The Poetization of the World
To counterbalance the prevailing economism and transhumanist delusion, our intellectual life must become more romantic again.
by Roland Rottenfußer
Romanticism is a state of mind, Rüdiger Safranski opined. "It found its perfect expression in the epoch of Romanticism, but it is not limited to it; the Romantic still exists today." Between the new nature boom à la Peter Wohlleben, esoteric irrationalism and the sentimentality of mystery romances for teenagers, there is a deeper Romantic impulse whose roots go back to early Romanticism, around 1800. Its core is mysticism and anti-economism, and its means of expression is poetry. In a completely disembodied world, in which one does not respect life, but tries to control it in transhumanistic hubris and to imitate it more badly than well, the separative triumphs, a maelstrom of destruction and self-destruction takes hold of us. Separated from their source, human beings have inflicted a deep wound on creation. If our torn world is to be healed again in the future, it needs more spirituality, creative imagination, love or - to put it another way - romance.
Eight-year-old Bertha can no longer stand living with her hard-hearted father, a shepherd, and flees alone into the solitude of the forest. She is taken in there by an old woman. In an idyllic hut, the two live together with a dog and a bird. The latter has a special relationship: it lays an egg with a pearl in it every day. Bertha learns to spin and looks after the animals when the old woman is away. It could all have been so beautiful - an idyll, "round" in itself and clouded by nothing. However, as the years go by, Bertha's longing for the big world "outside" swells. One day she steals a bowl full of precious stones, leaves the forest and the dog. She strangles the bird because its song troubles her conscience.
If the forest solitude was paradise, this is the fall of man. "Der blonde Eckbert" is an art fairy tale written by the early Romantic Ludwig Tieck, in 1797. The Brothers Grimm had by then long before published their collection of fairy tales. Ludwig Tieck, the first great storyteller of the Romantic generation, did not leave message and "moral" to chance. His fairy tale contains a clear warning. The pearls of the bird - they were treasures that remained harmless as long as they were only beautiful play, subject to no purpose, no intention of profit. When Bertha carries these treasures to market to sell them and "become something" in the world, she draws upon herself a curse that catches up with her in the end. The story ends with madness, murder and death.
Just nature kitsch?
Romance - what is that, anyway? Those who don't know the historical background may have a superficial idea of it: Romance has something to do with a lot of feeling, with Rosamunde Pilcher films, for example, or romantic comedies with Julia Roberts. Romanticism certainly has to do with feelings, and a certain skepticism about the supposed omnipotence of reason is inherent in it. Novalis, a contemporary of Tieck, wrote in 1799:
"More charming and colorful stands poetry, like an adorned India, against the cold, dead Spitzbergen of that parlor mind."
This is not only a beautiful declaration of love for poetry, but also highly poetic itself.
The other important association that "everyone" makes with romance is nature. A few years ago, "Die Welt" published a major article entitled "Can Romance Save Us?" It spoke of an escape from our modern age, which is overly dominated by technology and ratio. It also spoke of a change in consciousness that heralded the end of our optimism about civilization.
There, the author reports on a longing "back to nature," based on a few symptoms of a nature hype that has flared up in recent times. The country magazines with their aesthetic garden photographers are brought into the field. And Peter Wohlleben, the non-fiction author of the hour, known for his insightful works about the inner life of oaks and squirrels.
The article is highly interesting, but has a blind spot when it comes to religion and spirituality. Like the pragmatic Peter Wohlleben, who attributes feelings and relative complexity to animals, but sees no creative, even divine power residing in them. This is quite legitimate, but not romantic in the original sense.
Poetry, religion, anti-economism
Rüdiger Safranski comes closer to the matter when he writes in his great literary treatise "Romanticism - a German Affair" that Romanticism is a "continuation of religion by aesthetic means". This religious component must definitely be taken into account. It is complemented by a strong aversion to economism and purposefulness. This is the actual "Romanticism formula" and at the same time represents what makes this often ironized art movement particularly topical for us: anti-economistic spirituality or, in the words of Dorothee Soellle, "mysticism and resistance." Poetry is the third component in this "game", the means of transport, so to speak, of that resistant mysticism to be striven for.
The goal of the romantic movement, of every romantic movement, is the poetization of the world. One should say more precisely: its re-poetization.
First of all, let's take a closer look at the relationship between Romanticism and religion: art can describe - as the Greek philosopher Plotinus beautifully put it - "how the soul flows into the dormant world from all sides, pours into it, penetrates it and shines into it". This is also the function of art: to redeem the open-minded reader from the half-blindness of materialistic everyday perception. Spiritual art often seems romantic because romance has always been spiritual. Today the word is often misunderstood or associated with shallow love kitsch. But even romantic love stands only as an earthly image for an even higher, comprehensive form of union.
The soul as the inner side of creation
The primal ground of romantic art is the intuitive knowledge of unity. Connected with this is the longing of the seemingly isolated individual for reunification with the divine primal ground. Romantic philosophy, which experienced its heyday in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, for example in Fichte, Schelling and others, regarded nature as the outside of the soul, the soul as the inside of creation, both actually not separate from each other, but one and the same, only seen from two different perspectives. Language, in its wonderful ambiguity, is the ideal medium to capture both sides of creation - the inside and the outside - in One.
When the poet says "autumn," he can mean a season (outside), but at the same time he can also mean melancholy, farewell, decline, the dying of a happy love affair (inside). Schelling had already praised this capacity of poetry: "What we call nature is a poem that lies locked in secret, wonderful writing."
If we define mysticism, not, say, personal love or contemplation of nature, as the core of Romanticism, we must also name the forces that oppose mystical longing:
We then realize that much of our experienced modern reality is actually anti-mysticism. It aims at isolation, fragmentation, dispersion, at the expulsion of silence and immersion.
This observation is not an invention of our epoch, which is characterized by pressure to perform, competition and availability, by art worlds of glass, steel and concrete, by smartphone addiction, intensified dependence on technology and progressive destruction of nature. The early Romanticists already sensed the imminent imbalance in the "world spirit. Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), the prototype of the Romantic artist and man who died at an early age, poet of the "Hymns to the Night," spoke of it in his famous poem:
"When no longer numbers and figures
are keys of all creatures (...)
Then from a secret word
The whole inverted being flies away."
The lost wholeness
At the same time, "numbers and figures," formulas or geometric structures, had at that time by far not yet the all-pervading meaning they have today: in a time in which digitalization has actually reduced everything to the duality of 1 and 0 and computer technology overgrows every area of life; a time in which everything and everyone has to "calculate," but real humanity does not count; a time in which natural science has degenerated into a fetish, nature, on the other hand, into a huge garbage disposal site.
All this has escalated in the last two centuries in a grotesque way. And yet already a Novalis felt the time of enlightenment, in which he grew up, as a dark age, in which everything had to be dissected, counted, measured and compared.
Romanticism that wants to unfold must therefore offer resistance, must become political - even if this often happened around 1800 "only" in general, poetically encapsulated form. Schiller, in this a mastermind of Romanticism, describes in wonderful words how modern man lost his wholeness and was reduced to a fragment of himself. He can almost be understood as a precursor of Marxism because of his remarks about alienated labor:
"Pleasure was divorced from labor, the means from the end, effort from reward. Eternally bound only to a single small fragment of the whole, man himself forms himself only as a fragment, eternally with only the monotonous sound of the wheel he turns in his ear, he never develops the harmony of his being, and instead of expressing humanity in his nature, he becomes merely an imprint of his business."
Mysticism and Resistance
Man as an "imprint of his business" - could the epoch of neoliberal globalization be described more aptly than with these words of "old Schiller"? For the Romantics, thinking in terms of purpose was the original sin - as the fairy tale of Bertha and the bird also shows. The question "What can I use it for?" All secondary sins derive from this: the question of economic usability, the ideology of a world as a commodity, personal craving for recognition, competitive thinking, even the destruction of the "other" that one is no longer able to recognize as a part of one's "own."
Homo economicus, as the physicist Hans-Peter Dürr, who died a few years ago, described it, is no more than the "shrunken form" of Homo sapiens. However, this does not prevent the political and economic powers from breeding precisely this form of intellectual dwarfism and cutting off personality growth that goes beyond it. Just as the insensitive janitor of an ugly housing estate trims shrubs before they "threaten" to grow to their very individual beauty.
Novalis, in a central manifesto of early Romanticism entitled "Christendom or Europe," lamented that man's mind had focused entirely on "needs and the arts of satisfying them." "The avaricious man has to spend so much time acquainting himself with them and acquiring skill in them that there is no time left for the quiet gathering of the mind, for the attentive contemplation of the inner world." Mysticism and business activity do not get along - they form the greatest possible contrast. Novalis then speaks of a hatred of religion that was virulent in his time, and which was directed across the board against enthusiasm, imagination and feeling, morality and love of art.
The disenchanted cosmos
This hatred, the poet concludes his train of thought, "made the infinite creative music of the universe the monotonous clatter of a monstrous mill, driven by and floating on the current of chance, a mill in itself, without master builder or miller, and actually a true perpetual motion machine, a mill grinding itself." We all know it, the venomous hatred and derision of anything that gives depth to the experiential world and sees a creative force at work - may this force be described in Christian, shamanic, Taoist or other terms. Our time has gone through the partly quite justified criticism of religion of a Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.
New technical achievements and scientific knowledge have nourished the illusion to be able to think the cosmos to the end, to strip it of all secrets.
In addition, in the wake of the terrible euphoria of the Nazi years, there was a general irrationality trauma. We post-war children sipped the milk of the pious (rational) way of thinking, scoffing and keeping our distance, and shunned the wine of emotionality, with its unpredictable frenzies and hangover moods. Thus also Rüdiger Safranski, ultimately a system-loyal child of his sobered-up epoch, scolded about "political romanticism" - by which he first meant National Socialism, but in a second step also cleared off the 68er movement. Every utopia, every transcending of the actual state - even if it is in fantasy - appears suspect to such anti-romanticism. Just like some of the contemporaries of the early Romantics.
Goethe, for instance, ungraciously announced: "I call the classical the healthy, and the romantic the sick." Certainly there is bad and dangerous political romanticism, but this does not mean by implication that all political romanticism must be bad and dangerous.
Inhuman utopias like those of the new right tend to thrive where the forces of humanity do not dare to formulate their dreams for the future out of misunderstood realism.
Realpolitik and visionless "driving on sight" currently dominate our common ways, extolling themselves as having no alternative, which has unfortunately also rubbed off on left-wing discourse.
The "cold heart" must thaw
I myself tend to the following assumption: If one already operates with medical categories, then "the healthy" lies in the middle between the extremes. And if one pole - in our epoch it is the rational one - dominates unilaterally, balance can only be restored by consciously strengthening the other.
We need a strong romantic impulse in our time of hot brains and cold hearts - alluding to a beautiful fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff. This impulse must not only have an effect in the products of culture, in novels, fine arts, garden art, music, film, video games and so on; it may and should also radiate into the political sphere. Romanticism without mysticism is content with natural kitsch; romanticism without political impact remains toothless and sterile.
Roland Rottenfußer, born in 1963, studied German and worked as a book editor and journalist for various publishing houses. From 2001 to 2005 he was editor at the spiritual magazine connection, later for the "Zeitpunkt". He currently works as an editor, book copywriter and author scout for Goldmann Verlag. Since 2006 he has been editor-in-chief of Hinter den Schlagzeilen.
Behind the Curtain
If we want to be fully human again, we must leave behind the distorted image of a dead and meaningless universe. Exclusive reprint from "Cosmos".
by Jochen Kirchhoff
[This article published on June 9, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/hinter-dem-vorhang.]
A false worldview is all the more dangerous the less it is questioned. Cosmology in particular, as part of natural science, is based on a plethora of unproven and unprovable premises, more akin to beliefs than to exact facts. In a society dominated by materialism, uninitiated people tend to consider everything to be true that bears the stamp of science. This would still be a tolerable mistake, interesting only for a manageable circle of experts, if certain elements of the prevailing world view were not at the same time a frontal attack on the dignity of man. The latter finds himself helplessly and meaninglessly exposed in a dead universe, which marginalizes him already by its mere size and passes over his needs with monstrous indifference. The mirror image of the materialistic paradigm is a society that degrades man to an arbitrarily manipulable appendage of highly developed technologies. The trimmed man projects his own meagerness on the universe, in order to recognize in this then in the reverse conclusion the proof for the senselessness of his existence. The creation of a more humane world must start with the image of man, and this needs as a basis a new conception of the universe as a continuously animated, meaningful organism. This text is the preface to Jochen Kirchhoff's just published book of essays "Kosmos", published by Oval Media.
The world crisis we are living through, which includes the Corona crisis, has many faces. It cannot be grasped with one-dimensional and monocausal grids. But one thing seems to be certain: Something has derailed globally, and we do not know whether and to what extent this derailment can still be reversed. Do we still have a chance or are we lost? What remains unlosable is important: "Recognize the situation!" (Gottfried Benn, already 1944) and "At what point do we stand?" (Giorgio Agamben, March 2020).
Without great perspicacity, it can be stated that we have crossed a red line with global mega-technology and all its ramifications, as well as the manic fixation on so-called biosecurity (biosecurity) since Corona. What follows from this? The ground on which we are henceforth forced to walk is comprehensively contaminated. Abstract natural science, financial system, digitalization, mathematization, dismantling of everything human in the old sense, increasing destruction of the living diversity on the planet, manipulation by the mass media, surveillance, crushing of the individual and his creative potentials (outside the technical world) and much more have long since overgrown and colonized everything.
In the background of these out-of-control conditions a monstrous picture of the universe is favored and hailed, which makes us aware of the earth as an oasis in a hopelessly dead space, which nevertheless ghostly surrounds us and everywhere brings monsters to light.
A "cosmic fascism", so to speak, compared to which the fascism known to us on earth seems almost unspectacular: The star-eating monsters of the so-called black holes can neither be outdone nor defeated ... A gigantic phantasmagoria, does the world really look like this? I have my doubts about it and have presented these also often, in the perhaps audacious opinion that there are quite alternatives to all this. Alternatives that are clearly nameable and that make the "cosmic idiot" (Peter Sloterdijk), as which the inhabitant of the earth appears in the ruling intellectual culture, again a being that regains its real, namely its spiritual dignity.
The present volume contains fourteen essayistic texts which seem to me to be suitable to contribute substantially to the understanding of this world crisis in which we find ourselves. In their entirety, they provide a thoroughly representative insight into the range of topics and the specifics of my thinking, and in this compilation they are intended not least to provide easy access to all those who have come across me not primarily through my writings, but perhaps via the Internet. To this end, each of the essays collected here can be read on its own. The thematic arrangement of the texts is not didactically motivated; one can jump in anywhere and begin the journey.
The essays presented span a period of 26 years (1993 to 2019) and are presented essentially as each was written at its time - apart from rather "cosmetic" changes, additions, and corrections. An update was not planned and is not necessary because the texts as such are of a fundamental nature and have no expiration date. They are current per se, so to speak. When I compiled the texts and read them again with a critical eye (some of them I had left unnoticed for many years), I was downright amazed and in a certain way also pleased that they could also be written today, in the beginning autumn of 2021.
The fundamental crisis of natural science, which is part of the world crisis mentioned above, has not been resolved since 1993, when the first essay brought here appeared in an anthology; it was virulent then and it is virulent now. Nothing has changed in what I call the "dictatorship of abstraction."
What cannot be overlooked is the global dominance of the digital world, which is at its core a dominance of the digital corporations, in conjunction with the all-pervasive financial industry, mega-technology, the super-rich, and the state apparatuses that have proven themselves to be in thrall to the super-rich and "science." Equally unmistakable is the almost complete lack of a truly grounded conception of humanity in the prevailing intellectual culture.
The way into transhumanism, the "Great Reset" and the successive extinction of the human substance in the cyborg delusion seems inescapably marked out. The epistemological basis of all this is, however, of shameful paucity.
Everywhere it has been cynically agreed that nobody can really know anything about the things of this world anyway, which exceeds the extremely limited, technical-rational level. Nihilism, intellectual flatland as far as the eye can see. The technical-mathematical natural science is the actual fundamentalism, against which all religious fundamentalism pales. Massive and threatening, hardly seriously questioned, a ghostly loss of reality prevails here, which Erwin Chargaff already lamented decades ago:
"They (the natural sciences, J. K.) are an important tool of alienation. The abundance of investigations, which become more and more indirect, the hunt for the smallest, for shadows on umbrellas, the fragmentation of a nature on which once rested the blessing of wholeness. All this has become a giant alibi for the purpose of creating an illusory reality ... Science as a monstrous Procrustean of nature, it stretches and cuts; it has much to find fault with creation. (...) Wherever one looks, there is a toothless, sullen barbarism that fingers everything." (1)
Clear words, which many consider to be exaggerated excessively, but with which I agree without restriction. And as for physical cosmology, which has long determined our being-in-the-world as being-in-universe, its foundational crisis is unmistakable. "We don't know ourselves what we're talking about," admits American Nobel laureate David Gross, "it's a period of extreme confusion" (2). And Leo Smolin of the University of Waterloo writes:
"Today, most of what theorists publish about the foundations of physics is unverifiable. This is what I would call a crisis." (3)
From what used to be considered empirical natural science, most of so-called theoretical physics and cosmology has long since radically departed, even though most probably haven't even noticed and act as if everything is the same. (By the way: Also this so-called old has always been interspersed with elements of delusion, although not yet to the extent and not as monstrous as it is the case today). Some of the essays presented here I see as substantial contributions to the disentanglement of the so hopelessly muddled situation, which want to throw a new view on the basic reflection of physics and cosmology and to stimulate a reflection about the nature and the cosmic situation of the anthropos, the "earthling", on this so enigmatic and threatened heavenly body.
Unbrokenly topical, yes burning is the question about the human being or the image of the human being which we need in order to be able to live really in the deepest sense humanly worthy in the face of the starry sky arching over us, so that we are not content with an abstract or merely religious caretaker form of our self.
Our worldview, as a picture of the totality of the universe, is the signature of collective and also individual consciousness. "The cosmos is like a mirror," goes a Persian proverb. Often a donkey looks into it ... Cosmology, it could be said, is the basis of everything. The universe surges around us. We are, whether we want it or not, in the end cosmic existences, even if we have drawn the curtain in the majority. I try to pull the curtain open a tiny crack. What is hidden behind it? We ourselves? Or something completely different, the completely other? With these questions I want to conclude the small "prelude on the theater" and release the stage ...
This text is an excerpt from the book "Kosmos" by Jochen Kirchhoff.
Sources and notes:
(1) Erwin Chargaff: Preliminary End, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1990, p. 31.
(2) cit: Die ZEIT, no. 14/March 2007, p. 29
Jochen Kirchhoff, born in 1944, has been on the trail of life's mysteries since the age of 19. He studied philosophy, history and German language and literature, and for many years was a lecturer in philosophy at Humboldt University and Lessing University in Berlin. His main interest has always been the human-cosmos relationship in epistemological, natural philosophical and spiritual terms. He wrote quite a few books and has been running his own YouTube channel since 2014, where he presents his thoughts on science criticism, living cosmology and the exploration of consciousness in lectures and talks.