Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DotW Chapter Six (corrected)

Correction: This is chapter six, not five. I don't know what I was thinking.

Decline of the West
Oswald Spengler
Chapter Six
Music and Plastic: The Arts of Form

Art throughout Jewish history has taken many forms and phases, from ancient times until the present day, always seeking to express its own message. As usual, the excerpts from Spengler's work will be italicized, followed by my comments.

Excerpts and Commentary on Chapter Six

The clearest type of symbolic expression that the world=feeling of higher mankind has found for itself is...that of the arts of form, of which the number is legion.

In reality, tones are something extended, limited and numerable just as lines and colours are; harmony, melody, rhyme and rhythm no less so than perspective, proportion, chiaroscuro and outline.

But in fact the technical form-language is no more than the mask of the real work. Style is something inaccessible to art-reason, a revelation of the metaphysical order, a mysterious "must," a Destiny. With the material boundaries of different arts is has no concern whatever.

If an art has boundaries at all - boundaries of its soul-become form, they are historical and not technical or physiological boundaries.


In other words, we as a Culture decide what is "off limits" for art and very seldom are the technical skills or materials the cause of a failure to express a feeling or idea through our Culture's art.

Not only the technical instrument, not only the form-language, but also the choice of art-genus itself is seen to be a means of expression.

The creation of a species of art, comprehended as such, means for the life-history of a Culture...is epochal. Its theory, technique and conventions all belong to its character, and contain nothing of eternal or universal validity.

Whey this or that art is dominant in or absent from a particular Culture - all these are questions of Form in the highest sense.

All Classical building begins from the outside, all Western from the inside. The Arabian also begins with the inside, but it stays there. The exterior of the basilica and the domical building may be a field for ornamentation, but architecture it is not. The impression that meets the beholder as he approaches it shat of something shielding, something that hides a secret. The form-language in the cavern-twilight exists for the faithful only - that is the factor common to the highest examples of the style.

Here in the Faustian North the outer form of the building, be it a cathedral or mere dwelling-house, begins to be brought into relation with the meaning that governs the arrangement of the interior. The Faustian building has a visage and not merely a facade.

The great architecture of the early period is ever the mother of all following arts. It determines the choice of them and the spirit of them.

West Europe has an ornamental music of the grand style which is associated with the architectural history of the cathedral. Counterpoint developed simultaneously with the flying-buttress system. It is an architecture of human voices an, like the statuary group and the glass-paintings, is only conceivable in the setting of these stone vaultings.

[Now], all the arts have become urban and therefore secular.

The violin is the noblest of all instruments that the Faustian sould has imagined and trained for the expression of its last secrets, and certain it is, too, that it is in string quartets and violin sonatas that it has experienced its most transcendent and most holy moments of full illumination. Here, in chamber musi, the Western art as a whole reaches its highest point. With this, the Faustian music becomes dominant among the Faustian arts.

[And still is, though Spengler would be horrified to hear what passes for music today in the West - especially America.]

It is the last supreme expression, lit by an autumnal sun, of the Western soul.


And hearing it you can tell the Western soul is terminally ill, not just old.

It follows from the very character of a counter-movement that it is far easier for it to define what it is opposing that what is is aiming at.

Classical motives are a matter of indifference if the method of treatment has an un-Classical effect - significance lies not in the thing but in the way in which it is used.


In Western society at large, there is a stubborn minority that still listens to "classical" music and prefers "alternative" or "new age" music to the often horrible lyrics of popular styles of music that are playing on the radio - language and subject matter that is degrading to women, glorifies violence and hatred, etc. Even the most seemingly benign "pop" music tends toward lyrics that are questionable to a religous sensitivity. In Chereidi Judaism, there was actually recently a ban of all types of music that a group of rabbis has decided is treif and unfit for pious Jewish ears. However, their "acceptable" styles of music are those of Chassidic eastern europe and not that of their near eastern roots, ironically. What they consider "Jewish" music never was - it was simply for the most part regional folk music dressed up with Jewish lyrics.

The most significant element in the Western garden-art is thus the point de vue of the great Rococo park, upon which all its avenues and clipped-hedge walk open and from which vision may travel out to lose itself in the distances. It is exactly matched by some of the silver-bright distance-pictures of the pastoral music of that age. It is the point de vue that gives us the key to a real understanding of htis remarkable mode of making nature itself speak the form-language of human symbolism. This the a Faustian craving - to be alone with endless space.

A feeling for the faraway is at the same time one for history. At a distance, space becomes time and the horizon signifies the future. The Baroque park is of the Late season, of the approaching end, of the falling leaf. A renaissance park brings us a vision of a midsummer noon. It is timeless, and nothing in its form-language reminds of of mortality. It is perspective that begins to awaken a premonition of something passing, fugitive and final.

The Late poetry of the withering garden avenues, the unending lines in the streets of a megalopolis, the ranks of pillars in a cathedral, the peak in a distant mountain chain - all tell us the depth-experience with constitutes our space-world for us is in the last analysis our inward certainty of a Destiny, of a prescribed direction, of time, of the irrevocable. here, in the experience of horizon as future, we become directly and surely conscious of the identity of Time with the "third dimension" of that experienced space which is living self-extension.

Both arts - Faustian in the highest sense - are within those limits prime phenomena. They have a souls, a physiognomy and therefore a history. And in this they are alone.

[Sculpture is] incapable of carrying the Faustian burden, [and so] has no longer a mission - and therefore no longer a soul or a life-history of specific style-development in the Faustian world.

Blue, equally a perspective colour, always stands in relation to the dark, the unillumined, the unactual. It does not press on us, it pulls us out into the remote. Blue and green are transcendent, spiritual, non-sensuous colours. Yellow and Red, the Classical colours, are the colours of the material, the near, the full-blooded. Red is the characteristic colour of sexuality.


Hence Chereidi women are not permitted to wear it. We'll save the "fear of sexuality" topic for another day, though.

Blue and green - the Faustian, monotheistic colours - are those of lonliness, of care, of a present that is related to a past and a future, of destiny as the dispensation dwelling in the universe.

It is to be noted that the effect of this colour, entirely unlike that of yellow and red, depends upon work being exhibited indoors. Classical painting is emphatically an open-air art, Western just as emphatically a studio-art.

Arabian art expressed the feeling of the Magian world by means of the gold background of its mosaics and pictures.

In this instance we can study the soul of three Cultures working upon very similar tasks in very dissimilar ways.

The Faustian strove through all sensuous barriers towards infinity - and it projected the centre of gravity of the pictorial idea into the distance by means of perspective.

Gold is not a colour. Colours are natural, but the metallic gleam which is practically never found in natural conditions, is unearthly. It recalls impressively the other symbols of this Culture, Alchemy and Kabbala, the Philosopher's Stone, the Holy Scriptures, the Arabesque, the inner form of the tales of the 1001 Nights. It is an express assertion of the existence and activity of the Divine Spirit. When "natural" backgrounds, with their blue-green heavens, far horizons and depth perspective, begin to appear in early Gothic, they had at first the appearance of something profane and worldly.

At the same time with this, there appeared in Western painting another symbol of highest significance, which subjued more and more the actuality of all colour - the "studio-brown" (atelierbraun). It carries the battle of Space against Matter to a decisive close. It even prevails over the more primitive linear perspective.

Ultimately, both dissolve the tangible presence of the sense-world - the foreground at a given moment - into ethereal semblances. Its discovery markst he zenith of the Western style. As contrasted with the preceding green, this colour has something Protestant in it. It is the one major colour that does not exist in the rainbow. A pure brown light is outside the possibilities of Nature that we know. Brown, then, became the characteristic colour of the soul, and more particularly of a historically disposed soul. All other colours are relegated to ancillary functions.

I have called brown a historical colour. By this is meant that it makes the atmosphere of the pictured space signify directedness and future. The other colours of distance have also this significance, and they lead to an important, considerable and distinctly bizarre extension of the Western symbolism.

Patina is a symbol of mortality and hence related in a remarkable way to the symbols of time-measurement and the funeral rite. It corresponds to the wistful regard of the Faustian soul for ruins and evidences of the distant past, its proneness to the collection of antiquities and manuscripts and coins, to excavations and philological studies. We are moved by a secret piety to preserve - but we keep them as ruins, feeling in some subtle way that reconstruction would deprive them of something, indefinable in terms, that can never be reproduced.

Nothing was further from the Classical mind than this reverence for the weather-beaten evidences of a once and a formerly. It cleared out of sight everything that did not speak of the present, never was the old preserved because it was old.

The English park...introduced into its stock of motives perhaps the most astonishing bizarrerie ever perpetrated, the artificial ruin, in order to deepen the historical character in the presented landscape.

And our imagination delights to fill the empty space of missing limbs with the pulse and swing of invisible lines. A good restoration - and the secret charm of endless possibilities, is all gone.


If you could not help yourself but to think of the Kotel, the Wailing Wall, as the ultimate expression of the Jewish need (and the West's need) to idolize ruins, then you're not alone. And of course, the Temple Mount itself, even if it were solidly in Jewish hands, would no doubt sprout a literally violent wave of controversy should anyone attempt to rebuild a Temple there.

For one thing, liberal Jews who are members of PETA would have a collective apoplexy.

Seriously, though, at the deepest levels, this has nothing to do with any fear of doing something halachically wrong in the reconstruction or redesign of a future Temple. Instead, rebuilding the Temple won't be done because it would bring Hashem near - and they want Him to stay far, far away where He won't do anything rude like take back His authority which they usurped. So the ruins remain ruins, far away from their former beauty and grandeur and spiritual glory, because that's the way they want them to be - the way the entire West wants them to be.

As long as the ruins stand, we can all pretend and image that we're right, and everyone else is wrong, and everything will be the way we want it to be. Reality would obviously have to rain on somebody's parade, so no renewal can be allowed. We are trapped in a deadly stagnation that goes nowhere.

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