The desensualization of higher art. – By virtue of the extraordinary exercise the intellect has undergone through the artistic evolution of modern music, our ears have grown more and more intellectual. We can now endure a much greater volume, much more ‘noise’, than our forefathers could because we are much more practiced in listening for the reason in it than they were. Because they at once inquire after the reason, the ‘meaning’, and are no longer content to know that a thing ‘is’, all our senses have in fact become somewhat blunted: a fact betrayed by, for example, the complete dominance of the well-tempered tonal system; for ears that can still hear the subtle distinction between for example C sharp and D flat are now exceptional. In this matter our ears have become coarser. Then, the ugly side of the world, the side originally hostile to the senses, has now been conquered for music; its sphere of power especially in the domain of the sublime, dreadful and mysterious has therewith increased astonishingly: our music now brings to utterance things which formerly had no tongue. In a similar way, some of our painters have made our eyes more intellectual and have gone far beyond that which was formerly called pleasure in form and color. Here too the side of the world that originally counted as ugly has been conquered by artistic reason. – What will be the consequence of all this? The more capable of thought eye and ear become, the closer they approach the point at which they become unsensual: pleasure is transferred to the brain, the sense-organs themselves grow blunt and feeble, the symbolic increasingly replaces the simple being – and along this path we thus attain to barbarism as certainly as along any other. For the moment we still believe: the world is uglier than ever, but it signifies a more beautiful world than there has ever been. But the more attenuated the fragrant odor of ‘significance’ becomes, the fewer there will be still able to perceive it: and the rest will finally be left with the ugly, which they will try to enjoy directly – an endeavor in which they are bound to fail. Thus there is in Germany a twofold current of musical evolution: on the one hand a host of ten thousand with ever higher, more refined demands, listening ever more intently for the ‘meaning’, and on the other the enormous majority growing every year more and more incapable of comprehending the meaningful even in the form of the sensually ugly and therefore learning to seize with greater and greater contentment the ugly and disgusting in itself, that is to say the basely sensual, in music.
Human, All Too Human, book 1, paragraph 217