Friday, September 21, 2007

sub specie aeterni

Engelmann told me that when he rummages round at home in a drawer full of his own manuscripts, they strike him as so glorious that he thinks they would be worth presenting to other people. (He said it is the same when he is reading through letters from his dead relations.) However, when he imagines a selection of them published he said the whole business loses its charm & value & becomes impossible I said this case was like the following one: Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity. Let’s imagine a theatre, the curtain goes up & we see someone alone in his room walking up and down, lighting a cigarette, seating himself etc. so that suddenly we are observing a human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves; as if we were watching a chapter from a biography with our own eyes, -- surely this would be at once uncanny and wonderful. More wonderful than anything that a playwright could cause to be acted or spoken on the stage. We should be seeing life itself. – But then we do see this every day & it makes not the slightest impression on us! True enough, but we do not see it from that point of view. -- Similarly when E. looks at his writings and finds them splendid (even though he would not care to publish any of the pieces individually) he is seeing his life as God’s work of art, & as such it is certainly worth contemplating, as is every life & everything whatever. Only the artist can represent the individual thing so that it appears to us as a work of art; those manuscripts rightly lose their value if we contemplate them singly & in any case without prejudice, i.e. without being enthusiastic about them in advance. The work of art compels us – as one might say – to see it in the right perspective, but without art the object is a piece of nature like any other & the fact that we may exalt it through our enthusiasm does not give anyone the right to display it to us. (I am always reminded of one of those insipid photographs of a piece of scenery which is interesting to the person who took it because he was there himself, experienced something, but which a third party looks at with justifiable coldness; insofar as it is ever justifiable to look at something with coldness.

But now it seems to me too that besides the work of the artist there is another through which the world may be captured sub specie aeterni. It is – as I believe – the way of thought, which as it were flies above the world and leaves it the way it is, contemplating it from above in its flight.

--L. Wittgenstein MS109 28: 22.8.1930


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