below: Pericles, II, ii, 41
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


He seems to be a stranger, but his present is
A withered branch that's only green at top.
he motto, 'In hac spe vivo'.
Hinges of revolutions in thinking. Roles of ideas in cognition versus 'transformative practice' at the threshold of the Twentieth century.

The need for thinking to separate from what has come before is felt as impulses to purify thinking's methods and re-envision its points of departure, and also as an intuition toward enriching mind's experience of life and wholeness. These objectives occur complexed together for important thinkers, but they are given quite different emphases in the course of those individual thinkers' explorations. For example Husserl, as well as the earlier work of Wittgenstein and Whitehead called for new beginnings for thought, particularly ones clearer with respect to the grounding status of logical relations. Bergson and James likewise took new beginnings as their first theme, but from the standpoint of types of evidence which claimed to dethrone the priority of logic. Dilthey and Steiner also prioritized different kinds of evidence, but were less interested in new beginnings than in methods allowing them to jump into the middle of the entire cultural inheritance in a new way. Cassirer shared the objective of newly digesting that cultural inheritance, but he, alone amongst this eminence, called on nothing fundamentally novel in the course of his efforts. Nietzsche, as usual, is the perfect multiple-personality: performing all such positions at each others expense, and at the same time when possible.
Make not your thoughts
your prisons.

The errors of ideology too, made correspondingly different impressions on our century's inaugural thinkers: for many ideology had gone astray in failing to find an unequivocal point of departure free of conflicting consequences. Thus for some, even as for Hegel before, logic or phenomenology were still expected to be able to ground a Science of Mind. But Cassirer and Dilthey and James found that ideology's faults were derived from its neglect of observation and description, as well as in its practices of reductive interpretation. They felt that the embodiments of human experience in cultural forms asked for recognition of entire contexts as significant wholes whose variation and transformations had to be recounted in something resembling natural histories of meaning. It is particularly interesting that the later work of Husserl, Wittgenstein, and Whitehead all shift from their initial values on newly rigorous beginnings to accounts which emphasize aspects of experience identified as belonging to historical and lived contexts.

Tibetan Kalachakra Tantra Mantra syllable
Both Steiner and Nietzsche went further, they considered that the overcoming of ideology required not only an initial appropriation of broad semantic and historical contexts coupled with a priority for description and observation, but ALSO points of departure which were radical in the sense of putting thinkers themselves at risk. Their approaches even called for methods which could no longer be understood in the traditional way as tools wielded by the intellect.

For Steiner and Nietzsche method became practice, and practice meant shifting one's way of life and thereby transforming one's consciousness and experience
. These two 'renegade' thinkers thereby placed themselves outside the possibility of participating in academic consensus. The truth which they felt to be most crucial could be realized only on the basis of the transformation of experience, not established like a building as an irrefutable set of propositions. Saint Frances of Asissi Such priorities have had a place for some thinkers since the very beginning of philosophy, and are strongly present as well in the New Testament. Pascal and Kierkegaard are probably Nietzsche's and Steiner's nearest predecessors in that orientation: but emphases of this type usually stressed the experiential in exclusive contrast to the cognitive - making faith or conversion a more or less single door to the transformation of experience.
In contrast, because Nietzsche exampled his practices through the masks of literary form, philosophy has remained in a kind of hot-potato relation to his thought. In this way he has functioned as a sort of Trojan horse infiltrating philosophy ever more with literary considerations which imply modes of experience that challenge any containment by cognition.
Steiner as Architect: the first Goetheanum (1913-1920)

Only a small part of Steiner's legacy, on the other hand, can be assimilated as either philosophy or literature. Instead Steiner has mostly left what I am bold to call 'cognitive music' which had for his living followers the status of a kind of 'spiritual prescription' tailored specifically to their needs. But of course this does not at all exhaust Steiner's legacy, for thanks to the efficacy of Doctor Steiner's prescriptions, he and his followers were able to bring into the world practices organized to heal and nurture which live today perhaps most of all in the worldwide Waldorf educational movement. These schools, by and large, continue to eloquently example a fullness of human-being that remains one of the few situations in our world where the fruits of thinking have yielded a new growth which is a positive advance on what ideology has brought into the world.
While Steiner and Nietzsche are singularly explicit in asking for transformation on the part of thinkers, an ongoing struggle satisfied with nothing less than transformation is, I think, an implicit characteristic of most of our century's important thinkers.

As we cross into our own time mainstream philosophy and its renegades may decisively share an impulse toward the transformation of experience, but even earlier it is not unsual to find thinkers dissatisfied with what could be communicated through the usual currency of philosophy - ideas. And wherever we find philosophic intentions which try to work from outside of what can be stated through ideas, these, at the least, imply the possibility of transforming experience. Such are the great doctrinal disputes of medieval theology. As in the similar traditions of Buddhism and Judaism, it is through argumentation and critical commentary that they find their special points of leverage for influence. We may suggest this leverage through the example of how the apprehension of a difference between two or more ways to approach the transcendent serves to function in shifting experience toward altered horizons. Thus awe is a primordial wellspring of Religion, but as we meet different faces of the transcendent, our experience of awe can transform.
Blaise Pascal


Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

By the time of Pascal (1623-1662), the need to validate reality on the basis of one's experience of being oneself already strongly showed itself in the life of the mind, and from Pascal to Kierkegaard that aspect of philosophy we might call transformative practice often reached for the transformation of experience through personal confession. It too was replete with the new emphasis on that principle of doubt which 'orthodox' philosophy had harnessed for grounding cognition in private experience. The internal divisions which the Cartesian principle of doubt illuminated brought the philosoper in one person to play many parts, whether to distill the knower and his ideas or to set the stage for his transformative redemption. The modern 'I' came to be forged as human beings gathered into self-experience more and more of the relations previously lived publicly through language. This new 'I' occurs as the apprehension of differences between what are now taken as its own ideas. Precisely the possibility of composing these into a formal unity of self-experience found momentous examples in Classical art and thought. In the Romantic period those 'captured' ideas then revert to their own movements against each other. The emergence of Ideology itself exquisitely exemplifies Hegel's principle of dialectics: Whereas before, the 'Classical I' had felt himself to be the owner OF his ideas, the 'I' of the idealogue can be seen as owned BY his ideas, and drawn back into the public world by their movements.
I have a kind of self
resides with you
but an unkind self
that itself will leave
to be another's fool
Every important thinker at the turn of the century struggled to mend such divisions, but the most radical efforts were ventured by those philosophers who were committed to 'transformative practices', like Friedrich Nietzsche H. Anton's 'Three Masked Dancers' (balinese) (1981)(1844-1900) and Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Nietzsche's emphasis on 'dance' as a way to situate the use of ideas in thinking suggests much of how both tried to avoid the divisions which had plagued previous thought. Similar practical approaches had earlier emerged from Buddhism as Zen and from Islam as Sufism. 'Dance' here might mean, for example, ideas that nourish transformation and movement rather than offer us something to hold on to. Or again, for Nietzsche an idea was always a 'mask' which showed something even while it raised our suspicions about what was hidden. Steiner, typically, understood and presented ideas as situations of intersection between crosscurrents of what he called Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. Again, an idea did not speak for itself with a single voice but played a role in a broader spiritual metabolism.
Both Nietzsche and Steiner deploy a recurring sensibility toward 'convalescence' and 'healing' as a relevance of the ideas they bring to our attention, and often those ideas are carefully embedded in elaborate stories. But unlike in earlier Romantic thinkers, such ideas do not embody these stories' protagonists or antagonists. Rather than casting ideas as either dominant or distracting, they work to show how ideas have a 'metabolic' role in a 'body' transcending them. In general, Nietzsche's and Steiner's advance over earlier forms of transformative practice also hinges on how they put ideas' essential element of self-referentiality to work in making ideas jump out of their skin before we can use them to nail down certainties; here they anticipate subsequent developments of thinking concerning metaphors and symbols.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Bertrand Russell and his 'logical atomism', associated closely with both early Whitehead and Wittgenstein, stands for much of what both left behind in their later work, where both find reality 'fuzzier' than pleased Russell.
The parallel mainstream of philosophy could not allow its relation to ideas to be determined only by their use: in a thinking whose objective is to enlarge the domain of public truth, ideas have had to be ends in themselves, and not only means for personal transformation. Nevertheless, with the exceptions of the early Whitehead and the early Wittgenstein, the radical emphasis on description and observation even here gave ideas functions and roles no less fluid than found in Steiner and Nietzsche. As one reads these thinkers' descriptive efforts, their ideas often make an impression of approaching a limit where they almost break through into the actual flow of life - almost ...
our project's life
this shape of sense assumes:

Schoenberg's Bach?
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Perhaps, for example, Arnold Schoenberg's reorchestrations of Bach make a comparable impression of an impenetrable but vanishingly small interval at the threshold between discontinuity and continuity. Such a simulation of continuity, pushing existing discontinuous elements toward a limit so as to make a picture of continuity contradicting the nature of those compositional elements, seems to me to distill the moment of transition between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. Soon the door would open for minds like Einstein and Heidegger to find ways to start with continuity rather than need to strive for it. Meanwhile, Nietzsche speaks of an 'Eternal Return', where a world of becoming, through incessant reiteration, approaches indistinguishability in principle to a world which would exist as unchanging, and the first flickering motion picture dances its way across the screen.
before after
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


Husserl's last new beginning: ...     The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology emphasized entire cultural contexts in ways that many earlier readers of this prince of epistemologists must have found surprising.

General Note: Why Steiner?     No doubt one of the more distinctive characteristics of this exposition is according to Rudolf Steiner a place and a relevance in the history of thinking. To be honest, it would appear that the way in which Steiner is included here (and especially in section VI(c)) may offend, for very different reasons, many academic philosophers and Anthroposophists (Steiner's contemporary followers). In many quarters the treatment of Steiner found here will lessen the chance that this text may find 'legitimation' (to use Habermas' term).

Like Nietzsche, Steiner distinguished himself academically, only to throw it all away by leaving (and rejecting) the academic establishment. Unlike Nietzsche, Steiner did not seek to 'mark the world' by becoming an extreme and individual voice. The 'ecology' of academia is such that lone renegade voices from other times, like Nietzsche, offer worthwhile 'business opportunities' - career niches - as well as appealing more or less safely to a sense of isolation and disaffection not uncommon in the academic world. Steiner on the other hand prioritized community and his followers have carried that priority forward quite effectively. The possibility of community is alien to many academics, so it is all too easy for them to jump to think of his legacy in terms of a religion or a cult before considering his work as an early response to the economic nucleations of culture that have run to such extremes in our own time.

It seems unfortunate that Steiner's reputation as an occultist has so completely obscured, for example, his writings on Goethe or his own philosophic and economic writings. Steiner's followers are often as unfamiliar with these as are the philosophers and cultural historians who receive public funds to maintain knowledge for the sake of the rest of us. Although Steiner's contemporary followers are compelled by Steiner's own teaching to give strong lip service to the importance of thinking, many are generally reluctant to consider things that might make unsteady the truth that they feel they have found in Steiner's teachings - which, of course, thinking is bound to do.

Amongst even some of the most profound philosophers, the use of language for talking about things has obscured for them what language can do. Literature is, of course, where language has been meant to show what it can do, namely involve us in meanings - the plural form here signifies the escape from the literal. Both Nietzsche and Steiner insisted that doing with language is a part of existence that not even a philosopher can rise above. Both experimented with story-forms to further invest living with language's doing. Only if one is open to apprehend what they are doing with language can one leave behind foolish concerns about whether anything they are telling us is True. These two are one of a kind, no one like either of them has even remotely been seen since. They seem to me themselves sometimes like conceptions of a writer come to life, prising themselves from the pages of Shakespeare or Melville or Goethe. And, in my opinion, should either a philosopher or an Anthroposophist find such a characterization demeaning it would only illustrate how utterly they underestimate the evolutionary and spiritual status of human creativity.

'Under the skin', Nietzsche and Steiner share more than their established advocates are prepared to recognize. Perhaps they would also share great disappointment at how they have been franchised in our time.

While the gross inequities and wastage writ large on every page of human history must be the central current which sustains our sense of tragedy, those excruciating tributaries - the work of great spirits becoming grist for inappropriate mills - are what really gives the tragic sense its 'bouquet'!

...lineup and alibi

Make not your thoughts your prisons.

- Antony and Cleopatra, V, ii, 181
I have a kind of self resides with you
     - but an unkind self
That itself will leave to be another's fool.

- Troilus and Cressida, III, ii, 144
Our project's life this shape of sense assumes: - Troilus and Cressida, I, iii, 378

The Copyright holder grants permission for free personal use, and noncommercial on-line use, of this text.

send email to author