Thursday, February 18, 2016

Speech as our Matrix (Parts 7--9)


We can sum up Rosenstock-Huessy insights on speech in the following six theses:
1. There are four basic types of speech: (a) imperative (vocative), (b) subjective, (c) narrative, and (d) objective. In any significant human experience we experience all four of those kinds of speech in just that order.
 2. Each kind of speech relates to a different personal or group orientation toward times and spaces: (a) imperative toward the future; (b) subjective toward our “inner space,” (c) narrative toward the past, and (d) objective to the outside world.
3. Each kind of speech also relates to a particular person of grammar: (a) the imperative (vocative) to thou; (b) the subjective to I; (c) the narrative to we; (d) the objective to he, she or they.
4.  When we examine the pattern of those speech orientations and grammatical persons, we see that they form a Cross of Reality, a matrix at the center of which any person or group finds itself. A corollary to the axiom of the cross is that its future orientation is the most important; as we hear vocatives or imperatives, we are moved to respond.
5. What we call the human psyche, or soul, is formed as it lives through the “crucial” speech experiences posited by the Cross of Reality.
6. . When we realize that the Cross of Reality shows the essential patterns of language in the human mind, we can also perceive that it makes visible a “speech method” for the human sciences. It tells us that any question involving the human being should be examined in the light of all four orientations, and especially we should take into account the tensions among each.

All six of those theses, when taken together, reveal the “speech method” as a fundamentally new way of thinking about the human reality. From elementary observations about language and grammar, about the inner person and the outer world, they proceed to the conclusion that the Cross of Reality provides a new method for sociology—and all the human sciences. I think those theses portray the Cross of Reality as a dynamic model of how we are creatures of the word. 

 In the next and final section, we will explore what has only been hinted at above: that high speech is the embodiment of spirit.


While I have made clear that the Cross of Reality is not a religious image, and certainly not the Cross of Christ, I will now proceed to equate high speech with spirit and, indeed, with what Christians call the Holy Spirit. Let me start with several quotations from Rosenstock-Huessy. First, four which are rather secular in tone:

Speech is the body of the spirit.

Speech is nothing natural: it is a miracle.

Nature is the universe minus speech.

All speech is the precipitation of the intensified respiration which we experience as members of a community, and which is called the Spirit.

And now three which are more clearly religious:

The spirit of man is the Holy Spirit.

God is the power which makes us speak. He puts word of life on our lips.

Everybody who speaks believes in God because he speaks. No declaration of faith is necessary. No religion. Neither God nor man need the paraphernalia of some religion to know of each other.

When we grasp the full import of those seven propositions, we realize that God as spirit, indeed as the Holy Spirit, is already within us, the very source of our humanity. If that is so, we do not need to struggle to believe in God; we have only to recognize his constant creative presence in us. Of course there is a further step. We need to respond to the fact of that presence by living inspired, responsible, and creative lives.

Speech is the Only Supernatural

Rosenstock-Huessy’s most accessible thought on Christianity is in The Christian Future. One line in that book has been running as an undercurrent in my mind as I’ve been writing this essay “The supernatural should not be thought of as a magical force somehow competing with electricity or gravitation in the world of space, but as the power to transcend the past by stepping into an open future.”

Those words sum up what Rosenstock-Huessy told his students about the supernatural. He said that the laws of nature cannot be interrupted by miracles, faith, or prayer. While there is no supernatural in that sense, he said that all creative human speech is supernatural. As he put it, “speech is the only supernatural.” Since we are the animal that speaks, we are “the uphill animal,” the only one able to rise above its natural environment.

Jahve and the Elohim

One of Rosenstock-Huessy’s most powerful statements about our relation to God appears in a closing chapter of Out of Revolution. He writes:

In the Bible there are two names for God: one is grammatically a plural, Elohim; the other is the singular Jahve. The Elohim are the divine powers in creation; Jahve is he who will be what he will be. When man sees through the works of Elohim and discovers Jahve at work, he himself begins to separate past from future. And only he who distinguishes between past and future is a grown person; if most people are not persons, it is because they serve one of the many Elohim. This is a second-rate performance; it deprives man of his birthright as one of the immediate sons of God.

In the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, Michelangelo shows God creating Adam, and keeping in the folds of his immense robe a score of angels or spirits. Thus at the beginning of the world all the divine powers were on God's side; man was stark naked. We might conceive of a pendant to this picture; the end of creation, in which all the spirits that had accompanied the Creator should have left him and descended to man, helping, strengthening, enlarging his being into the divine. In this picture God would be alone, while Adam would have all the Elohim around him as his companions.

That image of the end of creation, of course, tells us that creation is constantly going on. As I’ve pondered that passage, over the years, I’ve been impressed by how it reminds me of the thought of the Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948)—whose work Rosenstock-Huessy had encouraged me to study in Paris in 1948. Drawing on both Berdyaev and Rosenstock-Huessy, I’ve been moved to write the following reflection, which is my attempt to express what I think we can say about God without recourse to the supernatural.

God Is Like a Whole Humanity
Toward the end of his book, Spirit and Reality, Berdyaev makes a remarkable statement: "Spirit--the Holy Spirit--is incarnated in human life, but it assumes the form of a whole humanity rather than of authority... God is like a whole humanity rather than like nature, society, or concept..."

In those concise words, Berdyaev suggests how we can get beyond our anthropomorphic and theistic idea of God as a supreme being. “Whole humanity” evidently includes all creation, the earth and universe, since humanity could certainly not exist without this physical setting, this space. Similarly, “whole humanity” includes all time, since we are not whole unless we include our beginnings and our end. And “whole” also points to what makes us whole: in religious terms, the spirit.

To relate Rosenstock-Huessy’s thought with Berdyaev’s, we became human beings as we learned to speak. It is living speech, the dialogue that human beings have with each other, that moved us, over the millennia of evolution, from being inhuman mammals to finally becoming members of whole humanity. We might say that we became cells in God’s body. And we might think of those cells as “sentences.” We are each a sentence in the story of whole humanity, a humanity that becomes holy as speech makes it whole.

If God is like a whole humanity, then he is not aloof from our suffering. He would be involved in the experience of war and revolution that we have had in the last century, indeed in the last millennium.

Perhaps we could even say that God only knows himself in us, only enjoys himself in us, and has no other being than his life in us. That is, if we imagine ourselves as the leading edge of all creation.

 Far from a supreme being above us, we might come to recognize God as his action in us. That echoes what St. Paul wrote: God is he in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” Similarly, Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Finally, I should answer the objection that “whole humanity” may sound impersonal, something like Comte’s lifeless “great being.” But God imagined in this way still addresses us personally. That is, all the generations that have gone before us, all over the world, down to our own parents, have spoken the word that addresses us now, summoning us as thou, moving us to respond as I.

 The Trinity and The Cross of Reality

In his 1947 Dartmouth lectures Rosenstock-Huessy would occasionally drop hints that seemed to relate the Trinity with the Cross of Reality. In the years that followed, I kept writing notes about these two “great icons” that had formed in my mind. Both these images seem universal, pertaining to all of reality, yet one is completely religious and the other completely secular. How can we relate them to each other? My answer has come as follows.

 It is the Holy Spirit that inspires us in the imperative, calling us to the future. That is revelation. We hear ourselves addressed as thou.

 The Son is our subjective and personal reply, as I. Subjective speech makes us aware of our responsibility for bringing our inspirations down to earth, and thus redeeming the world.

 Next, we represent the Father as we take creative action. When we make ourselves heard in the narrative of history, we participate in the Father’s creation. As in marriage, we must act with others, thereby forming a we.

 Finally, when our listening, speaking, and acting are completed and visible in the day-to-day world, others can speak about them—objectively. They can see how some part of the world was redeemed by our actions. They now describe us as he, she, or they.

On the Cross of Reality, these relationships appear as follows:

Near the end of his Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts Rosenstock-Huessy makes a remarkable statement that relates to this cross:

The Son establishes the proper relationship between the spoken word and the lived life. Words should be commands that are given and promises that are made. Life consists of commands that are carried out and prophecies that are fulfilled. This, we saw, is the real goal of all speech and all ritual since man first spoke. [DS II - 903]

In those words, Rosenstock-Huessy managed to link the Trinity with the Cross of Reality, without saying that he was doing so.

—The spoken word, commands, and prophecies are how we hear the Spirit’s imperatives toward the future.

—Promises to fulfill those prophecies are our subjective, inward replies as Son.

—Ritual refers to the ceremonies through which we tell the narrative of the Father’s past creation.

—And the word embodied in a person’s life is how the three persons of the Trinity are
present in our daily lives—in the world.

 If we follow this train of thought, we realize that the name God does not refer to “a being who exists” somewhere outside us, but instead to that trinity of powers that we assume as we speak our times and spaces into a whole. We represent and complete the Trinity’s actions as we bring these divine powers down to the earth of the objective world, the world of times and spaces. The three divine Persons, which were once known to us as items of belief, can now be recognized as cate­gories of being and becoming fully human. We represent them whenever we speak beyond the limited frame of our natural body as the mammal Homo sapiens.
 Some years after writing that Huessy-inspired meditation on how we embody the Trinity, I was delighted to find the following lines in a book by the Roman Catholic theologian Gregory Baum:

God is not a supreme being or a supreme person. The divine mystery revealed in the New Testament is a dimension of human life. God is present to human life as its orientation and its source of newness and expansion. The traditional doctrine of the Trinity has enabled us to discern an empirical basis for speaking of God’s presence to man: God is present as summons and gift, in the conversation and communion by which men enter into their humanity. [ref 113 BB]

The Trinity and the Three Millennia
 In his Dartmouth lectures, Rosenstock-Huessy provided another remarkable image of the Trinity when he described the roles of the three millennia after Christ:

The first millennium was devoted to a full realization of how we were made in the image of God: to the Son. This was accomplished through the establishment of the Christian church and the recognition of Christ as the center point of history.

The second millennium was devoted to a full realization of how the planet earth was created as our common home: to the Father. This was accomplished through the exploration of the earth and the establishment of natural science as our means of understanding creation, the world of nature.

 It remains for the third millennium to be devoted to a full realization of how we create a peaceful global society: to the Spirit. Rosenstock-Huessy said that this new millennium would require new unheard-of institutions, and he urged his students to be pioneers of those new institutions —like Camp William James and the US Peace Corps.


My first purpose in this paper has been to present the Cross of Reality as a new model, a unifying and inspiring paradigm of all we know. At the heart of that new model, or matrix, lies a heightened appreciation of what speech is. As high speech, which rises above the chatter of idle conversation, it is what inspires us to live dedicated, even sacrificial, lives. High speech, Rosenstock-Huessy tells us, can be recognized as spirit, indeed the Holy Spirit.

 My second purpose here has been to suggest that the Cross of Reality points to a method for all the human sciences. Needless to say, I’ve sought only to make a brief introduction. One has to read Rosenstock-Huessy himself—and the books about his work—to get an adequate understanding of this polymath discoverer and his discoveries. [ref books]

 By taking you back to Camp William James—and to Rosenstock-Huessy’s Dartmouth lectures I’ve given you some hints of how the Cross of Reality can illumine any subject on the human agenda. Specifically, I’ve highlighted how that cross delineates the contrasts between the four types of speech which arose in the millennia before Christ: tribal ritual, Egyptian and Chinese templar, Greek poetic-philosophic, and Jewish prophetic.

Then I’ve shown how the orientations on that cross enable us to see the special contribution and new speech of each great revolution, from the Papal (future) to the Russian (future again).

My goal has been to show how four kinds of speech form a Cross of Reality in which each of us finds direction—at every moment of our lives. This new vision of the human reality is common-sensical; it requires no commitment. It offers us a holistic picture of ourselves and all our knowledge of the world. Beyond that vision, I’ve tried to present the Cross of Reality as the energizing motor of metanomics, a social science which might serve the third millennium as theology and then natural science have served the second.

Finally, I’ve said that the Cross of Reality provides an image of the way the Holy Spirit works in us, indeed of how all three persons of the Trinity are alive in all persons of good will. Traditional religion, too often, has told us that God is the wholly other, above and beyond his creation. By contrast with that old vision, Rosenstock-Huessy tells us that there is a transcendental power which is at work within the process of creation, within history, always present in human beings. This power is made manifest whenever we say the word that needs to be spoken; it is the word made flesh in all humanity. It is the progress of that word through us which is made visible on the Cross of Reality.

Note: I was not able to reproduce Mr. Gardner's Appendix 1, The Complete Cross of Reality for this blog. The depiction of it is found elsewhere in this text. He summarizes it as follows:

1. A dynamic model, or matrix, revealing how we are formed by language and live within the tensions of four speech-created orientations.

2. A universal method of personal and social analysis; this "speech method" includes the scientific method but enlarges on it.

3. A unifying paradigm of all our knowledge, one which integrates within itself the human sciences, natural science, and theology.


Just who were the forerunners of Rosenstock-Huessy, Rosenzweig, and Buber? Three of the most important were fellow Germans: Johann Georg Hamann

Buber acknowledges the origins of his I and Thou in Feuerbach: “I myself in my youth was given a decisive impetus by Feuerbach....Never before has a philosophical anthropology been so emphatically demanded.” [ref] Rosenzweig wrote of his speech-thinking that “Ludwig Feuerbach was the first to discover it.” [ref] And Rosenstock-Huessy began Speech and Reality with the statement: “Ludwig Feuerbach, one hundred years ago, was the first to state a gram­matical philosophy of man. He was misunderstood by his contem­poraries, especially by Karl Marx.” [ref]

Rosenzweig’s cousin Hans Ehrenberg (1883-1958) saw Feuerbach as such a critical source for the new language-based thinking that he took the trouble, in 1922, to republish Feuerbach’s 1843 Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. The key statement that Feuerbach made in that book was his Principle No. 59:

The single man for himself possesses the essence of man neither in himself as a moral being nor in himself as a thinking being. The essence of man is contained only in the community and unity of man with man; it is a unity, however, which rests only on the reality of the distinction between I and thou.” [ref]

(It is remarkable that Hans Ehrenberg also published the first book to introduce Nikolai Berdyaev and his Russian predecessors to a western audience. Under the title Östliches Christentum (Eastern Christendom), this two-volume work included essays by Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) and Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944), men whose work Rosenstock-Huessy read and admired.) [refCF]

Moving back now to Feuerbach’s predecessors, we come to Hamann. Although Rosenstock-Huessy’s interpretation of language was as different from Hamann’s as a car is from a horse and buggy, his eccentric 18th-century intellectual ancestor certainly played a key role in showing that language is a more central category than reason. Isaiah Berlin’s The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism, published in 1994, dealt with just that issue. [ref]

First, Berlin established the 18th-century Hamann as the spiritual father of the 18th- and 19th-century German romantics—from his student Johann Gottfried Herder (1774-1803), to Herder’s friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), to Goethe’s friend Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), and to Goethe’s admirer, Friedrich von Schlegel.

The fact that the title of Berlin’s book on Hamann contains the word “irrationalism” in its title alarms me because I have been trying to present my intellectual heroes as perfectly reasonable. [ref NY Review] In 1959, the University of Münster gave Rosenstock-Huessy an honorary degree, hailing him as “the Hamann of the 20th century.” Unfortunately, being recognized as the “new Hamann” was not entirely a blessing. The old Hamann was decidedly eccentric. He liked to call himself an “ignoramus,” with “a mind like blotting paper.” Still, as a critical inspiration for thinkers from Goethe to Schelling and beyond, he has an undeniable status, one that Berlin fully accords him.

Berlin called Hamann “the most passionate, consistent, extreme and implacable enemy of the Enlightenment and, in particular, all forms of rationalism of his time.” He said that “Goethe saw Hamann as a great awakener, the first champion of the unity of man—the union of all his faculties, mental, emotional, physical, in his greatest creations.” And he concluded, “It is doubtful whether without Hamann’s revolt…the worlds of Herder, Friedrich Schlegel, Tieck, Schiller, and indeed of Goethe too, would have come into being.” [ref]

Whereas Rosenstock-Huessy and Rosenzweig, drew on Schelling for the idea that we were now about to embark on a third period in history, the age of the spirit, and whereas they saw Goethe as the first citizen of this new age, Rosenstock-Huessy cites Friedrich Schlegel as a more specific source of inspiration. Schlegel provided Rosenstock-Huessy with two key ideas—seeds, you might say—that blossomed into Out of Revolution, as well as into his writings on language.

First, in Out of Revolution, Rosenstock-Huessy says that his “history of the inspirations of mankind” was “first conceived by Friedrich Schlegel,” a thinker who “foresaw our own attempt to deal with the continuous process of creation in mankind itself.” [ref]

Second, in his 1935 essay, “The Uni-versity of Logic, Language and Literature,” Rosenstock-Huessy pointed to Schlegel as a “predecessor” in disclosing that “language, logic, and literature are various forms of crystallization in one process.” [ref]

After reading that in Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay, I looked up Schlegel’s writings and found what indeed seemed to be the seeds of Rosenstock-Huessy’s understandings of speech and the Cross of Reality. That cross seems prefigured in Schlegel’s 1847 book on language:

The first truth then that psychology arrives at is the internal discord within our fourfold and divided consciousness....It is only in the highest creations of artistic genius, manifesting itself either in poetry or some other form of language...that we meet with the perfect harmony of a complete and united consciousness, in which all its faculties work together in combined and living action. [ref]

I think it makes the Cross of Reality’s foundation in our minds and in language even more understandable when we see it described in such a compact and lively way—as “our fourfold and divided consciousness.”


Page references to the books below will appear in the paper’s final text. As of March 2014, those references have not been entered, nor has the list of books below been completed.

AG: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Der Atem des Geistes (Frankfurt: Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, 1951).

BB: Clinton C. Gardner, Beyond Belief: Discovering Christianity’s New Paradigm (White River Jct., VT: White River Press, 2008).

CF: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946; New York: Harper & Row, 1966). DB: Clinton C. Gardner, D-Day and Beyond: A Memoir of War, Russia, and Discovery (Philadelphia, PA: X-Libris, 2004).

DS: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts [specs]

IA: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, I am an Impure Thinker (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1970). Introduction by Clinton C. Gardner and Freya von Moltke,

JD: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, ed., Judaism Despite Christianity (University AL: University of Alabama Press, 1969).

LM: Clinton C. Gardner, Letters to the Third Millennium: An Experiment in East-West Communication (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1981).

OR: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (New York (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1969). OS: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Origin of Speech (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1981).
PK: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Practical Knowledge of the Soul (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1988). Originally published as Angewandte Seelenkunde (Darmstadt: Röther-Verlag, 1924).

SR: Nikolai Berdyaev, Spirit and Reality (London: Bles, 1939).

SPR: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Speech and Reality; introduction by Clinton C. Gardner (Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1970).

WW: Among other Rosenstock-Huessy web resources are:















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