Lessons in Solitude

Jonas Burgert

Whether subconscious intention, some ‘factor X’ effect of the sort posited by Colin Wilson, or, as I prefer to think, pure serendipity, my recent reading is coalescing loosely around oneiric elements and a ‘retrieval of the archaic.’ Or I may well be delusional and seeing links where none exist. All are possibilities.

Mircea Cărtărescu’s ‘taste for things extravagant’ is paired well with my current favourite podcast Weird Studies, the latest centres on Colin Wilson’s classic study of Western esotericism, The Occult, which I thirstily gulped down as a teenager. Wilson’s view of the occult, as described in the podcast: ‘some kind of ether, some kind of energy, some force we don’t understand at work in the world thats deeply essential to the way we experience the world, which we need to come to grips with . . .’ wouldn’t have stood too far, I think, from Hans Blumenberg’s conception of metaphysics.

I read Blumenberg’s The Laughter of the Thracian Maid with reverence, but won’t write an account, not at least without a further less ardent reading. If you like the fragments I’ve posted, you will find a rare treat awaits you.

Spencer Hawkins, translator of Blumenberg’s book, also wrote an afterword that reads more like an introduction; nevertheless it further fuels my interest to read more of Blumenberg’s work: ‘[his] work remains, in many regards, a reflection on reclusion: a highly documented account of a life spent apart from the world, suspicious of common understandings, and in pursuit of his lessons of solitude.’

One of my favourite paragraphs.

‘The study of Being must constantly detach itself, particularly from everything that has already been there before. That also goes for the historical distance in which Thales belongs: the pre-Socratics, to the surprise of those who considered them to represent starting points—as well attested by written transmission—prove to be a mere afterglow of what came before them. The mythology painstakingly reworked by them, perhaps more concealed than overcome, is also just such a sunset view of something withdrawing itself irrecoverably from us. And withdrawing mercifully, because we would simply not be up for its concealment, as has always been the case with whatever yields the highest privilege to the survivor capable of documenting what he may only perceive fading behind him.’

I cannot read the word mere without the mere breath of Job’s interlocutors, devoid of substance.

The Wrong Turn


‘When Plato manufactured the connection between the beginning of philosophy and its fulfilment, by projecting the Thales anecdote onto his Socrates, he neglected the discrepancy, which was supposed to have been so important to Socrates: the retreat from natural philosophy and his new definition of the theoretical task centred on humanity and its morality. Nietzsche has followed this line of Plato’s: his Thales of Miletus is the first opponent of myth in favour of the self-assertion of the Ionian cities, and his Socrates is the perfector of destroying myth, particularly in the form of tragedy. Thales, like Socrates, supposedly stood against myth, except that Socrates no longer understood what it was about when he did it—and even if he had understood, it would have been too late. Thus the death of Socrates no longer functions within the archaic reservoir of images as epigonal delay on completing a decision, which had been pronounced by Thales under the compulsion of naked self-assertion. The decision was philosophy; the historical consequence, science. Socrates pulled philosophy down to the bourgeois sphere, privatised its public spirit and prepared it to become an assisting organ in the long run for the realisation of Christianity.’

Hans Blumenberg, The Laughter of the Thracian Woman (Trans. Spencer Hawkins)

Is there anything quite like this book, in which Blumenberg details how a single anecdote can be distorted and reoccupied through the ages, narrating the prevailing sentiment toward speculative thinking?

Bitterest of all Discoveries


‘In 1986, Blumenberg writes about “bitterest of all discoveries:” that the world that will survive without us after we die. Blumenberg, Lebenszeit und Weltzeit, 76. He attributes the popularity of apocalyptic religious sermons* to a desire for a world with finite time. As implied here, some acknowledge infinite “world time” but resist its bitterness with strategies for living beyond a lifetime; they seek eternal truths, learn history, or leave behind ambitious creations.’

Hans Blumenberg, notes to The Laughter of the Thracian Woman (trans. Spencer Hawkins)

*No less the popularity of apocalyptic films, a consequence of existential dread, ever more pervasive now than when Norman Mailer wrote his controversial 1957 essay The White Negro, which, unsurprisingly, is still debated online. The incendiary first paragraph of that essay never fails to land.