Reflections on Art: A Source Book of Writings by Artists, Critics, and Philosophers

By Susanne K. Langer | Go to book overview

The Aesthetic Problem of Distance

GEORG MEHLIS

IT MAY BE INSTRUCTIVE and edifying to organize a wide field of human cultural activity and the wealth of its results in a one-sided but clear-cut way according to a certain single concept, throw the spotlight on it in abstracto, and then pretend that all understanding can be derived simply from that concept. But in so doing we must needs go wrong from the outset, since even the greatest conceptual system imaginable is inadequate to master even a small fragment of life. Yet there is a certain advantage in this one-sidedness, because aspects of life and culture, when illuminated from a certain point of view, achieve a more solid outline in their relation to one another and are thus rendered accessible to comparison and analogy. Only with these reservations, and realizing entirely the narrowness and limitations of the chosen angle of evaluation, do we make the assertion that in art, in artistic life, and in religion (which latter we mean to include in our considerations by way of comparison) nothing is so important as the law of distance. We boldly claim that in these areas detachment means everything and that the appreciation of beauty, the aesthetic joy of life, and religious reverence are dependent on distance.

Though science and the moral will may strive to grasp their

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