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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Crumbling in Theory

posted by on July 11 at 11:16 AM

From a letter Goethe wrote to Lavater:

Like a big city, our moral and political world is undermined with subterranean roads, cellars, and sewers, about whose connection and dwelling conditions nobody seems to reflect or think; but those who know something of this will find it much more understandable if here or there, now or then, the earth crumbles away, smoke rises out of a crack, and strange voices are heard.

In this passage we see the seed of what the 20th century will recognize as Walter Benjamin’s way of thinking and style of writing. This is it completely.

The last paragraph of Oparin’s Origin of Life:

What we do not know today we shall know tomorrow. A whole army of biologists is studying the structure and organization of living matter, while a no less number of physicists and chemists are daily reveling to us new properties of dead things. Like two parties of workers boring from the opposite ends of a tunnel, they are working towards the same goal. The work has already gone a long way and very, very soon the last barriers between the living and the dead will crumble under the attack of patient work and powerful scientific thought.

When discussing the best literature produced in Russia’s Silver Age (from Leonid Andreyev’s peak to Isaac Babel’s disappearance), we must not exclude Oparin’s short scientific study of the possible origin of life. It’s impossible to separate the spirit and beauty of this text from, say, Bely’s Kotik Letaev .

From Lectures on the History of Philosophy:

Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward (as when Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, “Well said, old mole! canst work i’ the ground so fast?”) until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away. At such a time, when the encircling crust, like a soulless decaying tenement, crumbles away, and spirit displays itself arrayed in new youth, the seven league boots are at length adopted. This work of the spirit to know itself, this activity to find itself, is the life of the spirit and the spirit itself.

Hegel’s “Final Result” is something that must be read at least once week. Writing rarely gets better (or muscular) than the conclusion to his lecture on the history of philosophy. It reads like an owl flying above the massive sprawl of a civilization in its magic hour, the hour of dusk.

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I suppose I could read Hegel’s “Final Result” once a week... or I could play Final Fantasy 12 for 15 hours a week. Think I'm going with FF12. Y'know, I'm one of those people that thinks at some point in the future I'm gonna start doing exercise and reading thinky stuff, but right this minute, impoverished and stressed out, I'm going with the masses.

Posted by christopher | July 11, 2007 11:40 AM

Let's leave the thinky stuff to the people who think they're thinking.

I'll be playing Gears of War and watching the Superbad trailer over and over again.

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 11, 2007 11:46 AM

Usually Poe, I think you're too flip and apolitical for me to dig, but I just googled "Superbad" and that looks so cool! You win.

Posted by christopher | July 11, 2007 11:51 AM

Apolitical?! But I read teh Stranger!!1one

Posted by Too Flip 4 U | July 11, 2007 11:56 AM

That you do...

Posted by christopher | July 11, 2007 12:04 PM

Did you watch the unedited trailer, or the lame trailer?

Posted by Too Flip 4 U | July 11, 2007 12:48 PM

Mainly, Charles, what I see is someone who knows the use of metaphor (Goethe). And then there are two selections reflecting the pitfalls of argument by analogy. Goethe's description relies on two known experiences, with experience B bridged to experience A. It's the perspective on the moral world you get while standing next to a sewer grate.

But then with Oparin you have an analogy doing the brute force work of uniting living and dead -- two exclusive categories which if united would cease to be meaningful. The crumbling earth here is from the shoddiness of his logic, opposing biology and physics, as if human categorization was somehow deeply reflective of the nature of being. Experience B is all supposition, so there's no particular constraint (or worth) in comparison -- he might as well say that when knowledge about living and dead things unites it'll be like a jello dish with pineapple in it.

And then again, Hegel, though here the earth is crumbling because it's so obviously an intellectual construct, a dirt that hinders the luminescence of spirit. (How delightful it would be, really, if there were nothing between us and the light of the sun?) The level of abstraction acts against the employ of the crumbling earth analogy; it's simply poetic speech without poetic rigor, a manipulative institution of the apparently real to provide contrast for the transcendent majesty of spirit. This perspective is simple assertion -- it pretends to link the metaphysical and physical, but only to undermine the physical. Spirit, naturally, doesn't crumble.

Posted by MvB | July 11, 2007 12:48 PM

So three different translators used the same word. What's actually in the texts?

Reading translations is like eating a photograph of bread.

Posted by N | July 11, 2007 1:14 PM

@7,Yes, but does Charles actually read the comments?

Posted by lawrence clark | July 12, 2007 12:56 AM

@9, yes, every word. very much enjoyed what mvb had to say.

Posted by charles mudede | July 12, 2007 5:42 AM


He reads them, but he's very careful when and where he replies. Besides, why should he actually care what we have to say? He's like Bush. He's in his own little world.

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 12, 2007 8:53 AM

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