lunes, 31 de diciembre de 2007

Debate sobre el Arte

Hace más de 144 años Victor Hugo realizó un texto a cerca de uno de sus grándes ídolos, William Shakespeare, el texto de aproximadamente 300 hojas recorre la vida y el arte del autor inglés, pero en una parte es sumamente preciso en el problema del arte, lo que sorprende es que desde 1864 las preguntas son las mismas, lo que sigue es un fragmento del libro "William Shakespeare" de Victor Hugo (Parte 1, Libro 3: Arte y Ciencia), el texto se encuentra en inglés pues nunca he encontrado ninguna traducción al español.

  • Chapter 1

Many people in our day, readily merchants and often lawyers, say and repeat, "poetry is gone." It is almost as if they said, "There are no more roses; spring has breathed its last; the sun has lost the habit of rising; roam about all the fields of the earth, you will not find a butterfly; there is no more light in the moon, and the nightingale sings no more; the lion no longer roars; the eagle no longer soars; the Alps and the Pyrenees are gone; there are no more lovely girs or handsome young men; no one thinks any more of the graves; the mother no longer loves her child; heaven is quenched; the human heart is dead."

If it was permitted to mix the contingent with the eternal, it would be rather the contrary which would prove true. Never have the faculties of the human soul, investigated and enriched by the mysterious excavation of revolutions, been deeper and more lofty.

And wait a little; give time for the realization of the acme of social salvation,-- gratuitous and compulsory education. How long will it take? A quarter of a century; and then imagine the incalculable sum of intellectual development that this single word contains: every one can read! The multiplication of readers is the multiplication of loaves. On the day when Christ created that symbol, he caught a glimpse of printing. His miracle is this marvel. Behold a book. I will nourish with it five thousand souls, a hundred thousand souls, a million souls,-- all humanity. In the action of Christ bringing forth the loaves, there is Gutenberg bringing forth books. One sower heralds the other.

What is the human race since the origin of centuries? A reader. For a long time he has spelt; he spells yet. Soon he will read.

This infant, six thousand years old, has been at school. Where? In Nature. At the beginning, having no other book, he spelt the universe. He has had his primary teaching of the clouds, of the firmament, of meteors, flowers, animals, forests, seasons, phenomena. The fisherman of Ionia studies the wave; the shepherd of Chaldæa spells the star. Then the first books came. Sublime progress! The book is vaster yet than the grand scene, the world; for to the fact it adds the idea. If anything is greater than God seen in the sun, it is God seen in Homer.

The universe without the book is science taking its first steps; the universe with the book is the ideal making its appearance,-- therefore immediate modification in the human phenomenon. Where there had been only force, power reveals itself. The ideal applied to real facts is civilization. Poetry written and sung begins its work, magnificent and efficient deduction of the poetry only seen. A striking statement to make,-- science was dreaming; poetry acts. With the sound of the lyre, the thinker drives away brutality.

We shall return later to this power of the book; we do not insist on it at present; that power blazes forth. Now, many writers, few readers; such has the world been up to this day. But a change is at hand. Compulsory education is a recruiting of souls for light. Henceforth progress of the human race will be accomplished by the literary legion. The diameter of the moral and ideal good corresponds always to the opening of intelligences. In proportion to the worth of the brain is the worth of the heart.

The book is the tool to work this transformation. A constant supply of light, that is what humanity requires. Reading is nutriment. Thence the importance of the school, everywhere adequate to civilization. The human race is at last on the point of stretching open the book. The immense human Bible, composed of all the prophets, of all the poets, of all the philosophers, is about to shine and blaze under the focus of this enormous luminouos lens, compulsory education.

Humanity reading is humanity knowing.

What, then, is the meaning of that nonsense, "Poetry is gone"? We might say, on the contrary, "Poetry is coming!" For he who says "poetry" says "philosophy" and "light." Now, the reign of the book commences; the school is its purveyor. Increase the reader, you increase the book,-- not, certainly, in intrinsic value; that remains what it was; but in efficient power; it influences where it had no influence. The souls become its subjects for good purposes. It was but beautiful; it is useful.

Who would venture to deny this? The circle of readers enlarging, the circle of books read will increase. Now, the want of reading being a train of powder, once lighted it will not stop; and this, combined with the simplification of hand-labour by machinery, and with the increased leisure of man, the body less fatigued leaving intelligence more free, vast appetites for thought will spring up in all brains; the insatiable thirst for knowledge and meditation will become more and more the human preoccupation; low places will be deserted for high places,-- a natural ascent for every growing intelligence. People will quit Faublas to read "Orestes." There they will taste greatness; and once they have tasted it, they will never be satiated. They will devour the beautiful because the refinement of minds augments in proportion to their force; and a day will come when the fulness of civilization making itself manifest, those summits, almost desert for ages, and haunted solely by the élite,-- Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare,-- will be crowded with souls seeking their nourishment on the lofty peaks.

  • Chapter 2
There can be but one law; the unity of law results from the unity of essence. Nature and art are the two sides of the same fact; and in principle, saving the restriction which we shall idicate very shortly, the law of one is the law of the other. The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence. All being equity in the moral order and equilibrium in the material order, all is equation in the intellectual order. The binomial theorem, that marvel fitting everything, is included in poetry not less than in algebra. Nature plus humanity, raised to the second power, gives art. That is the intellectual binomial theorem. Now replace this A+B by the number special to each great artist and each great poet, and you will have, in its multiple physiognomy and in its strict total, each of the creations of the human mind. What more beautiful than the variety of chefs-d'œuvre resulting from the unity of law. Poetry like science has an abstract root; out of that science evokes the chef-d'œuvre of metal, wood, fire, or air,-- machine, ship, locomotive, æroscaph; out of that poetry evokes the chef-d'œuvre of flesh and blood,-- Iliad, Canticle of Canticles, Romancero, Divine Comedy, "Macbeth." Nothing so starts and prolongs the shock felt by the thinker as those mysterious exfoliations of abstractions into realities in the double region, the one positive, the other infinite, of human thought. A region double, and nevertheless one; the infinite is a precision. The profound word number is at the base of man's thought. It is, to our intelligence, elemental; it has an harmonious as well as a mathematical signification. Number reveals itself to art by rhythm, which is the beating of the heart of the Infinite. In rhythm, law of order, God is felt. A verse is a gathering like a crowd; its feet take the cadenced step of a legion. Without number, no science; without number, no poetry. The strophe, the epic poem, the drama, the riotous palpitation of man, the burstng forth of love, the irradiation of the imagaination, all this cloud with its flashes, the passion,-- all is lorded over by the mysterious word number, even as geometry and arithmetic. Ajax, Hector, Hecuba, the seven chiefs before Thebes, Œdipus, Ugolino, Messalina, Lear and Priam, Romeo, Desdemona, Richard III, Pantagruel, the Cid, Alcestes, all belong to it, as well as conic sections and the differential and integral calculus. It starts from two and two make four, and ascends to the region where the lightning sits.

Yet, between art and science, let us note a radical difference. Science may be brought to perfection; art, not.


  • Chapter 3
Among human things, and inasmuch as it is a human thing, art is a strange exception.
The beauty of everything here below lies in the power of reaching perfection. Everything is endowed with that property. To increase, to augment, to win strength, to march forward, to be worth more to-day than yesterday,-- that is at once glory and life. The beauty of art lies in not being susceptible of improvement.

Let us insist on these essential ideas, already touched on in some of the preceding pages.
A chef-d'œuvre exists once for all. The first poet who arrives, arrives at the summit. You will ascend after him, as high, not higher. Ah, you call yourself Dante! well; but that one calls himself Homer.

Progress, goal constantly displaced, halting-place forever varying, has a shifting horizon. Not so with the ideal.

Now, progress is the motive power of science; the ideal is the generator of art.

Thus is explained why perfection is the characteristic of science, and not of art.

A savant may outlustre a savant; a poet never throws a poet into the shade.

Art progresses after its own fashion. It shifts its ground like science; but its successive creations, containing the immutable, live, while the admirable attempts of science, which are, and can be nothing but combinations of the contigent, obliterate each other.

The relative is in science; the positive is in art. The chef-d'œuvre of to-day will be the chef-d'œuvre of to-morrow. Does Shakespeare interfere in any way with Sophocles? Does Molière take anything away from Plautus? Does Cordelia suppress Antigone? No. Poets do not climb over each other. The one is not the stepping-stone of the other. They rise up alone, without any other lever than themselves. They do not tread their equal under foot. Those who are first in the field respect the old ones. They succeed, they do not replace each other. The beautiful does not drive away the beautiful. Neither wolves nor chefs d'œuvre devour each other.

Saint-Simon says (I quote from memory): "There has been through the whole winter but one cry of admiration for M. de Cambray's book, when suddenly appeared M. de Meaux's book, which devoured it." If Fénélon's book had been Saint-Simon's, the book of Bossuet would not have devoured it.

Shakespeare is not above Dante, Molière is not above Aristophanes, Calderon is not above Euripides, the Divine Comedy is not above Genesis, the Romancero is not above the Odyssey, Sirius is not above Arcturus. Sublimity is equality.

The human mind is the infinite possible. The chefs-dœuvre, immense worlds, are hatched within it unceasingly, and last forever. No pushing one against the other; no recoil. The occlusions, when there are any, are but apparent, and quickly cease. The expanse of the boundless admits all creations.

Art, taken as art, and in itself, goes neither forward nor backward. The transformations of poetry are but the undulations of the Beautiful, useful to human movement. Human movement,-- another side of the question that we certainly do not overlook, and that we shall attentively examine farther on. Art is not susceptible of intrinsic progress. From Phidias to Rembrandt there is onward movement, but not progress. The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are absolutely nothing to the metopes of the Parthenon. Retrace your steps as much as you like, from the palace of Versailles to the castle of Heidelberg, from the castle of Heidelberg to Notre Dame de Paris, from Notre Dame de Paris to the Alhambra, from the Alhambra to St. Sophia, from St. Sophia to the Coliseum, from the Coliseum to the Propylæons, from the Propylæons to the Pyramids; you may recede into ages, you do not reced in art. The Pyramids and the Iliad stand on teh fore plan.

Masterpieces have a level, the same for all,-- the absolute.

Once the absolute reached, all is said. That cannot be excelled. The eye can not bear but a certain quantity of dazzling light.

Thence comes the assurance of poets. They lean on posterity with a lofty confidence. "Exegi Monumentum," says Horace. And on that occasion he insults bronze. "Plaudite, cives," says Plautus. Corneille, at sixty-five years, wins the love (a tradition in the Escoubleau family) of the very young Marquise de Contades by promising her to send her name down to posterity:--
"Chez cette race nouvelle,Où j'aurai quelque crédit,Vous ne passerez pour belleQu'autant que je l'aural dit."

In the poet and the artist there is the infinite. It is this ingredient, the infinite, which gives to this kind of genius the irreducible grandeur.

This amount of the infinite in art is not inherent to progress. It may have, and it certainly has, duties to fulfil toward progress, but it is not dependent on it. It is dependent on no perfections which may result from the future, on no transformation of language, on no death or birth of idioms. It has within itself the immeasurable and the innumerable; it cannot be subdued by any occurrence; it is as pure, as complete, as sidereal, as divine in the heart of barbarism as in the heart of civilization. it is the Beautiful, diverse according to the men of genius, but always equal to itself. Supreme.

Such is the law, scarcely known, of Art.

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