Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 13. Nr. Juli 2002

The World After Things Die

The Culture of Irreconcilable Tolerance

Michail Blumenkrantz (Charkow)


Ich fürchte mich so vor der Menschen Wort.
Sie sprechen alles so deutlich aus:
Und dieses heißt Hund und jenes heißt Haus,
und hier ist Beginn und das Ende ist dort.

Mich bangt auch ihr Sinn, ihr Spiel mit dem Spott,
sie wissen alles, was wird und was war;
kein Berg ist ihnen mehr wunderbar;
ihr Garten und Gut grenzt grade an Gott.

Ich will immer warnen und wehren: Bleibt fern.
Die Dinge singen hör ich so gern.
Ihr rührt sie an: sie sind starr und stumm.
Ihr bringt mir alle die Dinge um.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Gedichte (1)


To my remark that the mainstream philosophy of today's West has lost its metaphysical coloring, a Russian writer who for more than twenty years had been living in Western countries replied that it is considered bad manners there to introduce a vertical into philosophic disputes, a matter which is up to theologians. This opinion is not rare among my European colleagues. One of them expressed his surprise that marginal philosophers were so popular in Russia (in his view, Spengler, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger were among them). Any attempt to bring up a global - "eternal" - question makes a Western philosopher wince, "It is not modest", follows a prompt excuse. Microanalysis is widely spread, claims for macroanalysis stir suspicions a priori, while search for synthesis, which we disastrously lack today, is looked upon by the strict guardians of scientific method in philosophy as a vestige of atavistic consciousness gravitating towards shaman practices.

Representatives of various schools - analytical philosophy, deconstruction or psychoanalysis - tend to be engaged in their own methods, which they assert are the only true ones. It is often the case that an instrument of cognition turns into its ultimate objective. Detached from vital problems of human existence, philosophy becomes a variation of Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, a pointless exercise for a brain, early-retired augurs who, still enjoying the illusion of their own implication, meaningfully wink at each other. The escapism of academic philosophy, with its avian language brought to pythian perfection, develops on the background of the rapidly increasing devaluation of a word as such. The modern world faces the over-production of verbal waste products, which bears the respectable name of information revolution. Obviously, the creation of efficient garbage-disposal technologies is going to become one of the challenges of today.

Just as a seed is committed to the earth, so that it can germinate, a word must make its way through the soil of silent contemplation. The sharpness of Rilke's poetic intuition reveals the threat of approaching disaster: the death of avaricious being, of the soul of things alienated from a man with a heap of verbal garbage.

As intended by biblical tradition, the metaphysical mission of human beings was to grant names to everything created. For a person of archaic culture, to give a name means to determine the destiny and define the essence, that is, to become a co-creator. Now people, using the art of the word, form a phantom being, thus dooming themselves for the imaginary (virtual) reality.

"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen" (What cannot be expressed should be kept in silence) said Ludwig Wittgenstein(2) . The dominating neo-positivism readily concluded that philosophy is only to deal with what can be articulated, with an opportunity to 'contradict the grammar'(3) left with mystics. Thus, a whole tradition from Augustin to Kierkegaard is omitted from philosophical thought - the tradition of the thinkers whose creative activities are the core of spiritual experience, up to them unexpressed. They found the language that the Wittgenstein silence would come to speak.

I take the liberty to express my own opinion, which may be incorrect. I believe that true philosophy only begins, where an individual's experience goes beyond what can be expressed verbally, for that experience brings the Word into the world. Heidegger listens to the Being from the utmost depth of the innermost "I". You should only "reach the bottom" for the living and beating unity of the Universe to speak through things - the unity of the macro- and microcosms experienced by many poets and thinkers both in the West and in the East at different moments of human history. This unity is deeper than cultural distinctions. It is the "feeling of the cosmic" that Margaret Mead believed only human nature possesses, which makes it fundamentally different from a large number of other living beings.

The poem by Rilke is about the tragedy of lost unity. It is not religious consciousness that is in question, though religions probably are of the same origin. Rather, we are dealing here with the experience of the sacral (Rene Hennon is absolutely right when he maintains that the sacral is a concept which includes the religious).

The process of secularizing European culture affected not only its religious (Christian) fundament, but it also went deeper, thus deforming and destroying the sacral core, upon which human spiritual life is based.

Naturally, the above statement is going to arouse the objections of historical optimists. How can we talk about spiritual decline, if museums and concert halls are always full of people? If the exhibitions of famous artists attract crowds of visitors, and music fans are standing in long lines for a concert of celebrated virtuosos? If the number of those who write and publish poems and prose often exceeds the number of people reading them? Quite the contrary, technological progress made it possible to involve in the cultural progress many more people than ever before. The masses have wider access to the achievements of the high culture. All that is true. Yet the history of civilizations provides similar situations - new museums emerged that were never empty, education quickly spread in the masses, there developed a group of freelance artists and of connoisseurs of fine arts. This period is known as Hellenistic – the decline of the antique culture. At that time, just like today, the aesthetic was superior to the ethic and religious in art. There exists consumption of material values, which is now at the stage of rapid growth in the developed countries. There is also consumption of spiritual values. Mikhail Gershenzon, a Russian philologist, described it once as "gluttony with culture" (4). Cultivating aesthetic pleasures is one of the ways the hedonistic nature of our civilization is manifested. It is not an exception that, within the same person, refined aestheticism can live side by side with savage cannibalism. (As a vivid example, we can mention the SS high-ranker Heydrich, whose adoration for and understanding of Mozart did not contradict his fierce struggle for the purity of the Aryan race).

To submit the aesthetic function of art to the aesthetic or religious imperative is a sure way to put an end to art. The aesthetic should not be turned into a mere tool, even for the most elevated ends. If an end in itself, the aesthetic destroys art. The hypertrophy of the aesthetic, as well as its reduction, follows the destruction of the spiritual hierarchy, or, to be more exact, these are different phases of the same process.

This phenomenon was already noted by Kierkegaard, who wrote that the overdeveloped aesthetic kills the ethic (5). Needless to say, what is meant here is a spiritual trend. During the epoch of individualistic consciousness growth the aesthetic principle becomes a ruling idea among the artistic elite. In the strange and cold world - an atomized human space - aestheticism is quite often the only spiritual support for an individual in his or her fragmentary and pointless existence.

"Dandyism is the last outburst of heroism in the epoch of total decline" (6), Charles Baudelaire wrote. For an individual, the position of aestheticism becomes a permanent act of asserting his or her authenticity, when, in fact, it inevitably results in the split of the personality, since its nature implies, let's put it this way, the coexistence of two persons in an individual - one of which constantly demonstrates "the last outburst of heroism", i.e. is the aesthetic object, while the other observes and estimates how well the role is performed, i.e. is the aesthetic subject, forever secured to the object.

This constant aesthetic reflection, based upon the split personality, separates an individual from his "innermost human" that Meister Eckhart talked about, isolating such a person from other people whom he or she needs, at best, as rapt audience. The individual turns into a Narcissus, who is under a spell of an ideal image of his own "I", while the world around him turns into mirrors producing endless reflections of the beloved image.

As a result, the aesthetic consciousness is doomed to continuous materialization, objectification both of itself and of eternally flowing being. All the while it has to do with what has come to a halt, what has been extracted from the ceaseless flow of the formation; tortured by hunger and thirst among the plenty, it possesses the cursed gift of Midas to turn, with a single touch, the living and breathing reality into gold, but dead, decoration.

And then the soul, hopelessly lost among the dead things, creates its own cosmological myth - the myth about demiurge - and calls it a scientific vision of the world. In the kingdom of Midas it is economy that is destined to be such a demiurge. Economic relations, like the Delphic oracle, prophesy the hidden truth and, like moiras, spin the thread of human fates. Everything in this world originates from them and, in the end, everything returns to them. Now, it is not lightning sent by Zeus that strikes our heads as punishment from the heavens but stocks and bonds. There emerge countries of state democracy and those of social tyranny. Society democratically elects the tyrants via general voting. One of the most popular tyrants is called Tolerance. It is a very good-humored and educated tyrant. He is sympathetic and patient toward all evil and watches closely to insure that complete tolerance is adhered to all over the world. If there is any threat, it is destroyed with bombing and missile strikes. That is how the ecological equilibrium, as well as democratic liberties, of all pure and impure pairs is preserved on our Noah's Ark. And, first of all, the most precious of the liberties - the freedom of the word from the thought.

The word can both give a soul and deprive of it. The information stream, which the mass media pour on us, exploits the latter possibility. Superficial thoughts and feelings threaten to make the soul shallow. Humans as such are deep-sea creatures and cannot always glide over the surface of their being without damaging their spirit. Modern civilization creates favorable conditions for that gliding, thus increasing the risk that people will never break free from the prison of dead things, never experience their own depth. This is one of the challenges of the moment that the spiritual foundations of society face.

© Michail Blumenkrantz (Charkow)

 TRANSINST       table of contents: No.13


(1) Rainer Maria Rilke, Gedichte, p. 36, "Raduga", Moskow,1998.
(2) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Moskow,"Gnosis", 1994, p. 14.
(3) I.e., p. 16.
(4) Mikhail Gershenzon, Pis´ma k braty, Leningrad, 1927, p. 9.
(5) Sören Kierkegaard, Bolezn´ k smerti, Moskow, "Respublika", 1993, p. 311.
(6) Charles Baudelaire, Dnevniki, Moskow, "Vishaja Skola", 1993, p. 271.

For quotation purposes - Zitierempfehlung:
Mikhail Blumenkrantz: The World After Things Die. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 13/2002.

TRANS     Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 06.08.2002     INST