Ludwig Klages: Cosmogonic Reflections, part 3

The aphorisms of one of Europe’s greatest philosophers, part 3

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by Ludwig Klages
translated by Joseph D. Pryce


201. Jean Paul [Richter]. Jean Paul is a texture, not a structure. (RR p. 307)

202. On Dualities. One duality is that of subject and object. The growing emancipation of the object is intertwined with the weakening of the instincts.—The duality of body and soul is a completely different matter, however. The origin of this duality lies in sexuality, and it intensifies with the division between the sexes, until, finally, our species is split into two halves. The first symptom of consciousness: that man differentiates between himself and his sexual organs and, thus, between his higher and his lower drives. (RR p. 303)

203. False Symbols. What could be an emptier production than the Symbolists’ anthropocentric interpretation of the cosmos, or their compulsion to dress up ugly bodies in the vacant remnants of life! The whole Symbolist racket is a usurpation of the throne by the spawn of bankers. It began with excessive ornamentation, and with such excesses it will end. First: you build your house. Second: you hang up your tapestries. Then Stefan George moves in. (RR p. 304)

204. Mechanistic and Magical Philosophy. Magic is the praxis of our philosophy, and our philosophy is the theory of magic. The philosophy that is taught by the professors is invariably mechanistic, and the attendant praxis is always mechanical.—Magical philosophy repudiates the thesis of identity; consequently, it repudiates unity, thing, duration, repetition, and mathematics. My philosophy also repudiates concept and causation, for causation is the theoretical parallel to the logical nexus.—Magical philosophy works with images and symbols, and its method is that of analogy.—The most important names here are: element, substance, principle, daemon, cosmos, microcosm, macrocosm, essence, image, primal-image, whirlpool, orb, and fire.—Its ultimate formulas are incantations that have all of the power of magic at their disposal. (RR p. 312)

205. Love and the Far. We love what is strange, but only to the extent that we glimpse within it the person that we once were in the most rapturous moments of youth, or in a superhuman, or even a godlike, previous life. All love is Eros of the distance. (RR p. 289)

206. Downfall. The ancient world shattered the primordial order of things when it imprisoned the dæmonic matriarchal powers in the chthonic depths and elevated the daylight masculine world of spirit to supreme power. (RR p. 290)

207. On Bachofen as “the greatest literary experience”. In Bachofen we have to recognize perhaps the greatest interpreter of that primordial mentality, in comparison with the cultic and mythic manifestations of which, all later religious beliefs and doctrines appear as mere reductions and distortions. (“Appreciation” [Würdigung] in Bachofen, J. J. 1925. Versuch über die Gräbersymbolik der Alten [ed. C. A. Bernoulli] pp. x-xi. Helbing und Lichterhahn, Basel, 1925)

208. On the “Mortuary Symbolism” of J. J. Bachofen. I rank this book among the supreme spiritual achievements in the history of mankind. For more than twenty-five years, I have found in Bachofen the man who has guided the course of my life. (LK GL p. 225)

209. Bachofen’s Greatest Achievement. It was J. J. Bachofen who, in his two masterworks “Mother Right” and “Mortuary Symbolism” (along with the scarcely less important “The Lycians” and “The Myth of Tanaquil”), was able for the first time successfully to interpret the entire pre-history of the West from the standpoint of the battle between “matriarchy” and “patriarchy.” (SW 3 p. 494)

210. Bachofen’s Duality. The matriarchal and the hetairic principles. The first is fixed. tribal, established, and traditional. The second is wandering, solitary, hostile to all settled modes of association. The first, by necessity, experiences the eternal and encompassing destiny that governs all happenings.—The second lives with doom and the annihilation of all at the hands of death. The disentangling of these antitheses can reveal a higher unity than may be apparent amid all the struggle and destruction. So, the settled-matriarchal principle struggles against the wandering-hetairic principle. The transformation into morality occurs steadily; it happens more effortlessly for the fixed principle than for the wandering one. (RR p. 312)

211. The Work. Whatever within us becomes embodied in our work, no longer belongs to us. The insight, the work of art, and the deed must henceforth live only for themselves. (RR p. 300)

212. Time and the Primordial. As against the customary notion of time, primordial time incarnates the primal flux. Whatever has been immersed within this flux will shine with the aura of the elemental and the eternal. Death first came to those born in the primordial world not as the result of a great flood that somehow severed modern man’s ties with the primal order: that task was performed by the invasion of the world by the void known as “transcendence.”

That “transcendence” severs subject from object and body from soul, just as it rends the body of time. One half of time foists upon us that false “eternity,” which, in truth, is an “always” that is forever outside the temporal dimension; whilst the other half is divorced from the spatial dimension. In this way, space is stripped of its soul, and time is stripped of its body. (RR p. 351)

213. “Monism.” All of historical mankind has been raised in the philosophy of “monism.” The belief in the laws of causality, and in legality generally, is monistic. All thinking activity is monistic…The monistic philosophy easily explains the origins of all of the world’s religions, the distinctive qualities of human societies, the causal laws that govern our dream-life, etc. And every one of us is infected by this madness! (RR p. 351)

214. On Hysteria. The hysterical person lives within his dreams, day and night, and he is powerless and lifeless throughout his waking hours. One peculiar manifestation: his sexual life, because it is devoid of Eros, is compelled to produce disturbances in his conscious mind as well as in his body…His life, as it were, belongs to dreams that have no basis in perception, and, thus, his life belongs to phantoms. He can only be released in one of two ways: through the destruction of his dream world, or through his entry into the real world. The task of the therapist should be to realize the Eros of the hysterical character. (RR p. 357)

215. On the Achievement of C. G. Carus. Today we live in an age of joyless haste, an age that more or less shatters everything in its savage maelstrom. Faint of heart, and scarcely comprehending what we see, we stand before such an abundantly fruitful life as that of Carus, a life that required no monastic seclusion, a life that resembled a gigantic tree that shoots out branches on all sides without degenerating. We may remind ourselves at this time of similar monuments of the past, and we understand clearly that the gains accruing to our power-crazed rulers must infallibly entail heavy losses in the soul and in creativity! (AC p. 310)

216. The Pelasgian State of Mind. Just as no one can determine precisely how much of the story of the Trojan War as it is told to us in the Iliad, along with its prologue and sequel, is founded upon strict factuality, so no one can determine precisely how much of that which we are told by the ancient writers about the “Pelasgian World” is founded upon strict factuality. However, even were historical criticism to demonstrate conclusively that the Pelasgians existed only in legendary lore, one thing would still be established beyond the shadow of a doubt: that the “Pelasgian” state of mind, among other things also found in the myths, belongs to the irreducible facts of prehistory. Just as according to our doctrine of the “actuality of the images” every individual, as well as every cultural period, participates in the world-image through the image-shaping powers of the soul, we must, therefore, establish every manifestation of man’s inner life within the realm of facts in order to understand the world-image and, with it, the religious beliefs of those whom we are studying…Indeed, without a knowledge of such inner realities and their formal operations, we cannot understand even the brute facts of ages to which scholarship has applied the prejudicial epithet “historical.” (SW 2 p. 1251)

217. War and the State. Man has existed in an uninterrupted state of war ever since the first state was founded, and the horror of warfare has grown along with the growth of the powers of the state, regardless of whether a particular war is waged between states, races, classes, vocations, sects, or discrete groups within the state. Obviously, the bellum omnium contra omnes (“the war of all against all”) is not something that characterizes the state of nature, for it is only since man has taken up residence within the state that he has waged that endless series of wars that constitutes “world-history.” Hegel was quite correct when he said that the spirit could only realize its potential within the state; but Nietzsche was also correct, from a different perspective, in saying that he found in spirit the “will to power,” and in saying that the state was the “coldest of all cold monsters.” (AG p. 177)

218. The Machine. The English “Deists,” led by Sir Isaac Newton, that master of the mechanistic apocalypse, openly proclaimed that the world must have had a divine origin, since it so obviously possesses the character of a purposeful machine (recall that Kant was still impressed by the so-called physico-theological proof of the existence of God!).

We know of no better way to illustrate the appalling unnaturalness of our apostles of political and moralistic “progress,” who are so intoxicated by the pseudo-life of the machine, than to adduce two words of wisdom which were attributed to Tchuangtse, and which encapsulate more than two millennia of Chinese philosophical culture: A conceited traveler sees a gardener in a trench drawing buckets of water with which he is irrigating his plot of vegetables; the traveler advises the gardener to invest in a machine that will do his work for him. The gardener laughs and says: “This I have heard from my teacher: the cunning have tools and show their cunning in business, and those who are cunning in business have cunning in their hearts, and those who have cunning in their hearts cannot remain pure and uncorrupted, and those who do not remain pure and uncorrupted are restless in spirit, and those who are restless in spirit are those in whom the Tao can find no dwelling-place. It’s not that I do not understand the tools of which you speak. It’s just that I would be ashamed to use them.” The other anecdote goes as follows: The spirit of the clouds asks the whirlpool why everything upon the earth has ended up in such a disordered state. The whirlpool answers: “That the order of the world is shattered, that the conditions of life are thrown into confusion, that the will of heaven is without effect, that the animals of the field are driven away, that birds screech in the night, that mildew rots the trees and the plants, that destruction overwhelms everything that crawls upon the earth: all that is the fault of government.” (AG pp. 181-2)

219. The “Tuist” (Opposite Pole to the “Egoist”). The relationship of the “tuist” to his fellow man constitutes the most essential part of his life. From the outset he make his position clear to his associates and he lives in a conscious sense only for others. What he means to them is decisive for him: he will be loved or he will rule. Passionate desire alternates with tyrannical will. His personal feelings are revealed in all of his actions, and so he will show the greatest interest only in those sorts of activities that provide him with the opportunity to take a personal part in the arrangements. He inclines to artistic and quasi-artistic vocations; should he devote himself to science, his decision would result from deep needs arising out of his personal ambition. In addition, he will occasionally devote his efforts to political life, the public welfare, and economic conditions; then we get the propagandist, the world-improver, and the prophet. He is not in the least indifferent to outward appearances, and when he gets the opportunity he will indulge in theatrical behavior. In many ways, his bearing resembles that of a woman. The typical woman is always a “tuist.” (SW 4 p.4)

220. On the Progress-Philistine. Listen to him chattering about how far “we” have come, how wonderful is the time in which “we” live, and how delightful are the gadgets that are available to “us”…Everything that he says sounds like the babbling of a carnival conjuror; everything that he says reveals the utter impotence of his spirit! (SW 2 p. 1543)

221. Apollo’s Cult. The cult of Apollo is the cult of the beautiful. This phenomenon occurred only once, if we are not mistaken, i.e., in Greece; it lasted for a mere three centuries; and no other people and no other time has managed to achieve anything like it—not even the “Renaissance”—although the yearning for the Greek ideal of beauty has persisted down to our own time. (AC p. 382)

222. Wilhelm Jordan and Schopenhauer. From our earliest days we have delighted in the poet Jordan’s essay “Encounters with Schopenhauer,” which was published in the collection entitled “Letters and Lectures.” All those who admire Schopenhauer (and all Schopenhauer scholars as well) will profit from the reading of this dazzling memoir, which, along with many verbatim transcriptions of Schopenhauer’s speech, provides us with the most perceptive portrayal of the person and the life of the thinker. The author also recounts discussions that took place when Schopenhauer and Jordan were joined by Friedrich Hebbel! (AC p. 385)

223. The Manifold Voices of Goethe. Occasionally we hear of certain similarities between Nietzsche and Schiller. We admit that it is always possible to establish connections between the works of important authors. Thus, it is true that both Schiller and Nietzsche consistently employed dramatic rhetoric (although the differences between the characteristic rhetoric of the two men are enormous); it is also true that everything that the two men wrote reveals a consummate mastery of style. Now we ordinarily think of a stylist as one whose language possesses an unprecedented force and unity. But there is another approach to this matter of style: Goethe’s. Goethe’s narrative prose in “Werther”—which is well-nigh incomparable—deviates perceptibly from the narrative prose of the “Elective Affinities”; and his deftly controlled speech in the Füllest wieder Busch und Tal and Mignon’s Lied deviates sharply from that of the Diwan or Faust II. (AC p. 388)

224. Morality. Moralistic activity, properly speaking, is reactivity. Only instinct that attains to consciousness is truly productive. Likewise, the nothingness that is the ego possesses the drive to permanence and the “will to power.” (RR p. 300)

225. The function of the will is to convert everything into thought. (RR p. 300)

226. Consciousness and Life. The ultimate depth is naïve; it is the immediate, instinctual now. Whatever is completely alive cannot comprehend its true nature. Every increase of consciousness entails an abandonment of life. (RR p. 300)

227. Dionysian Radiance. Dionysian man lives his dream-images. Rays of light stream forth from his soul into the world, and whoever wanders into his radiant sphere shines with his love. (RR p. 300)

228. “Matter and Form”. Spirit disintegrates substance into “Matter and Form.” Birth alone is the primordial; birth alone is the cosmic substance [Hyla] itself, the primeval mother. The sculptor, however, seeks to ensnare the two halves of the duality [dyas], to re-unite matter and form. He is seized by an instinctual compulsion, and his spirit strives to revert to the primordial womb out of which substance emerged. But his aspiration is a fatal option, doomed to a perpetual perishing. (RR p. 309)

229. The Germanic Instinct. The instinct of other peoples is weak or non-existent; the German has instinct, but it is blind. On this account, he becomes the man of science, the man of firm convictions, the man of principles, the man who derives his steadfast faith in morality from books. He must remedy his lack of knowledge through study; he is compelled to surmount his insecurity of will through partisanship. (RR p. 339)

230. Science and Metaphysics. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a truly great scientist who is utterly devoid of metaphysics. And the scientist is never more deeply under the sway of his metaphysical presuppositions than when he is unaware of their very existence. (SW 6 p.539)

231. Faith and Doubt. Knowledge does not arise from faith, but from doubt, i.e., the very negation of faith. (RR p. 352)

232. “Idealism” and “Realism”. For those students who find the technical philosophical terms in current use to be somewhat alien, but who are somewhat better acquainted with the various warring “isms” of the day, we will, for obvious psychological purposes, simplify somewhat the various points of view at issue by arranging the diverse schools of thought under the two headings of “idealism” and “realism.” On the side of “idealism” we have: rationalism, criticism, subjectivism, “logical positivism,” “fictionalism,” “solipsism,” etc.; on the side of “realism” we place: “sensualism,” “empiricism,” “atomism,” “materialism,” etc. The representatives of “idealism” always claim that they understand the inner life—and even life itself!—from the standpoint of spirit; the representatives of “realism” are equally certain that they understand these things by examining impressions and experiences and, ultimately, being. But since spirit and being are intimately connected as subject and object, the opposition between the two groups of “isms” is utterly irrelevant (except, that is, for those who insist on rehashing empty controversies regarding the existence—or non-existence—of “innate ideas”). (AC p. 384)

233. The Sentimental Egoist. There is one type of egoism that we will call “the egoism of the sentimental.” The egoism of the sentimental person manifests itself most blatantly in an overwhelming desire to be loved. Such persons are usually contented with their worldly wealth and status; but when it comes to affairs of the heart, they will reveal an extreme pretentiousness. Quite often they will be driven by a dangerous compulsion to rely excessively on others, a condition that can develop into species of psychical vampirism that can suck the life out of those to whom they have attached themselves. The reactive manifestation of this egoism is a capacity for intense jealousy. (AC p.377)

234. The Dionysian. The body is the day-pole of the inner life, or the center of vision and appearance. When perception governs, the dream-image must, perforce, fade away. Not only the spirit, but the body as well, stands in opposition to the untrammeled growth of the soul. For that reason, the authentic expression of Dionysian ecstasy is the rending of the god’s body. (RR p. 288)

235. Romanticism and Polarity. The Romantics distinguished between the day-pole and the night-pole of the soul. This distinction pointed to the polar relationship between the dreaming and the waking states of consciousness. In the night-pole, instinct, yearning, clairvoyance, telepathy, sooth-saying, dream, poetry, art, and magic have their roots; in the day-pole, we locate thinking and willing. The night-pole bespeaks woman, left, night, moon, and ganglion; the day-pole bespeaks man, law, day, and the brain. But what the Romantics were unable to clarify is the central capacity of the night-pole: the gift of vision, out of which, as from an ocean, emerges a primal flux, an unending stream of influences and impressions…(RR p. 288)

236. Day and Night. In day-consciousness we perceive, but in night-consciousness we experience visions. Only into day-consciousness could the acosmic spirit erupt. (RR p. 289)

237. Rococo as “Virtual Reality” (virtuelle Realität) [Written in 1913]. Rococo has the virtual reality of a mirror image, the mere appearance; every sound, scent, and shimmering light of its landscape is the reflection of a mask. (RR p. 292)

238. So-Called “Synthetic Thought”. Every so-called synthesis of thought arises from the impulse to revive distinctions that analysis has already enforced, and thus, this impulse is only one more expression of the monistic compulsion to force the vital manifold into the unity demanded by spirit. (RR 364)

239. The Wisdom of the Romantics. Although the Romantics were not completely free of logocentric errors, the bright atmosphere of their soul-born wisdom shone more deeply into the nocturnal depths of the cosmos than the efforts of all previous mystics; it is, above all, the Heraclitean concept of polarity which enabled these vibrant spirits to clarify not merely the millennial traditions of myths and symbols: the Romantics also sought to undermine the threat of an arrogant materialism by their employment of the alkahest [“universal solvent”] of the soul. When, therefore, the Romantics utilized the magnetic electric pole as an illustrative example in their speculations, we must not forget that the discovery of this type of polarity, which was credited to Volta, although it actually belongs to Ritter, was, in fact, a Romantic achievement. (SW 2 p. 890)

240. Germanic Romanticism. Romanticism flourished in the Germanic world, and only in that world. Romanticism reached its highest peaks, and sent its roots most deeply into the earth, in Germany…We must always bear in mind that the greatest achievement of the Romantics was to embrace every field of the spirit, and especially the philosophy of nature, within its charmed circle. There was a Romantic astronomy, physics, chemistry, mineralogy, geology, palæontology, botany, zoology, osteology, physiology, medicine, pharmacology, and even, to a certain extent, a Romantic mathematics. Now what has any of that to do with “foreign” influences? (SW 2 pp. 888-9)

241. Goethe and the Romantics. Literary Romanticism began with the Sturm und Drang of the late 18th century. Romantic entries—along with other material of the most superficial quality—can be found in Heinse, Herder, and Hamann, as well as in all of the vitalistic nature-philosophy of the period. On the other hand, there appears even in Goethe’s universalism a component that is recognizably Romantic, and of which he was most certainly aware, for this component had a profound impact on more than one Romantic philosopher of nature; it would one day function as the guiding principle of C. G. Carus’s world-view. Goethe was always impressed by the concept of the primal phenomenon, a concept that enabled Goethe to direct his scientific attention not to primal things, but to primal images. In opposition to the mechanistic philosophy of nature, and to rigid explanatory schemes in general, it was the living content of the perceived entity that pre-occupied Goethe; his worldly sensuality enabled him to focus upon the visually grasped images, to which his words of truth always referred. No doubt, he was interested in every aspect of nature, but his studies always led him back to that which he had “perceived through the senses.” His studies of nature, he says elsewhere, rested “on a purely experiential basis”; and in the Sprüchen in Prosa occurs the following brilliant proposition which, at one stroke, shatters the idealistic errors of the millennia: “People seek only nothingness behind phenomena: for the phenomena themselves are the theory!” (SW 2 p. 889)

242. The Arrogance of Rationalism. The modern disciple of the faith in the omnipotence of reason can hardly restrain his joy as he babbles into our ears his conviction that he now possesses a logic of the “unconscious”! (SW 1 p. 231)

243. Literature and the Pathic Soul. Peer Gynt, Ibsen’s great creation, although not purely poetic, certainly unfolds the shifting panorama of a thoroughly pathic approach to life. The characters whose psychical abysses are illumined by Dostoyevsky are, without exception, pathics, who go marching straight to doom. Here we have everything that the student of sick souls could possibly desire: from the “flight” into the night of forgetfulness, through the “twilight condition,” to the “split personality,” unconscious behavioral tactics, somnambulism, and seeming acts of unsurpassed purposefulness, without—or even against—the will of the actor.

One example: Raskolnikov [in Crime and Punishment], shortly after his murderous rampage, staggers around his city, utterly without purpose—or so he thinks—driven by hostility to all human associations. “Every encounter aroused his loathing, the faces of people were as abhorrent as their gestures and their movements…When he arrived at the quay of the Neva on Vasilievsky Island, he stood upon the bridge. ‘Here’s where he lives, in this very house,’ thought Raskolnikov, ‘but I have not come here of my own accord to Rasumichin!’”…Who can read this chapter through without being struck by its precise rendering of “post-hypnotic suggestion”? (SW 1 p. 233)

244. On the Heraclitean Flux. Just as the Eleatics had discovered being, it was Heraclitus who discovered actuality, which he renders in the world-renowned formula: “All things are in flux” [panta rhei]; the flux is the very essence of the world, or, in other words, the world is a happening without a substrate. Heraclitus is not, however, content merely to theorize about the eternal stream, for he also discovers in the world-process the phenomenon of rhythm; in other words, he is the discoverer of polarity. With the aid of that concept, he clarifies the semblance of existence [Dasein] of that which endures as analogous to what we today would call “stationary equilibrium,” i.e., the equilibrium of two contra-directed processes.

For Heraclitus, everything is alive. To him both the living and the dead truly live. Both the living and the dead are but formal manifestations of the primordial life of the world itself. And here we encounter a discovery which distinguishes the speculations of this outstanding philosopher from those of all previous thinkers: the idea that individual life, as the form of arrested, or deficient, life—which takes the “road upwards” to attain to dissolution—can, on the other hand, lead to the highest liberation and to the greatest vital plenitude as well. Thus, death appears as a liberation to a loftier form of cosmic life, as opposed to a temporally-restricted organic existence [Dasein]. Furthermore, sleep as the mediating transition to death, can be seen as a prototype of a fulfilled vitality…Hitherto, the doctrine of Heraclitus has been seen as emerging “all of a piece,” and this doctrine is, admittedly, the most profound of all philosophical systems. Sadly, however, even this philosopher of cosmic life went off the rails when he dragged in his regrettable theory of the logos…which he calls an ordering, rationalizing, regulating power, a “law” decreed by the transcendent ruler “Zeus.” And this is not just the misuse of a word! (SW 6 pp. XVII-XVIII)

245. Character and Ideals. The common viewpoint that holds that we can derive a person’s ideals from his character, stands opposed to the conviction that a person prefers and seeks precisely that which he does not possess; without a doubt, the second viewpoint holds the greater measure of truth. The gentlest woman desires a man who is courageous, strong, and heroic (and vice versa); the poet who delights in the narration of orgies worthy of Messalina, is often found to be living on bread and water in an attic chamber; and a scholar of genius like Mommsen, who scrutinizes the deeds of great statesmen with the most rigorous and critical acumen, is himself the most superficial and mediocre politician on the planet. (SW 6 p. 28)

246. Pious Ideals. With “good intentions,” pious wishes,” and enduring illusions, we arrive at those abstractions that determine the limits of the outer, as well as the inner, life. Ideals are undoubtedly elements of character, but they are elements torn from natural connections of every sort, and for that reason they are divorced from the facts…Man’s ideals clearly reveal how rich he is: in poverty. (SW 6 pp. 28-9)

247. Spirit and its Manifestations. The spirit, as it functions in modern scientific research, is only one division—or, more correctly, one phenomenal manifestation—of the identical spirit that has ripened into the modern state and modern capitalism. (SW 1 p. 128)

248. Nihilism. “Panlogism,” Kantianism, and Sensualism: they are but three varieties of one and the same nihilism, three modes, or methods, whereby an invading force from outside the cosmos annihilates the cosmos of images. (SW 1 p. 173)

249. The “Last of the Mohicans”. The hour of reaction has been missed; there are those among us whose passionate love of life has made them see just how wretched the world has become: we are the “last of the Mohicans.” Whoever still has it in him to express a wish, must wish for one thing above all: that the consummately vile mankind of today may drown, die, disappear as soon as possible, along with his wretched arsenal of murder, so that once again the forests may resound with the roar of purifying and self-renewing winds. (SW 1 p. 768)

250. Philosophical Confusion. The Eleatics were guilty of confusing actuality with being; however, the logician manifests an even greater confusion when he mistakes actuality for truth. The logician is led by his Parmenidean impulse to the most arrogant of all errors when he equates actuality itself with the mere thought of actuality. There are no independent “propositions-in-themselves,” such as Bolzano desired, just as there are no “truths-in-themselves,” such as his modern acolytes craved. Within the thinking consciousness of the individual there are neither truths nor propositions, but only fleeting manifestations of inconceivable happenings. (SW 1 p. 86)

251. “Psychology” and “Epistemology” [“Theory of Cognition”]. Basically, everything that our professors insist on calling “psychology” is an unavowed “epistemology,” just as the so-called “epistemology” of the professors could, with equal justice, call itself “psychology.” The whole matter shall not have been devoid of a certain humorous flavor should the discussion ultimately come to focus upon the question as to where, in fact, the precise boundary between the two disciplines is to be drawn. (SW 1 p. 218)

252. The Limits of Education. The individual’s capacity to acquire education is governed by natural limitations, and no amount of study will enable him to transcend those limitations. One can discern the intellectual capacity of a person, but one can never increase that capacity any more than one can transform a talentless person into a great musician or sculptor. These considerations also apply to the capacities of different races. (SW 6 p. 663)

253. Language Precedes Concepts. The child can already speak and understand his native language by the age of one, without employing concepts. Prehistoric man spoke and understood speech for untold thousands of decades without ever having utilized a single concept. It is not mankind as such, but solely historical mankind who announces his arrival when he discovers the first concept. Concepts could only be formulated for the first time when the meanings of words had already been established. (SW 6 pp. 657-8)

254. On Eugen Dühring’s Contribution. Dühring, above all other modern thinkers, is to be thanked for drawing our attention to the profound significance of the Eleatics. He is to be thanked as well for the unsurpassed clarity and sharpness of his demolition, in his “Critical History of Philosophy,” of the arguments of the Eleatics…which he achieves by means of a fundamental critique of the concept of infinity that certainly deserves the highest praise. (SW 1 p. 51)

255. Eros Cosmogonos. There can be no doubt that the triumph of the spiritual and personal gods over the chthonic and elemental divinities was achieved in the Ionic cities on the hither-Asiatic seacoast long before the Greek motherland was affected. Thus, we should not hope to find in Homer any very pronounced indications regarding prehistoric religiosity. We must, in fact, seek the signs of the earlier beliefs, in part, in Hesiod, and also, in part, in the heritage of the sects and mystery-cults, which, out of the struggle of various strata of Greek religiosity, were able to precipitate the flood-tide of Dionysian worship that extended from the 8th century B.C.E. to the 6th century…Now in Hesiod, although he scarcely mentions Eros, we certainly come upon the god, although the poet’s Eros is not strictly cosmogonos; the Hesiodic Eros, the “most beautiful of all the immortal gods,” joins Gaia and the antecedent pre-polar Chaos to constitute the primordially creative Triad out of which issue all earthly happenings. The idea of Eros as cosmogonos is definitively achieved in the mythic teachings of the Orphic sect; for our purposes, the most important doctrine of the Orphics tells of how Chronos, “never-aging time,” fashioned the silver world-egg out of the æther and the unfathomable void. From this world-egg there emerges the shining god Phanes-Eros-Dionysos (also called Metis and Erikapaios); this is Eros the hermaphrodite divinity, the god who bears within him the seeds of all the other gods. (SW 3 p. 376)

256. The Body of Love. Love may be aroused by the visible, discrete attributes or characteristics of another person: by beautiful or unique hands, feet, body-type, shape of the neck, nose, complexion, scent. The preference for blonde hair or for dark, for blue eyes or for brown, may even indicate…that the natural predilections of an individual arise, in large part, from racial considerations. (SW 3 p. 365)

257. The Death of the Ego. The “wise man,” as Goethe has told us, yearns for a death in flames, for only he understands that before the gates of life can be opened, the ego must first be slain. (SW 3 394)

258. Forms of Love. The “materialist” desires to possess and master man and all of man’s powers. He “loves” dependability and so-called character.

Christ saw himself as being near the center of things; he searched for God; and his most profound yearning was that he might merge himself with “higher things.” He craves the outside and the up-there, and when he loves, his sentiment is aimed in just those directions.

Eros, on the other hand, is the love of creation. For Eros, the boundless universe is alive. A flood of shimmering light breaks forth. The entire environment glows, the distance resounds: the beloved becomes a flame afar. (RR p. 264)

259. Images. Images plunge into the mysterious darkness; they drift into a magical distance. Images are never impoverished, never permanent, never to be seized in a coarse grip; a joyous spectacle blazes up, and then it sinks into the night. (RR p. 272)

260. The Veil of Maya. The 19th century, more than any previous one, set out to tear the “Veil of Maya” asunder. With sacrilegious inquisitiveness, it probed into everything that exists: the darkness of the void, the metallic sheen of distant oceans, the wondrous song of the atmosphere, and the sublime gloom of temple and cathedral. Its reality…was merely a shield of lies behind which it concealed its lust for destruction. (RR p. 272)

261. The Golden Age. Life’s gaze is always directed backwards, and where life is embodied in thought, its thought is always a contemplation of the return of vanished beings. Indeed, the collected legendry of the pagan world places all greatness, beauty, and radiance in a far-distant pre-historic world: this is the “Golden Age” of the heroic founders of noble clans. (RR p. 285)

262. On the Soul. The soul is the fulfilled vitality, the self-incinerating flame. That which limits and constricts itself in the waking state, becomes, in sleep, a bottomless sea.

Matter (Hyla) is the sleep of the soul. Its waking has the actuality of the dream: shining images glide past, and then they plunge again into the darkness.

The ocean is the symbol of the universal soul, and the ocean’s phosphorescence manifests its highest vitality. Profound life blossoms only within the womb of night, and the ocean glows only nocturnally. Life is the self-rolling wheel, the perpetuum mobile, the mill wheel through which the waters of time must pass. (RR p. 262)

263. Anima Rerum. Lightning is the soul of the landscape just as the shimmer is the soul of the crystal, the scent is the soul of the flower, and the eye is the soul of the animal; man is even more eye than is the animal, and the world in him becomes more image. (RR p. 263)

264. Romanticism and the Soul. The Romantic period was wandering and exploratory, just as our own time is. Strangeness, distance, the thrill of life and the threat of storm, rapture, emotional transport, yearning for the stars: many names for the self-same essence, which is the soul. (RR p. 259)

265. The Gorgon and the Night. There are three vital perspectives: the erotic, the heroic, and the magical. In the world of images these types are manifest as: the beloved, the hero, and the wizard. My own experience was magical (to a chaotic extreme); it was the Gorgon and the dread of universal night. I tried to approach Eros through love…But before the metallic night could extend its cloak over the house of love, love’s home sank into the earthly morass. (RR p. 261)

266. Elemental Nature. The elemental is not a striving towards the animal condition. It is something that is beyond man and, at the same time, close to the realm of the plants. (RR p. 261)

267. Lenau and Meyer. The two most highly endowed Dionysian poets of the 19th century, Lenau and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, led—one buried in his books, the other in tobacco smoke and violin music—the most secluded lives imaginable. (SW 3 p. 400)

268. Spirit and Soul. Only when spirit sleeps does the soul awaken. Spirit sleeps most deeply when the senses slumber. But even in the waking state there is a sleep of the spirit. In every act there are moments when spirit nods and the soul opens wide its eyes. Ever richer is our life at the moments when spirit passes through the realm of sleep. Then we are more profoundly alive, as each moment passes into the next. At such times, our eyes shine…(RR p. 264)

269. The Symbolism of the Wheel. The polarities that constitute life were once symbolized by the wheel. We see this clearly in the myth of Ixion, where sometimes the head is above, and sometimes it is below…All of life is, in fact, polarized: we have an under and an over, a black side and a white, an ending and a beginning, and so forth. Polarities are revealed between rising and falling, between birth and death, and between the fixed and the wandering. Indeed, we may even see in the wheel the tragic symbol of the cosmogonic Eros. (RR p. 330)

270. Thought and Image. Thought is the medium of philosophy, the handmaiden of poetry, and the elevating background of art. In the absence of thought, only the primordial image endures intact, for in the image a more profound incandescence consumes the cold light of empirical observation. The primordial images are like weighty gold or crimson enamel, whereas thoughts are like penetrating flames or lightning reflexes.

The contemporary world knows nothing of authentic images or genuine thought. Its art is without background, without atmosphere, vapid; its poetry is unfinished, harsh, arid, and destitute, or it is gaudy and absurd; and its philosophy is but an asthmatic critique. (RR p. 284)

271. On the Creators of the “Folk Song”. For many reasons, we regard the expression “the folk song” as somewhat ambiguous, since the implication of the phrase is that its creators have been drawn exclusively from the lower classes. However, genuine folk songs have also been crafted by aristocrats and even by kings. The superb poetic ballads of Scandinavia, for instance, were largely the product of knightly and courtly circles, and these ballads are certainly authentic “folk songs”! (AC pp. 199-200)

272. The Wheel of Life. Ceaselessly, the moment sinks into the past: the wheel of life is turned by death. Ceaselessly, the past darkens the purple dome of the fleeing moment: out of the realm of Hades springs the flower of Persephone. (RR p. 270)

273. The Eros of the Distance. In a mystical rotation, all that passes returns unto the night of birth. Earth drinks up the rains shed by water-born clouds, and, as the rain-drop enters the sea, so, without ceasing, dies the daylight of the present into the darkness of the past. Just as the world is girdled by the Mitgard Serpent, so all that transpires is bound by the pulsating wave of the cosmic sea; and that which appears in the raging storm that hurls itself against chimney and tower outside, becomes the protective heat of the hearth-fire within. As if collected within an urn, it becomes that blood-glow of Eros that already stirs within the animal; it dreams within its blood. Unfettered, it becomes the Wild Hunt. But it is also revealed in the sweet dawning of that dazzling distance, wherein a wild darkness joins forces with alluring lamentations from afar. The crossing of gold and gloom as inseparable twilight: Eros of the Distance. (RR p. 271)

274. Inner Drive and Outer Expression. Every driving-force is at the same time a disposition of the body; and alongside every activity of a drive there occurs a physiological, physiognomical transformation of the body. (AC p. 16)

275. Paradox. Shame is the dread that one feels before the prospect of one’s true self being exposed. Thus, shame is, without a doubt, to be classed with those emotions that are ordinarily called egotistical. (AC p. 17)

276. The Wise Man and his Wisdom. No sage has ever lived his life according to his wisdom: in the truly wise man, his wisdom is the philosophical expression of his life. What we call “self mastery” is always but one specific mode of the momentary preponderance of a single impulse. Obviously, there can be no authentic mastery over our passions, any more than there can be a genuine “freedom of the will.” (AC p. 17)

277. On Cruelty. Cruelty belongs to the most “forbidden” elements of the affective life. We can scarcely pronounce the word cruelty without arousing in the listener a dark, and therefore so much more intensely felt, loathing for that train of phantoms that our long religious training of the heart has clothed with flesh and blood. (We can best clarify our thoughts regarding these difficult matters by consulting the works of the great German thinkers of the 19th century.)

But as to how matters stand in the real world, we must understand that the yearning for violence and suffering belongs not to “man in general,” but solely to historical man. Let us recall—without shutting our eyes, if you please—the gladiatorial combat of the Romans, the naïve maliciousness of so many children, and the Spaniard’s delight in the bullfight. In addition, however, we must not ignore the ingredient of cruelty in the pleasure that people derive from attending a great theatrical tragedy; in the breathless anticipation with which so many people listen to chronicles of atrocities that transpired in far distant ages and cultures; in the love of scandal and gossip; in the everyday amusement that some experience in the misfortunes of others; in truculence and “braggadocio”; in the longing to make an “impression” on the world; and in the great delight that so many people take in witnessing the downfall and disgrace of their fellow man. (AC pp. 17-18)

278. Christian Lust for Self-Torture. The major achievement of Christianity was in relocating the arena within which man conducts his operations from the world outside of man to the landscape of the human soul within…The admitted cruelty of the ancient world was then forced to don the guise of the contrite penitent. Antiquity took what was perhaps an excessive pleasure in battle and death; but the self-same lust has characterized the entire Christian era as well, although the Christian has sought to hide his suicidal impulses behind such masks as self-flagellation and asceticism. (AC p. 18)

279. Judgment and World. Our critical judgment cannot perceive red, blue, or any color whatsoever in general; nor can our judgment perceive sounds, tastes, musical key-signatures, thirst or hunger in themselves; our judgment cannot perceive discrete feelings of hope, yearning, expectation, and so on. What our judgments of the world can achieve is this: the perception of the manifold of qualities, both internal and external, that enable us to distinguish one thing from another. (SW 3 P. 721)

280. Back to the Romantics! We live in an age when empirical science and its monuments are overrated. A mere knowledge of the facts in the case now passes for something substantial. Certainly, a well-founded science should perform its operations with the aid of just such facts as are necessary to prove its theories. Everything else is useless ballast. Originally, this method was fitting and proper when considered against the background of a reaction against the debauchery of the Naturphilosophie of the early 19th century. But today there is no longer any need for such a negative viewpoint. The ceaseless defamation of speculative ideas now permits fashionable writers to ignore even the uncontested advances that Schelling, Oken, and others contributed to the advancement of science. It is high time that we recall the achievements of the Romantics, so that we may cease traveling down the path of an obtuse “induction.” (LK GL p. 147)

281. Science and Metaphysics. Science is not a matter of collecting facts, but of asking the right questions. The history of science demonstrates this quite clearly. It also shows that the truly great discoverers always achieved their crucial results with the aid of speculation (the data upon which they based their theories was often quite limited)…Think of a Dalton, of a Robert Mayer, of an Avogadro. These are the three great names of their age in our own field of study, and all three strikingly bear out the truth of our contention. And, nota bene, all three were forced to live their creative lives in mortal combat with their contemporaries! (LK GL p. 148)

282. From “Manly Loyalty” to “Homosexuality”. The attempt to saturate the sexual instinct with the erotic essence has often resulted in the downfall of the lovers; on the other hand, the contrary attempt—to sever the instinct from the essence—has led and still leads initially to the poisoning of Eros, and ultimately to its death. Here we must emphasize the fact that displays of sympathy are oftentimes more profound between members of the same sex than between man and woman. The eternal icon here is the Dioscuri [the mythological twins Castor and Pollux]; this sympathetic bond celebrates its highest festival in honoring friendship as much as it honors affection…When we recall the “manly loyalty” of the ancient Germans, we also summon to our mind’s eye the original “manly affection” of the ancient Greeks, which likewise had scarcely anything in common with contemporary “homosexuality.” The Greek sentiment first began to degenerate as a result of the evil entanglement of the impulse to heterosexual union with a banal love of boys…The Eros of the West stands under the sign of “Blood-brotherhood,” of which the “sacred league” of the Thebans is perhaps the best world-historical example. (SW 3 pp. 406-7)

283. Nature and Soul. In spite of all of the idle chatter about “progress,” there are still prophetic souls who draw our attention to the implications of the indubitable increase of man’s mastery (alas! along with man’s destruction) of nature. But even these prophets have not devoted sufficient attention to the simultaneous and equally blatant assaults on the values of the soul! (SW 3 p. 654)

284. From Things to Images. Although to our human senses it might seem to be merely a promise of bliss, we receive much more when we drink our fill from the beaker that is offered to us by the Eros of the distance, which releases us from the tangible world of things, and transports us to the ungraspable actuality of the images! (SW 3 p. 412)

285. Back to the Pre-Socratics! The student who immerses himself, lovingly and intelligently, in the symbolic language of the pre-Socratics, must unfailingly conclude that no succeeding age—and especially not that of the pretentious twin-peaks of Hellenic wisdom, Plato and Aristotle!—has matched the profundity and panoramic scope of those dazzling philosophical ruins that we continually visit in our quest for wisdom: Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Pythagoras are their names. The least that can be said of these giants is that they were well on the way to the discovery that an authentic interpretation of the world must entail a doctrine of life. They also understood that the mechanistic aspect of reality should be reduced to the status of an insignificant by-product of the living world. (SW 3 p. 654)

286. In a Nutshell. Our position is that the primal Trias, from which every authentic triad has descended, ordains that body and soul are the poles of life; into the substance of man—more precisely, into man as he rides the wave-crest of “World History”—there irrupts a force from outside the spatio-temporal realm (acosmic). That force is named spirit, and spirit’s mission is to sever the poles of body and soul and thereby to murder the living substance of man. (SW 3 p. 565)

287. Terminus. The spiritual will to conquest is the ultimate offense against life, and the offender must be prepared to endure life’s harsh retaliation in consequence. This proposition will remain in force so long as mankind exists, and it will have demonstrated the full horror of its ultimate implications when a degenerate mankind finally evolves into a completely rationalized and desecrated counterfeit of life. (SW 3 p. 479)

288. Sex and Eros. We can liken sex to the harsh light of a glowing electric wire. Eros, however, is more like the intense and frosty shimmer of opalescent glass…Erotic vitality resembles an elegant lamp that discharges its radiance symmetrically throughout one’s entire study. (SW 3 p. 490)

289. God as Suicide. For two thousand years the Christian religion, with its hatred of the world, has found its symbol of life in the self-crucifixion of the creator of that world! (SW 3 p. 481)

290. The Great Achievement. It was Aristotle who first realized that the pure, i.e., functioning—albeit not suffering—spirit (nous) is an entity that has irrupted into the cosmos from outside the cosmos: we most emphatically endorse this formulation. (SW 3 p. 736)

291. Actuality and Experience. Actuality is experienced, but truth is thought that is based upon experience. That which we contemplate conceptually is not actuality; but the conceptual dimension can aid us in our efforts to comprehend that actuality. (SW 3 589)

292. The Mystic and the Eros of the Distance. Human drives are blessed by Eros to the extent that they participate in the cosmic Eros; and cosmic Eros is always: Eros of the distance. Thus, whoever seeks to negate distance is characterized by a possessiveness that is fatal to Eros, to the glowing nimbus of the world, and, ultimately, to actuality itself.

Nevertheless, the real secret endures, as does the sacred wisdom of the mystic: the holy image is only revealed from afar, even as the mystic merges himself with his vision. The mystic alone sees “the sun aglow at midnight.” (SW 3 p. 482)

293. Above and Below. The necessary counterpart of “salvation in heaven” is hell on earth. (SW 3 p. 468)

294. Image and Symbol. The actuality of the image—the most intense (perhaps the only!) actuality to which we have access—is an eternal coming to be and passing away, a perpetual waxing and waning, the kindling as well as the extinguishing of the light. In sharp contrast to the time-bound rigidity of modern existence, the actuality of the image cannot be trapped in concepts. Instead, it communicates more and evermore to us through the language of the symbol. (SW 3 p. 469)

295. The Etiology of “Humanitarianism. Starting out from the time when a combative chorus of voices strove to determine who should rule the heathen tribes during the Germanic migrations, we end up today with the exaggeratedly sympathetic nature of the Nordic race, which we have to thank for the disastrous gift of a cloying “soul love” (as confusing and fatal as any gift could possibly be: because the combative chorus of the heathens degenerated through the collapse of the capacity to discriminate; then it became the perfectly achieved, universally tolerant harmonization. Tempted by Christian catchphrases, that tolerance became, in turn, exclusive passion, about which we still hear so much today. Ultimately, “soul love” transformed its substance into the destructive specter of universal “humanitarianism,” which is, in fact, the murderer of love). (SW 3 p. 404)

296. Monist and Dualist. Whether we hold with the materialists that the ultimately “real” substances are atoms, or electrons, or protons; or with the idealists that the truly real is mere “being,” spirit (logos), reason (nous), the “absolute,” or the transcendental place that houses ideas or non-extensible monads, etc.: all of these viewpoints agree in situating the “real” beyond the world of phenomenal images, in comparison with which all of those candidates fade into oblivion. And it is no different in the merely apparent opposition of “dualism” and “monism,” since behind the former’s “duality” there always lurks a pure “one,” to which, at the end of the day, even the “dualist” feels compelled to grant the status of the ultimately “real.” (SW 3 p. 736)

297. Pseudo-Psychologists. Although they call themselves psychologists, our academics appear to us to be, in fact, epistemologists, for it is immediately apparent that their researches consistently deal with such matters as feelings, perceptions, representations, etc. They never seem to have pondered the fact that it is not consciousness alone—and without certain presuppositions regarding consciousness, all of their systems would immediately crumble to dust—but the “activity of the senses” as well that is subject to periodic alternations between existence and non-existence. They speak so dispassionately about a “stream of consciousness” where they should be studying the stream of life; what’s more, many of them are intrepid enough to draw the inexorable conclusion that there is a stream of sleep-consciousness as well.

Everyone laughs and considers himself entitled to ridicule as mere sophistries the doctrines of the Eleatics, who held that events were “deceptive illusions.” But even serious thinkers today advance the view that perhaps our sleep-consciousness also merits the name of consciousness, without realizing that they have thereby plunged themselves into a counterpart of the Eleatics’ error. The Eleatics disavowed the continuity of events, on the grounds that this continuity was conceptually untenable (by reason of the discontinuity of comprehension); the other school affirms the continuity of consciousness inasmuch as, without it, one would be unable conceptually to grasp the continuity of events. Thus, one school avoids contact with actuality, while the other is divorced from the experience of actuality; fundamentally, however, both schools are united in assenting to the proposition that consciousness alone is the “true” reality! (SW 2 p. 804)

298. Dream and Pain. The dream-experience is an experience that is not susceptible to suffering. (SW 2 p. 809)

299. Vital Rhythm. The rhythm of life undoubtedly differs between one person and another; this is even more the case when we examine different races and species. (SW 2 p. 825)

300. Before the Altar of the Pelasgians. The illustrious historian Herodotus tells us that at Dodona he learned that the original inhabitants of Hellas, who were called the “Pelasgians,” had certainly honored the gods and offered sacrifices to them, but they did not know their names, which were only later discovered by the Egyptians. After these divine names were recognized by the Oracle at Dodona, they were in due course transmitted to the Hellenes. What is the deeper implication of this account of Herodotus? Consider the following: for the Pelasgians, as for any similar people in the primordial phase of cultural development, all of the following entities possessed a sacred character—heaven, earth, the sea, the stream, the mountain, the tree, the soil, the animal, the stone, the rustling of the treetop, the moaning of the wind, the passing cloud, light and darkness, the fructifying rain, burning passion, sun and moon, the orbit of the star, the arrival of the seasons, morning and evening, brightness and darkness, the house, the herd, the kindling of the flame, the livestock and the harvest, the bath, drinking and eating, the nuptial feast, pregnancy and birth, the bond between parents and their children, dying, sleeping, dreaming, quarrel and atonement, promise and betrayal, coming to be and passing away, melancholy and joy, welfare and misfortune, longing and loathing, the blessing and the curse, guilt and revenge, health and sickness, high spirits, madness, and so very much more! (SW 5 p. 371)

to be continued


Translated by Joseph D. Pryce from the original sources. For reference, notes refer to the more easily obtainable texts:

AC=Klages, L. Zur Ausdruckslehre und Charakterkunde. Heidelberg. 1926.

AG=Klages, L. Ausdrucksbewegung und Gestaltungskraft. Munich. 1968.

LK GL=Schroeder, H. E. Ludwig Klages Die Geschichte Seines Lebens. Bonn. 1966-1992.

PEN=Klages, L. Die psychologischen Errungenschaften Nietzsches. Leipzig. 1926

RR=Klages, L. Rhythmen und Runen. Leipzig. 1944.

SW=Klages, L. Sämtliche Werke. Bonn. 1965-92.

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