I am half asleep, drugged by the lethargy of knowing I am preparing for a period of great activity and not wanting to start, rather watching the mental processes move like molasses, hovering here in my own bubble of consciousness, feeling the thoughts burbling around, not in any directed pattern, but in a random process of secretion from the springs of mental activity, that swamp of trapped sensation, the superficial memory.
That comic balloon quote got me going. Heraclitus’ vortex when googled, turned up this book by Martin Cohen, Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. A mouthful of a title and when I found his section on Heraclitus, there was this bit:
“But Plato himself was echoing Cratylus, who had only earlier decided for himself what Heraclitus must have meant. Cratylus’ idea that everything was changing all the time was then taken up by Empedocles, who embellished the other Heraclitian notion of a world continually torn between the two evocatively named forces, ‘love’ and ’strife’, in order to reveal its essential character. The world is a sphere of perfect love in which strife, like a swirling vortex, has infiltrated” (Cohen 42).
Cohen goes on to mention Hegel used Heraclitus to form the kernel of his new world philosophy and from there I decided to check out some Hegel and found this on a Marxist site with Lenin’s notes on Hegel and Heraclitus:
“Heraclitus says: Everything is becoming; this becoming is the principle. This is contained in the expression: Being
no more is than not-Being….” (p. 333)
“The recognition of the fact that Being and not-Being are only abstractions devoid of truth, that the first truth is to be
found only in Becoming, forms a great advance. The understanding comprehends both as having truth and validity in isolation;
reason on the other hand recognises the one in the other, and sees that in the one its other” (NB “its other”) “is contained—
that is why the All, the Absolute is to be determined as Becoming.” (334)
I am interrupting Lenin for this from “hegel & the logic of ‘the real’ barbie” to help you dear reader appreciate the concept of becoming.
the explanation below is from the blog site http://mbourbaki.blogspot.com
“g. f. hegel has a telling paragraph in his logic, under the title “being determinate”:
in becoming, the being which is one with nothing, and the nothing which is one with being, are only vanishing factors; they are and are not. thus by its inherent contradiction becoming collapses into the unity in which the two elements are absorbed. this result is accordingly being determinate (being there and so). (p. 133)
this is no galimatias: “being there and so” is in fact valerie, “the real” barbie. she finally absorbed flesh&bones into what used to be a mere doll/ideal. but things are never static. we should expect a new becoming, i.e., the next more than to come.
meanwhile valerie “the real” barbie is petrified in her own determinate being category. and as such, valerie’s more than is no more. she’s not unsurpassable by another more than.”
And now that you understand we return to the Lenin interpretations of Heraclitus and the meaning of becoming.
“Aristotle says (De mundo, Chapter 5) that Heraclitus ‘joined together the complete whole and the incomplete’ (part)” … “what coincides and what conflicts, what is harmonious and what discordant; and from out of them all (the opposite) comes one, and from one, all.” (335)
Plato, in his Symposium, puts forward the views of Heraclitus (inter alia in their application to music: harmony consists
of opposites), and the statement: “The art of the musician unites the different.”
Hegel writes: this is no objection against Heraclitus (336), for difference is the essence of harmony:
“This harmony is precisely absolute Becoming, change,—not becoming other, now this and then an other. The essential thing is that each different thing, each particular, is different from another, not abstractly so from any other, but from its other. Each particular only is, insofar as its other is implicitly contained in its Notion….” (Lenin).
Heraclitus (LXXv) From the Nuremberg Chronicle Morse Library. Beloit College.
Looking for some real words of Heraclitus, I found this old book on line edited, translated or at least introduced by this guy named Patrick. Since all the quotes of Heraclitus are from Aristotle, I find these fragments to be somewhat doubtful.
XLVL Aristotle, Eth. Nic. viii. 2, p. 1155 b 1. In reference to these things, some seek for deeper principles and more in accordance with nature. Euripides says, ” The parched earth loves the rain, and the high heaven, with moisture laden, loves earthward to fall.” And Heraclitus says, “The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife” (Patrick 96)
Aristotle, Metaph. iii. 5, p. 1010 a 13. Context : From this assumption there grew up that extreme opinion of those just now
mentioned, those, namely, who professed to follow Heraclitus, such as Cratylus held, who finally thought that nothing ought to be said, but merely moved his finger. And he blamed Heraclitus because he said you could not step twice into the same river, for he himself thought you could not do so once” (94).
Damn my curiosity anyway. I am waking up. Still there are doubts, lingering shadows, lethargic melancholia, and I don’t even want to go there…. a dream of being a trickster salesman/gardener… nothing good would come of this, but still I persevere into the flux of Plato’s forms and all that, see what a cartoon can do.
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought …
Is this failure? A cursed dependency on mythologizing my own experience has become one of denigration. Becoming not a barbie but first a model failure, in my attempts to become a ghetto denizen, and later my artificial redemption via the miracle of modern medical science, my psyche screams fake! But my Hegelian prospects are of more becoming and thus hope is sustained.
My friends keep telling me to write, write my novel and I have attempted, several times only to give up in disgust with my lack of organization, loss of interest, and overwhelming sense of the futility of the endeavor. In my creative writing classes I realized that most of the references I was making, fresh and vital in the 1980’s, were now history, and for the young reviewers of my material, barely relevant, largely incomprehensible, after all who knew or cared about people like Allen Ginsberg, Anselm Hollo, the Poetry Wars of Boulder in the late 1970’s, Rock Against Racism, the early days of punk rock, my experiences with the Yippies, and so on and so forth. Only a small circle of friends, otherwise a novelized life was uninteresting, unless there was fame, great tragedy, and supreme sacrifice. Who cares about the life of a mediocre failure. Not to become weepy and disconsolate, but I knew I had to have some reason to write besides my own self aggrandizement.
… that it might be lacking when it comes to its ability to be profane, …
Listening to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I am not very impressed with Tolstoy’s grasp of the motivations of historical process that he ruminates upon in the beginning of Book Nine, chapter one, where he states “Consciously a man lives on his own account in freedom of will, but he serves as an unconscious instrument in bringing about the historical ends of humanity” (Tolstoy 565). This sense of a goal in history is reminiscent of the Hegelian spirit of historical process. And yet not so purposeful as Hegel, for in Tolstoy we see the randomness of history as his description of the battle of Borodino states “Kutuzov and Napoleon acted without design or rational plan. After the accomplished fact historians have brought forward cunningly devised evidences of the foresight and genius of the generals, who of all the involuntary instruments of the world’s history were the most slavish and least independent agents” (705).
Napoleon on the battlefield Bonopart at Borodino. Illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914.
This is from a blog Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History
We assert then that nothing has been accomplished without interest on the part of the actors; and — if interest be called passion, inasmuch as the whole individuality, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests and claims, is devoted to an object with every fibre of volition, concentrating all its desires and powers upon it — we may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion. Two elements, therefore, enter into the object of our investigation; the first the Idea, the second the complex of human passions; the one the warp, the other the woof of the vast arras-web of Universal History. The concrete mean and union of the two is Liberty, under the conditions of morality in a State. We have spoken of the Idea of Freedom as the nature of Spirit, and the absolute goal of History (Hegel on line 26).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) Date Unknown pre1831
Reading the text of the lectures in the book version The Philosophy of History, Hegel states “The History of the World begins with its general aim - the realization of the Idea of Spirit - only in an implicit form (an sich), that is, as Nature; a hidden, most profoundly hidden, unconscious instinct; and the whole process of History (as already observed), is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one…. This vast congeries of volitions, interests and activities, constitute the the instruments and means of the World-Spirit for attaining its object; bringing it to consciousness and realizing it. And this aim is none other than finding itself-coming to itself-and contemplating itself in concrete reality” (Hegel 25).
Hit & Miss, the English television series “about a hit woman who’s a preoperative transsexual”… it’s title exudes Lautreamont’s famous definition of beauty as the “chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” (screamingpope.com).
And again in the “Introduction” which seems to be what most people are interested in, as the actual history is for the most part forgotten, “The destiny of the spiritual World, and-since this is the substantial World, while the physical remains subordinate to it,… the final cause of the World at large, we allege to be the consciousness of its own freedom on the part of Spirit, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom” (Hegel 19).
Lenin: page 100 of his notebook for “Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic”
Tolstoy says “In historical events great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection to the event itself.
Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity” (Tolstoy 566).
This statement takes Tolstoy outside of the Spirit of History in Hegel, striving to realize itself, into some more static view, closer to Calvin perhaps? Perhaps not, he certainly in his own form of historical determinism sees more of the flukes and randomness in history than the spirit of history, and perhaps he was a supreme critic of the Hegelian belief that the spirit of history lay behind the actions of men.
Because the city of Jena was occupied by French troops under Napoleon in 1806, G.W.F.Hegel was forced to leave the city. But he did witness Napoleon’s entry into the city and, as an admirer of the French Revolution, was delighted to witness first-hand this “world spirit on horseback” passing by. Image from Harper’s Magazine, 1895.
Hegel states “For that Spirit which has taken this fresh step in history is the innermost soul of all individuals; but is in a state of unconsciousness which the great men in question aroused. Their fellows, therefore, follow these soul - leaders; for they feel the irresistible power of their own inner Spirit thus embodied (Hegel 30-31). For Hegel even though the “fate of these World - Historical persons, whose vocation it is to be the agents of the World - Spirit - we shall find is to have been no happy one” and he goes on to cite the fates of Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon (31). Thus he shares with Tolstoy the conception of leaders as tools of history, but without the cynicism of Tolstoy. For Hegel this is serving the Spirit of History, a noble duty, not a cursed fate, even if it results in being discarded when history has no more use for the personality.
This is perhaps one basis for Marxist ruthlessness as is bemoaned by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man, when the protagonist is taken down by the “Brotherhood” for acting on his own initiative to regain a following in the black community by leading a protest of the police shooting of a black man. They accuse him of adventurism and clearly state “We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (Ellison 408). The protagonist is angry at this and sees it as a lost organizing opportunity, but because it was not sanctioned by the Communist Party, called the Brotherhood in the novel, it is not a bold act of initiative but a reprehensible breach of party discipline. Demonstrating dramatically, the leader of the party committee, Jack Tobitt, takes out a glass eye and tells the protagonist “you don’t appreciate the meaning of sacrifice. I was ordered carry through an objective and I carried it through. Understand? Even though I had to lose my eye to do it… And do you know what discipline is, Brother Personal Responsibility? It’s sacrifice, sacrifice, Sacrifice!” (410). Ellison is describing the blindness of party loyalty to an opportunity to organize in the black community, as well as the fact that a man, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police. For him the party is out of touch as his protagonist says “Ask your [black] wife to take you around to the gin mills and the barbershops and the juke joints and the churches, Brother…. You’ll learn that a lot of people are angry because we failed to lead them in action” (407).
Ellison in chapter 22 of his novel is describing the circumstances that lead to his protagonists breaking with the Brotherhood, their blindness to the realities of life among the masses, as Tobitt says, “The committee makes your decisions, it is not its practice to give undue importance to the mistaken notions of the people” (407).
This reflects the Marxist belief that the correct interpretation of the Hegelian Spirit of History, or as Marx transformed it into the material conditions of history, trumped the experience of every day life, and thus theory trumping empirical data leads to disasters like the ultimate fate of the Russian Revolution, although there certainly were other factors. But I digress.
Jeff Wall After “Invisible Man”…
First shown at Documenta 11, After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001, represents a well-known scene from Ellison’s classic novel. Wall’s version shows us the cellar room, “warm and full of light” in which Ellison’s narrator lives, complete with its 1,369 lightbulbs.
I am getting all worked up over the past, and this whole question of what is history? Does it have meaning, and purpose?
Tolstoy saw randomness and predestination. Yet his novel abounds in profoundly interesting personal stories full of insight into human nature. I sought out some more expert opinion on the man, and doing a google search constantly found references to THE HEDGEHOG AND THE FOX An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History by Isaiah Berlin. Rather than reading it I decided to cheat and read a review in the New York Times by William Barrett “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things,” an almost incomprehensible title but from the review I was able to drag some quotes that state the problem fairly well.
The theory maintains, very simply, that the human understanding can never comprehend history, since the historic process involves an infinity of causes that lie beyond our grasp. Mr. Berlin seems to me to be altogether right in rescuing his theory from the charge of “mysticism.” It is, rather, an entirely lucid and intellectually cogent theory, and a deterministic one to boot, though rather discomforting to the facile determinism of some historians. The individual, from the point of view of history, is never free, since he is caught in a web of infinite circumstances and causes.
On the other hand, “War and Peace” as a novel swarms with an extraordinary number of vivid personal lives each of which throbs with its own sense of decision and choice. This conflict between the feeling of freedom and the rational truth of determinism Tolstoy never succeeded in resolving for himself during his whole life.
Dissatisfied with the patness and artificiality of the historians’ theories, Tolstoy was led in turn to distrust all theory as the falsification of the fullness of life itself…. Indeed, “War and Peace” is one of the most formidable attacks upon rationalism ever penned (Barrett).
Tolstoy himself relates in War and Peace, in the persona of Prince Andrey who upon being assigned to the main battle front in 1812 with Barclay de Tolly, commander of the First Russian Army, but having no particular duty spent time assessing the camp, Tolstoy has him reflecting “He had already, from his own military experience, formed the conviction that in war the most deeply meditated plans are of no avail (as he had seen at Austerlitz), that everything depends on how unexpected actions of the enemy, actions that cannot possibly be foreseen, are met; that all depends on how, and by whom, the battle is led” (Tolstoy 590). Hence his continued criticism of the vanities of the commanders in the Russian army, due probably to his own experience in the Crimean war.
Ah so I am not alone in my indeterminate determinism. I perused some interpretations of Tolstoy’s beliefs and I especially liked reading some of the fundamentalist Christian views of him who saw him as a liberal believer in the good works Jesus promoted as opposed to the mystical and more literal views. I don’t know enough about Tolstoy personally although a lot of pacifists and anarchists seem to like him. I think that more to do with the later experiments, when writing War and Peace, Tolstoy was a recent war veteran, having served in the Russian artillery during the Crimean War, “April 1855, in the midst of the Crimean War, a twenty-six year old Russian sub-lieutenant, Leo Tolstoy, was commanding an artillery battery in the besieged Black Sea city of Sevastopol” (Moss). Having been on the front line of defense as Moss describes, Tolstoy had seen death in warfare at first hand, “Lieutenant Tolstoy’s private attitude toward the Russian military and the war was ambivalent and confused. It is true that in a letter to his brother Sergei he wrote of the heroism of the troops and thanked God for allowing him to live in such a ‘glorious time,’ but in his diary in late 1854 he was much more critical of the way the Russian leaders conducted the war, of corruption, ignorance, and poor training, weapons, hygiene, and food” (Moss).
Grigoryi Shukaev. Siege of Sevastopol 1855. 1856
As a young man, Tolstoy, adrift in Russian society, he knew first hand the dissolute lives of the upper classes that he describes so well in the novel. But it is not the rest of the novel I am concerned with but the nature of determinism and purpose in history. A question that naturally cannot be resolved in a short blog posting, but it is fun to bring up and perhaps I will continue this at a later time, as it is I have spent much too much time, wasting an entire afternoon on this particular folly, but at least I am no longer stuck in mental lethargy.
Barrett, William. “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things.” The New York Times on the Web. 14 Feb. 1954. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Cohen, Martin. Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub. 2008. Google Books. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Ellison, Ralph. The Invisible Man, New York: New American Library. 1952. Print.
Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History. “Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History.” Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History, Trans. J. Sibree. Amherst: Prometheus Books. 1991. Print.
Lenin, Vladimir Illyich. “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures On the History of Philosophy: Volume XIII. Volume I of The History of Philosophy. History of Greek Philosophy.” Lenin’s Collected Works. 4th Ed. Trans. Clemence Dutt. Ed. Stewart Smith. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1976. 38. 247-268. Lenin Internet Archive (2008). Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Moss, Walter G. “Classics Revisited: Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Stories.” Michigan War Studies Review. 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Patrick, G. T. W. Ed.The fragments of the work of Heraclitus of Ephesus on nature; translated from the Greek text of Bywater, with an introd. historical and critical. Baltimore: N. Murray. 1889. Perseus Archive. Open Library.org. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.