Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness

Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness

Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness

Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness

Excerpt

Some apology must first be made for presenting a somewhat revolutionary theory in what may strike the reader as a perfunctory manner. A brevity of treatment and a directness of style were imposed by the manner in which the book was conceived--as a series of seven lectures. When, ill 1953, I was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University, I chose this theme because it was uppermost in my mind, and because I was anxious to test its viability before an intelligent audience. The generous welcome it received on that occasion encourages me to offer it, inadequate though it be, to a wider public.

I do not claim to be the originator of the theory now presented. As I make clear in the first chapter, the germ of it is latent in the neglected works of Conrad Fiedler, and it is also an obvious (though not an authorized) deduction from Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms. Cassirer claimed that every authentic function of the human spirit embodies an original, formative power. Art, myth, religion, cognition--"all live in particular image-worlds, which do not merely reflect the empirically given, but which rather produce it in accordance with an independent principle." Cassirer believed that each of these functions of the human spirit creates its own symbolic forms, and that these forms enjoy equal rank as products of the human spirit. "None of these forms can simply be reduced to, or derived from, the others; each of them designates a particular approach, in which and through which it constitutes its own aspect of 'reality'."

I do not question this "equality" among symbolic forms, as current instruments of discourse. But in this book I am attempting to establish for the symbols of art a claim to priority which is historical. I believe that to some extent Cassirer does this too, though never systematically nor with any realization of the consequences of such an act. For if the image always precedes the idea in the development of human consciousness, as I maintain it does, then not only must we rewrite the history of culture but we must also reëxamine the postulates of all our philosophies. In particular, we must ask ourselves once again what is the right basis of education.

To make such immense claims in seven brief lectures is an . . .

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