Heraclitus On the Unity of All Things

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All things resolve into Unity and from Unity resolve all things – binding wholes and parts, things combined and distinct, in harmony and disharmony.

Nature’s law is the Will towards Unity.

Wisdom is oneness with the purpose that steers all things.

To learn this, listen not to me but to the cosmic reason.

For of letters and writing the way is both straight and crooked.  Like the working of a loom, words go upward and back again, spin around and return, spiraling around their meaning like a snail’s shell.

Rising up, and coming down, we move on the same path.

Of this eternally existing order people lack understanding, both before and after they hear of it.  Everything comes to be through the universal reason, but even when it is spoken of plainly most people remain ignorant.  They do not notice or remember what they do when awake, just as if they were sleeping.

Thus it is necessary to seek out and follow the universal reason.  Although it is common to all, many act as if they alone had purpose.

You will never discover the limits of your soul by wandering, even if you tread on every path – so deeply do you partake of the cosmic mystery.

For the soul is a law of being that increases its own power.

The cosmos was made by neither gods nor men, but always was and is and will be – like ever-living fire, flickering and rekindling itself forever.

This fire moves in an endless sea of alterations – half solid, half storm.  The solid is dispersed into the storm and measured out again, as it was before.

For a great thunderbolt steers all things.

This God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger.  He changes as fire changes when it is mingled with various spices.  Men name the scents according to the various delights of each of them.

For God all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some things to be unjust, other things to be just.

What is in opposition is secretly linked, and the most beautiful harmony comes out of things in apparent conflict.  Individual striving is the father of all things.

This is like a bow or lyre: its form depending on a harmony of opposing forces.  Being at variance, it agrees with itself.

This hidden harmony is superior to what is visible.

The sun is commander and guardian of the cycles of changes and the seasons, which bring to light all things.

Human character grants no inborn purpose.  That is reserved for the Gods.

The Gods consider men, as men consider children.

Night-roaming wizards, drunken mystics, howling preachers, those frightened by death… by their customs people are initiated into mysteries less than holy.

They purify themselves in vain by staining themselves with blood, as if a man having stepped in dirt tried to wash himself in dirt.  They pray to objects, just as crazy people are observed talking to houses.  They do not know what gods and heroes really are.

In life we see death as an impenetrable nothing, but when sleeping all we see is sleep.

What awaits us in death we neither anticipate, nor can even imagine.

Life is a child playing, moving the pieces of a game.  Kingship belongs to this child.

A man’s divine fortune resides in his character.

All things are compensation for fire, and this fire in turn for all things, just as goods are exchanged for gold.

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The New Rules

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One of the chief difficulties for aspiring artists of all kinds, is that we often misunderstand the relationship between what our art could be and what it presently is.  When we encounter great art it appears like the transformative power of the magician’s staff.  Great art opens a gateway to the realm of the gods. It reveals things hidden to our normal senses. It changes our view of the world and ourselves. Great artists seem to pursue their art as a sacred calling, as if it were the grail itself: a chalice of solace and renewal to which they return again and again throughout all of life’s vicissitudes. Even among those artists who are merely technically excellent, and not necessarily endowed with greatness of insight and expression, we wonder at the power their art has to move the world. We see it bring to some riches and renown. We see it used to shield the weak, humble the wicked, build communities of friendship and tear down prison walls. Our own work of course does none of these things.  It seems rote, mechanical, and immature.  Our enthusiasm for what art represents rubs against our experience of actually doing it. We stop. We balk. We falter.  Why?
There is a pernicious lie we believe.  It is the lie of the “inner genius”. The substance of this lie is that somewhere within us resides an homunculus – a tiny person. This “inner artist” possesses all the wondrous creative power we seek, complete and fully developed. In order for us to achieve the artist’s life, it is only necessary to contact this mischievous imp, who will then spin thread into gold, make the sun still in the sky, and open the doorway to Narnia. This is assuming of course that we are “real” artists.  Non-artists don’t have an inner Shakespeare, a miniature Gauguin, or a tiny Beethoven. Perhaps they have a pet genius for spreadsheets, or an innermost sacred accountant.  Having this model of the creative process, we are disturbed when we sit down to work and find our minuscule demon missing from his station.  Perhaps we have done something to drive him away, and should seek out some kind of artist’s penance?  There is a whole industry of books, support groups, and retreats providing this service.  Perhaps we are not sensitive enough and must “develop” our “creative intuition”?  Most occult and spiritual practices are substitutes for nothing else.  Perhaps we are – horror of horrors – not a “real” artist at all, and should resign ourselves to corporate mediocrity and mindless entertainments?  Whatever it is, we must do something. Clearly something is wrong with us, for the magic gate is closed.

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The simple truth is: the “little artist inside” does not exist.  There is no “inner you”.  There is only you as you find yourself: as you presently are right now.  The art you are drawn to is not a magical wand, or the holy grail of your life, or even a potent weapon for YOU.  It may become ALL of those things in time.  For now though, for YOU, it is but a possibility.  One of the many things which you may become.  It is an interest, for which you have some natural inclination.  It is material to be worked.  No different from learning to shape wood, or metal, or repair machines, or developing your body, you must approach it as a CRAFT.  For that is the possibility the art opens to you right now.  It is how the Muse first approaches anyone – not in her wedding finery, and even less in her bedclothes, but in a humble workman’s smock, bearing tools of labor. This prospect should cheer you and bring you courage, for while the sword is fearful, and the road to the grail unknown, and the wand a mystery – the potter’s wheel, the blacksmith’s anvil, the dressmaker’s shop, these things are all known and open to you.  Craft is not hard to develop.  Anyone can do it.  It only requires a little patience and a small amount of discipline.  Sadly, in our modern world of mass produced goods and “service” jobs, fewer and fewer people have any experience in craft.  Think about it.  Most working adults today have mastered little other than a very specific rote process with little or no significance outside the bureaucracy in which they work.  Because of this, a little instruction may be helpful.
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In my personal experience, the development of craft is a process of three interlocking and self-perpetuating activities.  The first is practice.  You should practice your craft every day.  Even if you can only manage half an hour, or five minutes, it still counts.  Practice grows organically in time.  Some say that it takes around twenty hours of practice for a new skill to become anything other than a difficult and confusing task.  I like to think of this as a day – twenty four hours of time.  When you have spent twenty four hours doing something –  actually doing it, and not worrying about it, agonizing over it, or avoiding it,  then you have a basic understanding of what the activity actually feels like.  Of course, this is just the beginning and, even after you have been at it for some time, your work may feel mechanical, crude, and unimpressive. But practice is not fundamentally about what you produce.  Practice is the work you do on yourself, for your soul has a shape, and through practice you are molding it.  To produce great art you must first become someone who is capable of great art.  Therefore, the more you practice, the more rewarding it will become as your soul takes on the artist’s form.  Periodically however, even in the best of circumstances, you will “get stuck” and practice will seem indescribably tedious.  This brings us to the second activity: experimentation.

You must give yourself permission to try new things, things that will not work, things that will appear – to your critical mind, to lead nowhere.  Think of them as little gambles, for you are embarking on a journey of discovery, no different from a Galileo or a Magellan.  There has never been, in this turning of the cosmos, a being precisely and exactly like you: with your constitution, history, aspirations and perspective.  Thus, no one can tell you exactly how your art will be, or should be, what medium you should work in, or how you should structure your practice.  You must discover this road as you travel.  Do not abandon critical thought, but merely put it aside for a moment, and only analyze your experiment after it has run its course.  The problems of art cannot be solved merely by thinking them through.  You must think, but you also must act even – dare I say especially, without perfect knowledge.  To demand that you succeed before you have experienced failure, to know of what you are capable before you have tested your abilities, is to doom yourself to paralysis and bitter stagnation.  Art is invention.  Without uncertain and untested innovation, it becomes merely industry.  Somewhat paradoxically art must posses a recognizable form, despite what some in the “post-modern” school claim ( a nonsense phrase by the way, as art is eternal ).  Random emotional ejaculation cannot be art, because it can never first be craft.  All learning, all thought, all self-improvement, occurs within a tradition, and this brings us to the third activity to which you must apply yourself: study.

Like any other craftsman, you must study – not just your discipline, but the world.  Along with the lie of the homunculus – the “inner artist”, there is the lie of the ORIGINAL artist.  This is the lie that the content of our art is something we produce from “within” like a gall-bladder produces bile.  In fact, these are two aspects of the same lie: that the artist is some kind of isolated autodidact, and this comes from a faulty view of the world.  Do not misunderstand me.  Self-directed learning is fine, in fact it is necessary, but self-learning is not the same as self-teaching.  You cannot by definition teach yourself something you don’t already know.  The universe is not fundamentally made of isolated bits of stuff.  It is a whole – a continuum – a living body.  An artist is not a world unto himself.  Rather an artist is like a nerve – a particularly sensitive and intelligent ganglia within the cosmic body.  To improve your function as an artist you must reach out to that larger neighborhood of beings who make up “your kind”, and plug in.  To be sure, you will need periods of isolation, for reflection, digestion, and germination, but understanding comes from context.    You must know what has been done in your craft before you came: what works, what doesn’t work, what has already been tried, and what has no one ever attempted.  You must also know what is happening in the world.  To not know your craft is to be ignorant.  To only know your craft, is to be an idiot – in the technical definition of the term, doomed to repeat the same inanities over and over and over again.   For, like a nerve, you cannot decide to feel something that is not present – that does not lie within your field of experience.  To create something great, you must know what greatness looks like.  To create something new, you must experience something new.  This requires no great effort.  Newness is everywhere. Even the most ordinary experiences become profound when viewed with attention.   Cultivate attention, and you will find teachers everywhere.

These three activities: practice, experimentation, and study will develop your craft.  All you have to do is act, and not give up.  There is a fourth… thing, you must develop.  It is not an activity as such, but rather a quality. That is patience.  Be patient with yourself – and, if you do not know how, learn to be patient.  If you study your craft with diligence you will develop this quality.  Patience is not putting up with suffering.  Patience is a knack for finding contentment and happiness within all of life’s situations.  It is the art of learning how to enjoy this journey, on this planet Earth.  For in the end, we never arrive anywhere.  Every ending is the beginning of some new adventure.  No effort if wasted.  No opportunity comes too early, or too late.  There is no experience that cannot be used in the service of the universal harmony, if you come to view it in the right way.  What else did you expect, from art?

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Full Circle

Europa

“Whenever you experience mental vacillation, cast your mind back to the Greco-Roman mentality as it was before the second century.”

– Montherlant

“In the first place, paganism is not a ‘return to the past.’  It does not consist of what could be called ‘one past versus another’… It is not a manifestation of a desire to return to some kind of ‘lost paradise’ (this is rather a Judeo-Christian theme), and even less… to a ‘pure origin’.

Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin.  Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended.  In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.

Far from being confused with atheism or agnosticism, it poses a fundamentally religious relationship between man and world – and a spirituality that appears to us much more intense, much more serious, and stronger than what Judeo-Christianity claims for itself.  Far from desacralizing the world, it sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word; it regards the world as sacred – and this is precisely, as we shall see, the core of paganism.”

– Alain de Benoist

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Whither Thelema? Part One

1905 Aleister Crowley

I imagine that no one who has taken the time to read the works of Aleister Crowley with an open mind has not, at some point, felt inspired by his vision of human freedom, open inquiry and spiritual attainment. I also cannot imagine how any stable and emotionally mature adult, spending any time in or around the organizations that claim to carry on his work today, could come away with a favourable impression.  From the high promise of the source material, we fall to the present manifest reality of mismanagement and dysfunction. What are we to make of this vast discrepancy?

Aristotle tells us that causation is four-fold: material, formal, efficient and final.   In the case of an object, say a vase, the material cause is the porcelain out of which it was cast.  The form is the shape of a vase into which the porcelain was thrown.  The efficient cause was the craftsman who shaped, fired, and lacquered it into being.  The final cause was the purpose for which it was created.  In this case, as an attractive holder for flowers.  It should be noted that the thing we are examining here is not an object but something more abstract: the current state of a culture, or to put a finer point on it a small collection of overlapping organizations.  Nevertheless, I believe we can use this model to good effect if we phrase the question as “What is the primary cause, of the failure of Thelema, to establish itself as a mature and viable movement in the world today?”

The material state of the community could be viewed as the collected assets controlled by the organizations that make it up, both people and property.  A failure on this level would be a simple lack of resources.   The solution here would be membership drives and fund-raising.   It would also mean that one of the other three causal factors: formal, efficient or final, were not at fault.  This makes a failure at the material cause level an attractive “solution”, since it requires no deeper criticism:  “Thelema just needs more time and effort.  That is all.  Show up and help out and all will be well.”   Part what makes this diagnosis attractive is that it is obviously true to some extent. Anyone from even a moderately stable background knows that the community lacks material status.  The organizations are poor, and the members are few, disorganized, and generally lacking in high achievement.  Going to a deeper cause requires investigation and argument, skills most people lack.  Everyone prefers to use the tools with which they are familiar.  This is, I believe, the primary reason for movements like “AC2012”, haphazard attempts to independently publish public domain source materials, conversion missions (aka: “outreach”), bake-sales and other funding drives, and like endeavours.  People remember these mechanisms from similar non-profits they were involved with in the past and attempt to import them without examination.  They are ways to try and address the lack of a sufficient “material cause”, while avoiding the three deeper possible factors.

The question is not if this form of causation is lacking (which is an obvious yes), but rather if it is the primary cause?  Over the last several decades many people, some highly invested, some even formally trained in non-profit strategy and group management, have tried to improve the community on this level, yet we are no better off, and in many cases worse off – materially, than we were twenty years ago.  Moreover, Thelema as a movement has existed for over a hundred years!  One would think that by now some organization would have managed to purchase a building.  This sad state of affairs argues strongly against locating the source of dysfunction at the material level.   We must go deeper.

The formal cause would be the structures of the organizations which make up the community.  While there are dozens of small groups that could be called “Thelemic” to some extent, in the main the Thelemic community is dominated by two organizations: the OTO, and the AA.   Most of the smaller groups are modelled on one of these two.  For example, even Wicca began as an adaptation of the OTO lodge structure, and the TOS titles evolved directly from the AA.  To locate our primary cause here would be to argue that the structure of these organizations runs counter to Thelemic principles, and therefore the subsequent failure of these organizations to establish themselves materially, as we described above, is derivative of their inherently inappropriate structures.  This argument has been put forward by others before – typically arguing against the strict hierarchies that make up these organizations, and suggesting that they should become “more inclusive” or “more open”.   Since “openness” and “inclusion” are popular buzzwords, this diagnosis seems satisfying to many who leave the major organizations, but wish to remain affiliated with the movement itself, as a personal ideology or identity.

The problems here are two-fold.  Firstly, this criticism implies a knowledge of what constitutes fundamental Thelemic principles.  Adherents of this critique often bring up quotes from the source material that seem to support their view, but this is insufficient.  Isolated quotes may be suggestive, but they are by no means authoritative.  A comprehensive analysis is needed and therefore to make this argument is to push the problem back further to the question of final causes, or at the very least efficient causes.   It is glib and superficial to assume we grasp the fundamental principles of Thelema merely because we are able to register our dissatisfaction.   Second, while there are certainly fewer people inclined to locate the primary cause of Thelema’s failure on this level, there have been many experiments in creating small groups organized in different ways.  None of these have risen even to the level of the OTO, let alone an organization the size of a moderate church or synagogue, or even a more mainstream offshoot movement, like Scientology.  Furthermore, today’s OTO and AA are not exact reproductions frozen in amber.  Rather, they are evolving interpretations of the source material.  The leaders of these groups have considerable leeway in how they interpret the original design.  They also have a great deal of sympathy with modern liberal secular values – indeed more sympathy towards those than the values of the founders: Crowley, and his immediate successors.   The point here is that if it were a simply a matter of a more open and inclusive structure, or even merely a simplified structure, one would expect to see one of the newer and more “enlightened” groups rising to a position of pre-eminence.  This has not occurred.

The original efficient cause of Thelema would be Crowley (or more accurately Crowley’s interpretation of Liber AL vel Legis).  Blaming Crowley is certainly convenient, but he died in 1947.  At the date of my writing this it is 2015, over sixty years later.   What is the efficient cause of Thelema today?  It is true that we must deal with Crowley’s influence, but how does this “dealing” occur?  To put it another way, if the original efficient cause was Crowley, how is this cause being carried forward through time, and made manifest in the world today?  Excluding appeals to unknown supernatural agents, the efficient cause of the community today are the leaders that drive it forward, through their various interpretations of Crowley and the source material – both explicit and implicit.

While differences between leaders, and their respective interpretations, certainly exist, organizations by their nature develop according to the consensus of key players.  That consensus today is an amalgam of Judeo-Christian style religious authority and left-leaning “secular” humanist ethics.  Outliers certainly exist, but they are almost always driven outside the existing power structure.  Since these organizations are so small, the OTO is by far the largest at around 3,000 members worldwide, their leadership groups are also small and fairly homogeneous.  It is tempting to think therefore that if they were replaced with better candidates many of the problems facing the community would be resolved; but over time many individuals have cycled in and out of leadership.  Also, many independent Thelemic and quasi-Thelemic groups exist, with their own independent leadership cadres.  Yet what is their interpretation of the source material, and how do they put it into practice?  They seem almost uniformly to adopt a religious authority structure, and secular humanist ethics – perhaps surpassing the OTO in privileging one or the other to a greater extent, but not differing substantially from the dominant consensus.  An astute reader may note here that this spectrum of authority mirrors that of mainstream American society, with a “religious” authority source on the “right” and an “ethical” authority source on the “left”.   I do not believe this is accidental, for absent intellectual engagement with the question of final and ultimate causes, all we can do is mirror the values we have inherited from mainstream society.  The question raised by a failure at this level is:  what is the nature of legitimate authority and who is fit for leadership?  These questions can only be answered in the light of primary metaphysical values.  To investigate these requires we press on to the question of final causes.

The final cause is the thing for the sake of which an object or event comes into existence.  Any ideology making metaphysical claims, that is to say claims about the fundamental nature of human existence, must rest its ultimate purpose in truth.  For an ideology to claim ontological authority on anything other than truth is to destroy the very authority it wishes to posses.  No sane person would willingly adhere to a religion or political movement that itself claimed to be false.  It may in fact be false, or based on falsehoods, but it will at least present itself as true.  To attack the truth claims of such an ideology is to attack its very reason for existing, and to interpret those truth claims, or argue for them where they are not stated explicitly, is to make a claim on the knowledge of what the ideology fundamentally is, and what it is about.  Here our primary tool is logical consistency.  Is the ideology internally consistent, and does it match what we know to be true in the observable world?   Our first task will be identifying the key components of the ideology itself, and for that we must investigate the primary documentary source – Liber AL vel Legis.   Without such an investigation our entire inquiry falls apart.  For by what other standard can we resolve apparent discrepancies in subsequent documents?  How can we judge the opinions of authorities?  How can we build organizations according to Thelemic principles?  We can, to be sure, limit ourselves to adherence to previous orthodox interpretations, but those interpretations themselves must be understood as derivative of fundamentals; and this also assumes that a body of well-established orthodoxy exists, and that this orthodoxy possess epistemic sanction by the metaphysical system of which it speaks.  Is this the case in Thelema?  How can we tell without, again, an investigation of the primary source?  We are forced therefore to confront Liber AL and the commentary directly, if we are to hope to resolve the problem of Thelema in the world today.  This will be the focus of my next post in this series.

 

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Seven Traditionalist Definitions

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Perennial:  Perpetual or everlasting.  Perennial truths are universally valid for all mankind, throughout history.

Tradition:  An arrangement of symbols and rites which transmit perennial truths.

Lineage:  A chain of beings who articulate a particular tradition.

Initiation:  Inclusion within a lineage.

Adept:  Skillful. In this context, one who can relate traditional forms to perennial truths.

Master:  One who embodies the perennial truths indicated by a tradition.  A source of tradition.

Religion:  Traditional myths, stories and rites without necessarily any connection to meaning and perennial truth.

A Stoic Mnemonic in Hexameter

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All beings chase their own good
Will rising from judgements,
Of all things in the world,
Our success or failures.

Happiness is our choice,
Virtue ever close to hand.
Mind is always up to us,
And with it our emotions.

To live in harmony
With all sacred nature,
Means first and most of all
Being joyous in your self.

For excellence in action,
Regardless of outcome,
And steadiness of soul,
Lie always in our power.

The Philosopher with an Hammer

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We require history for life and action, not for the smug avoiding of life and action, or even to whitewash a selfish life and cowardly, bad acts. Only so far as history serves life will we serve it.

Whoever cannot settle on the threshold of the moment forgetful of the whole past, whoever is incapable of standing on a point like a goddess of victory without vertigo or fear, will never know what happiness is, and worse yet, will never do anything to make others happy.

All acting requires forgetting, as not only light but also darkness is required for life by all organisms.

The stronger the roots of the inmost nature of a man are, the more of the past will he appropriate or master; and were one to conceive the most powerful and colossal nature, it would be known by this, that for it there would be no limit at which the historical sense could overgrow and harm it; such a nature would draw its own as well as every alien past wholly into itself and transform it into blood, as it were.

And this is a general law; every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon;

Everyone will have made the following observation: a man’s historical knowledge and perception may be very limited, his horizon as restricted as that of a resident of an alpine valley, into every judgement he may introduce an injustice, into every experience the error of being the first to have that experience – and despite all injustice and error he stands firmly in indefatigable health and vigour, a pleasure to behold; while right beside him the man of greater justice and learning deteriorates and crumbles because the lines of his horizon restlesly shift again and again, because he cannot extricate himself from the much more delicate network of his justice and truths in order to engage in rude willing and desiring.

Only through the power to use the past for life and to refashion what has happened into history, does man become man.

Think of a man tossed and torn by a powerful passion for a woman or great thought… it is the most unjust condition in the world, narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to dangers, deaf to warnings, a little living whirlpool in a dead sea of night and forgetting: and yet this condition – unhistorical, contra-historical through and through – is the cradle not only of an unjust, but rather of every just deed; and no artist will paint his picture, no general acheive victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition.

Superhistorical men have never agreed whether the significance of the teaching is happiness or resignation, virtue or penance; but, opposed to all historical ways of viewing the past, they are quite unanimous in accepting the following proposition: the past and the present is one and the same, that is, typical alike in all manifold variety and, as omnipresence of imperishable types, a static structure of unchanged value and eternally the same meaning.

History belongs above all to the active and powerful man, to him who fights a great fight, who requires models, teachers and comforters and can not find them among his associates and contemporaries.

For his commandment reads: “What once was capable of magnifying the concept ‘man’ and of giving it a more beautiful content must be present eternally in order eternally to have this capacity.” That the great moments in the struggle of individuals form a chain, that in the high points of humanity are linked throughout the millennia, that what is highest in such a moment of the distant past be for me still alive, strong and great – this is the fundamental thought of the faith in humanity which is expressed in the demand for monumental historty. Precisely this demand however, that the great be eternal, occasions the most terrible conflict.

What is the advantage to the present individual, then, of the monumental view of the past, the concern with the classical and the rare of earlier times? It is the knowledge that the great which once existed was at least possible once and may well again be possible sometime; he goes his way more courageously, for now the doubt which assails him in moments of weakness, that he may perhaps want the impossible, has been conquered.

The creator has always been at a disadvantage to him who only looked on without even trying his hand; as at all times the armchair politician has been wiser, more just and judicious than the governing statesman.

This is how the connoisseurs are because they wish to eliminate art altogether; they give the appearance of physicians while their real intention is to dispense poisons; so they cultivate their tongue and their taste in order to explain fastidiously why they so insistently decline whatever nourishing artistic fare is offered them. For they do not want something great to be produced: their expedient is to say “see, the great already exists!” In truth they care as little about existing greatness as about greatness in the making: to which their life bears witness.

In the second place, then, history belongs to the preserving and revering soul – to him who with loyalty and love looks back on his own origins; through this reverence he, as it were, gives thanks for his existence. By tending with loving hands what has long survived he intends to preserve the conditions in which he grew up for those who will come after him – and so he serves life.

The small and limited, the decayed and obsolete receives its dignity and involability in that the preserving and revering soul of the antiquarian moves into these things and makes itself at home in the nest it builds there.

Here one could live, he says to himself, for here one can live and will be able to live, for we are tough and not to be uprooted over night. And so with this ‘We’, he looks beyond the ephemeral, curious, indivdiual life and feels like the spirit of the house, the generation, and the city.

But this antiquarian historical sense of reverence is of the highest value where it imbues modest, coarse, even wretched conditions in which a man or a people live with a simple touching feeling of pleasure and contentment;

How could history serve life bettern than by tying even less favoured generations and populations to their homeland and its customs, by making them sedentary and preventing their searching and contentiously fighting for something better in foreign lands?

The happiness of knowing oneself not to be wholly arbitrary and accidental, but rather as growing out of the past as its heir, flower and fruit and so to be exculpated, even justified, in one’s existence – this is what one now especially likes to call the proper historical sense.

Here there is always one danger very near: the time will finally come when everything old and past which has not totally been lost sight of will simply be taken as equally venerable, while whatever does not approach the old with veneration, that is new and growing, will be rejected and treated with hostility.

When the sense of a people hardens in this way, when history serves past life so as to undermine further and especially higher life, when the historical sense no longer preserves life but mummifies it: then the tree dies unnaturally, beginning at the top and slowly dying towards the roots – and in the end the root itself grenerally decays.

Now piety withers away, scholorly habit endures without it and, egoistically complacent, revolves around its own centre. Then you may well witness the repugnant spectacle of blind lust for collecting, of a restless raking together of all that once has been.

The fact that something old now gives rise to the demand that it must be immortal.

Here it becomes clear how badly man needs, often enough, in addition to the monumental and antiquarian ways of seeing the past, a third kind, the critical: and this again in service of life as well. He must have the strength, and use it from time to time, to shatter and dissolve something to enable him to live: this he achieves by dragging it to the bar of judgement, interrogating it meticulously and finally condemning it;

It is an attempt, as it were a posteriori to give oneself a past from which one would like to be descended: – always a dangerous attempt because second natures are mostly feebler than first.

Yet here and there a victory is acheived nevertheless, and for the fighters who use critical history for life there is even a remarkable consolation: namely, to know that this first nature also was, at some time or other, a second nature and that every victorious second nature becomes a first.

Each man and each people requires according to their goals, strengths and needs, a certain knowledge of the past, sometimes as monumental, sometimes as antiquarian, sometimes as critical history… but always only for the purpose of life and therefore also always under the rule and highest direction of that purpose.

Knowledge of the past is at all times desired only in the service of the future and the present.

Knowledge, taken in excess withough hunger, even contrary to need, no longer acts as a transforming motive impelling to action and remains hidden in a certain chaotic inner world which that modern man, with curious pride, calls his unique “inwardness”. He may then say that he has the content and that only the form is lacking; but in all living things this is quite an unseemly opposition. Our modern culture is nothing living just because it cannot be understood at all without that opposition, that is: it is no real culture at all but only a kind of knowledge about culture.

In the inner being sentiment may well sleep like a snake which, having swallowed whole rabbits, calmly lies in the sun and avoids all movement except the most necessary.

Everyone who passes by wishes only one thing, that such a culture not perish of indigestibility.

For from ourselves we moderns have nothing at all; only by filling and overfilling ourselve with alien ages, customs, arts, philosophies, religions and knowledge do we become something worthy of notice, namely walking encyclopedias.

The people that can be called cultured must in reality be a living unity and not fall apart so miserably into an inside and an outside, a content and form. If you want to strive for and promote the culture of a people, then strive for and promote this higher unity and work to annihilate modern pseudo-culture in favor of a true culture; dare to devote some thought to the problem of restoring the health of a people which has been impaired by history, to how it may recover its instincts and therewith its integrity.

What means shall he use? What is now left him but his deep knowledge: in expressing it, disseminating it, distributing it generously he hopes to plant a need: and from this strong need a strong deed will one day arise.

In this truth-in-need, however, our first generation must be raised; certainly it will suffer the most from this truth, for through it it must raise itself, and even itself against itself, into a new habit and nature out of an old and first nature and habit:

First give me life and I will make you a culture from it!

This same youth also guesses with the curative instinct of that same nature how that paradise is to be regained; it knows the ointments and medicines for the historical malady, for the excess of the historical: and what are they called?

Do not be surprised, they bear the names of poisons: the antidotes to the historical are called – the unhistorical and the superhistorical. With these names we return to the beginnings of our essay and to their calm.

By the word “unhistorical” I denote the art and the strength of being able to forget and to enclose oneself in a limited horizon: “superhistorical” I call the powers which guide the eye away from becoming and towards that which gives existence an eternal and stable character, towards art and religion.

It is possible that we, the historically sick, will also have to suffer from the antidotes. But that we suffer from them is no proof that the treatment is incorrect.

But at that final point in their cure they have become human again, and have ceased to be humanoid aggregates – that is something!

And how do we arrive at that goal? you will ask. Already at the beginning of a journey to that goal the Delphic god calls his motto to you: KNOW THYSELF. It is a hard motto: for the god “does not conceal and does not reveal, but only indicates” as Heraclitus has said. What does he point out to you?

The Greeks learned gradually to organize chaos by reflecting on themselves in accordance with the Delphic teaching, that is, by reflecting on their genuine needs, and letting their sham needs die out. Thus they took possession of themselves again; they did not long remain the overloaded heirs and epigoni of the whole orient; after a difficult struggle with themselves and through the practical interpretation of that motto they even became the happiest enrichers and increasers of the inherited treasure and the firstcomers and models of all coming cultured peoples.

This is the parable for each one of us: he must organize the chaos within himself by reflecting on his genuine needs.

Thus the Greek concept of culture – will be unveiled to him, the concept of culture as a new and improved nature, without inside and outside, without dissimulation and convention, of culture as the accord of life, thought, appearing and willing.

– All selections above by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Peter Preuss, and published by Hacket Publishing as “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life” in 1980. All selections and edits by yours truly, for my personal use and not meant for commercial distribution in any way.