Schlegel, Friedrich


False universality is either theoretical or practical. The theoretical type is the universality of a bad lexicon, of a record office. The practical type originates in a totality of involvement.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 447 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

Some grammarians seem to want to introduce into language that principle in the old law of nations that says every stranger is an enemy. But a writer who knows how to manage even without foreign words will always have a right to use them whenever the demands of his genre require or make desirable a coloration of universality; and a historical mind will have a respectful and loving interest in old words and will occasionally rejuvenate them. After all, they often have not only more experience and understanding, but also more vitality and unity than many so-called human beings or grammarians.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 435 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

Should poetry simply be divided up? Or should it remain one and indivisible? Or fluctuate between division and union? Most of the ways of conceiving a poetical world are still as primitive and childish as the old pre-Copernican ideas of astronomy. The usual classifications of poetry are mere dead pedantry desined for people with limited vision. Whatever somebody is capable of producing, or whatever happens to be in fashion, is the stationary earth at the center of all things. But in the universe of poetry nothing stands still. everything is developing and changing and moving harmoniously; and even the comets obey invariable laws of motion. But until the course of these heavenly bodies can be calculated and their return predicted, the true world system of poetry won’t have been discovered.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 434 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

It’s natural that the French should more or less dominate the age. They are a chemical nation and in them the chemical sense is most widely developed, and they always conduct their experiments — not least in moral chemistry — on a grand scale. Likewise, the age is also a chemical one. Revolutions are universal, chemical not organic movements. Big business is the chemistry of a great economy, and there’s probably an alchemy of the same kind, too. That the novel, criticism, wit, sociability, the most recent rhetoric, and all previous history have a chemical makeup is self-evident. But until we have reached the stage of being able to characterize the universe and classify mankind, we have to be content with brief notes on the prevailing mood and individual mannerisms of the age, without even being able to draw a profile of the giant. For how would we go about finding out if the age is really an individual or perhaps only the collision point of other ages without this kind of preliminary knowledge? Where exactly does it begin and where does it end? How is it possible to understand and punctuate the contemporary period of the world correctly, if one can’t even foresee the general outlines of the subsequent one? By analogy to what I said before, an organic age will follow a chemical one, and the the citizens of the next solar revolution will probably think much less of us than we do now, and consider a great deal of what we now simply marvel at as only the necessary preliminary exercises of humanity.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 426 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

The French Revolution may be regarded as the greatest and most remarkable phenomenon in the history of states, as an almost universal earthquake, an immeasurable flood in the political world; or as a prototype of revolutions, as the absolute revolution per se. These are the usual points of view. But one can also see it as the center and apex of the French national character, where all its paradoxes are thrust together; as the most frightful grotesque of the age, where the most profound prejudices and their most brutal punishments are mixed up in a fearful chaos and woven as bizarrely as possible into a monstrous human tragicomedy. Now only a few isolated traces remain that might serve to develop these historical insights.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 424 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

Mirabeau played a great role in the Revolution because his character and mind were revolutionary; Robespierre because he obeyed the Revolution absolutely, devoted himself entirely to it, worshipped it, and considered himself its god; Bonaparte because he can create and shape revolutions, and destroy himself.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 422 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

In answer to the reproach that the captured Italian paintings in Paris are being treated badly, the man who has been restoring them has offered to exhibit one of Carracci’s pictures half restored and half in its original state. An ingenious idea! In the same way, one often sees during some sudden hubbub in the streets a half-shaved face peering out of a window; and, carried out with French vivacity and impatience, this business of restoration may very well have a great deal in common with the barber’s art.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 312 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

When reason and unreason touch, there’s an electric shock. It’s called polemics.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 300 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

… Is it possible to characterize anything but individuals? Isn’t whatever can’t be multiplied after a certain given point just as much a historical entity as something that can no longer be divided Aren’t all systems individuals just as all individuals are systems at least in embryo and tendency? Isn’t every real entity historical? Aren’t there individuals who contain within themselves whole systems of individuals?

– excerpt of Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 243 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

It’s only prejudice and presumption that maintains there is only a single mediator between God and man. For the perfect Christian — whom in this respect Spinoza probably resembles most — everything would really have to be a mediator.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 234 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

Next Page »