RICHARD WAGNER. Art And Revolution
TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM ASHTON ELLIS
Proofed and formatted by JP MOURLON, Paris, France
The INTRODUCTION translated on the opposite and following pages was written by Richard Wagner as the Preface to Volumes III. and IV. of his 'Gesammelte Schriften,' or Collected Writings, for the Edition of 1872; and applies not only to 'Art and Revolution,' but also to 'The Art-Work of the Future' and 'Opera and Drama,' &c.
INTRODUCTION TO ART AND REVOLUTION.
THOMAS CARLYLE, in his History of Frederick the Great, (1) characterises the outbreak of the French Revolution as the First Act of the 'Spontaneous Combustion' of a nation 'sunk into torpor, abeyance, and dry-rot,' and admonishes his readers in the following words:-
'There is the next mile-stone for you, in the History of Mankind ! That universal Burning-up, as in hell-fire, of Human Shams. The oath of Twenty-five Million men, which has since become that of all men whatsoever, 'Rather than live longer under lies, we will die! '-that is the New Act in World-History. New Act,-or, we may call it New Part; Drama of World-History, Part Third. If Part Second was 1800 years ago, this I reckon will be Part Third. This is the truly celestial-infernal Event: the strangest we have seen for a thousand years. Celestial in the one part; in the other, infernal. For it is withal the breaking-out of universal mankind into Anarchy, into the faith and practice of No-Government,-that is to say (if you will be candid), into unappeasable revolt against Sham-Governors and Sham- Teachers,-which I do charitably define to be a Search, most unconscious, yet in deadly earnest, for true Governors and Teachers. . . When the Spontaneous Combustion breaks out; and, many-coloured, with loud noises, envelopes the whole world in anarchic flame for long hundreds of years: then has the Event come; there is the thing for all men to mark, and to study and scrutinise as the strangest thing they ever saw. Centuries of it yet lying ahead of us; several sad Centuries, sordidly tumultuous, and good for little! Say Two Centuries yet,-say even Ten of such a process: before the Old is completely burnt out, and the New in any state of sightliness? Millennium of Anarchies;- abridge it, spend your heart's-blood upon abridging it, ye Heroic Wise that are to come !'
When, in the feverish excitement of the year 1849, I gave vent to an appeal such as that contained in the immediately succeeding essay: 'Art and Revolution,' I believe that I was in complete accord with the last words of this summons of the grey-headed historian. I believed in the Revolution, and in its unrestrainable necessity, with certainly no greater immoderation than Carlyle: only, I also felt that I was called to point out to it the way of rescue. Far though it was from my intent to define the New, which should grow from the ruins of a sham-filled world, as a fresh political ordering : (2) I felt the rather animated to draw the outlines of the Art-work which should rise from the ruins of a sham-bred Art. To hold this Art-work up to Life itself; as the prophetic mirror of its Future, appeared to me a weightiest contribution toward the work of damming the flood of Revolution within the channel of the peaceful-flowing stream of Manhood. I was bold enough to prefix the following motto to the little pamphlet: 'When Art erst held her peace, State-wisdom and Philosophy began: when now both Statesman and Philosopher have breathed their last, let the Artist's voice again be heard.'
It is needless to recall the scorn which my presumption brought upon me; since in the course of my succeeding literary labours, whose connected products I here append, I had occasion enough to defend myself against the grossest of these attacks. I have also exhaustively treated this whole matter, both with regard to the inception of these works and the characteristic incitement thereto, not only in the 'Communication to my Friends,' (3) which brings this whole period to a close, but also in a later treatise, entitled: 'The Music of the Future' ('Zukunftsmusik '). I will only say here that the principal cause which brought down the ridicule of our art-critics upon my seemingly paradoxical ideas, is to be found in the fervid enthusiasm which pervaded my style and gave to my remarks more of a poetic than a scientific character. Moreover, the effect of an indiscriminate intercalation of philosophical maxims was prejudicial to my clearness of expression, especially in the eyes of those who could not or would not follow my line of thought and general principles. Actively aroused by the perusal of some of Ludwig Feuerbach's essays, I had borrowed various terms of abstract nomenclature and applied them to artistic ideas with which they could not always closely harmonise. In thus doing, I gave myself up without critical deliberation to the guidance of a brilliant writer, who approached most nearly to my reigning frame of mind, in that he bade farewell to Philosophy (in which he fancied he detected naught but masked Theology) and took refuge in a conception of man's nature in which I thought I clearly recognised my own ideal of artistic manhood. From this arose a kind of impassioned tangle of ideas, which manifested itself as precipitance and indistinctness in my attempts at philosophical system.
While on this subject, I deem it needful to make special mention of two chief 'terms,' my misunderstanding of which has since been strikingly borne in upon me.
I refer in the first place to the concept Willkür and Unwillkür, (4) in the use of which a great confusion had long preceded my own offending; for an adjectival term, unwillkürlich, had been promoted to the rank of a substantive. Only those who have learnt from Schopenhauer the true meaning and significance of the Will, can thoroughly appreciate the abuse that had resulted from this mixing up of words; he who has enjoyed this unspeakable benefit, however, knows well that that misused ' Unwillkür' should really be named 'Der Wille' (the Will); whilst the term Willkür (Choice or Caprice) is here employed to signify the so-called Intellectual or Brain Will, influenced by the guidance of reflection. Since the latter is more concerned with the properties of Knowledge,-which may easily be led astray by the purely individual aim,-it is attainted with the evil qualities with which it is charged in the following pages, under the name of Willkür whereas the pure Will, as the 'Thing-in- itself' that comes to consciousness in man, is credited with those true productive qualities which are here- apparently the result of a confusion sprung from the popular misuse of the term-assigned to the negative expression, 'Unwillkür.' Therefore, since a thorough revision in this sense would lead too far and prove a most fatiguing task, the reader is begged, when doubtful of the meaning of any of such passages, to bear graciously in mind the present explanation.
Further, I have to fear that my continual employment of the term 'Sinnlichkeit,' (5) in a sense prompted by the same authority, may give origin, if not to positively harmful misunderstanding, at least to much perplexity. Since the idea conveyed by this term can only have the meaning, in my argument, of the direct antithesis to 'Gedanken' (Thought), or-which will make my purport clearer-to 'Gedanklichkeit' (Ideation): its absolute misunderstanding would certainly be difficult, seeing that the two opposite factors, Art and Learning, must readily be recognised herein. But since, in ordinary parlance, this word is employed in the evil sense of 'Sensualism,' or even of abandonment to Sensual Lust, it would be better to replace it by a term of less ambiguous meaning, in theoretical expositions of so warm a declamatory tone as these of mine, however wide a currency it has obtained in philosophical speech. Obviously, the question here is of the contrast between intuitive and abstract knowledge, both in themselves and their results; but above all, of the subjective predisposition to these diverse modes. The term 'Anschauungsvermögen' (Perceptive Faculty) would sufficiently denote the former; were it not that for the specific artistic perception, a distinctive emphasis seems necessary, for which it might well appear indispensable to retain the expression 'Sinnliches Anschauungsvermögen' (Physical perceptive faculty), and briefly ' Sinnlichkeit' (Physicality), alike for the faculty, for the object of its exercise, and for the force which sets the two in rapport with each other.
But the greatest peril of all, is that which the author would incur by his frequent use of the word Communism, should he venture into the Paris of to-day with these art-essays in his hand; for he openly proclaims his adherence to this severely scouted category, in contradistinction to Egoism. (6) I certainly believe that the friendly German reader, to whom the meaning of this antithesis will be obvious, will have no special trouble in overcoming the doubt as to whether he must rank me among the partisans of the newest Parisian 'Commune.' Still, I cannot deny that I should not have embarked with the same energy upon the use of this word 'Communism' (employing it in a sense