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The Inspiration and Inerrancy Of Scripture – Karl Rahner

April 14, 2014
Just as by the very nature of the case there is an analogy of faith which is a hermeneutical principle for the correct interpretation of individual statements in the official teaching of the church, so that the individual statement can only be understood correctly within the unity of the church’s total consciousness of the faith, so too and in an analogous sense, or as a particular instance of this principle, there is also an analogia scripturae or an analogy of scripture which is a hermeneutical principle• for interpreting individual texts of scripture.

Just as by the very nature of the case there is an analogy of faith which is a hermeneutical principle for the correct interpretation of individual statements in the official teaching of the church, so that the individual statement can only be understood correctly within the unity of the church’s total consciousness of the faith, so too and in an analogous sense, or as a particular instance of this principle, there is also an analogia scripturae or an analogy of scripture which is a hermeneutical principle for interpreting individual texts of scripture.

A few pages from Rahner’s magisterial work, Foundations of Christian Faith. Which has been called “a brilliant synthesis flowing from an incomparable mastery of Scripture, the Church Fathers, the great medieval theologians, the ‘theology of the schools’, and contemporary thought.”

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In the documents of the church it is said again and again that God is the auctor (author) of the Old and New Testaments as scripture. The school theology, which is at work in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and up to those of Pius XII and tried time and time again to clarify by means of psychological theories how God himself is the literary author or the writer of Holy Scripture.

And it tried to formulate and to clarify the doctrine of inspiration in such a way that it becomes clear that God is the literary author of scripture. This, however, did not deny (and the Second Vatican Council affirmed it explicitly) that this understanding of God’s authorship and of inspiration may not reduce the human authors of these writings merely to God’s secretaries but rather it grants them the character of a genuine literary authorship of their own.

This interpretation of the inspired nature of scripture which we have done no more than sketch can of course be understood in such a way that even today one does not necessarily have to accuse it of being in mythological. We would have to recall in this connection what we said in the fifth chapter about the unity between transcendental revelation and its historical objectification in word and in writing, and about the knowledge of the success of these objectifications.

In any case it cannot be denied in the Catholic Church that God is the author of the Old and New Testament. But he does not therefore have to be understood as the literary author of these writings. He can be understood in a variety of other ways as the author of scripture, and indeed in such a way that in union with grace and the light of faith scripture can truly be called the word of God.

This is true especially because, as we said elsewhere, even if a word about God is caused by God, it would not by this very fact be a word of God in which God offers himself. It would not be such a word of God if this word did not take place as an objectification of God’s self-expression which is effected by God and is borne by grace, and which comes to us without being reduced to our level because the process of hearing it is borne by God’s Spirit.

If the church was founded by God himself through his Spirit and in Jesus Christ, if the original church as the norm for the future church is the object of God’s activity in a qualitatively unique way which is different from his preservation of the church in the course of history, and if scripture is a constitutive element of this original church as the norm for future ages, then this already means quite adequately and in both a positive and an exclusive sense that God is the author of scripture and that he inspired it .  [Yes, you may read that again slowly.]

Nor at this point can some special psychological theory of inspiration be appealed to for help. Rather we can simply take cognizance of the actual origins of scripture which follow for the impartial observer from the very different characteristics of the individual books of scripture. The human authors of Holy Scripture work exactly like other human authors, nor do they have to know anything about their being inspired in reflexive knowledge.

If God wills the original church as an indefectible sign of salvation for all ages, and wills it with an absolute, formally pre-defining and eschatological will within salvation history, and hence if he wills with this quite definite will everything which is constitutive for this church, and this includes in certain circumstances scripture in a preeminent way, then He is the inspirer and the author of scripture, although the inspiration of scripture is “only” a moment within God’s primordial authorship of the Church.

Inerrancy of Scripture
From the doctrine that Holy Scripture is inspired theology and the official doctrine of the church derive the thesis that scripture is inerrant. We can certainly say with the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum, art. 11): “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be considered to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, we must profess of the books of scripture that they teach with certainty, with fidelity and without error the truth which God wanted recorded in the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”

But if because of the very nature of scripture as the message of salvation we acknowledge the inerrancy of scripture first of all in this global sense, we are still far from having solved of all of the problems and settled all of the difficulties about the meaning and the limits of this statement which can be raised because of the actual state of the scriptural texts.

The inerrancy of scripture was certainly understood earlier in too narrow a sense, especially when inspiration was interpreted it sense of verbal inspiration, and the sacred writers were only regarded as God’s secretaries and not as independent and also historically conditioned literary authors. That difficulties still exist here in the understanding of and in the exact interpretation of the church’s doctrine on the inerrancy of scripture is shown even by the history of the conciliar text just cited. It follows from this history that the Council evidently wanted to leave open the question whether the phrase about the truth which God wanted to have recorded for the sake of our salvation is supposed to restrict or to explicate the meaning of the sentence.

We cannot of course treat and answer all of these questions and difficulties in detail here, especially since we cannot go into individual scriptural texts which raise special difficulties with regard to their “truth. We shall have to leave them to the introductory disciplines and to exegesis. Nor can we go into the question here whether in the papal encyclicals of the last century and up to Pius XII the doctrine on the inerrancy of scripture was not understood here and there in a too narrow and materialist sense. It is also obvious that much of what was said elsewhere in this book, for example, about the inerrancy of Christ and the inerrancy of real dogmas in the teaching of the church, can have its corresponding validity in this question too.

We only want to say here very briefly: scripture in its unity and totality is the objectification of God’s irreversible and victorious offer of salvation to the world in Jesus Christ, and therefore in its unity and totality it cannot lead one away from God’s truth in some binding way. We must read every individual text within the context of this single whole in order to understand its true meaning correctly. Only then can it be understood it its real meaning, and only then can it really be grasped as “true.”

The very different literary genre of the individual books must be seen more clearly than before and be evaluated in establishing the real meaning of statements. (For example, in the New Testament stories it is not impossible in certain circumstances that we find forms of midrash and that they were originally intended to be such, so that according to scripture’s own meaning the “historical” truth of a story can be relativized without any qualms.) Scriptural statements were expressed within historically and culturally conditioned conceptual horizons, and this must be taken into account if the question of what is “really” being said in a particular text is to be answered correctly.

In certain circumstances it can be completely legitimate to distinguish between the “correctness” and the “truth” of a statement. Nor may we overlook the question whether the really binding meaning of a scriptural statement does not change if a particular book has its origins outside the canon as the work of some individual, and then is taken into the totality of the canonical scriptures.

Just as by the very nature of the case there is an analogy of faith which is a hermeneutical principle for the correct interpretation of individual statements in the official teaching of the church, so that the individual statement can only be understood correctly within the unity of the church’s total consciousness of the faith, so too and in an analogous sense, or as a particular instance of this principle, there is also an analogia scripturae oran analogy of scripture which is a hermeneutical principle for interpreting individual texts of scripture.

If there is a “hierarchy of truths,” that is, if particular statement does not always have the same objective and existential weight which another statement has, then this has to be taken into account in interpreting individual scriptural statements. This does not mean that the statement which is “less important” in relation to another statement has to be qualified as incorrect or as false.

If we grant the validity of and apply these and similar principles, which follow from the very nature of the case and from the nature of human speech and are not the principles of a cheap “arrangement” or a cowardly attempt to cover up difficulties, then we certainly do not inevitably have to get into the difficulty of having to hold that particular statements of scripture are “true” in the meaning which is really intended and is intended in a binding way, although a sober and honest exegesis might declare that they are incorrect and erroneous in the sense of a negation of the “truth.”

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Noah By Charlotte Allen

April 11, 2014
It is the themes of faithfulness and optimism that give the biblical Noah story coherence. Without them you have -- as with Mr. Aronofsky's two-and-a-half-hour movie -- a vast and dreary expanse of time, space and meaning to fill.

It is the themes of faithfulness and optimism that give the biblical Noah story coherence. Without them you have — as with Mr. Aronofsky’s two-and-a-half-hour movie — a vast and dreary expanse of time, space and meaning to fill.

A ‘Noah’ for Our Secular Times Hollywood’s latest story of the Ark is more Gnostic than Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Ms. Allen is the author of “The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus” (Free Press, 1998).

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Director Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” is being touted as not your grandfather’s Bible movie. That’s true — but the film is also a quintessential example of the kind of biblical story you get, and the kind of biblical “hero” you get, in a secular culture that has lost all connection to what the story means.

Mr. Aronofsky’s Noah, played by Russell Crowe, isn’t merely a warts-and-all version of the “righteous man” from the Book of Genesis, who at God’s command builds an ark that saves his family, along with the world’s birds and beasts, from the flood that is God’s punishment of a human race that has grown corrupt. In Genesis, Noah has his faults, as when he shames himself in front of his sons by passing out drunk and naked after the flood has subsided and they have left the ark.

But Mr. Aronofsky’s Noah is a homicidal monster, part religious fanatic, part Zero Population Growth progenitor. In Mr. Aronofsky’s twist on the Bible, Noah is determined to exterminate his own offspring as well as the rest of mankind, all supposedly in God’s name.

This Noah ruthlessly abandons a young woman — the girlfriend of his teenage son — to be trampled to death by a mob. He then takes it upon himself to murder his newborn granddaughters in their mother’s arms. An all-is-forgiven ending, with Patti Smith singing “Mercy Is” on the soundtrack, does little to mitigate Noah’s general repulsiveness.

All filmmakers of biblical subjects take fictional liberties with their material — as do the makers of biblical plays, novels, operas, paintings and sculptures. Biblical narratives, as literary critic Erich Auerbach observed, are notoriously skimpy with information about their characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations. Filmmakers step in to supply complex and often conflicted human beings — Judas, King David, among others — out of the bare outlines the Bible provides.

Like other adapters of Bible stories, Mr. Aronofsky has drawn on extra-biblical sources: the apocryphal Book of Enoch, in this case, and likely Gnostic texts that present the biblical God as evil. Throughout “Noah,” God is referred to simply as the “Creator” — a title that calls to mind the “demiurge,” the sinister lesser divinity who, according to the Gnostic cosmology, fashioned the material world.

The liberties that Mr. Aronofsky has taken, however, run counter to nearly every religious interpretation of Noah ever made, from the commentary by Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish contemporary of Jesus, to Dino de Laurentiis’s 1966 movie spectacle, “The Bible: In the Beginning,” with John Huston portraying Noah as a genial patriarch who swats the animals on their behinds to keep them moving into the ark.

In Philo’s view, and in the rabbinical writings that followed, the story of Noah signified God’s continued solicitude for the human race despite its past depravity, and his willingness to start afresh. In Genesis, Noah’s three sons are grown men with wives and, later, numerous children. God honors Noah by making a covenant never again to destroy the planet with water, offering the rainbow as a sign of that covenant.

In Jewish thought, Noah is a precursor to Abraham, another righteous man with whom God makes a covenant promising countless offspring. In Islam, Noah is one of the earliest prophets.

Early Christian writers used this theme of God’s reward for human faithfulness as an allegory of Christian salvation, with the window of the ark symbolizing the wound in Christ’s side from which had poured his redemptive blood. The story of Noah was thus an inspiring story of a world begun anew. It was a favorite theme of medieval mystery plays, which embellished the tale with humor: Noah’s wife was often portrayed as a comical battle-ax who had to be dragged into the ark by her husband and sons.

Benjamin Britten turned one of those plays into his 1957 opera, ” Noye’s Fludde.” Michaelangelo painted scenes from the Noah story onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Other artists — from Jan Breughel the Elder in the 17th century to the American primitivist Edward Hicks in the 19th and Salvador Dali in the 20th — delighted in portraying the ark and its pairs of animals

It is the themes of faithfulness and optimism that give the biblical Noah story coherence. Without them you have — as with Mr. Aronofsky’s two-and-a-half-hour movie — a vast and dreary expanse of time, space and meaning to fill. The director strives his frenetic best. He gives us giant fantasy creatures that look like Transformers, except that they’re made of rocks. He gives us, as a substitute for religion, the creeds of animal rights and environmentalism, in which the gravest sins are eating meat and mining. He gives us knifings, arsons and impressive computer-generated battles.

But as a determined secularist in a determinedly secular world, he can’t give us the one thing that the Noah story once stood for: hope.

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SEX 2 From Roger Scruton’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy

April 10, 2014
Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The intentionality of desire is the topic for a book, and since I have written that book, I shall confine myself here to a few remarks. My hope is to put philosophy to its best use, which is that of shoring up the human world against the corrosive seas of pseudo-science. In true sexual desire, the aim is union with the other, where ‘the other’ denotes a particular person, with a particular perspective on my actions.

The reciprocity which is involved in this aim is achieved in a state of mutual arousal, and the interpersonal character of arousal determines the nature of the ‘union’ that is sought. All desire is compromising, and the choice to express it or to yield to it is an existential choice, in which the self is, or may be, in danger.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the sexual act is surrounded by prohibitions; it brings with it a weight of shame, guilt and jealousy, as well as the heights of joy and happiness. It is inconceivable that a morality of pure permission should issue from the right conception of such a compromising force, and, as I argue in Sexual Desire, the traditional morality, in which monogamous heterosexual union, enshrined in a vow rather than a contract, is the norm, shows far more sensitivity to what is at stake than any of the known alternatives.

If it is so difficult now to see the point of that morality, it is in part because human sexual conduct has been redescribed by the pseudo-science of sexology, and as a result not only robbed of its interpersonal intentionality, but also profoundly demoralized. In redescribing the human world in this way, we also change it. We introduce new forms of sexual feeling – shaped by the desire for an all-comprehending permission. The sexual sacrament gives way to a sexual market; and the result is a fetishism of the sexual commodity.

Richard Posner, for example, in his worthless but influential book entitled Sex and Reason (but which should have been called Sex and Instrumental Reason), opens his first chapter with the following sentence: There is sexual behavior, having to do mainly with excitation of the sexual organs.’ In reality, of course, sexual behaviour has to do with courtship, desire, love, jealousy, marriage, grief, joy and intrigue. Such excitement as occurs is excitement of the whole person. As for the sexual organs, they can be as ‘excited’ (if that is the word) by a bus journey as by the object of desire. Nevertheless, Posner’s description of desire is necessary, if he is to fulfil his aim of deriving a morality of sexual conduct from the analysis of cost and benefit (which, apparently, is what is meant by ‘reason’). So what are the ‘costs’ of sexual gratification?

One is the cost of search. It is zero for masturbation, considered as a solitary activity, which is why it is the cheapest of practices. (The qualification is important: ‘mutual masturbation’, heterosexual or homosexual, is a form of nonvaginal intercourse, and its search costs are positive.)

Posner proceeds to consider hypothetical cases: for example, the case where a man sets a ‘value’ of ‘twenty’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘woman of average attractiveness’, and a ‘value’ of ‘two’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘male substitute’. If you adopt such language, then you have made woman (and man too) into a sex object and sex into a commodity. You have redescribed the human world as a world of things; you have abolished the sacred, the prohibited and the protected, and presented sex as a relation between aliens: ‘Th’expence of spirit in a waste of shame’, in Shakespeare’s famous words. Posner’s language is opaque to what is wanted in sexual desire; it reduces the other person to an instrument of pleasure, a means of obtaining something that could have been provided equally by another person, by an animal, by a rubber doll or a piece of Kleenex.

Well, you might say, why not, if people are happier that way? In whose interest is it, to retain the old form of desire, with its individualizing intentionality, its hopeless yearnings, its furies and jealousies, its lifelong commitments and lifelong griefs?

Modern philosophers shy away from such questions, although they were much discussed in the ancient world. Rather than consider the long-term happiness and fulfillment of the individual, the modern philosopher tends to reduce the problem of sexual morality to one of rights — do we have a right to engage in, or to forbid, this or that sexual practice?

From such a question liberal conclusions follow as a matter of course; but it is a question that leaves the ground of sexual morality unexplored. This ground is not to be discovered in the calculus of rights and duties, but in the theory of virtue. What matters in sexual morality is the distinction between virtuous and vicious dispositions. I have already touched on this distinction in the last chapter, when considering the basis of our moral thinking. I there emphasized the role of virtue in creating the foundations of moral order. But it is also necessary, if we are to give objective grounds for the pursuit of virtue, to show how the happiness and fulfilment of the person are furthered by virtue and jeopardized by vice.

This, roughly speaking, is the task that Aristotle set himself in the Nicomachean Ethics, in which he tried to show that the deep questions of morality concern the education of the moral being, rather than the rules governing his adult conduct. Virtue belongs to character, rather than to the rules of social dialogue, and arises through an extended process of moral development. The virtuous person is disposed to choose those courses of action which contribute to his flourishing – his flourishing, not just as an animal, but as a rational being or person, as that which he essentially is. In educating a child I am educating his habits, and it is therefore clear that I shall always have a reason to inculcate virtuous habits, not only for my sake, but also for his own.

At the same time, we should not think of virtue as a means only. The virtuous person is the one who has the right choice of ends. Virtue is the disposition to want, and therefore to choose, certain things for their own sakes, despite the warring tendency of appetite. Courage, for example, is the disposition to choose the honorable course of action, in face of danger. It is the disposition to overcome fear, for the sake of that judged to be right. All rational beings have an interest in acquiring courage, since without it they can achieve what they really want only by luck, and only in the absence of adversity.

Sexual virtue is similar: the disposition to choose the course of action judged to be right, despite temptation. Education should be directed towards the special kind of temperance which shows itself, sometimes as chastity, sometimes as fidelity, sometimes as passionate desire, according to the ‘right judgement’ of the subject. The virtuous person desires the person whom he may also love, who can and will return his desire, and to whom he may commit himself. In the consummation of such a desire there is neither shame nor humiliation, and the ‘nuptuality’ of the erotic impulse finds the space that it needs in order to flourish.

The most important feature of traditional sexual education is summarized in anthropological language as the ‘ethic of pollution and taboo’. The child was taught to regard his body as sacred, and as subject to pollution by misperception or misuse. The sense of pollution is by no means a trivial side-effect of the ‘bad sexual encounter’: it may involve a penetrating disgust, at oneself, one’s body, one’s situation, such as is experienced by the victim of rape. Those sentiments express the tension contained within our experience of embodiment.

At any moment we can become ‘mere body’, the self driven from its incarnation, and its habitation ransacked. The most important root idea of sexual morality is that I am in my body, not as a ‘ghost in the machine’, but as an incarnate self. My body is identical with me: subject and object are merely two aspects of a single thing, and sexual purity is the guarantee of this.

Sexual virtue does not forbid desire: it simply ensures the status of desire as an interpersonal feeling. The child who learns ‘dirty habits’ detaches his sex from himself, sets it outside himself as something curious and alien in the world of objects. His fascinated enslavement to the body is also a withering of desire, a scattering of erotic energy and a loss of union with the other. Sexual virtue sustains the subject of desire, making him present as a self in the very act which overcomes him.

Traditional sexual education also involved a sustained war against fantasy. Fantasy plays an important part in our sexual doings, and even the most passionate and faithful lover may, in the act of love, rehearse to himself other scenes of sexual abandon than the one in which he is engaged. Nevertheless, there is truth in the Freudian contrast between fantasy and reality, and in the belief that the first is in some way destructive of the second. Fantasy replaces the real, resistant, objective world with a pliant substitute – and that, indeed, is its purpose.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings.

The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The sexual world of the fantasist is a world without subjects, in which others appear as objects only. And should the fantasy take possession of him so far as to require that another person submit to it, the result is invariably indecent, tending to rape. The words that I quoted from Richard Posner are indecent in just the way that one must expect, when people no longer see the object of desire as a subject, wanted as such.

Sexual morality returns us, then, to the great conundrum around which these chapters have revolved: the conundrum of the subject, and his relation to the world of space and time.

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SEX 1 From An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy — Roger Scruton

April 9, 2014
Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim's freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain - and it is only what might be called the 'charm of disenchantment' that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

I read a lot of Roger Scruton, simply because he makes such great sense. Nowhere does the modern liberal philosophy tank  into meaninglessness is over sex related issues, from abortion to womens’ issues to gay marriage, you can’t spend more than 3 minutes with these masters of the universe that a well-reasoned piece by Peter Kreeft or Roger Scruton wouldn’t demolish easily. Read on.

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Sex is the sphere in which the animal and the personal meet, and where the clash between the scientific and the personal view of things is felt most keenly. It therefore provides the test of any serious moral philosophy, and of any viable theory of the human world.

Until the late nineteenth century it was almost impossible to discuss sex, except as part of erotic love, and even then convention required that the peculiarities of sexual desire remain unmentioned. When the interdiction was finally lifted – by such writers as Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis – it was through offering a ‘scientific’ approach to a widespread natural phenomenon. Such was the prestige of science that any investigation conducted in its name could call on powerful currents of social approval, which were sufficient to overcome the otherwise crippling reluctance to face the realities of sexual experience.

As a result, modern discussions of this experience have been conducted in a ‘scientized’ idiom which, by its very nature, removes sex from the sphere of interpersonal relations, and remodels it as a relation between objects. Freud’s shocking revelations, introduced as neutral, ‘scientific’ truths about the human condition, were phrased in the terms which are now more or less standard.

According to Freud, the aim of sexual desire is ‘union of the genitals in the act known as copulation, which leads to a release of the sexual tension and a temporary extinction of the sexual instinct – a satisfaction analogous to the sating of hunger’. This scientistic image of sexual desire gave rise, in due course, to the Kinsey report, and is now part of the standard merchandise of disenchantment. It seems to me that it is entirely false, and could become true only by so affecting our sexual emotions, as to change them into emotions of another kind.

What exactly is sexual pleasure? Is it like the pleasure of eating and drinking? Like that of lying in a hot bath? Like that of watching your child at play? Clearly it is both like and unlike all of these. It is unlike the pleasure of eating, in that its object is not consumed. It is unlike the pleasure of the bath, in that it involves taking pleasure in an activity, and in the other person who joins you. It is unlike that of watching your child at play, in involving bodily sensations and a surrender to physical desire.

Sexual pleasure resembles the pleasure of watching something, however, in a crucial respect: it has intentionality. It is not just a tingling sensation; it is a response to another person, and to the act in which you are engaged with him or her. The other person may be imaginary: but it is towards a person that your thoughts are directed, and pleasure depends on thought.

This dependency on thought means that sexual pleasure can be mistaken, and ceases when the mistake is known. Although I would be a fool not to jump out of the soothing bath after being told that what I took for water is really acid, this is not because I have ceased to feel pleasurable sensations in my skin. In the case of sexual pleasure, the discovery that it is an unwanted hand that touches me at once extinguishes my pleasure. The pleasure could not be taken as confirming the hitherto unacknowledged sexual virtues of some previously rejected person.

A woman who makes love to the man who has disguised himself as her husband is no less the victim of rape, and the discovery of her mistake can lead to suicide. It is not simply that consent obtained by fraud is not consent; it is that the woman has been violated, in the very act which caused her pleasure.

What makes a pleasure into a sexual pleasure is the context of arousal. And arousal is not the same as tumescence. It is a leaning towards’ the other, a movement in the direction of the sexual act, which cannot be separated, either from the thoughts on which it is founded, or from the desire to which it leads. Arousal is a response to the thought of the other as a self-conscious agent, who is alert to me, and who is able to have ‘designs’ on me. This is evident from the caress and the glance of desire.

A caress of affection is a gesture of reassurance – an attempt to place in the consciousness of the other an image of one’s own tender concern for him. Not so, however, the caress of desire, which outlines the body of the recipient; its gentleness is not that of reassurance only, but that of exploration. It aims to fill the surface of the other’s body with a consciousness of your interest – interest, not only in the body, but in the person as embodied. This consciousness is the focal point of the other’s pleasure. Sartre writes (Being and Nothingness) of the caress as ‘incarnating’ the other: as though, by your action, you bring the soul into the flesh (the subject into the object) and make it palpable.

The caress is given and received with the same awareness as the glance is given and received. They each have an epistemic component (a component of anticipation and discovery). It is hardly surprising, given this, that the face should have such supreme and overriding importance in the transactions of sexual desire. On the scientistic view of sex it is hard to explain why this should be so – why the face should have the power to determine whether we will, or will not, be drawn to seek pleasure in another part.

But of course, the face is the picture of the other’s subjectivity: it shines with the light of self, and it is as an embodied subject that the other is wanted. Perversion and obscenity involve the eclipse of the subject, as the body and its mechanism are placed in frontal view. In obscenity flesh becomes opaque to the self which lives in it: that is why there is an obscenity of violence as well as an obscenity of sex.

A caress may be either accepted or rejected: in either case, it is because it has been ‘read’ as conveying a message sent from you to me. I do not receive this message as an explicit act of meaning something, but as a process of mutual discovery, a growing to awareness in you which is also a coming to awareness in me. In the first impulse of arousal, therefore, there is the beginning of that chain of reciprocity which is fundamental to interpersonal attitudes. She conceives her lover conceiving her conceiving him … not ad infinitum, but to the point of mutual recognition of the other, as fully present in his body.

Sexual arousal has, then, an epistemic and interpersonal intentionality. It is a response to another individual, based in revelation and discovery, and involving a reciprocal and co-operative heightening of the common experience of embodiment. It is not directed beyond the other, to the world at large; nor is it transferable to a rival object who might ‘do just as well’. Of course, arousal may have its origin in highly generalized thoughts, which flit libidinously from object to object.

But when these thoughts have concentrated into the experience of arousal their generality is put aside; it is then the other who counts, and his particular embodiment. Not only the other, but I myself, and the sense of my bodily reality in the other’s perspective. Hence arousal, in the normal case, seeks seclusion in a private place, where only the other is relevant to my attention. Indeed, arousal attempts to abolish what is not private – in particular to abolish the perspective of the onlooker, of the ‘third person’ who is neither you nor I.

I explored some of the ways in which the subject is realized in the world of objects, and placed great emphasis on intention, and the distinction between predicting and deciding for the future. But it should not be supposed that the subject is revealed only through voluntary activity.

On the contrary, of equal importance are those reactions which cannot be willed but only predicted, but which are nevertheless peculiar to self-conscious beings. Blushing is a singular instance. Although an involuntary matter, and – from the physiological point of view – a mere rushing of blood to the head, blushing is the expression of a complex thought, and one that places the self on view. My blush is an involuntary recognition of my accountability before you for what I am and what I feel. It is an acknowledgement that I stand in the light of your perspective, and that I cannot hide in my body. A blush is attractive because it serves both to embody the perspective of the other, and also at the same time to display that perspective as responsive to me.

The same is true of unguarded glances and smiles, through which the other subject rises to the surface of his body and makes himself visible. In smiling, blushing, laughing and crying, it is precisely my loss of control over my body, and its gain of control over me, that create the immediate experience of an incarnate person. The body ceases at these moments to be an instrument, and reasserts its natural rights as a person. In such expressions the face does not function merely as a bodily part, but as the whole person: the self is spread across its surface, and there ‘made flesh’.

The concepts and categories that we use to describe the embodied person are far removed from the science of the human body. What place in such a science for smiles as opposed to grimaces, for blushes as opposed to flushes, for glances as opposed to looks? In describing your color as a blush, I am seeing you as a responsible agent, and situating you in the realm of embarrassment and self-knowledge. If we try to describe sexual desire with the categories of human biology, we miss precisely the intentionality of sexual emotion, its directedness towards the embodied subject.

The caricature that results describes not desire but perversion. Freud’s description of desire is the description of something that we know and shun – or ought to shun. An excitement which concentrates on the sexual organs, whether of man or of woman, which seeks, as it were, to bypass the complex negotiation of the face, hands, voice and posture, is perverted. It voids desire of its intentionality, and replaces it with a pursuit of the sexual commodity, which can always be had for a price.

It is part of the intentionality of desire that a particular person is conceived as its object. To someone agitated by his desire for Jane, it is ridiculous to say, ‘Take Henrietta, she will do just as well.’ Thus there arises the possibility of mistakes of identity. Jacob’s desire for Rachel seemed to be satisfied by his night with Leah, only to the extent that, and for as long as, Jacob imagined it was Rachel with whom he was lying. (Genesis 29, v. 22-25; and see the wonderful realization of this little drama in Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers.)

Our sexual emotions are founded on individualizing thoughts: it is you whom I want and no other. This individualizing intentionality does not merely stem from the fact that it is persons (in other words, individuals) whom we desire. It stems from the fact that the other is desired as an embodied subject, and not just as a body. You can see the point by drawing a contrast between desire and hunger (a contrast that is expressly negated by Freud). Suppose that people were the only edible things; and suppose that they felt no pain on being eaten and were reconstituted at once.

How many formalities and apologies would now be required in the satisfaction of hunger! People would learn to conceal their appetite, and learn not to presume upon the consent of those whom they surveyed with famished glances. It would become a crime to partake of a meal without the meal’s consent. Maybe marriage would be the best solution.

Still, this predicament is nothing like the predicament in which we are placed by desire. It arises from the lack of anything impersonal to eat, but not from the nature of hunger. Hunger is directed towards the other only as object, and any similar object will serve just as well. It does not individualize the object, or propose any other union than that required by need.

When sexual attentions take such a form, they become deeply insulting. And in every form they compromise not only the person who addresses them, but also the person addressed. Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination.

That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

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Nietzsche and Emerson 2 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 8, 2014
Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

 

A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche. If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

American Nietzsche is neither a biography nor a formal analysis of philosophical concepts. Professor Ratner-Rosenhagen is a historian, and the subject of her book is presented through the lens of her discipline. It is, in short, an insightful and skillfully written treatment of the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas and image on American culture. Refreshingly, I detected no axes being ground, no hidden agendas skulking in the shadows. The author has simply identified an important story that needed to be told, and has done so in a thorough, well-organized, and interesting manner. Whatever your level of familiarity with Nietzsche the person or his work, or your opinions about either, if you have an interest in the events, ideas, and people that shaped 20th century American culture then you will very likely find this book engaging.”

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And so it was that in 1862 Nietzsche discovered in Emerson a thinker to think with. While the American author impressed on his young German pupil that the life of the philosopher is a life on the open sea, he also taught him that no other thinker can tell him where he’s heading or where to find firm land. He simply works by “provocation” along the way.

And provoke Nietzsche, Emerson did. Nietzsche continued to read Emerson intensively throughout 1863, later noting that of all the books he “read the most,” Emerson’s topped the lists” And this was just the beginning. From the age of seventeen up until his mental breakdown at the age of forty-four; from his days as a gymnasium student through his graduate studies, his professorship, and then his years as an itinerant writer; and from the safe harbor of Christian faith to the tumultuous seas of indeterminacy, Friedrich Nietzsche turned repeatedly to Emerson, who then pushed him forward. In time, many others would propel Nietzsche’s thinking — Plato, Kant, Goethe, Lange, Schopenhauer, and Wagner — but none survived his penchant for slaying his own intellectual gods.

He never sought to slay Emerson, however; the enthusiasm he expressed for him as a teenager reappeared in his essays, journals, and letters, over the course of his entire intellectual career. Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche was unmistakable even to Nietzsche himself. As he thought about himself while writing an early draft of his autobiography, he couldn’t help but think of Emerson. Indeed, it was a rereading of Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws” (1841) that suggested “Ecce Homo” as an appropriate title for his autobiography.” As he reflected on his intellectual path, he couldn’t help but reflect warmly on Emerson’s company along the way: “Emerson, with his Essays, has been a good friend and someone who has cheered me up even in dark times: he possesses so much skepsis, so many’possibilities,’that with him even virtue becomes spiritual.”

Yet Nietzsche’s ideas are not carbon copies of Emerson’s. If they were, his uses of Emerson would be a lot less interesting than they are. The sheer fact that he read Emerson in translation reminds us that Nietzsche had a lifelong relationship with a highly mediated Emerson. Even accounting for linguistic variations, though, the similarities are striking enough that the additional awareness that Nietzsche “loved Emerson from first to last,” as Walter Kaufmann put it, has made many, like Kaufmann himself, insist that nevertheless, “one would never mistake a whole page of Emerson for a page of Nietzsche.”

Perhaps. One might take Kaufmann up on the challenge and place a Nietzschequotation, image, or broad concern alongside its Emersonian counterpart and see how easy or difficult it is to drive a wedge between the two. One could juxtapose their criticism of barren scholarship; their concern that excessive reverence for the past makes us “fatalists,” as Emerson believed, and makes the past our “gravedigger,” as Nietzsche had; or their anxiety over belatedness, which fostered a longing in Emerson to be “born again,” and a fear in Nietzsche of being “late-born.” One could examine how both authors expressed an abiding interest in power. While Emerson averred that “life is a search after power,” Nietzsche came to believe that “life simply is will to power.’” Both emphasized a conception of power as something striving, pressing onward.

For Emerson, “Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a last to a new state.” Nietzsche celebrated “plastic power,”which he described as, “the capacity to develop out of oneself in one’s own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign, to heal wounds, to replace what has been lost, to recreate broken molds.”

It might be of no consequence that Nietzsche was rereading Emerson in 1881-82 while preparing The Gay ,Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85). What is noteworthy, nonetheless, is the philosophers’ shared aversion to the view of revelation as something historical, rather than ongoing, and to any belief in a divinity outside the self. Emerson believed this created a bankrupt spirituality, “as if God were dead,” to which Nietzsche had his madman announce in the affirmative that “God is dead.”

Someone well versed in Emerson and Nietzsche might never mistake Emerson’s line from “Compensation, “In general, every evil to which we do not succumb, is a benefactor,” with Nietzsche’s from Twilight of the Idols, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” But at least it is worth noting that Emerson’s line in Nietzsche’s personal copy is heavily underlined.

Whether we look for affinities or influences, the parallels between Emerson and Nietzsche mount. But we miss what Emerson meant to Nietzsche if we fail to consider how Nietzsche used Emerson not to get closer to him but to get closer to himself. For Nietzsche, Emerson provided an image of the philosopher willing to go it alone without inherited faith, without institutional affiliation, without rock or refuge for his truth claims.

As Nietzsche made his way from spiritually-adrift teenager, to philology professor, to freelance philosopher, Emerson’s image of the philosopher, and his approach to philosophy as a way of life, proved essential to his self-definition. Emerson gave Nietzsche a way of describing himself to himself, as we see in his letter of 1866 to an old friend, Carl von Gersdorff. In it, Nietzsche dreamily imagined himself” as Emerson so excellently describes [it] … pure, contemplative, impartial eye.”

It was Emerson who imparted to Nietzsche the image of philosophy as a spirit of play, laughter, and dancing. Nietzsche repeatedly employed this image of levity and joyousness when he considered his own thinking. In the aphorism “Learning to think,” Nietzsche complained, “our schools no longer have any idea what this means…. Thinking has to be learned.. . as a form of dancing…. Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill … of intellectual light feet”

It was Emerson’s characterization of the liberated thinker as “intellectual nomad” that helped Nietzsche to imagine himself as a “free spirit” in a quest for truths of his own making.” Likewise it was Emerson who impressed on Nietzsche the power of the oppositional intellect to make the world anew. “Let an American tell them what a great thinker who arrives on this earth signifies as a new centre of tremendous forces,” affirmed Nietzsche in “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874). Quoting this American’s essay “Circles” (1841), Nietzsche affirmed, “Beware,’ says Emerson, “when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end.”

But of all the uses Nietzsche had for Emerson, it was his notion that a philosopher without foundations works by provocation, not instruction, as an “exemplar,” not a guide, which most vividly suggested to Nietzsche the possibilities of his own philosophy. The philosopher is useful insofar as he helps carry one to one’s self. “No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone,” Nietzsche insisted. “There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it.”

Nietzsche found confirmation in another quotation from Emerson’s “Circles”: “A man never rises higher than when he does not know whither his path [will] lead him.” If Emerson sent Nietzsche on the path of philosophy without absolutes, on a path to become who he was, he also reminded him that he would not be waiting for him upon his arrival.

Throughout the 1880s Nietzsche sent manuscript after manuscript to his publisher, and his publisher, in turn, sent them off as books to a German reading public as yet indifferent to his ideas. Nietzsche never forgave his German contemporaries for leaving him in the lurch. Undaunted, he spent most of the final year of his productive intellectual life, though struggling with illness, swept up in a euphoric mood. It was during what would become his final sprint of productivity that a third fan letter arrived from America, this time from Karl Knortz, a Prussian-born freelance writer in New York, who wrote to express his admiration for Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche now had reason to believe that the praise it contained truly signaled that his dawn was finally breaking, for just a few months earlier the prominent Danish literary critic Georg Brandes had delivered a series of high-profile lectures on him in Copenhagen, at long last drawing attention to his genius. In his letter, Knortz, a translator of American authors into German and a promoter of German literature for American readers, also relayed his desire to promote Nietzsche to American audiences.

But in order to do that, Knortz would need Nietzsche’s help. So he asked the German author for a description of himself and a characterization of his oeuvre. Nietzsche gladly obliged. In a letter of reply dated June 21, i888, he sketched a portrait of his work and himself for his would-be American audience:

The task of giving you some picture of myself, as a thinker, or as a writer and poet, seems to me extraordinarily difficult…. The thought of advertising myself is utterly alien to me personally; I have not lifted a finger with that end in view. Of my Zarathustra, I tend to think that it is the profoundest work in the German tongue, also the most perfect in its language. But for others to feel this will require whole generations to catch up with the inner experiences from which that work could arise.”

Nietzsche may have thought that his philosophy awaited an audience of readers yet unborn, but given Knortz’s enthusiasm, he had reason to suspect that he might first find that audience in America. In a letter to his publisher asking for his assistance in facilitating Knortz’s propaganda, he speculated about the value of securing a readership across the Atlantic. “In principle all my experiences show that my influence begins on the periphery and only from there will the currents ripple back to the `Fatherland.” That summer, Nietzsche sent off a flurry of letters to friends telling them that he had “admirers in North America.” Soon Americans would learn, he enthused, that “I am the most independent spirit of Europe and the only German writer — that’s something! — .”n

Though Nietzsche liked the image of himself as an intellectual nomad, and though he long ago decided that the thinker without foundations must go not only without compass or guide, but also without a final destination, his desire for freedom never fully subdued his longing for an intellectual home. He knew from his own experiences that a feeling of refuge — while fleeting — is necessary even for the free spirit. He likewise knew from his own experiences reading Emerson that sometimes it is abroad that the aboriginal intellect finds a home.

A home in America for Nietzsche’s philosophy? After almost three decades with Emerson’s writings, the prospect seemed likely indeed. After all, it was America that had created the thinker with whom he thought as he came to terms with himself and his world. It was the American Emerson who showed Nietzsche the possibilities of thought beyond the good and evil of Christian piety.

It was the American Emerson who critiqued sterile ideas and made philosophy a friend to life. It was the American Emerson who understood that philosophical inquiry in a world without absolutes works by example and provocation only. And it was the American Emerson who Nietzsche believed never could have been produced within the suffocating philistinism of his native German culture. Nietzsche did not know much about America, but he did know — or at least he believed — that with one exception (himself), Germany could never have given birth to such a dynamic thinker. He summed up his feelings for Emerson this way: “Emerson. Never have I felt so much at home in a book, and in my home as — I shouldn’t praise it, it is too close to me.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

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Nietzsche and Emerson 1 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 7, 2014
It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as "eternal becoming" (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson's notion that "the soul becomes")." Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche.  If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

“Ratner-Rosenhagen’s book explores what American readers have made of him. She discusses key aspects of Nietzsche, including his anti-foundationalism (perspectivism), his famous claim that “God is dead”, his emphasis on interpretation, and the role of the “overman” in his thought. There are interpretive questions, addressed by different readers, about whether Nietzsche is a “political” or a “personal” thinker and about what Americans of varied political persuasions have found worthwhile in this markedly undemocratic philosopher. The approach of the book tends to be historicist. Ratner-Rosenhagen tries to show how different American interpretations of Nietzsche surfaced in response to changes in American culture”

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Nietzsche discovered Emerson’s philosophy in 1862 as a seventeen-year-old gymnasium (secondary school) student at the prestigious boarding school Schulpforta. His first encounter with Emerson occurred during a crisis in his studies. Four years earlier, Nietzsche had entered the gates of Schulpforta as a scholarship student, and though an obedient and compliant pupil who excelled in his studies, he had a difficult adjustment to the school’s grinding regimentation and austere discipline.

The sequestered and routinized program eroded rather than enriched his belief in institutional intellectual life. Nietzsche later described “the uniformizing discipline of an orderly” education at Schulpforta as “that almost military compulsion, which, because it aims to affect the mass, treats individuality coldly and superficially.” Young Nietzsche bristled under the regime, causing him to wonder whether Schulpforta drilled in scholarly knowledge while it drowned out self-directed intellectual exploration in equal parts.

While the regimentation and impersonality of Schulpforta caused him to question his studies, his studies caused him to question his religious beliefs. Nietzsche had entered the gymnasium at age fourteen with an ardent Lutheran faith as his trusty companion. He came from a line of Lutheran clergy — both his paternal and maternal grandfathers had been ministers, as was his beloved father, Ludwig. Nietzsche had spent his early childhood in the parsonage of his father’s church in Rocken, and after his father’s death when Nietzsche was four years old, his mother continued to raise him and his younger sister, Elisabeth, in an environment imbued with her affirming Christian piety.

At Schulpforta he received training in historical criticism to work with Greek and Latin texts, but he saw its value for humanistic studies in general. Though he still thought religion was the “solid foundation of all knowledge [Grundveste al/es Wissens],” historical science was beginning to shake that foundation. His faith provided succor during bouts of homesickness. However, Nietzsche’s theological studies and daily worship at Schulpforta did nothing to help him as his ardent faith began to give way.

Nietzsche’s poetry of 1862 testifies to the increased sense of intellectual waywardness and spiritual crisis:

I know not what I love,
I have neither peace nor rest,
I know not what to believe,
what life am I living, why?

 Nietzsche’s growing dissatisfaction with Schulpforta’s mass regime and his feelings of spiritual estrangement, as he put it, “led me back to myself,” causing him to seek intellectual stimulation and emotional relief outside his formal studies. Together with his friends, Wilhelm Pinder and Gustav Krug, he sought escape in the form of a literary fraternity, Germania, which the three students founded in 186o in order to pursue their intellectual curiosities and foster their creative self-expression.

The boys set the ground rules for membership: each was expected to produce a work of criticism, poetry, a musical composition, or some original research, for critical analysis during their quarterly “synods.” For the next three years, the boys met to review one an-other’s contributions, draft critical rebuttals, drink wine, and contemplate the universe. As the most zealous Germanian of the three, Nietzsche delighted in his extracurricular discoveries, churning out musical compositions, poems, and essays on Cicero, Byron, and Napoleon.

As Carl Pletsch has shown, he would come to regard his Germania experiences — this learning outside of learning, this self-directed study — as his true education: “I saved my private inclinations and longings from the uniform law, I lived a concealed cult of certain arts, I occupied myself with a hypersensitive addiction to universal knowledge and pleasure to break the rigidity of a legalistic [time schedule].” While time with Germania satisfied this striving, it also fostered a conviction that true knowledge cannot be found within an institutional setting, but is rather achieved through creative aspiration on one’s own terms.

And so it was in this period of personal turmoil that Nietzsche, age seventeen, first got his hands on a translation of Emerson’s The Conduct of Life (1860) and first got an idea of what philosophy could make possible. It was during one of his “concealed” extracurricular forays for Germania in April 1862 that he began reading Emerson. This was his true education. This was also Nietzsche’s first contact with philosophy — it wasn’t until the following year that he expressed interest in Plato and another two years until he discovered Schopenhauer.

It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche “about philosophy in life.” Enlivened by his discovery, Nietzsche penned his very first philosophical texts as a Germanian in direct response to his reading of Emerson. During his Easter vacation from school while friends and family around him were celebrating Christ’s resurrection, he took the occasion to question the veracity and relevance of Christianity.

Modifying Emerson’s title “Fate” to “Fate and History: Thoughts” (1862), Nietzsche showed what the world could look like when read through eyes of “great philosopher-prophets” like Emerson. If, as Emerson had said, “there is no pure originality. All minds quote,” and that “only an inventor knows how to borrow,” then Nietzsche proved to be quite inventive in his appropriation of Emerson’s ideas and images to wrestle with his doubts about religion

Fate and History: Thoughts, and his follow-up essay, Freedom of Will and Fate, though pieces of Nietzsche’s juvenilia, sketch in embryonic form many of the major leitmotifs of his mature philosophy, and foreshadow his uses of Emerson for decades to come. In these essays, Nietzsche put Emerson’s imagery and arguments to work to answer Emersonian questions about the relationship between human agency and the external forces that work to constrain it.

The Christian faith topped his list. What would it take, Nietzsche mused, to come out from under the “yoke of custom and prejudice,” and achieve a “freer standpoint” from which to consider the balance of power between freedom and fate? He recognized that “it is entirely impertinent to want to solve philosophical problems over which a conflict of opinion has has waged for many millennia.”And yet, what he found more disturbing was the “question whether mankind hasn’t been deceived for two thousand years by a phantom.”

It worried Nietzsche that the quest for a freer standpoint from which to consider human reality might cause “great revolutions once the masses finally realize that the totality of Christianity is grounded in presuppositions; the existence of God, immortality, Biblical authority, inspiration, and other doctrines will always remain problems.”

But Emerson’s essay reminded young Nietzsche that religious faith was not the only force that limited an individual’s will and intellect. Indeed, Emerson impressed on him that there are all sorts of influences — historical, physiological, even familial — that condition the individual’s experiences and limit his perspectives. The plain fact, Nietzsche came to realize, is that as human beings, we inherit so much of who we are that the distinction between the aboriginal and the adopted, between freedom and necessity, might itself be a phantom.

In “Fate,” Emerson wondered about the influences that tyrannize one’s temperament: “Ask the doctors, ask Quetelet, if temperaments decide nothing? or if there be anything they do not decide?” In “Fate and History,” Nietzsche likewise wondered what role temperament plays in the individual’s freedom to apprehend and affect his world, reformulating Emerson’s questions as “Is not our temperament, as it were, the coloration of events? Do we not encounter everything in the mirror of our personality? … Ask gifted doctors, Emerson says, how much temperament decides, and what. . . it does not decide.”

The individual may seek release from that which has formed him, but Emerson expressed doubt whether this was fully possible. As he argued, “The menagerie, or forms and powers of the spine, is a book of fate: the bill of the bird, the skull of the snake, determines tyrannically its limits…. How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father’s or his mother’s life?”

In direct dialogue with Emerson on this question, Nietzsche asked, “What is it that pulls the soul of so many men of power down to the commonplace, thereby hindering a higher flight of ideas? A fatalistic structure of skull and spine; the condition and nature of their parents; .. . their environment; even … their homeland.” For Nietzsche, it was disturbing to consider the sheer range of external forces, “stifling the capacity of the soul through force of habit.” What troubled him was not simply that “we have been influenced “but that we are so blind to influences that we cannot tell the difference between our self and the world, our independence and our inheritance.

Though emboldened by Emerson’s challenge to external forces that constrain individual autonomy, he was nevertheless chastened by Emerson’s description of the consequences of a world without limits on the will and intellect. As Emerson formulated the problem, “If we thought men were free in the in the sense that, in a single exception one fantastical will could prevail over the law of things, … as if a child’s hand could pull down the sun. If, in the least particular, one could derange the order of nature, — who would accept the gift of life?”

This gave young Nietzsche reason to worry, as we see in his formulation of the problem: “If it became possible completely to demolish the entire past through it strong will, we would immediately be transported into the realm of autonomous gods, and world history would suddenly be for us nothing but a dreamy deception: the curtain falls, and man finds himself like a child playing with worlds, like a child who awakens at the glow of dawn and, laughing, wipes the terrible dreams from his brow.”

With Emerson’s cautions, Nietzsche recoiled from an image of autonomy so complete that there were no checks on the aggrandized self. Emerson insisted that he was “sure, that, though we know not low, necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times.” But just how they did was the problem facing the philosopher.

Nietzsche agreed: “Here lies every important, unending problem: the question of justifying the individual to the people, the people to mankind, and of mankind to the world. And here, too, is the fundamental relationship of fate and history.”In Fate and History we see young Nietzsche thinking with Emerson about how to reconcile the self with the world, human agency with, as Emerson put it, “Beautiful Necessity.”

Though Emerson raised more questions for Nietzsche than he offered answers, he nevertheless impressed on him that the act of questioning is both the activity of the philosopher and an example of free will at work. Emerson argued that the active intellect could achieve a “double consciousness” which negotiates the competing desires for freedom and for limitations on that freedom. According to him, fate is nothing more than “a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; — for causes which are unpenetrated. But every jet of chaos which threatens to exterminate us, is convertible by intellect into wholesome force.” By likening fate to “unpenetrated causes” and the work of intellect to mastery over them, Emerson taught Nietzsche to think about what thinking makes possible.

In a second attempt at philosophical writing a month after composing “Fate and History,” Nietzsche, in “Freedom of Will and Fate,” made his debt to the American philosopher explicit. He argued that “Freedom of will, [is] in itself nothing but freedom of thought,” and that “free will is only an abstraction indicating the capacity to act consciously; whereas by fate we understand the principle that we are under the sway of unconscious acts.”

It was “Emmerson” [sic] who suggested to him that “thought is always compatible with the thing that is apparent as its expression.” So when Emerson concluded his essay with the exclamation “Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity,” Nietzsche understood this simply as an affirmation of the active intellect passing facts under the fire of thought. In imagining the self as author of its experiences, young Nietzsche imagined the power of the thinker to negotiate freedom and fate, self and history, creative will and beautiful necessity.

Nietzsche’s discovery of Emerson in 1862 seems to have been the turning point when he decided he would try to go it alone without his religious faith. His first philosophical writings suggest that even as a teenager, he knew this wouldn’t be easy. Clearly more hesitant than zealous, Nietzsche confessed,

How could one destroy the authority of two millennia and the security of the most perceptive men of all time as a consequence of youthful pondering? How could one dismiss all the sorrows and blessings of a religious development so deeply influential on world history by means of fantasies and immature ideas? … I have attempted to deny everything: Oh, pulling down is easy; but rebuilding! And pulling down seems easier than it is.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect. As Nietzsche described the image Emerson had seared into his imagination, “A struggling and undulating of the most diverse currents, ebbing and flowing, all to the eternal ocean. Everything revolves around one another in monstrous, ever expanding circles. Man is one of the innermost circles.”

Emerson also provided warnings that while life on the open waters without inherited truths promises ever becoming, it also threatens to pull one under. In leading a life of inquiry and exploration on “the sea of doubt without compass and guide” most will be driven off course by storms; only very few discover new lands. Out in the middle of the immense ocean of ideas one often longs to return to firm land.” It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche about the joys and terrors of the intellectual life without firm land beneath one’s feet, of life on the open waters of indeterminacy without compass or guide.

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The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

April 4, 2014
Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saints Sunday). Christ is enthroned in the center surrounded by the angels and saints, Paradise is at the bottom, with the Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross. Circa 1700.

Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saints Sunday). Christ is enthroned in the center surrounded by the angels and saints, Paradise is at the bottom, with the Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross. Circa 1700.

The Second Coming is a poem composed by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and second coming allegorically to describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe. The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry.

The version of the poem here is as it was published in the edition of Michael Robartes and the Dancer dated 1920 (there are numerous other versions of the poem). The preface and notes in the book contain some philosphy attributed to Robartes. This printing of the poem has a page break between lines 17 and 18 making the stanza division unclear.

Following the two most similar drafts given in the Parkinson and Brannen edited edition of the manuscripts, I have put a stanza break there. (Interestingly, both of those drafts have thirty centuries instead of twenty.) The earlier drafts also have references to the French and Irish Revolutions as well as to Germany and Russia.

Several of the lines in the version above differ from those found in subsequent versions. In listing it as one of the hundred most anthologized poems in the English language, the text given by Harmon (1998) has changes including: line 13 (“: somewhere in sands of the desert”), line 17 (“Reel” instead of “Wind”), and no break between the second and third stanza.

 

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

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