Thursday, September 6, 2012

THE CREATION OF AN OVERWORLD – Introduction to the Series Social Aesthetic Studies

In earlier times this series of Social Aesthetic Studies that is introduced by this first volume would hardly have needed a justification for its supply of texts; but today it probably does. For bringing the social in connection with the aesthetic seems, in view of our present state of affairs, only to cause bewilderment.  On the one hand, the conditions in which we are actively and passively embroiled lack indeed all inducements for good taste, while on the other hand, the utilities that we consider necessary in our lives require at most a glossy varnish, yet scarcely real beauty itself. With every glance, meanwhile, that goes back more than 150 years we become aware – be it with amazement or with fright in view of our drab routine or snug self-deception – what supreme value the previous civilizations attributed to the harmonious development of their representative appearance; what pride the great figures of that world took in creating and building an overworld. And the more we follow the epochs backward to antiquity, the clearer the collective force of national cultures in works of beauty comes to mind.  To establish the noble was not compulsory labor, but a joyful and glad confession; existence was not a consumption of impressions, but the horticulture of expression spreading throughout all branches of the empire. These peoples became themselves through the fact that they created – not in order to construct a bulwark of utilities to safeguard their survival – but to paint an image (however instinctive) of their self-knowledge as that which, in itself, is bliss and therefore holy.

Social aesthetics is the science of the future, just as aestheticism in general is the future of science. A science of aesthetics must establish the future of our civilization, in so far as our civilization is granted a future at all. Aestheticism as represented here however, is not aesthetic sentimentality. On the contrary, it bears witness to cognition, the cognition that is conscious of the basic demand of our time, because it does justice to the demand that it must direct to itself. This is the unbiased observation of its own activity. For out of unformed material of perception it gives rise  after all– through the evidence of the idea – to the consciousness-form of our world. The reality that is reduced to its primordial state by our sense-organs is not somehow reproduced in cognition by a process of imitation, but co-produced in the co-creative act of knowledge. More concerning this is developed in this series of publications – as well as in other parts of the work by the author.  At the height of his cognitive existence, man is therefore not merely a squatter jammed by the terror of information and the pressures to survive into his accidental niche spanned by the force of circumstances. On the contrary, he is a creative architect of expression, a designer, who even surmounts his construction of a consciousness-formed world with his own form of liberty that he forces upwards out of his will to construct. The meaning of one’s life is to give the world a new meaning in the fulfillment of one’s own search for meaning, and to recognize and time and again re-examine one’s creative task in the mirror of the world of expression that one constructs around oneself. Materialism with its whip of horror and opiate of bliss has stripped present-day man of the dignity of his mission in life, releasing him into the waste and squalor of the meaningless void. Social aesthetics is to reinstall him in his mission and responsibility, not to ensure that he survives, but that he dare to ‘overbecome’ (German: Überwerden).

If our world does not substitute its superstition of utilitarianism for enthusiasm for beauty, it will encircle itself with an ever higher – and hence ever more in danger of collapsing – robot-gigantism, and at the same time undermine itself with the horror of modern dreariness. The only practical approach is the aesthetic one. He who counters that life must be lived before it can be draped with the blossoms of beauty may put up with the answer that it would be more consequent to depart from such a senseless life that debases itself in yielding to its fascination of fear and greed, instead of grasping its spur of its dignity.

The first edition of this series of social-aesthetic studies contains the revised and enlarged text of The Principles of the Anthroposophical Society as a Basis of Life and Path of Training that was long out of print. Added to this were new editions of the also revised and enlarged essays A Path to the Spiritual Goetheanum and On the Nature of the Free School of Spiritual Science, which complement the discourse of the first essay from essential points of view.* In the appendices one will find the text of the principles' (originally statutes) of the Anthroposophical Society, which Rudolf Steiner gave as a basis for refounding the Society at the turn of the year 1923/24.** In that way, a publication has come about which can not only help every new member of the Anthroposophical Society to orientate himself, but which can perhaps also be welcomed by those wanting to re-evaluate their decision to become members. This publication is also intended as study-material for those wanting to occupy themselves – not just in a receptive, but also in a cognitive manner – with an important field of the spiritual science developed by Rudolf Steiner. As a social-aesthetic study its aim is furthermore to contribute to a better knowledge of our present state of affairs and to meet the dire needs of our time.

Herbert Witzenmann
Garmisch-Partenkirche, Germany, January 1984

* These two essays are not as yet included in this translation. (tr.)
** Added to the appendix in this publication has been a new translation of the Foundation Stone Meditation that Rudolf Steiner delivered during the Christmas Conference of 1923/24. 

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