Friedrich Schlegel: “Reflection”

Excerpt from “Lucinda” written in 1799 by Friedrich Schlegel. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas.



It has often struck my mind how extraordinary it is that sensible and dignified people can keep on, with such great seriousness and such never-tiring industry, forever playing the little game in perpetual rotation–a game which is of no use whatever and has no definite object, although it is perhaps the earliest of all games. Then my spirit inquired what Nature, who everywhere thinks so profoundly and employs her cunning in such a large way, and who, instead of talking wittily, behaves wittily, may think of those naïve intimations which refined speakers designate only by their namelessness.And this namelessness itself has an equivocal significance.
The more modest and modern one is, the more fashionable does it become to put an immodest interpretation upon it. For the old gods, on the contrary, all life had a certain classic dignity whereby even the immodest heroic art is rendered lifelike. The mass of such works and the great inventive power displayed in them settles the question of rank and nobility in the realm of mythology. This number and this power are all right, but they are not the highest. Where does the longed-for ideal lie concealed?
Or does the aspiring heart evermore find in the highest of all plastic arts only new manners and never a perfected style? Thinking has a peculiarity of its own in that, next to itself, it loves to think about something which it can think about forever. For that reason the life of the cultured and thinking man is a constant study and meditation on the beautiful riddle of his destiny. He is always defining it in a new way, for just that is his entire destiny, to be defined and to define. Only in the search itself does the human mind discover the secret that it seeks.
But what, then, is it that defines or is defined? Among men it is the nameless. And what is the nameless among women?–The Indefinite.
The Indefinite is more mysterious, but the Definite has greater magic power. The charming confusion of the Indefinite is more romantic, but the noble refinement of the Definite has more of genius. The beauty of the Indefinite is perishable, like the life of the flowers and the everlasting youth of mortal feelings; the energy of the Definite is
transitory, like a genuine storm and genuine inspiration.
Who can measure and compare two things which have endless worth, when both are held together in the real Definiteness, which is intended to fill all gaps and to act as mediator between the male and female individual and infinite humanity?
The Definite and the Indefinite and the entire abundance of their definite and indefinite relations–that is the one and all, the most wonderful and yet the simplest, the simplest and yet the highest. The universe itself is only a toy of the Definite and the Indefinite; and the real definition of the definable is an allegorical miniature of the life and activity of ever-flowing creation.
With everlasting immutable symmetry both strive in different ways to get near to the Infinite and to escape from it. With light but sure advances the Indefinite expands its native wish from the beautiful centre of Finiteness into the boundless. Complete Definiteness, on the other hand, throws itself with a bold leap out of the blissful dream of the infinite will into the limits of the finite deed, and by self-refinement ever increases in magnanimous self-restraint and beautiful self-sufficiency.
In this symmetry is also revealed the incredible humor with which consistent Nature accomplishes her most universal and her most simple antithesis. Even in the most delicate and most artistic organization these comical points of the great All reveal themselves, like a miniature, with roguish significance, and give to all individuality,
which exists only by them and by the seriousness of their play, its final rounding and perfection.
Through this individuality and that allegory the bright ideal of witty sensuality blooms forth from the striving after the Unconditioned.
Now everything is clear! Hence the omnipresence of the nameless, unknown divinity. Nature herself wills the everlasting succession of constantly repeated efforts; and she wills, too, that every individual shall be complete, unique and new in himself–a true image of the supreme, indivisible Individuality. Sinking deeper into this
Individuality, my Reflection took such an individual turn that it presently began to cease and to forget itself.
“What point have all these allusions, which with senseless sense on the outward boundaries of sensuality, or rather in the middle of it, I will not say play, but contend with, each other?”
So you will surely ask, and so the good Juliana would ask, though no doubt in different language.
Dear Beloved! Shall the nosegay contain only demure roses, quiet forget-me-nots, modest violets and other maidenlike and childlike flowers? May it not contain anything and everything that shines strangely in wonderful glory?
Masculine awkwardness is a manifold thing, and rich in blossoms and fruits of all kinds. Let the wonderful plant, which I will not name, have its place. It will serve at least as a foil to the bright-gleaming pomegranate and the yellow oranges. Or should there be, perhaps, instead of this motley abundance, only one perfect flower, which combines all the beauties of the rest and renders their existence superfluous?
I do not apologize for doing what I should rather like to do again,with full confidence in your objective sense for the artistic productions of the awkwardness which, often and not unwillingly, borrows the material for its creations from masculine inspiration.
It is a soft Furioso and a clever Adagio of friendship. You will be able to learn various things from it; that men can hate with as uncommon delicacy as you can love; that they then remold a wrangle, after it is over, into a distinction; and that you may make as many observations about it as pleases you.