Oswald Spengler. The Decline of the West. An abridged edition by Helmut Werner. English abridged edition prepared by Arthur Helps from the translation by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: oxford University Press c199 [1926, 1928, 1932]. xxxx,415, xvix


"Impressionism," which only came into generla use in Manet's time (and then, originally, as a word of contempt like Baroque and Rococo), bvery happily summarized the special quality of the Faustian way of art that has evolved from oi-painting. Impression is the inverse of the euclidean world-feeling. It tries to get as far as possible from the language of plastic and as near as possible to that of music. The effect that is made upon us by things that receive and reflect light is made not because the things are there, but a though they "in themselves" are not there. The things are not even bodies, but light-resistances in space, and their illusive density is to be unmasked by the brush-stroke. ...

Impressionism is the comprehensive expression of a world-feeling, and it must obviously therefore permeate the whole physiognomy of our "Late" Culture. There is an impresionistic mathematic, which frankly and with intent transcends all optical limitations. It is Analysis, as developed after Newton and Leibniz, and to it belong the visionary images of number- "bodies," aggregates, and the multi-dimensional geometry. There is again an impressionistic physics which "sees" in lieu of bodies systems of mass-ponts--units that are evidently no more than constant relations between variable efficients. There are impressionistic ethics, tragedy and logic, and even (in Pietism) an impressionistic Christianity.


Is Impressionism (in the curren tnarrow sense) a creationg of the nineteenth century? Has paiting lived, after all, tow centuries more? Is it still existing? But we must not be deceived in the [p 154] character of the new episode, that in the nineteenth century (i.e. beyond the 1800 frontier and in "Civilization") succeeded in awakening some illusion of a great culture of painting, choosing the word Plein-air to designate its special characteristic. The materialism of a Western cosmopolis blew into the ashes and rekindled this curious brief flicker--a brief flicker of two generations, for twith the generation of Manet all was eneded again. I have characterized the noble green of Grünewald and Claude and Giorgione as the Catholic space-colour and the transcendent brown of Rembrandt as the colour of the Prostestant world-feeling. On the other hand, Plein-air and its new colour scale stand for irreligion. From the spheres of Beethoven and the stellar expanses of Kant, Impressionism has come down again to the crust of the eath. Its space is cognized, not experienced, seen, not contemplated; there is tunedness in it, but not Destiny. Rousseau's tragically correct prophecy of a "return to Nature" fulfils itslef in this dying art--the senile, too, return to Nature day by day. The modern artist is a workman, not a creator...


The last of the Faustian arts died in Tristan. This work is the giant keystone of Western music. Painting achieved nothing liek this as a finale. ...


[157]Between Wagner and Manet there is a deep relationship, which is not, indeed, obvious to everyone but which Baudelaire with his unerring flair for the decadent detected at once. For the Impressionists, the end and the culmination of art was the conuring up of a world in space out of strokes and patches of colour, and this was just what Wagner achieved with three bars. .....

[p 158] [Comparison with Alexandria] There, as here in our world-cities, we find a pursuit of illusions of artistic progress, of personal peculiarity, of "the new style," of "unsuspected possibilities," theoretical babble, pretentious fashionable artists, weight-lifters with cardboard dumb-bells--the "Literary Man" in the Poet's place, the unabashed farce of Expressionism, which the art-trade has organized as a " phase of art-history," thinking and feeling and forming as industiral art. ... all is pattern-work. .. the Last Act of all Cultures.

Sections from Spengler, The Decline of the West:
Introduction: Civilization
Introduction: Imperialism
Architecture and Divinities
Imitation and Ornament
The History of Style as an Organism
Arts as Symbol of the Higher Order
Popular and Esoteric
Will to Power
Morale of Dawning Civilizations
The History of Style as an Organism
Pergamum and Bayreuth: the End of Art
Classical Behaviour Drama and Faustian Character Drama
Every Culture Possesses its own Ethic
Every Science is Dependent upon Religion
Origin and Landscape: the Group of the Higher Cultures
Second Religiousness
The State

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