Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2015

…And, yet, despite all differences, one important point stands out. The road of Roman civilization was a road to barbarism. Will it turn out to be the same road we are on today?

Whatever historical comparison may afford for an understanding of the present crisis, it can give us no assurance regarding the latter’s outcome. The confident conclusion that things will right themselves somehow is not warranted by any historical parallel. We continue to push on into the unknown.

In this aspect also our time presents an important difference from earlier periods of violent cultural turmoil. In these earlier periods men have always seen the aim for which to strive and the means with which to pursue it, as fixed and positively determined. As we have said before, their aim was almost always to restore; a return to old perfection and purity. The ideal was retrospective. And not only the ideal but also the method by which to realise it. It lay in the acquisition and application of ancient wisdom and ancient virtue. The ancient wisdom, the ancient beauty, the ancient virtue, these were the wisdom, the beauty, and the virtue needed to bring to this world the order and serenity which earthly conditions allow. In dark times of decline the noblest spirits—think of a Boéthius—used to conserve the ancestral wisdom to pass it on to the coming generations for their guidance and instruction. Well may they be thankful for it; without Boéthius what would the Dark Ages have been? In rising times the lost wisdom was unearthed, not for the sake of disinterested knowledge alone, but to turn it to practical use; Roman Law, Aristotle. Thus Humanism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries spread before the world the rediscovered treasures of a purified antiquity as the everlasting model of knowledge and culture, a model to build on if not to swear by. Practically all conscious cultural striving of earlier periods has in one way or another been inspired with the principle of an exemplary past.

Such veneration of the past we no longer know. Where our time seeks, preserves, safeguards ancient beauty, wisdom and greatness, it does not do so, at least not in the first place, with the object of finding guidance. Even though we may rate older periods higher than the present, for their faith, their art and the solidity and soundness of their social forms, our cultural life is no longer directed towards the illusory ideal of reinstatement. We are neither able nor willing to look back. For us there are only the unknown distances ahead. For three centuries, since Bacon and Descartes, our face has been turned to the future. Humanity has to find its own way. The impulse to push on ever further can lead to extremes when it degenerates into a vain and restless hankering after novelty for the sake of novelty itself. The stronger spirits, however, do not fear a heavy load of ancient values in their onward stride.

We know it only too well: if we are to preserve culture we must continue to create it.

 

-Johan Huizinga (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, p.36-8)

 

PS. this is merely the end of this chapter…will post the rest when I have more time. And ultimately the whole book as it is not that easy to find nor does it seem to have yet been made available online.

Let us be strong, let us not forget where we came from and our debt owed to the past. We could not be where we are without the sacrifices, for us, of those noble men and women of the past. Even though they never could or would know us.

Advertisements

Decline of the critical spirit, weakening of judgment, perversion of the function of science, all point to a serious cultural disorder. To think, however, that in locating these symptoms one is attacking the evil at its roots, is to make a grave mistake. For already we hear the swelling chorus of objections from the self-styled bearers of a new culture: “But we do not want a tried and tested knowledge to rule us and to decide over our actions; our aim is not to think and to know but to live and to do.”

Here we have the pivotal point of the present crisis of civilization: the conflict between knowing and being, between intelligence and existence. There is nothing novel about it. The essential insufficiency of our understanding was already realised in the earliest days of philosophy. The reality in and through which we live is in its essence unknowable, inaccessible to the processes of the mind, absolutely disparate from thought. In the first half of the nineteenth century this old truth, already understood by a Nicolaus Cusanus, is taken up again by Kierkegaard, whose philosophy centres upon the antithesis of existing and thinking. It served him to found his faith all the more firmly. It was not until much later that other thinkers forced this thought on to tracks away from God and let it derail in nihilism and despair, or in worship of earthly life. Nietzsche, deeply convinced of man’s tragic exile from truth and interpreting the will to life as will to power, repudiated the intellectual principle with all the poetical vigour of his genius. Pragmatism deprived the concept truth of its claim to absolute validity by placing it in the flow of time. To the pragmatists truth is what has essential validity for those professing it. Something is true when and in so far as it is valid for a particular time. A crude mind could easily think: something is valid, therefore it is true. A truth-concept reduced to only relative value was bound to bring a kind of ideological egalitarianism, an abolition of all differences of rank and value of ideas, in its wake. Sociological thinkers like Max Weber, Max Scheler, Karl Mannheim and Oswald Spengler have of late introduced the term of the Seinsverbundenheit des Denkens, which may be very imperfectly rendered with “the environment or life-conditioned nature of thought.” The concept itself makes them next-door neighbours to historical materialism, which is professedly anti-intellectual. Thus the tendencies of a whole age which, to avoid the vagueness of “anti-intellectual,” we venture to call anti-noetic, merged into a mighty stream which shortly was to threaten what were long thought to be insurmountable barriers of intellectual culture. It was Georges Sorel who, in his Réflexions sur la Violence, formulated the practical political consequences of all this, thereby becoming the spiritual father of all modern dictatorships.

But it is not only the dictators and their followers who desire the subjugation of the will to knowledge to the vital impulse. We have here the most fundamental element of the cultural crisis as a whole. This revulsion of the spirit is the essential process dominating the situation in which we find ourselves to-day.

Was it philosophical thought which led the way and society which followed? Or do we have to reverse the order and admit that it is a case of thought dancing to the tune of life? The doctrine itself which subjugates knowledge to life seems to impose the latter view.

Have earlier generations ever renounced the intellectual principle in this way? It seems impossible to find historical parallels. Systematic philosophical and practical anti-intellectualism such as we are witnessing, appears to be something truly novel in the history of human culture. To be sure, the past has often known reactions of thought whereby a too exclusive primacy of the understanding was succeeded by a revindication of the will. This is what happened, for instance, when the thought of Duns Scotus took its place beside that of Thomas Aquinas. These spiritual reactions, however, were not concerned with practical life or the worldly order but with the Faith, the striving for the ultimate meaning of life. And this striving itself always remained an “apprehending,” however far reason was left behind. The modern mind too often confuses intellectualism with rationalism. Even those forms of approach which, transgressing the purely intellectual, were intended to attain through insight and contemplation what was inaccessible to the understanding, always remained directed towards knowledge of truth. The Greek or the Indian word for it, gnosis or jnâna, makes it clear enough that even the purest mysticism remains a “knowing.” It is always the spirit which moves in the world of the intelligible. To have truth was always the ideal. There are no instances known to me of cultures having forsaken Truth or renounced the understanding in its widest sense.

When earlier currents of thought repudiated allegiance to Reason it was always in favour of the super-rational. What parades as the culture of today does not only disavow Reason but also the knowable itself, and this in favour of the sub-rational, the passions and the instincts. It votes for the will, not in the sense of Duns Scotus, however, but for the will to worldly power, for “existence,” for “blood and soil,” instead of “understanding” and “spirit.”

-Johan Huizinga (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, p.99-104)

…If, then, a retrieval of ethical and metaphysical values is what is needed, it can hardly be said that we are on the right road at present. The sense of human responsibility, seemingly strengthened by the exhortations of heroism, has been uprooted from the soil of the individual conscience and mobilised in favour of any collectivity which desires to impose its will and to elevate its limited insight to a canon of weal, thus greatly increasing the danger of absolutely irresponsible mass action. With the growing worthlessness of the spoken or printed word consequent upon its ever greater distribution which the progress of civilization has made possible, the indifference to truth increases in direct proportion. With the spread of the irrationalist attitude the margin of misunderstanding in every field is steadily expanding. The immediate publicity engendered by commercial interests and the craving for sensation inflates simple differences of opinion into national hallucinations. The ideas of the day demand immediate results, whereas the great ideas have always penetrated very slowly. Like smoke and petrol fumes over the cities, there hangs over the world a haze of empty words.

-Johan Huizinga (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, p. 208-9)

Katharsis: thus the Greeks called the state of mind produced by the spectacle of the tragedy, the stillness of heart in which compassion and fear have been dissolved, the purification of the soul which springs from having grasped a deeper meaning in things; which creates a grave and new preparedness for acts of duty and the acceptance of fate; which breaks the hybris: as it was seen to be broken in the tragedy; which liberates from the violent passions of life and leads the soul to peace.

For the spiritual clarification which our time needs, a new askesis: will be necessary. The bearers of a purified culture will have to be like those waking in an early dawn. They will have to shake off evil dreams. The dream of their soul which grew up out of the mud and would sink back into it. The dream of their brain which was but steel wire and their heart of glass. The dream of their hands growing into claws and the tusks between their lips. They will have to remind themselves that man can will himself not to be an animal.

The new askesis: will not be one of renunciation of the world for heavenly bliss; it will be one of self-domination and tempered appraisal of power and pleasure. The exaltation of life will have to be toned down a little. One will have to remember how Plato already described the occupation of the wise man as a preparation for death. A steady orientation of the life-consciousness on death heightens the proper use of life itself.

The new askesis: will have to be a surrender, a surrender to all that can be conceived as the highest. That can no more be nation or class than the individual existence of self. Happy those for whom that principle can only bear the name of Him who spoke: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

-Johan Huizinga (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, p.234-5)

The Uncarved is the realm within which things are allowed to go through the process of continual carving and un-carving. Its purpose is for gathering and research. Gathering together the insights and materials of the past for the betterment and raising up of the Present from the confusing murkiness within which everything now resides.

In short…this is solitudinus’ research space and therefore, if you enter, leave yourself at the door. You will only cause yourself pain if you wander in without being awake and aware. The foundation of things and our perception of them will be questioned. Everything here is to be and remain in question. We who reside here like to be on the brink; with an Abyss before and behind us. This is our freedom and joy. There is no room for sentimental attachments (unless of course they serve to illuminate the nature of attachment and sentimentality or to bring one to Katharsis). We seek here naught but the truth, the logos. We don’t care what you use to build yourself up or what prejudices you unconsciously carry with you. We Un-carve. We destroy and rebuild; We are not afraid.

This disclaimer, in general, I don’t think should be necessary, we should understand the proper limitations of intellectual rigour and the seriousness necessary thereby, but the growth of sentimentalism has made it too easy for people to be emotionally reactive. In one sense, this is good, in another, bad. Good in the sense that if the person being “sentimental” can free themselves from their over-attachment to the word or idea that has trapped and enslaved them, then they can come to a clear seeing, for themselves, of this truth. And it is, therefore, “bad”, because, if the person is unable, the emotions will cloud out the understanding of self and things, ie. reality.

solitudinus

…In general usage the word culture is not apt to create misunderstanding. One knows more or less what is meant by it. To give an accurate description of its meaning, however, is a different thing altogether. What is culture, what does it consist of? An exhaustive definition is practically impossible. All we can do is to enumerate a few essential conditions and requirements without which there can be no such thing as culture.

Culture requires in the first place a certain balance of material and spiritual values. This permits the emergence of a social condition which is appreciated by those living in it as affording more and higher values than the mere gratification of want and the desire for power. These values lie in the domain of the spiritual, the intellectual, the moral, and the aesthetic. These several domains themselves must again be in balance and harmony to render the concept of culture applicable. By stressing equilibrium and not absolute level one is enabled to include early or low or crude forms of society in a cultural evaluation, and to avoid the danger of over-estimating the highly refined civilizations and of one-sided appreciation of one of the several factors of culture, be it religion, art, law, political organisation or any other. This equilibrium may be viewed as a harmonious and energetic functioning of the several cultural activities within the whole. The result of such co-ordination of the cultural activities manifests itself in order, structural strength, and rhythm of the particular society. It is clear that the historical evaluation of different cultures, no more than the appreciation of present environment, can free itself from the preconceived standards of the judging subject. In this connection it must be noted that the general qualification of a culture as a “high” or “low” culture appears ultimately to be determined by its spiritual and ethical rather than its intellectual and aesthetic value content. A culture which does not boast technical achievements or great sculptural art may still be a high culture, but not if it lacks charity.

The second fundamental feature of culture is that all culture has an element of striving. It is directed towards an aim and this aim is always an ideal, not the ideal of an individual, but an ideal for society. The nature of this ideal varies greatly. It may be purely spiritual: celestial bliss, nearness to God, liberation from earthly ties; or: knowledge, rational or mystical, knowledge of nature, knowledge of self and the mind, knowledge of the divine. It may be a social ideal: honour, respect, power, greatness, but always honour, respect, power and greatness for the community. Again, it may be economic or hygienic: prosperity or health. For the bearers of culture the ideal always means betterment or weal, weal here or elsewhere, now or later.

Whether the aim is in heaven or on earth, wisdom or wealth, the essential condition of its pursuit and attainment is always security and order. Culture could not be a striving if it did not first of all fulfil the imperative task of maintaining security and order. From the requirement of order springs all that is authority, from that of security all that is law. At the bottom of scores of different systems of law and government there are always the social groupings whose striving for betterment gives rise to culture.

More concrete and more positive than the first mentioned fundamentals of culture, balance and striving, is the third, chronologically its first and most typical feature. Culture means control over nature. Culture exists the moment man discovers that the hand armed with the flint is capable of things which without it would have been beyond his reach. He has bent a part of nature to his will. He controls nature, his enemy and his benefactor. He has acquired instruments, means; he has become homo faber. He uses these means to gratify a want, to construct an implement, to protect himself and his kin, to destroy animal or foe. Henceforward he changes the course of nature, for the results of his handling the tool would not have occurred without it.

If this control over nature were the only prerequisite of culture there would be little reason to deny ants, bees, birds or beavers the claim to its possession. They all turn parts of nature to their use by altering them. Whether or not these activities include a striving for betterment is a question for animal psychology to answer. But even if they did, the attribution of culture to the animal world would still meet with the spontaneous reaction that this is abusing the term. The spirit cannot be eliminated quite as easily as some would think.

In fact, to say that culture is control over nature in the sense of building, shooting and roasting is to tell only half the story. The rich word “nature” includes human nature as well and that also must be controlled. Already in the earliest and simplest phases of society man becomes conscious that he owes something. The animal’s care and defence of his young are not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that there too this consciousness exists. It is only in the human consciousness that the function of caring and providing takes on the aspect of Duty. The recognition of this duty is only in a relatively small degree attributable to natural circumstances such as motherhood and protection of the family unit. At an early stage of social organisation the obligation expands into conventions, rules of conduct and cults, in the form of taboos. In wide circles the popularisation of the word taboo has led to an undervaluation of the ethical element of the so-called primitive cultures, not to say anything of that body of sociological thought which with truly modern simplicity disposes of everything called morality, law, or piety, as just so many taboos.

The consciousness of owing something contains an ethical element as soon as there is no absolute material necessity to honour what is felt as an obligation to a fellow-man, an institution or a spiritual power. Ethnologists like Malinowski have shown that the view that in primitive civilizations obedience to the social code is mechanically determined and inescapable, is untenable. Whenever in a community the rules of social conduct are generally observed, therefore, it is through the operation of a genuine ethical impulse. The requirement of control over nature in the form of domination of human nature itself is then fulfilled.

The more the specific feelings of being under obligation range themselves under a supreme principle of human dependence the clearer and the more fertile will be the realisation of the concept, indispensable to all true culture, of service; from the service of God down to the simple social relationship as between employer and employee. The uprooting and discrediting of the service-concept has been the most destructive function of the shallow rationalism of the eighteenth century.

Were we now to sum up what we have set out above as the essential features and general requirements of culture, the contents of this concept might perhaps be formulated in the following statement, which cannot lay any claim to the quality of exact definition, however. Culture, as a condition of society, is present when the control over nature in the material, the moral, and spiritual field maintains a state which is higher and better than would follow from the given natural conditions, and whose characteristics are a harmonious balance of material and spiritual values and a more or less homogeneous ideal in whose pursuit the community’s various activities converge…

– Johan Huizinga (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, p.40-46)

“This world of ours has its nights, and not a few of them.”

Saint Bernard

If we offend against “history” by removing documents and representations from their cultural context, we hope to compensate by correlating our archetypal investigation with a “psychohistory,” that is to say, with the stages in the development of the human psyche. Taking the development of consciousness as the decisive phenomena of human history, we arrive at an arrangement of the phenomena that does not, to be sure, coincide with the usual sequence of historical events, but makes possible the psychological orientation we require.

The old interpretation of history as a straight line, leading from prehistory through antiquity and the Middle Ages to modern times, is no longer accepted. It has given way to a historical consciousness that looks upon the various coexistent and successive cultures as individualities and not as links in a continuous chain. This view makes it possible to do justice to the individual character of each culture, but it is also a symptom of the decline of the ordering principle that had hitherto enabled European, Christian mankind to regard itself as the culmination and climax of human development. Once the idea of a universal mankind, embracing all the multiplicity of cultures, religions, and historical epochs, came within the scope of men’s minds, the naive Western view of history for which the Near East was quite secondary, while Asia, America, and Africa merited scarcely any attention, became untenable.

With the discovery of the collective unconscious as the common psychic foundation of mankind and with the insight that the relation of consciousness to the unconscious determines the character of a cultural phase or of a culture, modern man has gained a new point of orientation. The development of consciousness, from almost total containment in the unconscious in primitive man to the Western form of consciousness, has been glimpsed as the central factor in human history as a whole. For this orientation, the various cultures are merely phases in this basic trend of psychic life: the development of consciousness, which, without being the conscious goal of the individual cultures or of human culture as a whole, can be shown to be operative in every culture and age.

The tendency toward the light, which C. G. Jung once called human heliotropism, has in the long run proved stronger than all the forces of darkness that have striven to extinguish consciousness. In the broad view, epochs seemingly characterized by a regression of consciousness may almost always be recognized as transitional stages necessary to further development.

For the psychological study of human history, the primordial era refers then to the time when the unconscious was predominant and consciousness was weak. The modern era signifies a time of developed consciousness and of a productive bond between consciousness and unconscious. In other words, the normative development of the individual from containment in the unconscious to the development of consciousness presents an analogy to the collective development of mankind. In the system of coordinates representing psychohistorical development, later periods may therefore, as we said, represent an early state of consciousness and early epochs a mature level. Thus, for example, the relatively late monuments of the monolithic culture of England and France are psychologically much “earlier” than the Egyptian monuments that preceded them by thousands of years. And in an epoch of modern history, regressive collective tendencies may appear, which threaten to annul the arduously acquired development of the individual and the individual consciousness, and to bring back an earlier stage of human history.

Erich Neumann (The Great Mother, p. 89-91)