentary cessation of longing, a fleeting escape from the ‘thralldom of the will.’
‘The storm of passions, the pressure of desire and fear, and all the miseries of willing are then…calmed and appeased in a marvelous way.’ For an instant, we lose ourselves as we step into ‘another world,’ giving up consciousness of the subjective, aim-oriented striving that is our natural course. ‘All at once the peace, always sought but always escaping us on [the] path of the willing, comes to us of its own accord, and all is well with us. It is the painless state…the state of the gods; for that moment we are delivered from the miserable pressure of the will. We celebrate the Sabbath of the penal servitude of willing.’
“[…] It was this aspect of his philosophy that endured. […] In Schopenhauer’s vision of redemption through art, [’a whole host of artists and thinkers’] found a powerful creed, one that anointed them with an extraordinary calling. A minister who suffers in sacrifice in order to offer his flock a fleeting glimpse of salvation, a temporary respite from pain, the artist in the Schopenhauerian vision is nothing less than a secular priest. For men and women losing the faith in a transcendent purpose to the world, this proved a compelling calling, all the more so in that it bid its followers to retrace, by secular steps, the way of a religious journey whose momentum remained powerful, however much this otherwise might be denied. Before a work of art, the modern pilgrim could stand still on a threshold and experience like his religious forebears the fullness of beatific promise.
“But as he gazed across the way at the prospect of happiness, he must now wonder: Was this a window that opened onto a better world? Or simply the sacred space of art’s own making–a retreat–with nothing beyond itself?
[…] Just as ‘Christianity stepped forth amid the Roman civilisation of the universe,’ Wagner observes [in an essay on Beethoven], ‘so Music breaks forth from the chaos of modern civilisation. Both say aloud: ‘our kingdom is not of this world.’’ It is Beethoven who bears this divine music aloft, spreading the word of a higher calling and deeper truth. ‘Let anyone experience for himself how the modern world of Appearance, which hems him in on every side to his despair, melts suddenly to naught if he hears but the first few bars of one of those godlike symphonies.’ Interpreting his hero in these Schopenhauerian terms, Wagner hears in Beethoven’s music the striving of the will–’a supernatural life, an agency now soothing, now appalling, a pulse, a thrill, a throb of joy, of yearning, fearing, grief and ecstasy’–which carries us, in the climax of the Ninth Symphony’s final ode, to ‘the nameless joy of a paradise regained.’
“Wagner would develop more sinister fantasies of the ‘regeneration’ of man, reserving special animus for the Jews, who allegedly barred, like Typhon, the way to the happiness of the German people. Klimt never shared those thoughts, and indeed, whereas Wagner urged active engagement with the world, foreseeing a central role for art in the development of a ‘new religion’ and a new, glorious Reich, Klimt withdrew into the womb of his own creation.
“To flee the world into the image of art, or to remake the world in art’s image–both were Romantic fantasies, and they belied a common conviction:
that the world, to the naked eye, was not a happy place. […]”
-Darrin M. McMahon, Happiness: A History. (2006) Emphasis mine.
…This is one of those really old stories, isn’t it?