Notes

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Category: Note
The real problem of the metaphysics of the beautiful may be very simply expressed by our asking how satisfaction with and pleasure in an object are possible without any reference thereof to our willing. Thus everyone feels that pleasure and satisfaction in a thing can really spring only from its relation to our will or, as we are fond of expressing it, to our aims, so that pleasure without a stirring of the will seems to be a contradiction. Yet the beautiful, as such, quite obviously gives rise to our delight and pleasure, without its having any reference to our ...
Category: Note
Thus, to pass from sensation to thought, the soul traverses a medium position, in which sensibility and reason are at the same time active, and thus they mutually destroy their determinant power, and by their antagonism produce a negation. This medium situation in which the soul is neither physically nor morally constrained, and yet is in both ways active, merits essentially the name of a free situation; and if we call the state of sensuous determination physical, and the state of rational determination logical or moral, that state of real and active determination should be called the aesthetic.
Category: Note
Accordingly, if the aesthetic disposition of the mind must be looked upon in one respect as nothing—that is, when we confine our view to separate and determined operations—it must be looked upon in another respect as a state of the highest reality, in as far as we attend to the absence of all limits and the sum of powers which are commonly active in it. Accordingly we cannot pronounce them, again, to be wrong who describe the aesthetic state to be the most productive in relation to knowledge and morality. They are perfectly right, for a state of mind which ...
Category: Note
The dynamic state can only make society simple possibly by subduing nature through nature; the moral (ethical) state can only make it morally necessary by submitting the will of the individual to the general will. The aesthetic state alone can make it real, because it carries out the will of all through the nature of the individual. If necessity alone forces man to enter into society, and if his reason engraves on his soul social principles, it is beauty only that can give him a social character; taste alone brings harmony into society, because it creates harmony in the individual. ...
Category: Note
But as soon as we remember that freedom is taken from man by the one-sided compulsion of nature in feeling, and by the exclusive legislation of the reason in thinking, we must consider the capacity restored to him by the aesthetical disposition, as the highest of all gifts, as the gift of humanity. It is therefore not only a poetical license, but also philosophically correct, when beauty is named our second creator. Nor is this inconsistent with the fact that she only makes it possible for us to attain and realize humanity, leaving this to our free will. For in ...
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
An age that has no criticism is either an age in which art is immobile, hieratic, and confined to the reproduction of formal types, or an age that possesses no art at all
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure—which, and not labour, is the aim of man—or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.
Category: Note
We know that the reason makes itself known to man by the demand for the absolute—the self-dependent and necessary. But as this want of the reason cannot be satisfied in any separate or single state of his physical life, he is obliged to leave the physical entirely and to rise from a limited reality to ideas. But although the true meaning of that demand of the reason is to withdraw him from the limits of time and to lead him from the world of sense to an ideal world, yet this same demand of reason, by misapplication—scarcely to be avoided ...
Category: Note
True art fills man with joy. And true joy makes man good.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
They knew that Life gains from art not merely spirituality, depth of thought and feeling, soul-turmoil or soul-peace, but that she can form herself on the very lines and colours of art, and can reproduce the dignity of Pheidias as well as the grace of Praxiteles. Hence came their objection to realism. They disliked it on purely social grounds. They felt that it inevitably makes people ugly, and they were perfectly right. We try to improve the conditions of the race by means of good air, free sunlight, wholesome water, and hideous bare buildings for the better housing of the ...
Category: Note
The praiseworthy object of pursuing everywhere moral good as the supreme aim, which has already brought forth in art so much mediocrity, has caused also in theory a similar prejudice. To assign to the fine arts a really elevated position, to conciliate for them the favor of the State, the veneration of all men, they are pushed beyond their due domain, and a vocation is imposed upon them contrary to their nature. It is supposed that a great service is awarded to them by substituting for a frivolous aim—that of charming—a moral aim; and their influence upon morality, which is ...
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
Bad artists always admire each other's work. They call it being large-minded and free from prejudice. But a truly great artist cannot conceive of life being shown, or beauty fashioned, under any conditions other than those that he has selected.
Category: Note
The average man finds himself with “ideas” in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideas live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words, some- thing like musical romanzas.
Category: Note
If in times past it was the guilty debt of the world which was lamented, now it is the financial debts of the world which arouse dismay. Formerly it was the Last Day which was prophesied; now it is the [Greek: seisachtheia] the great repudiation, the universal bankruptcy of the nations, which will one day happen; although the prophet, in this as in the other case, entertains a firm hope that he will not live to see it himself.
Category: Note
It is difficult to obtain the friendship of a cat. It is a philosophical animal... one that does not place its affections thoughtlessly.
Category: Note
I have described character as theoretically an act of will lying beyond time, of which life in time, or character in action , is the development.
Category: Note
For what is our civilised world but a big masquerade? where you meet knights, priests, soldiers, men of learning, barristers, clergymen, philosophers, and I don't know what all! But they are not what they pretend to be; they are only masks, and, as a rule, behind the masks you will find moneymakers. One man, I suppose, puts on the mask of law, which he has borrowed for the purpose from a barrister, only in order to be able to give another man a sound drubbing; a second has chosen the mask of patriotism and the public welfare with a similar ...
Category: Note
There are in reality no great tasks for the individual, hence there is no room for genius. The theatre is the only place where those who are not of princely birth can gain any experience of all the manifold phases of human life, hence the stage mania of literature. Lacking any social field in which to work, all activity necessarily takes the form either of war with reality or flight from it.
Category: Note
The French use the word 'composition' inappropriately. The expression is degrading as applied to genuine productions of art and poetry. It is a thoroughly contemptible word, of which we should seek to get rid as soon as possible. "How can one say, Mozart has composed 'Don Juan'! Composition! As if it were a piece of cake or biscuit, which had been mixed together with eggs, flour, and sugar! It is a spiritual creation, in which the details as well as the whole are pervaded by one spirit. Consequently, the producer did not follow his own experimental impulse, but acted under ...
Category: Note
He is the happiest man who can set the end of his life in connection with the beginning.
Category: Note
But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
This is that CONSOLATION DES ARTS which is the key-note of Gautier’s poetry, the secret of modern life foreshadowed - as indeed what in our century is not? - by Goethe. You remember what he said to the German people: ‘Only have the courage,’ he said, ‘to give yourselves up to your impressions, allow yourselves to be delighted, moved, elevated, nay instructed, inspired for something great.’ The courage to give yourselves up to your impressions: yes, that is the secret of the artistic life - for while art has been defined as an escape from the tyranny of the senses, ...
Category: Note
Constitutional kings are undoubtedly in much the same position as the gods of Epicurus, who sit upon high in undisturbed bliss and tranquillity, and do not meddle with human affairs.
Category: Note
Look on these two pictures—the life of the masses, one long, dull record of struggle and effort entirely devoted to the petty interests of personal welfare, to misery in all its forms, a life beset by intolerable boredom as soon as ever those aims are satisfied and the man is thrown back upon himself, whence he can be roused again to some sort of movement only by the wild fire of passion. On the other side you have a man endowed with a high degree of mental power, leading an existence rich in thought and full of life and meaning, ...
Category: Note
The multitude has suddenly become visible, installing itself in the preferential positions in society. Before, if it existed, it passed unnoticed, occupying the background of the social stage; now it has advanced to the footlights and is the principal character. There are no longer protagonists; there is only the chorus.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
Goethe--you will not misunderstand what I say--was a German of the Germans. He loved his country--no man more so. Its people were dear to him; and he led them. Yet, when the iron hoof of Napoleon trampled upon vineyard and cornfield, his lips were silent. 'How can one write songs of hatred without hating?' he said to Eckermann, 'and how could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation which is among the most cultivated of the earth and to which I owe so great a part of my own cultivation?' This note, sounded in ...
Category: Note
But alas! the rising tide of democracy, which spreads everywhere and reduces everything to the same level, is daily carrying away these last champions of human pride, and submerging, in the waters of oblivion, the last traces of these remarkable myrmidons.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
Decorative art emphasises its material: imaginative art annihilates it.
Category: Note
Not only a man's life, but his intellect too, may be possessed of a clear and definite character, so far as his intellect is applied to matters of theory. It is not every man, however, who has an intellect of this kind; for any such definite individuality as I mean is genius—an original view of the world, which presupposes an absolutely exceptional individuality, which is the essence of genius. A man's intellectual character is the theme on which all his works are variations. In an essay which I wrote in Weimar I called it the knack by which every genius ...
Category: Note
For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions.
Category: Note
Author: Plato
When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the strong wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very amenable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs.
Category: Note
The public, which has been wrong before and is wrong now, can accept only demons and angels on the stage
Category: Note
Whatever may be his [man's] true and final destination, there is a spirit within him at enmity with nothingness and dissolution.
Category: Note
But the truth is that the dilettante treats his subject as an end, whereas the professional, pure and simple, treats it merely as a means. He alone will be really in earnest about a matter, who has a direct interest therein, takes to it because he likes it, and pursues it con amore. It is these, and not hirelings, that have always done the greatest work.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
For to disagree with four-fifths of the British public on all points is one of the first elements of sanity, one of the deepest consolations in all moments of spiritual doubt.
Category: Note
Duty and stern necessity must change their forbidding tone, only excused by resistance, and do homage to nature by a nobler trust in her. Taste leads our knowledge from the mysteries of science into the open expanse of common sense, and changes a narrow scholasticism into the common property of the human race. Here the highest genius must leave its particular elevation, and make itself familiar to the comprehension even of a child. Strength must let the Graces bind it, and the arbitrary lion must yield to the reins of love. For this purpose taste throws a veil over physical ...
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
But perhaps you think that in beholding for the mere joy of beholding, and contemplating for the sake of contemplation, there is something that is egotistic. If you think so, do not say so. It takes a thoroughly selfish age, like our own, to deify self-sacrifice. It takes a thoroughly grasping age, such as that in which we live, to set above the fine intellectual virtues, those shallow and emotional virtues that are an immediate practical benefit to itself. They miss their aim, too, these philanthropists and sentimentalists of our day, who are always chattering to one about one’s duty ...
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
Enjoy Nature! I am glad to say that I have entirely lost that faculty. People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, ...
Category: Note
Least of all should a man be envious, when it is a question, not of the gifts of fortune, or chance, or another's favour, but of the gifts of nature; because everything that is innate in a man rests on a metaphysical basis, and possesses justification of a higher kind; it is, so to speak, given him by Divine grace.
Category: Note
Author: Oscar Wilde
Facts are not merely finding a footing-place in history, but they are usurping the domain of Fancy, and have invaded the kingdom of Romance. Their chilling touch is over everything. They are vulgarising mankind.
Category: Note
What fictitious pleasures, what fictitious sorrows are those we owe to society! Under the sun and the starry heavens all that human beings need is to love and to feel worthy of each other; but society! society! how hard it makes the heart, how frivolous the mind! how it leads us to live only for what others will say of us! If human beings could but meet freed from that influence which all collectively exercise upon each, how pure the air that would penetrate into the soul! how many new ideas, how many genuine emotions would refresh it!
Category: Note
That which flatters our senses in immediate sensation opens our weak and volatile spirit to every impression, but makes us in the same degree less apt for exertion. That which stretches our thinking power and invites to abstract conceptions strengthens our mind for every kind of resistance, but hardens it also in the same proportion, and deprives us of susceptibility in the same ratio that it helps us to greater mental activity. For this very reason, one as well as the other brings us at length to exhaustion, because matter cannot long do without the shaping, constructive force, and the ...
Category: Note
Afterwards, it will always be seen that the significant, new, and germinal things took place in unguarded corners, were done by people who were neither authorized nor paid nor even observed.
Category: Note
The difference between the genius and the ordinary man is, no doubt, a quantitative one, in so far as it is a difference of degree; but I am tempted to regard it also as qualitative , in view of the fact that ordinary minds, notwithstanding individual variation, have a certain tendency to think alike. Thus on similar occasions their thoughts at once all take a similar direction, and run on the same lines; and this explains why their judgments constantly agree—not, however, because they are based on truth. To such lengths does this go that certain fundamental views obtain amongst ...
Category: Note
I have shown in the previous letters that it is only the aesthetic disposition of the soul that gives birth to liberty, it cannot therefore be derived from liberty nor have a moral origin. It must be a gift of nature; the favor of chance alone can break the bonds of the physical state and bring the savage to duty. The germ of the beautiful will find an equal difficulty in developing itself in countries where a severe nature forbids man to enjoy himself, and in those where a prodigal nature dispenses him from all effort; where the blunted senses ...
Category: Note
Hence, if a man has any genius, let him guard himself from pain, keep care at a distance, and limit his desires; but those of them which he cannot suppress let him satisfy to the full.
Category: Note
If a man feels inclined to commit a bad action and refrains, he is kept back either (1) by fear of punishment or vengeance; or (2) by superstition in other words, fear of punishment in a future life; or (3) by the feeling of sympathy, including general charity; or (4) by the feeling of honour, in other words, the fear of shame; or (5) by the feeling of justice, that is, an objective attachment to fidelity and good-faith, coupled with a resolve to hold them sacred, because they are the foundation of all free intercourse between man and man, and ...
Category: Note
The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind , knowing itself to be commonplace , has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States; "to be different is to be indecent,” The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, of course, that this “everybody” is not '"everybody.” “Everybody” was normally the complex ...
Category: Note
But the voice of our age seems by no means favorable to art, at all events to that kind of art to which my inquiry is directed. The course of events has given a direction to the genius of the time that threatens to remove it continually further from the ideal of art. For art has to leave reality, it has to raise itself boldly above necessity and neediness; for art is the daughter of freedom, and it requires its prescriptions and rules to be furnished by the necessity of spirits and not by that of matter. But in our ...
Category: Note
Author: Plato
When a carpenter is ill he asks the physician for a rough and ready cure; an emetic or a purge or a cautery or the knife,—these are his remedies. And if some one prescribes for him a course of dietetics, and tells him that he must swathe and swaddle his head, and all that sort of thing, he replies at once that he has no time to be ill, and that he sees no good in a life which is spent in nursing his disease to the neglect of his customary employment; and therefore bidding good-bye to this sort of ...