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Monthly Archives: April 2015

We have spoken of the age-old impulse to abandon culture, to flee from the present day and its misery. In times such as these the impulse comes over us now and then more powerfully than ever. What will be the refuge? There are still a number of roads open. Though the past no longer proffers us the lively dream of a peaceful perfection that may perhaps return in the future, ancient beauty and wisdom still grants sweet forgetfulness to the person who seeks it. Does the future have more to offer? We can observe this raging world from an absurd distance and say that it will take three thousand years for all the madness of the present conflict, the stupidity and the terror, the fate of states and nations, the very cultural values that now seem the highest stake to have become just as unimportant to humanity as the wars of Assyria are today. This is no consolation; that, too, is mere forgetfulness. And such resignation can also be achieved from a briefer distance: we can view all this through the eyes of those who have fallen. That is still the shortest road to liberation. The person who wants to abandon today, with its heavy burden of history, has to abandon life. But the person who wants to carry that burden and still climb upward finds a fourth open: that of the simple act — it makes no difference whether in the trenches or in any other serious work. Giving of oneself is the end and the beginning of every philosophy of life. Liberation is to be found not in the abandonment of culture, but in the abandonment of one’s own ego.

– Johan Huizinga (Men and Ideas, p. 96)

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1. The discipline of history is suffering from the defect that the issues are insufficiently formulated.

… In the historical discipline, with its necessarily unsystematical character, currents in thought are constantly moving in divergent directions. Only a very few of all these studies seem to point back toward a central core of knowledge. Here the critical scholar voices his opposition, expressing the opinion that they do. Every monograph, he says, is a “preliminary study ” for later integration. The material has still not been made sufficiently available, and there has still not been enough critical sifting. Before the major problems can be taken up a great deal more of the details will have to be determined. We are providing the building stones. We are the willing hewers of wood and drawers of water. But our doubts respond: you are creating an illusion of humble unselfishness for the sake of others’ future profit. But when the master builder comes he will find most of the stones you have laid ready for him unusable. You are not hewing and chipping but polishing and filing. And you are doing it because you are not strong enough for more vigorous labor.

– Johan Huizinga (Men and Ideas, p. 20)

We shall do without such historical decorative end pieces. Instead, we have a request to make of fate — a request for a feeling of duty for what lies before us each time, submission to the inevitable, and, when the great problems of existence confront us, a clear, unambiguous statement of these; finally, a request for as much sunshine in the life of an individual as is necessary to keep him alert for the fulfillment of his duty and his contemplation of the world.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Judgements on History and Historians, p. 259)

We are afraid to die. To end the fear of death we must come into contact with death, not with the image which thought has created about death, but we must actually feel the state. Otherwise there is no end to fear, because the word death creates fear, and we don’t even want to talk about it. Being healthy, normal, with the capacity to reason clearly, to think objectively, to observe, is it possible for us to come into contact with the fact, totally? The organism, through usage, through disease, will eventually die. If we are healthy, we want to find out what death means. It’s not a morbid desire, because perhaps by dying we shall understand living. Living, as it is now, is torture, endless turmoil, a contradiction, and therefore there is conflict, misery and confusion. The everyday going to the office, the repetition of pleasure with its pains, the anxiety, the groping, the uncertainty -that’s what we call living. We have become accustomed to that kind of living. We accept it; we grow old with it and die.

To find out what living is as well as to find out what dying is, one must come into contact with death; that is, one must end every day everything one has known. One must end the image that one has built up about oneself, about one’s family, about one’s relationship, the image that one has built through pleasure, through one’s relationship to society, everything. That is what is going to take place when death occurs.

J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life

…Their life is made up of leisure and the activities that are considered aristocratic, like military service, individual heroism, famous love affairs. Despite the often very dissolute living, social intercourse in the eighteenth century is more refined, more generous, and intellectually livelier than it has ever been since. People still have time to read, i.e. for lively intellectual intercourse. They have not yet surrendered to business.

Talent, no matter where it may come from, easily finds patronage, positions, and a wealth of occupations. Here all arrogance ceases, because people really want to have enjoyment.

Scholarship is partly in the hands of secure corporations, partly in those of independent dilettantes.

At length, to be sure, this nobility, because of all its noble leisure and abstract generosity, comes upon liberal principles and begins to take the real institutions of the state lightly. This lends it one last, exceedingly noble resplendence. Meanwhile, to be sure, other strata, together with their ‘public opinion’, have started to take control of matters.

It was for this aristocratic class, in the main, and not as yet for publishers and a mass public, that artists wrote, created literature, composed, painted, and so on. Also, the whole incipient opposition in the state and the innovations and all intellectual matters are essentially in their hands.

Our view must become accustomed to this nature of the intellectual life in those times.

 

– Jacob Burckhardt (Reflections on History, p.184)