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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Emerson’s question, “Where do we find ourselves?”, at first presents itself as vastly more confident than Nietzsche’s answering question, “But how do we find ourselves again?”. Where Emerson presupposes that we have managed to find ourselves somewhere or other, the remaining question being only, where that has occurred, Nietzsche asks how such finding is (“again”) possible at all. But, here as always, Emerson is a master of the barely audible ambiguities of English (so different in this respect from German or Greek).[1]And, in fact, although Nietzsche’s question uses finden (“Aber wie finden wir uns selbst wieder?”) Emerson’s had to be translated using begegnen (“Wo begegnen wir uns selbst?”).

Where, in what state, are we when we set ourselves to this finding, which is to say, to the original transcendental act of self-consciousness? Schelling had called this a state of synthesis, that is, of composition, in which the two ingredients are the finite and infinite in us, the limited self and the self that limits it:

The limiting activity [Thätigkeit] does not come to consciousness, does not become object; it is thus the activity of the pure subject. But the ego of self-consciousness is not pure subject, but rather subject and object simultaneously.

The limited activity is only that which becomes object, the merely objective in self-consciousness. But the ego of self-consciousness is neither pure subject nor pure object, but rather both simultaneously.

Thus, neither through the limiting nor through the limited activity for itself does it come to self-consciousness. It is accordingly through a third activity, composed [zusammengesetzte] of both, through which the ego of self-consciousness is generated [entsteht]. . . .

The ego is thus itself a composite activity; self-consciousness itself a synthetic act [Act]. (System des transscendentalen Idealismus, p. 85)

Now, “composition” (compositio = تركيبtarkīb = σύνθεσιςsunthesis), in a narrow sense, means the mere placing together of parts which remain distinct in the composite (so that, for example, the human body is, in this narrow sense, a composite of flesh, bone, blood, etc.), as opposed to true mixture (mixtio or commixtio = خاليطkhālīṭ or اختيلاطikhtīlāṭ = μίξιςmixis) or temperament (temperamentum or complexio = مزاجmizāj = κρᾶσιςkrāsis), in which the ingredients come to make up a uniform whole (as homogeneous parts like blood and bone are supposed to be themselves temperaments of the four humors, or of the four elements). But “composition” can also be used in a broader sense, in which it stands for the genus of which both composition narrowly construed and temperament are species. That Schelling is using the term in this broad sense is evident from his later description of the constituents as mutually penetrating:

In that the opposed activities of self-consciousness interfuse [sich  durchdringen] into a third, something common [ein Gemeinschaftliches] is generated out of both. (p. 100)

Schelling’s sich durchdringen corresponds to Galen’s phrase δι’ ἀλλήλων ἰέναιdi’ allēlōn ienai, by which he explains what characterizes temperament according both to Peripatetics and to Stoics, the only issue between them being:

how the ingredients are entirely tempered [ὅπως δι’ ὅλων κεράννυνται τὰ κεραννύμενα],hopōs di’ holōn kerannuntai ta kerannumena whether by the qualities only going through each other [δι’ ἀλλήλων ἰουσῶν],di’ allēlōn iousōn as Aristotle supposes, or by the corporeal substances [doing so], as well. (De el. 9, K1:489)

What Schelling says does not, perhaps, give enough information to tell whether he favors the Peripatetic or the Stoic theory, but it does show certainly that the type of “composition” he has in mind is temperament.

This, then, is the question as Emerson takes it up, and he begins by agreeing with Schelling that we find ourselves, that is, carry out the act of transcendental self-consciousness, in a state of mixed constitution, that is, in a temperament. But, unlike Schelling, he describes this tempered state as a certain distemper:

the Genius which according to the old belief stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. (loc. cit.)

It is that distemper of the brain, namely, that was thought, by “the old physicians,” to be the cause of “lethargy”: “yellow bile predominating in the brain,” as Galen explains,

we are drawn into delirium [παραφροσύνηparaphrosunē = وسواسwaswās = desipientia], through that of the black [bile] into melancholy, but, because of phlegm and cooling causes generally, we are seized by lethargy, due to which [we are seized also by] harms to the memory and the sagacity [σύνεσιςsunesis = عقلʿaql = prudentia]. (K4:776–7) [2]Arabic ed. Biesterfeld, p. 15; Latin, Opera ed. Bonardus (Venice, 1490), 118r (translation attributed to Niccolò Da Reggio). My usual half-assed research has not turned up any evidence that Emerson read Galen extensively: he mentions him only a few times, and in somewhat of a name-dropping manner. The reference to “the old physicians” linked to above (from “Power” in The Conduct of Life) is followed by a quote from someone not very old, and more a physiologist than a physician, namely Swedenborg. So I cannot claim that Emerson is alluding to this passage from Galen, in particular. But the doctrine is Galenic.

Hence Emerson, in accordance with this etiology, goes on to blame this our lethargy on a “frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth” (loc. cit.). In this respect, he is closer to Hume than he is to Schelling: recall that Hume finds himself, at his point of maximum rational self-knowledge, in a state of “melancholy” (Treatise[3]Instead of Emerson’s phlegm (cold–moist), therefore, Hume has black bile (cold–dry), and this would in fact fit better with Emerson’s contrast of earth vs. fire (phlegm being associated rather with water than with earth). However, it is doubtful whether Hume really keeps up a consistent use of the humoral metaphor any more than Emerson does: see e.g. the different use of the earthy vs. fiery contrast at The state of melancholy in is followed by “splenetic humour,” i.e., predominance of yellow bile, at, and then, towards the end of, by the return of “good humour” — which may or may not be the same as the returning “sanguine hopes and expectations” mentioned in the First Enquiry (1.12). Phlegm is associated with a cautious philosophy (= moderate skepticism?) in the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (2.18).

Still, what Emerson says is not “melancholy,” but “lethargy.” There is some oddness about the term. It means, in its ordinary sense, a kind of profound inertia that saps one’s ability to act, and yet it derives from λήθηlēthē, oblivion: the opposite, not of action, but of memory. Galen himself is already troubled by this anomaly, and responds, somewhat unconvincingly, by adding that lethargy also results in “harms to the memory.” Emerson, on the other hand, simply starts off from the etymological sense. The transcendental act of self-consciousness miscarries, he says, because the lethe we have drunk, being too strong, makes Platonic ἀναμνήσιςanamnēsis impossible. But, in Schelling’s terms, does this mean that we have too much, so to speak, of the finite — the limited ego which becomes object? Or does it not mean, rather, that we have too much of the infinite, limiting ego, which “does not come to consciousness”? There is no straightforward answer to this, I suppose, because our distemper, breaking, as it does, the cycle by which the intellect ought to be able to return to its source, breaks also the connection between the infinite below us (the infinity of prime matter, that must be limited to become object) and its paradigm in the infinite above (the infinity of the one beyond being, that is the source of all limit). Where we find ourselves, then, is, lost between two infinities:

In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward out of sight. (loc. cit.)

Our distemperate state, in other words, itself prevents us from distinguishing its ingredients (limiting and limited ego), such that we cannot say which is the phlegm that has so damaged our memory.

Easier than a direct comparison between Emerson and Schelling, then, is a comparison between Emerson and Coleridge:

Nature is a Line in constant and continuous evolution. Its beginning is lost in the Super-natural: and for our understanding, therefore, it must appear as a continuous line without beginning or end, (Aids to Reflection, note to Comment to Aphorism X on That Which is Indeed Spiritual Religion [ed. Marsh, 1829], p. 327)

From this point of view, it is clear what, according to Emerson, we have too much of, namely what Coleridge, at this stage in his work, calls “understanding.” To explain exactly what this means would take us on a long detour through Schelling’s interpretation of Kant and Coleridge’s interpretation of Schelling, but, roughly speaking: the limitation of Schelling’s limited (objective) ego, which is really a single, simple act of the limiting (subjective) ego, appears to the limited ego itself as a series of alien limitations (i.e., the manifold of sense), against which it must strive ad infinitum, and that indefinite conatus, when separated (abstracted) from the limit, is the understanding.[4]This interpretation, on which understanding is essentially related to sensibility, is not, I think, true to Kant, even though Coleridge attributes to Kant a definition of “understanding” as “the Faculty [of] judging according to Sense.” (Aids, Comment ot Aphorism VIII on That Which is Indeed Spiritual Religion, p. 137). In Kant, Verstand is equivalent to intellectus = عقلʿaql = νοῦςnous, and as such applies equally to our own discursive intellect or to a hypothetical intuitive one. However, in some places Coleridge seems to acknowledge this: see e.g. his translation of το φρόνημα της σαρκόςto phronēma tēs sarkos as “the sensual understanding.” The full verse, Romans 8:6, is τὸ γὰρ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς θάνατος, τὸ δὲ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος ζωὴ καὶ εἰρήνη,to gar phronēma tēs sarkos thanatos, to de phronēma tou pneumatos zōē kai eirēnē suggesting that he would translate τὸ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματοςto phronēma tou pneumatos as “the spiritual understanding.” This faculty finds, as Coleridge puts it, no origin in its object, because the origin is “lost in the Super-natural,” i.e., lies in the infinite, limiting ego, which in this respect is the will:

But where there is no discontinuity there can be no origination, and every appearance of origination in Nature is but a shadow of our own casting. It is a reflection from our own Will or Spirit. Herein, indeed, the Will consists. This is the essential character by which will is opposed to Nature, as Spirit, and raised above Nature as self-determining Spirit — this, namely, that it is a power of originating an act or state. (Aids, p. 327)

This, then, is how Emerson connects the ordinary and etymological senses of “lethargy.” There is a kind of forgetfulness, the forgetfulness of origins, which is a sickness of the will — that is, it is a forgetfulness of ends, as well a forgetfulness of origins. What we forget, ultimately, is will itself as end an sich: will as origin of all our origination, as that to which we ought to be able to revert in reflection (in the “reflection,” that is, that Coleridge mentions in the title of his work).

This forgetfulness or obvliousness that makes us lethargic, prevents us from originating action, and hence prevents us from reverting to the true dynamic infinite, differs in this way from the “darkness” that conceals Schelling’s unconscious ego. For the latter is able to act, out of that darkness, within or behind the finite will, enabling to it create, in its finite object, a infinite symbol of the origin:

The work of art reflects for us the identity of the conscious and unconscious activity [Thätigkeit]. But the opposition of these two is an infinite one, and it is annulled [aufgehoben] without any cooperation [Zuthun] of freedom. The fundamental character of the work of art is thus an unconscious infinity. The artist seems to have exhibited [dargestellt], as it were instinctively, in his work, besides that which he has placed [gelegt] therein with manifest intent, an infinity which no finite understanding is capable of entirely unfolding [entwickeln]. (System, p. 463)

Schelling’s name for this “dark force [Gewalt],” “the inconceivable, which without the cooperation of freedom, and to a certain extent against freedom … brings the objective to consciousness,” is “genius” (pp. 457–8). But Emerson says: “Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius!” (“Experience,” p. 50).

In Coleridge’s system, the dark force analogous to Schelling’s genius is grace — the action of the divine will within a finite will — and the perfection in doing or making (ποίησιςpoiēsis) that the finite will then produces, as outward symbol, is moral perfection. This is what allows Coleridge, interpreting James 1:25, to contend that faith is higher than morality, but not other than it: he who “looks down into the perfect law of freedom” is “not a forgetful hearer” of the word, “but a doer of the work”; “this man shall be blessed in his deed.”[5]῾Ο δὲ παρακύψας εἰς νόμον τέλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας καὶ παραμείνας, οὐκ ἀκροατὴς [λόγου] ἐπιλησμνονῆς γενόμενος ἀλλὰ ποιητὴς ἔργου, οὗτος μακάριος ἐν τῇ ποιήσει αὐτοῦ ἔσται.ho de parakupsas eis nomon teleion ton tēs eleutherias kai parameinas, ouk akroatēs [logou] epilēsmonēs genomenos alla poiētēs ergou, houtos makarios en tēI poiēsei autou estai See Coleridge, Aids, Introductory Aphorism XXIII, p. 16. This is to be compared with Fuller’s discussion of Matthew 5:48 (ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλεοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν):esesthe oun humeis teleoi hōs ho patēr humōn ho ouranios teleios estin see “The Great Lawsuit,” The Dial 4:4–5. Fuller goes in quite a different direction from Emerson’s, as I hope to explain in a later post. Or, as Coleridge puts it in his own words:

The outward service (ΘρησκείαThrēskeia) of ancient religion, the rites, ceremonies and ceremonial vestments of the old law, had morality for their substance. They were the letter, of which morality was the spirit; the enigma, of which morality was the meaning. But morality itself is the service and ceremonial (cultus exterior, θρησκείαthrēskeia) of the Christian religion. (Aids, Introductory Aphorism XXIII, pp. 15–16)

The lethargy that overcomes us on our entrance to this world, that is both a kind of inertia, a mere hearing that does not proceed to doing, and a kind of forgetfulness and defect in (transcendental) reflection,[6]See the preceding two verses in James: ὅτι εἴ τις ἀκροατὴς λόγου ἐστὶν καὶ οὐ ποιητὴς, οὕτος ἔοικεν ἀνδρὶ κατανοοῦντι τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐσπόπτρῳ. καταενόησεν γὰρ ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀπελήλυθεν καὶ εὐθέως ἐπελάθετο ὁποῖος ἦν.hoti ei tis akroatēs logou estin kai ou poiētēs, houtos eoiken andri katanoounti to prosōpon tēs geneseōs aoutou en espoptrō. kataenoēsen gar heauton kai apelēluthen kai eutheōs epelatheto hopoios ēn is, in other words, original sin: the forgetfulness of our infinite origin by virtue of which we are heteronomous, i.e. by virtue of which the law of morality appears to us, in effect, as sensation, as passion — as experience, one might say — that is, as a limit imposed on us from without:

That the Law is a Law for you; that it acts on the Will not in it; that it exercises an agency from without, by fear and coercion; proves the corruption of your Will, and presupposes it. Sin in this sense came by the Law: for it has its essence, as Sin, in that counterposition of the Holy Principle to the Will, which occasions this Principle to be a Law. Exactly (as in all other points) consonant with the Pauline doctrine is the assertion of John, when speaking of the re-adoption of the redeemed to be Sons of God, and the consequent resumption (I had almost said, re-absorption) of the Law into the Will (νομον τελειον τον της ελευθεριας,nomon teleion ton tēs eleutherias James i. 25. See page 14,) he says — For the law was given by Moses; but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ. P.S. That by the Law St. Paul meant only the ceremonial Law is a notion, that could originate only in utter inattention to the whole strain and gist of the Apostles’ Argument. (Comment to Aphorism XV on That Which is Indeed Spiritual Religion, p. 183–4)

The defect in our temperament is that we are reprobate, damned, and when Emerson adds later: “Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are strung” (p. 54), he is asserting the doctrine of predestination. “Experience,” in opening with a view of the law as experience, thus opens with the sin of despair (or “desperation”): a sin against the Holy Ghost, which will never be forgiven.

Now, “Experience” does not necessarily close the way it opens. The moral subject admits of being treated with desperation, but it cannot, perhaps, so be disposed of. However that may be: from this point of view, “Schopenhauer as Educator” begins actually on a more hopeful note:

A certain traveler, who had seen many lands and peoples and various parts of the earth, and was asked what property of human beings he had always found everywhere, said: they have a tendency to laziness. To some it will seem that he might more correctly and more validly have said: they are all fearful. They hide themselves under customs and opinions. Fundamentally [im Grunde], every human being knows quite well that they are only in the world once, as an unicum …: they know this, but hide it like a bad conscience — why? Out of fear of one’s neighbor, who demands conventionality [Convention] and [also] hides himself with it. But what is it that coerces an individual to fear their neighbor …? … For the great majority it is comfort, inertia, in short that tendency to laziness of which the traveler spoke. He was right: human beings are even lazier than they are fearful, and they fear most of all the pains with which an unconditional honestly and nakedness would encumber them. (“Schopenhauer als Erzieher,” Werke (1899), 1:387)

This “laziness” (Faulheit), which manifests itself as fear, is, like the “lethargy” of “Experience,” a kind of inertia that keeps us back from acting because it prevents us from retrieving our origin. Nietzsche’s use of the concept here, however, brings him closer rather to the Emerson of “Self-Reliance.” Finding ourselves, so to speak, in the midst of a pleasant dream, seemingly clothed in a gown and comfortably seated by the fireplace, we fear awakening naked and destitute, our old houses and old opinions having been torn down,[7]Nietzsche: “Ich gehe durch die neuen Strassen unserer Städte und denke, wie von allen diesen greulichen Häusern, welche das Geschlecht der öffentlich Meinenden sich erbaut hat, in einem Jahrhundert nichts mehr steht, und wie dann auch wohl die Meinungen dieser Häuserbauer umgefallen sein werden” (p. 389). to hard labor in the dark. This inertia and fearfulness are evidently the same, then, as those in virtue of which we dare not say “I think, I am.” To say, “your true essence does not lie deeply hidden in you, but rather immeasurably high above you, or at least, over that which you customarily take as your ego” (p. 391), and to call that infinitely high (or “eminent”), unconscious self our “genius”[8]Nietzsche: “Es giebt kein öderes und widrigeres Ge schöpf in der Natur als den Menschen, welcher seinem Genius ausgewichen ist” (p. 388). — all of this is found in “Self-Reliance,” and indeed even in Schelling.[9]Nietzsche had read, at the opening of the Foreword to the his translation of Emerson’s Essays (Versuche, tr. G. Fabricius [Hannover: Carl Meyer, 1858]): “Emerson only brings back to us the blossoms whose seeds he gathered in through his study of the German people and their cultural [geistigen] products. But it happens with certain types of flowers, that they develop to redoubled beauty in a foreign healthy soil and new climatic relations” (p. iii). The translator was an (otherwise unknown?) young woman (I suppose that “G. Fabricius” is a pseudonym), and the Foreword is by the writer Gisela von Arnim, daughter of Bettina von Arnim and first cousin of Franz Brentano. See Julius Simon, Ralph Waldo Emerson in Deutschland (1851–1932 (Giessen: Junker und Dunhaupt, 1937) (a PhD dissertation completed under the Americanist Walther Fischer and the prominent Nazi neo-Hegelian Hermann Glockner), p. 113. Unfortunately I have not been able to consult the source Simon cites in turn: Luba Dramaliewa, Gisela von Arnim: Leben, Persönlichkeit und Schaffen, PhD dissertation, Leipzig, 1925, p. 74. But absent here is the thought that our distemper is due to the defect of our genius itself, which turns out, after all, not be so much of a genius. Or perhaps, turns out to be a malignant genius. Who are the “Lords of Life”?

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