Dostoevsky — “Beauty would save the world”

“HIPPOLYTE, who had fallen asleep during Lebedeff’s discourse, now suddenly woke up, just as though someone had jogged him in the side. He shuddered, raised himself on his arm, gazed around, and grew very pale. A look almost of terror crossed his face as he recollected.

“What! are they all off? Is it all over? Is the sun up?” He trembled, and caught at the prince’s hand. “What time is it? Tell me, quick, for goodness’ sake! How long have I slept?” he added, almost in despair, just as though he had overslept something upon which his whole fate depended.

“You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.

Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.

“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I–“

He drew a long, deep breath of relief, as it seemed. He realized that all was not over as yet, that the sun had not risen, and that the guests had merely gone to supper. He smiled, and two hectic spots appeared on his cheeks.

“So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” he said, ironically. “You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening–I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I’ve just been dreaming about him, prince,” he added, frowning. “Yes, by the by,” starting up, “where’s the orator? Where’s Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that ‘beauty would save the world’? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he’s in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don’t blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian.”

The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing. Continue reading “Dostoevsky — “Beauty would save the world””

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the 1001 goals

Chapter 15

MANY lands saw Zarathustra, and many peoples: thus he discovered the
good and bad of many peoples. No greater power did Zarathustra find on
earth than good and bad.
No people could live without first valuing; if a people will
maintain itself, however, it must not value as its neighbour valueth.
Much that passed for good with one people was regarded with scorn
and contempt by another: thus I found it. Much found I here called
bad, which was there decked with purple honours.
Never did the one neighbour understand the other: ever did his
soul marvel at his neighbour’s delusion and wickedness.
A table of excellencies hangeth over every people. Lo! it is the
table of their triumphs; lo! it is the voice of their Will to Power.
It is laudable, what they think hard; what is indispensable and hard
they call good; and what relieveth in the direst distress, the
unique and hardest of all,- they extol as holy.
Whatever maketh them rule and conquer and shine, to the dismay and
envy of their neighbours, they regard as the high and foremost
thing, the test and the meaning of all else. Continue reading “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the 1001 goals”

Leisure, culture and philosophy

“Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.

The word “cult” in English is used exclusively, or almost exclusively in a derivative sense. But here it is used, along with worship, in its primary sense. It means something else than, and something more than, religion. It really means fulfilling the ritual of public sacrifice. That is a notion which contemporary “modern” man associates almost exclusively and unconsciously with uncivilized, primitive peoples and with classical antiquity. For that very reason it is of the first important to see that the cultus, now as in the distant past, is the primary source of man’s freedom, independence and immunity within society. Suppress that last sphere of freedom, and freedom itself, and all our liberties, will in the end vanish into thin air.

Culture, in the sense in which it is used above, is the quintessence of all the natural good of the world and of those gifts and qualities which, while belonging to man, lie beyond the immediate sphere of his needs and wants. All that is good in this sense, all man’s gifts and faculties are not necessarily useful in a practical way; though there is no denying that they belong to a truly human life, not strictly speaking necessary, even though he could not do without them. Continue reading “Leisure, culture and philosophy”

Lessing on Laocoön: the expression of pain at the battle of Troy

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The “civilized” Greeks were not afraid of showing their pain because their identity was rooted firmly within. The “barbarian” Trojans’ identity was dependant upon the esteem and impressions of others (i.e., their identity was not internal to the same degree, but externally dependant) hence the ferociousness going into battle and the stoicism in burying their dead. Of course the Greeks conquered Troy. Lessing is studying the Laocoön group with a view to exploring the limits of art in expressing pain.

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“A cry is the natural expression of physical pain. Homer’s wounded warriors not infrequently fall to the ground with a cry. Venus shrieks aloud at a mere scratch [Iliad V. 343], not because she must be made to represent the tender goddess of sensuality, but because suffering nature must have her due. Even iron Mars screams so horribly on feeling the lance of Diomedes that it sounds like the shouting of ten thousand raging warriors and fills both armies with terror [Iliad V. 859].

High as Homer raises his heroes above human nature in other respects, he still has them remain faithful to it in their sensitiveness to pain and injury and in the expression of this feeling by cries, tears, or invectives. In their deeds they are beings of a higher order, in their feelings true men.

I know that we more refined Europeans of a wiser, later age know better how to govern our mouths and our eyes. Courtesy and propriety force us to restrain our cries and tears. The aggressive bravery of the rough, early ages has become in our time a passive courage of endurance. Yet even our ancestors were greater in the latter than the former. But our ancestors were barbarians. To master all pain, to face death’s stroke with unflinching eye, to die laughing under the adder’s bite, to weep neither at the loss of one’s dearest friend nor at one’s own sins: these are the traits of old Nordic heroism. Palnatoko decreed that his Jomsburghers were not to fear anything nor even so much as mention the word “fear.”

Not so the Greek! He felt and feared, and he expressed his pain and grief. He was not ashamed of any human weakness, but it must not prevent him from attaining honor nor from fulfilling his duty. The Greek acted from principles whereas the barbarian acted out of his natural ferocity and callousness. In the Greek, heroism was like the spark hidden in the flint, which sleeps quietly as long as no external force awakens it, and robs it of its clarity or its coldness. In the barbarian, heroism was a bright, consuming, and ever-raging flame which devoured, or at least blackened, every other fine quality in him. When Homer makes the Trojans march to battle with wild cries, while the Greeks go in resolute silence, the commentators rightly observe that the poet thereby intends to depict the former as barbarians and the latter as civilized peoples. I am surprised that they did not notice a similar contrast of character in another passage [Iliad VII. 421]. Here the opposing armies have agreed to a truce and are busy burning their dead, which does not take place without the shedding of hot tears on both sides. But Priam forbids his Trojans to weep. He does this, Madame Dacier says, because he is afraid they may grow too softhearted and take up the battle on the following day with less courage. True! But why, may I ask, should only Priam fear this? Why does Agamemnon not issue the same command to the Greeks? The poet’s meaning goes deeper: he wants to tell us that only the civilized Greek can weep and yet be brave at the same time, while the uncivilized Trojan, to be brave, must first stifle all human feeling. “Weeping does not make me indignant” is the remark that Homer has the sensible son of wise Nestor make on another occasion” [Odyssey IV. 195] (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön, p 8-10).

Dietrich Bonheoffer

“Dietrich Bonheoffer (1906-1945) a German Lutheran minister who joined Barth in resisting Hitler’s attempts to use the Lutheran Church, became a teacher in the seminary of the newly formed Confessing Church, tried to form a link between Germans opposed to Hitler and the British government, and was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested and put in prison in 1943 and hanged just before the end of the Second World War in 1945. His Letters and Papers from Prison reflect an impressive and courageous witness under hardship; and they reflect on the growing secularization of man (Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ idea) and on the need to speak about God in a secular way, so that God is not reduced to a pseudo-religious magic force or so-called “God-of-the-gaps” but who on account of Jesus Christ’s redemptive act is present at the center of even secular and non-religious life” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Barth

“Karl Barth (1886-1968) reacted against the liberal theological trend that started with Schleiermacher, because in reducing religion to feeling it also tended to reduce Christianity back into the meanings and values of the secular culture. He tried to bring theology back to the principles of the Reformation and the prophetic message of the Bible. Heavily influenced by Kierkegaard, he interpreted the Christian message to mean that God is so supremely transcendent and superior to all human aspirations that human reason and ‘natural theology’ (philosophy of God which does not accept the teachings of revelations) are worthless; and religion grounded in mere human experience (as in Schleiermacher) is impossible. His Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans rejected all merely historical interpretation of Scripture as incapable of doing justice to the text as the inspired Word of God. His ability to distinguish so sharply Christianity from human culture enabled Barth to resist Hitler’s attempts to enlist the German Lutheran State Church in the Nazi cause, saying, “We have no Fuehrer (leader) but Jesus Christ!” In the Humanity of God he still affirmed that God’s sole revelation is in Jesus Christ, who in becoming human, uttered the only really significant Yes! of the transcendent God to poor sinful humanity in need of redemption through grace” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Schleiermacher

“Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) tried to win the educated classes back to religion in his Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. He argued against both German rationalists and orthodox dogmatists, contending that religion is based on intuition and feeling which is more important than and independent of dogmas or rituals, which may or may not be adequate expressions of religious feeling. The highest experience of religion for Schleiermacher is a sensation of union with the infinite. He defined religion as a feeling of absolute dependence which finds its purest expression in monotheism. The variety of forms which the feeling of absolute dependence assumes in different individuals and nations accounts for the diversity of religions, of which Christianity is the highest, but not the only true one” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Nietzsche

“Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), like Kierkegaard and Marx, was opposed to the pretensions of any kind of rationalist approach such as Hegel’s. But he was also a radical critic of Plato, of Christianity, and of the kind of person produced by liberal democracy (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), or communism (Marx). He called this kind of person “the Last Man” who, in his concern for bodily health, relaxation, entertainment, and feeling good about himself, thinks he is greater and smarter than anyone before in history; and yet who has lost all the deepest aspirations and desires that really make people human. Liberal democracy’s and communism’s preoccupation with comfortable self-preservation—the joyless quest for joy—ends up making us universal, homogeneous, and trivial. Nietzsche teaches that throughout history human beings have needed to create horizons of serious values by which to live and give meaning to their everyday existences. But they have to hide from themselves that these horizons or values have been created by their own will-to-power. Continue reading “Nietzsche”

Kierkegaard

“Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) also reacted against the abstractness of Hegel’s dialectical march of ideas in the unfolding of the Absolute Spirit because it leaves out the concrete dynamics of personal and individual existence. For Kierkegaard what is actual and particular is more important than universal concepts and abstractions. Passionately Christian, Kierkegaard was contemptuous of organized religion and of the tendency to use doctrines to blunt our awareness of how we are making decisions about our personal existence. He attacks any kind of rationalism (i.e. exclusive dependence on sense observation or reasoning in rejection of belief or faith) and he tries to justify a new commitment or ‘leap of faith’ in which passion and feeling have as much importance as reason and in which the inward and personal life of human beings is recognized as the source of meaning and value. Continue reading “Kierkegaard”

Marx

“Karl Marx (1818-1883) in his Theses on Feuerbach contends that up till his time philosophers like Hegel had only interpreted history, but that now the real task of philosophy was to make or change history. Marx claimed that the chief philosophy interpretations prior to him had been ideologies intended to cover up the real relationships between the economic forces of production (= any given stage of technological developments available) and the relations of production (social relations between capitalists [owners of means of production] and wage-earners). Hegel’s account of the historical evolution of universal freedom omitted the realities of economics and obscured how history is really the history of class warfare. The liberal capitalist ideology of Locke and Adam Smith tried to make people believe that the laws of the market place (of supply and demand) are necessary and iron-clad laws of nature (like Marx supposed the laws of physics were). But Marx unveiled them as really only misunderstandings of one phase in the dialectical development of economics from feudalism through capitalism to communism. Continue reading “Marx”