Concrete Expression As Decadence

Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony

The essence of Romanticism consequently comes to consist in that which cannot be described. The word and the form, says Schlegel in Lucinde, are only accessories. The essential is the thought and the poetic image, and these are rendered possible only in a passive state. The Romantic exalts the artist who does not give a material form to his dreams — the poet ecstatic in front of a forever blank page, the musician who listens to the prodigious concerts of his soul without attempting to translate them into notes. It is romantic to consider concrete expression as a decadence, a contamination. How many times has the magic of the ineffable been celebrated, from Keats, with his
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter. . . .
to Maeterlinck, with his theory that silence is more musical than any sound!

Inevitable Failure

Douglas Glover, Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis, 2012):

… The great Viennese (wealthy, Jewish, neurasthenic, suicidal) philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein drew the noose even tighter by defining language as a limiting concept; ultimately language cannot speak the truth but can only talk about itself, play with itself (pun intended). Modern philosophy after Kant is famously difficult stylistically, mainly because philosophers have had to work around the central problem that, by definition, they cannot talk about what they are talking about.

Difficulty and incomprehensibility become aesthetic virtues after Kant (perhaps not what he intended); clarity and formal neatness are marks of fantasy or prevarication. Hence the tradition of German Romanticism, a paradoxical aesthetic based on the impossibility of creating beauty. What goes for beauty (in novels, paintings, symphonies) are only failed attempts to create beauty, which is otherworldly, unconditioned, absolute, sublime (in the Kantian sense) and beyond language. German Romanticism is a hyper-realist aesthetic in the sense that it values works of art that represent their own inevitable failure. In contrast to the ideal of classical unity, it values fragments, digressions, interruptions, mixed forms, incompleteness, difficulty, and, above all, irony. …