The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul
Translation of two sections from Ludwig Klages' "Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele"
Note: Life is short and “Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele” is very long. Few books; perhaps no book, written in the last few hundred (few thousand?) years are as important as Klages’ masterpiece, yet it has, unjustifiably failed to receive an English translation. I have read the German text of over 1,500 pages numerous times, and have translated a number of passages, literally, for my own edification. Below, you will find two of these passages. For me, the most important and interesting part of the entire text is the final section on the Pelasgians. It is a text of immense profundity and difficulty. It deserves a translation, but one that does Klages justice, so it would take time and effort. I would be willing to work on this, but only if there is interest. Please let me know.
1. Passage from Chapter 54
In the miracle of astronomical, physical, and chemical regularity, only the inner fact is reflected that these sciences, driven by an almost unrestricted inclination for isolation, chose their location at a distance from the real, where the transformation of their object was lost behind the appearance of that durability which could satisfy the desire for regularity; just as the visual tradition of the unarmed eye of all humanity remained incapable, due to the vastness of sensory space, of bearing witness to the wandering flight of the sun and stars. And thus, of course, they fulfilled only the indispensable conditions of success for all thinking aimed at ascertaining facts, or in short, for the externally directed intellect itself.
But, one might interject, what could compel us to trust mere speculations more than the compelling force of experience? Well then, if reasons are incapable, all the more certain is the fact that this very experience finds itself compelled to testify to the existence of not only inanimate things but also living things. This is the catastrophic fate of all mechanism: within its world of things, it encounters a group of objects that undeniably possess life and therefore experience, and to some extent, even sensation. It stands before something that is not mechanistic, yet it possesses only concepts by means of which one understands a machine! The laborious efforts to find an honorable comparison are in vain! In a world of things and forces, there can be no living beings, and conversely: the reality of living beings nullifies the reality of the world of things. On the foundation of a philosophy of life, the facts of mechanics can also be grasped as conceptually distinct facets of the living, transcending cosmic dimensions of its transience. However, no entanglement of physical statements leads to the understanding of even the tiniest reality of life! — We do not name the subject of mechanics as fictional for the sake of its conceptual nature, but because in its name, a mere link of relation between the demands of images and the requirements of the thinking self has been hypostatized. If we consider factual concepts not only as presuppositions of possible knowledge but as elements of knowledge itself, we not only close the path to this, but also veer onto a misguided path where, instead of archetypal ideas, we encounter classes analogous to the ego, and instead of events, we encounter the activity-like effects of those unimaginable “forces” whose illusory nature we have discussed in great detail.
However, the evidence of action and mechanicism is gross self-deception! The machine — nature, too, albeit nature subjugated and compelled by itself — can indeed destroy life, but it can never create it! The notion that we truly understood reality because we mechanistically subdued it holds only in a denatured world that itself would be a machine; whereas the corresponding proof for a living world would require the generation of life through performance. Just as we cannot breathe life into the dead, it is also inconceivable that we could ever create a machine that feels. And does not the briefest glimpse at the actual state of affairs show us that tools and machines are at odds with the realm of vitality, annihilating organisms in enormous numbers, devastating the face of the planet at an ever-accelerating pace! Did we delve deeper into the nature of the eagle’s soul since acquiring shotguns to exterminate eagles? Did we reveal the secrets of the primeval forest after constructing factories that have turned the last of them into newspapers; did we solve the mystery of water since we’ve become skilled at damming lakes, swiftly channeling rivers, and harnessing the ancient sacred element solely for horsepower? But if the mechanization of nature, instead of enlivening, reaches down to the roots of all life, then we must not delude ourselves any longer that it is the prime witness of genuine “natural science!” On the contrary, we should deduce from such experiences that, in contrast to “energies” and “materials,” life is not a quantity that, having vanished in one form, reappears in another. “Energetic” processes can be reversed because they are time-abstracted semblances of events, so to speak, their mimicry; in the temporal reality of life, no eternity brings back a second, and even the omnipotence of a god does not revive what the fatal blow of will has felled! “Energies” persist because they are lifeless; life constructs within the world of eternal change, where the concept of preservation finds no place. Thus, the “proof of action” looks somewhat different from the commonly assumed one. Just as we can calculate only the time-stable aspects of the real and grasp them within the framework of their lifelessness, we undoubtedly mechanize nature, but only to the extent of extinguishing life within it! The “unreality” of the physical world does not prevent the mind from creating, through its concepts, the tool for the destruction of reality.
If we must perceive the outcome of modern natural science as a life-antagonistic attitude, this is not to be understood as if we meant that its pioneering proponents were even remotely conscious of it. The spirit of enmity toward life operates within them, blinds them to the contradiction of images, influences the selection of their problems, imposes their underlying concepts with a seeming depth of objectivity, and above all, guides their research methods. However, it does not enter their consciousness as a purpose-setting force; their consciousness believes it is dedicated solely to the pursuit of truth. Neither in the sincerity of the pursuit of knowledge nor in the penetrative power of pure contemplation do they stand behind the thinkers of antiquity. However, the hidden driving force of their pursuit of knowledge fundamentally changes the image not only of their achievements but also of their mindset.
2. Passage from Chapter 57 (Entire section on Heraclitus)
Heraclitus. — The Eleatics discovered Being; Heraclitus discovered Reality and found for his discovery the valid formula of eternal flux. The former distrusted the senses because they show movement; he distrusted the senses because they show us things that contradict change. In other words, the Eleatics abandoned seeing for the sake of grasping and de-realized temporality; Heraclitus disempowers grasping in favor of seeing by even withdrawing Being into the stream of never-being events. All subsequent surges in the exploration of the “ontological” problem arose from a renewed consideration of the world-historical opposition between Eleaticism and Heraclitism, for which no thinker has found a parallel until this day! (We know the reason: because there isn’t one!)
Even if the denial of the world’s existence did not already presuppose that mere reason is inadequate for genuine knowledge formation, there would still be no slightest doubt that Heraclitus disputed the reality of concepts due to the indivisibility of that in which he alone perceives the truly real. With full awareness of their significance, he asserts the proposition of the illusory nature of conceptual content and endeavors to demonstrate it from the lack of reason in the non-human course of the world.
“Connections are formed: whole and not-whole, concord and difference, harmonies and dissonances: from all of these comes one, and from one, all.”
“The Gods are day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger.”
“Time is a playing, stone-setting child: a child is king.”
However, his incorruptible lucidity also pierces through the illusion of freedom in setting goals, and with resonant tragic irony, he reveals the senselessness of all purposes and values, replacing all human thought and striving with a compulsive being-driven.
“They are born to live and to fall prey to death… and they leave behind children to fall prey to death as well.”
“All creatures graze under the lash of the Gods.”
“The character of man is his daemon.”
“Good and bad are the same.”
“For the Gods, everything is beautiful and good and right; only humans are of the opinion that one is right and the other wrong.”
If from the coupling of such revelations to the thirst of the soul later sprang the bastard of a “dialectical method,” which—a curious caricature of scholasticism—undertook to teach the flow of concepts with serious formality, it may suffice to remind that our thinker, on the contrary, held the conviction of the unalterable rigidity of the concept, to demonstrate its inability to capture the stream of temporality. Nothing could be further from him than the absurdity attributed to him by Aristotle, that the concept of day transitions into the concept of night, the concept of the whole into the concept of the part; rather, from the impossibility of this, he gained the certainty that reality does not disintegrate into such compartments. The flow of events refutes the separating and distinguishing line, which is the entire business of reason. In contrast to all guild philosophers, for him, the world of objects is stamped with the mark of deceptive appearance precisely because of its conceptual nature, which unwittingly only mythical thinking could reflect: boundless mutability. This constitutes the sensory characteristic of eternal flux.
“Cold becomes warm, warm becomes cold, moist becomes dry, dry becomes moist.”
“Life and death, waking and sleeping, youth and age are one and the same for us: for when one turns, it is the other, and when one turns, it is this.”
Yet Heraclitus does not stop at such sentences that, which despite their depth, seem to culminate in the negation of mere rational truths and would still leave us in doubt as to whether their cause is to be sought more in enlightened experience or more in the denial of the metaphysical transcendence of reason. He also affirms his image of the flow of events, by bringing us close to the utmost limit accessible to the introspection that listens to the eternal flow. He discovers the rhythm in the eternal flux and unveils what, without law, makes every legislative approach possible: the polarity in the interchange of images. The universe does not flow so much as it pulsates, and the appearance of steady existence arises—analogous to the “static equilibrium” of mechanics—from an opposing alternation, whereby it is incessantly on the “path upwards” but also on the “path downwards.” Viewing this double movement from the perspective of the polarity of opposites, it appears—as if the struggling Dioscuri—under the image of eternal separation; whereas, viewed from the perspective of the polarity of all oppositions, it appears—like the united Dioscuri—under the image of eternal harmony. One might not highlight the origin of the thought of polarity beyond reason more sharply than by pointing out that according to this thought, Heraclitus’ “strife” and “harmony” are one and the same! Just as the round course of the ancient racetrack demands both the driving and the restraining charioteer, so does the pendulum movement of the world’s events, if it is to be saved from real dissolution through petrification in being, require the concord of an unceasing dissolving process with an unceasing gathering, or the ever-renewing tension of the poles. It is not praised sameness and equality but the gripping battle of opposites that reveals the restlessly pulsating soul: this is a key to Heraclitus’ ambiguous riddle, where invisible harmony is stronger than visible. Yet because everything not only returns to where it came from—the day into the night, wakefulness into sleep, life into death—but will also break forth again whence it sank back—from the night into the day, from sleep into wakefulness, from death into life—the threateningly inescapable vortex plunges into the soothing glow of that ancient destiny’s necessity, which in the miraculous language of the Greeks is consistently of the female gender, Heimarmene, Dike, Ananke, and from which deeper knowledge would scarcely be won, unless Heraclitus reveals it—binding release and releasing binding—in the singing metaphor of the harmony of the bow and the lyre.
However, it is sufficient now to keep in mind the full meaning of what we have so far unfolded from Heraclitus’ knowledge in order to understand even without his explanations that he ascended to the highest peak of that panzoism, which is the hallmark of the pre-Socratics (more precisely, the pre-Sophists). An endlessly renewing reality must be entirely alive and, in a manner of speaking, only the visible expression of an unceasingly pulsating essence. Everything lives: stone, water, air, and ether; the living lives, and the dead live as well; the things that assert themselves in time are nothing but seemingly enduring transitional forms of the flowing life-streams. And not only that, he divides the poles according to the cosmic meaning of this life and anticipates a truth that only began to shine since the Renaissance and celebrated its irresistible breakthrough in Nietzsche’s “Birth of Tragedy:” the truth that deprivation is the highest fulfillment, and abundance is the solution to lack. The deficiency is, according to him, the world’s formation, but the excess, its destruction. Death becomes liberation, and the individual being is merely a limit of life! In this way, as a phase of lack, the animal and perpetually self-living reality separates from the elemental reality as a phase of abundance. And if we finally equate the latter with the soul, then we also know what these commonly misconstrued moral sentences mean, according to which the animal desires endanger the soul and seem to drown it.
Sleep as a form of life. — “Even the sleepers… contribute to what happens in the world.”
Death as a form of life. — “Now Hades and Dionysus, in whose honor they rave and celebrate festivals, are one and the same.” — “The immortals are mortal, mortals immortal: one lives the other’s death and dies the other’s life.”
Endangerment of the soul through animal lust. — “For the souls, it is either joy or death to become moist: we live in their death, they live in our death.” — “To struggle with pleasure is difficult; for what it wants, one buys at the price of one’s soul.”
Reciprocity of transformation. — “For the soul, it is death to become water; for water, it is death to become earth; from the earth, water emerges again, from water, soul.” — “Fire lives through air’s death, air lives through fire’s death; water lives through earth’s death, earth through water’s.”
One could misunderstand Heraclitus more gravely than by suggesting that he himself has had to posit such conceptual oppositions as death and life, water and soul, in order to clothe his teaching about polarities in comprehensible words. In truth, his abstractions are mere signposts toward something to be experienced and are thus not rational but genuinely symbolic concepts. The strictest consistency is evidenced when he explicitly rejects rational inquiry and seeks the source of all explorative knowledge not in reason but in certain states of the soul, whose fluctuating characterization—“belief,” “hope,” “enthusiasm”—intentionally avoids conceptual definiteness. Among the pre-Socratics, Heraclitus was the only conscious symbolist who, in the service of pre-rational thought, developed the pedagogical form of the suggestive aphorism or the “Delphic style.”
“The Lord, to whom the oracle in Delphi belongs, speaks nothing and hides nothing, but he hints.”
“He who does not hope for it will not find the unexpected; for it is unfathomable and inaccessible.”
“Unbelief is the reason why the divine mostly eludes knowledge.”
“Extensive knowledge does not grant understanding.”
“Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, sought knowledge more than anyone and shaped his own wisdom from it: extensive knowledge and subtlety.”
No scientist, but the symbolist can embrace statements like the following: “Human nature has no insight (gnosis), only the divine has.” Or: “I have heard the discourse of so many people, yet no one achieves the understanding that wisdom is separate from everything.”
And so, two ancient symbolic runes are employed to denote the substance of the world: the circle and the fire. The circle, as Rota and Swastika, pervading the worldview of the entire Pelasgian humanity, translates the indelible cult of that primal fire, which extends from the magic of flame worship through the sacred Vestal fire of the Romans to the “eternal lamp” of Catholic crypts. “In the periphery of the circle, beginning and end coincide”: the happening is eternal circling, every moment both an uncaused ending and a creative new beginning, boundlessly self-living blaze of the inner-enriching and the unfettering flame. Let us conclude our attempt to unfold the greatest metaphysics to date with two Delphic sentences of Heraclitus, whose elemental understandings of the fires of reality reverberate throughout history and has never been matched.
“The Sibyl, from her frenzied mouth, emits hard, unadorned, unanointed sounds, penetrating with her voice a thousand years through the inspiration of a God.”
“This cosmos, one and the same for all beings, has neither been created by a God nor a human, but it was, is, and will be the ever-living fire, now kindling, now extinguishing.”
If this content constituted the whole of his doctrine, then we would have to venerate him as the sole fully clear investigator of elemental life, whose profound participation in it preserved him from any “spiritualization” of the cosmos. However, as if the revelation itself had invoked a curse, his middle insight into the “ever-living fire” is followed by his darkest confusion. For it is not the Dodonaean Zeus-Achelous, the prophetic voice from the heart of eternal circling, but the Olympic Zeus-Helios, the throne usurper and the titan-toppling “orderer” of the world, who attaches to this fire’s significance, the heart of all wisdom, the soul of the soul! During the torch relay to Eleusis, the mystagogue dipped a torch into the sea as a sign of the ethereal element’s union with the hyletic. Heraclitus, the teacher of the world’s flow, in inexplicable delusion, mistakes the flowing moist for the flaming dry, rejects the orgies, scorns the enthused, lashes the poets, and turns to the parching light of the Logos; for which he deservedly suffered the consequence that the most austere Protestants of antiquity, the Stoics, wove the whip of their principles from his sentences to drive the pagan soul under the Caudine Yoke of an Asian “conscience.” He, the symbolist, who knew and pronounced that wisdom is divine and separate from all, whereas reason is human and common to all, nevertheless calls thinking the “chief property,” infects experiential life with ever-multiplying rationality, confuses the fiery soul of the world with an “all-ruling” spirit of the world, narrows the mystery of Ananke into the conscious “law” (Nomos), and unwittingly paves the way for those who will later disguise the Maya veil of images with the unburning flame of spiritual light. That was the internal strife that caused the creative “war” of Heraclitus to shimmer in ambiguous hues and occasionally lets his language break in violent shocks of subterranean hatred; thus, not without reason, the ancients wove a dark crown of rays around the somber figure of their greatest thinker—