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.

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