The Perfect Sentence for Schiller

Term Paper, 2020

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The Perfect Sentence for Schiller

The Perfect Sentence for Schiller
Schiller’s Account of the Suggestion
Barthelme’s Account of the Application


Works Cited


Schiller discussed, in his Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, how the form drive in human beings should control the life drive in order for a man of time to be cultivated and reach his fullest potentials. Schiller believed that a harmony of the play drive, which mediates between the other two drives, is necessary for the aesthetic life of human beings. This aesthetic state is the source to human’s freedom. To reach such beautiful harmony, man needs to be educated. The sensibility of man can be educated through the abundance of sources. By being in connection with the sources of beauty, one is more sensitized towards the aesthetic values and there comes the free will, in that the human being follows the rules by will. To the best knowledge of the author, Schiller does not answer the question of what the abundance of the sources are and where we can find one.

Elsewhere in Schiller, it is mentioned that by imitating Jesus Christ as a source of unification of the man of time and the man of ideal, one can find the beautiful soul. This imitation must also be internally embellished within the human, so the person must be trained and the sensations must be naturally educated. The author believes that in Schiller, the sources that function as beauty are the ones that lead to the abundance of experiences. In that case, just like the selected and rare groups that observe the rules of beauty simultaneously and by will, these sources have a balance of form and life drives within them and can elevate the soul of the ones who encounter them and receive and conceive them.

One work of art that appealed to me as a source of experiencing aesthetic values is The Sentence by Donald Barthelme. I call the moments of familiar feelings the pathos. In this fragmented piece of artwork, the following pathos are found:

1. The temporality of an idea as depended on its container
2. The unreliability of the judgement of other people’s feelings
3. Duality of relationships
4. The materialized world of human beings, even in their emotions and romances
5. Individuality and selfishness
6. Subjectivity and different experiences
7. Etc.

I believe that a work like this makes the readers more sensitive about these values and emotions, which are often portrayed in the manner of either a sublime or a third-space moment of realization. Any work of art can have a selective collection of such pathos and educate them so that the audience and the readers touch the potentials and pathos of humanity and humane emotions in the best and highest possible degree.

Key Words:

Schiller, Drives, Pathos, Beauty, Humanity, Freedom

The Perfect Sentence for Schiller

As conjectured from Schiller’s work Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, form drive and life drive are the essential drives of human kind and their harmonious interplay leads to the salvation and freedom of human kind. Therefore, education of humane emotions and feelings is necessary to humanity and this will be attained by creating and being exposed to the artworks that maintain an abundance of such valuable notions, in the manner of either sublime or pathos within the work. The sublime creates a third space by which an encounter can lead to a third drive, i.e. the play drive that Schiller believed in. Such quality and effort will be discussed in an analytic approach to the literary work of Donald Barthelme, i.e. The Sentence. This analysis will be a comparative study of both works, proclaiming that both artworks maintain the idea. In this regard, Schiller’s work is suggesting the idea and the claim by the author of the current article and Barthelme’s work is a case of using the idea and applying it, so as to serve the purpose.

Schiller’s Account of the Suggestion

Schiller defines three initiative drives in human beings, the form drive, the life drive, and their mediator the play drive. “The sensuous impulsion excludes from its subject all autonomy and freedom; the formal impulsion excludes all dependence and passivity. But the exclusion of freedom is physical necessity; the exclusion of passivity is moral necessity. Thus, the two impulsions subdue the mind: the former to the laws of nature, the latter to the laws of reason. It results from this that the instinct of play, which unites the double action of the two other instincts, will content the mind at once morally and physically” (Schiller 20).

“Du Marsais sees passions as an essential part of a man’s nature. Passions are, thus, essential on the path towards man’s ‘perfection.’ This means that passions are educable, and that man in its entirety is an educable being. It also means that reason can educate the passions” (Ştefan-Sebastian 3). Passions are necessary for the definition of humanity, and no one can maintain strict moral rules on the function of humane passion and feelings.

However, there must be a harmony between the two essential drives in human being, one of which stands for human nature and the other human reason. “Hence, as it suppresses all that is contingent, it will also suppress all coercion, and will set man free physically and morally” (Schiller 20). The harmony is the key to human freedom, and this harmony is when the beautiful soul is achieved.

“When imagination incessantly escapes from reality, and does not abandon the simplicity of nature in its wanderings; then and there only the mind and the senses, the receptive force and the plastic force, are developed in that happy equilibrium which is the soul of the beautiful and the condition of humanity” (Schiller 38). The harmony is hence essential in the process. “As the mind in the intuition of the beautiful finds itself in a happy medium between law and necessity, it is, because it divides itself between both, emancipated from the pressure of both” (Schiller 21). “Now the reason pronounces that the beautiful must not only be life and form, but a living form, that is, beauty, inasmuch as it dictates to man the twofold law of absolute formality and absolute reality. Reason also utters the decision that man shall only play with beauty, and he shall only play with beauty” (Schiller 22).

Such harmony and beauty must also be willingly sought, so that the freedom be achieved. “In the apparent conflict between inclination and duty, which Schiller has inherited from Kant’s Groundwork, ‘grace’ is precisely the moment in which duty will arise as if out of inclination, i.e. man’s natural, sensible faculties will not contradict, but will join forces with his moral nature. Feeling, therefore, will not be repressed for the sake of moral law. Through grace, the free will is ‘realized’ in the natural world, emphasizing the presence of a ‘beautiful soul’ (Roehr, 2003: 131)” (Ştefan-Sebastian 5).

However, the necessity of the free will is approved, it can be educated and trained. Our sensations can be moderated, heightened, as well as suppressed. “Schiller’s approach accordingly explores the distanced practical bearing of esthetics, not primarily in the creation and appreciation of art and literature, but in the cultural cultivation of the resources of feeling, understood as the capacity that unifies and articulates the matrix of human practice in general” (Barnouw 3). To him, education leads to the practical perception of the merely theoretical concepts in the sources.

The problem within the strategy of education is the denying of the very important free will of human being. Schiller is not “going far enough to say that the light of the understanding only deserves respect when it reacts on the character; to a certain extent it is from the character that this light proceeds; for the road that terminates in the head must pass through the heart” (Schiller 14).

However, he insists that it is possible to educate people how to feel and how to willingly feel the sort of way. “Truth is not a thing which can be received from without like reality or the visible existence of objects. It is the thinking force, in his own liberty and activity, which produces it, and it is just this liberty proper to it, this liberty which we seek in vain in sensuous man” (Schiller 32).

However, “it is a difficult problem to say why many of the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. Philosophy, of course, is littered with such difficult simplicities: What is truth? What is knowledge? Can virtue be taught? Is there such a thing as free will? What is the good life? Many people, including many philosophers, have dismissed such questions as illegitimate and unanswerable” (Kimball).

There is an irony here and the author cannot hesitate to discuss it in another discuss, and it is the irony of who determines what good humanity is and how to claim how each individual is better to feel. “One of the ironies of Schiller’s career is that he understood but refused to embrace this truth” (Kimball).

The author of this article believes that all humanity has universal values, and we can refer to Enlightenment to seek at least a common list. Another solution is to provide a new set of universal values that all nation agrees upon and sign to act upon. Then the nationalism solves the problem of severity of following a common rule, since I believe there are enough nations in the world to contain the diversity of moral rules, then one can immigrate to a place in which those set of rules reign, and be willingly following those rules of states, as in harmony with his/her own nature and thus earn the beautiful soul.

Therefore, in order to have an example of such list of values, we take Enlightenment values as our premises, the same as the task by Schiller, and assume that they are universal morals that all humanity can rely on.

Thus, everyone’s duty is to get as closer as possible to that status of beautiful soul, who willingly follows the rules of humanity. According to Schiller, “the transition from an aesthetic state to a logical and moral state (from the beautiful to truth and duty) is then infinitely more easy than the transition from the physical state to the aesthetic state (from life pure and blind to form)” (Schiller 33).

Such aesthetic form of the play between the free will and laws manifests greatly in the sublime. “’The sublime is what please immediately through its opposition to the interest of sense,’ that is, to all non-moral practical motives from that of self-preservation to the pursuit of happiness” (Barnouw 8). One can become the sublime as they perceive the sublime. “The perception of harmony in nature and the feeling of harmony with nature lead from recognition of pattern to the interpretation of design as the expression not only of intelligence but of intention, which ends in a view of the world as created for man and with man as its purpose” (Barnouw 11). For Schiller, the sublime and the energizing beauty are one (Barnouw 16). The energizing beauty as being the life drive in balance is the sublime humanity and will be gained through encounters with sublime notions in literary and art works.

These sublime in the works must then grant the universal morals and those humane values, and “the moral liberty, which is guaranteed by the sublime – albeit only as ‘appearance’ (138), is a mark of independence from our sensual nature, and makes us ‘citizens of a better world’ (135) in the most authentic way: ‘The education that fits man for this is called moral education” (Ştefan-Sebastian 7). The moral aptitude is “an aesthetic tendency which seems to have been placed there expressly: a faculty awakens of itself in the presence of certain sensuous objects, and which, after our feelings are purified, can be cultivated to such a point as to become a powerful ideal development” (Ştefan-Sebastian 7).

An interesting point by Schiller is that the play between the drives is divertive and cannot be formulated. “Throughout the discussion about the beautiful and the sublime, it seems that Schiller finally admits both aesthetic freedoms – i.e. on one side, the freedom that comes out as a state of harmony between the sensuous instincts and the laws of reason” (Ştefan-Sebastian 7).

Barthelme’s Account of the Application

As a synopsis for the fragmented piece of the postmodern artwork by Barthelme, a very long sentence starts a journey of moments of “thoughts” and “emotions.” It goes down a page and during his long life, demonstrates bits and pieces of humanity in a very short span of time, in comparison.

The sentence then stops “for a moment to think out the questions raised by its own (temporary) existence” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1). This sentence has a temporary existence and this also implies the short span of life that is the opportunity of a human being for living. This is the philosophy of life, as metaphorically implied by the question raised by a sentence.

Such concepts received and perceived by an imaginative mind of a reader are the sublime notions in this single part of this long sentence.

Kant’s sublime is a result of this realization and of our trying to harmonize the symbolic and the real. It is, says Lyotard, ‘a pleasure that comes from pain.’ It occurs ‘when the imagination fails to present an object which might, if only in principle, come to match a concept…the pleasure that reason should exceed all presentation, the pain that imagination or sensibility should not be equal to the concept’ (Lyotard 43-46). The sublime is the ever-present now which “seizes one, strikes one, and makes one feel” but can never be demonstrated (Lyotard 249). Beckett hopes that by experiencing the sublime, the audience will gain a greater sense of human-awareness and connectedness in their futility (Britten 12)

“Barthelme’s goal is to access a postmodern concept that is a function of Kant’s sublime, but that underscores the uncertainty of our reality. This concept is called ‘delight’ which founder Edmund Burke defined as a feeling of relief that occurs when the weight of our futility and our meaninglessness is ‘suspended, kept at bay, held back’ by our creativity and play (Lyotard 251)” (Britten 13).

As a result of living in the contemporary era, the notion of sublime is tried to be revised by Barthelme, some critics argue. However, the important implication of such sublime, or delight, is to educate the contemporary man the pathos of humane feelings, by the diversity of the collection as to be similar to Schiller’s abundance of sources.

And “in some kind of embrace, not necessarily an ardent one, but more perhaps the kind of embrace enjoyed (or endured), by a wife who has just waked up” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1). Here, the subjectivity of human feelings is explained in a very clever way. Does the wife enjoy or endure an embrace? Only she can tell. Another example of the duality in a relationship is by the sentence “when he bumps into her, or is bumped into by her.”

And “like something someone says to you while you are listening very hard to the FM radio, some rock group there, with its thrilling sound,” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1) the author brings an example from the everyday life. The experience that is common between many citizens. He does not even talk about TV, but he mentions radio, that is very common among his fellow countrymen.

And “you want to hear it and respond to it in a new way, a way that accords with whatever you're feeling at the moment, or might feel” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1). The author refers to the temporary feelings of the individuals. How we change mood according to the temporary situation before us. Again, the author is bringing a sense of the moment of pure feeling and human emotion.

Then he goes to the theme of religion and morality. He says: “and that it is good to leave a few crumbs on the table for the rest of your brethren” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1). The allusion is to a parable in the bible.

And then he reminds the reader of the consequences of people’s thoughts, deeds, and words. “If you share in this way you will find the clouds smiling on you, and the postman bringing you letters, and bicycles available when you want to rent them, and many other signs” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1).This is the belief that whatever you do has an effect on the universe, and mainly whatever in the universe are connected. So, what you do in life will affect another aspect of your life as well.

An example that I do not have a clue, but maybe Barthelme does, is “such as a film where the second half of it is a holy mystery, and girls and women are not permitted to see it” (Barthelme, The Sentence 1). Here, in case the boundaries of gender are not blurred, then Barthelme might have as well talk about masculinity and so on.

Then the author refers to the Lacan theory of the name of the father. He says: “that much of what we were taught in our youth was wrong, or improperly understood by those who were teaching it” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2). “Or perhaps shaded a bit, the shading resulting from the personal needs of the teachers, who as human beings had a tendency to introduce some of their heart’s blood into their work” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2).

Then, he criticizes the strict rule of the academies and particularly regulation that bound individuals to abandon their personal thoughts and beliefs and follow the rules of authorities, since “even if they thought they were moving the ‘knowledge’ out, as the Board of Education had mandated, they could have noticed that their sentences weren’t having the knockdown power of the new weapons whose bullets tumble end-over-end (but it is true that we didn’t have these weapons at that time)” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2).

Then, he goes on to elaborate on the new feminist approach. The approach by which the attempts of women is not to highlight the feminist values but to naturalize them. He says: “vigorous wars of attrition against our wives, who have now thoroughly come awake, and slipped into their striped bells, and pulled sweaters over their torsi, and adamantly refused to wear any bras under the sweaters, carefully explaining the political significance of this refusal to anyone who will listen, or look, but not touch, because that has nothing to do with it” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2).

Or “leaving us, as it were, with only things to do like floating sheets of Reynolds Wrap around the room, trying to find out how many we can keep in the air at the same time, which at least gives us a sense of participation” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2), when he explains the new experience of male householders, who came to a state where they all have this situation and this unites them as a group and then he mentions this common product in the consumerist society known to everyone. All of which gives a sense of unity and sodality.

Another common experience to be felt by a majority of fellow men is “because I can’t find the soap, which somebody has used and not put back in the soap dish, all of which is extremely irritating” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2). Or “then looks around for a towel, but all the towels have been collected by the towel service, and are not there, so he wipes his hands on his pants, in the back (so as to avoid suspicious stains on the front)” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2).

A sense of sublime is attained by this sentence. After talking about a temporary sexual feeling toward a patient, which is really unprofessional and unethical for a doctor, the narrator claims that this sentence will eventually end up in jail. “but no, we cannot have that kind of pornographic merde in this majestic and high-minded sentence, which will probably end up in the Library of Congress” (Barthelme, The Sentence 2).

And then, there is a mention of the butterfly effect. When the butterfly wings, there is the possibility of a war in another side of the earth, because of that winging. Here, “about a possible coup d’etat within the sentence, whereby its chief verb would be - but at this moment a messenger rushes into the sentence, bleeding from a hat of thorns he’s wearing, and cries out: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! Stop making this sentence” (Barthelme, The Sentence 3). By making this sentence, the author is influencing the world. No doubt is in that. According to the butterfly effect, the minute act of a butterfly can cause a great war over the world, so how could a postmodern sentence, with all the merits to it, be affectless? However, this influence is open-ended. No one can tell what are the consequence. Here, the author is bringing an example, telling that a possible coup might occur. Then, he alludes to Christianity and uses the hat of thorns to say that he is worried about the innocence (referring to Jesus) might be tortured or he might be doing some sin as this sentence is most definitely influencing the world.

The author carries on the possible spiritual unity in the world. Spiritual or secular, his example is a dream-like, surreal, nightmarish thought and description. He continues: “and then he falls to the floor, and a trap door opens under him, and he falls through that, into a damp pit where a blue narwhal waits, its horn poised (but maybe the weight of the messenger, falling from such a height, will break off the horn)” (Barthelme, The Sentence 3). The fall is symbolic and is described as if referring to an element of the collective unconsciousness.

And “the pathos of eradication” (Barthelme, The Sentence 3) is a direct reference to primary needs and feelings of humans, bringing forth the key concept of pathos, here at the end of this sentence. Again, the author brings more examples of the common experience, maybe even national so to have a nationalistic influence upon the readers: “like those in the Declaration of Independence, or a bank statement showing that you have seven thousand kroner more than you thought you had” (Barthelme, The Sentence 3).

There is also reference to “Ludwig, the expert on sentence construction we have borrowed from the Bauhaus,” which is a stance of modernity. “Guten Tag, Ludwig!” to have an innuendo for all the modernity and the causes and effects.

The author then ends the “life” of this sentence: “the sentence itself is a man-made object, not the one we wanted of course, but still a construction of man, a structure to be treasured for its weakness, as opposed to the strength of stones” (Barthelme, The Sentence 3).

The last part of this long sentence holds that this sentence is a work of art and artifact. Also, it has the process of literature in its creation and due to the differences between reader’s response and author’s intentional fallacy, it might be different from what it had meant to be. However, it is valuable in so far that it is considered as a work of art.

Finally, “This story deconstructs the ideological system which is fixed in every human being’s mind about a sentence or about its any definition, about what the sentence is and actually could be. Before considering the customary fixed meaning in vogue, the story depicts the sentence from another outlook. It tries to sketch it in a vacuum world without any discrimination. It takes us back to the beginning of creation, a world full of transcendental signified and the world of pure words images (signifiers) with no intercessor for communication in between. As the story’s title suggests, the story takes the form of a single sentence of approximately twenty-five hundred words and manages to combine the brevity, open-endedness, and formal innovation that together serve as the hallmarks of Barthelme’s idiosyncratic art” (Mohammadi 5).

All being said, The Sentence is set of mundane or spiritual experiences, mostly in the form of sublime or “delights,” and it is a demonstrating collection of some valuable human emotions. The reader communicates with the pathos and the meaningful moments depicted in this work and will feel them again and feel a sort of unity with other people.


The Sentence by Donald Barthelme is the manifestation of the implication and suggestion associated with Schiller’s Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man. As Schiller holds, “beauty weds the two opposed conditions of feeling and thinking, and yet there is absolutely no medium between them. The former is immediately certain through experience, the other through the reason” (Schiller 25). And “our second business is therefore to make this connection perfect, to carry them out with such purity and perfection that both conditions disappear entirely in a third one” (Schiller 25). The abundance of sources is considered as a medium for such experience, since this will in a way lead to the beautiful soul. Therefore, The Sentence is one among many an artwork in which the author tried to bring as many human emotions and thoughts as possible in the most beautiful and sublime way, so as to let the readers feel and share their primary, common characteristics with humanity in general.

Works Cited

Barnouw, Jeffrey. "The Morality of the Sublime: Kant and Schiller."Studies in Romanticism. Vol. 19. 1980. 497-514. <>.

Barthelme, Donald. "The Sentence." n.d.

—. "The Sentence."The New Yorker. 1970. <>.

Britten, Alex M. "Beckett, Barthelme, and Vonnegut: Finding Hope in Meaninglessness."Oregon State University. 2012.

Kimball, Roger. "Schiller’s “Aesthetic Education”."The New Criterion. Vol. 38. 2001. <>.

Mohammadi, Shaghayegh. "The Notion of Différance in Donald Bartheleme's Short Stories: “Nothing: A Preliminary Account” and “Sentence”."International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Vol. 2. 2012.

Schiller, J. C. Friedrich Von. "Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man."Blackmask Online. 2002. <>.

Ştefan-Sebastian, Maftei. "Schiller’s Aesthetic Freedom and the Challenges of Aesthetic Education."ELSEVIER. 2014. 169 – 178.


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The Perfect Sentence for Schiller
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ISBN (Book)
perfect, sentence, schiller, aesthetics, Barthelme
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Elham Shabani (Author), 2020, The Perfect Sentence for Schiller, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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