Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Schiller and Rand

Ayn Rand's Romantic Manifesto proposes a very broad outline of the Romantic movement in Western literary aesthetics, but she never names anyone as the chief progenitor of the trend. If you just took her list of notable Romantic authors from her book, it might jump out at you that the earliest figure is Friedrich Schiller, poet, dramatist, aesthetician. He's so early, in fact, that he is frequently not even counted as a Romantic, although his influence on the Romantic drama and fiction is easy to document. I am thinking in particular of his influence on Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I've long been struck by parallels between Schiller's aesthetic theory and Rand's. They are not easy parallels to draw. Their philosophical vocabulary is so alien. And I have not done anything like a thorough study of Schiller's thought, although I have given rather careful study to his plays.

Today, I was looking at The Theatre of Goethe and Schiller, by John Prudhoe, and he writes of Schiller:
He is ultimately responsible for the stress on choice - Free Will - in so many subsequent plays. We detect the inheritance of Schiller's thought in the decision which has to be made by the heroine in The Lady from the Sea; in John Proctor's refusal to put his name to the confession of witchcraft in The Crucible; and in the inability of Williams's heroines to find harmony in themselves.
That is a very sweeping statement, to say the least. It also connects to Rand's attempt to boil the Romantic movement down to one literary premise: an embrace of human volition, i.e., the human power of choice, also known as free will.

Schiller had a complicated, Kantian-influenced, theory of art and free will, which had to do with the power of reason to rise above the sensory world.

For Schiller, the world is lovely, and fills our hearts with awe,
but somewhere high above it, he glimpses Eternal Law.

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