Thursday, April 14, 2005

Every sickness is a musical problem

Some entries from Novalis’s Enzyklopädie on my sick day:
Das Wesen der Krankheit ist so dunkel als das Wesen des Lebens. §390

Krankheiten sind gewiß ein höchst wichtiger Zustand der Menschheit, da ihrer so unzählige sind und jeder Mensch so viel mit ihnen zu kämpfen hat. Noch kennen wir nur sehr unvolkommen die Kunst sie zu benutzen. Wahrscheinlich sind die interessanteste Reiz und Stoff unsers Nachdenken und unsrer Tätigkeit. Hier lassen sich gewiß unendliche Früchte ernten—besonders, wie mich dünkt, im intellektuellen Felde—im Gebiete der Moral, Religion und Gott weiß in welchem wunderbaren Gebiete noch.
Wie wenn ich Prophet dieser Kunst werden sollte?
Krankheiten zeichen den Menschen vor den Tieren und Pflanzen aus—Zum Leiden ist der Mensche geboren. Je hilfloser, desto empfänglicher für Moral und Religion.

Jede Krankeit kann man Seelenkrankheit nennen. §392

Schlaf ist ein vermischter Zustand des Körpers und der Seele. Im Schlafe ist Körper und Seele chemisch verbunden. Im Schlafe ist die Seele durch den Körper gleichmäßig verteilt—der Mensch ist neutralisiert. Wachen ist ein geteilter—polarischer Zustand. Im Wachen ist die Seele punktiert—lokalisiert. […] §387

Der Traum belerht uns auf eine merkwürdige Weise von der Leichtigkeit unsrer Seele in jedes Objekt einzudringen—sich in jedes sogleich zu verwandeln. §420


The essence of sickness is as obscure as the essence of life. §390

Sicknesses are surely a most important condition of humanity, for they number so many and we must contend with them so often. Yet we know only imperfectly the art of using them. They are probably the most interesting stimulus and matter for our reflection and activity. Surely endless fruits can be harvested here—especially, it seems to me, in intellectual fields—in the spheres of moral philosophy and religion, and in God knows what other wonderful spheres, too.
What if I were to become the prophet of this art?
Sicknesses distinguish the human from animals and plants—the human is born unto suffering. The more helpless, the more receptive to moral philosophy and religion. §391

One can call every sickness a sickness of the soul. §392

Sleep is a mixed condition of the body and the soul. In sleep, the body and soul are chemically bound together. In sleep, the soul is distributed evenly through the body—the human is neutralized. Waking is a divided, polar condition. In waking, the soul is punctual—localized. […] §387

The dream teaches us in a peculiar way of the ease with which our soul penetrates into every object—even transforms itself into them. §420
Far from being a prophet of sickness, I spent the day alternately sleeping and staring out the window with my mouth open. Birds flew by quickly, causing discomfort; planes flew slowly and pleasantly, and their forms were easily assimilated to those of other objects. From the kitchen window I saw at sunset the silhoutte of Mount Washington, a magic mountain in northern New Hampshire, at whose base sits the Mount Washington Hotel, the site of the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, where the allied powers met to secure the future of global capitalism. When Hilary and I stayed there a year ago, our floor was under renovation, and we were able to spy into the room where Keynes had slept. What objects had his soul penetrated, what objects had his soul become? Tonight I can remember none of the day’s dreams, only the yuletide constellations that patterned the walls when I awoke.


Blogger mh said...

Happy convalescence!

4/15/2005 1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eine kleine deutsche Übung, bitte:

Krankheiten zeichen den Menschen vor den Tieren und Pflanzen aus—Zum Leiden ist der Mensche geboren. Je hilfloser, desto empfänglicher für Moral und Religion. §391

Couldn't this be read from a somewhat Nietzschean aspect as well: though sickness may lead to a religious sensibility, that is not necessarily a desirable state of affairs. Or rather that religion is predicated on sickness, if not weakness, and thus is itself unhealthy. I don't happen to agree with Nietzschean views in toto, but the Novalis comments (remind me a bit of Kierkegaard as well) could very well be the sort of religious perspective FN was attacking.

4/15/2005 6:25 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

I really know nothing about Novalis, certainly not enough to begin to interpret his remarks responsibly. I guess I've been reading this passage as suggesting that illness is an under-used resource. It's not just that suffering makes us desperate for release--though it does--it also takes us out of circulation and allows us to reconsider the way we're related to things. Empfänglich is the key word for me--it's hard for me to hear "receptivity" as receptivity to something negative. I imagine, say, walking out to a satellite dish in a field and seeing before you a giant, real symbol for "tuning in" while at the same time feeling open to things yourself. I guess I'm imagining the religion of Wittgenstein: feeling that one is on the right road, that one is buoyed against contingency. The ozeanisches Gefühl, perhaps.

Anyhow, I can't imagine being down on people for seeking religion out of loss and pain; I think it's actually a pretty creative response. One of those things where it doesn't matter how many other people do it--the value (like that of your death) is absolutely singular. But there's a different sort of weakness that also finds expression in religion, which different sort I'd be more comfortable crticizing. It's something like fear of other people, and fear for one's security. And certainly this is a strain in Nietzsche, too.

It's probably weird to render Moral as moral philosophy, but morals and morality seemed wrong. It seems to me that Novalis is speaking of an experience of openness to thought, to unexpected reintegration, to shapes of mind and relatedness that our normal ways of going on exclude--and morality just can't connote that for us. But we might recall a sense of moral philosophy that doesn't narrowly concern itself with right action, but rather with understanding human life in general.


4/15/2005 10:24 PM  

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