Letter from Władysław Tatarkiewicz written 25.12.1936


Warsaw, 25/12/1936
Marszałkowska 25

 n        Dear Honoured Colleague,

 n        Cordial thanks for the book O poznawaniu dzieła literackiego [Cognition of the Literary Work of Art]. I sincerely admire your ability to comprehensively and thoroughly elaborate issues, while most of us are inclined towards and interested only in programmes and sketches: ‘I say so because … I myself am completely guilty’.

 n        I hope you’ll forgive me for a certain act of disloyalty I committed against your new book: I began reading it from the middle. But given the slow pace of my work, it would’ve taken a long time before I got to general aesthetic issues, so probably you won’t hold it against me that I started reading with them, so as to start the book again later, from the beginning. I thank you, in this middle stage of reading – after reading Chapter IV – and to this thanks I want to add some of my impressions, with the proviso, of course, that they’ll change when I read and think through the entire work.

 n        First of all: it doesn’t seem to me that I’ve found, in any aesthetic paper, such a perfect representation of the variety of motives occurring in the aesthetic experience: excitement and relief – passive contemplation and the active formation of perception – emotion and perception – passive states and states combined with distress – neutralised experience and experience confirming existence. To all of this, I subscribe completely.

 n        However: I have doubts as to whether these various motives of experience can be given as phases thereof, occurring in a fully defined order. Do we really arrive at the aesthetic perception of an object through, and following, inhibition of the course of experience? Don’t we experience these things together? And, by the same token, does the formative process, concerning which you offer so many appropriate remarks, appear only after those phases? The motives that you’ve rightly differentiated appear, if the experience is questioned, either together or in free combinations and sequences. I’d say that it’s possible to refer the list of elements of experience that you’ve proposed to experience, but not by means of the arrangement you’ve proposed. Speaking bluntly on purpose, for the sake of explaining my thoughts more easily, I say that those elements find their justification in experience; however, their arrangement was performed using the speculative method.

 n        In your presentation of the aesthetic experience, two matters are brought out: a description of experience in all of its phases along with phases which prepare this experience and which follow after it – as well as the characteristics of experience in that which constitutes its separateness. This is – ‘visual intercourse with creations of quality’. You clearly state that the attitude towards this intercourse is the aesthetic attitude. Well, to that, I again agree in full. It seems to me that my terminology is slightly different, but my view is substantially the same. Here it’s a question of a certain form of ‘concentration’, which differs from practical and research-related concentration, and therefore requires ‘inhibiting’ the ordinary course of experience.

 n        Finally, the critique of my ‘pluralistic’ views, for which I want to thank you sincerely. Honest opposition is a hundred times more agreeable than indifference or haste in assenting. I know that you think the same as I do.

 n        However, I must say that I wasn’t convinced. As you know, I place the greatest emphasis on contrasting the aesthetic and poetic attitudes, i.e. concentration of a certain type with an attitude which is the opposite of concentration. You’ll say that the latter is not an aesthetic attitude. Naturally. But not everyone knows this; many mix up both attitudes under a single name. I’ve specifically come out against this.

 n        The opposition of aesthetic and ‘literary’ attitudes is, in my understanding, less sharp. I clearly wrote in Marchołt that these are variations within a certain common genus (‘the aesthetic attitude in a wider sense’); it’s just that this genus is very general and indefinite. (Perhaps I didn’t quite deserve to be excused on the basis that my position is not entirely decisive in this respect.) Your arguments convinced me even more of the rightness of my position. Even though you claim that examples were chosen for your arguments only from among visually perceptible works, I can’t rid myself of the impression that these examples weighed on those results of your considerations which applied strictly to the sphere of sensually perceptible works. After all, the central concept in your analysis of aesthetic experience is ‘perception’. Let’s even suppose that we extend perception to reproductive and productive images. But literary experiences can exist even without these images. Although this seems paradoxical for a work which treats literary work, the aesthetic theory expounded therein does not match the usual experience in regard to a literary work. Some modifications need to be made in this theory for this; then we’ll have what I’ve called a ‘literary’ experience.

 n        Here, then, are my first impressions of your book: I’m taking the liberty of fitting in a couple of words of defence here, along with sincere appreciation of the great number of valuable and interesting things the book contains just in the chapter I read.

 n        Now, a different matter: STUDIA PHILOSOPHICA. What I wanted to submit – ‘On the comparison of goods’ – has unfortunately been sitting in a drawer for two months; I haven’t had the time to look into it and I’m afraid to promise a specific deadline for it. However, I have something else: a study of the history of Greek aesthetics, something along the lines of a historical introduction to ‘Focus and Dreams’. It’s basically ready; it needs only the addition of rather extensive footnotes and ‘philological’ apparatus as well as translation into a foreign language. I fancy English. The thing is succinctly written; it won’t occupy any more than 2 ark[uszy; 1 arkusz = 40,000 characters]. The title would be, more or less, ‘Art and Poetry. A contribution to History od ancient Aesthetics’ [sic; title given in English in the original; presumably ‘Art and Poetry: A Contribution to the History of Ancient Aesthetics]. I’d be grateful for information as to whether you accept this offer; I’d immediately finish the dissertation and submit it for translation. (Side question: Would you give me permission to publish the dissertation in Polish as well, in a changed form, without all the footnotes and ‘erudition’? For I have the feeling that it’ll also interest those who won’t be able to read it in English. If you agree, I’ll offer it to Marchołt.)

 n        I enclose a cordial handshake

 n             n             n             n             n             n             n        Wtatarkiewicz