Friday, February 10, 2017

The Generational Covenant

If there is one outstanding theme in the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, it is that of the covenant of the generations—that our lives as human beings, as persons, take place in a sequence of the generations. This theme is succinctly stated in a short paper of 1942,  “The Future Way of Life,” found in Volume I of the Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (Argo Books, Norwich, Vermont, publisher). In reading this essay, I was struck by one sentence, in which he says that if one generation may carry out its temporal spirit unhampered, “war becomes the only principle of life.” In the text, he applies this observation to the Nazis. But for me, the statement brought up the question of American militarism.

The above-referenced article states that America has been at peace for only 21 years since its founding! But why does ceaseless and unending war characterize the American imperium? I believe that Rosenstock-Huessy has provided us with a way to address the problem.

Let us, therefore, trace out his argument and see what understanding we may glean from it. Rosenstock references the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi, whose last verse—“Each time when the hearts of the fathers and the hearts of the children are not turned to each other, the land is cursed” (Malachi 4:6) points to the action of the spirit, which ascends through interaction of two generations. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Thus the Trinity is not a mere “belief,” a sort of “hereditary property” or gift you receive when you become a Christian. It is actually the dynamos, the action of life, that which makes possible “the flow of life into the future.”

The pagan mentality, by contrast, is to worship its own genius, to think that  mind is generated within self from birth.  Rosenstock takes pains to disabuse us of this individualist folly. One generation’s background, he notes, is the previous generation’s foreground.  In a similar vein, the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, whose thought is akin to that of Rosenstock's in many respects, remarked that "the re-appropriation of the circumstances is the entire destiny of man." That is to say, human life is a process of taking what the previous generation has given and transforming it, making it our own. This is, to be sure, "education." But it is also more than that, and Rosenstock in the 1942 essay took pains to clarify his meaning on this subject. For "education" has come to mean dispassion. To demand of the young that they have the quality of detachment is to "sterilize" them-- and of course, the scientists are "detached," and only "scientific statements are regarded as true statements, in this modern dispensation. Rosenstock quotes Alfred North Whitehead to the effect that youth is defined no so much by age as by creative impulse, and that to age belong logic and deliberation. But when everyone  is detached, when everyone keeps cool,  the world decays.

 The constitution of vital truth depends upon the collaboration of the thinkers and the doers, the meeting of acts and thought. “The living speech of the community results from the polarization of acts and thoughts, like the spark crossing the dark gap between the positive and negative poles of electricity.” It is this dynamic back and forth, this overlapping of kinds of speech and of generations, that defines the action of the spirit. “The coexistence or more than one generation at the same time, the deliverance from blind cycles and sequences, was called the achievement of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an encapsulation of Rosenstock’s generational covenant. Elsewhere, Rosenstock commented upon Cotton Mather’s observation, as far back as the 1700’s, that Americans tended to act as though they were all the same age. And speaking of today, it is impossible not to notice how many young parents act toward their own children, as if they were friends rather than parents. The children as a result seem often unable to find themselves. But does the denial of generational reality lead to violence, aggression, and self-righteous militarism? Sadly, we have the example of “American exceptionalism” –reviewed elsewhere on this blog—to thank for this.

But why would a deterioration of awareness of the generational covenant, a failure to honor and commemorate one's line of inheritance, lead to a society of aggressive militarism-- if indeed it does? Perhaps there are too many other factors at play here, and it is impossible, or presumptuous, to make a judgment. Still,  the matter bears thinking about, in my view. It is as if in the age of nuclear weapons we need to carefully rethink and rebuild our humanity from the ground up-- as a adventure in time. Perhaps if we were more appreciative of the time it takes to form humanity we could begin to overcome our infatuation with evolution and just dedicate ourselves to the slow steps of  creating the future--  of making  future possible.

                                                    * * *

On a personal note, my memoir of race, slavery, civil rights and religion in one Southern family over five generations, Stewards of History,  was originally subtitled “The Covenant of Generations in One Southern Family.” I later changed the subtitle to “A Study of the Nature of a Moral Deed.” But perhaps I should have kept it. My original subtitle was closer to the truth of the matter. We have hardly begun to fathom the significance of the generational  bond that attests to our humanity.

Two Additional Notes
February 16, 2017
[1] Ortega y Gasset's Man and Crisis [1958] contains two chapters relating to the generations-- "Generations in History" and "Again the Generation"--"the generation is the fundamental concept of history"--"...each human generation carries within itself all the previous generations..." And: "The presentiment that things are about the undergo a radical change before they actually do change should not surprise us, for it has always preceded the great historical mutations; also it is proof that such transformations are not imposed on humanity from without by the mere chance of external happenings, but emanate from interior modifications generated in the hidden recesses of man's soul."  Mankind is generational: this is our inward and indelible character and history, so to speak, is its outward manifestation. This is my objection to that popular work by Strauss and Howe, The Fourth Turning, where they say that man's "seasonal" nature (infancy, youth, middle age, elder, etc.) is the "cause" of the generational turnings that occur in history. But I would say that there are seasons in our life because we are born in generations. That is the inner reality. The authors have attempted, however, to characterize the succeeding generations in a way that resonates with unfolding historical events. It is an interesting and valuable  contribution, and shows that western mankind is beginning to seek an avenue out of the dogma of "Individualism."

[2] On another level entirely, the Russian thinker Nikolai Levashov (died June, 2011) in his book Russian History Viewed Through Distorted Mirrors  made an interesting comment concerning the attainment of a fully human status--  He says: "...the critical information content necessary for transition from the stage of reasoning animal to that of man requires the common experience of at least several generations of the whole human society. The greater the number of people who take part in the creation of this informational bank, the faster will the individual be able to transition from the stage of reasoning animal to human...."(p. 65)

It seems to me that the concept of the generations is enormously important. It is no accident that the dark and inhuman forces active in genetic manipulation today are threatening this foundation of our life.





Thursday, October 13, 2016

Apology for a Long Absence

I have been away for a long time, but Rosenstock 's insights and inspirations continue to form a substratum of my thoughts. In considering this current election season, for example, it occurred to me that Hillary Rodham Clinton represents such a "black hole" of criminality, arrogance, deception, egotism and manipulative ability (I am reluctant even to use that word) that it is as if morality itself had entirely disappeared. "Morality" has gone unconscious. It has sunk beneath the waves of modernity, each wave representing a successive attack on tradition, manners, ethics, religion, common sense, and even language itself.

There is an excellent article on "The New Dictatress" in today's Lew website--excellent. About the Clinton Crime Family.

Well, the reader may well ask, is Donald Trump any better? In order to understand this problem, I go back to something the spiritual philosopher Rene Guenon  (1886-1951) wrote in his master treatise,  The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. He is talking about the decline of the transcendent Intellect -- which in Rosenstockian terms, would be akin to the developed faculty of grammar -- into 'rationalism,' materialism, mechanism, etc. -- in other words, the decline of Quality into Quantity. It is a movement perceivable throughout human history, according to Guenon, but it has accelerated since the so-called  "enlightenment." We perceive a deterioration of the ability to grasp moral realities; the moral in a sense becomes the repressed, the put-aside.  Guenon remarks, if I remember correctly, conceivably the process of deterioration or entropy could proceed forever, but that the real energy of negative beings--devils, if you will, would demand steps beyond mere deterioration. There, he says, you find not just deterioration: not merely the fall from a moral-spiritual-and physical whole, but an actual inversion. It is what the Christian revelation calls the anti-Christ.

I don't know if Hillary Clinton is actually anti-Christ, or a version of same. But I dare to call her an inverted soul, a soul from which all that is simple, moral and good has been expelled. Donald Trump has certain characteristics of deteriorated or careless thinking at times. But he is human, recognizably so. And he is persevering and not to be intimidated, which I think is all to the good.

We are being challenged to refine our concepts and perceptions of the bad, of evil. It is not merely 'one thing," but has gradations and levels. But we will not be allowed to wallow in the freedom of choice for very long. Already this election is a sign that the United States has been ignoring moral imperatives for far too long.

We are at the brink. In my stark view, if Hillary Clinton is elected, we may never be able to choose anything ever again.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Birthdays, Death Days...or, 'Biographical Resonances'

Professor Rosenstock-Huessy often called attention to calendars and to names. Animals have languages, but only man bestows proper names. It is interesting that in the Russian language a birthday is called a name-day. And calendars-- the commemoration of days, holidays, festivals – these were also of great interest to Rosenstock’s view of language and grammar.  Our language is the result of great crises and social upheavals, which come about in many cases through the inability to speak. Not-speaking can be the prelude to a revolution, catastrophe and suffering. Not being able to speak the right word at the right time bodes ill and an incapacity to create the future.



    Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

 These Rosenstockian ideas become second nature to one accustomed to pondering them, rereading their quotes and arguments, and taking stock of the current events in our western world, which seems to have become a laboratory of deteriorated speech. The question of what can be the right word for our time is too big a question for me to tackle at the present moment.  It will have to wait for a better time and a better mind.  Instead, I want to take a little detour into the interesting territory of names and dates—that is, human incarnations. Contemporaries, or rather people whose birthdays match though hundreds of years may intervene. The three people I want to talk about are Eugen Rosenstock, St. Thomas More, and the Russian philosopher and student of law, Valentin Tomberg.

                                   Their dates: 

Rosenstock-Huessy:  July 6, 1888 --- February 24, 1973

Thomas More:  February 7, 1478---July 6, 1535

Valentin Tomberg—February 27, 1900---February 24, 1973

 Now let us imagine God as the Supreme Symphony Conductor. The human world is spread before him, in all the glorious instruments and variations of sounds and color. The cosmos resounds with the music of individual being. Dark and bright tones converge in harmonic resonances, creating new combinations, new variations—fugues, interludes, concertos, songs, improvisations and unfinished symphonies.  It is a wondrous thought that when human beings emerge in their seasons of birth, certain kinships or ‘resonances’ may be blended in the time and that one can cultivate a feeling for this – perhaps an ‘ear’ for it would be the better phrase—a kind of ‘incarnational music.’

 Some students of the work of Rudolf Steiner (see the article on this blog, "Autobiographical Restart") have taken this thought and built a cosmology of reincarnation and of astrological significance.[See note 1.] For instance, I believe that Robert Powell, one of these students of Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric teachings,  has called attention to the death-date of one individual and the birth-date of a subsequent one, as a possible indicator of reincarnation. It is an interesting idea, and certainly in the case of St. Thomas More and Eugen Rosenstock, it can even be compelling. Both were lawyers and Latinists and extraordinary men of conscience.

 But no. My purpose is not to argue the case for reincarnation. I hardly know what to think of it myself. I am convinced that there are mysteries of human birth and genetics (and geography, gender, timing and disposition) of which we have only the slightest real understanding. But the usual polarity between ‘esoteric’ knowledge and the conventional religious attitude toward the spirit is not adequate to the complexity of the issue. Rosenstock’s work has an intimacy and participatory urgency with respect to history that one would think arises from a reincarnationist perspective—but without reincarnation. Rudolf Steiner, by contrast, teaches reincarnation, but his view of history lacks that deep sense of belonging, being, transforming it.[See note 2.]The evolution of consciousness idea which is so deeply a part of Steiner’s Anthroposophy sometimes borders on the idea of inevitability, of “it had to be,” such as the notion that the “I”-consciousness had to become isolated and apart (the “spectator-consciousness”)  in order to achieve its freedom.  In Rosenstock’s view of language and history, there is no place or justification for lack of participation. His view is apocalyptic in the original sense of Christianity: we are always at the last moment or the Last Day, and no excuses to think human development is going to happen automatically. Answer the call!—no matter what our state or condition.   It’s a refreshing change from esotericism, which in my experience dopes people up—makes them ‘sleepy’ in history.

St. Thomas More (by Hans Holbein the Younger)

 My purpose in this post is not to argue for or against reincarnation, but merely to bring up intriguing parallels and resonances in the thought of these three thinkers.  In reading Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More (Doubleday, 1998) I was struck by certain themes which re-emerge in Rosenstock-Huessy’s work. I would like to review some of these themes, and also with Tomberg later. I will just be quoting from some of the notes I took on reading these books. 

To begin: a contemporary described More’s genius at understanding the meanings of words from their position in sentences, especially in translating from Greek. His intelligence  “is more than human,” said another source. More said, in reference to rhetoric and public debate,  “there is no such thing as private truth.”  The sensus communis, or common sense, was important to More.  In scholastic philosophy it refers to “that faculty through which instinct and memory were able to make random sense impressions cohere.” According to Ackroyd, it takes further emphasis in More’s writings of a common or universal understanding, implying a shared and traditional substance of belief.  This is strikingly similar to Rosenstock’s insight that common sense is the residue in society of formal language and of ritual.  

More had “an abiding respect for the practice, and a deep admiration for, the principles of law.”  And poetry for him was a particularly affecting form of grammar. To Erasmus, More was ‘a man for all seasons;’ this above all may well remind us of the Cross of Reality. But the phrase could also mean that More was reluctant to reveal himself as the author of his own works. A curious detachment was noted by his son-in-law, who remarked that More “never showed of what mind himself was therein.”
Religion and law were, to More, two sides of the same coin—or sword. This is why, according to Ackroyd, More “understood at once the nature of Martin Luther’s heresy, when the German monk spoke of judgment ‘according to love…without any law books.’” More was the first English writer to use the term anarchos, and his most bitter accusation against Luther and his followers was that they “incited disorder.” He believed that the Lutheran attacks on the Pope imperiled the civilization of a thousand years, and he noted sadly that “the festivals and holy days of the ritual year now seem inconceivably remote, so thoroughly has the work of the reformation been done.”  More was a Latinist and wrote a Latin grammar for children in 1497, Lac puerorum, or Milk for Children.  At age nineteen he said that “the declensions of Latin nouns was sometimes compared to the declensions of the soul into the body.”  Amidst the Christian humanists of the Netherlands, “More felt certain of his position in attacking the Scholastic dialectic and reaffirming the importance of rhetoric and grammar for the progress of human understanding.”  

I understand that Rosenstock-Huessy became a Lutheran when he converted to Christianity, but I don’t recall reading anything in his works that addresses Lutheranism in particular, nor why he chose that particular denomination. In one sense, Rosenstock was very much a man of the Reformation – although he spoke highly of Catholicism too.

Valentin Tomberg was born of Lutheran parents in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1900. In 1920 the family fled to Estonia. Tomberg’s mother was killed by revolutionaries – she had left the house, and Valentin found his mother and the family dog tied to a tree, where they had been shot. After this terrible event Tomberg found his way to Europe where he discovered the work  and teaching of Rudolf Steiner. In 1925 he became a member of the Anthroposophical Society, the name that Steiner had given to his body of work. He married a Polish Catholic woman and the couple became the parents of one son, Alexis.  At the end of the Second World War, Tomberg received his Ph.D. in jurisprudence. The title of his thesis was “Degeneration and Regeneration in the Science of Law.”   Tomberg continued to produce original and unusual contributions of spiritual thought and research, a fact which sometimes grated on the Anthroposophical Society leaders. He was asked to leave the Society in 1940. He became a convert to Roman Catholicism. This would further alienate many of the convinced anthroposophists, some of whom had a horror for the ‘exoteric’ Church. But one of Tomberg’s main contentions was that ‘esoteric’ and ‘exoteric’ cannot be separated, for “the spiritual world is essentially moral.”


  Valentin Tomberg

 I propose to discuss some of the ideas found in Tomberg’s book, Covenant of the Heart (Element Books).  Tomberg made a comment about Luther: he said that Luther failed to realize that Catholic Christianity brings with it the resurrection of timeless values, that is, philosophical thinking. In Scholasticism (which Luther abhorred) the basic conviction was that a thinking directed toward the world (classical philosophy) and thinking directed toward revelation (Christian) could not contradict one another. “The logic which reveals itself in and through the world can be none other than Logos.” My notes are inadequate here. This point had to await Rosenstock-Huessy for its full articulation as the ‘Grammatical Method.’ Indeed it is quite evident to me that Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings make concrete and utterly ‘present’ what some of the anthroposophical or spiritual thinkers were often trying to express.
For example, “the law of repeated awakenings” is revealed in the story of the raising of Lazarus, says Tomberg. For Rosenstock-Huessy, this law is Christianity itself: that death precedes birth. “Spiritual-cultural history” appears for Tomberg as a cross formed out of causality (the horizontal plane) and miracles (the vertical plane).  The miracle appears in the causal sphere and comes from the realm of pure morality, transcending causally conditioned things, i.e., out of the realm of freedom. “For the realm of causality, every miracle is fundamentally an immaculate conception—a conception for which the  Father, the procreator, as effective cause, is not on ‘earth’ but in ‘heaven.’ The immaculate conception and the virgin motherhood of Mary … is like an archetypal phenomenon of all miracles. For it reveals, in the most essential and concise form imaginable, the intrinsic nature of a miracle as a vertical cause in the sphere of horizontally linked cause and effect.”

This is a long way from Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality, but it does have the sense of the fourfold direction and intersecting planes of action. The essence of a miracle is “the reality of the moral world order working down into the reality of the mechanical causal world order—the mystery of ‘becoming.’” In the Creed is the avowal of the miracles of creation, redemption and sanctification of the world.  Faith he defines as “the recognition of the moral world-order and conviction of its primacy over and against the mechanical, causal world-order.” Christianity is not an “ideological superstructure” but a revelation of the moral world order amidst the mechanical-causal world order.

Tomberg believed that the strong movement in the Church for ‘this world’ – to be in the time, with the time, progressive—subjected the Church to the laws of time, indeed, inevitable degeneration, decline, death. This movement came to the fore right after the Second Vatican Council. The “second Pentecostal miracle” hoped and prayed for by the Holy Father was replaced by a policy of keeping in step with the times. The Council became a sort of religious Parliament – not the effect of the Church on the world but that of the world on the Church. Failure to guard the portal which leads to death – Hades – the “way of the world.”

Resurrection is the appearance of the transfigured past, that is, the past that has eternal value. The truth and love of the apostolic era was resurrected and transfigured the religion of Israel and preserved what was of universal value (Catholic).  The second great epoch of Christendom was an impulse foreign to Israel, specifically, renunciation of the world, the solitude of the Desert Fathers. This resurrected what was eternally valid in Eastern religions and yoga.

 My notes do not encompass what could be the third great epoch in Christian history, and I do not recall whether Tomberg addressed this in his book. Perhaps that is the great question of our era, to which we have yet to develop the definitive answer. What will be our synthesis – of Christianity and anti-Christianity (Enlightenment), of imperialism, revolution, technology and modern information sciences?

 I have not been considering grand answers but of births and deaths. Somehow, the answer may lie there: that man is a procreated being, and our appearance on this earth is marked in the succession of generations. Somehow, that answer is so simple, so secret, and yet so open, that it may lie beyond the diabolical plans of Western man to genetically create humans without parents. The question of whether there is to be an answer and whether there is to be a future have become, in effect, a single question.

 Will western humanity renounce the diabolism that currently afflicts our science, our foreign policy, our economic arrangements, and our general outlook towards our life and culture?  To me, that seems to be the question now—not yesterday’s question, nor tomorrow’s—but now. And somehow, I think we must learn how to die in the right way before we can learn to be good stewards again. And I don’t mean by “dying in the right way”  that of allowing our culture to be overrun by immigrants or the moral practices of generations to be trashed. “Dying in the right way” must mean standing up for what is good and just and right. For by doing this we renounce grandiose possibilities and say, “I don’t want it all, I can’t have everything and every choice.” For I am here, now, a particular, limited person and being on a land with limits, traditions, constraints. And this is what I defend. This is the imperative.[See note 3.] That seems to me the “right way of dying” and we need it if Christianity is ever again to transform death into life. 



[1] Reincarnation is mentioned in the New Testament, most notably in connection with John the Baptist, ‘who was Elijah.’  The Western concept of reincarnation has nothing in common with Eastern views, that may include animal incarnations. Most anthroposophical or other ‘esoteric’ writers that I have read simply state that it was not the mission of Jesus Christ to teach reincarnation, but to stress the importance of this life. Thus has the subject been shelved.
[2] I don’t want to be unfair. This is a superficial statement, I realize. Transformation (and self-transformation) is an important part of Anthroposophy. But its significance is blurred, perhaps, because the emphasis in Anthroposophy is on the spiritual world, the Hierarchies (Angels, Archangels, etc) whom Steiner believed to be the real inspirers of history. This supernatural dimension is not present in Rosenstock’s grammatical philosophy, at least not in the same way. The whole sense of impetus is therefore different.
[3] I believe that our imperative demands that we confront the modern ‘gnostic’ doctrine of limitlessness – whether of unlimited immigration, unlimited energy, unlimited military operations, unlimited economic exploitation of earth and resources, unlimited and non-defined gender delusions. This evil doctrine has infected America as with a toxic virus.

Monday, February 29, 2016

You Must Listen

Speech Meditation One

The speech that is being spoken now is crippled. A sick man who limps.  It is a half-full speech, an imitation speech. Men speak but they do not know why they speak. Rather, it is from habit.  They speak because it is customary to speak, to have a gripe or a complaint or an opinion or because they want to shake off the feeling of duty, obligation, unrelieved feelings. Speech runs everywhere, it runs errands, it compares things, it says what, why, how many, how often. Sometimes it even sings songs.

But never-- almost never, does a man stand upright by his speech and  say: "This word has made me. I have spoken. And now I must listen."
Perhaps only those who keep on  making mistakes in speech -- I don't mean grammar or spelling, I mean they say things that nobody want to hear, things that nobody will credit them for,  they say things that people would rather shun and avoid -- perhaps only those will fully stand alongside their speech and  take the blows that such speech inevitably elicits.
Man is formed for speech, formed by speech. But when he no longer forms his speech he begin to lose the outline of his humanity.  He kills the father. 
Forming speech, formal speech, alone, cannot save humanity. But its absence threatens  humanity with liquefaction, a merging with matter. It is as if the belly of humanity yawned, glistening, watching itself crawling away into the slime.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On the Necessity of Formal Speech

In his The Origin of Speech, Rosenstock-Huessy took the question of language out of the province of linguistics and put it squarely in the lap of history—of time, of community-building, of the founding of cities, nations, institutions. Speech is formative, he says, and formal speech is the energy behind the founding of nations, constitutions, cities. It can transform a situation of speechlessness – of  chaos, disorder, trouble, muteness, paralysis, confusion – into a new path to the future. Such speech restores us to ourselves. It renews our faith. It gives us hope. Words matter for the reason that they are neither “natural” nor “instinctive.” If speech were purely an “instinct,” there would never be an elegy, a rite, a liturgy, an initiation. It is thanks to the power of formal speech that man liberates himself from nature and commemorates the important stages of his life: death, birth, baptism, marriage, initiation, commencements, memorials. 

I have been aware of the claims of formal speech for many years, in connection with the writing of poetry. Formal poetry, like formal speech in general, has become nearly extinct. Along with the extinction of poetic form has comes a massive increase in “subjectivist” or “personalist” poetry. Why should there be a correlation between the disappearance of strict form and the rise of a poetry which seems to have less and less to do with public events, history, shared experiences and social facts?  

The answer: because informal speech depends upon formal speech. If there is a deficit of formal speech in society, that would mean that people, missing the public, shared dimension of life, are thrown back into themselves. Issues relating to public memory, social discipline, historical continuity, national community—all of these would be affected by the decline of what used to be known as public speaking.   “We must forget our informal habits when we wish to understand the sublimity, elation, exultation, gravity and precariousness which it takes to speak formally,” says Rosenstock. Such speaking demands risk.  But in a  time when  slogans, clich├ęs, jokes, advertisement ditties, and casual and trivial speech is so prevalent, what’s the risk? “Let it all hang out” and “anything goes” and “whatever”  make a more measured and thoughtful approach seem  antiquated and irrelevant.   

The draining-away of formal speech can be seen in a small example. A friend of mine, a priest, remarked to me that he had called a restaurant to order a pizza. He placed the order and thanked the fellow, who answered, “No problem.” We can ask: how is “no problem”  a substitute for “You’re welcome”? As an alternate, it is confusing, for why would there be any difficulty about ordering a pizza from a pizza restaurant? Wouldn’t one assume that taking orders from customers would be the primary desire of the pizza restaurant?  This incident is a good illustration of Rosenstock’s contention that informal speech depends upon formal speech. “No problem” descended from “You’re welcome”—though the line of descent, as we have said, is unclear, and the meaning, at least in this case,  self-contradictory. But, as Rosenstock put it, “It’s a great day!” depends upon “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  And not the other way around.  

How is formal language called forth? Rosenstock examines pre-linguistic situations that demand to become articulate. “We shall have a science of speech when we have penetrated the hell of non-speech,” he says. And: “…new speech is not created by thinkers or poets but by great and massive political calamities and religious upheavals.” Always, he brings us back to the role of speech in forging a tribe, a nation, a political constitution.  Mankind exists under the perpetual threat of war, crisis, decay and revolution. The breakdown of speech, the inadequacy of speech, the cessation of speech: all of these things portend social upheaval. Faith and credit can only be restored when men stand by their words and act accordingly.  

Some people are beginning to notice that we are not tending to the traditions which the formal language of America’s founding brought into being.  In “A Colossal Wreck: The State of our Presidential Politics,”  DwightLongenecker writes—“Our nation…is broken, battered, and weather-beaten. Why? … if we do not preserve what is best from the past we should not be surprised if the future is even worse. For the better part of the past half-century we have demolished and distorted the morality, the law, the principles, and the faith of our fathers. Now the past being abandoned and broken, the present is our curse.”  

It might be argued, by some, “Well, you are just talking words.” When something is just words, we are not talking about transformative speech. Speech has the power to change us when we have the power to mean what we say and stand by our words and act according to them.  In one of his most beautiful statements,  Rosenstock wrote—“Speech was established to call forth life.”  This is the greater life into which we are born, or rather, initiated.   Rosenstock stresses that the facts of prehistory and anthropology  agree that speech served the function of  bridging the span between the death of one generation and the initiation of the next.  Speech told of predecessors, appointed successors, and  told the story of the tribe. Speech brought man into time, delivering him from being altogether bound to the present moment. Speech is not “natural” in the sense that: the grave = the cradle =  the coffin (e.g. of initiation) =  the altar (e.g. of worship).   Burial, birth, tomb, ritual: all become revealed  through the time-processes of speech. We are human beings because we have knowledge of our predecessors. To the extent that we are willing to become successors, we can play our part in passing on the culture. 

Finally – last but not least – Rosenstock draws attention to the link between formal  speech, the founding and sustenance of the tribal/political community, and what we call “common sense.” Common sense, he says, is what is “precipitated” out of the high speech or “super-sense” of the community. This is a remarkable insight, simple and compelling like his original distinction between formal and informal speech. Truly, the Rosenstockian “speech-thinking” becomes the key to a new sociology, one no longer prone to abstractions, and verifiable and experiential in its nearness and aptness.  For the insight concerning common sense rings true.  One would expect in a frayed community like the United States, that various forms of unbalance, bizarre behaviors,  arbitrary crazes, and the like, would increase.  One could call these kinds of actions a-temporal: they lack the creativity of being in a line of predecessors and successors. It is this breakage in the fabric of historical consciousness which seems so characteristic of life in our “advanced” nation.

But sadly, sometimes it seems that all that’s advancing is the decay.

                                                                  * * * 

Quite amazing, all these insights in just the first forty pages or so of The Origin of Speech.
I intend to go through this book step by step, and will be reporting on my responses in this blog.




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Autobiographical Restart

(Originally posted November 26, 2014, on the original "Speech-Singer" website, which has been discontinued. I have renewed the Speech Singer site as a place for poetry. I have added the Comments from the original post to this essay.

I have come to the "speech-thinking"  of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973)  after a long sojourn in other realms, and I want to describe some of these other realms, which continue to be a part of my life. The difference now is that I look at them with the new understandings I have gained through the studying the writings of this remarkable thinker and teacher.  I am now in the process of integrating these insights and elaborating what I have learned into my own version of the Rosenstock work, which I call “speech-singing.” It fits for me not only because I like to sing and do it a lot, but more precisely when and how this singing came to play a part of my life.
My biography begins in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. I am grateful for having grown up in Birmingham during the civil rights era. It forms an important part of my book, Stewards of History (Rose Dog Books, 2011). Writing that book was, I felt, my spiritual task. I tell the story of how I came to write it in the book, but it was only later that I understood that task as an imperative of my life. Once I fulfilled it, I could sing. This is what happened.
My Southern background is an important strand of my destiny, and I have often quoted the old saying—“American by birth, Southern by grace of God.” Tracing the spiritual heritage of the South was another theme of my book. A whole history, tradition, and architecture of the Old South, and the social duties incumbent upon this aristocratic tradition, came through my grandparents. This heritage was complicated and challenged by the liberalism of my father, who had graduated from Harvard (1930) and embraced the new gospel of racial equality that was stirring in the South in those days.
I tell  this story in Stewards of History. I did not receive much religious or spiritual instruction from my parents or my environment. My parents went to the Unitarian Church and my father disclaimed any relationship with “Christian supernaturalism.” Yet on a heart level he would speak feelingly of Jesus, and give the blessing at the family dinner table with  simple and genuine conviction.
We are all bundles of contradictions. My father’s one drop of Christianity was sufficient, apparently,  to impel me, years later, into anthroposophy (1972) and still, even later (2006) into Catholicism.
Concerning the first of these: Anthroposophy, or Spiritual Science, is the name given to  the work of
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and claims to be a path from the spiritual in man to the spiritual in the universe. Steiner believed in the centrality of Jesus Christ and left a creative legacy in many fields, especially education, arts, and agriculture. Rosenstock-Huessy met Rudolf Steiner in 1919. According to Wayne Cristaudo, who wrote me that  
“Rosenstock-Huessy has a few pages on Steiner in Die Hochzeit des Kriegs und der Revolution  (The Wedding of War and Revolution) – perhaps the key sentence is : ‘he is still only a man of spirit/ mind (Geistesmensch)’ and his spirit is a  German/ Goethean  one, a little later he writes for Steiner ‘the more universal one is, the more German’ .  He also says  ‘Steiner is himself a symptom of the disease he wishes to cure.’” [From an email to CJ, Nov. 11, 2014] 
Rosenstock seized upon the chief flaw in Anthroposophy, which is, to my mind, heavy philosophical  Idealism and a tendency to a  lofty and inflated speech that lacks concrete and relational quality. Concerning the German Idealism tradition in philosophy, Rudolf Steiner once remarked, in his Autobiography possibly, although I don’t recall the source—that when he was starting out his mission he was ‘approached’ by an Initiate who told him to cast his teachings in the form of philosophical idealism. Statements of this kind occur frequently in Rudolf Steiner’s works. The claim is made that an initiate, or Higher Being, or member of the Angelic Hierarchies, suggested or dictated a course of action. This makes any argument about it or questioning very difficult. But the fact that there were other philosophical traditions in Germany at the time is attested by the work of Rosenstock-Huessy. And as for casting one’s spiritual research in that form, I can only paraphrase that wonderful and lucid Spaniard, Ortega y Gasset, himself a student of German philosophy of many years’ standing, when he said the main task of philosophy in the 20th century was the overcoming of idealism.
Despite these flaws of Anthroposophy, I appreciated Rudolf Steiner’s books and lectures about Christianity, which drew me towards a study of the Bible and the Gospels. I published a book on “Biblical epistemology,” actually a study of Genesis, in 2000—Consecrated Venom: The Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge.  In that book I said that there were “two streams” of human development, the genealogical and the metaphysical. We need two legs to walk and both of these streams are inherent and necessary to our life—biology and biography. The genealogical stream is the biological task, the inheritance, which is often intermingled with spiritual and metaphysical elements. My “genealogical” task was fulfilled through my marriage with a man I had met in the Waldorf School movement, a fellow-student of the work of Rudolf Steiner. We became the parents of two wonderful sons. My “metaphysical” task seems to have been the writing of Stewards of History, which was the response to an imperative. Indeed, this interchange between genealogy and metaphysics is characteristic of our ability to walk upright, where the two legs ultimately fuse into the single trunk.
The 'two legs’ of human walking give me an entry point to approach  the Rosenstock idea of the  “Cross of Reality,” which he considered to be the basic paradigm of grammatical man and  which he believed could form the basis for a new sociology.  In my terms,“genealogy” would refer to the past (narrative, narrational), and “metaphysics” the future (imperative).  Rosenstock’s  diagram of the Cross of Reality adds to the “spatial” dimensions of subject-object the temporal dimensions of past- future

In his book Practical Knowledge of the Soul, Rosenstock comments that occult and idealist philosophies that posit “mind” as the creative force of the universe “…recognize no ethical constraints as a necessity."   It was this lack in Steiner’s philosophy which was, for me, a continual vexation—a word, I like to think, that carries more soul-force than “objection.” In any case, I objected to it. That, and the need to affirm a Christian community, presence and ritual in my life eventually led me to the Catholic Church. 

I should mention, too, that Anthroposophy has a parallel Christian movement, the Christian Community,  which came about when some Lutheran minister approached Steiner with questions about the renewal of Christianity. The Christian Community Press, Floris Books, published my book on Genesis, and I was inspired by several books on Christianity by Emil Bock notably his The Three Years: The Life of Christ Between Baptism and Ascension and The Genesis of History. Our sons were baptized in the Christian Community. Nevertheless, where worship is concerned, I remain a conservative and traditionalist at heart, and believe that the strength, broad numbers and historical endurance of Catholicism is essential in order to effect some kind of Christian leverage upon society. 

What is essential is to maintain a vital community over time. Certainly Catholicism has been historically tempted by political power, and never more than in the present day, when so-called “free market neoliberalism” has lured many Catholics into betraying the social and economic teachings of the Church. That, and the warmongering neoconservatives and the  ultra-left sexual liberationists—these groups have nearly done in the Church. But I believe it holds the secret of death and resurrection still. I see no other force in society with even a hope of restraining a State that has lost all restraint and constitutionalism. 

So I entered the Catholic church in 2006, maybe because, in moving to Philadelphia from Birmingham in 2002, I came to a city that yet possessed something of a residual Catholic culture. When I first moved here, I was occupied by Quakerism, that archetypal symbol of Philadelphia. But I left when I realized that Quakerism, while it might be good for adults, did not seem able to pass on a culture to the children. The question of the passing on of the culture was foremost in my mind in those days, when I still had some hopes of the paleoconservative wing of the Republican party—anti-war, anti-Empire, anti-abortion, etc. Alas, like so many other hopes, paleoconservatism died when Russell Kirk died.  His clear-sighted warnings about excessive American involvement with Israel have been swept under the rug by the people today who consider themselves ‘conservative.’ Sometimes, these are the most rabid Zionists.

So here I am: knocking at the door of Rosenstock-Huessy’s legacy, the community that stands to guard and extend his work, and his insights. I realize that, on some issues, I am not in agreement with Rosenstock-Huessy or some of his followers. So my motto might be:
I go my own way, but I come to you. It expresses, to me, the need for unconditional liberty of thought along with the equally absolute need for community and trust and love.

Additional Notes:
The Cross of Reality: Clinton Gardner sums up very eloquently the significance of the Rosenstockian Cross of Reality: “…it is the method of speech that is made visible  on the Cross of Reality. Indeed, that cross is best understood as a dynamic model of just how speech works in us. It shows us that we live in an infinitely richer realm than that described to us by natural science or by most traditional theology. We are neither the cold observers of the world outside us nor the faithful children of a God above. Instead, we live at the heart of reality. We are the agents for the evolution as well as the revolution of matter and spirit…spirit is audible; it is the higher kind of human speech. And such speech does not have an infinite variety of forms. . . there are only four basic kinds of speech, and they move us through the four stages of any significant experience: Imperative…Subjective…Narrative…Objective… Those four stages of any memorable experience are universal and inevitable for all of us. As we move through them, we are conjugated into those four different grammatical persons: thou (you), I, we, he or she.” (Beyond Belief: Discovering Christianity’s New Paradigm, White River Press, 2008, pp. 57-58.

Question: Why is the overcoming of philosophical idealism important? Part of the problem is the word ‘ideal’ means not only ‘pertaining to ideas, thinking’ but also ‘best’ or ‘of highest quality.’ This bias in our language is very telling, suggesting that the world of thinking and ideas is better than the living and actual world. Idealism tends to equate Reality with thinking. Or as Ortega y Gasset puts it, in his What Is Philosophy?(1960)---“In the idealist thesis the ‘I,’ the self, the subject, swallows the outside world, In this process of ingurgitation the self has swollen. The idealist self has become a tumor; we must operate on it…[For] idealism has reached the point where it smothers the sources of vital energies and weakens the springs of living…[it is] an insistent pedagogue trying to make it quite clear to us that to live spontaneously was to suffer an error, an optical illusion.” This last sentence perfectly describes many anthroposophists I have known. I met one of them at a conference. He came whistling up the road, and later apologized for his “spontaneous” act.
A little thinking is sufficient to perceive what unlimited tyranny is wielded by  what may first appear clothed in the most innocent philosophy. At the very least it tends to stifle feelings of gratitude for nature and the institutions of society as they have existed and come down to us. So far, the environmental movement has pushed back against some of the assumptions which give fuel to the mania of redesigning organisms and natural systems.  But society and social customs remain firmly in the grip of those who would abolish the customs and constraints of manners and law in the name of “liberty.” It is good to recall Edmund Burke’s warning against such do-gooders (virtue-crusaders): “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints.” (Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, p. 91)


And....Ortega’s comment that “time is quite literally a task, a mission, an innovation,” is quite close to Rosenstock’s imperative. Thus “the superseding of idealism is the great intellectual task, the high historic mission of our era, the ‘theme of our time.’ …To try to move beyond idealism is by no means a frivolous idea; on the contrary it is to accept the problem of our time, to accept our destiny.” 

Finally, a Latin motto! Friends of ERH may apply to Edward Casey for an appropriate translation, should they come up with a suitable personal motto. I am grateful now to have a Latin motto for my crest: Viam propriam prosequar sed ad vos versus—‘I go my own way, but I come to you!’

Additional Postscript (February 26, 2016) Rosenstock-Huessy came to the United States from Germany in 1933. He had a teaching post at Harvard. That formidable institution didn't know what to make of the man-- someone who believed in the power of God in history! What an outrage to secular sensibility. They moved him from philosophy or sociology, or whatever he was hired to teach,  into Theology. In any case, he didn't stay long.  Rosenstock left Harvard after two years, having gained an appointment at Dartmouth where he had a long and distinguished career.  

My father graduated from Harvard in 1930. What if he had encountered Eugen Rosenstock back in his Harvard years?  They only missed being there at the same time by a few years. What if, in some philosophy class,  he had encountered Rosenstock's vital Christianity, about the capacity to step into a new future? Would it have made a difference to the later aloneness he felt as the civil rights movement unfolded in Birmingham---and the aftermath of all that, which left him even more isolated and self-doubting?

 "What-if" stories can remind us that history, biography, the course of events are, after all, human creations. I sometimes think that one's sense of "what-is"-- the realistic attitude--can best be developed by also cultivating "What-if"--the courage to imagine, to cherish uncommon vision.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Grammar of Morality


It is always an interesting exercise to read things written in the world which in some manner either anticipate  Rosenstock’s grammatical perspective, or could be made immensely more fruitful by the study of same. Philip Gorski, a professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Yale, has published a review, “Where do morals come from?” -- the book, by Webb Keane,  is entitled Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social History (Princeton, 2015).  The book argues that “the basic structures of human interaction” provide a variety of what he calls “ethical affordances.” This is a fancy term for 2nd and 3rd person perspectives. In other words, grammatical language provides the context for two or more persons to engage in “joint attention,” that is, share interest and activity in something.  “As a linguistic anthropologist, Keane is especially interested in the ethical affordances created by human language,” comments Gorski. Language, he thinks, “probably first evolved as a means of coordinating action, rather than labeling things.”
So far so good. At least we are in the realm of action and social relations. But then academic-speak takes over when Keane “puts particular stress on abstraction and generalization,”  a capacity which can be used “to formulate rules, maxims and codes of behavior.” 

Somehow it is hard for me to picture our cave-man ancestors sitting around formulating rules and codes of behavior.  And  there is nothing that approaches Rosenstock’s striking distinction between formal and informal language, which in my view is the sine que non of any further progress in the field of language. Apparently Keane does acknowledge that most of our repertory of moral response is shaped by emotions, gestures, rituals, etc.  But then these concessions to reality are stated, in Gorski’s review, in the context of a politically-correct discussion of homosexuality and feminism. It seems almost impossible nowadays to escape this kind of harangue disguised as academic reporting. It is especially unfortunate because Gorski’s review, and what I gather of Keane’s book as well, both contain many potential links to Rosenstock’s great insights on language and culture, as described in his book The Origin of Speech.  

The question of reductionism is also hard to avoid. Keane has an interesting fourfold-theory of society, which Gorski describes as:
Gorski comments that “each emerges out of the other.” But then he appears to contradict this, when he says that “contra the current rage for reduction, in which all action is bottom-up, Keane assumes that higher levels can exert ‘downward causation’ on lower ones.”  But how is this possible, if all levels emerge from the lowest one? 
And, dear Reader, what, pray, is once more placed before our minds as an example?  I hate to say it, but it is feminism.  How I amaze, being such an anti-feminist female. Nevertheless I would argue that feminism has virtually nothing to do with ethical transformation, being the result of the propaganda of cultural Marxism, and therefore representing cultural regress. More precisely, to the extent that feminism was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, which in effect destroyed the home and women's important economic role, it was both needed and understandable. But modern feminism has long since lost its bearings of home and family. It became a pawn in the hands of cultural Marxism--ironically to the furtherance of capitalism and the economization of all of society.
(An aside to the reader: my anti-feminism is based upon my perception that feminism is actually anti-woman, not to mention anti-male and anti-family. It is an ideology for atoms, not for human beings. I am inclined to agree with Ferdinand Lundberg’s remark, in his  Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, that “Psychologically, feminism had a single objective: the achievement of maleness by the female, or the nearest possible approach to it.”  I am a disciple of strong, gentle and confident womanhood. I make this detour for the sake of attempting to mollify the two academic gentlemen, since I would like them both to know of my (generally positive) response to Keane’s book and Gorski’s  review of it.)  

Another example of Keane’s almost-hitting-the-Rosenstockian-target can be found in his “three moments” of the ethical life: “I,” “thou,” and “me.”  Gorski describes these three moments as follows: 

“The ‘I’ moment is unthinking action where consciousness is submerged in doing. The ‘thou’ moment is empathic projection where ego imagines the perspectives of alter. And the ‘me’ moment is critical observation of the self where ego looks at herself through eyes of the generalized other. Perhaps we should also add a fourth moment, a historical moment in which ego considers past actions, interactions, and selves as a prelude to further action. We could call that ‘we.’”  

Ah—the Cross of Reality!—almost. But one is tempted to say that a miss is a good as a mile. Modern self-centeredness intrudes in the doubling of the first person, and there is no inkling of the imperative, the true significance of ‘thou’ or ‘you,’ and indeed the engine and motive-force of all action.  But there is, nevertheless, the seed of the Cross of Reality struggling out of this embryonic confusion, and that much is in itself remarkable.


Note:  see essay, “Speech as Our Matrix: Discovering the Cross of Reality,” by Clinton C. Gardner, to be posted to this blog with the permission of Mr. Gardner. This essay is an excellent introduction to the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. A brief excerpt from Mr. Gardner's essay: 

“. . . the Cross of Reality is not some elaborate metaphysical concept but simply a commonsense way to interpret any experience. In fact, a person who uses common sense already interprets his or her life and history this way, from the four perspectives that the cross shows us. In other words, the cross simply codifies common sense. Unfortunately, huge numbers of people, probably the great majority—be they ideologues, fascists, or communists (all stuck on the “glorious future” front), fundamentalists (stuck on the past front), sentimentalists and pietists (stuck on the subjective front), or even rationalists (stuck on the objective front)—are not guided by common sense.”

Postscript February 22, 2016

I sent email notification of this piece to both Professor Gorski and Professor Keane. Professor Keane sent me back a “Thank you.” I appreciated hearing from him and I began to think that my little piece had done his book an injustice, and I wrote him back

“–Dear Mr. Keane, It was nice of you to write. I did not do justice to your book at all. I ask you to forgive my half-assed effort. I will want to read your book as I believe it contains genuine insights. Kind regards …”

I can see how my reaction against feminism prejudiced my view of his book. Yet in re-reading Gorski’s review,  I see that Gorski cites Keane himself who deployed the model of “feminist consciousness-raising” to describe ethical transformation. In that sense, if I objected to feminism, I objected to something the author of the book himself was promoting. 

We need a new concept for “time decay.” Something like this is used in the vocabulary of atomic explosion, fission, “half-life.” Time decay might be thought of as the disparity between the justification for a creed or an ideology and its lapse into toxic decay. There was a justification for a woman’s movement as a result of the Industrial Revolution, when the home was stripped of its economic function. Am I saying that women belong in the home? Not at all. There was a need for creative thinking about work outside the home, but in such a way to maintain the roles of parents and families. None of this “social thinking” was done. The home was wrecked, children were de-parented or became wards of the state. Are not World Wars one and two the fruit of this social chaos—that and other things?
Quite possibly.[1] 

No doubt I could have done better.  So it was good I apologized. Nevertheless, my reaction had something  good about it as well.  Toxic things need to be fumigated. And there is no good holding on to them when their time is expired. The ability to act and react decisively is given to those for whom “the time presses” –those who perceive the nature of the crisis in which we live.




[1] Rosenstock put the matter somewhat differently in his Out of Revolution (1938) where he speaks of the incoherence of modern knowledge-- history, nature, physics, theology-- "nothing but a breakdown of civilization could be expected from a kingdom so terribly divided against itself.'  Elsewhere, more cogently to my point, he says: "Capitalism can make profits only so long as it can escape the cost of reproducing the political and social order." It is this "reproduction" of the social order that had been the especial province of women, and which modern women have abandoned largely thanks to feminism.