A blog dedicated to understanding Hans Blumenberg's Höhlenausgänge.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Origin of the Copernican Worldview: Chapter 1: Cosmos and Tragedy

Sophocles and Anaxagoras were contemporaries in 5th-C Athens. Sophocles' statement from Oedipus at Colonus that "The best thing is never to have been born", in contrast to Anaxagoras' statement reported in the Eudemian Ethics, that in response to "Why would you prefer to have been born?" the best answer is "For the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe". Kant later says, (Blumenberg's paraphrase) because of "the impossibility of obtaining the consent, in advance, of those who are to be born," those who beget them owe them "the compensation of reconciling them, after the fact, with the existence they did not wish for, and thus enabling them to give their own consent to this fact."

B. says Anaxagoras' question is "part of the invisible underground of philosophy". But given the biblical assumption of Divine creation, there is no possibility of "an 'after the fact' justification of the fact of world and of life."

Also: reduction of the Cosmos to "the order" of the heavens -- more beautiful than chaotic self, which is not deemed worthy of contemplation. Moving forward to Gottsched's description of Copernicus: "nicts schien ihm der Betrachtung eines weisen Mannes...wuerdiger zu sein, als das praechtige Gebaeude des Himmels."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Cave of Life: The Cavely Birth of Fantasy

First line of the third essay, "Die Höhlengeburt der Phantasie" is very nice: "So man became, by way of his passage through the cave, the dreaming animal."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Secularization: A Dimension of Hidden Meaning?

Chapter 2 of "Secularization: Critique of a Category of Historical Wrong" is given over to expanding the meaning of secularization from a general complaint or (depending on the attitude of the speaker) triumphant observation about the increasing worldliness of the modern age, to a broad philosophical paradigm in which this or that characteristic of the modern world is described as a secular version of some corresponding characteristic of the church in the pre-modern world. I understand from Wallace's introduction that this paradigm is quite prominent in German philosophy of the mid-20th Century, and is seen most clearly in the writing of Karl Löwith, to which The Legitimacy of the Modern Age can be understood as a response.

I have certainly encountered this paradigm (or a lay version of it) in my days, and it frequently sounds quite reasonable to me, though some of the examples Blumenberg cites in this essay seem a bit over the top. In light of the passage from Arendt which was quoted in the previous essay, it is easy to see this understanding of secularization as a counterpart to the search for a "historical symmetry according to which this worldliness would be, as it were, a disposition for the return of the Greeks' cosmos" -- its proponent is trying to establish a historical symmetry between the modern age and the mediæval, churchly cosmos.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Secularization: Status of the Concept

I am going to be looking at The Legitimacy of the Modern Age for a little while before I get back into Höhlenausgänge. I think I need to understand a little better what Blumenberg has in mind when he uses the term "Neuzeit" (which I assume is what Wallace is translating as "Modern Age").

Part I is titled, "Secularization: Critique of a Category of Historical Wrong". But I'm not sure this means that Blumenberg considers secularization "a historical wrong" -- I think there is something in the word "critique" or in the word "category" that I am not picking up on yet but which means he is analyzing the line of thinking which considers secularization to be a wrong.

Chapter 1, "Status of the Concept", contains this paragraph:
Bear in mind also that the use of the expression no longer implies any clear judgement of value. Even one who deplores secularization as the decay of a former capacity for transcendence does so with hardly less resignation that someone who takes it as the triumph of enlightenment -- since after all it has turned out to be the final, definitive triumph. The historian [I am assuming this is Blumenberg speaking for himself] will incline to neither attitude. But what attitude will be appropriate for him when he speaks of "secularization"? One would think that that would have been to some extent clarified. It is just that assumption that will be disputed here.
Blumenberg also quotes the following passage from Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition:
"...the 'worldliness' of the modern age cannot be described as the recovery of a consciousness of reality that existed before the Christian epoch of our history. There is no historical symmetry according to which this worldliness would be, as it were, a disposition for the return of the Greeks' cosmos. The Renaissance was only the first misunderstanding of this sort, an attempt to forestall the new concept of reality that was making its entrance by interpreting it as the recurrence of a structure already experienced and managed with familiar categories... This unhistorical interpretation displaces the authenticity of the modern age, making it a remainder..."
Note that Blumenberg is taking the title of his book from Arendt.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Legitimacy of the Modern Age

A book arrived in the mail today, Blumenberg's The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, from 1966. Looking at the translator's introduction, which summarizes Blumenberg's disagreement with philosophers of history who characterize progress as "a secularization of eschatology", one of my first thoughts is that I've got to remember Höhlenausgänge is Blumenberg's last book. I have no doubt the "Neuzeit" invoked repeatedly in Erinnerung an den Anfang is heavily informed by this earlier work -- where when I read the essay I was just treating it as a common word, and thinking it was carrying a lot of weight for such a short word.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Cave of Life: Surviving the Crossing

Not ready to summarize this essay yet; but I must say the first paragraph is just excellent.
To see the light of the world, as a description of the birth process, rings from the mouths of those who believe themselves to be standing already in the light of the world, triumphant: this is the circumstance which is seen as the goal, when one is already on one's way. For the other side, the preceding darkness, there is no linguistic emphasis. In speaking of the security in the mother's lap, the intrauterine prenatality is hardly ever thought of [I am not getting this clause quite right], almost always the flight of the crying child onto the lap of the mother. Concerning the pain of birth, all attention is on that of the woman bearing, not on this, that it could also be that of the one being borne.

(My first reaction was, well what about Freud -- and he moves on in the next paragraph to discuss psychological theories of birth trauma, which he is apparently saying were not a part of our discourse before the modern age.)

Late update: It occurs to me that my reaction to this paragraph could be indirect evidence for (what I am taking to be) Blumenberg's idea that the modern age will witness a major revolution in human consciousness.

Another update: I will write some more about this essay but not, I think, until Friday. Kind of busy week.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Cave of Life: Remembering the Beginning

At first I was going to try to write in outline form, like one or two sentences about each paragraph in the book. But this is not going to fly -- there is too much that I don't understand -- the better thing to do is, I will summarize what I can understand and make some general comments about what I can. Also, give some excerpts -- this essay is particularly rich in language.

Blumenberg is concerned here with establishing a viewpoint which links time and consciousness as two phenomena which we cannot envision a beginning or an end to. "We know we must die but we don't believe it because we can't imagine it." He attributes this viewpoint to Aristotle and maybe to Kant, but seems to be generalizing it as a pretty broadly true statement about people's worldview. It is tied up with idealism -- "the unthinkability of beginning and end of consciousness [is] an index to it's not-belonging-to physical reality." This leads into some interesting statements about the nature of the world, like
To allow the world to emerge [approximately -- I don't quite get the syntax of this sentence] becomes the process of entering into her [the world], and equally that of leaving that which is not the world, or not yet. She is not all that is the case; she becomes it, as the entry/exit into her is attained, made open and passable.
The world is what can be won back: that of everyone in waking, that of the singleton in memory, which is nothing else than the enforcement of identity against incursions of discontinuity, of deprivation, of forgetfulness.

Then he moves to consideration of the modern era, in which he seems to think this type of idealistic thinking will be overcome -- he says,
The modern era must, if it is to be the epoch of absolute (because wesensmässig zeitlichen [not at all clear what this means]) consciousness, prepare or find the guide, which will lead us out of the labyrinth of incompatibility between objective knowledge and subjective evidence-of-self, between known mortality and believed immortality.
Apparently part of the process of transcending dualistic thinking is tied up in the form of the novel; he spends several paragraphs on this but they are pretty opaque to me. Much of this is given over to discussion of Proust, including this very nice bit:
The beginning of the "Recherche" is noteworthy in that the first sentence in direct speech makes it infeasible to demonstrate, strictly speaking, its possibility [again not at all clear on the syntax here]: Je m'endors -- that can never be said nor thought in the present indicative.
Other references are to Tristram Shandy, the Joseph tetralogy (? -- ah -- it is by Thomas Mann), and the Odyssey.

At the end of the essay are some considerations of the allegory of the cave. The inability to imagine beginnings and endings is a characteristic part of life in the cave, and part of the process of leaving the cave is an integration of our intellectual understanding of mortality with our intuitive understanding of duration.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Well I was meaning to do an outline of the argument in the first one or possibly two essays tonight. But I cannot find the book. Hopefully it will turn up tomorrow.

(Update: Found it! Thanks Ellen! I am working on the outline.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This morning I realized the below post is really dry and lacking in direction -- I'm sort of going at this sequentially because I don't understand the text well enough to take a bird's-eye view. I will just say that the statement I'm aiming right now to clarify, is Blumenberg's assertion in the seventh essay of the book that "The City is a recapitulation of the Cave by other means." This seems to me like one of the most noteworthy ideas I've ever read, and I want to understand why. So right now I'm just laying the groundwork, or rather trying to understand how Blumenberg is doing so.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Cave of Life: Remembering the Beginning

The first essay in the book is "Erinnerung an den Anfang", about which I wrote this brief note when I first read it.

References which do not mean anything to me:
  • "Kant's refutation of idealism in the second edition of the Critique". Blumenberg seems to be saying that this refutation would serve as proof of the eternal nature of the world, "even if this price, a corollary to his main result, must have seemed to him too high -- since it is inescapably Spinozan."
  • The invocation of Spinoza.

But the basic idea that "We cannot imagine a beginning of time[, since] it would itself be in time" seems pretty straightforward to me.

More tomorrow.

The Allegory of the Cave

You know about it already, I know about it already. (Indeed it has been a central bit of my thoughts about my world ever since my freshman year of college or so.) It is very important to this book, so I will begin this blog with an account of Plato's allegory of the Cave.

I suddenly realize I need to reread that text. My brief, very rough summary: Picture us in the world, as if our only perceptions of the world were of shadows on the back of the Cave; our only interactions with the world were with its shadows. The philosopher (Socrates himself, not the sophists who lay claim to the title "philosopher") has broken away from the shadow-world and seen reality in all its fulness, and returns, and tries to tell his fellow men about it, and is dismissed as a lunatic.

Well. The second bit of that allegory always seems to me a bit self-aggrandizing. But the image at the opening of the allegory, that I'm sitting in the cave looking at flickering pictures and thinking them all there is to know, has always held a powerful attraction for me. It is the central image of Blumenberg's book. (Or anyway that's what I think, at the beginning of the book, is going to be the central image.)

A Note About Comments

I have enabled the word-verification feature in Blogger to stop spammers -- I apologize to my commenters, I hate having to type in the letters every time. But I hate comment spam worse. For the time being, I am not forcing commenters to have a Blogger account, because I can't really see the point of that.

Coming out of the Cave

I am starting this blog seeking to understand Hans Blumenberg's book, Höhlenausgänge, which is not yet translated -- it is one of Blumenberg's last books. I read 3 essays in it a few years back, found them fascinating, and then put the book aside because I was having too much trouble with understanding the language.

I will say at the outset I have little qualification to undertake this project. I am not a trained philosopher, just somebody who opened a book and found it interesting, and wanted to dig a little deeper. I'd like to thank my friend Kai Lorentzen for hipping me to this book, and I hope he will deign to comment here.

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