Thursday, February 2, 2012

Number Fifty-Four

Es gibt nichts anderes als eine geistige Welt - was wir sinnliche Welt nennen, ist das Böse in der geistigen, und was wir böse nennen, ist nur eine Notwendigkeit eines Augenblicks unserer ewigen Entwicklung. Mit stärkstem Licht kann man die Welt auflösen. Vor schwachen Augen wird sie fest, vor noch schwächeren bekommt sie Fäuste, vor noch schwächeren wird sie schamhaft und zerschmettert den, der sie anzuschauen wagt.

There is nothing besides a spiritual world; what we call the world of the senses is the Evil in the spiritual world, and what we call Evil is only the necessity of a moment in our eternal evolution. || One can distintegrate the world by means of very strong light. For weak eyes the world becomes solid, for still weaker eyes it seems to develop fists, for eyes weaker still it becomes shamefaced and smashes anyone who dares to gaze upon it. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The world is only ever a constructed world; what we call the sensual world is Evil in the constructed world, and what we call Evil is only a fleeting necessity in our eternal development. || With a very strong light, one can make the world disappear. Before weak eyes it will become solid; before still weaker eyes, it will acquire fists; and to eyes yet weaker, it will be embarrassed and punch the face of anyone who dares to look at it. [Hofmann]


Kaiser/Wilkins marks the section represented here as following the two vertical lines (||) cancelled, while Hofmann preserves the separation into parts without any indicated cancellation.

I always have the same problem with formulations like these, that X is evil and that what we call evil is Y. Does this mean that senses and senses alone are really evil, and that what we call evil is actually only a necessity? Or does it telescope, one into another, so senses are evil and evil is necessity, hence senses are necessity? I think the former is meant, although it's hard to say why. Being able to say why will entail being able to understand the aphorism.

The world is a generalization not found in experience, rather it is the presumptive stage on which a series of experiences is supposed to unfold. The sensual, and the word has the same connotations in German as in English, is Evil, which is to say, what carries us away. What we call evil is a necessity, something that can't be avoided and consequently can't be considered evil in consistency with the usual ideas of morality. In our endless process of maturation, there arise these moments that flash by too quickly to see, and our reflex reactions to these sudden moments are what we call evil. So the real evil is the sensual, becoming lost to oneself in the sensory world, and not the reflex adjustments to sudden events.

The word translated moment above is Augenblick, which borrows from the rapidity of glances and blinks of the eye; the eye comes back again on its own in the separated section. The world, which can only be a mental world, is dissolved in strong light. It's a curious idea; at first he seems to be saying that the world looks different to progressively weaker eyes but by the end he seems to mean that the world reacts to being looked at differently by weaker eyes. The world might seem passive at first, but takes an active role and an affect by the end.

Strong light, the strongest, might be divine, or it might be the light of the strictest reason or self-consciousness, which dissolves the sensual world because it recognizes it as a representation. The light being truth or understanding, something like that, will take apart that world and perhaps render it down to its constituent elements, reversing an unconscious world-fashioning. The weak are not deprived of the light, but of the eyes to see it. The light makes the mental world seem solid to weak eyes, and the word for solid, fest, which foreshadows Fäuste, can also mean fixed. So it may be that the weak eyed thinker is using unchanging generalities or perceives the sensual world as unchanging. Weaker still are those who conflict with their sensory worlds, and weaker still are those who imagine that they can fight with their own sensory world as if it were not their own creation but an inimical external presence.

The difficulty in the cancelled section is the idea of weakness, which seems to have no lower limit. There doesn't seem to be a correspondingly clear position of strength.

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