Aesthetica Preprint, 71 (August 2004)

Brunella Antomarini: The Perception of Form. Transcendence and Finitude in Hans Urs von Balthasar

In his analysis of the contemplative perception of form, Hans Urs von Balthasar endows form with the power of containing "more than itself". The fact that we find something attractive means that there is more to it than what appears. By making explicit the implicit consequences of Balthasar's research and by providing a strong interpretive reading of his texts, the present volume argues that aesthetics is a peculiar kind of realism. Perceiving a form always means connecting it to another form. This act in turn implies linking such recognition to an act of contemplation of what is beyond appearance. But what is beyond appearance is another finite form. This simultaneous movement of active production and passive reception (that was already discussed by Gestalt theorists) assimilates form to a temporal-musical model.
The contemplative perception of form, in fact, occurs only during the time-span of its taking place. This is what Balthasar calls the entelechiai of forms. It is a sort of intrinsic art history dictated by forms themselves. And this is what produces finite transcendence, the only transcendence that is conceivable independently from any dogmatism (either metaphysical or theological). Balthasar shows us how to think of occasional appearances ­ partial totalities ­ as the only possible reality that we are able and that we need to define. The forms we give to the world are inchoative real presences. Being is being concrete.