Novalis On The ARTIST And The CRITIC


The Artist, says Novalis in Logological Fragments II (LF-2), must see “with eyes quite different from those of the common person.”  In Logological Fragments I (LF-1) he writes that “everything is seed” and “everything must become food.”  Through the refinement of the senses, the artist becomes more and more capable of distinguishing between individuals, until he reaches “the highest receptivity to the particularity of human nature.”

“Everything we experience is a communication,” says Novalis in LF-2. The world itself is a communication, a communication via a wealth of symbols– a “revelation of the Spirit.” Unfortunately, “the age has passed when the Spirit Of God could be understood” through Nature, and thus, though we have the world still, “the meaning of the world is lost.”  But the Artist can help us snatch glimpses of the deeper reality operating beneath the symbols.

It is when an Artist turns and give expression to what he has so skillfully absorbed from the World that he demonstrates that he has truly absorbed it.  “We know something only in so far as we express it,” writes Novalis in LF-2. …”The more perfectly and variously we can produce something, execute it– the better we know it.”  And we can be confident that we know it “perfectly” when “we can communicate it, arouse it everywhere and in all ways– if we can produce an individual expression of it in each organ.”

The way an Artist translates the symbols to us is through the use of representation. “All representation rests on making present what is not present,” states Novalis in Miscellaneous Observations.  Since “every person has his own language,” the Artist, if he wishes to communicate true meaning to multiple persons, must look for a way to speak beyond, or deeper than, the symbols utilized by ordinary language.  He must search for an “ideal speech” which can facilitate the forward quest of the species for “the realization of the ideal world.”  False words or images, on the other hand, will only create or shore-up the foundation of a “false world.”  The Artist must seek and communicate Truth, for “Untruth is the source of all wickedness is and evil.”

I also like to think that I see in the writings of Novalis a reason for each man to become, at least to some degree, an Artist.  When speaking of critics (whom I don’t think he particularly adores), Novalis writes that “he who cannot make poems will also be able only to judge them negatively.” That is, he may can spot mistakes, but he won’t be able to comment intelligently upon the triumphs.

To use my own metaphor– it would be similar to a non-climber sitting in a helicopter watching a mountain-climbing expedition… He can observe when someone mis-steps or falls, but he will not possess the knowledge-base to point-out all the times in which the climbers’ talents allow them to avoid disaster and even to accomplish great feats of skill.   And the same concept applies to an average restaurant patron approving or rejecting the dishes set before him– he can only know what pleases him or doesn’t– he can have no idea how a great chef has accomplished his triumphs. “Taste alone judges only negatively,” writes Novalis.

I enjoy attempting to extend Novalis’s talk of critics to the natural world. We could say that those of us who wish to analyze Nature are doomed to a no-more-than superficial overview if we never succeed in penetrating behind the veil of the world’s symbolic language. If we ever wish to truly comprehend Nature– or at least substantial portions of it– we must ultimately be able to think like a god, to join ourselves however tangentially to his divine mind… As Novalis writes in Miscellaneous Observations, “the true reader must be an extension of the author.

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More from Hammering Shield On NOVALIS:

Novalis And The Translation Of The Universe

Novalis On The Need For An Intermediary In Religion

Novalis: Society, Such A Disappointing Pedestal For Us Artists


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