With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Schindler on Dramatic Form

D.C. Schindler makes a profound connection that may be obvious to readers of Balthasar (as it makes clear the transition from the aesthetics of Herrlichkeit to the dramatics of the Theodramatik), but it certainly struck me in its simplicity: even in the first systematic considerations of vol. 1 of the aesthetics, the contours of a dramatics can be intimated.

Balthasar's later, "aesthetic" use of the term Gestalt includes but goes beyond the relationship to personality, since it determines the more general, fundamental phenomenon of the appearing of any being at all. Nevertheless, he retains to the end a dramatic sense of form, even if the term dramatic receives more analogous application. As Balthasar employs the term in the opening volume of his trilogy, first published in 1961, Gestalt designates not an inert thing in relation solely to itself, but essentially a movement that already possesses in itself a tension. Gestalt is the appearing of the depths of a thing's being and as such has a twofold nature. This polarity, moreover, finds expression in the classical articulation of the beautiful as the inseparable instance of species (or forma) and lumen (or splendor). On the one hand, we have the hidden depths that appear, and on the other, we have the appearance of those depths...As such, it is not a static entity that may then be set in motion or inserted into a larger movement, but it is rather the "structurality" of event.


Finally, the fact that a Gestalt appears means that the phenomenon necessarily includes a subject-object tension, since every appearing implies an appearing-to or -for. We can see that this aspect also sets in relief the essential "event" character of every Gestalt, insofar as it does not exist except in the encounter between a subject and an object. The "twofold," or polar, structure of Gestalt (as appearance [1] of depths [2]) is reflected in the twofold structure of the encounter: on the one hand, the object is seen (appearance); on the other, the seer is transported (toward the depths). The movement inherent in the object in its act of expressing its depths is, in other words, met by the movement of the beholding subject, and this interaction of movements gives rise to a situation that is clearly analogous to the encounter of figures in a drama.


For truth to "occur," then, the subject cannot merely take the object into the mind, but must come out ecstatically to meet the object within this greater whole: hence, the dramatic structure of consciousness...Likewise, if truth is to be an encounter with a positive other, and not merely the assimilation of a "lifeless" object, being itself must possess its own inherent mystery and spontaneity: hence, the dramatic structure of being...

D.C. Schindler, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Dramatic Structure of Truth: a Philosophical Investigation, (New York: Forham University Press, 2004), pp. 15, 16, 26.

Pax Christi,


  • At 8/25/2010 9:23 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    I love this excerpt, and of course I'm very much a fan of the work of Von Balthasar.
    I think it's great that you find him so inspiring to the point of perhaps doing a dissertation on his thought.
    (Better get fluent in German! - at least reading it....)

    Anyway, the more I read him and his commentators, though, the more I am convinced that much of his project involves issuing a new sort of mindfulness. This is, to be sure, a strength of any "system." The only problem for a theologian like Hans Urs is that the more it relies on an adaptation of 'mystical' ideas/principles (a la Adrian von Speyer), the more it distances itself from solidly rooting itself in the soil of human thought, or universal reason.

    Now, as you are aware, I don's use the phrase 'universal reason' in any naive Kantian sense that assumes reason to be a fait accompli or an a priori set of first principles.

    Rather, I intend it to signify the broader community of all human minding, the majority of which tends to harbor suspicion to principles derived from mystical - or even 'theological' - principles.

    Of course, those who are inspired by Hans Urs (and I count myself among them) would argue that not only is this a strength of his thought, but it is on some level an inescapable dynamic of all thought - pure rationalism is a dead end, which means that any system worthy of the effort will at some point introduce the reader to principles that are accepted on "Faith" (e.g., the "Social" for some sociologists).

    I would agree with the above analysis. But I would suggest that what Hans Urs does in his thinking, which still tends toward the affective and the rhetorical, Desmond does better because he balances out the poetic with the systematic, the rhetoric with the dialectic, the affective with the rational.

    Now, of course, these two thinkers are doing ultimately different things.
    Still, as I'm sure you're becoming aware (and as I managed to convince as hard core a Balthasarian as Casarella) the two thinkers share quite a lot.

    I think part of the reason the (so-called) Thomists today tend to shy away from Hans U is in part due to his overall lack of that other side (dialectic, systematic, rational etc.). Now this doesn't bother me one bit - I've never sought the company of "Thomists" - but I do think it provides a moment of reflection to ask still, how can we improve upon what the great Hans Urs gave to us?

    I must also offer this bit of experiential knowledge: Hans Urs writes a beautiful theology. As a grad student myself, I was both enamored of his work AND despondent: I thought, like many of my fellow grad students, that after Hans, what is there for theology to do anymore? What more could a thinker do: Hans is massively encyclopediac, is poetic and artistic, is spiritually rich and profoundly committed, and has a grasp over the Western tradition like few others. It is easy to get wrapped up in him.

    But as I moved on, and encountered other impressions of him, I began to see shortcomings and flaws. It was like a young adult seeing the flaws in his parents for the first time. But they were there and they were real.

    Part of what I'm trying to say involves encouraging you to go in a direction that won't pigeonhole you. The Balthasarians can be a rather esoteric gang, and such a label can really stunt the flow of greater thought from passing through. Of course, at some point, labels are unfortunately almost unavoidable, aren't they?

    But as always, take these words only to the limits that they must respect. I am far removed from your picture and know very little. So, as a great poet once sang, 'hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest.'

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