I am delighted to bring you a @threadapalooza on Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), philosopher, poet, novelist, critic, founding figure of German romanticism. An atheist at first, Schlegel converted later in life to Catholicism. Schlegel is the unsung muse of hipsters.
The first thing to note about Schlegel is that he sounds like a joke-ified version of Hegel. "Hegel, Schlegel. Bagel." The Schlegel spills the philosophy; the Schlamegel gets spilt on. In seriousness, though, Hegel knew Schlegel and was once his student. 2/
Schlegel was a mischief maker who had a lot of fun, but he was a serious thinker, too. His humor and love of irony comes out of his thoughtful consideration that philosophy can't know as much we'd like it to. Skepticism animates his love of art, creativity, and faith. 3
For Schlegel, the highest art form was love itself, perhaps. Though Nietzsche is credited for telling us to make our lives works of art, Schlegel also embraces the idea that we not distinguish neatly between life and literature. 4
One of my favorite phrases from Schlegel is "transcendental buffoonery"--the notion that the ideal realm is a site of comedy, that the serious mode always interrupts itself with a gaffe. Heaven can't but laugh at itself. 5
The reason Schlegel is the Godfather of hipsters is that he made irony cool before it was cool, gave it an exalted status. 6
His intellectual grandchildren include Blanchot, Derrida, Beckett, Lacoue-Labarthe, Szondi, de Man. A lot of French leftists. A lot of post -68 deconstructionist types. For them, Schlegel's conservatism and embrace of monarchism is a kind of betrayal which they must excuse. 7
But another way to think of Schlegel is as someone who was always "post" whatever everyone else was doing, including himself. Thus, his contrarianism was in constant need of updating, was a life-long performance. 8
Schlegel sought to reconcile holism and human freedom, a totalizing view of reality with the experience of agency. (Much like Schelling). His solution, in contrast to Kant, was not to take refuge in the universal, but instead to see singularity and particularism as infinite. 9
Everything is an allegory for God, he writes at one point. But what's interesting, then, perhaps, is not the God-part (which we know), but the story part, how we get there (which is more occasional). 10
This idea reminds me of the folkloric notion in Judaism that every stranger might be Elijah the prophet in disguise. What's interesting is not that the stranger is Elijah, but that Elijah is THIS STRANGER. 11
"There is so much poetry and yet there is nothing more rare than a poem!" her writes in one fragment. This could have been Ben Lerner's book The Hatred of Poetry. 12
He continues, "This is due to the vast quantity of poetical sketches, studies, fragments, tendencies, ruins, and raw materials." For Schlegel, modernity is best understood as a failed or incomplete attempt at wholeness. Where the ancients had epics, we have novels. 13
In German, the word "Roman" meaning novel provides the basis for his claim that the modern era is romantic, in contrast to the ancient one. A romantic mode is one composed of bricolage, incompleteness. The medievals were romantic, in a sense. 14
Now you might say that we should long to return to the ancients, assuming it were possible, but Schlegel sees the discovery of incompleteness as somehow truer. In this sense, he's a "progressive." 15
Medieval and modern literature are more not only more philosophically interesting than ancient literature, but they are more interesting than modern philosophy as well. In one fragment, he says that poetry more philosophical than philosophy. 16
This fragment encapsulates a lot of what he's after:

"Irony is the form of paradox. Paradox is everything simultaneously good and great."

Is it paradoxical to say something is both good and great? Wouldn't a better paradox be good and bad? 18
Or is he being ironic in his definition of paradox?? 19
I think of good as being useful and great as being astonishing. Good things have utility. Great things induce awe, suspend care for immediate use. Is X a means to an end or an end in itself? Well, when it comes to paradox, it's both. 20
Now, you might say that Schegel hardly invented irony, and you'd be right. There's Socratic irony and dramatic irony. The ancient rhetorician Quintillian defined irony as "saying one thing and meaning another." 21
Scholars say Socratic irony is this: Socrates acts like he doesn't know and stays quiet so that his interlocutors will speak and claim to know, and then he'll challenge them. Either Socrates is pretending; or, he's not. Both are ironic. 22
If he pretends not to know, then the irony is in the interlocutor's surprise at finding out that he actually knows something. If he really doesn't know, the irony is that in spite of his ignorance, he seems to know more than the person claiming knowledge. 23
What Schlegel does, though is by making irony not a trick that's played upon the interlocutor or the audience, but on everyone. Irony is a feature of communication. Ironic art is art that is aware of this basic fact. 24
We might think of philosophy as representing seriousness and art as representing telling the truth, but telling it slant. For Schlegel the one can't exist without the other. The best poetry is philosophy and vice versa:

"The whole history of modern poetry is a running commentary on the following brief philosophical text: all art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one." 26
Contrast this view with that of Lucretius for whom poetry is officially presented as the honey that helps the medicine of philosophy go down. Ie. poetry is just ornament, while philosophy is substantive. 27
Plato laid out the opposition between poetry and philosophy as the difference between those concerned with seeming vs. being, imitation vs. the thing itself. 28
But in Schlegel, everyday life and sentimentality don't hide the forms, they incarnate them. Platonic truth doesn't hide behind things, but glimmers on their surface. 29
Here's Schlegel saying that nobody should write reviews unless their reviews are themselves artistic: "Poetry can only be criticized by way of poetry. A critical judgment of an artistic production has no civil rights in the realm of art if it isn't itself a work of art." 30
This suggestion goes beyond the notion of "skin in the game" and the notion that those who can't make criticize. It speaks to Schlegel's belief that judgment become artful and art become critical. A high, strange, and compelling bar. How many meet it? 31
Critics whose work is itself a kind of art and vice versa include Walter Benjamin, Charles Bernstein, Rae Armantrout, Lydia Davis. In a way, Zizek is best enjoyed as a kind of performance artist. Umberto Eco. On the art side, the great directors, Malick, Tarkovsky, Bergman. 32
Few philosophers are good poets; but many poets are good philosophers. For example, Wallace Stevens is a great thinker by way of poetry. But Heidegger's poems aren't very good. In any case, the fact that poets aspire to philosophy and vice versa is a win for Schlegel. 33
I don't know John Koethe's philosophy well, but his poems work at both the level of sound and thought (he's a philosophy professor by day). We need more cross-over. 34
And Schlegel would say not just between art and philosophy, but between art and science. 35
If you think of any two fundamental opposites, Schlegel would want us to seek out the paradox of containing both. Perhaps not through a synthesis or golden mean, but rather what fund managers call "a barbell" strategy. 36
Hegel was the thinker of synthesis. Kierkegaard is the thinker of either/or. Schlegel is the thinker of paradox. Paradox is about both/and, but not in the rationally optimistic way of a Hegel. More in the defiant way of someone who won't be told what doesn't go with what. 37
Schlegel is quotable b/c he wrote in fragments, perfect for the twitter age. Here he is Quote RT'ing Kant:

"Kant introduced the concept of the negative into philosophy. Wouldn't it be worthwhile trying now to introduce the concept of the positive into philosophy as well?" 38
What does he mean? I take it that Kant said we can't have knowledge of "things in themselves." What we know is not reality, but our own mind, our projections. But the romantics took that and said, Ok, then, given we can't know anything real, now what? 39
Can we know the real through other means? Can we speculate about the real? 40
In German philosophy "positive" connotes something other than just "good". To posit is to assert. Positive philosophy is philosophy that makes moves and runs with them, rather than just forbidding moves. It's a "yes, and" rather than "no, but" response to Kant. 41
I think of it this way. Maimonides says we can't say what God is. Kabbalah says, you're right. Therefore, why not say God is a dragon? God is a chariot? God is cake? Now that we know we're playing, everything is open. 42
Kant was a buzzkill. He was a necessary moment in the enlightenment struggle against "dogmatic slumber." But rejecting dogmatism can be its own form of dogmatism, as we well know. So the romantic project is discovering what comes after that rejection. 43
Zooming out, Schlegel & romantics matter b/c they show that enlightenment project is not as stable as it thinks itself to be. A few hundred years before Fukuyama wrote about the end of history, there were already critics of enlightenment who doubted the universalist project. 44
Schlegel was no dupe, but he represents an anti-Kantian strain in German (and not just German) thought that finds freedom in whim rather than rule, in personality rather than system. 45
For Fichte and Herder, nationalism is born from the discovery that every nation has its own unique, non-assimilatable culture. They spiritualize nationalism, finding concepts and values to be indigenous to culture. 46
The counter-enlightenment discovery of nationalism as against internationalist cosmopolitanism is just as modern as what it rejects. 47
Universalism takes refuge in the idea that we all share a common reason. Particularism takes refuge in the idea that we all share an inability to account for ourselves rationally from the ground up. 48
It will be no surprise to learn that Schlegel argued against building a philosophy from first principles. He wrote in fragments as a way of demonstrating his belief that "philosophy must always begin, like epic poetry, in medias res." 49
Fragments read both forwards and backwards. They are not organized like geometric proofs, but like synchronous shards cast from a blast. 50
In Phaedrus, Plato writes that a good written dialogue should be shaped in such a way that the order matters. But if you think that anything contains everything, order matters less.

Literary fragments are a kind of deck of cards. 51
The idea of moving both forward and backward from any given moment or argument is well captured in Schlegel's funny declaration:

"A good preface must be at once the square root and the square of its book."

To translate, barely, a book is a preface times itself and a preface is a book times itself. The relationship between part and whole is like a möbius strip; part contains whole contains part, etc. 53
So, too, a person is a kind of preface to God or nature, at once subordinate and superior 54
So, too, a moment in my life is both the square root of my life and the square of my life. It's a bit difficult to grasp, maybe even a bit woo, but I feel there's something in it besides word play. 55
And we're back! Most modern philosophers, especially 19th c. Germans sought to reconcile holism (my life belong to a whole that is bigger than it) with individualism. 56
For Kant I can be free in a deterministic world only to the extent that I am moral. Morality is my ticket to a life of transcendence. But that's hardly individualistic, since morality is precisely that which is shared. 57
For Schlegel, it is the creative, aesthetic act that makes me free, opens me to transcendence. If you want to feel free, practice art. Life an artful life. 58
Schlegel venerated the aesthetic ideal of "incomprehensibility." 59
To write an essay explaining the phenomenon of is funny. There's so much to say about incomprehensibility that isn't incomprehensible! 60
Defending his work against the charge that it is incomprehensible, Schlegel asks if that is so bad..."A classical text must never be so comprehensible." 61
But for Schlegel, incomprehensibility isn't the same as totally chaotic nonsense. It's closer to what Stevens describes when he says "the poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully." 62
It's funny--I find Schlegel much easier to read than Kant. But the charge of incomprehensibility likely refers less to diction and more to conceptual clarity. We know the words Schlegel uses, but the meaning is hard to grasp. Why? 63
Well, for him, one answer is that when you are pointing to a paradox, of course you are going to be incomprehensible--the paradox itself requires that of your form. 64
Of course, this isn't a great motto to live by when trying to write a dissertation or a book for public consumption. But arguably the aesthetic creative act is different than writing motivated by the instrumental need to be validated or understood. 65
Schlegel anticipates so many themes in modernist art, from the Beats to the abstract expressionists. Even the Archibald MacLeish line, "a poem must be, not mean," which I once heard paraphrased as "poetry is that which cannot be paraphrased." 66
You can't read Schlegel without coming upon the word "tendency." This is a technical term by which he at once praises and cuts things down to size. For example, the great philosophers express great "tendencies." 67
A tendency sounds less focused on the truth value of the work produced and more on the charge or potential that the work exhibits. 68
One assumption we tend to bring to texts is that they are organized wholes that are internally consistent. The language of "tendency," by contrast, anticipates deconstruction. It sees a text as a collection of moments and drives, some of which lead in different directions. 69
Just as people are complex, layered, so are texts. And just as people behave differently in different situations, in different relationships, so do texts. "Tendency" is Schlegel's way of describing this dynamic or psycho-dynamic aspect of a work. 70
But once you are talking tendency, you can no longer summarize a work or a thinker. All you can say is they are a collection of tendencies. 71
Tendency also intimates that artistic production is experimental, tentative. An artist's work is trial and error. It's a way of excusing works which fail. What matters is not the work itself, but the movement it opens. 72
Take Schlegel's experimental novel, Lucinde (1799). It was a book that scandalized in its time both at the level of form and content. It is a kind of thinly veiled auto-fiction about his affair with Moses Mendelssohn's daughter. 73
Schlegel's mom had this to say about it "through his novel Fritz has shown himself to me as one who has no religion and no good principles." 74
Hegel and others thought the book lewd and morally wrong. Kierkegaard wrote that immorality is the result of Schlegel's unrestrained irony. 75
But the tendency of modern art to shock and chafe against boogie values is a thing; it's not so much Schlegel as it is the creative, antinomian impulse itself. 76
One way to understand irony is as the co-mingling of high and low culture. If you like Roberto Bolano's work, you have Lucinde to thank. 77
J. Hillis Miller says that Schlegel's conversion to Catholicism, even his re-writing of earlier works, are not opposed to irony, but part of it. Irony includes its own repression. 78
Schlegel writes, "Irony is something one simply cannot play games with."

But as Miller notes, we can never know the extent to which Schlegel's definitions of irony are themselves ironic. 79
So to recap here are some Schlegelian themes that I take from the master:

-the best response to art is art
-your life should be an aesthetic project
-paradox is the only way to reconcile the personal and the infinite

-the singular doesn't simply mask the universal, but IS the universal.
-the ironic life is a life of continuous self-revision. Religious conversion is not opposed to this, but can be a form of it.
-Liberals and progressives don't have a monopoly on "openness." 81
-modernity is inescapable and it's not all bad; we can never go back to the epic form, to naive pre-critical consciousness. 82
-existence is infinitely more complex than theory can describe.
-it's better to be immersed in sensual experience than to be writing about, but words can have their own sensual delight, too. 83
-It doesn't matter what art you make; the heart of art is the experimental temperament, the will to create in search of of freedom; the realization that freedom is constrained. Rinse, repeat. 84
in 2021, our choices are all variations on the Enlightenment and responses to it. Romanticism is one response with many tributaries. 85
On one side of romanticism is blood and soil nationalism, the veneration of one's specific language and culture and place, the rejection of universal reason. On the other is the kind of aesthetic found in consummate individualists. 86
One gives us a kind of "Trad" aesthetic, the fetishization of family and community; the other gives us the libertarian image of the surfer, untroubled by the world's woes, the American image of a backpacker hitchhiking "the road." 87
Schlegel contains both "tendencies"; perhaps he demonstrates the hipster and the traditionalist to be two sides of the same coin, doppelgängers of each other. That would be ironic. 88
David Foster Wallace wrote about irony and skepticism as paralyzing forces in his life and in our culture; the inability to be sincere. But Schlegel is evidence that by embracing paradox one need not stay a cool, disinterested critic, above it all. 89
What if the most hipster thing in the world wasn't to smoke clove cigarettes and wear tight black pants, etc., but to go to Church? Schlegel exposes the limits of equating irony with thrift shopping. Or rather, realizes that being alternative often comes full circle. 90
Whatever you think of this @nytdavidbrooks piece theatlantic.com/magazine/archi…, Schlegel shows that one can be a bobo and a bobour. Creativity and madness are forces, not destinations, vectors, not identities. There is no ideological fix for this need. 91
All political and religious and philosophical labels eventually grow stale. Thus, for the artist, conversion becomes an endless task. 92
Not sure if anyone has coined the term "the deathbed fallacy," but in my remaining tweets I'll sketch it out. 93
The deathbed fallacy is the fallacy that what a person does or says at the very end of his or her life should be given greater credence than other statements and deeds made in other moments, as if the last word were the definitive one. 94
For me, Schlegel's conversion is less a conclusion, or a renunciation of his early work than another beginning. Who knows what other beginnings Schlegel would have continued had he lived longer. He's a kind of philosophical Forest Gump. He did it all. 95
Classicism, modernism, religious awakening. These tendencies are fragments of a life in constant search of wholeness, a life that made itself into an arabesque of the infinite by being hyper idiosyncratic. Schlegel doesn't scale. 96
And it shows. Outside of comparative literature departments, he's hardly read. Even though he coined the term "romantic" and popularized the notion of life as an aesthetic quest; who knows, maybe there would be no Steve Jobs w/o Schlegel. 97
Those of us who seek to be reasonable, but also acknowledge that scientific method is non-instructive when it comes to life's most important questions will be compelled by romanticism. Romanticism is an early prototype of existentialism. 98
It teaches us not to outsource our life questions to authorities or experts, be they priests or doctors. We can ask for advice, but life is our project to make. There is no reason to think this is or must be a secular position. 99
Schlegel and romantics show that one can be revolutionary and reactionary, moderate and radical. There is no perfect, ready-made template for a good life, and all the more so, for an interesting one.

Fin! (insofar as one can ever conclude). 100/100

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More from @ZoharAtkins

29 Jul
Here goes my @threadapalooza on Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), a heartfelt thinker, passionate seeker, Jewish community leader, avant garde translator & major influence on Walter Benjamin, Emmanuel Levinas & Leo Strauss. He died young (from ALS), 4 years before Nazis took power.
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Rosenzweig is a genius but doesn't get the play he deserves, outside of a small devoted readership of Jewish and Christian readers (and some idiosyncratic academics) for a few reasons. 3
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15 Jul
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15 Jul
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Religions are superstitions that have proven themselves. Like start-ups that have passed from seed-stage to IPO.
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14 Jul
Wrote about the origins of philosophy w/ help from Aristotle, Heidegger, Freud, Adam Phillips.

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1 Jul
It's time to honor Maimonides (1138-1204) with a @threadapalooza.

The "Rambam" (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) was one of the most daring & revolutionary (Jewish) thinkers of all time. He was not only a philosopher, but a community leader, jurist, legal theorist, and medical doctor.
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