Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Haekel

from "Brief Instructions to Viewing Haeckel's Pictures"
-- By Olaf Breidbach

"For Haeckel, the illustration is not a depiction of existing knowledge, but is itself the acquisition of knowledge of nature. The truths of nature are seen. Accordingly, Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature is not merely a set of examples, which with each detail reveals part of the whole. It demonstrates naturalness itself. By revealing the form of nature, knowledge of nature may be ascertained, which, according to Haeckel, should not be restricted to branches of natural science following experimental agendas. Knowledge of nature is "natural aesthetics". Accordingly, aesthetics are nothing more than reflections of nature itself. Nature, which develops out of and into itself, is "beautiful".

"Our knowledge -- which has developed in and is subject to the laws of nature -- is in itself nature (and, according to Haeckel, nothing more). The draftsman, his sensory organs, his motor activity, are results of a development with which, in the end, nature merely represents itself. Haeckel's comprehensive conception of the world, his adherence to monism, which he expounded upon in Die Weltrathsel (Riddle of the Universe), is based on this notion of knowledge of nature and natural beauty and the biologism derived from it, but which appears purified in monism itself. Art Forms in Nature is also to be interpreted as part of this weltanschauung."

"Consequently, the pages of Art Forms in Nature took on a further dimension for Haeckel. The fact that the illustrations are "aesthetic," beautiful, and that this beauty is found in the smallest facets of nature -- such as in unicellular organisms or in the medusae of the deep sea -- demonstrated to Haeckel that one finds in the smallest living things what distinguishes, or what at least should distinguish, humans in their judgements: "spirit". The beauty of these miniscule creatures revealed to him the natural quality of one of the largest forms of life -- human beings. Haeckel maintained that to be part of nature is to be an element in and the result of the evolutionary process. Accordingly, the phylogeny of forms is simultaneously the phylogeny of the spirit."

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