Francesca Albertini

Studiosa. Università
di Friburgo

The aesthetics of Rosenzweig

6th International Philosophy Graduate Conference University of Essex Aesthetics and the Continental Tradition 4th March, 2000 Music, Poetry, Revelation:
The Aesthetics of Franz Rosenzweig

Le passé immémorial est intolérable à la pensée. D’où l’exigence de l’arrêt: anankè stenai. Le mouvement au-delà de l’être devient ontologie et théologie. D’où aussi l’idolâtrie du beaux. Dans son indiscrète exposition et dans son arrêt de statue, dans sa plasticitè, l’oeuvre d’art se substitue à Dieu. [...] La théologie et l’art "retiennent" le passé immémorial.

It might be strange or absolutely contradictory to speak about "aesthetics", in the Baumgartenian sense of the term, with regard to a Jewish Philospher, who chose, after a long interior struggle, to remain such: it is common knowledge that Hebraism rejects the cult of imagines together with every form of idolatry. The reason of this prohibition is deeper than that one normally known and accepted, according to that this prohibition would be only another aspect of the fight of the originary Hebraism against Paganism. Surely the prohibition of cult of imagine could be interpreted according to this perspective too, but I think there is a more essential motivation, which deserves to be stressed: the idols must be destroyed, because they are not being, but imagines, whereas the divine worship consists of the adoration of True Being. Therefore, the struggle against the pagan divinities is a struggle against appearence, the struggle of the authenticity against the copies, which have not got archetyp (in this sense we have to interpret Ps. 97,7 and Is. 44,9-20). After this due consideration, we can ask us, why a radically Jewish Philosopher like Rosenzweig reserves so much space for art, in all its various forms, in particular in the second part of his philosophical masterpiece: The Star of Redemption.

Just in the Second Part (Star II) of this work, Rosenzweig shows as the elements of what he defines the ever-enduring proto-cosmos (God and His Being or Metaphysics, The World and Its Meaning or Metalogic, Man and His Self or Metaethics) are able to get in relationship each other and to open their essence to an Existing (Existieren), which is concretely experienced in the dimension of the event (Ereignis).

In the First Part of the Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig shows the knowledge of All through its ever-enduring elements, but he does not offer an explanation for the mistery of the ever-enduring birth of All in se e per se. In Star II, this mistery makes itself clear, when we understand that

[...] this everlasting birth out of the depth is - creation. This becoming manifest of the everlasting mistery of creation is that ever renewed miracle of revelation.

The beginning is God created, that is the beginning is the introduction of God’s spirit and power into time. In Hebrew, there is no substantive to indicate Creation, but only the term Bereshit

( ), which means in fact In the beginning (God created...). The human being makes experience of this miracle only into time, which substitutes the dumbness of the elements of the ever-enduring proto-cosmos for language. That what for the elements of the proto-cosmos was the language of logic becomes now real language of grammar, which will make comprehensible and easier to approach the same elements of the proto-cosmos. They have consistency and content only in their relationships, which embody themselves in the binding language of grammar. In this language, the logic of idea is opposed to the logic of creation. Just moving from the analysis of language, based on the critics to the idealistic philosophy (critics which animates and inspires the whole Star of Redemption), Rosenzweig develops his theory of art for each section of Star II: Creation, Revelation, Redemption.

Referring to Creation, in Rosenzweig’s theory of art the first critics to Idealism regards just the conception of language: Idealism had no confidence in the language of daily life, therefore it preferred seeking refuge in the world of pure thought, separated from the living language. When, thanks to Kant and Schelling, Idealism went in search of the reality, he found it in art, but this one was not the whole reality of human experience: it was the fragmented reality of the artists. According to Rosenzweig, what we could define "idealistic aesthetics" is just this deification of the fragmentariness of art, which appears when we reject the language of daily life:

Never before had philosophy done this. True, in Plato, Plotinus, Augustine and, less consciously, in many another, it had recognized God’s handiwork in the vibrantly beautiful; but from the first, Idealism acclaimed not living beauty as such but "fine arts". It taught that art alone was visibly real, that shadows from the realm of ideals could imbibe life from it at the entrance to the netherworld, thus assuring themselves of their remnant of life as they recalled, while this blood of reality circulated within, their own life, long since submerged. Idealism did not have to harbor any distrust against the work of art, for it was product. And since it nevertheless stands there like a part of nature in its unconscious becoming and its unquestionable being, it could be addressed and venerated as the revelation of reality.

In Rosenzweig’s thought, art can not be the totality of human experience, in particular if, like in Idealism, it is interpreted as an episode, separated from the living reality of language. Art has its roots in the same duel and proto-cosmic night of pure spirit, but, in spite of that, it is something of manifest, of visible; it is "afflicted" with Dasein (Being). For this reason, Idealism turned to art the confidence, which it did not want to give to human being. In this case, Idealism would have to recognize the human word like answer to the divine call. Therefore, Idealism did not turn its confidence to Creation (the work of God), but to art (the work of human being).

Through this critics to the idealistic aesthetics, Rosenzweig does not mean to play the function of art in the history of humanity down; he intends only to stress that, just regarding the whole body of humanity, art is only a limb:

[...] a limb without which, it is true, man would be a cripple, but remain man withal. It is one limb among many. Man is more.

Man is more, because the word is the visible proof of his soul. Naturally, Rosenzweig is conscious that the work of art, even in its various manifestations, lies under the aegis of the word too, but art is language before language, that means art is the language of the proto-cosmos, the language before the miracle of Revelation. Obviously, for the world preceding this miracle, the language of art ist the only possible and authentic, because it is this last one, which, in the variegated articulation of its essence, makes the elements of All visible. In comparison with the living and flowing reality of language, art is a "Spoken" (gesprochene Wirklichkeit), but it is not language or, better, there can be many mother tongues, but only one language. As "Spoken", the work of art is situated to the centre of the living reality too; the work of art is inseparable from this reality, which is necessary for the perfection of art, but it is not able, contrary to the faith of Idealism, to include in its essence the whole reality in relationship with the world and its origin, as it is not able to provide a criterion of evaluation for this relationship. Life is richer than world and its becoming, that is the reason why art can offer only a reflex, but not the totality of world. In its articulations, art is as rich as language, but when the temporal and universal creation reflects itself in the day-of-life of the work of art, the same creation appears only like a beginning, naturally an ever-enduring beginning, but ever and only a beginning. The living and real language is in a relationship of absolute identity with Revelation (exactly like, according to the "dogma" [Rosenzweig’s definition] of the Idealism, thought is in relationship with the Being), because in this language we are present at a total inversion of the dumb elements of the proto-cosmos into language. On the contrary, the work of art can bring only a singularity each time to a conclusion: the Mythical, the Plastic and the Tragic as categories. On the basis of these categories, the fundamental concepts of art find their beginning.

It is interesting to stress, that the first artistic figure, which Rosenzweig analyses, is that one of genius:

The creation of work of art takes place in the author. It is not as if the author created the work of art; that would contradict the unconscious becoming of the opus which was already expressed in Plato’s Ion and rightly emphasized by Idealism. But the eruption of the work of art presupposes that the author has come into being. Although the author is by no means the creator of the opus, his own having been created is that creation which precedes the emergence of the work of art, just as, on the other hand, the opus attains the perfection of its genuine vitality only in that event which transpires within the beholder.

In other words, "genius" is what lies on the "Self" and not only on the personality. In this sense, the children prodigy are not at all "geniuses" or, at any rate, they have no more prospect of becoming one than any another human being, who is "trained" in a particular discipline. A genius, if he is such, can not avoid to be genius, therefore in himself the birth of the artist, of the originator, of the author, birth which the personality and the "Self" are not at all important for, is a kind of pre-existing and pre-brilliant totality of human being, which becomes free origin of the work of art. In order that this development shows itself concretely, its becoming into time is the necessary condition; it is necessary that the originator (Urheber) experiences in a free and conscious way the whole path of the existence, because only in this way he can grow up and perfect himself inwardly.

In other words, Rosenzweig thinks that the possibility to be poihthz, that is poet as one who realizes the poihsiz, is present into the human being, but, as the Creation, only in the form of a always possibile beginning, which has to mature in the course of time to receive in itself the various aspects of reality. In this sense, according to Rosenzweig, genius is inwardly full with imagines (innerlicher voller Figur) and it is the primary and basilar reason of his whole reality. Therefore, who has not got artistic intuitions, even if not necessary at the level of genius, who has not got a free experienced and producted creativity in its temporal becoming, will always be only a "blocked" individual.

Here Rosenzweig shows a double position in front of art: on one side, it allows the human being to put himself in relationship with the Creation through his originary Being as poihthz, on the other side art is contemporary a step back in comparison with God’s word. In the answer to Revelation as ever renewed call, this word allows the human being to realize himself completely as authentic and unique imagine of God.

Just on the basis of this concept, that is "manifestation into totality, Rosenzweig dedicates a long analysis (the longest one in Star II) to the artistic problem: he does not confine himself to use the generic term Kunstwerk (work of art), but he hypothesizes the phenomenon "art" in every possible representation (from tragedy to music, from sculpture to poetry) and he analyses in particular the possibility to understand Revelation as an aesthetical category in se and per se.

At first, Rosenzweig affirms that every category (here the philosopher uses voluntarly an idealistic language) is accusation (Anklage), because it declares that something is already present and not that something which has still to come into being. In reality, Creation-Revelation-Redemption can not be understood as mere categories, because these last ones never form a sequence among each other, although they make the sequences possible into reality. At any rate, Creation-Revelation-Redemption are a reality also as sequence, a sequence which includes the whole reality. "To be included" does not mean "to be submitted": that is the main contains of Revelation, Rosenzweig reserves to a privileged place in Star II.

In this sense, the work of art, that is what is purely "producted", the "nothing-else-than-work", shows itself as a reality of second order, because it interprets the sequence, the reality of first order is included in, not just as a real sequence, but as a mere plurality of categories. In this sense, the work of art is "half-real", therefore, according to the beautiful metaphor offered by Rosenzweig, the sequence Creation-Revelation-Redemption is not the home where the work of art lives, but the tribunal, by which the work of art feels to be continually enquired. Only the whole human being thinks and acts, because only to him freedom was commanded. On the contrary, the artist is a "non-man" (Unmensch), a monstrosity, so much as being an artist is not commanded to everybody. Rosenzweig recognizes that the artists are an indispensable part of the mankind and that, in a certain measure, everybody is able to have artistic intuitions, but the pure artist, in se and per se, can be considered nothing else than a "non-man" just in the moment when he creates. In fact, Rosenzweig observes the artist is never submitted to the usual categories of valuation: his faults are considered as qualities, we allow him every kind of permission and even a "moral like artist". In other words, the artist is considered as a wilful and incostant child, but not as a man (Mensch). That is the reason why, according to Rosenzweig, Prometeus would have thrown his "wand" into the sea in order to become a whole man.

In a certain measure, Rosenzweig thinks art is the first representative of the totality of empirical world, just why, for the art, the phases of reality are nothing else than mere categories. It presents an advantage for the sequence Creation-Revelation- Redemption, because art shows the categorial character of that last one, which is also a partial quality of art when it acts into reality (Wirklichkeit).

In this sense, into totality of empiry, art ist the only one to have got the character of necessity:

If there were no cobblers, men would walk barefoot, but they would still walk. But if there were no artists, mankind would be a cripple. For then it would lack language prior to revelation whose existence alone makes it possible for revelation one day to enter time as historical revelation and there to prove itself something that has already been from aye.

Art is able to represent the elements of creation as no other discipline or human manifestation can do, but, at first, creation is separation (according to the traditional interpretation of the first Book of the Bible, God created in primis the light, to separate it from darkness), but creation is not the world where the Urphänomene (the original phenomena, that is Metaphysics, Metalogic and Metaethics) hold a reciprocal dialog (in fact, the language of the Urphänomene is that one of logic, while the language of Revelation is what Rosenzweig defines "the grammatic of Eros"). But if man has got no possibility to express himself prior to Revelation, this last one would be a meaningless miracle, because it would not have the character of sign, of testimony. On the contrary, thanks to art, that is thanks to the language which man uses in a period when his inner being is still inexpressible for him, die lebendige Sprache (the living language) reveals itself like something which is since ever present. The linguistical miracle of Revelation becomes sign of divine creation, that is authentic miracle. In a certain sense, the artists are immolated on the altar of mankind: the work of art remains partial, in order to permit to life to become an "All". It is true that art is only an episode in the life of mankind, but a necessary episode. It is surely only a "Spoken" and not living language, but a "Spoken" which has to be said.

While in Rosenzweig’s theory of art the concepts of creation rise from the influence of the mythical element on the plastic one, that is in the rising of the single from the "All", in the rising of an aesthetically rich reality from a previous "Pre-aesthetics", which is now liberally put out of itself, in Rosenzweig’s theory of art the concepts of Revelation rise from the influence of mythical element on tragic one, that is in the action of "All" on the interior contents, to condense (Rosenzweig uses the verb verdichten) poetically. Therefore, in the Revelation the aesthetical vitality is not created, is not put into freedom, on the contrary just this aesthetical vitality pulls up itself from "All". The pre-aestehtical globality is obliged to sacrifice itself, in order to permit to get this vitality. It is important to stress that in this theory of art the concepts of Revelation do not arise from those one of Creation, because the formers are as original as the latters, that is they come direclty from the "All", which is pre-aesthetic in comparison with them.

The work of art assumes here a central function, although it can never be separated from its originator: this last one became such only when he realized his work. It is just from the human globality of its originator that the work of art becomes something living. According to Rosenzweig, it is absolutely clear that this vivification of matter, this transformation of contents into argument of the work of art does not come at any rate from man as originator, but from the whole man, because only in him the originator is able to come up as such. In this sense, the originator does not lose himself into his work, but the work of art comes into life through the love of originator to globality. The originator gets his Self-Revelation through this aestehtical process.

According to Rosenzweig, every work of art consists of three fundamental elements: to be finished, to contain details and to have got a soul. These three elements act in each property of the work of art: the first of these properties is the epic character, which Rosenzweig does not use in reference with the literary and poetical kind. "Epic" is the globality of opus. It is true this opus reveals itself, only when it puts its particularities outside, but in front of these particularities it remains in any case the totality which flutters above them: on this totality, their aesthetical relation and unity found themselves. In another sense, the contents of an opus are what precede it, but also what is aestethically invigorated by the opus itself: it is what Rosenzweig calls the lyrical property, that is the self-dedication to the single instant. In this perspective, "Epic" and "Lyric" are the qualities, although in different combinations, of every opus and also the numerous arts differ on the basis of these two fundamental properties. According to Rosenzweig, the figurative arts are prevalently "epic", because they put their works into space, where the plenty of details can be dominated by an unique aesthetical coup d’oeil. On the contrary, music is prevalently "lyric", because it puts its works in the flow of time and, according to Rosenzweig’s conception, time is that form, which makes arriving at the consciousness only a single instant each time. Therefore, music has to be conceived in its smaller portions. In the music, harmony is what gives life and sound to time, as Revelation gives language to the dumb "Self" and animates the "All."

At this point of this argumentation, Rosenzweig abandons the aesthetical analysis and continues with the speech about the centrality of God’s Word in Revelation. But the artistic problem is not definitely set aside, in fact we find the conclusion of this analysis about theory of art in the third and last section of Star II: the Redemption, which is interpreted as aesthetical category like Revelation.

How can Redemption be connected with an aesthetical theory of art? According to Rosenzweig, Redemption is the end, in front of this one everything, which had a beginning, merge again into its beginning, here is why Redemption is in the same time conclusion and completed end (Voll-endung). Also in the theory of art, the category of Redemption would mean the same conclusion, the same accomplishment. The categories of creation traced out an arch to the particularity, particularity which became so remarkable in its contents. Now, the categories of Redemption trace out a new arch from the particularity, full of contents and living in a certain measure, to the "All" again, an "All" which is now aestethically finished.

At the end of the description of the theory of art in the chapter "Revelation", it is true that the musical or figurative opus was, in front of us, something finished in se and per se, but it was an opus "without home" (unheimlich), because it was totally closed in its "Self" and kind, and with no capacity to hold a dialogue with the other works of art or even with its own originator, who was already concentrated on a new opus. Who will bild a bridge now to make the work of art going out from its isolation? Rosenzweig writes:

This place, where the works establish a broad, vital, enduring existence in beauty, and where the animation of the individual works themselves gradually animates an abundant whole of human life, this place is the spectator.

In the spectator, the originator’s empty humanity and the disquieting character of the opus melt together. Without the spectator, the opus would be dumb, it would be only a "spoken" something, but not word. The opus is able to speak only to the spectator. Therefore, the absence of this last one deprives the opus of every enduring effect on reality. With other words, according to Rosenzweig, the work of art becomes a reality, only if it is able to educate the mankind to be spectator and only if so it is able to get an enduring public:

The vitality of Wagner and his work is not proved by Bayreuth but by the fact that names like Elsa and Eva became fashionable, and that the idea of woman as redeemer colored the nature of masculine eroticism in Germany for decades. Once it has become public property, art can no longer be excluded from the world, but as long as it is merely work and merely artist it leads a highly precarious, day-to-day existence.

Back again to the originator also in the aestethical section of the chapter "Redemption", Rosenzweig stresses that originator and creator are not able to live one without the other.

The importance, which the contents of every instant earns in the conscious work of the artist, has to spread to the whole ambit of poietes’ creative imagination. Only if the contents of his opus are full of symbolical value for him, then artist is a total human being (inside the limits traced by art for this concept). Also referring to the properties of art, Rosenzweig feels the necessity of a further specification, introducing a concept where the "epical" character of the abundancy of matter and the "lyrical" character of the presence, which animate the particularities, coincide: this third concept is the "dramatic" character of art.

According to Rosenzweig, in comparison with music or figurative arts poetry has got a narrower relationship with the "dramatic" quality owing to its essence. In fact, poetry has not got its home into time or space, but where both (time and space) take their intimate origin: in the representative thought (in Kantian sense of term). With other words, thought is the own element of poetry as space is for figurative arts and time for music, that is the reason why poetry is the only living art: representation is the main characteristic of poetry, because immediately it binds thought to time and space. At any rate, there is a relationship of essence between music and poetry, which allows that both approach the aim of aestehtical redemption: the overcoming of the world of myth through a dialogue between artist and spectator, which implies the living language. If this relationship is offered by rythm into music (rythm binds the time of opus with the living time of spectator), into poetry it is offered by metre, that is by the sonority.

It is important to notice that in this collocation of poetry and music at the highest point of his artistic theory, Rosenzweig moves away from hegelian aesthetics, even if it influenced Rosenzweig very much (in particular in his distinction among epical, lyrical and dramatic character). Both poetry and music, thanks to their particular sonority, give meaning and measure to time and so they create a real channel of communication, a temporal event (zeitliches Ereignis) between spectator and opus.

It is not a case, that, also in this section, Rosenzweig abandons suddenly the analysis of the theory of art and comes back to God’s word. Even if they are still joined in a certain measure with the "Spoken" (which has to be said however!), music and poetry try to establish into Creation that relationship and that living language, which can come true in Revelation only. The Word gives meaning to human time, when the creature, conscious of its finiteness, replies to the call of the Eternal Being, who is in reality present since ever and who will be present till the end of time.

As Revelation outside time would have no sense and no meaning, according to Rosenzweig music and poetry are the highest forms of the artistic creation, because they search for this channel of communication with the spectator, as God searches for the same channel with human being. This channel of communication can find home only in the own dimension of human essence: the time of happening (die Zeit des Geschehens).

Theory of Art in Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption

Star I

a) P. 38: Conclusion of MetaphysicsThe spirit of myth is the foundation of the realm of the beautiful.

b) P. 61: Conclusion of MetalogicMain Aesthetical Concept: Interior Form

c) P. 80-82: Conclusion of MetaethichsMain Aestehtical Concept: Content

Star II

a) P. 145-150: Conclusion of Book "Creation"Theory of Art: Idealism and Greeks

b) P. 188-198: Conclusion of Book "Revelation"Theory of Art (Continued): New Categories

c) P. 242-249: Conclusion of Book "Redemption"Theory of Art (Concluded): Redemption and the Aestehtical Categories

Each section ends with a reference to God’s Word.

Star III

P. 354-362: Sociology of figurative, musical and representative art.


  1. Lévinas Emmanuel, Autrement qu’être ou au-delà de l’essence, La Haye 1974, p.191.
  2. Rosenzweig F., The Star of Redemption, translated by William W. Hallo, New York/Chicago/San Francisco 1971.
  3. SoR, p. 90.
  4. SoR, p. 146-147.
  5. SoR, p. 147.
  6. SoR., p. 148-149.
  7. SoR., p. 190.
  8. SoR, p. 243.
  9. SoR, p. 244.

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