The momentous failure of art

Not only puzzled but also disgusted – this is how German author Heinrich von Kleist writes in a letter (published as “Essay on the sure way of finding happiness” (orig. “Aufsatz den sicheren Weg des Glücks zu finden und ungestört, auch unter den größten Drangsalen des Lebens, ihn zu genießen”)) to his friend Otto August Rühle von Lilienstern about his devotion to misanthropy.

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Puzzled, because Kleist believes in his friend’s goodness. Misanthropy, no way!, is no main feature of your soul, my friend. – Rather he has implanted this hatred into himself. Yes implanted!, because Rühle von Lilienstern neither made exceptionally bad experiences nor did he make acquiantances with completely evil human beings. And this is at which Kleist is indignant.

Misanthropy! Hate against the whole humankind. Oh my God! Is it possible that some human heart is wide enough for so much hate!

As if within humanity there is nothing amiable to find, no virtues, no justice, no benefaction, no modesty within happiness, no greatness and steadfastness within misfortune, no tenderness.

Hence, Mister Rühle von Lilienstern have yourself be questioned about the character of your soul! Do you love the fierce that fascinates your eye? Do you enjoy yourself in admiration and rapture? Aren’t you of a too good and careless spirit?

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Rühle von Lilienstern, he drowned himself with novels about fabled worlds of perfect ideals lifting his soul in undreamt-of heights. Reality won’t bear up to worlds of fantasy. This meagre reality! Here the good and noble only gives gentle impressions. They slip away in the tumult of things.

Well, as Rühle von Lilienstern is someone who finds himself being vividly driven to act, he wants to bring many and great things about. Reading novels he thus makes plans to realise the perfect world. The less he contributes to this by acting, the deeper his dreams become.

Aren’t you perceiving people being too clumsy for your meaning? That’s what makes indifference and contempt against humanity grow in you.

Art as creating spiritual values. The top of deceit! – The unmasking of art by George Grosz and Wieland Herzfelde in their “Art is in danger” (orig. “Die Kunst ist in Gefahr”). As if art is sacred. As if art is to be taken seriously, whereas no one takes it seriously. While the poor die from hunger and exploitation, “while the generals are painting in blood”. Rather, the aesthetic ideal of indifference and non-tendentiousness exposes itself as supporting the mighty against the weak (“WHOSE BREAD I EAT, HIS PRAISE I SING”). Irresponsible against social events! Propagating downright smug indifference, irresponsible feelings of individuality and an arrogant view of life!

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Alternative? Kleist: engaging in history. Grosz & Herzfelde: art serving social concerns.

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