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


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

The symptom of decline in creative power is the fact that to produce something round and complete the artist now requires to be emancipated from form and proportion. Its most obvious though not its most significant, manifestation is the taste for the gigantic. Here size is not, as in the Gothic and the Pyramid styles, the expression of inward greatness, but the dissimulation of its absence. This swaggering in specious dimensions is common to all nascent Civilizations--we find it in the Zeus altar of Pergamum, the Helios of Chares called the "Colossus of Rhodes," the architecture of the Roman Imperial Age, the New Empire work in Egypt, and American skyscraper of today. ....

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 conjuring up of a world in space out of strokes and patches of colour, and this was just what Wagner achieved in three bars. A whole world of soul could crowd into these three bars. ... Here the contrast of Western music with greek plastic has reached its maximum. Everything merges in bodiless infinity, o longer even does a linear melody wrestle itself clear of the vague tone-masses that in strange surgings challenge an imaginary space. The motive comes up out of dark terrible deeps. It is flooded for an instant by a flash of hard bright sun. then, suddenly, it is so close upon us that we shrink...

All that Nietzsche says of Wagner is applicable, also, to Manet. Ostensibly a return to the elemental, to Nature, as against contemplation-painting and abstract music, their art really signifies a concession to the barbarism of the Megalopolis, the beginning of dissolution sensibly manifested in a mixture of brutality and refinement. As a step, it is necessarily the last step. An artificial art has no further organic future, it is the mark of the end.

And the bitter conclusion is that it is all irretrievably over with the arts of form of the West. The crisis of the nineteenth century was the death-struggle. Like the Apollinian, the Egyptian and every other, the Faustian art dies of senility, having actualized its inward possibilities and fulfilled its mission within the course of its Culture

What is practiced as art today--be it music after Wagner or painting after Manet, Cézanne, Leible and Menzel-- is impotence and falsehood. One thing is quite certain, that today every single art-school could be shut down without art being affected in the slightest. We can learn all we wish to know about the art-clamour which a megalopolis sets up in order to forget that its art is dead form the Alexandria of the year 200. 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 felling and forming as industrial art. Alexandria, too, had problem-dramatists and box-office artists whom it preferred to Sophocles and painters who invented new tendencies and successfully bluffed their public. The final result is that endless industrious repetition of a stock of fixed forms which we see today in Indian Chinese and Arabian-persian art. Pictures and fabrics, verses and vessels, furniture, dramas and musical compositions--all is pattern-work. We cease to be able to date anything within centuries, let alone decades, by the language of its ornamentation. So it has been in 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

Links and Abbreviations (links are abbreviated by using the initials)
Home Questions History/Music Prophetic Arts World Now Broadening Interdependence
Roberts Spengler Modernity Art History Music History Music Timeline Arts Timeline