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approaching Bondarev's *PoF* book

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  • Robert Mason
    I wrote the following text a week ago, but haven t had a chance to post it before now. It was an invitation to a discussion, but now it seems that I won t be
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 27, 2009
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      I wrote the following text a week ago, but
      haven't had a chance to post it before now.
      It was an invitation to a discussion, but
      now it seems that I won't be getting event
      the little time online that I normally get.
      So I won't be engaging in any discussion,
      but you can take this as a think piece or
      discuss it without me. RM
      ***

      Now I've had a little while to look over Jeff
      B.'s forwarded file of the first part of the
      translation of Bondarev's book on *PoF*. And I
      have to say *look over*, for I surely haven't
      read it all yet, even though it amounts to only
      the beginning of Bondy's huge book. I would
      despair of reading that book even in I had it in
      English; I suppose I might need the better part
      of a year to work through it. So, for now, about
      all I can offer are some of my impressions on
      starting to approach the book. -- Perhaps if
      others are also starting into the book, we could
      compare our impressions?

      And I said *impressions*; for me, I might have
      said *whimpers of frustration*. As I said
      before, I got the feeling that the book is a
      work of genius, and I still have that opinion,
      but now I really get the feeling that this is a
      *foreign* genius at work -- so foreign that my
      mind strains and fails at trying to work my way
      into the thoughts of such a genius.

      I'll try to explain what I mean by *foreign*. --
      This fragment, in Jeff's Word document, is 155
      pages long (big pages), but Bondy doesn't
      actually start into his close analysis of the
      text of *PoF* until page 139. The pages leading
      up to that point are filled mostly with Bondy's
      own philosophical foreplay, as it were. And it
      is this philosophy that is so foreign to me. It
      is foreign in a geographical sense, but not only
      that; it is foreign in a cultural sense, and
      more, in the sense of the mode of consciousness
      that is producing the thoughts. For Bondy seems
      to be what the Brits, and by derivation we
      Americans, would call a "Continental"
      philosopher. Those of us who have had at least
      a brush with academic philosophy in the English-
      speaking world will probably have at least a
      glimmer on what that term implies.

      I'll try to explain a little more. --
      Generalizing broadly (and hence somewhat
      inaccurately in some cases, but that can't be
      avoided when giving just brief impressions), the
      philosophical consciousness in the English-
      speaking world might be called "nominalistic"
      and "sense-bound"; the term *classical British
      empiricism* isn't used for no good reason. (And
      of course, it wasn't for no good reason that
      Francis Bacon -- who was, as Steiner tells us,
      the reincarnated Haroun al Rashid, the main
      opponent of Aristotle, who was a previous
      incarnation of our very same Steiner -- himself
      was a Brit.) In America this quality is even
      intensified; America is, after all, the home of
      so-called philosophical "pragmatism".

      So, the kind of philosophy that was most in
      vogue some 40-odd years ago when I passed
      briefly through an American university (very
      briefly; if you'd blinked, you would've have
      missed me) was "sense-bound"; one might even say
      *earth-bound*. That was during the afterglow of
      the heyday of so-called "ordinary language
      philosophy", but the atmosphere of modern
      "British empiricism" was also ambient. (The
      latter seemed to be in the form of a modified,
      patched-up "logical positivism", which itself
      had its heyday in 1930s Vienna, but nevertheless
      wasn't "Continental" in the sense that I am
      using here; it was really more of a transplanted
      British empiricism, but that's another story.)
      There were differences between "ordinary
      language philosophy" and the modernized
      empiricism, but they were joined at least in
      mutual incomprehension, and even derision,
      toward the kind of philosophy that was prevalent
      on the "Continent" (of Europe), both in the
      present and the recent past. (And this, 40-odd
      years ago, was in the heyday of
      "Existentialism", and before the advent of
      "post-modernism", "narrative theory", etc.)
      Texts from philosophers such as Heidegger or
      Sartre might be used as paradigmatic examples of
      "philosophical nonsense", for instance. And
      classical "German Idealism" (Fichte and Hegel
      especially) was as much or even more
      uncomprehended and incomprehensible.

      Hegelianism had a vogue in the upper strata of
      British philosophical academia in the 19th
      Century, but modern, "serious", philosophy was
      considered to have had its start early in the
      20th Century when Bertrand Russell and George
      Moore rebelled against the prevalent Hegelianism
      at Cambridge. That anomalous British
      Hegelianiam was regarded as it were an
      embarrassing, perverse lapse between the
      classical British empiricism from Bacon through
      Hume (let's not talk about Reid now) and the
      modern empiricism that began and was exemplified
      in Russell, and that lapse was mostly passed
      over in silence, and John Stuart Mill seemed to
      be almost the only Brit in the 19th Century
      worth mentioning. (Actually, there was in
      Russell a little spark of "Realism" in the
      Scholastic sense, or "ontological Platonism",
      but let's not talk about that now either; I'm
      painting the picture in broad strokes here.)

      Now, what was so "foreign" in the Continental
      thinkers was their practice of using words and
      concepts that couldn't readily be nailed down
      somewhere in the physical-sensory world. (One
      might object that *physical* and *sensory* are
      not equivalent concepts, but I'm allowing myself
      to be sloppy with my broad strokes; I'm trying
      to present more of a feeling-attitude than a
      conceptual analysis.) And they used such
      concepts not in mathematics, which is allowed in
      modern empiricism, but in places that . . .
      well, seem impossible to "place". For example,
      when Heidegger speaks of *Dasein* (*being-
      there*) or the *Nichts* (the *nothing*), or even
      the *Nichts* that *nichtet* (*nots*)-- the
      average British or American thinker can't do
      much but screw up his face and smirk, or laugh
      out loud, and shake his head from side to side.
      And neither can he do much with German Idealism,
      especially Hegel and his "Absolute" and all
      that; it's just incomprehensible. He regards it
      as a kind of philosophical sickness that needs
      therapy.

      Of course, the educated British or American
      philosopher will have read the Greeks (Plato and
      Aristotle especially, but they're ancient
      history) and the "Continental Rationalists"
      (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, but they're
      still "history") and Kant (who was "awakened"
      from his "dogmatic slumbers" by Hume, so
      whatever might be worthwhile in Kant is really
      British) -- and he has probably gritted his
      teeth and struggled through a survey of modern
      Continental currents (e.g. Schopenhauer,
      Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, maybe a little Sartre) -
      - but all these amount to unavoidable, even
      irksome, obligations if one is to be "cultured".
      "Serious" philosophy, the kind "one does", must
      be "analytic": there's logic and there's the
      empirical, the physical-sensory; that's all
      that's real; all the rest is fluff and nonsense.
      -- I might be exaggerating a little, but not a
      whole lot; and this picture might be somewhat
      distorted by my subjective peculiarities, but
      not entirely.

      My basic point is that the kind of consciousness
      -- typical on the "Continent", and especially in
      the German world --- that produces philosophical
      thinking not tied to the logical-empirical is
      really "foreign" to the typical philosophical
      consciousness in the English-speaking world, and
      especially to the typical U-S-American. And I
      am very much a U-S-American in consciousness,
      though perhaps not so typical, and especially
      not so much since my ongoing encounter with
      Anthroposophy. I surely didn't understand *PoF*
      the first time I read it, but gradually (with
      help from K├╝hlewind and from Otto Palmer's
      collection of Steiner-saids about *PoF*) I came
      to understand (so I allow myself to believe, at
      least) what Steiner meant by *pure thinking*,
      *living thinking*. And more importantly, I
      learned how to *do* it, and of course "doing" is
      very typically "American".

      And of course Steiner was very much within the
      tradition of German Idealism, and often was at
      pains to explain it and uphold it. Indeed,
      during the First World War he wrote a book (*The
      Riddle of Man*) defending German Idealism "with
      his life's blood". But he was not merely
      "within" that tradition; he was its culmination
      and rose above it to the plane of universality.
      And that universality comes through in *PoF*;
      it, for me, even as difficult as it is, is more
      accessible than Teutonic Idealist philosophy;
      e.g. Hegel especially. For in *PoF* thinking
      reaches a culmination where it passes from
      "philosophy" to something else. (Bondarev
      quotes RS: "The age of philosophy has been
      fulfilled.") This "something else" is
      Anthroposophy; indeed, the title of the final
      chapter of Steiner's *Riddles of Philosophy* is
      "From Philosophy to Anthroposophy". For in the
      "living thinking" as is taught in *PoF* one is
      not merely "thinking about" whatever; one is
      *doing* something definite ("intuitive
      thinking"), and this "doing" is experienced.
      And such experience is as "empirical" as you can
      get, though it is not sensory experience. We
      might call the *PoF* thinking *supersensory
      empiricism*.

      And now my point is that the "empiricism" of
      *PoF* thinking is relatively easy to grasp for
      this naturally empiricist U-S-American, because
      I can do it; I can experience it ("relatively"
      as compared to Hegel, Heidegger, etc., I mean).
      I'm talking about myself of course, but I would
      like to hope that I could generalize to
      observation to "Anglophones" in general, and *a
      fortiori* to U-S-Americans in general. For
      Anthroposophy is not merely German, or Central
      European, or even "Continental", but it is
      "universal human". Anthroposophy offers all of
      us, even hard-headed Americans, the opportunity
      to rise above the limitations of our *Volk*
      nature to the plane of the "universal human", to
      the status of a "free spirit", through the
      essence of our human-ness experienced in
      thinking.

      So, what does all this have to do with
      Bondarev's book? -- What's so frustrating to me
      about this book isn't his treatment of *PoF* as
      such; again, in Jeff's fragment he barely starts
      his analysis of *PoF* itself. My difficulty is
      with Bondy's 138-page run-up to that analysis.
      That run-up seems to me to consist mostly (not
      entirely) of the most incomprehensible sort of
      "Continental philosophy". Again: so far I have
      only scanned through it, not read it closely;
      it's just so hard to read. Bondy sweeps through
      the history of philosophy from the ancient
      Greeks to the present, and in the present
      especially employs the kind of non-sensory
      concepts that are so foreign to the mind that
      lives in the English language and archetypal
      consciousness.

      Holy unintelligibility, Batman; there's Fichte
      and there's Heidegger; there's Husserl and even
      Bondy's favorite unknown (to us) Russian,
      Nikolai Lossky; there's lots of Kant in his most
      "transcendental" aspects; and there's Hegel,
      Hegel, and more Hegel. There're concepts such
      as *immanence*, *otherness*, *panlogism*,
      *ideal-realism*, *intuitivism*,
      *phenomenological*, *trans-individual subject*,
      *illusionism*, *hierarchical personalism*,
      *voluntarist*, *intentionality of
      consciousness*, *absolute givenness*,
      *recreationism*, *Dasein*, *Wesen*,
      *Bedingtheit*, and so on. And more: there's
      the most abstract, abstruse, theology of the
      Trinity. And so on. --

      So, the question for me is this: Am I having
      such a hard time because I'm stuck in the
      English language and English-American *Volk*
      characteristics while Bondarev is writing in the
      Russian language and from the Russian *Volk*
      characteristics, after taking his concepts
      (mostly) from the German language and *Volk*
      characteristics? Or is it because I'm under-
      educated or maybe just plain dim?

      I think that it might be easier for me to accept
      that I'm a member of an inferior race, or at
      least a mentally impaired race, than to accept
      that I'm just plain stupid. -- Well, what do you
      think? Do any Continental Europeans reading
      this email have the same kind of difficulties
      working through *this* book of Bondy's?
      (*Crisis* [*Kreuzung*] isn't nearly as hard to
      read.) Is *anyone* having as much trouble as I
      am?

      But maybe I am making it sound harder than it
      really is? Bondy, after all, does seem to be
      familiar with the "Western" philosophy of
      science, and he does work mainly on themes that
      should already be familiar to Anthros,
      especially *beholding* (*Anschauen*) and
      Goethe's familiar (or what should be familiar)
      "power of judgment in beholding" (*anschauende
      Urteilskraft*). -- But I'm still having a lot of
      trouble with it. Maybe it's just hard to
      understand a genius? But again, Bondy's
      *Crisis* book isn't so hard to understand. So I
      really do have to wonder whether much of my
      trouble comes from the fact that Bondy's mind is
      Russian and my mind is American. The Russian
      *Volk* character is, so Steiner tells us, at the
      opposite pole of the trichotomy West-Middle-East
      from the American *Volk* character -- the
      Russian being the more naturally "spiritual" and
      the American being the more naturally
      "materialistic". And here we have a Russian who
      has taken concepts mostly from the "Middle"
      (German) language and mind into his Russian
      language and mind and written this book in
      Russian. And then the Russian has been
      translated back into the German language, and
      then translated into English. And more, we have
      the complication that this particular Russian
      was born in the deepest abyss of Stalin's
      hellish tyranny, educated in "dialectical
      materialism" in the Ahrimanic (or Asuric) Soviet
      state educational system, and lived most of his
      life under the pervasive censorship and terror
      of the Soviet system. Only in the last twenty
      years or so has he been living (off and on?) in
      the Middle (Switzerland) near the headquarters
      of the Dornach Society, where he has not been
      welcomed with open arms. -- Really, I do have to
      wonder whether my difficulties are due not only
      to my own inadequacies but maybe also to more
      general differences of *Volk* character and
      language.

      And again, I haven't even yet read all the text
      that I have, and I haven't seen the diagrams.
      Bondy is often a pictorial thinker, and I would
      expect that the diagrams would help a lot.
      Still I have understood that his philosophical
      ponderings are leading into a deep, close
      analysis of *PoF*, and that this analysis
      deserves much work and attention. For instance,
      he portrays *PoF* as a great Mystery Drama:

      >>. . . . the "Philosophie der Freiheit" is
      experienced by anyone who really begins to
      understand it, as a Mystery Drama, whose main
      hero is the new Dionysos-Prometheus who battles
      with all that has become, for the sake of
      individual evolution and the overcoming of
      inherited sin. But the Mysteries pursued, at
      all times, the goal of bringing about in the
      participant catharsis, moral purification. In
      the case at hand catharsis of the soul is
      absolutely essential, in order to eradicate
      everything that disturbs pure thought and
      beholding.<<

      More, he outlines a sevenfold process of
      dialectics, beyond the familiar threefold
      dialectics of Hegel (thesis-antithesis-
      synthesis). He understands this sevenfold
      dialectic as "musical" (the seven major notes of
      the scale leading to the octave), and he sees
      this sevenfold dialectic process as running
      throughout the text of *PoF*. And in this
      fragment he starts to show this sevenfoldness in
      *PoF* line by line.

      >>. . . . the riddles of the "Philosophy of
      Freedom", a book written according to the laws
      of the sounding word; the latter determine in it
      the character of thinking, of the development of
      the ideas. Consequently, they have in the book
      their "melodies" and "harmonies", which one can
      raise into the light of consciousness. All this
      must be borne in mind from the beginning if we
      are to be able to experience with our sense of
      thought the character of the thinking in the
      "Philosophy of Freedom", when we begin to regard
      the work as a collection of practical exercises
      which contribute to the development of the power
      of judgment in beholding.<<

      And he does seek to show how *PoF* is a book of
      world-historic, even cosmic, significance -- how
      it helps us to grasp and fulfill Man's essential
      task at this moment of cosmic evolution. This
      aspect has social implications reaching back
      into his previous book that we have in English:

      >>. . . . the crisis of culture and civilization
      has its roots in the crisis of knowledge.<<

      So, I do verily wish to understand how, for
      instance, he came to discern this sevenfold
      dialectic and how he found it in *PoF* . . . and
      maybe even how his philosophic-epistemological
      mind works. I'll be working on it, slowly . . .
      and it might help to get some cross-
      fertilization from others who are also working
      on it.

      Bondarev says:

      >>[RS] wrote the 'Philosophy of Freedom'
      (Spiritual Activity) at the crossing-point of
      the philosophy of pure thinking and the
      esotericism of thinking; it is, one could say,
      written with morphological thinking. This
      phenomenon is quite unique and it is so
      difficult, for this reason, to find a relation
      to it. The present work is an attempt to remove
      some of the difficulties on the path to a
      mastery of this qualitatively new thinking,
      which forms the central core of Anthroposophical
      methodology.<<

      Robert Mason
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