Julius Evola on Hermann Keyserling – Part 1

Next: Hermann Keyserling Part 2 ⇒

This is part 1 of two on Julius Evola‘s interpretation of Hermann Keyserling, originally published in Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico. The School of Wisdom referred to was established by Keyserling in 1920 and is apparently still active today.

Keyserling bases his philosophy on “understanding”, which is “metarational”. Specifically, it is not something that can be given to someone nor compelled by a logical process. It should be familiar to all readers. For example, you may have had an “aha” experience, where you suddenly “get it”. Or it could be as simple as “getting a joke” … you all know someone who failed to comprehend the punchline! If you consider such moments, you will see how not understanding changed to understanding. This is a free spontaneous act, since nothing caused it, not even neurochemical reactions.

The second point is that meaning is always in reference to a Self, not in the object. The exterior world takes on quite a different feeling once it is realized the extent that the Self understands it and invests it with meaning. Matter, then, is the privation of meaning, since it belongs to necessity and understanding is free.

In the second part, we will see that through understanding and meaning, the world of representations is created. This is not to say that the material world is such, insofar as it is privation, but, rather, there is a large part of social life that is not matter, but rather the creation of the mind. This is the will to power, and it depends on reaching increasingly deeper levels of understanding.

This is not much different from what Boris Mouravieff says: “Esoteric Tradition teaches that any civilization is none other than a projection of the consciousness of the I’s of elite man onto the exterior world.” Now if the elite is made up of Sages, as Keyserling describes, the projection will not be that of the chaotic I’s of the personality, but rather of the Real I.

Part 2  ⇒

Hermann Keyserling created tendencies that gave rise to the so-called “School of Wisdom” in Germany and are interesting for this reason: they aim to transfigure the intellectual synthesis itself in the metarational principle of freedom and therefore to shift the center of the I from the vis a tergo of the rational imperative and every necessity in general, without suppressing the plane of concrete experience.

The key to Keyserling’s views is the phenomenon of understanding. He contemplates the point in which the I says to himself: “I understood.” It is essentially a point of spontaneity, freedom, and interiority: there is no way of compelling one to understanding. It on the other hand has a mystico-illuminative character: it seeks to live the moment of “meaning”, not of this or that meaning, but rather of meaning in general, of the pure element of the understanding conditioning every understanding, then one will feel that something ineffable shines in it, something that, even if contending with it and being supported on it, absolutely transcends the whole of the means and forms from which it was propitiated. This mystical moment of pure understanding is the moment of the spirit. Certainly, a meaning exists only in connection to a certain form or nature that expresses it – but the inverse is also true, and that is that being understood, interiorized, is always the condition so that anything has existence for the I and that therefore the synthetic function of understanding is, directly, the absolute prius, the base, or apriori of each one of our experiences, if only in accordance with somewhat diverse levels. Now since it is absurd to speak of a meaning existing in things independently of the I (nothing has meaning through itself but everything can acquire it) and since understanding is always and essentially interwoven with spontaneity and interiority, it appears clear that by that, Keyserling defines a function, capable of reaffirming, on the entire ambit of human experience, the principle of the free and creator I. Since—and this is the Keyserling’s improvement, previously sketched out by Novalis, on Kant’s synthetic a priori which, as everyone knows, is preconscious, impersonal, and abstractly intellectual—there understanding is the same as an unconditioned and immanent power of the real I, it is not a concept, but an effective element of interiority. It follows that the entire world assumes the character of an expressive means, of a symbolic material that the I must invest, animate, and almost recreate with the act of his understanding.

The distinction between nature and spirit is thus reduced to that between a half expressive abstraction and half expressive entirely resolved in the actuality of meaning. Matter or necessity would only be the privation of meaning, the mindless opaque “letter” to oneself. Nevertheless, even reduced to this form, such a distinction must be explained. It is that meaning, in its essence of deep subjectivity and in law, is absolute freedom: but, in expressing itself, it cannot be crystalized into a given nonconvertible body, it cannot make that unconditioned principle fall into necessity (that is, in a mechanical discourse) in which it comes to fruition—as in a type of enlightenment—in the pure moment of self-determination, of the creative conception balanced between the “not yet” of the possible and the form in which the possible asserts itself. The half expressive abstraction, or nature and necessity, is constituted by nothing other than the preceding processes of self-expression already exhausted and sustained through mechanical repetition; from which however, the spirit rises in self-conception on the basis of a deeper meaning, which it then expresses and incarnates utilizing precisely that matter in which it is coagulated and which rendered its preceding freedom mechanical—and the process is continued toward an always deeper meaning or interiority, correlative to an always richer, organic, and articulate body of expression. From this rises the concept that the various natural or historical laws are simple laws of grammar and syntax, which those who live in the deep level of meaning do not need to deny, but only to dominate interiorly, just as the artist dominates the material in which he incorporates his creation.

That brings up the problem of the human “type”. It, according to Keyserling, is not to be pushed back to art, religion, or philosophy. Artists are, typically, mediums: that greatness that speaks in, or by means of, them almost never coincides with their personal knowledge. As for religion, it must be excluded because, as such, it introduces a principle of authority and dogmatism on the one hand, of dependence and passivity on the other, that is incompatible with the character of autonomous, individual assertion, that was connected to “meaning”. Still less can it be pushed back to the thinker, who is held fixed in a world of abstract concepts, alien to reality and separated from the depths of the creator I. It is better instead to connect it to the ancient concept of Wisdom, when it is understood as a synthesis of life and science in the individual unity of the creator. What is essential, is that the I does not become a slave of abstract knowledge, but produces it interiorly in living reality; that he survives in an ideality no more than an abyss separated from concreate reality, but rather he places himself outside the world and expresses himself in it, incarnates fully in it to the extent he conceives the deep level of meaning. Hence, the type of the Sage becomes moreover that of the Lord: and that clearly not in regard to naked power, but rather in regard to the principle that is interiorly superior to the totality of life, that commands it and molds from above the power of freedom. And how much deeper is the plane in which understanding is realized, so much more perfectly and fully the I dominates and commands the whole of the various forces (natural, social, etc.) that it reclaims in that way as the matter of his “language”.

From this development it becomes clear that Keyserling speaks of “meaning” and “understanding” in a rather metaphoric way, in order to give a suggestion of a certain function, which he then, to tell the truth, reaffirms in the totality of all concrete powers of internal and external experience.

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