A blog dedicated to understanding Hans Blumenberg's Höhlenausgänge.

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.
and
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.

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