Book Review: Freedom and Nature in Schelling’s Philosophy of Art
This is a dense and compact reading of an important strand of ideas in Schelling’s thinking, spanning his early to mid period (1795-1810). Shaw takes up Schelling’s better known and appreciated works on freedom and Nature-philosophy and interlaces them with the lesser known but critically important work on the philosophy of art, which Shaw, rightly I think, argues “is central to his thought” (2).
The philosophy of art, according to Shaw, “plays a dual role” in Schelling’s thinking. Firstly, “artistic activity produces through the artwork a sensible realization of the ideas of philosophy” (1). Secondly, it also “creates the possibility of a new mythology” (1) that can overcome social alienation. The latter has two conflicting tendencies. First, there is the danger of an all-encompassing ideology that does not, as someone like Jacques Rancière would insist, address, as democratic politics should, the part of the whole that has no part. Or as Shaw articulates it: “one can participate through a public set of rituals and beliefs without participating in the structures of political empowerment” (137). Second, there is a utopian promise at the heart of the production of a work of art, a promise whose salutary reverberations are still felt today.