Like 1905, 1955 and 1959, this year has been declared a Schillerjahr, since 2005 is the 200th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Schiller’s great dramas include Die Räuber (men storm about in Sturm und Drang mode), Kabale und Liebe (melodramatic pair end up drinking poisoned lemonade) and Maria Stuart (two queens clash with grand rhetoric). Besides being a major playwright and a poet of what is termed Gedankenlyrik (more on that anon), Schiller was a philosopher of aesthetics.
Schiller sought to understand the beautiful as an expression of human freedom. He distinguished external beauty (‘Schönheit’), as given by nature, from the grace (‘Anmut’), which animates it. Grace reflects something internal, namely a harmony between feeling and moral duty.
Individuals deciding freely must first create this harmony. They have to willingly educate themselves sufficiently that their feelings automatically lead to moral decisions. Then they achieve an inner harmony, the ‘schöne Seele’, which expresses itself in external harmony, or grace.
Were all individuals to achieve inner harmony, a social situation would emerge in which they could all freely determine their own course, without any necessity for laws and force. So that people approach this ideal, aesthetic education is necessary. According to Schiller, it should make revolutions superfluous! Since humans always respond to their gut instincts, however, they can never achieve completely the harmony of the ‘schöne Seele’. Nevertheless, they are capable of sublime triumphs over the self. This was portrayed in tragedy: tragic heroes preserve their freedom by overcoming their passions, even the will to life, in free recognition of moral imperatives.
For the Ancients, the need for grace was natural and given. In this sense, they were naïve. Modern culture, on the other hand, mourned the loss of harmony and had to consciously strive for it as an ideal. Schiller called this consciously intellectual relation to harmony ‘sentimentalisch’, or reflective. The harmonious idyll (Arcadia) of Greek naivety was superseded by modern, sentimental ‘Zerrissenheit’, which strives towards a future idyll (Elysium). Moreover, the notion of poetry as imitation of nature gave way to the notion of poetry as expression.
Preoccupation with the meaning of the naïve had a profound influence on literature and poetics in the 18th century, Schiller asserting ‘Naiv muß jedes wahre Genie sein’. He tried to show that the reflective poet and the naïve poet, at the highest level of achievement, converge. Like Kant, he investigated not so much the qualities of what we judge, as the conditions under which aesthetic judgement takes place.
Some Schiller-related essays from Das Parlament:
Schiller im 19. Jahrhundert in Deutschland
Gespräch mit dem Schillerbiografen Peter-André Alt
Der politische Schiller - anhaltend aktuell
Die große Gedächtnisausstellung für Schiller in Marbach
Schillers "Lied von der Glocke" als Propagandainstrument
Schillers Konzept einer ästhetischen und damit politischen Erziehung
Schiller als Historiker der Freiheit
Die Uraufführung der "Räuber" am Mannheimer Nationaltheater
Schillers Hymne einer humanen Globalisierung