Julius Evola on Hermann Keyserling – Part 2

This is the second and final installment of Julius Evola‘s commentary on Hermann Keyserling from Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico. Evola refers to Keyserling’s “brilliant interpretation of the function of meaning, according to which understanding is removed from the rational and peripheral plane and compenetrated with the principle of deep self-realization and power.” ⇐  Part 1

Some of the main points to note:

  • There are deeper levels of consciousness from which the Self has more power over the physical world.
  • The physical world is not self-sufficient, but is related to a spiritual power for its ultimate explanation
  • The accumulation of facts and knowledge is not the important thing. Rather, it is the deepening of one’s level of consciousness
  • Meaning is really the self-possession of the person
  • The physical world is not destiny, it does not consist of brute facts
  • Reality is in fact malleable, perfectly reflecting what the Self conceives as its meaning
  • The individual must accept full responsibility for his world
  • In that way, he overcomes fate and becomes free

Clearly, the problem of knowledge in the doctrine of “meaning” is strictly connected to the problem of power, which Keyserling resolves by means of the theory of the levels of consciousness. As we previously noted as characteristic of idealism, the premise is that every objective thing depends on a subjective thing, that things are what we are or, better, what we posit to ourselves. To will to dominate the external world, i.e., acting in the level of the mass and physical determinisms, is an impossible and contradictory assumption: but things are quite different when the I brings its own action into the deep level of transcendent causes, into the sphere of “meaning” that is that incorporeity that conditions the corporeal and that is conditioned by nothing. Human liberty in its highest aspect consists in the idea that where the focus of our consciousness falls depends on us. We can posit this focus in the world of the phenomenon where there is no place for a real initiative, or else at the point of the original creative function, whose principle is freedom and possibility. In other words: every phenomenon never constitutes a last instance, but presupposes a spiritual power to which its explanation and consistency refers back: when we posit ourselves with this power in relation to the other, when we do not understand it, it appears to us as unbending fate; when instead it is reaffirmed to us in that divine spark that remains in the individual and that is the deep source of his life, that world that first held us in iron slavery becomes our instrument for a silent transformation.

Then it will be able to determine unconditionally the form in which reality will have to appear to us, to actually live the given not as a last instance, but as one that is malleable and reflects passively what the I conceives in the region of meaning. “The representation creates reality, and not vice versa”; “the faculty of representation is unconditioned”; the I can, by means of a movement of the level of consciousness, possessing itself in this faculty”—such are the principles of Keyserling’s doctrine of power similar to those characteristic of esoterism and certain western schools of magic.

The fundamental point is added to that, even if not so distinctly affirmed like Michelstaedter: namely, the individual must rise to the awareness of absolute responsibility, he must make himself adequate to his own life and not only in the order of the subjective properly called, but also in the order of the cosmic and the universal. The I must make himself the last cause and must be able to take the weight of world responsibility on himself, without trying to push it back onto another; since only on condition of assuming it, can the person hope to go beyond destiny to freedom.

The principle merit of the “School of Wisdom” is that it affirmed that what is important is not to procure new knowledge or experiences, but rather to change the level of one’s own personality, to bring the center of the I onto another plane or dimension in which the relationship to one’s activity is that of possession and unconditioned determination. In that he agrees fully with magical idealism, and still more so when he suggests such a plane as that of the Lord. The concept of “meaning” instead demands a greater individuation. In fact the question must be asked: what is the meaning of this “meaning”? Since it certainly has something to do with its general mystical and self-creative aspect: but when the dialectic of expression mentioned above is grafted onto it, things become complicated. “Meaning” understood as a fate of self-expression, objectifying itself, reasserting itself in new expressions, etc., is what can be less comprehensible and in no way surrenders to the brute given of dialectic laws to which rationalism is subjected to.

Even here, freedom must certainly be asserted beyond the entire process. On the other hand, in order to organically connect the same process—understood as the ever deeper self-penetration of meaning—to the principle of the Lord, it is necessary to understand this dynamically, i.e., to place it properly in the interval in which the I transcends his freedom which became an objectivity, in order to reassert a principle eternally irreducible to being. Then “understanding”, “meaning” should have self-possession for its deepest meaning, the self-realizing of the I in pure actual essence in an ever more perfect way. Autarchy should thus be the key to the process, the quality in which original freedom willed itself—consequently, Keyserling clouds over when he points to the principle that is necessary to make oneself the last reason, that it is necessary to rise to the meaning of world responsibility, to take destiny onto oneself, to make oneself adequate to it and to resolve it in the principle of the Lord. Besides, once that determinism is established, the rigidity is what constitutes the antithetical moment since as matter for the expression, the reassertion of the principle of meaning—which is freedom—follows from it or it can have only a negative character—of derealization, of agitation, of dissolution of every necessity in the contingent and in the easily moveable—so that the idea of a substrate of material necessity, of laws, whether restricted only to the only “grammar” or “language” (the same languages moreover change, transforming themselves according to various needs), cannot in the final instance be maintained, and the idea of a world system entirely compenetrated by the function of the “meaning” is enriched with the idea of the “body of freedom” that is also the “body of negation”. With Heraclitus, Novalis, Bhagavan Das, and the conception here sustained, it is necessary to understand the world process as a burning and its immanent goal as the accomplishment of the I as entity of pure negativity—e.g., of pure contingency and absolute possession.

If we wanted, we could still make a few and more serious objections to Keyserling, to the asystematic and “symphonic” character of his expositions: in the actual form specified, in regards to history, by which he does not mean completely ideality, and that therefore he often treats from an empirical point of view, really transcendent to the plane of “meaning”. So that while on one hand he affirms that the historic fact does not create “meaning” but that “meaning” creates the historic fact, on the other, like Benedetto Croce, he in fact nevertheless recognizes given historical determinisms that impinge, epoch by epoch, the uneliminable conditions so that meaning can incarnate itself and make itself concrete. We may think of Keyserling’s principle that meaning exists only insofar as it is expressed, and one will notice here how dangerous the position is and how instead—since he holds firm to the principle, that nothing is that is understood in a certain measure and that understanding has freedom for an inseparable attribute—the right way would be to deny the real anteriority of any historical condition whatsoever, and therefore of the entire past or antecedent history to make absolutely unformed matter, whose identification is not given or found, but is pinned only to the metahistoric unconditioned self-determination of meaning—i.e., to make something conditioned from it and no longer something conditioning.

But this is not the place to repeat myself. It was important only to point out Keyserling’s brilliant interpretation of the function of “meaning”, according to which understanding is removed from the rational and peripheral plane and compenetrated with the principle of deep self-realization and power.

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